Launching a Reading Retreat

The late Professor George Connor initiated the first literature and medicine reading retreat in February 1987. Readings for that weekend included Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych, Saul Bellow's Seize the Day, Alan Paton's Too Late the Phalarope, and a selection of poetry. George began the weekend with "Two Quotations to Ponder."

"I am surprised to find how much of the artist there is in doctors, for medicine is an art as well as a science and therefore its techniques demand a certain skill that is not abstract but born of a connatural intuition. Doctors adapt themselves to situations pretty much like poets or actors, although they would probably be incensed to hear me say so. They live their way intuitively into somebody else's symptoms and search for their secrets as much by the vital sympathy of art as by their scientific intelligence. In any case, diseases do not exist all by themselves: thy only present themselves concretely in patients. Therefore, the physician's art is respectable because the physician teats not merely diseases but human beings."
Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonah, p. 312.

"...I fear that it will be easier for me to say what I am not up to than to spell out exactly what this book is about. Its history, I am sure, begins with the dissatisfaction I felt while in psychiatric training; I grew tired of hearing people typed and classified-often enough called thinly disguised names, all in the name of science. At that time I was given a suggestion by one of my supervisors at The Massachusetts General Hospital, a woman psychoanalyst much interested in art history. Dr. Elizabeth Zetzel suggested I read novels and learn from them a more intricate, a more subtle kind of, psychology ..."
Robert Coles, MD in the preface to Irony in the Mind's Eye