A note on Scattered Limbs: A Medical Dreambook

“It’s not very tactful, the title of your book,” complained one friend. I understood his complaint—Scattered Limbs might even seem in bad taste—but I protested: tact is written into my history of the body in medicine. Its last entry (of 298 entries) is even titled “Tact”. It is there, in the root meaning of the word—”the sense of touch” from the Latin tangere—as in Christ’s instruction not to touch him after the resurrection (“noli me tangere”)—and it is there, in “integrity”, “tangible” and, more distantly, “tactician”, which is the persona the old Chinese masters advise us to adopt in trying circumstances. And in “intact”: Scattered Limbs is a book about falling apart professionally that nevertheless brings the disparate parts of a writer’s existence together: it “re-members” the corpus.

And when medicine became diagnostically proficient in the nineteenth century by revealing the inner workings of the body tact acquired—surely not coincidentally—its modern meaning: “a keen and delicate sense of discernment in conduct”. That aspiration is there too, in Scattered Limbs; also, I hope, the kind of tact that doctor share with musicians—a feeling for the pulse of time.

Another librarian friend pointed out that Scattered Limbs will prove difficult to catalogue because it comes without a table of contents or an index. I must apologise to librarians then! Unlike Artemidorus’ classical text which provides very detailed information about the nature of dream elements, my intention was to allow the reader to delve into my text at random, and establish personal connections between entries. Nonetheless, an index of entry titles may help to locate a half-forgotten phrase or comment, and is provided here.

I have also, as promised in the Acknowledgements, come up with some sources, further comments and suggestions for further reading: their presentation follows the arrangement of entries in Scattered Limbs. Joanna Kavenna’s careful reading and generous appraisal in the February 2021 issue of Literary Review can be found here.

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