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To capture the complexities of the long history through which hormones have come to replace hysteria, I invoke as a framework for this book’s rhetorical history Michel Serres’s theory of time as topological. In mathematics, topology is the“study of the properties that are preserved through deformations, twistings, and stretchings of objects.” The image that has come to be most closely affiliated with topology is the Möbius strip, as shown in figure 2. This geometric concept was named for the mathematician August Ferdinand Möbius, who was one of the two mathematicians working independently of each other who discovered this geometric concept in 1858.The distinguishing feature of the Möbius strip is that it possesses a continuous surface that remains smooth and intact no matter how the object is manipulated. Furthermore, the entire surface can be traveled perpetually, so that the whole surface space is covered without the traveler ever crossing a boundary or edge. Hormones and Hysteria | A Rhetorical Topology 1 2 | Image of the Möbius strip. 19094-Koerber_FromHysteria.indd 1 19094-Koerber_FromHysteria.indd 1 1/15/18 4:41 PM 1/15/18 4:41 PM 2 from hysteria to hormones Reflecting Serres’s idea that the movement of time itself might be understood as topological rather than linear, this book’s analysis unfolds from the assumption that underneath the smooth surface of a forward-moving, everprogressing history of beliefs, there are undercurrents of backward movement and places where old ideas stand still. As another way to illustrate this understanding of time and historical progress, Serres draws an analogy to the River Seine, which seems on its surface to flow smoothly in one direction, even while beneath the surface water swirls about unpredictably and in multiple directions. In taking this approach, the book calls into question the assumption that our understanding of topics such as sex difference or“female problems”has advanced from an older myth-based model to a modern scientific model.Rather,throughout the long history that extends from ancient ideas about hysteria to modern ideas about hormones, a rhetorical-topological approach to this history allows us to see that every group of experts who has advocated new truths along the way has done so on the basis of a claim that they have access to more scientifically based, empirically grounded knowledge than did those who came before. In fact, it is in Hippocrates’s mechanistic explanation of hysteria that we see an early example of an expert who tried to refute the beliefs of those who came before him by offering a more scientific explanation of female problems. From today’s perspective, of course, the Hippocratic treatises do not seem scientific. However, the rhetorical stance of these treatises was one in which the author was trying to assign natural, empirically observed causes of disease and to refute the religious explanations that preceded them. The prior religious explanations that Hippocrates was refuting assigned the cause of disease to supernatural forces such as demons. Thus, for example, the Hippocratic treatises include disparaging references to traditional healers who, instead of offering empirically based cures such as the use of odors, referred women to religious efforts such as dedications to the goddessArtemis.In the“empirical”understanding of women’s health problems that Hippocrates offered in place of these older religious explanations , the wandering womb had an important role to play in almost all health conditions experienced by women. It is easy, from today’s perspective, to dismiss these ancient views about the wandering womb as based purely in superstition.But even in these explanations that seem so far-fetched, this mythical or religious belief set cannot be seen as uniform, and from the perspective of the authors who wrote the texts, it was not based purely in superstition. Rather, the Hippocratic treatises claimed that 19094-Koerber_FromHysteria.indd 2 19094-Koerber_FromHysteria.indd 2 1/15/18 4:41 PM 1/15/18 4:41 PM hormones and hysteria 3 their humoral theories of medicine were more empirically based than were earlier theories because they derived from symptoms that could be observed in the patient rather than from religious rituals intended to solicit help from the gods. And just as Hippocrates in the fifth century b.c.e.sought to dissociate his medical beliefs from the beliefs of those who came before him, the authors of each new generation’s expert texts since then have...


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