Untitled, Ross Martin. 1996.


This issue of Cultronix explores 'allopathic' medicine and the logic out of which it has developed. Contemporary western medicine is based on allopathic practices of battling disease with oppositional force, and in many regards, it has waged this war extremely well. Experiences of health and illness in industrialized nations have been shaped by technological advances in medical science, from Lister's antiseptic methods to surgical techniques, antibiotics, and imaging technologies that locate the pathologies within.

Western medicine, however, it seems has developed its own pathologies, with its reductions of resistance to disease, its emphasis on treatment rather than prevention, and its evolution into big business. We live in a time in the United States when cancer strikes one in three and kills one in four. Lung cancer has increased by 263 percent from 1950 to 1988, breast cancer by 60 percent, with an estimated $100 billion spent annually on cancer health care (2 percent of the GNP). [1]

Rather than focusing on environmental and occupational causes of cancer, however, the National Cancer Institute in 1991 allotted only 1 percent of its $2 billion budget to primary cancer prevention -- 'research activities designed to yield results that are directly applicable to the identification of risk and to interventions to prevent disease or the progression of detectable but asymptomatic disease.' [2] Such priorities are symptomatic of the allopathic underpinnings of western medicine.

Analytic logic, instrumental reason, photocentricity, and atomistic thinking, combined with the commodity forms of late capitalism, circumscribe not only our ideas of sickness and health, but also our experiences of them. 'Cure' often comes in the form of intrusive forces from the outside that attack interior invaders, and the goal of medical treatment is often to reconstitute a working body (i.e., a body that can go to work) at the expense of 'healing' (i.e., assisting the body to maintain itself in the healthiest state possible within its environment). The environment itself is one in which, in the case of cancer, the 'ill' may constitute one third of the population.

Theories of disease generate an image of the accompanying body of illness, like the AIDS body or the woman with breast cancer. The body that gets chemotherapy treatment is both a physical body and a social body, and therefore the pathologies of contemporary western medicine may include not only biochemical disease but also the illnesses of experiencing commodified healthcare. Often the discourse of cure and objectivization virtually removes the human person from the scene of medical science. One finds in her place diseased organs, metabolic processes gone awry, systemic failures.

In this issue, contributors ask, What is the difference between 'curing' and 'healing'? What systems of meaning distinguish the healthy from the pathological? What would constitute a healthy relation to a body that is not well? Based in the practice of anatomy which atomizes the diseased body, trying to understand it by isolating discrete parts, allopathic cures are often quite distinct from a notion of 'healing' whose etymology is 'to make whole.'

The contents of this issue are quite different from what we originally imagined when we put forth our call for submissions. While we had envisioned a theoretically informed critique of the medical industry, that vision, too, escaped dealing with the experience of being unwell. Cultronix's editors have learned a great deal from our contributors in this regard. In many ways, Issue four delineates the tension between critiques of medical practices and attempts to constitute positive states of being within those practices. Our contributors helped us to extend our notion of allopathology to include subjective views of what it means to be not well, or to care take of the ill whom we love. The difference between critique and more personal, affective work points to the very problems of cure-focused medicine.

'The Therapeutic State' (an assemblage of works by a variety of art collectives) argues that the recent 'breast cancer epidemic' consists of scare tactics that make women revert to the medical industry and the authority of male doctors -- the very definition of 'the therapeutic state.' Pointing out that more women die of lung cancer than breast cancer, the group Public Domain argues that such discourse encourages women to view their breasts as their greatest enemies.

Stephanie Byram's hypertext essay is in dialogue with 'The Therapeutic State.' Her piece 'Cancer Destroys, Cancer Builds' points to the tension between critiquing the medical institution and actually having breast cancer -- and learning to thrive within that system. Byram wants to recuperate the aesthetics of a mastectomized body. She doesn't so much critique the medical institution as she tries to work out a relationship with the medical institution that will empower her in the face of highly malignant breast cancer. Byram, with photographer Charlee Brodsky, works to reclaim her mastectomized body as a body of aesthetic form and beauty. Byram shows us how to have positive agency in a body of illness.

Susan Kim's mother was diagnosed with cancer shortly before she started working on 'Daughter of Cancer.' By the time we launched this issue, she had died. Kim represents herself as a daughter of this disease as she works through a mourning process, even as she recognizes an ontological category to which she now belongs -- those women who have cancer in their families and who therefore are 'high risk.'

Christina Hung represents her experience of a corneal transplant in 'I.C.U.' Her hypertext draws out the pathology of a medical system which treats her and her disease as experimental objects. As a nonpaying subject, she submits her disease to experimental medicine. Her piece shows us both the pathologizing of her eyes and the diseased social body under capitalism: without means of payment, her surgical cure is jeopardized.

Monica Chiu critiques the institution of childbirth, showing how traditional anatomy has come to atomize the body and how obsetricians understand women's bodies in discrete parts. 'Allopathology in Medical Rhetoric and Maternal Health Care' points out how childbirth procedures are marked as pathological and work to accommodate doctors, not pregnant women. Chiu points provocatively to how the professionalization of ob/gyn practices streamlines hospital procedures. Chiu's essay critiques a recurrent practice in biomedicine -- pathologizing the 'normal' as abnormal.

In 'Naming the Enemy:,' Marcus Boon argues against the assumption, held by both activists and scientists, that underneath 'the social meanings of AIDS lies a pure, intellegible object called HIV.' Boon historicizes the emergence of AIDS, documenting the fear, power and always already social knowledges that circulate in scientific research on AIDS as well as in popular representations of that research.

1 Epstein, Samuel S. "Evaluation of the National Cancer Program and Proposed Reforms." International Journal of Health Services, 23, no.1: 15-44 (1993). pp. 16-17.

2 Ibid.