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Response to Richard Selzer's the Knife

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Response to Richard Selzer's the Knife

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The Knife, Richard Selzer

Richard Selzer presents an amazing account of sense imagery throughout “The Knife.” The opening paragraph leaves the reader in a sort of literary haze, as the careful details and description leave the essay’s main subject a mystery. As the author writes, “I am still struck with a kind of dread that it is I in whose hand the blade travels, that my hand is its vehicle, that yet again this terrible steel-bellied thing and I have conspired for a most unnatural process, the laying open of the body of a human being,” it seems Selzer’s primary connotation with the knife is a negative one, almost as if he uses the tool to inflict pain and death. Opening his essay in such a manner seems interesting, as the author is initially viewed as a sort of barbarian, using the steel implement for “terrible” and “unnatural” acts upon the human body. This reaction to the power of the knife is the first reveal of the essays main character and narrator, as the reader is given no concrete physical description to formulate an image. This method certainly creates a sense of attachment to the piece, as intrigue and wonder fuel the urge to continue and discover the details behind such an unusual introduction. Characterization begins to formulate as the essay progresses through description and the introduction of dialog. As the reader learns of the narrator’s actual profession as a surgeon, the early confusion and mystery conglomerate into a stunning perspective of the occupation. Selzer incorporates various metaphors while describing his personal outlook upon the mental and physical states during an operation. As he writes, “and if a surgeon is like a poet, then the scars you have made on countless bodies before are like verses into the fashioning of which you have poured your soul,” the author’s deep connection and passionate relationship with this noble trade becomes apparent. The previous notion of some barbaric profession couldn’t be further from the...