"Reading the Medicated Body in Literature and Culture"

After Marshall McLuhan’s ominous "the medium is the message", people began to question how media shaped culture. Academics responded by investigating how this mediation functions; literature provided a rich resource for them to work with. However, in reacting to technological mediums, they may have overlooked one of the most ever-present; the body. Not only does the body mediate an individual’s experience of the world, but, the body has also been read as a text. Recognizing the body as a medium has been particularly important from the 1950’s onward because of the increase in the prescription psychotropic medications. Is one to assume that modern life is more stressful than that of the past? Or, perhaps the modern subject has a low tolerance to pain and stress? It would seem that both of these questions oversimplify the problem. It may be more productive to approach the medicated body as a medium, and determine what the "message" actually is. Again, literature provides us a way to examine how mediation is functioning within a society. But it is also helpful to look at popular culture, through newspapers, magazines, advertisements. Comparing literary representations of medication to popular cultural representations may provide some insight into how the 20th C phenomena of psychotropic medication functions within American Society.

I am in no way proposing to solve the societal mystery of this newfound reliance on psychotropic medication; I am only interested in looking at how it functions in literary texts in relation to questions of autonomy, identity, and concepts of the body. Questions I hope to address are: What does it mean to say the body is a medium? If one reads the body as a medium, is medication also a medium, or is it a way to access the body? Through this mediation what becomes immediate? What, (to borrow McLuhan’s terms) is "extended"? What is "amputated"? Within literature does the medication contribute to a fractured sense of self or a sense of the body/self as a whole? How does this compare to popular cultural representations? How does medication in literature relate to postmodernism? Does it contribute to the concept of the "post-human" body, or does it function in a different way? Answering these questions fully is beyond the scope of my project, and perhaps impossible, but they are important questions to engage in discourse to get a fuller, or different, perspective on contemporary cultural events.