Sooner or later most of us enter the kingdom of illness. Yet few understand how we translate ourselves into patients and what stories we tell ourselves about our body's maladies. Even if we knew, we harbour little sense of how we compare to the patients of the past, our doctors with theirs.In this book fourteen eminent cultural historians explore this hinterland between health and sickness, reality and fiction. Building on the work of Susan Sontag, Michel Foucault, Sander Gilman, and Roy Porter, they roam over five centuries and many countries to understand how doctors and patients constructed themselves. Included are such canonical figures as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Mann, great English novelists, as well as dozens of minor figures - including patients and doctors - whose experiences and contributions to the debate have not yet been explored. Figures bordering on madness are probed, the hypnotized and drugged scrutinized, often in relation to their fantasy life, dreams and mesmeric states. And epidemics like cholera and tuberculosis are treated as living - almost breathing - cultural organisms.The authors conclude that the human understanding of illness always requires framing. That is, setting it within boundaries and borders: in the context of society's pressures, politic's demands, around the perimeter of language, narrative, and literary form.

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