New CHH Publication on Medical Case Histories for Literature and Medicine Journal

Special Cluster “Medical Case Histories as Genre
Literature and Medicine, Volume 32, Number 1, Spring 2014
(Johns Hopkins University Press)

lm.32.1_front_smThis series of articles outlines a number of new approaches to the study of medical case histories in the history of medicine and medical humanities from a genre-theoretical vantage point. Drawing on a range of approaches about the relation of form and content, the articles explore similarities and differences among specific series of case histories in order to recover evolving, changing, or decaying patterns and practices in texts and communicative acts about human health.

Table of contents including abstracts:

Introduction: Medical Case Histories as Genre – New Approaches
Monika Class (guest editor)

The Medical Case Narrative: Distant Reading of an Epistemic Genre
Gianna Pomata
In this article, Gianna Pomata argues that we should consider the medical case narrative as an “epistemic genre” (as distinct from “literary genre”). Shifting the focal point of the historiography on the medical case narrative from late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to earlier periods in an attempt to reconstruct the long-term lineaments of the story, Pomata adopts the approach that literary scholar Franco Moretti has called “distant reading,” that is, a focused attention to the long duration of a genre within a culture as well as its variations across cultures. Distant reading suggests, at first sight, that the genre appeared in embryonic form in antiquity, with the Hippocratic Epidemics, but also that it disappeared for long periods of time, to emerge again, in new form and with new vitality, in the late Renaissance. Most interestingly, distant reading also suggests that the evolutionary dynamic of the case narrative was closely intertwined with that of two other fundamental epistemic genres, the recipe and the commentary. In her article, Pomata examines in particular the association between case and commentary.
(see Pomata “Abstract” Literature and Medicine 32.1 (2014))

Telling Cases: Writing against Genre in Literature and Medicine
Nicolas Pethes
“Building on Gianna Pomata’s concept of “epistemic genre,” the article argues that case histories are a specific textform suited for medical as well as literary communication. But as an inherently cross-disciplinary mode of presenting individual biographies, case histories also work against the idea of “genre” as generalizing typologies both in medicine and aesthetics. Focusing on German literature between 1750 and 1850, the article highlights four aspects of medical case histories that account for the success of this “writing against genre” in literature: discovering reality, avoiding the general, narrating pathology, and calculating normality. As the concluding example of Adalbert Stifter’s novella My Great-Grandfather’s Notebook demonstrates, literary case histories thus challenge established views regarding the relationship between case narratives and the semantics of individuality by incorporating the serial structure of clinical practice.” (Pethes “Abstract” Literature and Medicine 32.1 (2014))

K. P. Moritz’s Case Poetics: Aesthetic Autonomy Reconsidered
Monika Class
To historians of medicine, Karl Philipp Moritz is known as the founding editor of the Magazine for Empirical Psychology (1783-93), arguably one the oldest psychiatric journals in Europe. In literary theory, Moritz counts as one of the inaugurators of aesthetic autonomy. Combining the analysis of both fields, this article uncovers that Moritz’s epistemic interest in observation, his reservations towards rationality, and his concern for the particular as opposed to the universal helped to shape his concept of “uselessness” in On the Creative Imitation of Beauty. From this double perspective, we see Moritz’s emerging understanding of case narrative as an end in itself, independent from plans for a future science of empirical psychology. Moritz’s passionate and compassionate approach to observership helps to revise Foucault’s “medical gaze.” This essay proposes that Moritz was a Wordsworthian figure in medical history injecting psychiatric writing with the experience of ordinary life expressed in the simple language of non-experts. (see Class “Abstract” Literature and Medicine 32.1 (2014))

Urban Observation and Sentimental Storytelling in James Parkinson’s Essay on the Shaking Palsy (1817)
Brian Hurwitz
“James Parkinson’s Essay on the Shaking Palsy (1817) has long been considered the foundational text of the disease which now bears the author’s name. This paper shows how the Essay radically re-formulated a diverse array of human dysmobilities as a “species” of disease. Parkinson incorporated medical observation with a clear focus on patient experience and subjectivity in a deeply affecting narrative, fusing clinical and urban case-descriptions within the genre of a sentimental natural history. His detailed, diagnostic portrayal of the malady recast earlier descriptions of trembling, posture and gait disorder within a new narrative order, simultaneously recruiting reader involvement to the plight of sufferers. Hardly any clinical examination as we know it today undergirds what remains an exemplary account of disciplined medical witness. The Essay demonstrates the potential of case construction and powerful, sympathetic case writing to transform clinical understanding of a complex medical condition of long duration.” (Hurwitz “Abstract” Literature and Medicine 32.1 (2014))

‘Let Me Die in Your House’: Cardiac Distress and Sympathy in Nineteenth-Century British Medicine
Meegan Kennedy
“This essay examines the prevalence of a romantic discourse (e.g., associated with the genre of romance) in nineteenth-century British treatises on diseases of the heart. The nineteenth century brought remarkable changes to cardiac medicine, from the stethoscope to the sphygmograph, rendering medical practice increasingly clinical. However, case histories of cardiac disorders from this period maintain a surprising frequency of three affective elements: sensationalism (exaggerated, dramatic, and shocking events and language), sentimentalism (pathos and melancholy), and imagined experience, where the narrator projects himself imaginatively into the lived experience of his subject. British cardiac texts during these professionalizing decades repeatedly use the ambiguous term “distress” to describe the symptoms of heart disorders but also the observer’s subjective response to the patient’s evident suffering. These “distressing” texts demonstrate how nineteenth-century British physicians narrativized their sympathy during a period we usually associate with the distancing of the patient-physician relationship.” (Kennedy “Abstract” Literature and Medicine 32.1 (2014))

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