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Le diagnostic comme fiction

Soin, Sens et Santé – An International Journal of Health n° 1

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Published on Friday, December 23, 2022


Ce numéro de la revue Soin, sens et santé – An International Journal of the Health Humanities souhaiterait s’interroger en priorité sur les textes romanesques ou dramatiques, dans lesquels se manifeste ce que l’on pourrait nommer une tentation diagnostique. Peut-on diagnostiquer un personnage de fiction ? Ou s’agit d’un coup de force, qui ne pourrait être au mieux que de l’ordre du diagnostic différentiel ? Quel est l’impact de ce geste interprétatif sur le statut du personnage ? Quelle est la crédibilité scientifique du diagnostic littéraire rétrospectif ? Un savoir médical extérieur au texte peut-il enrichir l’interprétation littéraire de ce dernier ?



Depictions of medical diagnosis in the modern and contemporary novel and theater is nowadays a clearly identified axis of research on the links between medicine and literature.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, it has unfolded in two directions.

The first one has tried to model, with the help of tools borrowed from narratology, the upheavals induced by the announcement of a serious disease diagnosis in the life of the patient.

The second line of inquiry aims at measuring the possibility of diagnosing a fictional character based on “clinically-realistic” signs that need to de deciphered.

The diagnosis would be in principle an act of nomination based on a set of external clues but also a fiction constructed by the doctor in response to what he perceives as bodily events.

This being said, is the hypothesis according to which diagnosis in medicine is the result of a circulation between two systems of signs (that of the caretaker and that of the cared-for), with its successes but also its failures, and even its errors, anything more than a convenient image?

In the 1980 preface he wrote for a reprint of Victor Segalen’s thesis, Cliniciens ès lettres (1902), Jean Starobinski castigated those who have the audacity to project a “retrospective diagnosis on a literary character treated as a real patient”.

The neurological and neuropsychological turn of the years 1990-2000s has confirmed and exacerbated Starobinski’s observation.

In particular, the transformations brought about by the development of medical imaging techniques have consolidated the regime of veracity of a supposedly transparent, i.e. unobstructed medical diagnosis.

On the other hand, new diagnostic readings of the fictional character are now emerging which, while questioning the possibility of a rise in universality from specificity (can a fictional character be a case “of” something?), rely on medical resources to blur the boundaries between “real” and “fictional” cases.

This issue of Soin, sens et santé – An International Journal of the Health Humanities intends to focus on fictional and dramatic texts, in which what might be called a diagnostic temptation manifests itself. Can a fictional character be diagnosed? Or is it a coup de force, amounting at best to a differential diagnosis? What is the impact of this interpretative move on the status of the character? What is the scientific credibility of the “retrospective literary diagnosis”? Can medical knowledge imported from outside the text enrich literary interpretation?

In fiction, drama or poetry, topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Orphan diseases
  • The medical orphan
  • Differential diagnosis
  • Consultation and its discontents
  • Fake diagnoses
  • Medical error in fictional narrative
  • Interpretative delusions
  • Narrative skills and clinical diagnosis
  • Nosological models
  • Ethics and diagnosis
  • New figures of the diagnostic moment
  • The use of metaphor in diagnosis
  • Literary uses of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • The literary figure of the neurosurgeon
  • The genre of neurosurgeons’ memoirs
  • The impact of crime fiction on the diagnostic narrative in the 21st century
  • etc.

Submission and planning schedule

  • 2 May 2023 : submission of contributions to Peggy Cardon : peggy.cardon@cnrs.fr

  • 5 June 2023 : sending final versions
  • Autumn 2023 : online publication


  • Alain Schaffner, Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3
  • Carle Bonafous-Murat, Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3


  • Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Attached files


  • diagnostic, fiction, personnage, interprétation, savoir médical


  • Peggy Cardon
    courriel : peggy [dot] cardon [at] cnrs [dot] fr

Information source

  • Daniel Battesti
    courriel : daniel [dot] battesti [at] u-bourgogne [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Le diagnostic comme fiction », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, December 23, 2022, https://doi.org/10.58079/1a9g

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