Synapsis in Paris: Is an anachronical approach to medico-literary history possible?

Benjamin Gagnon Chainey // As part of the latest CHCI Alliance Medical Humanities Summer School, held last June at the Columbia Global Center in Paris, I presented a paper entitled “Towards a transhistorical medico-literary deconstruction of empathy,” where I conducted a comparative analysis of the bodily, linguistic and epistemological tensions between the concept of “experience”…

Glimpses of a Dying Mother

Benjamin Gagnon Chainey // If Death is a paradoxical mother, Ève, the dying mother of French philosopher and writer Hélène Cixous, is even more so. In her daughter’s phraseology, Ève Cixous is “a well alive dead woman” [1], coming back to life through the “Strange Autoportraits” that Hélène draws in Homère est Morte… (the English…

Sick Night Fever

Benjamin Gagnon Chainey // The Modern Man of ideal humanity is, as remarks French writer and philosopher of science Claire Marin, paradoxically insensitive due to his cult of superhuman health. He is culturally sterile, locked up as he is in the closet of medical scientific ‘progress.’ In her 2013 essay, justly entitled L’Homme sans fièvre,…

A homeless man in the building’s entrance hall

A discussion of Mathieu Lindon’s Les hommes tremblent // Benjamin Gagnon Chainey // “A man trembles in front of the building. The cold, fear, Parkinson’s? Should we call social services, the police, an ambulance? Alcohol, it doesn’t look like it. Hunger? Should we get him a sandwich? Is there something to do, or nothing, as…

Coming Out of the Politico-Medical Closet

Benjamin Gagnon Chainey // One day, as he was assaulted by journalists in a scrum outside Québec’s legislative assembly, the now-former health minister, Gaétan Barrette, became impatient. Harassed with specific and sensitive questions on healthcare accessibility for patients, he exclaimed: “We’re not here to do literature!” With this statement, lightly expressed but heavy with meaning, the…

In the Silent Land of Pain

Benjamin Gagnon Chainey // “All I ask is not to have to change cell, not to have to descend into an in pace, down there where everything’s black, and thought no longer exists.”[1] These words, at once suffering and troubling, are these of the French writer Alphonse Daudet, who died of syphilis in 1897. La…

AIDS and the (Social) Experience of Disability

Benjamin Gagnon Chainey // Hervé Guibert was a prolific French writer who died from AIDS in 1991. Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of the magazine Elle, suffered a massive stroke that left him locked in his body.  With the help of his speech therapist, Guibert wrote The Diving Bell and the Butterfly entirely by blinking one eye….

Doctor Metempsychotic Gloss

Benjamin Gagnon Chainey // « What was Dr. Heraclius Gloss doing in the Old Pigeons’ Alley? What he was doing there, good Lord!… He was looking there for philosophical truth –  and here is how».[1] Doctor Heraclius Gloss, Guy de Maupassant’s last short story, published posthumously in 1921, is in fact one of his first…

The People of Act Up Paris against Patient Hervé Guibert

Benjamin Gagnon Chainey   ‘I tell myself that this book’s raison d’être lies only along this borderline of uncertainty, so familiar to all sick people everywhere.’[1] Hervé Guibert – To the friend who did not save my life   Hervé Guibert’s first “AIDS writings” – namely his works To the friend who did not save…

The (Off)Springs of Literature and Experimental Medicine

Benjamin Gagnon Chainey “And from this they drew the conclusion that physiology is – as a well-worn phrase expresses it – the romance of medicine[1].” Bouvard and Pécuchet Gustave Flaubert             When the second half of the 19th century witnessed a multiplication of medical and scientific triumphs – think of vaccines, radiology, echocardiography, and the…