Facing Pathology: Modern (Re)Production of Difference

  • Monika Pietrzak-Franger
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


This chapter addresses the poetics and politics of syphilis depiction. How was syphilis portrayed across media and what were the political effects of such visualizations? It claims that in the late nineteenth century a new alliance between syphilis and consumption was forged in popular imagination and in scientific parlance. As a result of this fusion, a shift took place in the medical writing from the semantics of a syphilitic body to the syntax of contagious touch. At a time when all bodies could be riddled with syphilis, what had to be policed were not only their sexual practices but their entire contours, their interactions: the potentially corruptive exchange economy. This chapter then also addresses the probing question of the centrality of syphilis to the (dis)orders of modernity. Furthermore, it outlines the ways in which the European visual idiom and British literature sublimated the syphilitic body and, in fact, displaced it in popular consciousness. The incessant attempts at its delineation actually indicate the failure of representation as concomitant to an epidemic of meaning, which made it impossible to control and thus expulse the disease from the public register.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Monika Pietrzak-Franger
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut für Anglistik und AmerikanistikUniversität HamburgHamburgGermany

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