Book Reviews of A Cursing Brain?: The Histories of Tourette Syndrome

A Cursing Brain?: The Histories of Tourette Syndrome
A Cursing Brain The Histories of Tourette Syndrome
Author: Howard I. Kushner
ISBN-13: 9780674180222
ISBN-10: 0674180224
Publication Date: 4/25/1999
Pages: 303

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Publisher: Harvard University Press
Book Type: Hardcover
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"Three lacunae puzzled me. First, why is there no mention of a literary history of Tourette syndrome? Surely the disease must have existed before 1825 and been represented in fiction? Second, why is there no mention of the nineteeth-century English neurologist John Huglings Jackson? Jackson noticed that his aphasic patients who had sustained major damage to the left hemisphere of the brain and were almost speechless could none the less produce glorious streams of obscenities; he accordingly conjected that such ripe language arose from the right hemisphere. Does Tourette syndrome throw any light on this idea? Finally, Kushner stresses very firmly that Tourette syndrome is an organic disorder. But what else could it be? He seems to forget that no one believes in mind-body dualism any more, and hence the old distinction between functional and organic conditions can no longer be drawn." (Times Literary Supplement - John C. Marshall )

Other Notes:
Kushner explores how Tourette's Syndrome evolved in the medical community from a psychological illness to an organic one, treatable through pharmacological means. Kushner traces how the attitudes of medical professionals have shifted, and how these shifts have affected their patients.

Over a century and a half ago, a French physician reported the bizarre behavior of a young aristocratic woman who would suddenly, without warning, erupt in a startling fit of obscene shouts and curses. The image of the afflicted Marquise de Dampierre echoes through the decades as the emblematic example of an illness that today represents one of the fastest-growing diagnoses in North America. Tourette syndrome is a set of behaviors, including recurrent ticcing and involuntary shouting (sometimes cursing) as well as obsessive-compulsive actions. The fascinating history of this syndrome reveals how cultural and medical assumptions have determined and radically altered its characterization and treatment from the early nineteenth century to the present. A Cursing Brain? traces the problematic classification of Tourette syndrome through three distinct but overlapping stories: that of the claims of medical knowledge, that of patients' experiences, and that of cultural expectations and assumptions. Earlier researchers asserted that the bizarre ticcing and impromptu vocalizations were psychological -- resulting from sustained bad habits or lack of self-control. Today, patients exhibiting these behaviors are seen as suffering from a neurological disease and generally are treated with drug therapy. Although current clinical research indicates that Tourette's is an organic disorder, this pioneering history of the syndrome reminds us to be skeptical of medical orthodoxies so that we may stay open to fresh understandings and more effective interventions.