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On HysteriaThe Invention of a Medical Category between 1670 and 1820$
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Sabine Arnaud

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226275543

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226275680.001.0001

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In Search of Metaphors

In Search of Metaphors

Figuring What Cannot Be Defined

Chapter:
(p.51) 2 In Search of Metaphors
Source:
On Hysteria
Author(s):

Sabine Arnaud

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226275680.003.0003

To compensate for the stated inadequacy of any definition, physicians agreed on how to characterize the pathology through their selection of metaphors. Images such as Proteus, the chameleon, and the Hydra bound those texts around a similar diagnosis. In providing a figure for readers to interpret, the physician compelled them to be active and led them toward a dynamic relation with the text, thus conveying an image not only of the pathology and its risks, but also of the stakes involved in its identification. The process by which readers were invited to make meaning from the image evoked the power of their imagination, while the images themselves might permanently imprint the imagination with the extravagance, savagery, or indomitable force of the affliction. The chapter then establishes how the use of a reference to Plato’s Timaeus created continuity among texts from 1575 to 1820, despite their divergent standpoints. By describing gaps between these usages, it highlights the contradictory nature of the enunciation of medical knowledge.

Keywords:   metaphor, women, gender, womb as animal, chameleon, Proteus, Plato, Timaeus, patient

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