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The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society


"So. The young doctor, like the senior scholar, prefers research to humanity.” With this concise remark, Dr. Vivian Bearing deftly reveals an unsettling truth about herself and, by extension, the kind of detached rationalism that the modern scientific researcher and the modern academic typically wield. Margaret Edson’s play Wit focuses on the final all-too-human hours of Vivian Bearing, a renowned scholar of the seventeenth-century metaphysical poet John Donne. Set principally in Bearing’s research-university hospital room, Wit takes up an array of themes that are readily recognizable to contemporary audiences: the ordeal that cancer patients like Bearing experience; the courage or lack thereof that one can have when facing one’s own death; the role of empathy in the practice of medicine; the relationship between patient rights and medical ethics; and, of course, the place of suffering in human life. But this short play speaks to more than these concerns — even if reviewers and critics have sometimes had a difficult time seeing this. Wit shines a rather unflattering light on the methodological abstractness and frequently dehumanizing nature of a certain form of modern scientific reason. In the process, Edson’s play clearly and perceptively reminds its late modern audience of a simple truth: try as we might, we cannot hide forever from confronting certain elemental and enduring questions about God and the soul.


© The New Atlantis. Reproduced with permission.