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A Esthetics and Anesthetics: Mimesis, Hermeneutics, and Treatment in Literature and Medicine* Albert Howard Carter, III Literature and medicine is a new academic field, complete with professional meetings, faculty appointments, courses, a journal, and, increasingly , organized ways of asking questions about the intersections of these two fields. Separately, each field is millennia old, and each is a response to events of the human body (illness, injury, handicap, disfigurement), events which confront us with pain and odier proofs of our mortality. In die oldest major literary work we have. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the character Enkidu interprets the meaning of his impending death: "the great goddess cursed me and I must die in shame. I shall not die like a man who falls in battle; I feared to fall, but happy is the man who falls in battle, for I must die in shame."1 Enkidu, and many anodier anrient hero, interpreted body events dirough a pervasive mythology that subsumed medicine and, of course, literature. Mircea Eliade gives many examples, among them one Väinämöinen from die Kalevala, who cuts himself with an ax while building a boat and dien chants die mydis about die origin of iron in order to heal himself.2 Widi the rise of sdence, both andent3 and modern,4 literature and mediane have been seen as diversely different fields, representatives of C. P. Snow's "two cultures." Thus, die question often arises: "Literature and mediane — what could those possibly have to do widi each odier?" This essay seeks, at least in part, to answer diat question and to discuss some of the most basic concepts that, I shall argue, pertain to both " An earlier version of this paper was presented to the morning group on Medicine and Humanities at the Society for Values in Higher Education's annual meeting, Vassar College, 4-10 August 1984. Literature and Medicine 5 (1986) 141-151 C 1986 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 142 ESTHETICS AND ANESTHETICS fields. Literature is complex; medicine is complex; because of dieir many differences, theory-building about diem must be selective and modest, always admitting to the possibility of counter-example, counter-argument, and parallel but different models.5 My daim, however, is diat even speculative accounts of literature and medicine may offer insights about each and understanding about how each may complement the odier. Before turning to die three concepts diat any adequate dieory should address (mimesis, hermeneutics, and treatment), we need to consider a case of a William Doe, and die kinds of "-ization" his illness is subject to. I. Body Events, Sensations, and "-izations" Let's say William Doe falls from a ladder and twists his ankle. The ankle hurts, swells, looks strange, but Doe hopes it is just a sprain that he can treat himself with ice, aspirin, and elevation of die limb. The pain intensifies , however, and his wife drives him to the Emergency Room, where he is seen by a Dr. Pilkington. Doe is examined, x-rayed, and, because of the severity of the fracture, sent to surgery. Bodi in the ER and on his way to surgery, Doe is given drugs to relieve him of his pain ("an-esthesia" meaning "without sensation"). In Mr. Doe's experience, die injury and treatment are, causally and chronologically, continuous, but he assumes a different consdousness in seeking medical aid, die famous entry into the "sick role," described by Talcott Parsons.* In entering die hospital, he seeks a "medicalization" of his physical state, a term we may borrow from Ivan Dlich, without accepting the full critique he develops.7 We might say that Doe is asking his caregivers (doctors, nurses, physical dierapists, etc.) to take responsibility for his physical care, relieving him (as much as possible) of his pain, healing him, so that he can return to healdi, to wholeness. His trust is so complete that he will even give up consdousness (for surgery, an event we might call discontinuous). Of necessity, of convention, of cultural mandate, Doe calls upon the disdpline of mediane as die legal and sdentific agent that may attempt to fix his ankle. Let us state further that Doe's wife, Penelope, is a writer...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6571
Print ISSN
0278-9671
Pages
pp. 141-151
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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