CFP: Literary Diagnosis and Anti-Medical Humanities

Event Description

With Health Humanities programs on the rise and medical memoirs flooding our bookshelves, it is easy to forget that the alliances forged between literary representation and medical discourse are new and fragile. From the 19th century onwards, writers from a multitude of traditions have squared off against doctors for the right to diagnostic prominence, particularly in capturing the “essence” of disease and the dis-eased body/mind. Their motivations, meanwhile, have spanned from the starkly political — such Joseph Brodsky’s mid-century assault on Soviet psychiatric norms — to the intensely personal — the use of faux-medical terminology in the memoir of French writer Camille de Peretti to expose the subjectivity at the heart of clinical observation.

This panel for the American Comparative Literature Association’s annual conference seeks to explore the theoretical implications and methodological approaches of the Anti-Medical Humanities. Poets, playwrights and prose authors have undermined and continue to challenge medical authority over the ailing body or mind, and to present literary “diagnoses” in their place. Whose discourse best captures the experience of being ill, mad, or otherwise dis-eased? What drives these writers to resist the assimilation of the literary into the medical, and vice versa?

Potential topics include, but are not limited to:

– Political and cultural motivations for the elevation of literary over medical discourse;
– New perspectives on clashes between the figures of the Doctor and the Writer;
– Whether literary tradition and medical narrative are indebted to, even infected by, one another;
– How this clash reveals the difficulty of “translating” pain, disease, and the ailing body;
– The implications of championing fictional representation as an authority on real bodies;
– Approaches that disturb set divisions between the the literary and the “real;”
– The reworking of traditional battles between the literary and medical in post-modern contexts.

Please submit your proposal (max. 350 words) and CV by September 22nd. Other expansions on this topic, and questions for the UCLA organizer, are welcomed.


Event Details


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