T C 357 • Healing Words: The Literature of Medicine & the Medicine of Literature
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
The relationships between medicine and literature are many and varied and as old as the Greeks. Above the door of the Library at Thebes were inscribed the words "Medicine for the Soul," and the methodology of Greek empiricism and Epicurean rhetoric was first formulated in the Hippocratic writings. Milton once discussed tragedy as a kind of homeopathic physic intended to "purge the mind," and George Puttenham thought his "poetic lamentations" acted therapeutically by "making the very grief itself cure of the disease." John Keats, Anton Chekhov, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and William Carlos Williams all had medical training, and countless other physicians, such as Richard Seltzer and Oliver Sacks, have written about their practices in ways more literary than scientific.
This course will examine works by, about, and for doctors. In it we will explore how the "medical arts" developed historically into what we now consider the "science of medicine." Along the way we will look at how medical issues inevitably involve historically specific cultural biases and, at times, disguise these biases in the supposedly neutral terms of an empirical discourse. We will also examine how some doctors have sought to expand the boundaries of their practice by exploring the literary arts. Student projects will include an examination of contemporary issues such as alternative medical practices, the relationship between the mind and healing, and the AIDS crisis.
Daniel Defoe, The Journal of the Plague Year
Barbara Ehrenreich and Deidre English, The Sexual Politics of Sickness Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper" G. E. R. Lloyd (ed.), Hippocratic Writings S. Weir Mitchell, The Autobiography of a Quack Mary Shelley, Frankenstein Samuel Shem, The House of God Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor William Carlos Williams, The Doctor Stories Virginia Woolf, "On Being Ill" Selected poems by John Keats, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, William Carlos Williams, and others.