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Literature and Medicine

Andrew W Perez
In 2006, Laura Otis provided the first English translation of five short stories written by the Spanish artist, neuroscientist, and histologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal. These stories, originally published in 1905 by Cajal under the pseudonym "Dr. Bacteria," are called "Cuentos de vacaciones: narraciones seudocientíficas" or "Vacation Stories: Pseudoscientific Tales." In 1973, a version of Cajal's manuscript "La vida en el año 6000" (Life in the year 6000) was revealed. It had remained in manuscript form since the mid-1880s and appears to be a draft of one of Cajal's unpublished "Cuentos de vacaciones...
2017: Literature and Medicine
Michael Jarvis
In Naked Lunch, the institutions and practices of science and medicine, specifically with regard to psychiatry/psychology, are symptoms of a bureaucratic system of control that shapes, constructs, defines, and makes procrustean alterations to both the mind and body of human subjects. Using sickness and junk (or heroin) as convenient metaphors for both a Cold War binary mentality and the mandatory consumption of twentieth-century capitalism, Burroughs presents modern man as fundamentally alienated from any sense of a personal self...
2017: Literature and Medicine
Alexis Soloski
Though written amid an atmosphere of unprecedented medical advance in both diagnosis and therapeutics, Karel Čapek's The White Plague takes a starkly critical stance against overconfidence in medical science and its dubious ethical orbit. This article explores Čapek's censure of those who would privilege scientific interest in disease over the holistic plight of the sufferer. Provocatively, Čapek achieves this not only via the play's content, but also-prefiguring aspects of contemporary live art practice by several decades-by placing audience members in worrying proximity to abject ill bodies...
2017: Literature and Medicine
Nicholas E Miller
With an increased focus on the intersection of literature and medicine, contagion has become something of a scholarly buzzword in early American studies: it serves metaphorically to demarcate the postcolonial other, demonstrates the transmissibility of revolutionary rhetoric, highlights the instability of republican government, and embodies fears of racial mixture. In this essay, I shift the emphasis from a discourse of contagion (often associated with a fear of the foreign) to a discourse of immunity (a fear associated with foreign immunities) in order to demonstrate a more affirmative biopolitics in Charles Brockden Brown's 1790s outbreak narratives...
2017: Literature and Medicine
Heather Chacón
The economic transactions and litigation necessary for slavery to function, coupled with the South's honor culture, meant skepticism and posturing frequently attended the buying and selling of enslaved people. This atmosphere provided opportunities for enslaved individuals familiar with the symbiotic ways their health and value intertwined to manipulate owners by feigning illness or adopting behaviors contrary to those of a "sound and sane" captive under Louisiana's redhibitory (slave warranty) law. Such actions offered a chance at preserving that which slavery denied its victims: proximity to family, a reduced chance of being sold, and an opportunity to exert agency within a strictly oppressive system...
2017: Literature and Medicine
Deanna Gross Scherger
This article examines atavism as a theory of racial science in the nineteenth-century United States that illuminates how the developing medical profession reinforced racial, class, and gender hierarchies to gain cultural authority. I use John S. Partridge's "The Pineal Eye," a little-known short story published in San Francisco's The Wave in 1894, as a case study that reveals how atavism was conceived as pathology within the purview of medical study. Partridge intertwines established atavistic discourse that asserted the Anglo-Saxon female body as paradoxically modern in terms of racial identity and primitive in terms of sex with scientific experimentation and male medical authority, resulting in evolutionary regression...
2017: Literature and Medicine
Martina Zimmermann
This essay gives an overview of the metaphors that patients in comparison to caregivers employ to conceptualize their experience with the chronic degenerative, cognitive, and incurable aspects of Alzheimer's disease. It explores how the images (such as the journey, darkness, the death sentence, and torture) relate to the narration of cognitive decline and memory loss, and how these personal accounts negotiate with the culturally dominant dementia narrative that centers on the patient's passivity and dependence and is, usually, found in caregiver stories...
2017: Literature and Medicine
Rosanna Nunan
In The Woodlanders, Hardy examines the intersections between adolescence as scientific fact and adolescence as utilitarian economic construction. Hardy posits that the emergence of adolescence as a social category provides an opportunity for further, excessive control of young women in a patriarchal society when science is taken at its word, but, paradoxically, also opens up a space for a new kind of freedom and rebellion when the adolescent condition of nineteenth-century scientific theorists is seized for the very subversive qualities which the Victorians oppose...
2017: Literature and Medicine
Heather Meek
This paper examines Frances Burney's 1812 mastectomy letter alongside contemporaneous medical treatises on the subject of breast cancer. Burney's letter offers a critique of a medical community that misconstrues her experience and can be viewed as pathography, or disability memoir. Examining the letter and the treatises in this way illuminates the brutality of some medical practices and the frequent incongruity between the patients' and the physicians' understandings of pain. However, the letter and the treatises also share much in common; both at times emphasize the patient's words and experiences, and both reveal the impressive and contradictory range of ideas surrounding breast cancer in the long eighteenth century...
2017: Literature and Medicine
Stella Bolaki
This essay considers Clare Best's poetic sequence Self-portrait without Breasts (2011) and her collaboration with photographer Laura Stevens, which explore preventive surgery and questions of genetics/hereditary breast cancer. In an era when risk and cosmetic reconstruction guide treatment and the development of new breast cancer subjects, Best reclaims the "flat simple scarred chest with no extras." I situate her poems in the context of statistics and the neoliberal postfeminist subject as well as in a poetic tradition about the post-mastectomy body as landscape...
2017: Literature and Medicine
Emma Seaber
This article explores the relationship between eating disorders and reading behaviors, arguing that there is a meaningful difference in a minority of readers' approach to and understanding of anorexia life-writing, and of literary texts more broadly. To illuminate this distinction, this article begins by considering the reported deleterious influence of Marya Hornbacher's anorexia memoir, Wasted, elaborating the ways Hornbacher offers a positive presentation of anorexia nervosa that may, intentionally or not, induce certain readers to "try it" themselves...
2016: Literature and Medicine
Pauls Daija, Eva Eglāja-Kristsone
During the nineteenth century, Latvian society experienced significant social and cultural changes due to a transition from agrarian to modern society and the emergence of a Latvian national culture. Reading, previously a mostly religious and practical activity, took new forms among the Latvian middle class and steadily began to be depicted as a dangerous pastime. In this essay, we have explored the connection between social change and pathological reading by turning attention to the rhetoric of the dangerous reading discourse, representations of effects of reading in the press, and the condemnation of female reading...
2016: Literature and Medicine
Norman Aselmeyer
Looking at nineteenth-century Germany, this article investigates the origin of the idea that fiction causes disease, among both the bourgeoisie and the working class. I argue that the socially constructed notions of reading addiction, which were consistent with medical concepts at that time, touched the bourgeois virtues of industriousness and health. However, little has been written about the transfer of the bourgeois attitudes towards reading to the German working class. The study of workers' autobiographies shows that social circumstances and the emulation of bourgeois values and attitudes resulted in appropriating the concept of lazy readers in the working class...
2016: Literature and Medicine
Jessica Roberts
During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the revolution in France served as a catalyst for heavily allegorical political rhetoric, and the idea that radical politics were contagious became commonplace in conservative writing and oratory. This political contagion is described by Blackwood's as raging through the ranks of the rural poor as late as 1830. Confronted by this threat, Blackwood's promoted itself alternatively as a stimulant or as a cure for the metaphorical poison or infection that radical publications were seen to be spreading amongst the poor...
2016: Literature and Medicine
Michelle Faubert
The fear that suicidality could spread through textual contagion-that textually represented suicide could enter the reader's mind and cause self-destruction-took hold long before Émile Durkheim theorized it in the Victorian period. This article argues that the fear of suicidal contagion and the horror of vaccination, both of which raged in Britain in the long eighteenth century, were linked to ideas about sympathy and the importation of the Other into the Self. With reference to the psychoanalytic notions of extimité and étrangerété; the eighteenth-century medical theories of William Rowley and Edward Jenner; the philosophy of "sympathy," as adumbrated in the work of John Locke, Adam Smith, David Hume and Edmund Burke; and two key novels of sensibility (Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Julie and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther), this article examines the root of a belief that exists even today: that, in a suicidal process, the invading Other could become the Self and, Trojan horse-style, destroy it from the inside...
2016: Literature and Medicine
Victoire Feuillebois
"Of unknown cause"- in the conclusion of the eponymous tale written by Théophile Gautier in 1833, it is not clear what exactly the protagonist Onuphrius dies of after his infatuation with E. T. A. Hoffmann drove him mad. Thus, the reference to the possibility of "Hoffmania" is both highly medicalized, as Hoffmann appears as a case study of the sick author, while all its causes and mechanisms are left unexplored. With this suppression of the etiology of pathological reading, Gautier separates himself from both the tradition of literary discourses on pathological reading and from the new etiology of mental disorders...
2016: Literature and Medicine
Monika Class
The article introduces "the visceral novel reader" as a diachronic, context-sensitive mode of novelistic reception, in which fact and fiction overlap cognitively: the mental rehearsal of the activity of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching while reading novels and, vice versa, the mental rehearsal of novels in the act of perceiving the real world. Located at the intersection of literature, medicine and science, "the visceral novel reader" enhances our understanding of the role that novels played in the dialectic construction of erudition in English...
2016: Literature and Medicine
Darren N Wagner
In eighteenth-century Britain, reading lewd books was understood to exacerbate gonorrhea. That pathology corresponded to a specific physiological model, which historians describe as the leaky male body. This article demonstrates how the connection between reading and gonorrhea correlated to three phenomena: 1) the neuro-sexual economy of bodily fluids; 2) the effects of reading on the sensible mind and body; and 3) the crossover of erotic and medical literatures. Aware of the physiological power of imagination, authors intentionally wrote to elicit strong physiological and sexual responses in readers...
2016: Literature and Medicine
Sharon Ruston
This essay examines three key texts by William Buchan, Isaac D'Israeli, and Richard Robert Madden, which demonstrate the emergence of the newly conceived idea of literary genius in the Romantic period. It considers the role of a new genre, the "medical biography," in the development of this phenomenon. While the mental precariousness of the Romantic genius has been much commented upon, this essay concentrates instead on the bodily or physical aspects of genius, which is itself figured as a disease. The study and writing involved in publication are viewed as stimulants that can be addictive, ruining the health and wellbeing of authors and even leading to their early deaths...
2016: Literature and Medicine
Ashleigh Blackwood
Today the idea of reading for health is perhaps most commonly associated with the term bibliotherapy. This seemingly new practice might be considered a significant shift of public and professional medical attitudes when compared with historical interpretations of the impact of reading on individuals' health. Much historiography concerning the reception of popular literature in eighteenth-century print culture has focused on the belief that readers of fiction, most often women, were at risk of corrupting their own minds and bodies through their reading choices...
2016: Literature and Medicine
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