Monday, May 07, 2007


Wow, its been a year since I posted. Sorry, life is busy. I've been working, and am about to go to China to adopt, and soon I'll link a China travel blog here. I really wanted to get started blogging again, though, especially since I am a history buddy now. I feel ashamed for not holding up my end of the blogging agreement. No excuses. So, without any whining, here we go again:

I’m a dermatopathologist, which is to say I spend much of my time at work looking at sections of skin under a microscope, trying to tell moles from melanomas, psoriasis from eczema, etc. Wallace Clark was the great American giant in this field. The “Clark level,” named after him, is the major melanoma prognostic index (if you know anyone who has melanoma they will know what it is), and all the current big guys in the field remember him as the great teacher. The guy also practically invented the idea of tumor biology, and thus he’s sort of the father of the modern conception of “curing cancer.” Despite all of this his biggest claim to fame (both to the public and, believe it or not, to other Pathologists) was that the character of Quincy, the character who for time immemorial defines the public’s ideas of a Pathologist, was based on him.

He was an interesting guy. The self proclaimed “only liberal the Citadel ever produced” was a pathologist in New Orleans for a while (before moving up the east coast) and, because of some interesting quirks of the practice of Pathology in New Orleans, did forensics. He was overblown and colorful, and a hardcore intellectual. Looking at slides was interesting to him. He would stare and explore the connections to other cases he had seen, remember outcomes, guess at behaviors, and try to out-think nature. Then, after straining the limits of the exercise, he would say “I’m tired of learning on this one… let’s just give it a name and get rid of it.” Why? I mean, diagnosis is the goal of the whole process, right? Getting to the solution is the point, eh? Well no, he would have thought.

Getting an answer is the death of the learning process. Where’s the fun in that.

All this stuff kinda comes back (I haven’t spent as much time dwelling on the Dermpath lore since my fellowship) when I hear of the current reactions to Lost. I think one of the show’s biggest strengths is the way that all competing theories are, here in the middle of the whole experience of the show, equally true, like Schrödinger hasn’t opened the box yet. This last episode, which continues the current string of absolutely great episodes, kills a recurring character, whose main role in the episode is to act as an advocate of one theory of “what’s going on,” the “they’re all dead/purgatory” theory. The metatextual interplay is kind of cool: the show runners have specifically discredited this theory (in public, yet they have shown themselves to be big liars) but here the theory comes in again with some “evidence,” so what happens? The great seeker in the show kills the messenger (well, has them executed… he doesn’t do it himself). It’s like they are warning us not to decide on an answer or . Anyway, if you’re just looking for the answer, the show says, you are being ridiculous – where’s the fun of getting the answer. Lay back, and enjoy all the possibilities.

The show has, mostly, been very deft at playing this stuff the right way: shifting focus around, striking chords of different parts of the pastiche (a little experiment gone wrong here, minor element of mental actualization/wish fulfillment there, then a major we’re in hell/purgatory moment), dropping in references like web links (The Third Policeman – let me look it up!). I would argue the show only missteps when the powers that be listen to the audience voting with ratings, or let cast woes affect the pacing.

Anyway, maybe it’s just me, poisoned by too may comics as I am. I have a thing for the exploring of unanswered questions as an end unto itself. All that serial narrative where the point is watching the story grow past its own inquiries, not really answering them but handing them off. I think three act structure has just about ruined the ability of the broad audience from being able to enjoy something that extends past such horribly limited horizons. Its no wonder that so many great works of literature don’t have an end as much as they have a moment of non-ending, which just shows that the work is handling things too big to be wrestled to a fake dénouement.


At 12:48 PM, Blogger Ralph Mathieu said...

Todd, you and Brandi didn't tell Kate and myself that your adopting of a Chinese daughter was close to happening - congrats! I know it's been a long proccess and the lucky gal couldn't ask for better parents. looking forwad to your China travel blog.

Ralph Mathieu


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