Tuesday, May 20, 2008

H.P. Lovecraft and the science of resuscitation

The first horrible incident of our acquaintance was the greatest shock I ever experienced, and it is only with reluctance that I repeat it. As I have said, it happened when we were in the medical school where West had already made himself notorious through his wild theories on the nature of death and the possibility of overcoming it artificially. His views, which were widely ridiculed by the faculty and by his fellow-students, hinged on the essentially mechanistic nature of life; and concerned means for operating the organic machinery of mankind by calculated chemical action after the failure of natural processes. In his experiments with various animating solutions, he had killed and treated immense numbers of rabbits, guinea-pigs, cats, dogs, and monkeys, till he had become the prime nuisance of the college. Several times he had actually obtained signs of life in animals supposedly dead; in many cases violent signs but he soon saw that the perfection of his process, if indeed possible, would necessarily involve a lifetime of research. It likewise became clear that, since the same solution never worked alike on different organic species, he would require human subjects for further and more specialised progress. It was here that he first came into conflict with the college authorities, and was debarred from future experiments by no less a dignitary than the dean of the medical school himself – the learned and benevolent Dr. Allan Halsey, whose work in behalf of the stricken is recalled by every old resident of Arkham.
~ "From the Dark"
(collected in Herbert West: Re-Animator), H.P. Lovecraft
Aschwin de Wolf at Depressed Metabolism has an interesting post about the science of resuscitation in H.P. Lovecraft's 1922 stories about Herbert West: Re-Animator* West is depicted as a serious (and flawed) man of science who invents a reagent that can bring the dead back to life.
West does not only anticipate the future science of resuscitation, but also the phenomenon of selective vulnerability of certain brain cells because we know that West fully realized “that the psychic or intellectual life might be impaired by the slight deterioration of sensitive brain-cells which even a short period of death would be apt to cause.”
As Aschwin points out, though, actual resuscitation is unlikely as described because injection of the serum wasn't followed by some form of artificial circulation. I'm sure there's a good explanation . . .

Read "Herbert West: Re-Animator".

* Herbert West: Re-Animator was originally serialized in Home Brew Vol. 1, No. 1–6, an amateur magazine published by his friend George Julian Houtain." Lovecraft supposedly wrote the stories for the money, and heavily parodied Shelley's Frankenstein. And, yes, the 1980s Re-Animator movie was based on Lovecraft's stories.

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