ahorbinski: a bridge in the fog (bridge to anywhere)
Bibliographic Data: Heinrich, Larissa N. The Afterlife of Images: Translating the Pathological Body between China and the West. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2008.

Realistic genres do not mirror everyday life; they mirror its hierarchicization of information. They are mimetic of values, not of the material world.

     --Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic,
the Souvenir, the Collection

Main Argument:
This is a breathtakingly multidisciplinary, beautifully written, quietly brilliant book. Heinrich's attempt to understand how the Euro-American stereotype of China as "the sick man of Asia" solidified in the 19th and early 20thC leads her to explicate the "development and origins of the medical rhetoric and iconography that linked Chinese identity with bodily pathology at the onset of modernity" (4) through the fields of history, the history of medicine, and the history of art. Also awesome: it has full-color plates.

Images in translation; translating images )

Critical assessment: This is such a beautifully written, easy to understand, excellent book; I think Heinrich's unwillingness to be bounded by the parochial limits of disciplines is a huge factor in the strength and success of her arguments. She actually came to talk to us in class, and she was quite kind and unassumingly awesome; she mentioned at one point that the book evolved out of a longer dissertation that was a consideration of the discourse of sickness in the works of Lu Xun, the titanic literary figure in Republican China. In some ways it makes sense to imagine this book as the first half of a longer work, though the ending doesn't really feel abrupt. Heinrich also makes clear through implication how easily the supposedly rational and objective discourses of science and medicine are repurposed and deployed for tendentious, politicized, even imperialistic purposes; in some ways the imposition of modern science and medicine on China, more or less with the threat of military force implicit in its background, mirrors the imposition at gunpoint of the supposedly universal and transcendent of international law discussed by James Hevia and Lydia Liu: chilling. If the topic sounds at all interesting to you, I can't recommend this book enough. (I should note, however, that the images in the book are probably not for the medically squeamish.)

Further reading: Nancy Armstrong, Fiction in the Age of Photography; Judith Farquhar, Appetites; John Hay, "The Body invisible in Chinese Art?"; Thomas Lamarre, "Bacterial Cultures and Linguistic Colonies"; Ruth Rogaski, Hygenic Modernity; Lydia Liu, Translingual Practice

Meta notes: If something catches your attention, write it down: you'll never know when it will be crucial.


ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

August 2017

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