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Medical Storyworlds: Health, Illness, and Bodies in Russian and European Literature

Wed, 2/23 · 6:00 pm7:00 pm EST · Livestream

Labyrinth Books; Humanities Council

Though often seen as scientific or objective, medicine has a fundamentally narrative aspect. Much like how an author constructs meaning around fictional events, a doctor or patient narrates the course of an illness and treatment. In what ways have literary and medical storytelling intersected with and shaped each other? Please join us for a conversation among three eminent scholars.

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In Medical Storyworlds, Elena Fratto examines the relationship between literature and medicine at the turn of the twentieth century,a period when novelists were experimenting with narrative form and the modern medical establishment was taking shape. She traces how Russian writers such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Bulgakov responded to contemporary medical and public health prescriptions, placing them in dialogue with French and Italian authors including Romains and Svevo and texts such as treatises by Paul Broca and Cesare Lombroso. Fratto reveals how authors and characters question the rhetoric and authority of medicine and public health in telling stories of mortality, illness, and well-being. In so doing, she argues, they provide alternative ways of thinking about the limits and possibilities of human agency and free will. Medical Storyworlds shows how narrative theory and canonical literary texts offer a new lens on todays debates in medical ethics and bioethics.

Elena Fratto is an assistant professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University. Harriet Murav is Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and the author of Music from a Speeding Train: Russian Jewish and Soviet Yiddish Literature of the 20th Century, and of David Bergelson’s Strange New World: Untimeliness and Futurity, among other books. Jacob Emery is Professor of Slavic and East European Languages and Culture at Indiana University Bloomington. He is the author of the novel A Clockwork River and of Alternative Kinships: Economy and Family in Russian Modernism.

This event is cosponsored by Princeton University’s Humanities Council. Free and open to the public, but donations in any amount are greatly appreciated and directly support Labyrinth’s events programming.

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