Explorations in the Medical Humanities

Jesús R. Velasco (ICLS/LAIC, Columbia)

Respondent: Rishi Goyal, Columbia

Chair: Arden Hegele, Columbia

How and why would the legal discipline become interested in the science of the soul? In this talk, Jesús R. Velasco will offer an idea of the importance of this science of the soul, its interdisciplinarity, and some of its theoretical issues. He will focus on one case of juridical appropriation of the science of the soul in which the legislator gives a legal and political reading of the cognitive processes that form Aristotelian aesthetics and ‘psychology’. His main thesis is that the legal appropriation of the soul involves the articulation of systems of mutual surveillance among what medieval law called personae fictae, or what we normally refer to as the juridical person or the juridical subject. These forms of mutual surveillance are part of a biopolitical and governmental project that lies at the basis of the very configuration of a juridical subject. This configuration gradually erodes the notion of “nature,” only to replace it with a juridical institution that also carries the name of “nature.” This talk will focus mainly on the Mediterranean discussions about the soul, the psyche, cognitive process, and their appropriation in the realms of theology and law.

As a set of disciplines, the humanities face the challenge of how to write about embodied experiences that resist easy verbal categorization such as illness, pain, and healing. The recent emergence of interdisciplinary frameworks such as narrative medicine has offered a set of methodological approaches to address these challenges. Yet conceptualizing a field of medical humanities also offers a broader umbrella under which to study the influence of medico-scientific ideas and practices on society.  Whether by incorporating material culture such as medical artifacts, performing symptomatic readings of poems and novels, or excavating the implicit medical assumptions underlying auditory cultures, the approaches that emerge from a historiographical or interpretive framework are different from those coming from the physician’s black bag.

This lecture series will explore the enigma of how what we write relates back to the experience of bodies in different stages of health and disease. Our speakers will explore how the medical humanities build on and revise earlier notions of the “medical arts.” At stake are the problems of representation and the interpretation of cultural products from the past and present through medical models.