Parrhesia and clinical practice: A case study of Dr. Esdaile’s mesmeric hospital in Hooghly
(2021) Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, 13 (2), pp. 1-13.
This paper seeks to explore the complex negotiation between mesmerism (as unauthorised medical practice) and the State by analyzing the singular example of Dr. James E. Esdaile, a Scottish civil surgeon stationed in Hooghly, Calcutta, in the 1840-50s; one of the few known medical practitioners of mesmerism in colonial India. His diary titled Mesmerism in India, and its Practical Application in Surgery and Medicine contains a record of every patient who walked into Esdaile’s clinic in Hooghly complaining of pain, the subsequent interaction that took place between the doctor and the patient, usually in the form of a simple sequence of questions and answers, and a description of the procedure by which the patient was treated. The documentation of Esdaile’s controversial clinical practice offers several important insights into the practice of parrhesia (a theory of truth-telling proposed by Foucault) in conjunction with the practice of mesmerism as medicine. Within the annals of medical history, clinical egodocuments such as Esdaile’s surgical diary exemplify the emergence of a difficult relationship between the historical subject and the desire to speak the truth. It reveals how a unique moment in colonial medical history becomes emblematic of a negative relationship with the parrhesiastic act. © AesthetixMS 2021.
Colonial medicine; Esdaile; Mesmerism; Parrhesia; Surgical diary