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Palliative Pages: Inscribing Mortality into French Literature and Theory since 1950

Applicant Elsner Anna Magdalena
Number 171285
Funding scheme Marie Heim-Voegtlin grants
Research institution
Institut für Biomedizinische Ethik und Medizingeschichte Ethik-Zentrum der Universität Zürich
Romanisches Seminar Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Romance languages and literature
Start/End 01.06.2017 - 31.05.2019
Approved amount 245'065.00
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All Disciplines (4)

Discipline
Romance languages and literature
Health
Philosophy
Psychology

Keywords (4)

Palliative Care; Medical Humanities; French Literature; End-of-Life Narratives

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
Nous vivons dans des temps marqués par la publication d’un nombre exceptionnel de récits littéraires traitant des maladies terminales. Même si écrire sur la mort faisait partie de la production littéraire depuis ses débuts, la médecine moderne encourage cette prolifération en mettant à disposition des diagnostiques qui adviennent plus tôt ainsi que des pronostics plus spécifiques. Cela nous laisse le temps de développer des approches narratives à notre propre mort, et dans ces approches se reflètent souvent des critiques de la médecine moderne et comment elle pense gérer la mort.
Lay summary

D’un point de vue étymologique, le terme « palliatif » provient du latin palliare signifiant « couvrir par un manteau, un pallium » qui voile, cache et protège. Développé par Cicely Saunders à la fin des années 50 et officiellement définis par l’OMS, nous entendons aujourd’hui par « soins palliatifs » un réconfort global visant à soulager la souffrance physique et psychique du patient devant la mort. Ce projet prend comme point de départ la transformation du terme « palliatif » ainsi que le développement historique des soins palliatifs modernes en France et propose qu’une analyse de la littérature autobiographique française depuis les années 50 nous permette de découvrir les défis philosophiques, culturels et personnels qui sont créés par une approche médicale qui va au-delà de la médecine en questionnant la confiance dans le progrès médical.

Dans un premier temps, il sera proposé que la production littéraire est étroitement liée au but de cacher ou soulager une douleur, par quoi écrire en soi devient une stratégie palliative. Dans un deuxième temps, il sera question de montrer que la littérature contemporaine française s’engage plus spécifiquement dans un discours qui illustre et critique non seulement la manière dont les soins palliatifs institutionnels sont pratiqués en France aujourd’hui, mais qui ultérieurement met aussi en danger une approche philosophique particulière de la « bonne mort » qui se cache dans la définition de la OMS.      

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 19.05.2017

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Health Beyond Borders Talk given at a conference 'Je suis la vivante qui crée son personnage de morte': Euthanasia and Border Crossings in Contemporary French End-of-Life Writing 14.06.2019 Columbia University Global Centers, Paris, France Elsner Anna Magdalena;
International Perspectives on Bioethics Individual talk Why we need the Medical (In)Humanities 03.06.2019 Pavlov State Medical University, St Petersburg, Russia Elsner Anna Magdalena;
Rethinking Cancer Survivorship Individual talk Palliation and the Heroism of Survival 27.03.2019 University of Oslo, Norway Elsner Anna Magdalena;
The Cultural Languages of Pain: European Literary Perspectives Individual talk 'Je souffre donc je suis': Dolorisme, Morphine and the Medico-Literary Resistance to Palliative Care in France 23.11.2018 Institute of Modern Languages Research, London, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Elsner Anna Magdalena;
Cultural Crossings of Care Talk given at a conference The epistemology of illness and the spectre of dolorism that haunts the Medical Humanities 26.10.2018 University of Oslo, Norway Elsner Anna Magdalena;
Swiss Networks Ethics of Care Invitation Pavlov State Medical University, St Petersburg Individual talk The Medical Humanities: History and Futures 31.05.2018 St Petersburg, Russia Elsner Anna Magdalena;
History of Medicine Seminar, University of Zurich Individual talk St Christopher's 'French Connection' 16.05.2018 University of Zurich, Switzerland Elsner Anna Magdalena;
French Studies and the Medical Humanities Conference, Senate House, University of London Talk given at a conference Winter is Coming: Beyond Paradoxes in Palliative Care 10.11.2017 London, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Elsner Anna Magdalena;
Lunchtime Seminar at the Hastings Center Individual talk Autonomy, Kant and End-of-life Narratives 25.10.2017 Garrison, New York, United States of America Elsner Anna Magdalena;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Quelle place pour les proches dans la prise en soin? 28.03.2019 Universität Lausanne, Switzerland
What is Care Ethics? 22.05.2018 Institute of Biomedical Ethics, University of Zurich, Switzerland
Sterben Live: Film und Lebensende Dokumentarfilmreihe mit Diskussion 13.03.2018 Collegium Helveticum, Switzerland

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Talks/events/exhibitions Sterben Live German-speaking Switzerland 2018

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
186449 Palliative Pages: Inscribing Mortality into French Literature since 1975 01.09.2019 Marie Heim-Voegtlin grants
143903 'A sensation of one's own': The clinical encounter in twentieth-century French Literature and Visual Culture 01.08.2012 Fellowships for prospective researchers

Abstract

This project seeks to contextualize the meaning of ‘palliative’ within French literature and theory from the 1950s onwards. It proposes that the term’s dual grounding in the humanities and medicine allows us to gain a more nuanced understanding of modern palliative care and its philosophical assumptions about what constitutes a ‘good death’. In the last four decades, palliative care, recognised as a medical sub-speciality and defined by the World Health Organisation in 2002 as a holistic approach to life-threatening illnesses, has been increasingly integrated in the way healthcare systems manage symptoms and treat physical and psychological pain in patients with serious conditions. The project therefore analyses the ways in which twenty-first century and contemporary French narratives about illness and dying debate concepts associated with palliative care, such as pain control, care instead of cure, the integration of family, an individually defined quality of life and the spiritual and psychological accompaniment of the patient. It also more generally questions whether and by what means self-reflective writing constitutes a ‘palliative’ practice or, on the contrary, leads to a subversion of the ‘palliative’ in writing conceived to produce mental and physical distress. It thereby points towards ambivalences in the self-understanding of contemporary medicine, namely whether the revival of a Hippocratic vision in the philosophy of modern palliative care can be established outside of a religious framework and within the scientific convictions driving the age of evidence-based medicine. Methodologically this project relies on interdisciplinary studies in French literature and medicine, comparative approaches developed in narrative medicine and the history and philosophy of medicine and palliative care in France. While it aims to contribute to the field of the Medical Humanities, it also substantiates the philosophy of palliative care with its literary representations, and hopes to trigger a discussion on how to generate more meaningful and humane outcomes in end-of-life care.
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