In writing Still Lives, Jonathan Cole wanted to find out about living in a wheelchair, without having what he calls "the doctor/patient thing" intervene. He has done this by asking people with spinal cord injuries the simple question of what it is like to live without sensation and movement in the body. If the body has absented itself, where does the person reside? He describes his method in the first chapter: "I have gone to people, not with a white coat or a stethoscope...[but] to listen to their lives as they express them," and it is the candid and powerful narratives of twelve people with spinal cord injuries that form the heart of the book.
Asking his simple question, Cole discovers that there is no single or simple answer. The twelve people with tetraplegia (known as quadriplegia in the US) or paraplegia whose stories he tells testify to similar impairments but widely differing experiences. Cole employs their individual responses to shape the book into six main sections: "Enduring," "Exploring," "Experimenting," "Observing," "Empowering," and, finally, "Continuing." Each concludes with a commentary on the broader issues raised. Still Lives moves from a view of impairment as tragedy to reveal the possibilities and richness of experience available to those living with spinal injuries. More universally, it offers new perspectives on our relation to our bodies. In exploring the creative and imaginative adjustments required to construct a "still life," it makes a plea for the able-bodied to adjust their view of this most profound of impairments.
About the Author
Jonathan Cole, D.M., F.R.C.P., is Consultant in Clinical Neurophysiology, Poole Hospital, and at Salisbury Hospital (with its Spinal Centre), a Professor at Bournemouth University and a visiting Senior Lecturer, Southampton University.
"Illuminating reading; inspiring, too.", Roy Herbert, NewScientist
"These interviews...have a documentary quality that makes them gripping.", Druin Burch, Times Literary Supplement
"In this excellent book Jonathan Cole thoroughly examines spinal cord injury with the compassion of both a first-rate doctor and a caring human being. Many voices are heard, some for the first time in public. This is a truly distinguished work, accessible to the layperson and most notable for its empathetic inclusion of widely differing viewpoints."
"Cole gets better and better at capturing and communicating the experiences of patients who find it difficult to put the full range of their problems into words. In Still Lives he encounters and recounts remarkable cases of those who suffer from spinal cord injuries—some of them whose consciousness is 'consumed' by their situation, and some of them who turn paralysis into an instrument for social change. These interviews throw into relief exactly the things that those of us who can move take so much for granted—not just the ease of willful action, but the ability to express ourselves and to relate to others. Throughout, Cole moves effortlessly from the personal to the political to the philosophical, as he maps out the stories of people who are still living despite their still lives."
—Shaun Gallagher, Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of Central Florida
"Jonathan Cole has let twelve people with spinal cord injury talk to us, showing us their minds as they adjust their lives to their bodies. This is a compelling and thought-provoking book, written from a viewpoint which combines scientific knowledge, a total respect for the individual, and an awareness of the contribution that our body makes to who we are."
—Patrick Haggard, Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London
Bronze Award Winner for Health in the 2004 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards