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A Condition of Doubt


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Table of Contents

Introduction: A Dubious Condition PART I: A BIOLOGICAL CONDITION Chapter 1: That Within: Biologies of Hypochondria Chapter 2: Medicine's Ghost: The Unnatural History of an Unreliable Idea Chapter 3: Swimming in the Dark: The Hypochondriac in the Body PART II. A MEDICAL CONDITION Chapter 4: Contested Authority: An Expert Patient Lectures the Physicians Chapter 5: Hating Hypochondriacs: Stigma and Stereotype Chapter 6: Dangerous Fearlessness: The Formation of Physicians Part III. A CULTURAL CONDITION Chapter 7: Be Informed: Medical Knowledge Chapter 8. Be Responsible: Cautionary Tales Chapter 9. Be Afraid: Horror Stories PART FOUR: A NARRATIVE CONDITION Chapter 10: How Can I Tell? Professing Hypochondria Chapter 11: The Story that Won't Begin: Hypochondria's Narrative Structure Chapter 12: Unreliable Historians: Hypochondria's Narrators Conclusion Bibliography

About the Author

Catherine Belling is on the faculty of the Program in Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. She came to the United States from South Africa on a Fulbright grant to complete her PhD in English, on representations of anatomy and physiology in Renaissance drama, at Stony Brook University, New York, where, on graduating, she took up a position in the medical school before moving to Chicago in 2007.


2013 Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA) Michelle Kendrick Memorial Book Prize "Hypochondria, one of the oldest medical quandaries, is seen freshly in this illuminating study. Exploring hypochondria as a biological, medical, cultural and narrative phenomenon, Catherine Belling reveals a hermeneutic uncertainty at the core of contemporary medicine, as the physician's expert authority collides with the visceral knowledge of the patient. Tracing the narrative strategies of a rich trove of hypochondria chronicles, she demonstrates how hypochondria can serve as a source of insight for the clinician-reader, making physicians more skillful interpreters of the signs and symptoms patients bring to the medical encounter." -- Susan M. Squier, Penn State University, author of Liminal Lives: Imagining the Human at the Frontiers of Biomedicine "This book offers a profound and incontrovertible critique of contemporary medicine and, along the way, provides equipment for the examined life. Belling writes a book about doubt, about uncertainty, about the human craving, always unfulfilled, for certainty, problems general all over medicine and general all over life. She recognizes the hypochondriac as hero, brave enough to live in the glare of our shared and devastating mortal predicament. By this book, Belling enters the ranks of the most authoritative literary scholars who can pierce through the obfuscations of contemporary medical and bioscientific practice to behold- and then display for us-the necessary sight on our human situation, exposed in its frailty and its hope." -- Rita Charon, Professor of Clinical Medicine, Executive Director, Program in Narrative Medicine, Columbia University "...hers is the first book in hypochondria I have finished-- and I have started many." -- Alexander Nazaryan, The New Yorker "Hypochondria will never be the same. Catherine Belling shows how this ancient stereotype emerges in the contemporary world as medicine's 'ghost self': inherently ironic, slippery, and paradoxical, a condition in which medical expertise cannot erase equally expert personal knowledge of our own bodies, with its fears of lurking disease. Hypochondria, Belling writes, is 'the shape of doubt.' Doubt is the signature of the multiple accounts she describes as 'the story of no disease told by a narrator who has no credibility.' This is the terrain of Kafka and of internet avatars where certainty vanishes as anxiety deepens. Our medicalized culture tells us to scan our bodies regularly for risk factors and warning signs-but do we then brush inescapably close to the condition of the anxious hypochondriac? Brush close to the figure who just may appear, in Belling's brilliant retelling, as a representative figure of our time." -- David B. Morris, author of The Culture of Pain

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