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jf* The Healthy Text ^ PhiliD Moslev In this essay I wish to support the view that literary texts can often have medical value, and diat medical texts of a certain kind can often equally have literary value. I am interested in die possibility of creative writing about health and illness; the crux of my argument lies in the generation of language appropriate to its subject. This involves die production of what I shall call the healthy text. Such a text has two principal functions: to engender more enlightened approaches to die subjects of health and illness, but in so doing to cure its own latent unhealthiness by virtue of its difference as text. One might possibly perceive these related functions as a kind of manifestation in creative writing of Freud's curative analysis, seeking revelation of the hidden meanings of the text as well as of the clinical conditions it is addressing. Such an operation implies a desirable return to what Paul Henry calls the corporeality of language,1 an attribute that the scientific terms of modern physiology, neurology, and anatomy invariably conceal. My argument suggests a reassociation of language with the notion of the whole human being. The deflection, even exclusion, of such language in Western culture is largely also a historical phenomenon. In establishing the grounds for healthy texts today, I look for comparison at the spirit and values of the seventeenth-century English literature that represents, so to speak, the qualification of the great instauration; a body of writing diat stands therefore at a curious tangent to Baconian advancement and Cartesian materialism. By this writing, I mean such as die Metaphysicals, Sir Thomas Browne, Robert Burton, die Neoplatonists, and, later, Milton. For these and other writers, a broad view of science and die humanities remained possible, given the persistence throughout the Renaissance of scholastic thought "in which," says Basil Willey, "'fact' and 'value' had not yet been sundered by the mechanical 'philosophy.'"2 The fact diat medically related literature was still invariably informed by moral, religious, and social values is of particular importance to the idea of die healthy text. Douglas Bush points out diat "nearly all die works that we now read as 'literature' were written as contributions to religion, ediics, politics, science, travel, and die odier fields of inquiry and Literature and Medicine 6 (1987) 35-42 © 1987 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 36 THE HEALTHY TEXT instruction."3 Similarly, die practice of medicine itself remained patientcentered and based on a holistic view of health and illness until the later eighteenth century, when bedside medicine began to give way to the hospital variety and to the dominance of anatomo-clinical methods. Bush also draws attention to the considerable number of contemporary writerphysicians , such as Thomas Campion, Henry Vaughan (whose poems show his continuing belief in mystical pseudo-science), Sir Thomas Browne, Thomas Lodge (notably in Treatise of the Plague, 1603), Philemon Holland (the translator of Livy, Pliny, Plutarch, and others), John Collop, Walter Charleton, Martin Lluelyn, and William Chamberlayne. This combination is rare in modern literature. One thinks also of John Donne's medical imagery, and of William Drummond of Hawthornden, whose serious illness directly inspired his Neoplatonic meditation on death, A Cypresse Grove (1623). Browne saw no contradiction in terms between progress in science and die values of the literary imagination. His writing, a blend of rational argument and humanistic reflection, is thus remarkably original, insightful , and eloquent. He promulgated the worth of medical texts written by humanistic as well as scientific authors. According to Charles Webster, Browne's celebrated letter of advice to the Cambridge medical student, Henry Power, showed "the ease with which the inquisitive humanist could assimilate experimental natural philosophy," and "a recurrent theme in Browne's letter is the importance of Observation and experience,'"4 a combined emphasis of significance to the healthy text. Burton's Anatomy of Meüncholy was first and foremost a serious medical inquiry into abnormal psychology, and his range of literary references and allusions was an important and natural element of that analysis. Moreover, as a clergyman, Burton believed that science and religion were inseparable; spiritual insight was necessary to a clear understanding of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6571
Print ISSN
0278-9671
Pages
pp. 35-42
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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