Discursive Pathologies: Notions of Health and Illness from the 19th through the 21st Century

Registration deadline

In Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory, Chris Weedon interprets Foucauldian discourse as “more than ways of thinking and producing meaning. They constitute the 'nature' of the body, unconscious and conscious mind and emotional life of the subjects they seek to govern”. With advances in medicine and the nascent social sciences during the 19th century, the discourse pertaining to the body underwent significant changes as it intermingled with moral and religious views to produce a discursive language that ultimately controlled the body in ways distinctly different prior to the modern era. The medical gaze was often directed at the female body, due in part to women’s increased presence in the public sphere, a phenomenon that unnerved Western patriarchal society and precipitated a fear of the liberated “New Woman,” prompting the creation of discourse that sought to control a woman’s body. Healthy, moral women conformed to traditional roles, while those that didn’t embodied illness and were liable to pass on atavistic traits. Moreover, this discourse infiltrated the core of cultural production through literary and artistic texts, which played an important role in constructing women as inherently pathological through depictions of illness, monstrosity, and deviance. Connections between physical and moral health underlie these issues and others across various literary traditions. For example, several nineteenth-century Spanish doctors emphasized the importance of the Catholic sacraments as a way to promote physical hygiene. A parallel situation exists in Mexican feminist literature, depicted as inherently immoral because of its challenge to religion and patriarchy. Not only Mexicana but Latin@ literature also links illness and immorality to racialization and racism, sometimes redeemed by spirituality and political activism. This seminar focuses on how discourse affects perspectives on what constitutes a healthy/sick/monstrous body. In what ways are health and morality portrayed as interdependent? What role does narrative play in determining what counts as bodily health? We invite 20-minute papers in English exploring the following concepts across literary/cultural traditions, especially but not limited to Spanish, Latin American and U.S. Latin@ cultural production:

Representations of health/illness, morality/deviance, conformity/deformity

Gender, race, class, able-bodiedness in discourses on health/illness

The competing voices of folklore, myth, religion and science on matters of the body and social practice in literature

The changing notions of modernity and its relationship to the body through 21st century literature

Postcolonial examinations of body, self, and society

Organizer: Sylvia Morin
Co-Organizer: Megan Kelly
Co-Organizer: Stephanie Fetta