Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 513–527 | Cite as

Strange Encounters with Dead Selves: Medical Memoir, Apostrophe, and (Re)animating Subjectivity

  • Melissa R. PompiliEmail author


This article focuses on three memoirs written by physicians who are specifically reflecting on their time in medical school to propose that the authors of these memoirs write not only to the reading audience, but also to their present and past selves. By addressing these former selves through the rhetorical figure of apostrophe, the authors write a new subjectivity into being. These memoirs serve as the material evidence of the formation what I call a bioaffective attachment, or, the way an individual physician's subjectivity is affectively attached to their own sense of self and to the larger healthcare industry.


Medical rhetoric Affect Medical education Memoir Apostrophe 



1 Biopolitics is an attempt on the part of governments and the economic systems that govern their operations to seize control of the maintenance of life itself in order to manage the larger social body. In Foucault’s concept of biopower, power is spread out through populations, and exerted through the bodies and subjectivities of that population. Foucault argues that the modern conception of power has been organized around the ability to control life, and that power is now situated at the level of, and exerts its will upon, life itself: Contemporary biopolitics scholars, including me, are very persuaded by the idea that the economic system that now acts as a sovereign power can extract more labor from a live subject than a dead one, and we are beginning to see new ways for capital to be generated and accumulated through the management of life processes and individual bodies.

2 Namely, the emotionally difficult work of cadaver dissection (in the case of Montross), and the grueling process of residency (in Terrence Holt’s case). Klass’s essays cover a wide range of practices, including dissection (on humans and dogs), working long hours as an intern, learning to communicate with and give bad news to patients, and more.

3A Not Entirely Benign Procedure joins an elite group of medical memoirs where there has been a second edition printed. This is due to several factors including the frequency that the memoir is taught in medical humanities courses, and its popularity with medical students on medical school advice online forums.

4 Hemisection is a procedure in which the anatomy student cuts the soft tissues in the midline of the pelvis with a scalpel and then extends that cut all the way through the body through the sacrum and lumbar vertebra with a bone saw. This procedure is one that Montross describes as “truly horrible,” that pushes the student “beyond any shred of comfort or even interest” (2007, 217).

5 This is not from the monograph Cruel Optimism, but instead is from the article in New Formations that preceded the monograph.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishCase Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA

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