Contemporary healing spaces in European narratives of illness: dialogues between urban centres and peripheries

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Raquel Velázquez


This work analyzes the fabric of literary representations of tuberculosis, conceived in the first half of the 20th century, which are contextualized in the microcosm of the sanatorium. Specifically, I will study how these narratives (Der Zauberberg, 1924; Choucas, 1927; Genesung in Graubünden, 1938; Sette piani, 1937; Pabellón de reposo, 1943; El mar, 1958; Diceria dell'untore, 1989) articulate the division between core / periphery that these spaces of confinement and exclusion produce. 

The construction of sanatoria arises throughout Europe as a means of removing disease from the city itself, of making the infectious body (the threat) disappear from urban centers (the world of the healthy). As a heterotopic (and heterochronic) space, the microcosm of the sanatorium maintains specular relationships with the place from which it seeks to distance itself (the city). In the sanatorium, the dichotomy of belonging / not belonging is established, both to the place of arrival and to the place of departure, which implies the difference between belonging to the category of the almost  – dead, or of the living.

The remoteness of sanatoria from urban centers does not make the duality of center / periphery disappear; instead, it becomes mental and discursive in these narratives. This dialogue between center and periphery is dramatically present for the patient, although the referents of these concepts alternate. What is center and periphery when the focus of these narratives is the exiled patient themselves? What is center and periphery within the autonomous space that is the sanatorium, where the medical and service personnel function as correlates of the urban space (life)? What is center and periphery when the tuberculosis patient must face not only the captivity that the limited space of the sanatorium involves (and even the more restricted space of their room), but also that other space that they must challenge, which is their sick body? 

Published: Nov 14, 2022

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Urban Borderlands – Comparative Perspectives