- Out of Place:The Medical Body in Exile from Dorothée Chellier to Malika Mokeddem
THROUGHOUT THE HISTORY of modern medicine, the body has—unsurprisingly—been a central preoccupation. From an early focus on anatomical measurements through to more recent awareness of the nexus of power relations in which patients' bodies are caught up, the body has—of course—remained central to the fundamental purpose of medicine. But despite the growing sophistication of our understanding of bodies in medicine, one corporeal identity is often overlooked in our analysis: the bodies of doctors themselves. Thus far, very little attention has been paid to the physical status of the medical practitioners who direct, manage, and make life and death decisions in medical environments. Indeed, these 'practitioner-bodies' could be said to be normalised to the point of invisibility. This attitude is replicated within the field of medical humanities, where so prevalent is the focus on bodies that G. Thomas Couser has coined the term "autosomatographies" to refer to the burgeoning field of literary narratives of the self that relate conditions of the body. In his landmark work, Couser highlights the mass of illness narratives, numerous almost to the point of representing a literary epidemic, that often concentrate on particular conditions such as AIDS or breast cancer.1 The doctor's own body remains invisible, apparently absent and certainly unproblematised in Couser's analysis as well as from the literature to which it pertains.
This article begins to address this lacuna by turning the spotlight away from the ailing and needy bodies of patients, to look instead at the bodies of those in power in the medical establishment. It will argue that these 'healthy,' 'powerful,' and 'unproblematic' bodies are themselves worthy of study, and that careful analysis of doctors' bodies can shed fresh light on broader questions of power relations and intercultural relationships. This study takes as its focus the works of two women doctors, which are united in their geographical foregrounding of Algeria, but which contrast starkly in time frame and political positioning. Dorothée Chellier's Voyage dans l'Aurès: Notes d'un médecin envoyé en mission chez les femmes arabes2 was published in 1895 and consists of expanded medical notes based on a short-term colonial mission. Malika Mokeddem's L'interdite, on the other hand,3 published nearly a century later in [End Page 55] 1993, is a semi-autobiographical literary work, in which Sultana, a doctor who is Algerian-born but long-exiled to France, returns to her birthplace for the first time in many decades. Through these two contrasting viewpoints, one depicting the height of the French colonial moment in Algeria, the other situated thirty years after independence, this study will explore the complex interactions between women doctors' bodies and the spaces they inhabit. Seeking to make visible and to problematize the body of the medical practitioner herself, it will investigate the ways in which different gazes can be enacted by, or indeed fall upon, particular doctors' bodies in an Algerian space.
As Michel Foucault's Naissance de la clinique (1963) highlighted,4 since the eighteenth century, the body has been "the focal point for the exercise of disciplinary power,"5 and the institution of modern medicine has played a key role in its efforts to label bodies, and hence identities, as deviant or normal (Lupton 23). In other words, through its regulation of bodies, the medical establishment has played an important role in establishing and reinforcing social values and behaviors. Deborah Lupton expands further on the inextricable interdependence of medicine and its human context: "it is clear that medicine, healthcare, illness and the doctor-patient relationship are cultural activities and experiences" (Lupton 21). Far from dealing in objective science and depersonalized 'facts,' then, modern medicine is steeped in culture-specific values to its core, and its normalization—or stigmatization—of particular bodies is at its very heart. Inverting the direction of the analytical gaze, shifting it from patient to practitioner, we will ask what can be said about the ways in which the doctor's own body is coded, or indeed escapes coding, in particular cultural and socio-political contexts...