Mark C. Taylor


On his book Field Notes from Elsewhere: Reflections on Dying and Living

Cover Interview of October 29, 2009

The wide angle

The point of departure for the book is a severe illness I suffered in December 2005.  As a result of a biopsy, I went into septic shock and suddenly fell critically ill.  For two days a team of forty doctors, many of whom did not think I would live, worked to save my life.  During the first night, I realized things could go either way but thought I was out of the woods by morning.  I was not; my condition remained serious and would not stabilize for several weeks.  After five days in the intensive care unit and ten in the hospital, I was released.  Five months later, I underwent surgery for cancer.  These experiences have changed my life in ways I still am trying to understand.

Though my experiences were severe, they are not unique; indeed, everybody faces many similar difficulties in life.  In Field Notes, I have tried to convey how the lessons I have learned from forty years of reading, writing and teaching help us understand and cope with such experiences.  My approach is not analytic but narrative; that is to say, I make my points by telling stories about myself, family, friends, students and colleagues.  Needless to say, such a book raises difficult questions about what to reveal and what to conceal about oneself as well as others.

The tone of the book is meditative and I hope it will provide the occasion for readers to reflect on how the questions I ponder affect their own lives.

This not a book that should be read quickly or straight through.  To the contrary, it should be read slowly, picking it up and putting it down and giving oneself time to think.  Kierkegaard always said that his works were mirrors in which people could see their own lives reflected.  I hope Field Notes will also work this way.