A Medical Humanities Conference – “Why care to write?” – is being organised at the Institute of the History, Philosophy and Ethics of Medicine, Ulm University on December 5th–6th, 2018.
Few topics have shaped literature as much as illness, pain and dying. Already in antiquity, there were writers who dealt with medical issues, and healers who were literary active. Literary disputes with health and illness offer special value for health care, as they can provide insight into subjective illness experiences and thereby lead to a holistic understanding of illness.
Since the 1830s, a primary scientific orientation of medicine on the cell and later on molecular structures led to a strong specialization of medicine. In the course of this, illness experiences fell increasingly into oblivion. Only with anthropological medicine – one might particularly think of the works of Karl Jaspers (1883–1969) and Viktor von Weizsäcker (1886–1957) – did the subjective and social dimensions of illness come back to the center of attention. As a means of individual expression, literature can bring exactly this dimension of experience to mind. Fictional as well as biographical narratives of health and illness thus represent an important addition to scientific medicine. Today there is plenty of such literature by writers as well as doctors and other actors in health care, such as nurses or midwifes. Recent research in the field of narrative medicine has also increased the awareness for narratives of those affected, i.e. patients and relatives.
This nexus of literature and medicine raises questions: For what reasons do writers, patients, relatives and the various actors in the health care system deal with medicine literarily? Are these writers primarily interested in reflecting and processing their own experiences of illnesses with the help of the specific aesthetics of literature, or is writing rather a form of compensation or distraction? And what function and potential do these writings have for society, literature and medicine? In other words: Why care to write?
The aim of our conference is to discuss, on the basis of literary, biographical and scientific sources, the motives, reactions and effects associated with these interactions of literature and medicine. Methodologically and thematically, the conference is located in the field of “Medical Humanities”, i.e. between medicine and humanities.