Creative Power of Diagnosis Part I

Diagnosis remains a ritual of disclosure: a curtain is pulled aside, and uncertainty is replaced – for better or worse – with a structured narrative. - "The Tyranny of Diagnosis," Charles E. Rosenberg

Anyone who enjoys perusing WebMD knows a diagnosis can give purpose, meaning, and reassurance. Especially in today’s world with an abundance of pharmaceutical treatments and cures, being granted a title for your ailment is the first step toward reclaiming your health.

This is in no way a new thought. In 1804 Thomas Trotter, a Scottish physician, wrote “The name and definition of a disease are perhaps of more importance than is generally thought. They are like a central point to which converging rays trend: they direct future inquirers how to compare facts, and become, as it were, the base on which accumulating knowledge is to be heaped.” Trotter’s description came in the early 19th century, just as nosology was becoming an increasingly codified and scientific field. His physical metaphor demonstrates how individual symptoms are employed at the service of the overarching disease, and the disease itself becomes the plinth on which future studies are built. Without titles there would be no order. Charles E. Rosenberg furthered this argument in 2002 writing, “Without an agreed upon vocabulary of disease, for example, the hospital’s wards could not contribute to the medial profession’s collective task of accumulating valid critical knowledge” (Rosenberg, 244).

Trotter and Rosenberg, across two centuries, highlight the value of naming and distinction in medical study -- in, essentially, the treatment of future patients. But what of the present?

The implementation of treatment based on diagnostic categories is complicated by the particularities of each individual human body. In other words, everyone is different. An obvious point, and one which is important for both doctors and choreographers.

Looking a bit closer at these quotes another connection between the professions of medicine and movement becomes clear. They have gifted us with (in this blog-post's chronological order) a curtain, a ritual, a structured narrative, a central point, converging rays, a base, and a ward. It is a show! Diagnosis is tightly linked to the performance of disease; the script has been cobbled together by doctors and researchers and the actors are not only vulnerable but also often malleable and willing.

I am interested in the stage that is laid out before us when we are given a diagnostic title. How does it shape us and what power does it grant? How does it move the body and influence how it grows (or deteriorates)? What is shaved off to fit each person into a "structured narrative."