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The language of disease in the Victorian
By Beth Kephart
Producing Pathology in Victorian Culture
Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001.
272 pages; $18.95 (paper).
acknowledgments of her new book, Raw Material, Assistant
Professor of English Erin OConnor thanks her parents for raising her
in the modern equivalent of Mr. Venuss shop, among bones, skulls,
bottled preparations, illustrated medical books, and the sharp, irreducible
smell of formaldehyde. It was an irreverent household, she says, one
that taught her to combine labor with creation, one that also inspired
in her the desire, from the age of six, to grow up to be a writer.
is no stretch to extrapolate the curiosity-enamored child from the endlessly
inquisitive adult after reading OConnors book. Full of the idiosyncratic
and the macabre, insatiably researched, Raw Material is not the
sort of book that can be reduced to a single tag line. Its about the
language of disease in the Victorian culture, about how a rapidly industrializing
society perceived and named and adapted to the ugly ills that had beset
it, about how knowledge itself is produced, and about a whole lot of
other things besides. It is multidisciplinary and thematically far-reaching,
drawing on medicine, literature, political economy, sociology, anthropology,
and popular advertising to explore the industrial logic of disease.
Raw Material, OConnor explains, centers on the epistemological
continuity between the disorderly materiality of unhealthy bodies and
the radically altered social order of an increasingly materialist culture,
examining how the forms and figures of urban industrial disorder filtered
through the language surrounding actual disease.
draws out her theme through four extended case studies of Victorian
disease states or obsessionsAsiatic cholera, breast cancer, amputation
and prosthetics, and freak shows. Its not a book, in other words, for
the fainthearted, not bedtime reading for the innocent brood. Nor is
it a popular history for the lay reader, for Raw Material is
the culmination of OConnors dissertation work and is as much about
its overt subject mattersomatics and signifiersas it is about the
academic sub-specialty known as cultural studies. Slow going is required
as one makes ones way through sentences such as the following: The
material patterns of industrial pathology found a metaphorical counterpart
in medical models of disease, which mapped productive language onto
pathological process as a means of investigating the meaning of corporeality
in machine culture. And yet, OConnors enthusiasm for her material
is, well, infectious, and her fascinations become ours as we sift through
the ugly, seamy underworld of life in the Victorian age.
cholera, which erupted violently and could kill within days, is the
focus of OConnors first case study. The disease shriveled its victims
black and unrecognizable with sudden, devastating diarrhea; it swept
into the filthy, festering English slums and stayed, exposing, as OConnor
says, the frailties of Englands urban industrial structure and ultimately
inspiring the countrys first true sanitary reforms. It was an eastern
infection, one that would never have gotten as far west as it did had
not England asserted its international heft through colonizationan
awful paradox that provoked Victorian physicians and social critics
to question the ways in which the west was securing its own global
power. Contagion became a metaphor, the means by which critics
began to describe not just the medical process but the imperial imagination.
Asiatic cholera infected more than the body, in other words. It infected
knowledge itself, social perspective. It metaphorically obliterated
the status of its decimated victims.
OConnor asserts, breast cancer, and the ways in which breast cancer
was perceived, diagnosed, and (not) treated, obliterated women, raising
questions about their compatibility with the new industrial age. Tumors
were treated as scenes of mass production, OConnor writes, as factories
that transformed female tissue into rotten imitations of market itemsbad
eggs, rank cheese, squishy fruit. The factory routine that kept women
away from their nursing babies and found them bent and dripping over
smelly, spewing, noisy, dehumanizing machines instead was not just eating
away at souls, apparently; it was eating away at the flesh.
the victims of cholera and breast cancer were effaced by their times,
those fitted with artificial limbs or hawked as freak show specials
were, OConnor argues, in some ways augmented, retooled to fit industrial
demands and Victorian morality. Prosthetics and monsters rebuilt the
self by taking bodily anomaly as the condition of a new personal integrity,
she writes. Framing amputees as whole men with artificial limbs and
marketing monsters as living curiosities worked paradoxically to secure
their humanity by objectifying them.
of theories and conjectures, talk of tropes and synechdoches, ontology
and machine culture, Raw Material is at its best when it is portraying
the spectacle of those strange Victorian years, painting the time in
its many horrifying hues with a careful historians brush. OConnors
descriptions of Asiatic cholera at work are vivid, relentless, fearless,
and consequently unforgettable.
tales of copper workers physically oxidizing and matchmakers turning
phosphorescent and silk twisters who themselves become twisted and incapacitated
are shocking, harrowing, and stomach-turninga panacea for anyone who
ever dared think of ergonomics as a tangential science. But it is her
final case study about monsters and freak shows that contains the most
marvelous, evocative passages. We feel that we have been taken back
in time, that we are standing among the transfixed and giddily horrified
crowds, that we are staring despite ourselves at the monsters on the
brings P.T. Barnum and his cast of oddball characters to credible life,
ushering the madness of the era to the forefront, reminding us how far
and how little we have, as a society, come: When Barnum took over New
York Citys American Museum on January 1, 1842, the place was a moribund
dusty repository of old bones, moth-eaten skins, moldering dioramas,
and mediocre art, OConnor writes, with the energy of the curious little
girl who grew up to become the curious adult. Within months Barnum
had converted the museum into a hugely successful enterprise, tripling
profits through skilled management, shameless promotion, and the peculiar
blend of genuine instruction, unabashed humbug, and prurient appeal
that was to become his trademark. Barnums genius, OConnor suggests,
was in recognizing that monstrosity was not a disease; rather it was
a healthful adaptation to modern culture, celebrating damage as the
image of a brave new world.
C82 is the author of two award-winning books. Her third, about love
and loss on a coffee farm in El Salvador, is due out next April from
selection of recent books by alumni and faculty, or otherwise of interest
to the University community. Descriptions are compiled from information
supplied by the authors and publishers.
BIG BOOK OF JEWISH BASEBALL: An
Illustrated Encyclopedia & Anecdotal History
Peter S. Horvitz C66 and Joachim Horvitz.
New York: S.P.I.
Books, 2001. 288
beginning, Jews have played a prominent role in our national pastime,
but have often been ignored. This is the first baseball encyclopedia
dedicated to naming and honoring every Jewish contributor. Covering
tragic moments such as Herb Gorman dying on the ballfield and Erskine
Meyer quitting the sport after finding out about his teammates on the
1919 White Sox taking bribes, to happier occasions such as Sandy Koufaxs
perfect game, the book also remembers scores of lesser known players
like Cal Abrams, who shielded Jackie Robinson with his body, and Ron
Blomberg, who stood in as the very first Designated Hitter. Peter S.
Horvitz and Joachim Horvitz are a father-and-son team: Peter recently
retired as a Philadelphia high school teacher and English department
chair; Joachim works professionally in graphic design and has been collaborating
with his father in collecting Jewish sports memorabilia for most of
CITY: Writing from Los Angeles
David L. Ulin C84.
City Lights Books, 2001. 292
A group of
both well-established and up-and-coming young writers who have made
Los Angeles their home contribute short stories, chronicles, essays,
and poems about life there. From the entertainment industry to earthquakes,
riots, and racism, this collection embodies the raw energy and clash
of destinies that define contemporary L.A. David Ulin was the book editor
of the LA Reader from 1993 to 1996. He serves on the board of
the National Book Critics Circle and writes regularly for the LA
Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Newsday, and The Los
BREAST CANCER WARS:
Hope, Fear, and the Pursuit of a Cure in Twentieth-Century America
H. Lerner C82.
New York: Oxford
University Press, 2001. 416
become intimately familiar with the symbols of breast cancer: pink ribbons,
survivor testimonials, and Races for the Cure. But why have we chosen
to wage such a fierce battle against this disease? Why has it become
nearly impossible to describe breast cancer control efforts without
using military metaphors? What does our war against breast cancer reveal
about Americas faith in curative medical interventions and scientific
research? Why is breast cancer the most feared disease among women?
Dr. Barron Lerner, a practicing physician, seeks to answer these questions,
opening a window on how American culture understands and treats disease.
Lerner is the Angelica Berrie Gold Foundation Associate Professor at
the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he teaches internal
medicine, history, and ethics. He is the author of Contagion and
Confinement: Controlling Tuberculosis Along the Skid Road.
OF TEACHING HOSPITALS IN BOSTON, NEW YORK, AND
A. Kastor C53.
Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2001. 487 pp., $59.50.
investigates the conditions that have led some of the nations top teaching
hospitals to merge with each other and how the organizations have fared
since joining together. The mergers are analyzed and compared in order
to identify various methods of merger formation as well as ways in which
other newly formed hospitals might accomplish a variety of important
goals. Dr. John Kastor is professor of medicine at the University of
Maryland School of Medicine and formerly the chair of its department
of medicine as well as chief of the medical service at the University
of Maryland Hospital. He is the author of Arrhythmias.
YOUR BUSINESS: Let Graphics Tell the Story
R. Herrmann C82.
New York: John
Wiley & Sons, 2001. 240
pp., $54.95 (hardcover with disk).
provides managers, business owners, and consultants with the necessary
tools to manage information, set goals, measure progress, and make fast
decisions by quickly evaluating financial information and communicating
it to their companies. Packed with real-world examples and dozens of
illustrations, this book shows managers how to make memorable presentations
that demystify complex issues and integrate financial and non-financial
information. Included is a CD-ROM that gives 25 examples in PowerPoint
and Excel. Keith Herrmann is a controller with BlueStar Systems Group.
AT THE CHARM
America House, 2000. 214
This is a
novel about four women at a public psychiatric clinic on the day that
the clinics closing is announced. As the day begins, each woman tells
her own story, focusing on a critical situation in her personal life
as well as her perceptions of the other characters at the Charm City
Community Mental Health Center. At the end of the day, each has come
to some sense of resolution about her personal crisis, as well as the
turbulence caused in her life by the centers closing. Dr. Dinah Miller
practices psychiatry in Baltimore.
Fieldwork, Networks, and the Making of Cultural Knowledge in Central
By Lyn Schumaker
Duke University Press, 2001.
376 pp., $59.95
(cloth); $19.95 (paper).
tells the story of anthropological fieldwork centered at the Rhodes-Livingston
Institute in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) during the mid-20th century.
Focusing on collaborative processes rather than on the activity of individual
researchers, Dr. Lyn Schumaker gives the assistants and informants of
anthropologists a central role in the making of anthropological knowledge.
She shows how local conditions and local ideas about culture and history,
as well as previous experience of outsiders interest, shape local peoples
responses to anthropological fieldwork and help them, in turn, to influence
the construction of knowledge about their societies and lives. Schumaker
is the Wellcome Research Lecturer at the Wellcome Unit for the History
of Medicine, University of Manchester.
IMAGE AND COMPETITIVE
ADVANTAGE: The Theory and Practice of Country-of-Origin Effect
D. Jaffe W58 Gr66 and Israel D. Nebenzahl.
Copenhagen Business School Press, 2001. 190 pp., $28.00.
features in-depth analyses of interactions between brand, country, and
product images; real-life examples of country branding; and guidelines
for managerial action, making it a resource for students, international-marketing
managers, industry leaders, and government officials. Subjects covered
include consumers perception of countries as sources for brands and
products, how to manage national-promotion campaigns of country image,
the use of the made-in label as a trade barrier and the future role
of brand and country images in the age of e-commerce. Eugene D. Jaffe
is professor at the Graduate School of Business Administration, Bar-Ilan
issue's reviews | Reviews in Brief | Sept/Oct
Contents | Gazette Home
Copyright 2001 The
Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 8/21/01
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FACE: What Does a Female Athlete Look Like?
by Jane Gottesman. New York: Random House, 2001. 224 pp.,
A celebration of sports and physical daring in the lives of
girls and women, this bookaccompanied by a nationwide exhibition
features photographs by Americas best photographers, including
Mary Ellen Mark FA62 ASC64 Hon94, Lee Friedlander,
Annie Leibovitz, Ansel Adams, and Dorothea Lange. The above
image by Mark is entitled Trampolinist Jennifer Parilla. ©
Mary Ellen Mark 2000.
The Case of Contemporary Cuban Baseball
and directed by SalomÈ Aguilera Skvirsky C97.
This film, which premiered on PBS in July, focuses on the role
the Cuban National League plays in Cuban society and how that
prized position has been jeopardized by the recent player defections.
Against the backdrop of the 38th Cuban National Championship
Series, this 60-minute documentary explores the tension between
players who have left Cuba in search of freedom and multimillion-dollar
contracts, and the government, which has invested substantially
in their training with the expectation that they will play for
the Cuban National League. This book ultimately probes a compelling
sociopolitical conflict that is fundamental to any political
ideologythe interests of the individual versus those of the