Healing the Republic: The Language of Health and the Culture of Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century America

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In this study Joan Burbick interprets nineteenth-century narratives of health written by physicians, social reformers, lay healers, and literary artists in order to expose the conflicts underlying the creation of a national culture in America. These "fictions" of health include annual reports of mental asylums, home physician manuals, social reform books, and novels consumed by the middle class that functioned as cautionary tales of well-being. Read together these writings engage in a counterpoint of voices at once constructing and debating the hegemonic values of the emerging American nation. That political values flow from the daily exigencies of survival and enjoyment is one of the claims advanced by theorists of cultural hegemony. Broadening this assumption, the narratives of health presented here address the demands and desires of everyday life and construct a national discourse with directives on control, authority, and subordination. They articulate the wish for a healthy citizenry, freed of pain and saturated with well-being, and they insist upon specific ideologies and knowledges of the body in order to achieve this radiance of health. Divided into two parts, the work first examines the structures of authority found in health narratives and then studies the topology of the body found in a cross section of writings. The first part examines how the authority of "common sense" is pitted against that of physiological law and its transcendent "constitution" for the body. The second analyzes how specific knowledges about the brain, heart, nerves, and eye provide individual "keys" to health, indices that reveal the conflicts inherent in American nationalism. In studying these narratives of health, Healing the Republic confronts what Burbick sees as a certain fundamental uneasiness about democracy in America. Fearing the political freedom they hoped to embrace. Americans designed ways to control the body in the effort to create, impose, or encompass social ord
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Editorial Reviews

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"...Burbick has taken on a huge project and has opened up the interrelated histories of medicine, politics, and literature in important new ways." Tom Lutz, American Literature

"...readings of an amazingly diverse array of nineteenth-century prose and poetry, ranging from the well known (Walden, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Moby-Dick) to the little known (Domestic Medicine, by the physician John C. Gunn). These readings are imaginative and frequently arresting." Cynthia Russett, Isis

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Product Details

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Pt. 1 The Common Senses of America
1 Healing the "People" 15
2 Doubting the Senses 32
3 The Body Politics of Walden 57
Pt. 2 Writing the Constitution of the Body
4 Counterfeit Sensations 77
5 Enforcing the Laws of Physiology 96
6 Biodemocracy in Leaves of Grass 113
Pt. 1 Riddles of the Brain
7 Managing Mental Labor 137
8 The National Narrative of Monomania 156
Pt. 2 The Tell-Tale Heart
9 The Counter-Narrative of Domestic Sorrow 179
10 Complaints of the Heart 200
Pt. 3 Nervous Reports
11 Revenge of the Nerves 225
12 Allegories of Nervous Fever 241
Pt. 4 The Recording Eye
13 Sighting the Divine 265
14 Technologies of the Eye 281
Conclusion: Somatic Politics 301
Notes 307
Index 351
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