At the odd intersection of narratology and clinical medicine can be found some fresh postings of old questions about the consequences of representational acts for tellers and listeners. The simple practice of guiding health care professionals to write in non-technical language about what they witness patients to go through and what they themselves undergo in caring for the sick has led us contemplate the acts of attention and representation in primal and primary ways. We see the intersubjective affiliation born of narrative transactions, as it were, unadorned, right there in front of us as doctors, nurses, and social workers discover, through acts of writing, what on earth they know and how what they know connects them to their patients.
Like arboreal and nocturnal tarsiers in the Malay Archipelago with their enormous eyes, we are open collecting retinae for the impressions and the assault of that which might be seen. The seer attends—absorbs, composes, puts himself or herself in the way of things to be seen. The simultaneous act of representation expresses, with muscular force, the value of what is seen as if expressing juice from a lemon or, more saliently for my writers, milk from a nipple or secretions from a gland. My conceptual examination of clinical representations rely on Henry James’s theoretical and formal practices that suggest that the self (or consciousness) is constituted by, and not simply made visible by, acts of attention and representation. If indeed the self is the most powerful therapeutic instrument, we need intensive means whereby doctors and nurses, who owe sick people authentic attention and care, can constitute and inhabit that self. Narrative training can expose these fundamental aspects of self to health care professionals, if only so that they can use that self on behalf of the ill.