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Tyranny of the Normal: Essays on Bioethics, Theology and Myth

Tyranny of the Normal: Essays on Bioethics, Theology and Myth

by Leslie A. Fiedler

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Combative, opinionated, sometimes belabored, these thought-provoking original essays confirm Fiedler's reputation as an intellectual maverick, an erudite critic, an irrepressible explorer of humanity's darkest impulses. Two pieces deal with images of "dirty old men" in Chaucer, Dickens, Nabokov, Mann, Shakespeare, Goethe, in plays, movies and dirty jokesimages that, in Fiedler's reckoning, crystallize an ancient, mythologically reinforced taboo against sexuality in the elderly. In another essay, he argues that almost all of us are subconsciously driven to search for "a myth system which will permit the ritualized slaughter of some human beings," whether via abortion, infanticide, child abuse or capital punishment. Elsewhere, he lambastes the 1960s and '70s counterculture as a revolt against reason and establishment medicine. Fiedler often goes out on a limb, as when, citing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and H.G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau, he contends that our unconscious resentment of the medical profession, and fear of pain and death, cause most people to refuse to become organ-transplant donors, or when he likens teratacide, the killing of "monstrously malformed" neonates such as the Thalidomide babies of the 1960s, to the Nazis' extermination of dwarfs and other "useless people." (Aug.)
Library Journal
Writing as a Christian for Christians, Meilaender (religion, Oberlin Coll.) ponders the ramifications of contemporary biotechnology. He offers "reasons of concern" rather than a full-blown attack, based on the Christian conception of the human being and the traditional respect for the body. He seeks to examine the implications of different technologies and capabilities of the medical profession that raise, for him, grave questions. While directed to Christians, the points he raises have a wider validity, and his style is pleasing and generally accessible. In reflections tinged with a traditional Judeo-Chistian viewpoint, Fiedler (English, SUNY-Buffalo) writes more as a humanist. The author of over 20 books of essays in the humanities, he rebels against the demystification and desacralization that has governed medical sciences. In his idiosyncratic style, which will not appeal to all, Fiedler berates the prejudice against the disabled and those not seen as normal and abhors euphemisms such as "nonviable terata," said of infants so malformed they are unlikely to survive. In essays addressed mostly to specialists, Fiedler ponders such points as why organ transplant programs do not succeed, the image of the doctor and the nurse in literature and popular culture, the obsession with "normal" children, and the abnormal fear of abnormality. Both authors ponder the mystery of human life; both have a healthy respect for science but also a healthy disdain for technology as an end in itself. Theirs are clarion calls for a more circumspect examination of current medical procedures that allow us to prolong life, end the life of the unwanted, and cure the problems of those who are not "normal." For pertinent collections.Augustine J. Curley, Newark Abbey, N.J.
Kirkus Reviews
Entertaining and invigorating essays by one of our most challenging critics of literature and culture.

Academic critics normally swim in "schools of thought," a pleasant phrase that often masks abject groupthink. Fiedler—a poet, novelist, essayist, and professor of literature at SUNY Buffalo—swims alone. Indeed, he identifies with people who are abnormal. In this book, his 25th, he continues to explore ideas spun off of Freaks (1978), his study of sideshow performers. Such people embody for us, he argues, not only the primordial fear of that which is abnormal and alien, but also (and more deeply) our secret recognition of what is monstrous and freakish in ourselves. Hence the immense popularity of The Elephant Man. In this spirit Fiedler examines the ethics of organ transplants, the culturally defined images of doctors and nurses, the relationship between literature and child abuse, and the cultural meanings of New Age spirituality, impotence, and deformity. Fiedler has a special knack for demystifying the imagery of popular culture. Commenting on Coming Home, Jane Fonda's hit movie about a disabled Vietnam veteran, he brushes aside its veneer of sanctimonious politics to suggest less attractive reasons for its popularity: What moved audiences, especially women, "were certain genuinely mythic elements, long familiar in women's literature, and quite unrelated to leftist politics. First is the fantasy of making it with a cripple: a variant of the Beauty and the Beast archetype . . . The second is a variant of the Cinderella archetype (classically formulated in Jane Eyre . . . ) in which the heroine gets the prince only after he is maimed."

Fiedler is famous for his curmudgeonly viewpoints, and this collection will not disappoint his readers.

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Godine, David R. Publishers, Inc.
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5.81(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.79(d)
1820L (what's this?)

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