Abstract

Abstract:

The controversial Irish Protestant healer Valentine Greatrakes's 1666 autobiography is an under-appreciated text in the history of anglophone life writing, one that invites us to rethink the early history of a genre that has long been linked to a spatialized, specular, and mimetic model of the self. In contrast to the post-Lockean texts that posit that model, A Brief Account of Mr Valentine Greatrak's and Divers of the Strange Cures by Him Lately Performed incorporates Greatrakes's unorthodox method of healing by touch over time into the process of literary self-representation. As it plays between poles of distance and proximity, objectivity and contingency, shadow and substance the resulting textual "perform[ance]" may be historicized in terms of late-seventeenth-century conceptions of what Greatrakes's implied reader, the pneumatic chemist Robert Boyle, called the "little atmospheres" that surround human bodies—"atmospheres" that anticipate Walter Benjamin's modern notion of the aura but treat aura as a uniquely communicative aspect of the person. Greatrakes's shamanistic practice binds his readers to his patients, thereby developing a therapeutic form of transpersonal, transhistorical, transgeneric personal identity uniquely realized in the literary text.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1456
Print ISSN
0162-4962
Pages
pp. 425-459
Launched on MUSE
2017-11-22
Open Access
No
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