Book Review: This Mortal Coil

BookReviewLogoReview by Stephanie Hudson.

In her new book, This Mortal Coil: The Human Body in History and Culture (Oxford University Press, 2016), Fay Bound Alberti writes that “our bodies are products of the stories we tell” (19). And this is the work Bound Alberti takes up, to explore stories of bodies and how these stories impact our embodied experience. She works to trace, and perhaps complicate, origins and potential futures of stories of bodies, with particular focus on women’s bodies.

26401367Bound Alberti is a cultural historian whose work is situated within histories of medicine and the body. Her previous work includes Matters of the Heart: History, Medicine, and Emotions (Oxford University Press, 2010), which was shortlisted for the Longman History Today book of the year award. Bound Alberti co-founded the Centre for the History of Emotions at Queen Mary University of London, where she is an honorary senior research fellow. Through a Western lens, This Mortal Coil is located in Britain, and in part, North America.

Bound Alberti’s work in This Mortal Coil was motivated by an interest “in looking at the body as an assemblage of parts, and why it was that some parts take on particular significance and meanings at certain points in history” (206). Each chapter focuses on a different body part—spine, breast, genitalia, heart, brain, skin, tongue, and gut—taking the reader on a journey “from inside out, from our very core to the surface of our body and the boundaries between self and other” (16). Continue reading “Book Review: This Mortal Coil”

Book Review: Biocultural Creatures

BookReviewLogoReview by Niclas Hundahl

If we are to develop a new theory of embodiment, we must think of the human as a biocultural entity. That is, a being always both affected by our habitat as well as our biological body. For anybody sceptical of this idea, just imagine going about without breathing the oxygen in the air all around you. A mundane activity, but nonetheless one that is central to our continued existence, we rely on our environment and changes in response to it. This is the idea at the core of Samantha Frost’s Biocultural Creatures: Toward a New Theory of the Human (Duke University Press, 2016), that even our atoms aren’t free from outside influences.

25942565Samantha Frost is Associate Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois. Her doctoral dissertation considered the materialist dimensions of John Hobbes’s philosophy and theory of politics. In her dissertation Frost asked what would happen if we were to read Hobbes’s account of the human as wholly embodied, rather than split between body and soul, and what sort of political ontologies would appear. After finishing her dissertation, and later publishing it, Frost wished to “continue to think about how a materialist understanding of the self might reshape our understanding of politics – and […] to do such thinking in a contemporary vein…” (22). So she began taking courses in biology, chemistry and related subjects, to familiarise herself with the material building blocks that constructs the human. Biocultural Creatures is a result this thinking. Continue reading “Book Review: Biocultural Creatures”

Moving on from Election 2016

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/00/Suffrage_universel.pngIf you follow this blog, you know that our primary focus has been health and humanities, the intersection of medicine and social and cultural studies. But today, half the country feels they have swallowed a bitter pill. The other half feel that they’ve been vindicated, perhaps, but all can agree that this has been the most unhealthy election cycle in living memory. I found myself listening to the results in the wee hours, and then reflecting on what this might mean, not only for our nation, but also for our small communities and families. I want to provide here some encouragement, some insight, and we as a forum want to give our readers a sense of solidarity–for we are with you.

To those who supported Sen. Hillary Clinton, I say this. The grief you feel is real and you have a right to it. As with any loss, the anger and shock are feelings that we must work through. But let’s remember that despair and hope are not feelings, but choices. We must work against despair, even at our darkest moments, because despair is paralyzing. We must choose hope, because hope cannot stand without us. But also, while you mourn the loss of a dream, be assured: this was still a historic moment. You voted for the first Continue reading “Moving on from Election 2016”

Book Review: Alien Landscapes?

BookReviewLogoReview by Rachel Warner.

Alien Landscapes?: Interpreting Disordered Minds (Harvard University Press, 2014) reflects author Jonathan Glover’s longstanding interest in the intersection of philosophy and psychiatry. As his most recent monograph, Alien Landscapes represents the culmination of over forty years of research and interest in the issues surrounding mental illness and human interpretation, identity, values, and responsibility. Glover holds an academic appointment in the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics at King’s College in London and should be considered an expert philosopher and ethicist in matters related to disordered minds.

21878130From the titular question mark used to signal his inquiry, Glover adopts a probing stance towards his intellectual pursuits. Combining qualitative information derived from patients incarcerated at Broadmoor Hospital, expressive portrayals of mental illness, and classical Greek philosophy, Glover foregrounds the importance of going to the source of his investigation. He continually uses the descriptions (whether autobiographical, literary, or artistic) provided by people who have actually suffered from mental illnesses to focus and expand his study. This “view from inside” thus constitutes the central theme and methodology in Glover’s work and supports his primary argument that we must disregard the notion of people suffering from major mental illnesses as being “impenetrably alien” (1). Continue reading “Book Review: Alien Landscapes?”