Any woman who has been examined by a gynecologist could tell Descartes a thing or two about the mind/body problem. Is her body an object? Is it the self? Is it both, and if so, how? Katharine Young takes up this problem in a book that looks at medicine’s means of separating self and body—and at the body’s ways of resisting.
Disembodiment—rendering the body an object and the self bodyless—is the foundational gesture of medicine. How, then, does medical practice acknowledge the presence of the person in the objectified body? Young considers in detail the “choreography” such a maneuver requires—and the different turns it takes during a routine exam, or surgery, or even an autopsy. Distinctions between public and private, inside and outside, assume new meanings as medical practice proceeds from one venue to the next—waiting room to examining table, anteroom to operating theater, from the body’s exterior to its internal organs. Young inspects the management of these and other “boundaries”—as a physician adds layers of clothing and a patient removes layers, as the rules of objective and subjective discourse shift, as notions of intimacy determine the etiquette of exchanges between doctor and patient.
From embodied positions within the realm of medicine and disembodied positions outside it, Young richly conveys the complexity of presence in the flesh.