restricted access Telling Cases: Writing against Genre in Medicine and Literature

Building on Gianna Pomata’s concept of “epistemic genre,” the article argues that case histories are a specific textform suited for medical as well as literary communication. But as an inherently cross-disciplinary mode of presenting individual biographies, case histories also work against the idea of “genre” as generalizing typologies both in medicine and aesthetics. Focusing on German literature between 1750 and 1850, the article highlights four aspects of medical case histories that account for the success of this “writing against genre” in literature: discovering reality, avoiding the general, narrating pathology, and calculating normality. As the concluding example of Adalbert Stifter’s novella My Great-Grandfather’s Notebook demonstrates, literary case histories thus challenge established views regarding the relationship between case narratives and the semantics of individuality by incorporating the serial structure of clinical practice.