My GP once told me I suffer from ‘conscious hypochondria’ — every cough, every bout of fever, is a source of great anxiety. So maybe it would help me to attend the afternoon symposium on ‘Culture and Hypochondria’ at Tate Britain, London, on Friday 18 September 2009.
The speakers — Julia Borossa, Steven Connor, Brian Dillon, Darian Leader, and Caroline Rooney —will explore the history and contemporary meaning of illness and anxiety as mediated by artists, writers and philosophers:
Hypochondria is an ancient name for a malady that is always fretfully new: the fear of disease and the experience of one’s body as alien and unpredictable. Its history is ambiguous: an organic disease with verifiable symptoms, it slowly lost its physical attributes until it came to be seen as a purely psychological disturbance or disreputable character trait. Every historical period has felt itself to be an era of heightened hypochondriacal anxieties; the disorder remains current, but its manifestations shift and alter and overlap from one century, or one decade, to another. The history of hypochondria is an X-ray of the more solid and familiar history of medicine; it reveals the underlying structure of our hopes and fears about our bodies.