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Lost Words

Lost Words: Narratives of Language and the Brain, 1825-1926

L. S. Jacyna
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Lost Words
    Book Description:

    In the mid-nineteenth century, physicians observed numerous cases in which individuals lost the ability to form spoken words, even as they remained sane and healthy in most other ways. By studying this condition, which came to be known as "aphasia," neurologists were able to show that functions of mind were rooted in localized areas of the brain. Here L. S. Jacyna analyzes medical writings on aphasia to illuminate modern scientific discourse on the relations between language and the brain, from the very beginnings of this discussion through World War I. Viewing these texts as literature--complete with guiding metaphors and rhetorical strategies--Jacyna reveals the power they exerted on the ways in which the human subject was constructed in medicine.

    Jacyna submits the medical texts to various critical readings and provides a review of the pictorial representation involved with the creation of aphasiology. He considers the scientific, experimental, and clinical aspects of this new field, together with the cultural, professional, and political dimensions of what would become the authoritative discourse about language and the brain. At the core of the study is an inquiry into the processes whereby men and women suffering from language loss were transformed into the "aphasic," an entity amenable to scientific scrutiny and capable of yielding insights about the fundamental workings of the brain. But what became of the subject's human identity?Lost Wordsexplores the links among language, humanity, and mental presence that make the aphasiological project one of continuing fascination.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3118-0
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-21)

    This book is a series of readings in a body of medical literature. The second half of the nineteenth century saw the emergence of a new genre of writing dealing with the relations between language and the human brain;¹ during this period a new condition known as “aphasia” emerged as an object of intense investigation. As a study of the writing by nineteenth- and twentieth-century doctors about this topic,Lost Wordsis a contribution to the history of a medical specialty; research into aphasia was central to the generation of an intellectual identity for neurology. The book is also relevant...

    (pp. 22-52)

    In the summer of 1825 Jacques Lordat (1773–1870), a medical practitioner and professor of anatomy and physiology at Montpellier, suffered a prolonged bout of illness. By the fifteenth day most of the symptoms, apart from a slight fever and a “heaviness” of the head, had disappeared. But then a new and alarming development occurred: “I became conscious that when I wished to speak I did not find the expressions that I required.” This “symptom surprised me and made me thoughtful”; Lordat sought comfort in the hope that this was merely a transient state of affairs.

    While preoccupied with these...

    (pp. 53-80)

    Inthe order of thingsMichel Foucault describes how in the nineteenth century language ceased to be the transparent vehicle of knowledge and became itself an object of investigation.¹ Foucault had in mind the emergence during this period of a science of linguistics which viewed language as an object with its own structure and history—as an entity independent of the human subjects that articulate it. The nineteenth century, however, also witnessed the emergence of another body of knowledge specifically concerned with linguistic performance, or its absence.

    This other science of language was elaborated in the clinic. It was a...

    (pp. 81-122)

    Paul broca’s contribution to the 1861 debate at the Société d’Anthropologie, together with a number of later cases he published in which speech loss was accompanied by apparently determinate cerebral lesions, marked an epoch in the debate on the relations of language and the brain. Broca’s claims were not uncontroversial; on the contrary his identification of the third frontal convolution of the left (or, at least, the dominant) hemisphere as the “seat” of the faculty of language was hotly debated. But the argument had taken on a novel register. By the mid-1860s it was no longer a question ofwhether...

    (pp. 123-145)

    In 1915 the British neurologist Henry Head reviewed the development of aphasiology from the 1860s to the 1890s. His judgment was damning. “It is generally conceded,” he declared, “that the views on aphasia and analogous disturbances of speech found in the text-books of to-day are of little help in understanding an actual case of disease.” The fault—“an old failing in medical history”—lay in an excessive desire for clarity and precision at the expense of attention to the nuances—the sheer facticity—of any particular case; as a result of this impulse,

    Each patient with a speech defect of...

    (pp. 146-170)

    The first and third chapters of this book have described the emergence in the nineteenth century of a linguistic technology serviceable to the requirements of a science of aphasia. The chief characteristics of this genre of case history was the construction of the patient as object of the medical gaze; an object whose own perspective and narrative capacities were strictly circumscribed, if not entirely suppressed, in the name of clinical relevance. The patient was, in short, denied any authorial role in the creation of his or her history. There was, indeed, some question as to whether the clinical narrativewas...

    (pp. 171-203)

    Chapter three provided an account of the “discourse” of aphasia. The concept was intended to reconcile two apparently contradictory aspects of the way in which a body of knowledge about the new disease was created and maintained. Discourse in this instance does not denote a preexistent framework that determined the forms of scientific creativity characteristic of the period. The discourse was constituted, maintained, and renewed by the constant activity and work of those engaged in this field of scientific endeavor. On the other hand, this endeavor was only possible because of a certain lack of freedom: it depended upon the...

    (pp. 204-230)

    By the early decades of the twentieth century a vast body of writing existed on many aspects of the subject of aphasia, notably on its symptomatology and physiopathology. This archive was both rich and complex, encompassing ever more intricate aspects of the subject. A number of authors came to remark, however, on a remarkable lacuna within this wealth of texts. In 1914, for instance, Hugo Stern pointed out that large as the literature on aphasia was, “the actual therapeutic side of the question is relatively little discussed and comparatively scant attention is paid to the interests of the patient.”¹


    (pp. 231-238)

    Adolph meyer, an adoptive American neurologist, writing in the first decade of the twentieth century, allowed himself in his private jottings to muse upon the wider implications of the scientific endeavor in which he was engaged. Meyer posited a gulf between “the man who felt himself placed in and above nature . . . , and the man who felt himself heart and soul as part of nature, part of an orderly realm of objective facts and events.” The transition between these two states of human consciousness was the achievement of nineteenth-century science; and within this movement, “no discovery was...

  14. INDEX
    (pp. 239-241)