Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Berkeley

Responding to Pain: Emotion, Medicine, and Culture between German Naturalism and Modernism


This dissertation sets its sights on a group of writers and scientists who cultivated readers capable of responding to the pain of others with emotions ranging from sympathy and empathy to disgust and suspense. These emotions, I claim, shed new light on the significant terrain shared by the history of medicine and literary history between German realism and modernism. The writing on pain examined in this dissertation reveals not only how medicine imagined and ultimately won support for its institutions by relying on literary strategies, but also how literature—by developing its own knowledge of pain—pointed out new directions for medicine as an institution. In this sense, the dissertation maintains that pain became the basis for a culture common to both medicine and literature. The first two chapters locate this common culture by turning to the crucial role sympathy played in the formation of institutions such as public health, naturalist theater, and charitable organizations during the last half of the nineteenth century. Towards this end, I dedicate careful attention to texts such as Gerhart Hauptmann’s 1892 Die Weber, an 1844 report by a representative of an aid organization named Alexander Schneer, and a report on an 1848 typhus epidemic in Upper Silesia by the doctor Rudolf Virchow. The remaining chapters address the shifting stakes of pain that emerged in the first half of the twentieth century. Around this time, I argue, pain was no longer to be eliminated as a threat to public health, but rather to be embraced on its own terms. The third chapter outlines the parameters of this shift towards pain in the philosophical anthropology of Helmuth Plessner and F. J. J. Buytendijk. The fourth and fifth chapters, in turn, deal with the concrete ways in which this shift gave rise to new emotions and medical institutions that would cope with pain. These chapters focus, respectively, on disgust as a means of restoring emotion to medicine in the early poetry and prose of Gottfried Benn, and on suspense as a counterpart to sympathy for readers observing an epidemic unfold in Ernst Weiss’ novel Georg Letham: Arzt und Mörder.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View