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By Iain Bamforth

During this wide-reaching abecedarium, medical professional and poet Iain Bamforth dissects the clash of values embodied in what we name medicine—never fullyyt a technological know-how and not really the artwork it was. Bamforth brings to endure his adventure of drugs from around the globe, from the hightech American health center of Paris to neighborhood health and wellbeing centres of Papua, together with his attractive curiosity within the stranger manifestations of scientific concerns with regards to artwork, literature and tradition. Drawing at the lives and concepts of a few of Europe’s most
celebrated writers, from Auden to Zola with stop-offs on the likes of Darwin, Kafka, Orwell, Proustand Weil alongside the best way, Bamforth bargains insightful and witty diagnoses of the tradition of drugs within the smooth age.

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The advertising budget for Prozac actually exceeds the already bloated budget for Nike running shoes. Even those last bastions of objectivity in science, the medical journals, are not protected from the pressures and forces of the market: Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, has written that ‘[they] have devolved into informationlaundering operations for the pharmaceutical industry’. Studies have shown that doctors tend rather complacently to underestimate the hold the pharmaceutical industry has over them.

Order requires domination, and domination requires a lie or two. So he gives their lives a medical meaning. That is: he extends the bounds of the biological, of whose oracles he is the interpreter, so as to make illness not just a bodily phenomenon but an organising principle for the effective administration of society itself: it is, for its adepts, a higher truth. His argument is life, for that is what a doctor defends. His tools are ideals, seduction, fright and—if necessary—the threat of violence.

Perhaps he is a latter-day Dr 49 Mesmer, a magnetiser who makes the instruments of reason minister to a prospect of salvation, plumbing that part of the mind that is ineducable, a metaphoric but no less fateful terra incognita the French psychologist Pierre Janet termed ‘the subconscious’ five years before Freud. Hygiene and politics What gives pause in Romains’ brilliant farce is that when it appeared, in the polarised interbellum in which the liberal consensus seemed doomed to disappear and Europe’s cultural avant-garde lent its support to new, illiberal forms of modernisation, Knock was interpreted as a parable about demagogues who seemed able to mould entire populations to their will.

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