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Introduction to Part Two

Introduction to Part Two

(p.73) Introduction to Part Two
Appetite and Its Discontents
Elizabeth A. Williams
University of Chicago Press

The Introduction to Part II, which includes Chapters 4-6, sets the stage for approaches to appetite developed between 1800 and 1850 in physiology and medicine. In the wake of the French Revolution, this era saw increased tensions over the proper role of science and medicine in addressing public and moral concerns raised by desires and demands for food. Researchers sought authority over appetite but recognized its ambiguous status as an object of investigation. Around 1800, competing views of appetite were clear in the work of the physician Erasmus Darwin and the anatomist-physiologist Xavier Bichat, the former celebrating the life-sustaining role of appetite whereas the latter warned against the threat to reason posed by visceral desires. Physiologists concentrated study of ingestion and digestion on observable actions and reactions, although some studied appetite using procedures such as vagotomy. Some physicians sought to refine classifications of appetite disorders, creating new diagnoses such as “neuroses of the stomach.” Others who were associated with emergent mental medicine tried, without success, to trace appetitive ills to lesions discoverable in autopsy. Their failure encouraged the sequestering of troubled appetite within the frame of psychiatric illness.

Keywords:   Erasmus Darwin, Xavier Bichat, vagotomy, neuroses of the stomach, mental medicine, autopsy

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