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Gadow's Romanticism: science, poetry and embodiment in postmodern nursing

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Abstract:

Abstract 

Sally Gadow's work is a sophisticated version of a familiar line of thought in nursing. She creates a chain of distinctions which is intended to differentiate cultural narratives, and particularly the ‘science narrative’, from imaginative narratives, especially poetry. Cultural narratives regulate and restrict; imaginative narratives are creative, liberating and potentially transcendent. These ideological effects are (supposedly) achieved through different structures of language. Scientific language, for example, is abstract and literal, while poetry is sensuous and metaphorical. In this paper, I argue that Gadow's way of discriminating between science and poetry fails. In the first place, the ideological valence she assigns to each of them is unwarranted. Science and poetry can both be harnessed to the project of emancipation, just as both can be incorporated in a strategy of oppression. In the second place, the claim that poetry and science are distinguished by their respective linguistic features – specifically, that one is metaphorical and the other literal – cannot be sustained. I illustrate this argument, as Gadow illustrates hers, by reference to the concept of embodiment, and consider whether Gadow is correct in thinking that poetry, not science, makes it possible for individuals (especially women) to ‘reclaim the body’. I also suggest that Gadow's brand of postmodernism echoes Romanticism, whose defining characteristic was an insistent contrast between poetry and science. This is ‘flip side’ postmodernism, which merely opposes modernist values, preferring subjectivity to objectivity, feeling to rationality, and multiple realities to truth. It is less radical, and far less interesting, than ‘remix’ postmodernism, whose objective is not to reverse the polarities, but to reconfigure the entire circuit.

Keywords: Romanticism; embodiment; narrative; poetry; postmodernism; science

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1466-769X.2004.00153.x

Publication date: July 1, 2004

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