Sander Gilman

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Sander L. Gilman (born February 21, 1944) is an American cultural and literary historian, who is particularly well-known for his contributions to Jewish studies and the history of medicine. He is currently Distinguished Professor of the Arts and Sciences at Emory University.



Creating Beauty to Cure the Soul (1998)

  • As an aesthetic surgeon, one simply knows a difficult or dangerous or unhappy patient when one sees one. This learned response to the difficult patient places the surgeon in the position of the psychiatrist. The history of aesthetic surgery runs remarkably parallel to that of psychoanalysis as well as psychosomatic medicine.
    • page 14.
  • What happens when everyone in a society is finally beautiful (and healthy)? When the final aesthetic surgery is developed that will make all visages and bodies "perfect"? Will everyone in that society be happy? In examining the discourses of the late nineteenth century on this question, we are confronted with the paradox of François Xavier Bichat, as paraphrased by Charles Darwin: "If everyone were cast in the same mould, there would be no such thing as beauty. If all our women were to become as beautiful as the Venus de’ Medici (de Milo), we should for a time be charmed; but we should soon wish for variety; and as soon as we had obtained variety, we should wish to see certain characters a little exaggerated beyond the then existing common standard.” The very search for the improvement of the body (and the concomitant “happiness” of the psyche) must lead to further discontent.
    • page 39.
  • The operation itself is the social act that enabled the patient to come to terms with the immutability of his Jewish body. No matter what is done, the body will reveal itself to be that of a Jew. This crushing realization drives the patient beyond medicine for therapy. He eventually breaks with his racial-religious identity and converts to Catholicism, the ultimate form of passing in Catholic Vienna. Aesthetic surgery did not cure the patient of his Jewishness, it only masked it. Baptism became the answer….
    • page 118.
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