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“It Feels Good to Be Measured”: Clinical Role-Play, Walker Percy, and the Tingles


A large online community has recently formed around autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), a pleasant and poorly understood somatic reaction to specific interpersonal triggers. Its web-based manifestations include a variety of amateur videos designed to elicit the reaction, many of which feature protracted imitations of a clinician’s physical exam. This analysis considers through a literary lens the proximity of this phenomenon to clinical diagnostics, focusing in particular on characterizations of spiritual isolation elaborated in Love in the Ruins (1971), the third novel by physician-writer Walker Percy (1916–1990). Within this speculative framework, the tendency to derive pleasure from clinical milieus, real or constructed, may be interpreted as a quality particular to the postmodern psyche. Viewing web-based clinical role-play in light of Percy’s writing also underscores the possibility that routine diagnostic assessments may have independent therapeutic implications.