Keynote Speaker

We are pleased to advertise that our keynote speaker will be Dr Anna Elsner.  Dr Anna Magdalena Elsner is Senior Researcher at the Center for Medical Humanities at the University of Zurich. She was formerly a Leverhulme Research Fellow at the Centre for the Humanities and Health at King’s College London, where she worked on a project entitled ‘‘A sensation of one’s own’: The clinical encounter in twentieth-century French Literature and Visual Culture’. She is the author of Mourning and Creativity in Proust (2017), and a number of articles on twentieth-century French literature and cinema. Her new project, for which she has been awarded a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation, investigates the practice and philosophy of palliative care in contemporary French literature.

Her keynote will be entitled ‘Four models of the physician-patient relationship? A literary perspective’

In 1959, Karl Jaspers proposed that despite advances in technology and scientific progress, the true physician is the one who ‘knows in not-knowing’, and who through the encounter with patients arrives at a ‘philosophical insight’ which allow him to ‘turn progress itself for the first time towards something good’. In 1986, Emmanuel Levinas takes this glorification of the physician even further, when he describes the ‘vocation médicale de l’homme’ and claims that what happens in the doctor-patient encounter is at the heart of the human relation itself.

This paper proposes to examine some of the features that make for the philosophical significance of the clinical encounter by reading a number of prominent examples in twentieth and twenty-first century French literature alongside medical and bioethical research on the physician-patient relationship. In this analysis of the hierarchical structures created by the collision of scientific and subjective knowledge, I will particularly focus on the themes of empathy, care and the topos of the good doctor. More generally the paper thereby also questions what role literary texts can play in medical education and it makes the case that French literature – and comparative approaches generally – have an important contribution to make to the ‘Medical Humanities’.