- The Birth of Homeopathy out of the Spirit of Romanticism by Alice Kuzniar
Many readers in the general public will have heard of homeopathy as an alternative medical practice that has become a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry. They are less likely to know that this practice emerged from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century philosophical, scientific, and medical discourses that cut across overly neat oppositions between empiricism and idealism, the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Alice Kuzniar's The Birth of Homeopathy out of the Spirit of Romanticism aims to address this lacuna concerning the origins of homeopathy, above all in English-language scholarship. The book addresses itself to "educated persons who would browse the homeopathic section in a pharmacy or organic food store and wonder about the little pills" (5). It is nevertheless more likely to find resonance among scholars of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century intellectual history and culture who have an interest in the history of science and medicine.
Although the book's title suggests that homeopathy emerges from the "spirit" of Romanticism, the story Kuzniar tells is somewhat more complicated. She aims to show that homeopathy was indebted, on the one hand, to a semiotic, observational, and taxonomic logic characteristic of eighteenth-century Enlightenment discourses and, on the other hand, to figures of thought associated with romanticism, such as genius, intuition, and unity with nature. The tensions that suffuse the epistemological, hermeneutic, and semiotic paradigms at the origin of homeopathy condition the unfolding of its historical trajectory; to this day, homeopathy continues to oscillate between science, pseudoscience, and a quasi-mystical alternative to science altogether.
The book is structured around the three main principles of homeopathy: the Law of Similars, or the core doctrine of homeopathy that "like cures like" (similia similibus curentur); the Law of the Single Remedy, or the idea that only one remedy should be prescribed in the treatment of a patient; and the Law of Minimum, or the dilution of an effective agent to the greatest degree possible, such that the lesser the dose, the greater the effect. Each chapter of the book corresponds to one of the above principles. However, the book does not simply explicate the above-named principles of homeopathy but seeks to reveal an underlying cultural and epistemic logic, or Denkstruktur, that undergirds each of them and allows them to function as points of resonance within larger discursive constellations. It is worth attending to how Kuzniar expands (and explodes) the logic of these laws.
The overarching constellation—although in this instance I am extrapolating and somewhat simplifying the argument of the book, since each of these laws is [End Page 395] imbricated with the others—could be described as follows: the Law of Similars necessitates a reflection on the code; the Law of the Single Remedy accords a function to singularity; and the Law of Minimum attends to the paradoxical dynamics of nature as a whole. The tripartite structure of the laws and of the book—code/ singularity/whole—should not be confused with dialectical progression; there is no movement from universal to particular to a greater totality. Rather, these chapters illuminate a set of structural tendencies that are held in constant tension with one another.
As one might expect, Kuzniar's reflections on the Law of Similars consist in a semiological analysis. She shows how homeopathy signals a shift from a logic of visible resemblances—which Michel Foucault analyzed as the dominant episteme of the classical age (45)—to a correlation of analogically similar effects; however, signs do not link microcosm to macrocosm, nor do they exhibit a Paracelsian signature through which all appearances eventually disclose a divine order, but "in homeopathy, signs referred to other signs" (47). Homeopathic semiosis correlates bodies (both healthy and sick), symptoms, the voluminous recording of symptoms, and doses of medicine; it is thus resolutely horizontal (immanent) rather than vertical (transcendent).
If the Law of Similars draws attention to the semiotics of homeopathy, the second law, or the Law of the Single Remedy, suggests...