One of the things that happens when I appear to talk about my book Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body is that somebody in the audience usually seeks to enliven the Q&A afterwards by demanding to know: “What’s your favorite organ?”
I haven’t got a pat response to this, and it’s difficult to know what to say for several reasons. The questioner is perhaps expecting me to add a frisson of sexual innuendo to the proceedings. Yet if I say “the penis,” I may elicit knowing nods from any Freudians present, but a vague “Ew” of disapproval from the rest of the room. If I say the vagina, never mind the clitoris, I will shock them. I could say “the heart” and expect to get back an empathetic warm “Aah.” I could say “the brain” and people would understand, because such a response is only what you would expect of a science writer, self-consciously standing on a podium, showing off his latest work. If I say most other internal organs, then I am faced with some explaining to do, because they seldom arise in normal conversation, and to have any opinion about them at all would seem to presuppose specialist medical knowledge. I sometimes deflect the question by replying “the stomach,” which is a little unexpected, yet which all can agree is one body part we are likely to hold dear, especially as the hunger pangs set in at the end of an hour’s lecture.