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This review is taken from PN Review 227, Volume 42 Number 3, January - February 2016.

Cover of Blood WorkCover of Thomas Hardy Listens to Louis Armstrong
David C. WardBloody Hell MATTHEW SIEGEL
Blood Work (CB Editions,66pp PB) £8.99

Thomas Hardy Listens to Louis Armstrong (Eyewear Publishing 84pp PB) £9.99

Plagues are always with us, both actually and metaphorically. AIDS, of course; but Ebola made a frightening reappearance last year. Even smallpox and measles threaten to come back as anti-rationalists and anti-modernists argue against vaccinations and the medical regimes that eradicated (some) diseases. The very irrationality and capriciousness of plagues gives them their metaphorical power as a condition or sign of modernity – and their seeming irrationality sparks a superstitious irrationality on the part of many: plagues apparently resist modern methods so – illogically – modern methods become suspect. One of the reasons people atavistically search for other ways to combat plagues or sickness is that the industrialized medical regimen is so totalizing and dehumanizing that opting out of it – taking control of your own body, trying to find a utopian cure – becomes an attractive possibility. Matthew Siegel’s grim and affecting Blood Work charts what happens once one’s body becomes objectified by the medical industry; ‘blood work’ is the familiar term for the analysis of a sample drawn for diagnostic purposes but ‘work’ also indicates how this intervention into the body also situates that body in larger, societal and power relationships. The flow of blood, since the discovery of circulation by Harvey, has always been conceived as a metaphor for the body politic and not just a purely physiological function. Siegel has to remind himself after a torturous visit to the dentist that ‘there is nothing cruel or unusual about this’. No, it’s just the normal cruelty as the body breaks down.

Siegel writes, ‘I ...

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