In this provocative study Barbara Duden asserts that the most basic biological and medical terms that we use to describe our own bodies—male and female, healthy or sick—are indeed cultural constructions. Duden delves into the records of an eighteenth-century German physician who meticulously documented the medical histories of eighteen hundred women of all ages and backgrounds, often in their own words. This unparalleled record of complaints, symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments reveals a deeply alien understanding of the female body and its functions.
While modern readers may be initially alienated by the way in which phenomena cited in Duden’s profuse quotations from [Dr. Johannes Pelargius] Storch’s journals conflict with contemporary ‘certainties’ about the body…her approach ultimately makes the desired point: the culturally contingent ‘boundary that separates the body, and especially the body beneath the skin, from the world around it’ likewise conditions contemporary understandings, not only of what is known about our bodies but also about how people in other times and places have ‘imagined’ their bodies.
Duden splendidly succeeds in recreating this submerged and secret world of female consciousness, and the ambiguous role of the physician in maintaining it. An important milestone.
- 256 pages
- 5-7/8 x 9 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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