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Eros and Illness

Eros and Illness

David B. Morris

ISBN 9780674659711

Publication date: 02/27/2017

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Susan Sontag once described illness as “the night-side of life.” When we or our loved ones fall ill, our world is thrown into darkness and disarray, our routines are interrupted, our deepest beliefs shaken. The modern regime of hyper-logical biomedicine offers little solace when it comes to the effects of ill health on our inner lives. By exploring the role of desire in illness, Eros and Illness offers an alternative: an unconventional, deeply human exploration of what it means to live with, and live through, disease.

When we face down illness, something beyond biomedicine’s extremely valuable advances in treatment and prevention is sorely needed. Desire in its many guises plays a crucial part in illness, David Morris shows. Emotions, dreams, and stories—even romance and eroticism—shape our experiences as patients and as caregivers. Our perception of the world we enter through illness—including too often a world of pain—is shaped by desire.

Writing from his own heartbreaking experience as a caretaker for his wife, Morris relates how desire can worsen or, with care, mitigate the heavy weight of disease. He looks to myths, memoirs, paintings, performances, and narratives to understand how illness is intertwined with the things we value most dearly. Drawing on cultural resources from many centuries and media, Eros and Illness reaches out a hand to guide us through the long night of illness, showing us how to find productive desire where we expected only despair and defeat.


  • Eros and Illness lends authority and vision to the very private experiences of personal pain and illness. As his wife Ruth succumbs to an aggressive early form of dementia, David Morris ‘corrects’ what he thinks he knows about pain and suffering with his own anguish. From this personal experience emerges the daring formulation of medical eros. What Morris is trying for is almost impossible, but he pulls it off. He is trying to enter illness carrying its presumed antithesis. He proposes that some valuable things are possible within the experience of serious illness, that one can undergo states of profound quest, of abandon, of all that is not ordinary, constricted life. Only a scholar of Morris’s stature who has had to suffer his battering losses would be able to propose such a profound challenge to the world of medicine.

    —Rita Charon, Columbia University


  • David B. Morris is a writer and Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

Book Details

  • 368 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press