The Wounded Body: Remembering the Markings of Flesh

by Dr. Dennis Patrick Slattery

review by Allen Tate Wood

Slattery’s illuminating and authoritative meditations on great literature woven together with the history of his body, the quite literal markings of his flesh(two years ago he underwent hip replacement surgery), are already becoming landmarks for a new generation of literary, mythological and psychological wayfarers or as he might say , “is it war-farers?” Included among their number are psychologists, novelists, lawyers, physicians, business women and men, journalists, teachers, priests, nuns, felons: a contemporary who’s who of pilgrims on the road to Canterbury.

In “The Wounded Body” Slattery invites the reader to join him in his journey through time, space and flesh to the word. Slattery’s literary odyssey through ancient and modern authors focuses on wounds. Through these wounds he calls us into conversation with great mythological heroes and heroines, with him and with our own selves…with our wounds and our woundedness. The word Slattery brings us to at the end of his journey of the imagination is not literal. It is not a doctrine. It cannot be swallowed whole. It cannot be apprehended by annihilating memory, denying experience, reformatting conscience or adopting a new theory. As I see it, the only way to get it is… piece by piece. Cut off a piece, bite into it, chew it thoroughly and then swallow it. Now, let digestion do its work.

Reading Slattery’s work I am reminded again and again that here is a man who has spent

Over two thirds of his life using literary endeavor as the crucible through which to make his way in the world and as a kind of sacramental action whose ends, like Odysseus’ Agean sea, are beyond his control. Slattery’s literary criticism, especially here in “The Wounded Body”, begins to transcend the academic arena. In it he approaches the vision and the ends of the great writers whose study he has made his life’s work.

Slattery’s passion for literature has been a blessing to his students and an enigma and mystery to his friends. As both friend and student I have at times stood near his eyes and wounds . If I were a time traveler it would not surprise me to find Slattery walking beneath the walls of Troy the day after its fall talking with the dying and the dead, or to find him questioning Polyphemos the day after Ulysses blinded him. Had he been among Jesus disciples I know he would have placed his hands not just on Christ’s wounded side, like doubting Thomas, but on all his wounds knowing that each one was an eye and a way to some particular knowledge.

Slattery’s journey on board the Pequod with Captain Ahab and Ishmael and QueeQueg in “ Moby Dick” reveals the depths to which wounds can take us. Ahab’s lost leg becomes a ritual object in his private religion of resentment and revenge. The wound unforgiven becomes a vortex of chaos and destruction. Ahab’s entire crew is ultimately sacrificed to his blinding obsession for revenge. Suddenly a nineteenth century whaling ship in the south pacific becomes a vantage point from which to contemplate the kind of psychological and political titanism which have so characterized the twentieth century, be it Columbine, Jonestown or Auschwitz.

A.T. Wood
Hanford May 2000