Matters of the Heart: History, Medicine, and Emotion

OUP Oxford
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The heart is the most symbolic organ of the human body. Across cultures it is seen as the site of emotions, as well as the origin of life. We feel emotions in the heart, from the heart-stopping sensation of romantic love to the crushing sensation of despair. And yet since the nineteenth century the heart has been redefined in medical terms as a pump, an organ responsible for the circulation of the blood. Emotions have been removed from the heart as an active site of influence and towards the brain. It is the brain that is the organ most commonly associated with emotion in the modern West. So why, then, do the emotional meanings of the heart linger? Why do many transplantation patients believe that the heart, for instance, can transmit memories and emotions and why do we still refer to emotions as 'heartfelt'? We cannot answer these questions without reference to the history of the heart as both physical organ and emotional symbol. Matters of the Heart traces the ways emotions have been understood between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries as both physical entities and spiritual experiences. With reference to historical interpretations of such key concepts as gender, emotion, subjectivity and the self, it also addresses the shifting relationship from heart to brain as competing centres of emotion in the West..
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About the author

Dr Fay Bound Alberti is a writer and cultural historian who specialises in the study of medicine, emotions and gender. She has lectured at several UK universities, and has published on many aspects of early modern medicine and culture in major journals, including the Lancet, History Workshop Journal and Isis. She has also contributed to media debates on the history of medicine, including BBC Radio 4's In our Time with Melvyn Bragg, and The Eureka Years with Adam Hart-Davis. Previous publications include Medicine, Emotion and Disease (Palgrave, 2006). Fay is currently Senior Research Fellow in History at Queen Mary University of London, and Honorary Research Associate at the Wellcome Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL. She is also Policy Advisor for the Arcadia Fund, a charitable trust that protects endangered treasures of nature and culture.
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Additional Information

Publisher
OUP Oxford
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Published on
Jan 14, 2010
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Pages
240
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ISBN
9780191609176
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Modern / General
History / Social History
Medical / Cardiology
Medical / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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How humans have felt and thought about the body-our bodies-has never been static. Rather, it has shifted across times and cultures, taking and losing definition due to any number of forces and trends-philosophical, religious, cultural, technological. Sometimes we imagine our identity purely as an extension of our fleshly self and its assemblage of functions, organs, and appendages, sometimes as something entirely separate and discrete-trapped as opposed to defined by our "mortal coil," as Hamlet frames it in his famous soliloquy. So, too, over time, our ideas about what constitutes the desirable, the healthy, the beautiful, and the whole have remained partial, each an impression formed by its particular moment in time. In this probing and illuminating new book, Fay Bound Alberti deploys the global histories of medicine, pathology, and sensibilities to examine our changing notions of the human body. Each chapter focuses on one part-bones, skin, sexual organs, spine, tongue, heart-revealing the cultural meanings tied to each, the repercussions of these associations, and ultimately the harm that comes of distinguishing mind and body, the parts from the whole, as is so often the case in Western medicine. This Mortal Coil explores many enduring themes: the nature of identity, the relationship between the brain and the heart, and the gendering of our physical and emotional selves. Moving beyond the surface and down to what lies beneath, Bound Alberti provides a rich and fascinating account of the human body, shedding light on the role scientific developments-from medical care to plastic surgery to cloning-play in how we look at and shape ourselves. Bound Alberti's provocative and engrossing book reveals how the mortal coil can be unwound, then looked at as if for the first time.
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How humans have felt and thought about the body-our bodies-has never been static. Rather, it has shifted across times and cultures, taking and losing definition due to any number of forces and trends-philosophical, religious, cultural, technological. Sometimes we imagine our identity purely as an extension of our fleshly self and its assemblage of functions, organs, and appendages, sometimes as something entirely separate and discrete-trapped as opposed to defined by our "mortal coil," as Hamlet frames it in his famous soliloquy. So, too, over time, our ideas about what constitutes the desirable, the healthy, the beautiful, and the whole have remained partial, each an impression formed by its particular moment in time. In this probing and illuminating new book, Fay Bound Alberti deploys the global histories of medicine, pathology, and sensibilities to examine our changing notions of the human body. Each chapter focuses on one part-bones, skin, sexual organs, spine, tongue, heart-revealing the cultural meanings tied to each, the repercussions of these associations, and ultimately the harm that comes of distinguishing mind and body, the parts from the whole, as is so often the case in Western medicine. This Mortal Coil explores many enduring themes: the nature of identity, the relationship between the brain and the heart, and the gendering of our physical and emotional selves. Moving beyond the surface and down to what lies beneath, Bound Alberti provides a rich and fascinating account of the human body, shedding light on the role scientific developments-from medical care to plastic surgery to cloning-play in how we look at and shape ourselves. Bound Alberti's provocative and engrossing book reveals how the mortal coil can be unwound, then looked at as if for the first time.
THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A New York Times Notable Book
A Washington Post and Seattle Times Best Book of the Year

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To many people the idea that 'the body' has its own history might sound faintly ridiculous. The body and its experiences are usually seen as something that we share with people from the past. Like 'human nature', it represents the unchanging in a changing world. Bodies just are... But the body does have a history. The way that it moves, feels, breathes, and engages with the world has been viewed very differently across times and cultures. For centuries, 'we' were believed to be composed of souls that were part of the body and inseparable from it. Now we exist in our heads, and our bodies have become the vessels for that uncertain and elusive thing we call our 'true selves'. The way we understand the material structure of the body has also changed radically over the centuries. From the bones to the skin, from the senses to the organs of sexual reproduction, every part of the body has an ever-changing history, dependent on time, culture, and place. This Mortal Coil is an exploration of that history. Peeling away our assumptions about the unchanging nature of the human body, Fay Bound Alberti takes it apart in order to put it back anew, telling the cultural history of our key organs and systems from the inside out, from blood to guts, brains to sex organs. The understanding of the 'modern body' she reveals in the process is far removed from the 'eternal' or timeless object of common assumption. In fact, she argues, its roots go back no further than the sixteenth century at the earliest - and it has only truly existed in its current form since the nineteenth century.
How humans have felt and thought about the body-our bodies-has never been static. Rather, it has shifted across times and cultures, taking and losing definition due to any number of forces and trends-philosophical, religious, cultural, technological. Sometimes we imagine our identity purely as an extension of our fleshly self and its assemblage of functions, organs, and appendages, sometimes as something entirely separate and discrete-trapped as opposed to defined by our "mortal coil," as Hamlet frames it in his famous soliloquy. So, too, over time, our ideas about what constitutes the desirable, the healthy, the beautiful, and the whole have remained partial, each an impression formed by its particular moment in time. In this probing and illuminating new book, Fay Bound Alberti deploys the global histories of medicine, pathology, and sensibilities to examine our changing notions of the human body. Each chapter focuses on one part-bones, skin, sexual organs, spine, tongue, heart-revealing the cultural meanings tied to each, the repercussions of these associations, and ultimately the harm that comes of distinguishing mind and body, the parts from the whole, as is so often the case in Western medicine. This Mortal Coil explores many enduring themes: the nature of identity, the relationship between the brain and the heart, and the gendering of our physical and emotional selves. Moving beyond the surface and down to what lies beneath, Bound Alberti provides a rich and fascinating account of the human body, shedding light on the role scientific developments-from medical care to plastic surgery to cloning-play in how we look at and shape ourselves. Bound Alberti's provocative and engrossing book reveals how the mortal coil can be unwound, then looked at as if for the first time.
How humans have felt and thought about the body-our bodies-has never been static. Rather, it has shifted across times and cultures, taking and losing definition due to any number of forces and trends-philosophical, religious, cultural, technological. Sometimes we imagine our identity purely as an extension of our fleshly self and its assemblage of functions, organs, and appendages, sometimes as something entirely separate and discrete-trapped as opposed to defined by our "mortal coil," as Hamlet frames it in his famous soliloquy. So, too, over time, our ideas about what constitutes the desirable, the healthy, the beautiful, and the whole have remained partial, each an impression formed by its particular moment in time. In this probing and illuminating new book, Fay Bound Alberti deploys the global histories of medicine, pathology, and sensibilities to examine our changing notions of the human body. Each chapter focuses on one part-bones, skin, sexual organs, spine, tongue, heart-revealing the cultural meanings tied to each, the repercussions of these associations, and ultimately the harm that comes of distinguishing mind and body, the parts from the whole, as is so often the case in Western medicine. This Mortal Coil explores many enduring themes: the nature of identity, the relationship between the brain and the heart, and the gendering of our physical and emotional selves. Moving beyond the surface and down to what lies beneath, Bound Alberti provides a rich and fascinating account of the human body, shedding light on the role scientific developments-from medical care to plastic surgery to cloning-play in how we look at and shape ourselves. Bound Alberti's provocative and engrossing book reveals how the mortal coil can be unwound, then looked at as if for the first time.
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