Workshop: The Other Senses in Literature and Medicine, 29-31 July 2015


L0028330 Five people, each exercising one of the five senses. Coloure Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Five people, each exercising one of the five senses. Coloured lithograph after L.-L. Boilly. Coloured Lithograph 1823 By: Louis Boillyafter: Louis Leopold BoillyPublished: [1823?] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

L0028330 Five people, each exercising one of the five senses. Coloure
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Five people, each exercising one of the five senses. Coloured lithograph after L.-L. Boilly.
Coloured Lithograph
1823 By: Louis Boillyafter: Louis Leopold BoillyPublished: [1823?]
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

This workshop investigates the role of multimodal perceptions in communications about the living, human body in medical and literary culture. The overarching aim is to harness interdisciplinary approaches to, and help to reevaluate, the role of human senses in these fields. The initiative is funded by the ‘Zukunftskolleg’ of the University of Constance, Germany. 

Date: 29-31 July 2015

Location: K7, University of Constance, Germany

You are warmly invited to attend the event. (Attendance is free.)

July 29

10.00-10.10 – Introduction                                 Monika Class (Constance)

Psychiatric Power

11.10-11.20 Remote Control: Pedagogical, Fictional, Physiological, and Psychological Experiments on Producing Emotions
Nicolas Pethes (Cologne)

Human emotions seem to be the realm of individual expression beyond scientific measurement or categorization. But since the foundation of empirical medicine on physiological observation in the course of the 18th century, due to the hypothesis of commercium mentis et corporis emotions, too, became subject of the “clinical gaze” (Foucault) as well as of its “techniques of the observer” (Crary). My paper traces a series of experiments from the late 18th to the early 20th century from different scientific disciplines as well as literary fiction that are connected by the common interest in artificially generating emotional response in experimental subjects. In 1806, Jean Itard tried to evoke sensory perception in his student, the “Wild Child of Averon”, by physical as well as moral stimuli; in 1814 and 1818, respectively, German Romanticists E.T.A. Hoffmann and Achim von Arnim, who were strongly influenced by the mesmerist tradition, published fictional narratives on external brain stimulation; in 1874, the American surgeon Robert Bartholow actually conducted such experiments on a patient, evoking involuntary emotional responses, similar to the ones John Watson produced in the famous “Infant Albert” by psychological conditioning in the early 20th century. In all cases, different as they may be, scientists as well as authors construct the notion that sensory reactions and emotions can be externally produced in humans, thus not only crossing the divide between mind and body, but also questioning basic concepts of self-perception and self-control.

Coffee Break

11.30-12.40 Late Foucault and Multimodal Sensory Perception
Neil Vickers (King’s College London)

One of the master themes of Foucault’s late work was the idea that the care of the body underpinned the care of the self. Because we live, think and act through our bodies, the body must be at the centre of all philosophical inquiries. The body in this late work is conceived first and foremost as the seat of sensory-aesthetic appreciation and creative self-fashioning. Focusing on the course of lectures Foucault devoted to psychiatric power (1972) I will consider the ways in which social power is inscribed into the subject through multimodal uses of the senses. I will also say something about the role of sensory pleasure in Foucault’s emerging account of emancipation from power.


13.50-15.00 Psychology, Autism and Sensory Impairment in England 1959-1981
Bonnie Evans (Queen Mary University of London)

This paper explores theories of autism as a sensory impairment from the late 1950s to the early 1980s in England, focusing on work supported by the British Medical Research Council. It argues that these theories were fundamental to shaping new psychological categories to describe children’s development in the latter half of the 20th century, in particular the category of autism. Theories of sensory impairment vied with theories of sensory deprivation as the cause of severe psychopathological presentations in infants and children and arguments over these different approaches became increasingly disconnected. The paper also examines the impact of these debates in the applied domains of psychological knowledge such as schools, child guidance clinics, pediatric departments, and the wider National Health Service in England.

Medical Record-taking & Sensory Overload

15.00-16.10 Narrating Order in Modern Clinical Case Reports
Brian Hurwitz (King’s College London)

Clinical case reports are remarkably terse accounts of problems and predicaments in a person’s life recounted from distinctively medical or psychiatric viewpoints. Integral to their main purpose is to demonstrate how a patient’s medical situation has been identified through representing – in part constructing – a virtual model of a disorder. Cases of this sort explain through making ‘signs and things match’, (1) by partnering the patient’s medical situation with a ‘natural kind’ or fragment of ‘unjointed nature’, for example, a pathological category named after a biological anomaly or a species of pathogen. Standardly, reports also pay close attention to certain aspects of human experience, visceralities of ill health such as altered feelings, sensations, behaviours and functions. Some of these are open to direct inspection by third parties and may first come to attention in reports by people other than the patient; others may be symptoms such as pain, nausea, altered mood or sense of identity, which are private and to which only the patient is witness. To feature in case reports in any detail, such ‘insider’ phenomena are dependent on the capacities of patients in some way to generate self-descriptions of inner states. Case reports not only focus on the diagnosis of already well-established disorders and treatment, they also recount new medical conditions and treatments, and other sorts of novelty, such as adverse reactions, medical mistakes and new variants of established diseases. I am interested in how twentieth- and twenty-first century cases “shuffle teeming human life into some kind of order”, (2) and how they catch and marshal the attention of an audience. Through which sorts of framings, descriptive strategies, temporal and configuring devices do case reports achieve these purposes? This paper examines how case reports ‘write experience into the world’ (3) in different hybrid registers, combine witness statements, field notes, diaries and logs with those of memoirs and memorials, mysteries and detective fiction.

Reports spanning the period 1912 to 2009 will be considered, including:

  • E. An unusual case of ‘dying together’. Zentralblatt fűr Psychoanalyse (May 1912), Jahrgang II, reprinted in Jones, E. Pyscho-Myth, Psycho-History. New York: Hillstone 1974, 16-21.
  • Samarasekera S, Dorman P. The Case of the forgotten address. Lancet 2006: 367; 1290.
  • Ogundare O, Jumma O, Turnbull D, Woywodt A. Searching for the needle in the Haystacks. Lancet 2009 374: 850.
  • Edelstyn J N M, Oyebode F, and Barrett, K. Delusional Misidentification: A Neuropsychological Case Study in Dementia Associated with Parkinson’s Disease. Neurocase 1998 4: 181-8.
  • Jonathan Taylor. Take Me Home: Parkisnon’s, My Father, Myself. London: Granta Books, 2007.


  1. Smith, R. The Language of Human Nature. In: Fox C, Porter RS, and Wokler R, (eds) Inventing Human Science: Eighteenth Century Domains. Berkley: University of California Press 1995.
  2. Douglas-Fairhurst, R. Introduction: London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew. Oxford: OUP 2010
  3. ‘Erfahrungen in die Welt hineinschreiben’. Cited by Leder, Christoph Maria. Die Grenzgänge des Marcus Herz: Beruf, Haltung and Identitäteines jüdischen Arztes gegen Ende des 18. Jahrunderts. Münster: Waxmann, 2007, pp. 51-52, Quoted and translated by Monika Class, “Introduction: Medical Case Histories as Genre: New Approaches”, Literature and Medicine 2014, 32 (1), pp vii-xvi.

Coffee Break

16.20-17.30 More than Seeing. The Interplay of the Senses in the Observationes Genre

Maria Böhmer (Zurich)

This paper looks at the interplay of the senses in a specific genre of medical case histories, the so-called observationes. These were reports of individual medical cases that derived from the physician’s direct experience and were based on his first-hand observation. Published often in case collections, but increasingly also in the form of single cases, the sharing of observationes contributed to the emergence of “communities of learned experience” (Nancy G. Siraisi) and to the constitution of the early modern Res Publica Medica. As their name suggests, the observationes attached great importance to vision as a cognitive sense, but observing a patient’s disease meant much more in this context: By the 19th century, the rise of physical examination demanded that the other senses, in particular the sense of touch, were integrated in the concept of observation. By focusing on several individual case histories that were published by an Italian Professor for Surgery during the first decades of the 19th century, my paper seeks to examine some of the ways in which the genre of the observationes translated and communicated multisensory experience as a source of professional knowledge.

July 30

Sensory Interplays of Hearing

9.30 -10.40 The Eye and the Ear as Rivals
Aleida Assmann (Constance)

It is a standard topos in Western culture that love enters the male lover through the eye. Seeing the beloved at first sight is the moment when love is engendered. As a ‘coup de foudre’, this is an irresistible moment, built on an automatic physical reaction. My paper will deal with exceptions to this rule. How is love engendered in a female perspective? I will look at literary texts in which the ear takes over where the eye – for whatever reason – is blocked.

10.40-11.50 Imagination and the Transposition of the Senses: Making the Audible Knowable in Auscultation and Percussion
Meegan Kennedy (Florida State University)

One of the main difficulties hindering British acceptance of mediate auscultation was Laennec’s proliferating, unorderly “system” of fine-grained types of sounds, often identified by analogy (“the crackle of salt being dissolved in a bowl of warm water”), which could be learned best by an auditory apprenticeship. Skoda responds with a competing (and ultimately more successful) system based on the physics of sound and experiments with hollow or filled bodies. Although nineteenth-century authors emphasize the importance of isolating the sounds of the body, auscultation seems to represent to them an intangible type of data that requires supplementation with or transposition to another sense in order to be grasped. The analogical categories of auscultation, as metaphors drawing upon imagination (“the sound is like salt dissolving”), transpose the sounds of the body from one sense to another (hearing to imagination), just as percussion combines the senses of touch and sound, or as the charts proposed by Sansom, Fenwick and others (and eventually the sphygmograph) map the sounds of the body onto visual or tactile models. But the analogical system, despite its problems, did respond to certain demands of the professional context. Perhaps most important, performing mediate auscultation required skill and experience; and its imaginative metaphors allowed the nineteenth-century clinician to render the evanescent sound more tangible, material, and reproducible even as he asserted his practice as art. It is perhaps for this reason that even Austin Flint’s attempt to regularize the sound system of auscultation concludes by falling back upon imaginative analogy after all.

Coffee Break

Multisensory Exploration

12.00-13.10 Sensing the Foreign City in Contemporary Mexican Literature
Olivia Vázquez-Medina (Royal Holloway, University of London)

This paper examines the role of the senses in three travel narratives set in Venice and London, written by Mexican writers Fernando del Paso (b. 1935 -), Sergio Pitol (b. 1933), and Margo Glantz (b. 1930). I will discuss how, beyond the ocular metaphor of ‘reading the city’, these texts present different ways of ‘sensing the city’, where the cognitive supremacy of the visual is either interrogated or reformulated through its interaction with the other senses. I will consider how these multisensory experiences ultimately impact on the narrators’ emotional experience of the foreign city and on the political dimension of the texts.


14.00-14.30 The Problem of Sensory Information in Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland and Edgar Huntly
Emily Petermann (Constance)

Though Gothic fiction as a genre relies to a large extent on visual stimuli, some of the earliest examples of American Gothic fiction focus on senses other than sight. Charles Brockden Brown’s novels Wieland (1798) and Edgar Huntly (1799) do engage with visual imagery such as the pastoral, yet in their most Gothic aspects they revolve around input that is not visual but auditory or haptic. The fact that both novels are narrated in the first-person allows for a focus on the protagonists’ complete impressions, rather than being restricted to a view from outside. The novel Wieland, with its central device of ventriloquism, places its primary focus on auditory impressions. The eponymous narrator of Edgar Huntly, for his part, provides the reader with detailed accounts of his physiological state and finds himself forced to concentrate on senses other than sight to ascertain his situation. These novels exploit a full pantheon of sensory stimuli in creating the Gothic atmosphere necessary to arouse readers’ emotions. This paper examines the role of non-visual perception in Wieland and Edgar Huntly and the way it is presented by the autodiegetic narrators, who first depend upon their sensory impressions in order to reach rational conclusions, yet find themselves confronted with the unreliability of such sensory information. The Gothic novels Wieland and Edgar Huntly thus question the 18th-century empiricist hypothesis that rational decisions can be made based on the evidence of the senses.


14.30 – 15.40 Common Sense in a Malodorous Victorian Charitable Institution: A Mid-Victorian Case Report
Ruth Richardson (London)

This paper focuses on a singular mid-Victorian patient-narrative, richly interesting from many points of view. Written by a very poor working-class man, it contains a potent critique of the care meted out to the objects of charitable relief in a London hospital. It describes negligence at many levels within a malodorous mid-19th century charitable institution, and reveals medical attitudes and institutional procedures which were evidently counter even to uneducated views of curative methods. The account highlights important disjunctions between medical and lay views of care before Florence Nightingale’s humanitarian intervention in the Crimea.

Coffee Break

15.50 – 17.00 How the Other Half Smells: Odorphobia in George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier
Silvia Mergenthal (Constance)

George Orwell’s 1937 account of a journey into the English “heart of darkness”, England’s industrial North, opens with a smell event: the experience of spending the night in a working-class lodging house and sharing a room which “stank like a ferret’s cage”. However, while, at this point, Orwell’s predominantly middle-class readers see no reason to doubt that the room did, indeed, smell – and are, in fact, encouraged to share, as far as this is possible, the traveller’s olfactory sensation – they will soon be told, in Part II of The Road to Wigan Pier, that they have fallen into a carefully laid trap: the trap of their own preconceptions about the lower classes – “The lower classes smell”. This paper will discuss Orwell’s controversial text before the background of a history of intolerance to smells, specifically as directed at places, groups, or individuals. In other words, it will argue that in The Road to Wigan Pier Orwell shows, first, how the fear of odours is used to naturalise class distinctions – but also, second, how even an observer as aware of these othering processes as his traveller persona is anything but immune to bad smells.

July 31

The Dynamics of Literal & Figurative Skin

9.30-10.10 Sensitive Skins: Didier Anzieu and the Sensory Life of the Body’s Surface
Marc Lafrance (Concordia University)

Over the course of the past decade, French psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu has become an increasingly influential figure among contemporary cultural theorists interested in thinking critically about the relationship between sensory life and subjectivity. His work on the “skin ego” has been especially important in this regard. And while a growing number of scholars have sought to apply Anzieu’s work to a variety of objects and contexts, few have set themselves to the task of understanding the theoretical underpinnings that make it both intelligible and meaningful in psychoanalytic terms. With this in view, my paper will show that Anzieu’s approach is not only steadfastly Freudian and resolutely Kleinian but also defiantly anti-Lacanian. More specifically, it will demonstrate that his “psychoanalysis of skin” is characterized by a unique synthesis of Freud’s work on hysteria and Klein’s work on phantasy as well as by a spirited rejection of Lacan’s work on the linguistic structure of the unconscious. Having established his theoretical framework, I will then discuss how Anzieu understands and, ultimately, makes use of the four key concepts that constitute his approach to the skin: that is, the unconscious, the phantasmatic, the sensorimotor and the intersubjective. In the end, I will argue that it is precisely Anzieu’s imaginative rethinking and reworking of these four concepts that enables him to elaborate an essentially embodied account of human subjectivity.

10.40-11.50 ‘Strength through that Human Contact’: The Figurative Skin of Characters in Victorian Novels
Monika Class (Constance)

This paper examines the construction and development of characters in George Eliot’s Felix Holt, The Radical and Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South through the lens of Victorian psychology and 20th-century psychoanalysis. After a brief examination of the novels’ response to the cultural significance of tactile sensation in 19th-century Britain, the paper analyses the relation of narrated aisthesis and character. Drawing on theories of the skin (D. Anzieu), the paper suggests that the psychological developments of Esther Lyon’s and Margaret Hale’s figurative skin underpin their actions, notably their singular attempts at public speech, and entail a critique of the exclusion of women from the public sphere.

Coffee Break

12.00- ca. 12.30 Discussion

Convener: Dr Monika Class
Marie-Curie Research Fellow
Zukunftskolleg, University of Konstanz

NEW! Medical Humanities and Ageing: podcasts and 2nd workshop (29/06/2015)

Image © Aged by Chedder cc by-sa 2.0

Image © Aged by Chedder
cc by-sa 2.0

You can now listen to the four talks delivered at our first workshop on Medical Humanities and Ageing in December 2014 here:

  • Dr Lucy Burke (Manchester Metropolitan University), “The Violence of Care. Love in the Age of Alzheimer’s”
  • Dr Martina Zimmermann (KCL), “Body, Mind, Metaphor. Gender and Ageing in the Current Cultural Image of Alzheimer’s Disease”
  • Professor Pat Thane (KCL), “Old Age and Community Networks”
  • Dr Hannah Zeilig (University of the Arts, London), “Arts Projects as Community Networks for People with Dementia”

And please mark your diary for our second workshop on Medical Humanities and Ageing:

Programme to be announced soon!

Sex versus Survival: the Life & Ideas of Sabina Spielrein (07/05/15)


spielA lecture with John Launer, hosted by the Centre for Humanities & Health and the Centre for Life-Writing Research at King’s College London.

Who was Sabina Spielrein? Her dramatic life story is most famous for her notorious affair with Carl Jung, dramatised in the film A Dangerous Method starring Keira Knightley. Yet she was a woman who overcame family and psychiatric abuse to become an original thinker in the field of sexual psychology and psychotherapy.

Drawing on close readings of Spielrein’s diaries, professional papers and correspondence, Sex Versus Survival is the first biography to put her life and ideas at the centre of the story. John Launer examines Spielrein’s tumultuous affair with Jung and its influence on both of their lives and intellectual journeys, and her key role in the rift between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, and in the development of psychoanalysis.

A Russian Jew, who lost her life in the Holocaust in 1942, Spielrein’s innovative theories have chiefly been suppressed because of her gender. Sex Versus Survival is a significant stage in the rediscovery of the life and ideas of an extraordinary woman and an acknowledgment of her prominent role in the history of sexual psychology.

Location: Nash Lecture Theatre (K2.31), KCL, Strand, London WC2R 2LS

When: 07/05/2015 18:00-19:30

This event is open to all and free to attend.

Please direct enquiries to