4 November 2012

Literature & Medicine: Where Does It Hurt, Exactly? Medicine, Metaphor, & Speaking to Doctors in the Middle Ages

Please join us for the second seminar of the academic year:

Literature & Medicine: 

Where Does It Hurt, Exactly? 

Medicine, Metaphor, & 

Speaking to Doctors in the Middle 


Dr. Jamie McKinstry

Durham University

Wednesday, 7th November2012
5:30 – 7:00 pm
Department of English Studies, Hallgarth House Seminar Room


Speaker: Dr. Jamie McKinstry, Durham University
Medicine and metaphor are undoubtedly intertwined: when we are ill we often employ emotive imagery and appropriate comparisons to express the scale and severity of pain and discomfort to others, or even to understand our own condition.

This paper examines the expression of illness in the Middle Ages and, subsequently, the responses of doctors to their patients. The medical profession was advertised in a way that appealed to real experiences of patients through a combination of emotive, but authoritative, language. Chaucer’s “Physician’s Prologue” explores the power of such language and metaphor in the diagnosis of disease whilst the importance of the suffering, bleeding, breathing body is emphasised in a poem by William Dunbar about the alchemist John Damian. These works highlight the relationship between mind, body and affect and the literary depictions will be compared to medieval medical scholasticism and recent work in the fields of neurobiological dynamics.

The paper then considers the abilities of literature to exaggerate a corporeal state as explored in the Middle English romance of Sir Orfeo and Dunbar’s “Dance of the Seven Deadly Sins.” This discussion will conclude by asking what literature can contribute to medicine, examined
through another poem by Dunbar about a headache. This piece underlines the significance of metaphor, corporeal sensitivity, and physical expression, but also highlights the important relationship between literature and medicine. The medieval works implicitly recognise the crucial dialogue that exists between disciplines and which, here, produces a more organic, accurate impression of human life, illness, and suffering.
 Dr. Jamie McKinstry holds a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from Durham University. His Ph.D., awarded in July 2012, examined the creative uses of memory in Middle English romances. Jamie is a member of the Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the Centre for Medical Humanities at Durham and a former Chairman of the postgraduates in the IMRS. His current research is based in medical humanities and focuses on the corporeal experience of ‘depression’ in the Middle Ages. He has presented papers on a wide range of medieval and Renaissance literary topics including memory, the body, elegy, and medieval medicine and has also published in these areas. His most recent article, on memory and trauma in medieval romances, was published in the international BMJ journal Medical Humanities in Autumn 2012.

For more information, find us on facebook, follow us on Twitter (@inventionsSem) or check our blog: inventionsofthetext.blogspot.com

No comments: