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By Iain Bamforth

During this wide-reaching abecedarium, physician and poet Iain Bamforth dissects the clash of values embodied in what we name medicine—never completely a technological know-how and not rather the paintings it was once. Bamforth brings to endure his event of medication from world wide, from the hightech American health facility of Paris to group well-being centres of Papua, together with his enticing curiosity within the stranger manifestations of clinical concerns with regards to paintings, literature and tradition. Drawing at the lives and concepts of a few of Europe’s most
celebrated writers, from Auden to Zola with stop-offs on the likes of Darwin, Kafka, Orwell, Proustand Weil alongside the way in which, Bamforth bargains insightful and witty diagnoses of the tradition of drugs within the glossy age.

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Extra info for A Doctor's Dictionary: Writings on Culture & Medicine

Sample text

For me, night banishes everything that remains outside medicine, wipes away its irritation and provocation. Instead of the district we know there is a kind of firmament of which I am the continual creator. And I haven’t mentioned the bells. Their first office for all these people is call them to my prescriptions; the bells intone my orders. Think of it: in a few moments, ten o’clock is going to sound, and for all my patients ten o’clock is when they read their rectal temperature for the second time: just think, in a few moments, two hundred and fifty thermometers will be inserted at the same time...

Such was its prestige that Zola made his novels case-histories: he anticipates one of Knock’s lines in his novel Lourdes with the query: ‘Supposing that after all there is a Power greater than that of men, higher than that of science? ’ In Zola’s literary-lab view of the world, pharmacy is on a level with semiology. While flattering Mousquet, the only chemist in town, Knock astutely promises to triple his income within a year. Besides, aren’t they partners in the great fight against disease? When Mousquet points out that people have to fall ill first, Knock retorts with a policy statement: ‘“Fall ill”—that’s an old-fashioned idea!

This is a description of a magician, not a scientist. Once Knock has made it explicit, danger is like the house dust mite: everywhere. One might call it Getting the Fear. Knock encourages the local schoolteacher, Mr Bernard, to indulge his little obsessive-compulsive tic—‘Do you think, doctor... ’ Mr Bernard’s phobic reaction testifies to the power of a mystery—the invisible germ—caught in the full glare of scientific explanation. No other scientific figure stands with such emblematic clarity in republican France’s sense of itself as the bacteriologist Louis Pasteur—‘le bienfaiteur de l’humanité’.

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