Thesis ID: CBB001567581

Medico-Politics and English Literature, 1790--1830: Immunity, Humanity, Subjectivity (2014)


Mallory-Kani, Amy (Author)

State University of New York at Albany
Barney, Richard
Lilley, James
Kuiken, Kir
Lilley, James
Kuiken, Kir

Publication Date: 2014
Edition Details: Advisor: Barney, Richard; Committee Members: Kuiken, Kir, Lilley, James.
Physical Details: 217 pp.
Language: English

In 1796, Dr. Edward Jenner began vaccinating individuals against small pox by using matter from the pustules of the cow pox. Though extremely controversial because of its discomforting mixture of animal and human, by the end of the Romantic period, vaccination was celebrated as the safest way to immunize the British population. Through the practice of vaccination, Britain found a way to save its body politic from a destructive epidemic while affirming the strong connection between individual health and collective well-being that writers of the period like Mary Wollstonecraft, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley recognized in their works. From the beginning then, medical immunity was inherently connected to politics; at the same time that Jenner was experimenting with vaccination, writers were debating over the most effective way to stifle the "jacobin influenza" and the "French malady," the contagious revolutionary ideas migrating to England from France. Importantly, the use of medical terms and concepts to define the political points to the already immunological process by which modern political subjects are born, a process explored by contemporary biopolitical theorists like Roberto Esposito and which my project grounds in the historical record of early modernity. In particular, I argue that the rupture in sovereignty caused by the French Revolution, resulted in a shift in the way that political subjectivity was conceived. Individuals, rather than being constituted in relation to a transcendental sovereign whom, according to Hobbes, they created to protect themselves, instead internalize sovereign power. In a sense, the modern political subject comes into being through an essential immunization. The discourse of what I call "medico-politics" made its way into the literature of the period. In fact, literature distinctively influenced how the modern, medicalized political subject was imagined. Capital-L literature--itself an burgeoning kind of discipline--was drafted into the immunizing project of modern politics because of the way it disciplines readers' bodies and minds. While Saree Makdisi claims that there is a "uniquely Blakean slippage between political and biological language" during the period and other critics view the relationship between literature and medicine as unilateral and metaphorical, I argue that medical practices like inoculation not only influenced literature, but became a part of literature's own self-definition as a modern discipline.


Description Cited in Dissertation Abstracts International-A 75/08(E), Feb 2015. Proquest Document ID: 1539327444.

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Authors & Contributors
Butler, Judith
Largier, Niklaus
Francois, Anne-Lise
Harper, Lila Marz
Jackson, Noel
Shuttleton, David E.
Ethics, Place and Environment
Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies
Journal of Medical Biography
Early American Studies
Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation
Cambridge University Press
Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press
Manchester University Press
WVT, Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier
Johns Hopkins University Press
Oxford University Press
Science and literature
Medicine and literature
Medicine and politics
Wordsworth, William
Wollstonecraft, Mary
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
Blake, William
Keats, John
Jenner, Edward
Great Britain
Polar regions
19th century
18th century
20th century
17th century
21st century
National Health Service (Great Britain)

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