Experiments with Form and Meaning

Posted by on Jan 21, 2014 in books | No Comments

Pages from the book "The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice"

The first text that came to mind when I was thinking about form effecting meaning is a book by Annemarie Mol called The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice. In this book Mol writes an ethnography of atherosclerosis, which is a disease that causes the thickening and eventual obstruction of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is a relatively banal disease insofar as it is already well-documented, easy to diagnose, with multiple treatment options–it’s not the stuff of the typical medical ethnography, which tends towards the strange, rare and obscure.

What makes Mol’s intervention into atherosclerosis interesting is the ways in which she presents the numerous and multiple facets of what is typically presented to patients as a single disease. Mol explores the manner in which the body and disease can have multiple articulations–articulations which do not necessarily imply fragments or fragmentation. To borrow from the books title, Mol shows the body and disease multiple.

To pursue this idea of the multiple and of multiplicity further, Mol explicitly moves away from epistemological concerns in favor of considering enactment. Mol describes her project as uninterested in “…the ways in which medicineknows its objects,” and is instead focused on “…the ways in which medicine attunes to, interacts with, and shapes its objects in its various and varied practices” (p. vii). Methodologically she is interested in the multiple trajectories that bring diseases and bodies into being.

Mol takes a similar approach to the form of her book. This text is an exercise in the book as multiple. This single book is actually composed of two separate texts that run parallel to one another–Mol calls these “the text” and the “subtext”, in reference to their literal position on the page, as well as to the fact that one text underpins the other. “The text” is her ethnography, the exploration of her specific site. “The subtext” is Mol’s reflection on relevant literature. Mol presumes no explicit relationship between the text and subtext as they appear on each page, although they may present interesting or complicated intersections and trajectories. She also does not presume a particular reading practice, suggesting that each reader find their own way through the book-object.

I think that this text offers an interesting example of form working with content in order to investigate the ontology of the multiple.

Works Cited

Mol, A. (2002, December 27). The body multiple: Ontology in medical practice. Duke University Press

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