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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Author Love and Anecdote


This book, originally to be titled Dr. Johnson’s Autopsy began with my curiosity about why the exemplary eighteenthcentury Englishman of letters was dissected, probably against his living will. While it has led me down many unexpected paths, that curiosity remains unsatisfied; it has resulted, instead, in my recognition—and profession—of love, both the love of literature and the love of Johnson, of which the autopsy was a complex and conflicted expression. In its service, I want in the rest of this introduction to consider not the anecdotal form in which Johnson endures but rather the material remains of Samuel Johnson’s autopsy and my own and others’ ongoing search for them. That autoptic desire to see the thing itself, a seeing by oneself and of oneself (as the word’s etymology indicates) is not, as it turns out, so different from the familiar introductory impulse to focus upon an anecdote, since Johnson’s selected remains, claimed by the surgeons and carefully preserved as “preparations,” have yet to be found. One of the many functions of the anecdote—like the anatomical preparation, the result of a personal selection and preservation process—is to stand in for the lost body.

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