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  • The Birth of Homeopathy out of the Spirit of Romanticism by Alice A. Kuzniar
  • Carolina Malagon
The Birth of Homeopathy out of the Spirit of Romanticism. By Alice A. Kuzniar. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017. Pp. 223. Cloth $65.00. ISBN 978-1487501174.

Aimed explicitly at homeopaths, physicians, and "educated persons who would browse the homeopathic section in a pharmacy or organic food store" (5), Alice Kuzniar's book seeks to demonstrate that homeopathy is a product of its time. Although many homeopathic practices today can be traced back to the tenets of founder Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843), they tend to be presented as timeless (9). To correct for this "historical amnesia" (5), Kuzniar pushes against portrayals of a practice rooted exclusively in experiential laws, stressing instead that like all practices, homeopathy was conditioned by "regulatory discourses of the period" (9). This shift in emphasis involves at least two moves. First, Kuzniar makes the case that homeopathy was constructed as a coherent system or Denkstruktur. Hahnemann claimed to have arrived at the central "laws" of homeopathy through empirical observation. Decisions about how to treat a patient, however, were derived from the interactions of these laws to the degree that, once Hahnemann had decided on an outcome, "then it doesn't matter what the patient's reactions are" (22). Clarifying the relationship between practice and theory is one of the main thrusts of the book. Kuzniar's second move is to defamiliarize concepts like "law, empiricism, and objectivity in experimentation" (25), for instance, by situating them within contemporary understandings of what constituted "natural" medicine (143). Historicizing the laws of homeopathy also gives Kuzniar room to explain "discrepancies"—paradoxes—in Hahnemann's system via synchronous "contradictory discursive paradigms" (19). She broadly locates homeopathy in a period of transition between the Enlightenment and romanticism. By reading Hahnemann against other (canonical and exclusively German) contemporaries, she argues that Hahnemann belongs to "the pantheon of romantic thinkers" (11).

The structure of the book mirrors Hahnemann's. Kuzniar devotes each chapter [End Page 617] to analyzing one of the three laws of homeopathy: the law of similars, the law of the single remedy, and the law of minimum. A conclusion draws further parallels to explain why homeopathy enjoyed success when it did.

As chapter 1 shows, Hahnemann first laid out the law of similars in a 1796 essay, although he would not call it a "law of nature" until some ten years later (14). Positioning himself against the conventional medicine of his day, he claimed it was mistaken to treat symptoms with remedies that produced opposing effects (contraria contrariis). Hahnemann proposed instead using remedies with effects resembling the symptoms of illness (similia similibus) to rouse the body's "vital force" to a permanent cure. Kuzniar sets this approach against the bloodletting and purging of traditional medicine, then identifies tensions in Hahnemann's semiotics. He tied the principles to his own experience, and rejected investigations into the causes of disease (for Kuzniar, the legacy of an older empiricism). Instead of classifying diseases, Hahnemann compiled symptoms and remedies. Instead of physically assessing patients, Hahnemann asked them to narrate their own symptoms. In a procedure akin to "inspirational discernment" (54), he claimed to match their external account with a remedy. For Kuzniar, Hahnemann's "taxonomical organization" of symptoms bears the markers of "Enlightenment rationalism" (49). But his divination of the cure more closely resembles romantic reading practices.

The process of determining the homeopathic remedy is further explored in chapter 2, where Kuzniar turns to Hahnemann's stipulation that only a single remedy be dispensed at a time. In addition to concerns over what was "natural" or "pure," this law reflects an understanding of disease as the totality of bodily symptoms. Instead of targeting individual diseases, homeopathy focused on the sick individual (42). This "philosophy of singularity" (62) represents the "most modern and novel aspect of homeopathy" (61) for Kuzniar. Although Hahnemann demonstrably prescribed "the exact same remedy" to most (77), he individualized patients to a degree unsurpassed at the time (72). In another characteristic paradox, the object of his epistemological interest—true knowledge of disease—was located not in the patient's bodily interior, but in...


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