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J^ Literature and Medicine: In Quest of Method* Stephen L. Daniel At least from the time of Hippocrates medicine and writing have gone hand in hand, but only in die last decade have we witnessed the rise of literature and medicine as a recognized field of study. Landmarks in this rise are the publication of Joanne Trautmann and Carol Pollard's comprehensive annotated bibliography in 1975, G: S. Rousseau's survey of "the state of the field" in 1981, and the first volume of this journal in 1982.1 Practitioners in the field (shall we call them medical literary critics7) are fulfilling the promise of teaching how the stories of healers and their patients fit into the broader human story. Yet a danger lurks. These interdisciplinary voyagers may lose their academic bearings, whether from a home base in literature or in medicine, and drift with no other aim than the expedient of the moment. The field needs a solid theoretical foundation on which to relate the two disciplines in more than accidental fashion. At a time when both the humanities and the sciences have shown a predilection for methodological pluralism, it would be rash to suggest that there is only one way of doing literature and medicine. Rather I will take the approach of comparing the two disciplines, assessing the present state of the new interdisciplinary field, and drawing some caveats and recommendations about method. Disciplinary Relations Since literature and medicine as a field is only in its infancy, we should probably not expect it to show distinct stages of development. I would make the case that the field is still at the initial stage in which the explicit medical theme or symbol primarily interests teachers and students. Trautmann and Pollard's bibliography exemplifies this with annotations * I am grateful to Joanne Trautmann Banks for encouraging me to write this essay and to David Hesla for valuable suggestions. Literature and Medicine 6 (1987) 01-12 © 1987 by The Johns Hopkins University Press IN QUEST OF METHOD that ferret out one or more of thirty-nine medical themes (e.g., the body, death, doctors, madness, sexuality) in over thirteen hundred literary works. The anthologies edited by Joseph Ceccio, Anthony Moore, and Norman Cousins follow suit with similar topics as the organizing rubric; and the critical essays collected in Enid Rhodes Peschel's book and the first volumes of Literature and Medicine exhibit a preoccupation with medical themes and symbols, illnesses of writers, and doctor-writers.2 This is no doubt the appropriate first approach to the field, considering the demands for relevance thrust upon it by its usually precarious situation within a crowded curriculum. If literature and medicine is to advance beyond the stage of serendipitous but nonetheless casual relationship between the two disciplines, we need to be more precise about differences between the disciplines. We may find that the differences are so fundamental as to preclude a substantial relation. We may describe each discipline in terms of the experience of the typical practitioner of that discipline. This experience, I submit, is interpretive in each instance and can be analyzed according to four aspects of the interpretive act: the object of interpretation, the mode of interpretation, the praxis or life-affecting activity following from interpretation, and the change of life-world brought about through interpretation.3 Thus we may compose the following schema: Discipline Object Mode Literature Literary work Meaning Medicine The patient Diagnosis Praxis Sensitivity Therapy Change in life-world Revelation Healing/ Revelation I take the practitioner of literature to be the literary critic rather than the writer; but if one prefers the writer, the interpretive object would be anything in the physical or mental world, the interpretive mode would be primarily imagination, and the praxis would be the creation of the literary work (one can only speculate about the change in the writer's life-world). The first point to be made is that although medicine's object is limited to health-seeking human beings, medicine is capable of symbolization in those human artifacts that constitute literature. Considering the mode of interpretation, we should notice that literature 's mode, the comprehension of meaning, is a general cognitive activity Stephen...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6571
Print ISSN
0278-9671
Pages
pp. 1-12
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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