The Aesthetics and Politics of Pain: Observing Suffering in German Literature and Medicine, 1848-1945

Eric Savoth
UC Berkeley

My dissertation examines writing on pain that emerged in German literature and medicine between 1848 and 1945. This writing, I claim, had two related aims: to disorient the senses of readers confronted with the overwhelming spectacle of pain, and in turn win over these readers for institutions designed to alleviate or embrace pain—institutions ranging from public health and other kinds of medicine to the military. To make this argument, my examination focuses on the literary strategies used by writers and doctors to confront their readers with the pain of others, and on the concrete institutional settings in which these literary strategies shaped readers with particular attitudes towards such pain. The dissertation ultimately offers a new way of asking not only how literature contributes to the study of medicine as an institution, but also how the study of institutions broadens the horizon of literature.