Asthma and entanglement. Proust, Medical Technologies, Modernism

In chapter one of The Guermantes Way, the third volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the narrator stops to consider the corporeal nature of his grandmother’s sickness. “It is illness that makes us recognize that we do not live isolation but are chained to a being from a different realm, worlds apart from us, with no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body.”[1] While it is foreshortening to read this passage as evidence that his multi-volume opus magnum fictionalizes Proust’s own illness – an almost life-long affliction with asthmatic and pulmonary conditions – this passage does indeed encourage us consider the embodied nature of illness and the relationship between the sense of selfhood, the sick body, and the medical objects we engage with in medical treatments. In terms of the sense of selfhood in illness, asthma is of particular interest at the fin de siècle, given that it was held to be a nervous, psychosomatic illness. A consideration of asthma and its treatment in the 19th century can help us to understand the materiality of the medical experience in useful ways.

Asthma and entanglement. Living with medical technologies around 1900

Proust had his first asthmatic attack at the age of nine and his letters and private writings are highly reflective of the corporeal nature of illness and of the material mediation of medical technologies. He writes to his mother in 1900 about: “An attack of asthma of unbelievable violence and tenacity – such is the depressing balance sheet of my night, which it obliged me to spend on my feet in spite of the early hour at which I got up yesterday.”[2] These asthmatic episodes also impacted on his writing in very real ways. Although subsequent literary critics have been keen to draw out a heroic reading of Proust’s suffering by declaring his asthma to have been the precondition of his artistic genius (Walter Benjamin claimed to have felt the breathlessness and laboured breathing of the asthmatic episode in his prose),[3] Proust’s own comments are less optimistic.[4] In a letter to Marcel Boulenger from 1920 he notes a more taxing correlation between his art and his suffering: “I have been gasping for breath so continuously (incessant attacks of asthma for several days) that it is not very easy for me to write.”[5]

Notably, this uncertainty and suffering also extends to the experience of medical treatment. Proust’s father, himself a physician, believed the aetiology of his son’s asthma was psychological and psychosomatic, leading him and the rest of the family to dismiss his symptoms as the neurasthenic imaginations of a hypochondriac. The diagnosis of asthma as a ‘nervous’ illness was not unusual. The publicity-loving English physician Morell Mackenzie, for example, wrote: “Sufferers from hay fever [a contemporary name for asthma] may, however, gather some crumbs of comfort from the fact that the disease is almost exclusively confined to persons of cultivation. As, therefore, summer sneezing goes hand-in-hand with culture, we may, perhaps, infer that the higher we rise in the intellectual scale, the more is the tendency developed.” Proust accepted treatment for his asthma at a sanatorium for mental illness outside Berne at the turn of the century, acknowledging the medical authority of his father. Other forms of treatment were more brutal. Proust repeatedly underwent a process of nasal cauterization in an attempt to reduce the activity of the mucous membranes in his nose. Presumably playing down the actual pain of this experience he would recall “I had such faith that I underwent 110 cauterizations, hardly pleasant.”[6]

Many forms of therapy involved oral and inhaled consumption of substances – from the mundane like coffee and beer to more invasive medical cocktails of barbiturates, opiates, and aspirin. Proust’s stramonium cigarettes and inhalations with asthma powders also suggest a growing awareness towards the end of the 19th century that more focused, localized drug delivery to the lungs was a reliable method of treating asthma. Specialist devices like Potter’s Patent Inhaler Cone would have been used for burning powders while cigarettes, pipes, and similar devices were used for inhaling belladonna/stramonium.


Successful experiments by James Young Simpson in Edinburgh (1830s and 1840s) confirmed the ability to generate pharmacological affects by inhalation; Charles Scudamore performed clinical trials of inhalation in respiratory patients “to show that they are capable of exerting a very important and beneficial influence in certain states of pulmonary and bronchial disease”.[7] Scudamore praises inhalation for not affecting the stomach of respiratory patients in addition to their pulmonary distress, while James Murray had already argued in 1829 that “bathing the lungs” ensured a more focused delivery, “local affections […] which can be directed to and confined upon any point or part affected” is the preferred form of pharmaceutical therapy.[8]

In the same period more specialized and reliable inhalation technologies began to be developed across Europe. The first pressurised inhaler was invented in France by Sales-Girons and was presented at the Medical Academy in Paris in 1858.


Developed from Victor Auphon’s vapour inhalation rooms (which vaporized spa waters by projecting liquid at walls at high velocity) at the spa resort of Euzet-les-Bain, Sales-Giron’s device was hand-pump driven and provided more focused delivery to the throat and nose. Dr Siegle’s inhaler (based on Sales-Giron’s model and developed in Stuttgart, Germany in 1864) offered a transportable, steam-driven vaporizer for convenient use at home.


It was marketed under registered patents in Germany, France and Britain and there was also a handy version for use while travelling


The Siegle Inhaler is perhaps most notable as the prototype for Lister’s carbolic spray, the first widespread and effective form antiseptic preparation for surgical treatments.


The success of Lister’s antiseptic sprays were probably a motivating factor behind the prescription of carbolic acid for inhalation by asthmatic patients, and indeed Proust’s foul fogs of medical powders and inhalations of balsam will have been based on these models, with the idea being that pulmonary mucus was a form of infection that could be treated antiseptically.

These devices were widely used in European spa resorts throughout the fin de siècle, and were indeed available for self-medication in cheaper versions that were advertised and marketed for wealthier patients like Proust. They were based around coal tar derivative, the core idea behind Lister’s carbolic antiseptic, which subsequently became popular as vapour inhalants for personal use around the home, with devices like the Vapo-Cresolene marketed in Britain and Europe for use with coal-tar extracts like cresol and balsams like eucalyptus. Other common inhalers around 1900 included versions of Verdin’s Inhalateur à Soufflerie (developed in the 1870s) and the Volatilizer Inhaler (designed ca 1890 for eucalyptus oil and creosote treatments and marketed as antibacteriological).


Inhaling the smoke from stramonium, lobelia and potash, alongside vapour inhalations of balsams and ethers, promised both the most immediate and the most effective relief against asthmatic spasms and bronchial congestion, even if many of the over-the-counter solutions available (such as carbolic acid) are useless by current standards.

In his self-medicating later years, Proust’s entire biorhythm changed as he subjected his body to combinations of barbital, opiates, stramonium, caffeine, beer and many other nostrums and prescription medications alike. Asthmatic episodes reached a duration of 48 hours and upwards and he started having to work through the night, with fits starting at 2.00 am forcing him to have breakfast at 3.00am; later his working day began even earlier in the night, beginning around 10.00pm and working through the night. The frequent abdominal pains that caused further distress were most likely the result of the concoctions of opiate-based asthma powders he consumed. Working his way through multiple remedies, from cigarettes to fumigations, from opium to inhalations, Proust underlines the lack of reliable medical relief for asthma in the period: “Yesterday after I wrote to you I had an asthma attack and incessant running at the nose, which obliged me to walk all doubled up and light anti-asthma cigarettes at every tobacconist’s as I passed, etc. And what’s worse, I haven’t been able to go to bed until midnight, after endless fumigations”.[9] He also mentions various powders, caffeine, epinephrine/adrenaline cures, opium, morphine, spa resorts, and inhalation therapies. And indeed, the ritualised inhalations and treatments on a daily basis reveal a writer fully reliant on his medical therapies, no different, however, to the average asthma patient reliant on basic inhalation technologies such as the Aerhalor, nasal inhalers, cigarettes and other such portable forms of therapy.


What Proust’s illness shows us, then, is that there is a fundamentally material and embodied experience of illness that is also technologically – in the widest sense – mediated. In the experience of illness and its therapy it becomes clear that Proust the patient is entangled in real ways with the pharmaceutical and medical technologies, from drugs to fumigations and inhalations. I use the term entanglement in the sense of Ian Hoddard, for whom “human existence and social life depend on material things that are entangled with them”.[10] While Hoddard is interested in broader ecological and historical matters, tracing “the long term increase in entanglement” (34) on a global and historical scale (which, incidentally, is by no means unproblematic in terms of its reading of global political structures), in terms of medical objects the term seems particularly useful. In the case of medical things and technologies, “depend” is an apt descriptor of human-object interrelations, given that wellness, quality of life, and often even life itself can quite literally depend on material culture. Entanglement impacts on our sense of self, our social identities in meaningful ways, just as it produces them. This shows us that, in Elaine Graham’s words, human nature is already fundamentally “modified (encultured) by technologies, which in turn have become assimilated into ‘nature’ as a functioning component of organic bodies”.[11] “What we name as technology, technical artefact, or animal (and so disavow as non-human) are all essentially ‘part of an interactive stabilisation of the human’”.[12]

Of course this is an experience of medical technologies that is linked with abject suffering, with managing scenarios of corporeal suffering. It expresses a less than comfortable nature of the human-technology interface with and through medical objects and technologies. Indeed, Proust describes the emotional and physical suffering induced by his asthma in rather more harrowing terms: “As soon as I reached Versailles I was seized with a horrifying attack of asthma, so that I didn’t know what to do or where to hide myself.”[13] We need an approach which can account for the material processes constituting our relationship with medical objects in a balanced and more critical manner. An approach which accounts for negative experiences without demonising medical technologies as the tortuous other to a misplaced sense of ‘whole’, monadological selfhood, which critically considers these technologies in relation to our embodied and technologically mediated sense of selfhood without fetishizing a concept of our intellectual selves.

The Pharmacology of (Medical) Objects

The work of Bernard Stiegler offers us such a model which is “pharmacological” in its traditional sense.[14] The pharmakon, as that substance or object which is both poison and cure, simultaneously, is at the heart of object relations theory that conceptualizes the relations between humans and technologies. The meaning of pharmacology here is “not limited to chemico-therapies but actually concerns all techniques”[15] such as, for example, “psychotechnologies constituting the media infrastructure”.[16] Following Ian Hodder’s understanding of “entanglement” there is a “dependence and dependency” between man and (medical) technology that is “positive and negative”, forming and constraining (Hodder 20, 28-30). The usefulness of Stiegler’s object relations theory is that his “pharmacological” model enables us to draw out both the positive and negative potentials and relations of medical objects with human patients.

The pharmacological explanation of our relations to objects and the technological environment is based on a paradox which is developed in the writings of Donald Winnicot, and in particular his concept of the “transitional object”.[18] At an early stage of development, children become attached to certain objects – blankets, soft toys, soothers etc. – which allow the child to move from the space of parental care and unconditional love to the sphere of social relations, where we must negotiate our relations ourselves without feeling abandoned. Emerging from the unconditional and constant care and attention of the mother, the transitional object occupies an attachment that offers security and safety at precisely the moment in childhood development at which the biological distance from the mother is noted. Drawing on Winnicot, Stiegler argues that the transitional object is not the absolute other to the subject, somewhere beyond or outside a pre-existing personality, it is in fact a central component in the process of subject formation: human consciousness is a co-product of its technological environment and indeed depends upon it. By extension, this would suggest for our contexts that we need to account for the relationship between the human and medical objects not as one of categorical difference, but as co-constitutive and co-relational.

Alongside Gilbert Simondon and N. Katherine Hayles, Stiegler argues that our interrelatedness with objects predates our own technological and media age. Hayles describes this formative moment in her book How We Think as “technogenesis” arguing that human cognition, personality, subjectivity, and social identity are always already integrated into our material environments and have indeed co-evolved with them.[19] In Technics and Time Stiegler argues how the development of tools by pre-Homo sapiens hominids was not the sign of increased cognitive powers (as their brains were still underdeveloped), but rather an enabler of increased intellectual ability.[20] Steven Pinker likewise argued that there is a link between the human nervous system and the growing capacity to use language and to fabricate more complex tools.[21] But Stiegler develops the pharmacological model of object relations because of an inherent danger of pharmacological toxicity in this framework whereby this co-relationship with technology potentially becomes one of complete reliance on the technological object. The introduction of a ‘gap’ between us and technology opens up the potential for bondage and complete dependency – the monstrous machine, the uncanny object over there threatening and debasing humans in a techno-dystopia, the technological or the pharmaceutical management of the sovereign individual.

According to Stiegler’s analysis then, medical objects would not be other to our bodies and our selves. They, like other technologies, can “shape, regulate and define our bodies, they are constitutive of our very humanness and the capacity for knowing that humanness”.[22] Selfhood, identity, and consciousness of the human do not precede medical objects, rather the “human invents himself in the technical by inventing the tool”, “the interior and the exterior are the same thing […] since man (the interior) is essentially defined by the tool (the exterior).”[23] Or perhaps we should also say that in the medical encounter the human re-invents herself/himself. The interaction with medical therapies and technologies changes the sense of selfhood itself, just as Winnicot’s and Stiegler’s “transitional object” shows that personality and consciousness are co-evolutionary with technological systems.

Asthma and writing: Proust and inhalation

For Walter Benjamin, and many literary critics since, Proust’s authorship is fundamentally entangled within his experiences of illness and therapeutics: “This asthma entered his art”. Benjamin meant this stylistically too: “Proust’s syntax rhythmically and step by step reproduces the fear of suffocating.” (323) Thrown back into the limits of his unwell body, Benjamin suggests, Proust’s writing becomes co-dependent on this experience of illness and therapy. Although Benjamin remains broadly metaphorical here, Proust’s private correspondences and writings do indeed reveal an interesting co-dependency on inhalation and pharmaceutical cures and his sense of selfhood as a patient. While he smoked medicated cigarettes for his asthma on those occasions where he did leave home, he preferred to use powders commercially marketed powders and fumigations marketed by Espic, Legras or Escouflaire: “This is the only thing that has ever given me any relief”, he explained to Céleste: “I once tried the cigarettes made with this same Legras powder, but I am sure the paper they use, though thin and carefully prepared, disagrees with me. I prefer just the fumes.”[24]

Although these therapies and technologies seemed to have helped little in the long run, with the cocktails of relaxants and sleeping remedies being counteracted by adrenaline and caffeine, for example, there is a sense in which Proust grounded his authorial identity and productivity through the management of his illness and his therapeutic measures. He retreated into a room lined with cork in the hope that it would regulate bronchial spasms which he thought to be allergenic reactions to dust, pollen, and other air-borne stimulants. He developed a fully-fledged inhalation ‘ritual’ which began as soon as he woke up, lasting for hours at a time and involving high dosages of stramonium and opiates. This began as soon as he woke up and they took place in the corridor linking his bedroom with his bathroom; his housekeeper Céleste records that the sessions could last anywhere up to seven hours and she was occasionally asked to buy new boxes. For each inhalation a new box was opened because Proust feared that the powders could become dusty if opened and hence aggravate his perceived dust allergy.[25]

Proust’s self-dosing will frequently have produced intoxicating effects, and he favoured the most concentrated solution of stramonium, Legras powders. It is little wonder that the first flights of involuntary memory in In Search of Lost Time, the physiological, almost chemical memories of Aunt Léonie, the madeleine, and the decoction of lime-blossom in Swann’s Way, are marked in pharmaceutical, embodied terms:

one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. And as soon as I had recognised the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt [Léonie] used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up,…and with the house, the town. (Swann’s Way, 54)

 But this experience is linked with Léonie’s medical past, this being the concoction she consumed when holding court in bed while ill. As Bragg and Sayers put it, “The key to childhood memories, the medicine for the ailing memory, has been the taste of a sick-room treat, that is, somatic experience under the aegis of ill health.”[26] Aunt Léonie’s sick-bed decoction is associated with a sense of expansion, with a blossoming of memory, and hence with an imaginative project that ultimately drives the narrator’s memorializing writing project. This unlocking of a sense of selfhood is tellingly described in pharmaceutical terms: “a charming prodigality on the part of the chemist [pharmacien]”.[27] It is almost as though the mind becomes a laboratory of imaginative flights at this stage, retracing the origins of the dried blossoms from the tea-bag to the pharmacy, from the pharmacy to the trees and their smells on the roads (ibid). As Nicola Luckhurst has discussed the real-life curative analogy for the lime-blossom is most likely to have been Proust’s experiences with stramonium.[28] In Guermantes Way, Proust’s narrator discusses the effects of stramonium in some detail in a digression on sleep, dream, and memory (91-95) that recall the physiological memory of the madeleine. It is a sleep-inducing drug, like “Indian hemp […] multiple extracts of ether […] of opium of valerian” and it induces dreams which “grow like unknown flowers whose petals remain closed until the day when the predestined stranger comes to open them with a touch and to liberate for long hours the aroma of their peculiar dreams for the delectation of an amazed and spellbound being” (92). The senses of selfhood, imagination, and remembrance merge here in a fictionalized treatise on the workings of the mind that are pharmacological in nature.

It is a chemical, or rather pharmaceutical, model of the mind that Marcel the narrator develops here: both are based in the first instance on the kind of botanical cures and drugs that may have been found in collections of Household Medicine and Herbals, but with the step to ether and opium we are clearly in the realm of pharmaceutical preparations. These are, of course, the kind of preparations which Marcel the writer was reliant upon in his cork-encased room in the Boulevard Hausmann. According to Céleste’s accounts, Proust is likely to have consumed up to twenty-five-times the regular dose through inhalations. The effects of this concentration of stramonium will have included sensory hallucination, disorientation, euphoria, abnormal heart-rates, dizziness, lack of co-ordination, and ultimately sleepiness.[29] Reading Proust’s novel in this manner thus enables us to develop an actual pharmaceutical understanding of Stiegler’s pharmacology of medical things, then.

Proust’s asthma and his experience of medical therapies for the illness show us how “subject and object, mind and matter, human and thing co-constitute each other” (Hodder 19). We can see in his letters that this produces a sense of self that is fundamentally linked into the medical treatments he underwent. In short, the example of Proust’s asthma treatments show us how patients are tied up in a network of technologies that co-create a sense of embodied selfhood. In the fictional works, Proust goes further, suggesting the production of an experience of memory, imagination, and selfhood which is mediated through medical devices and cures. This is less a question of the reader being able to feel the author’s own struggle for breath in his syntax, however, and more a result of Proust developing a self-reflexive poetics of memory which is anchored firmly in the embodied experience of asthma therapies around 1900. This is a fictional pharmacology of medical objects and therapies that reveals how “humans and things are relationally produced” (Hoddard 19) in the medical techniques and structures experienced by their author.

[1] Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time: The Guermantes Way. New York, London: Random House, 2003 404,

[2] Marcel Proust. Letters to his Mother ed. and transl. By G. Painter. New York: Greenwood Press, 1973, 121.

[3] Walter Benjamin, “Zum Bilde Prousts”, in Walter Benjamin Gesammelte Schriften ed. R. Tiedemann and H. Schweppenhäuser. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991, here Vol. II, 310-323.

[4] See most recently J. Bogoussiavsky, “Marcel Proust’s diseases and Doctors: the neurological story of a life.” In: Neurological diseases in famous artists ed. J. Bougousslavsky J, M Hemmerici. Basel, Karger 2007.

[5] Letters of Marcel Proust, ed. Mina Curtis. London: Vintage, 1966, 342.

[6] Cited in William C. Carter, Marcel Proust: A Life. New Haven, Yale: Yale UP, 2003, 34.

[7] Charles Scudamore, Cases illustrative of the efficacy of various medicines administered by inhalation, in pulmonary consumption; London: Longman, 1830, 2.

[8] James S. Murray, A Dissertation on the Influence of Heat and Humidity: With Practical Observations on the Inhalation of Iodine, and Various Vapours, in Consumption, Catarrh, Croup, Asthma, and Other Diseases. London: Longman, 1829, 157.

[9] Marcel Proust. Letters to his Mother ed. and transl. By G. Painter. New York: Greenwood Press, 1973, 124.

[10] Ian Hoddard, “The Entanglements of Humans and Things: A Long-Term View”. In: New Literary History 45 (2014), 19-36, here 19.

[11] Elaine L. Graham, Representations of the Post/human: Monsters, Aliens, and Others in Popular Culture (Manchester: MUP, 2002), 10.

[12] John Seltin, “Production of the Posthuman: Political Economies of Bodies and Technology”. In: Parrhesia 8 (2009), 43-59, here  48. Quote in quote: Adrian McKenzie, Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed. London, New York: Continuum, 2002, 43.

[13] Marcel Proust. Letters to his Mother ed. and transl. By G. Painter. New York: Greenwood Press, 1973, 123.

[14] Bernard Stiegler, What Makes Life Worth Living. On Pharmacology. London: Polity, 2013.

[15] Bernard Stiegler, Taking care of youth and the generations. Palo Alto: Standford UP,  98-99.

[16] Bernard Stiegler, For a new critique of political economy. London: Polity, 2010, 101.

[17] Hodder, “The Entanglements”, 20 and 28-30.

[18] D. W. Winnicot, Playing and Reality. London: Routledge, 1990, 2-4.

[19] N. Katherine Hayles, How we think. Digital media and contemporary technogenesis. Chicago: UP, 2012.

[20] Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time 1. The Fault of Epimethius. Stanford: UP, 1998, 56-8.

[21] Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct. New York: W. Morrow and Co., 1994.

[22] John Seltin, “Production of the Posthuman”, 49.

[23] Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time 1. The Fault of Epimethius. Stanford: UP, 1998, 142.

[24] Céleste Albaret, Monsieur Proust, ed. Georges Belmont, London, Collins and Harvill Press, 1976, 62-63.

[25] F. B. Michel, Proust et les écrivains devant la mort. Paris: Grasset & Fasquelle, 1995, 54-60.

[26] Lois Bragg, William Sayers, “Proust’s Prescription. Illness as the Pre-Condition for Writing”. In: Medicine and Literature 19:2 (2000), 165-181, here 170.

[27] Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time: Swann‘s Way. New York, London: Random House, 2005, 60

[28] Nicola Luckhurst, Science and Structure ,in Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu. Oxford: Clarendon, 2000, 219-220.

[29] F. B. Michel, Proust et les écrivains devant la mort. Paris: Grasset & Fasquelle, 1995, 54-60.

Gothic Pharmacologies. Poison and Cure when Gothic Takes Care



It is common to speak of the Gothic in relation to matters of social importance. Almost from the outset, how Gothic literature relates to its social environment has been discussed in material terms and as Carol Davison has shown, one notable medium in this regard has been pharmacological discourse. How critics have mapped Gothic’s rhetorical and aesthetic strategies of intervention and narration, affect and influence, have included pharmaceutical matters since its inception as a genre around 1800. Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey discards the Gothic as a poisonous essence destroying the British character, while T. J. Mathias refers to the Gothic’s “depravity of taste”. In his famous review of E. T. A. Hoffmann, Sir Walter Scott – himself by no means immune to uncanny and spectral figurations in his own texts – can barely control his paranoid fear of the “feverish dreams” that are Hoffmann’s tales (On the Supernatural in Fictitious Composition, 352). It is remarkable, however, that in recent decades the pharmacological valence of the Gothic has shifted towards a dominant narrative of Gothic’s socially positive effects – as an important corrective to the liberal, rationalizing inequalities of Enlightened bourgeois culture. Rosemary Jackson famously encoded the literary fantastic as a genre of subversion (see Jackson, Fantasy), while Fred Botting described 18th– and 19th-century Gothic as a Foucauldian alternative discourse to the bourgeois quotidian (see Botting, Gothic). Other critics like David Punter and Jerry Hogle have described the Gothic as abject negotiations of bourgeois identities in modernity (see Punter, Literature of Terror and Hogle 297). The Gothic is arguably one of the single most powerful reminders of what Jacques Derrida identified as the dual nature of the pharmakon – it is a power which is both dangerous and benevolent (Derrida 70).

A larger project on Gothic pharmacologies would be an interesting topic of study in its own right. On a thematic level, pharmaceuticals and poisons are a central concern within the Gothic around 1800; narratives such as Matthew Lewis’ The Monk or Ann Radcliffe’s novels (see e.g. Miles 131-33 for discussion of the apparent poisoning of the Marchioness Villeroi in The Mysteries of Udolpho) deploy the use of medicines, drugs, poisoning, and intoxication as some of their most powerful plot devices. Where Lewis uses medicinals as a tool which enable the sexual depravity of the eponymous monk Ambrosio, Radcliffe frequently uses poisons to dispose of her villains, such as Father Schedoni in The Italian, the comparison of both authors reminding). Such a study would have to proceed, for example, through the nineteenth century and texts like De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, continuing on to look at the psychotic dual worlds in William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch or Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho in the 20th century.

It is notable that several recently successful Gothic graphic novels, films, and television series likewise focus on pharmaceutics and pharmacology as the core of their engagement with contemporary culture. The first film in the Resident Evil series starts with an infective agent produced by the shady pharmaceutical concern, the Umbrella Corporation; Channel 4’s Utopia is based around a pharmaceutical conspiracy involving not only a pseudo-inoculation actually designed to racially control the population by inducing infertility, but also a form of medication for a nervous disorder known as Deel’s Syndrome called Thoraxin which is later revealed to be an opiate which causes the symptoms it is purported to pharmacologically control. Finally Dominick Mitchell’s television series In the Flesh (BBC 3, 2013-14) features a form of medication, Neurotriptyline which reintroduces a state of consciousness into the zombified living dead, returning them to a state of quasi-normality.



            Of course, such proximity asks serious questions about the status of the Gothic and indeed Gothic Studies itself today, as there appears to be a migration into and out of Gothic’s once familiar generic and symbolic modes of representation. Neoliberal biopolitics and political economy emerge through uncanny narratives of their own; they trade with and in the undead to an astonishing degree – an instance of what, following Achille Mbeme, we might term ‘necropolitical economy’. According to Mbeme, necropolitics is the current regime of “generalized instrumentalization of human existence” (Mbeme 14), which is manifested in “the power and capacity to dictate who my live and who must die” (11). Medicine has gone about redefining corporeality (as a commodity form for which medical anthropology has developed the concepts of “biovalue” (Rose 32) and “bioeconomics” (Goven and Pavone 304-5; Cooper, Life as Surplus 45-9), redefining selfhood and consciousness as something solely somatic and protein based, located in the chemistry of the brain (see Lock, “On Making Up” 167; Rose 81 and198-203). This enables redefinitions of death so that our living flesh becomes materials to be upcycled or recycled as tissue ‘donors’ and as organ-containers to be harvested for those who can afford to pay for transplant medicine. This is a real neoliberal version of the uncanny. It is no wonder that zombies, vampires, monsters, and ghosts seem to be everywhere in the cultural production of the present day.

The Gothic has long been explained in terms of it being a mode of resistance, a counter-discourse. The programmatic core of the Gothic has included—at least according to the discipline of Gothic Studies that has developed since the early 1980s—a critical, and indeed subversive, depiction and radical interrogation of the rationally-based assumptions, envisioned goals and normative dimensions of the twin projects of enlightenment and modernity since the middle of the eighteenth century. A valuable critical assessment of Gothic Studies’ shaping of its objects of concern in this regard can be found in Baldick and Mighall’s excellent article “Gothic Criticism”. The essence I take from their discursive analysis of Gothic Studies as a discourse in its own right, is how the Gothic has been (re-)constructed as a pharmacological mode. With its fantastic and uncanny displacements of cultural discourses and identities, it is supposedly capable of offering an intellectual antidote to capitalist modernity. Where liberal Western society generates simplifying binaries and dubiously ‘naturalizing’ discursive tendencies, Gothic’s poisonous mechanisms threaten to create (intellectual) health by undoing dominant cultural and political narratives by stealth as a sly form of cultural therapeutics (Baldick and Mighall 210).

In a culture where trading with the undead is a source of economic optimism, a new speculative instance of venture capital, then it seems to be the case that Gothic Studies needs to consider the status of its reading and viewing practices as a cultural and political therapeutics anew. The current popularity of the Gothic suggests that it may in fact already have become normalized and subsumed within precisely these dominant industrial cultural idioms: a side-effect of the popularity which has been inherent to Gothic since its inception in the late-eighteenth century, as Dale Townshend has recently argued (Townshend, “Interview”).

In both the radical political rhetoric around 1800 and in more soberly conservative literary criticism of Austen’s Northanger Abbey, the Gothic itself is considered a poisonous instance destroying the British character. Critics such as the Anti-Jacobin or T. J. Mathias refer to the Gothic’s “depravity of taste” (qtd. in Boening 342) and to the literary texts themselves as poisons produced by literary alchemists threatening the health of the British national body. In Austen’s novel Catherine Morland may believe that Henry Tilney and his father have killed her prospective mother-in-law and are out to imprison her now too, but according to Henry she has begun to interpret the world as a Gothic novel, thus slipping off into a phantasmagoric delirium induced by the poisonous pills of her Gothic reading (Austen 72) and the “dreadful nature of the suspicions” she has are in fact the product of a “riot in [her] own brain” brought on by her reading habits (128). What critics like Austen suggest is that the essential danger of popular literature and its moral and political nadir, the Gothic, resides in the uses and abuses of imagination in writing and reading such texts: the reader is tricked into accepting the phantasmagoric shadows of the literary world as real and in the worst case scenario they could lose contact with reality altogether. This danger is also at the core of Walter Scott’s ‘problematic’ relationship with E. T. A. Hoffmann, and hence the origins of what we now define as fantastic literature. Scott makes it immediately clear that in the Scottish writer’s opinion, Hoffmann had no business whatsoever on the literary market or in literary histories. He views Hoffmann’s works as “feverish dreams” that “scarcely have the seeming authenticity which the hallucinations of lunacy have” and claims they are like “the ideas produced by the immoderate use of opium” rather than “visions of a poetical mind” (On the Supernatural in Fictitious Composition, 352). Of course, Scott’s own relationship with the Gothic is less clear-cut than he suggests here, and only several months after publishing this character assassination he publishes his own German Gothic extravaganza in the form of his play House of Aspen, a translation of Veit Weber’s Die heilige Vehme, not to mention his Doom of Devorgoil, The Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (all published in 1830, although the former two date from around 1800 and 1818 respectively). If the Gothic is a poison, it’s not always entirely against Scott’s taste.



            The problem here is that the Gothic has always been a popular draught since its inception. While Mathias, Coleridge, Scott, Austen and indeed almost 150 years of literary historians with them may have wished otherwise, Walpole, Radcliffe, and their likes were infinitely sellable. We may wish to believe – strangely enough, with Adorno (more on him in a moment) – that the Gothic and its horrors have been a literary and cultural form which simply transgressed the tastes of the bourgeois quotidian, but this assumption only works if we think that critics like Scott, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Austen did indeed speak for the shared and consolidated bourgeois tastes of the era. But middle-class audiences flocked to the illegitimate theatres around 1800 to watch Lewis’ Castle Spectre rather than Wordsworth’s The Borderers, something which annoyed the poet as much as it has irritated Romanticism Studies until only very recently. Any sense that the Gothic offers a transgressive, curative antidote to liberal (or now: neo-liberal) bourgeois (or now: global-cosmopolitan) capitalist (or now: zombie capitalist!) cultural economy needs to bear in mind that plenty a publisher, plenty a theatre-owner, and plenty Hollywood production companies have made their fortunes out of producing and publishing these materials.

zombie processing plant


Which brings me back to Adorno and his embrace of the Gothic as a means of representing the horrors of Dialectical Enlightenment and all forms of authoritarianism in the 20th century. In a review of a book I co-edited with Andrew Cusack called Popular Revenants, Christian Thorne cites the dialectical value of the Gothic in times of the capitalist horror of instrumental reason:

Here is as straightforward an argument as Adorno ever made: If you wish to find an art that is adequate to mass death […] you have a few different options. […] Better still would be an art of “incomprehensible horror” […] on the simple grounds that a tale of terror is more likely to rattle you than an exposé or maudlin vignette. Nothing will go as far to dent our perception of Adorno as fussy Brahmin than his embrace of Gothic literature, this one precious genre that puts violence on display and allows it to be horrible. The enormities of empire and a capitalism-without-pretenses do not in fact require that we abandon all of our storytelling conventions, that we start art over again from gory scratch, since we already have at our disposal a narrative form that forces us to say who is dying and how and at whose hands: scary movies and the weird menace of the pulps. (

Well, yes: precisely because the Gothic is an aesthetic that Capital has always capitalized on itself while the would-be representative voices of modernity have been trying to tell us the contrary; Gothic was mainstream culture even while it was never seen as representative. The ghosts, vampires, and zombies of the Gothic may be a medium wearing cherry chapstick, concealing rather than revealing the tales of horror and blood-sacrifices which Capital and now neoliberalism require as their structural necessities on a daily basis. When does/did the Gothic become consumerism, when does/did Gothic Studies become establishment, when does/did an alternative Goth sub-culture become assimilated to being a formation worthy not only of political and social protection, but which actually receives political and social advocacy? And where does that leave Gothic Studies appeal to its importance as a medium of cultural critique that is left-of-field to the rest of its disciplines of literary, film art, music, and cultural studies itself?

The task of Gothic Studies today could lie in determining how its own particular pharmakon can still work. The Gothic pharmakon is both poison and cure and if neoliberalism acts as though it can control and manage the Gothic’s pharmacology, then this is a pharmacological control that may still prove toxic to it. Thorne again: “The ‘radically darkened art’ that Adorno is proposing must do something more ‘than merely protest’; we need an art, rather, that ‘has taken the disaster into itself’ and that ‘identifies with it’, an art, indeed, that ‘has defected to the enemy’ – not horror, but gonzo horror.” It is the task of the critic to unlock this potential, rather than to simply assume it is given. The Gothic is so troubling because it is the ideal representation of a story of bourgeois culture which those writers didn’t want to tell themselves while they were trying desperately to turn themselves and their tastes into the canonical voices of the age, and whom the 19th and 20th centuries subsequently gladly obliged in this desire. Horror fiction, which we usually think of as beyond the pale may never have gone far enough in its brutality, its challenge to taste and reason.

Maybe we need to embrace the Gothic not as the fantastic abjection of normality but as more of a troubling doubling of the bourgeois quotidian’s own negative dialectic. Maybe this is one place to start thinking this through:

All images are taken from In the Flesh (dir. Dominick Mitchell, BBC 3 2014)

Cited Literature:

Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey. Ware, Herts.: Wordsworth, 1993.

Baldick, Chris, and Robert Mighall. “Gothic Criticism.” A Companion to the Gothic. Ed. David Punter. Malden: Blackwell, 2008. 209–28.

Baldick, Chris, and Robert Mighall. “Gothic Criticism.” A Companion to the Gothic. Ed. David Punter. Malden: Blackwell, 2008. 209–28.

Boening, John ed. The Reception of Classical German Literature in England, 1760-1860. A Documentary History from Contemporary Periodicals. Vol. 1. New York, London: Garland Publishing, 1977).

Botting, Fred. Gothic. London: Routledge, 1997.

Cooper, Melinda. Life as Surplus. Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era. Seattle, London: U of Washington P, 2008.

Derrida, Jacques. “Plato’s Pharmacy”. Dissemination. Trans. Barbara Johnson. London: Athlone, 1981. 61-172.

Goven, Joanna and Vicenzo Pavone. “The Bioeconomy as Political Project: A Polanyian Analysis”. Science, Technology, & Human Values 40:3 (2015): 302-337.

Hogle, Jerrold E. “The Gothic Ghost of the Counterfeit and the Progress of Abjection.” A Companion to the Gothic. Ed. David Punter. Malden: Blackwell, 2008. 293–304.

Jackson, Rosemary. Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion. London: Routledge, 1981.

Mbeme, Achille. “Necropolitics”. Trans. Libby Meintjes. Public Culture 15 (2003): 11-40.

Miles, Robert. “Popular Romanticism and the problem of belief”. Ann Radcliffe. Romanticism and the Gothic. Ed. Dale Townshend and Angela Wright. Cambridge UP, 2014: 117-134.

Punter, David. The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day. London: Longman, 1980.

Rose, Nikolas. The Politics of Life Itself. Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century. Princeton: UP, 2007.

Townshend, Dale. Interview by Stephanie Gallon. Spectral Visions. <> Web. 25 Aug 2015.

Breathing in History at Blythe House: Dr Nelson’s Inhaler

“Dr Nelson’s Inhalers” make up one of the largest single groups of historical inhalation and respiration devices in the Wellcome Medical Collection, currently housed at the Science Museum in London. Alongside other devices for treating pulmonary ailments like early nebulizers, nasal inhalers, and medicated cigarettes, there are 12 intact examples of the Nelson Inhaler of various designs, sizes, and age. This is testament to the popularity of the device and to its widespread availability in the 19th century. Likewise it is a sign of the growing need for reliable treatments as rapid urban development across Europe led to a peak in respiratory ailments like asthma and consumption. Simple inhalation devices like this had a profound impact on improving the lives of thousands of patients in the 19th century.

Environmental pollutants, industrial working conditions, and the spread of chemicals in middle-class consumer articles – even articles seemingly as banal as wallpaper – were a cause of almost constant suffering throughout the 1800s. In the Medical Times and Gazette, the London Fog in 1873 that killed 273 people as a result of bronchial complaints was reported as “one of the most disastrous this generation has known”[1] and Mark Jackson has reconstructed a series of communications in letters to the Lancet and other medical journals looking for cures for these environmental diseases.[2] Charles Dickens is only one of the most famous voices to speak of suffering from asthma in the nineteenth century. In a letter to his sister-in-law Georgina on 7th August 1857, he writes: “I have had an excellent night (a little opiate in the medicine) and have had no return whatever of the distress of yesterday morning”. Elsewhere, Dickens refers to fits of coughing early in the morning, so that the dramatic response to a dose of opium (laudanum) is diagnostic of asthma. In a letter he wrote to his daughter Mary, dated 29 March 1868, he writes: “I have coughed from 2 or 3 in the morning until 5 or 6 and have been absolutely sleepless. Last night I took some laudanum, and it is the only thing that has done me any good.”[3] Unveiled in 1861 and first marketed with an announcement in The Lancet in 1865,[4] “Dr Nelson’s Improved Inhaler” sought to provide a reliable form of therapy for pulmonary and bronchial ailments of this sort.


“Dr Nelson’s” was not the first inhaler in history, but it was revolutionary for its ease of use and patient-friendliness as well as for its industrial production, distribution, and widespread marketing. Like its immediate predecessor, the Mudge Inhaler, the Nelson device deployed the inhalation of steam to deliver medication directly to the lungs. Inhaled therapies had been used for the treatment of pulmonary conditions and psychotropic effects for well over 4,000 years, and the inhalation of vapours is documented in Egyptian, Indian, European, and East Asian texts. In the modern period inhalation became increasingly noted as a therapeutic form in the late-18th century, and John Mudge’s invention of a simple pewter inhaler in 1778 can probably be seen as the first widespread medical device for inhalation, at least in Britain. Its principle, like the Nelson Inhaler following it, was direct drug delivery using steam particles to transport diluted volatile substances to the trachea, bronchi, and lungs, where they were to be absorbed. The adaptation by Jean Sales-Girons of large scale droplet dispersers, then being used in thermal spas, to create portable nebulizers led to a renewed interest in steam inhalations for ailments like asthma and the croup in the mid-nineteenth century.

The inhaler was first presented at a meeting of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society on May 28th 1861 and was apparently the product of a medical practitioner’s empirical experience rather than applied scientific design.[5] The most likely inventor of the device was Thomas Andrew Nelson, who qualified in Edinburgh with a dissertation on “Phthisis pulmonaris” in 1834, before relocating to London where he lived and worked until his death in the area of Regent’s Park, at first in Wimpole Street, then in Nottingham Terrace off York Gate.[6] He was the only Dr Nelson who held a Fellowship at the RMCS in the period in question and it is notable that in the geographical area favoured by the Harley Street establishment, he was surrounded by highly-respected physicians and experts in respiratory disease and treatments like Sir Charles Scudamore, himself a leading member of RMCS. The RCMS offered a network with collective experience and the ability to empirically test the inhaler’s therapeutic efficacy.

“Dr Nelson’s Inhaler” was introduced to the market with some delay by S. Maw & Son Co. from their London base in Aldersgate Street in 1865. The decision of the inventor to work with Maw & Sons is also easily understood. The company was at the forefront of manufacturing and supplying medical equipment to British hospitals and medical practitioners in Victorian Britain.[7] Its reputation was such that it was featured in the 1862 Exhibition, where a range of its ceramic inhalers were displayed. Maw & Sons were particularly well suited to making ceramic instruments as John Hornby Maw (Charles’ uncle) left the business and was settled in Shropshire by 1850, where his new business designed and manufactured encaustic tiles first in Worcester, then in Brosely, and finally Benthall. With these family connections to the ceramics industry and their own manufacturing and marketing expertise, S. Maw & Son were an obvious partner with a reputation for quality.


“Dr Nelson’s Inhaler” was featured in The Lancet, The Medical Times and Gazette, and the British Medical Journal and became popular with self-medicators and professional physicians alike, playing no small part in the acceptance of inhalants for the first time in the British Pharmacopoiea in 1867. Its popularity can be seen in contemporary peer reviews by medics like William Abbotts Smith, who recommended the device from his clinical experience in the Finsbury Dispensary and the Metropolitan Free Hospital, which both treated London’s poor and most vulnerable bronchitic patients.[8] The device was one of the first suitable for the kind of commoditization of therapy and self-medication for which the wealthier classes in the era were renowned, and it also remedied some of the technical difficulties associated with inhalation therapies identified by contemporary critics. Given its relative ease of use, its clinically affirmed reliability, and its recommendation by leading practitioners and authorities of the day, it is unsurprising that “Dr Nelson’s Inhaler” makes up one of the largest single groups of historical inhalers in museum collections across Europe today.

[All images are the author’s own and are courtesy of the Science Museum London]

[1] Medical Times and Gazette. 1873 (20 December); 2: 369

[2] Jackson M. Asthma: The Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2009.

[3] The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens ed. Jenny Hartley. Oxford: OUP, 2012, 321; The Letters of Charles Dickens. Vol. 2: 1857-1870 ed. Mamie Dickens, Georgina Hogarth. London: Chapman and Hall, 1880, 377.

[4] The Lancet General Advertiser. 1865, 85 (2163): 152.

[5] Proceedings of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London 1858-1861; 3: 399.

[6] Graduations and Surgical Examinations. Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal 1834; 42 (121-Part III): 490; Royal Medical Chirurgical Society of London. Annual lists of fellows. Medico-Chirurgical Transactions 1861; 44: xxxii.

[7] Editorial: An historical company. Chemist and Druggist 1917; 89 (1947):42.

[8] Abbots Smith W. On Affections of the Throat and Lungs and their Treatment by the Inhalation of Gases and Medicated Vapours. London: Harry Renshaw, 1867: 22.

Two Cultures, or what does science have to do with studying German anyway?

This is my first post and I was thinking long and hard about what exactly to write and whether I should ‘just’ present some of the strange things that I’ve discovered hidden away in the depths of the Science Museum. I will be getting around to that in the coming months, but instead I want to share a few of the thoughts about the relationship between science and literature developed by some of the Year 12 students at a German study day at St. John’s. Of course, questions like this run to the heart of the Knowledge Exchange project that I’m working on with the Science Museum at present, so in a way, the students were helping me think through some of the questions I get asked on a daily basis.

To think about the “Two Cultures” of the arts and the sciences is nothing new and it might not even be that accurate a model for understanding the links and differences between science and literature. The phrase is drawn from C.P. Snow’s classical discussion of these problems from 1959 where he describes a “gulf of mutual incomprehension” between scientists and writers and of the ‘hard’ sciences being open-minded, future-oriented and factual in opposition to an almost Luddite sense of tradition that dominates the writing and study of literature. By highlighting a practical, factual nature of the sciences against the intellectual tradition of literary studies, he appeals to a categorical distinction between literature and science that is not new: Aristotle and Plato already thought precisely that. In “Ion” Plato writes that the ideal city would banish all poets because they don’t know what they’re talking about. Now if the poets don’t know what they’re talking about, what hope is there for literary critics and historians?

I say Snow’s idea of “Two Cultures” may not be an accurate model for a couple of reasons. In fact he was wrong: modern literature and popular culture is full of science, and many scientists would fundamentally disagree that there studies are lacking in aesthetic features, as the visualization technologies of medicine, physics, chemistry and many other disciplines suggest. Almost everything that he writes undermines this curiously static distinction: as a writer and a scientist he is living proof that there need not be such a categorical difference here. Secondly his argument seems to only refer to a definition of literature as fiction and ignores the long tradition of the didactic poetry and other similar forms of practical literature. Thirdly, he speaks at length of the social sciences as a developing ‘third’ culture that doesn’t adhere to his simplistic model. Finally, and more importantly, Snow changes the focus somewhat. He fashions himself as a cultural anthropologist, looking from afar at two different sub-cultures. He talks of a “living culture”, “scientific culture”, “literary culture” and defines culture as “common attitudes, common standards and patterns of behaviour, common approaches and assumptions.” Of course this raises the spectre that literature and science may not in fact be categorically different at all and that the problem may simply arise as a result of two different communicative cultures, two different modes of speaking. And indeed this has been at the core of “Literature and Science Studies” ever since Michel Foucault.

This was also the conclusion reached by one of the Year 12 students at the end of a day of reading Snow and poems by Friedrich Schiller and Robert Gernhardt (see here for the reading material: Thinking about why Robert Gernhardt’s satirical depiction of the poet “Dorlamm” might still retain some dignity despite having got his knowledge of electricity hopelessly wrong (“Wenn das Ohm sie nicht mehr alle hat,/heisst es nicht Ohm, dann heisst es Watt”), she wondered whether the difference between literature and science might not be more a question of how they each construct narratives of understanding the world in different ways.

This reminded me of a talk given by Marcus du Sautoy as part of the recent interdisciplinary series organised in Oxford entitled simply “Humanities and Science” (see here: Du Sautoy was also interested in the communicative structures of the sciences, in his case as a mathematician. He argued that mathematical proofs are not simply numbers-based, but that they also construct a narrative of sorts. Other theories have argued that scientific experiments also have a fictional and poietic (i.e. constructive) moment, with literature and science being joined in the moment of fictional thought experiments. Either way, these Year 12 students seemed to be much further than Snow was in 1959. What does this have to do with studying German though?

Apart from the obvious fact that we were reading German poems, quite a lot in fact. Another student saw the value of Dorlamm in relation to science to be precisely his poetic skill (“Dorlamm irrt. Doch formulieren kann er”!). This ability to work well with words also helped us to reflect on how the sciences construct knowledge in specific ways. In his misunderstandings presented in fabulous rhymes, Dorlamm could alert us to how (in the words of du Sautoy) scientific narratives also draw on metaphors, descriptive methods, specific registers etc. to generate their knowledge. Literature might help us to at least understand how the sciences work in this regard, even if it might not be able to teach us anything about the laws of electricity or the pharmacology of inhalation therapy (my Science Museum project is already slipping in here). Studying language and literature can be an effective way of understanding the development of scientific ‘cultures’ and also how the sciences generate knowledge, they thought.

That was a brilliant conclusion to our discussions and it helped me to think about how we as German scholars and students can highlight how what we do on a daily basis is of broader importance in education, career choices and chances, and society in general:

  • From a purely utilitarian perspective: German is the second most commonly used scientific language and Germany is the third largest contributor to research and development. Studying German with a knowledge of science subjects, and vice versa, can be an incredible career accelerator
  • Experience of communicating with speakers of other languages makes you more open to learning how to communicate with those whose languages you don’t yet speak and you become alert to issues of cultural difference
  • That also applies to career choices when you study German: these are analytical and communicative skills that prepare you ideally for working as a lawyer, in media, in business, in banking – and they can also help immeasurably in thinking about scientific problems in a more abstract manner too. Even if you don’t study German at university, studying German as a second language can help you in different contexts and disciplines.
  • Where students of language and literature can come into their own is that we are specialists in understanding, analysing, and reconstructing stories. We know about communicative nuances, we know about arranging information and constructive narratives, and this isn’t just limited to the classroom or to essays on Shakespeare, Schiller, or Robert Gernhardt.

There are ways in which science and German can be linked and this is also one of the ways in which I understand Knowledge Exchange to be possible. In terms of my own project with the Science Museum, museum exhibitions show us objects. Now, they can simply be a ‘Wunderkammer’, leaving us alone with an assortment of objects, or they can construct narratives around and through these objects. This is where language and literature experts can help. While we can learn from the experts about the objects and about displaying objects, they can likewise profit from our skills in communicating stories and histories.

It was great to see Year 12 students realising this for themselves and it was great to see them going home thinking about how their language studies inform their scientific studies as well.