Rivista per le Medical Humanities

Guenda Bernegger
rMH 19, 2011, 11-24

Le cadavre exquis

What issues lie at the intersection of aesthetics, beauty, the arts, the experience of disease, caring practices? This essay conveys the results of a virtual dialogue aimed at stimulating a shared reflection on the relation between the aesthetic dimension and the domain of care. The different people involved in the dialogue have been stimulated to share, from their very personal point of view and on the grounds of their own experience, the questions at the core of individual reflection and the conclusions considered most meaningful by each. This was attained by a specific technique of collective writing, close to that called of the “cadavre exquis” (exquisite corpse) of the Surrealists. The result is a series of independent arts, which, as it is the case in a spontaneous dialogue, are not safe from misunderstandings in the use and interpretation of terms, recurrences, alternation of inhomogeneous styles… The very concepts of aesthetics, beauty, care are object of different interpretation and experience. A diversity generating further questions. 

Guenda Bernegger
rMH 19, 2011, 25-28

Why an aesthetic awareness in medicine?

This article provides an introduction to the aesthetic approach to medicine. To adopt an aesthetic-based medicine means to make the aesthetic elements of the cure explicit and to consider their impact on the subject and on the therapeutic relation. It further means to reinterpret languages, practices, objects, contexts, strengths and weaknesses of medicine in the light of elements belonging to the aesthetic domain.

Claudio Nembrini
rMH 19, 2011, 29-32

The dream of the patient

Drawing inspiration from the collection of works of the Ospedale Beata Vergine in Mendrisio, the author reflects on the presence of art works in medical environments. What kind of relation is established between the artworks and the patients, the caregivers, the visitors? The collection created by Giorgio Noseda at the OBV – here considered in its specificity – emerges here as a mirror of the human condition in its coming to terms with disease, life and death, and with their representation and transfiguration. 

Giorgio Noseda
rMH 19, 2011, 33-35

Mario's last tie

The author here recalls his personal experience as a doctor of many artists and collector of their works. He offers reflections on the sense of art in the hospital. In the unadorned hospital environment, and in the expanded and slow time of hospitalization, an artwork, silently incumbent, can weigh on the patient’s morale. Normally, however – as testified by the author’s experience – a painting or a sculpture alleviate the isolation of the patient and break the circle of her seclusion. The vision of a moving image can awaken fantasies buried by routine and bring back the desire to communicate with the outside, can produce that healthy leap that revives and subtracts the subject from apathy and inertia, from the real desperation of who, oppressed by the illness, feels defeated. 

Michael Musalek
rMH 19, 2011, 36-41

Social aesthetics and medicine: theory and praxis

Social aesthetics, like every aesthetic order, is contextual and highly perceptual. As intense perceptual awareness is the foundation of aesthetics, the pillars of social aesthetics are a heightened perception of sensous qualities, freshness and excitement of discovery (fascination), recognition of the uniqueness of the person/situation, full personal involvement and engagement (opening to the other), full acceptance of the other, relinquishing of restrictions and exclusivity, abandonment of separateness, and mutual responsiveness (“reciprocity”). Following the principles of social aesthetics in general, the main fields of interest in social aesthetics of medicine are the cultivation of patient contacts and interactions, deconstruction of barriers and pushing back of boundaries in order to open up aesthetic perspectives for future life, introducing humanity in blank rituals and behaviours, creating warm atmospheres and offering hospitality in treatment settings. Hospitality in the context of medical treatment cannot be restricted to kindness in welcoming strangers. The main task of hospitality in medicine is to consider patients not only as alien others, but also as guests, and making them feel protected and taken care of, guiding them to the next destinations in their life. Human-based medicine approaches based on social aesthetics call for a change from monologues of professionals (not seldom leading to the experience of alienation) to a professional dialogue in a warm atmosphere opening the chance for concerted treatment procedures based on reciprocity and confidence. /�_<s����?�/p> Therapeutik, Parodos, Berlin, 2010. 5 Per una trattazione più approfondita di questo tema, rinvio al mio contributo «Medizin und Gastfreundschaft», in M. Musalek, M. Poltrum (Hg.), Ars Medica. Zu einer neuen Ästhetik in der Medizin, Parodos, Berlin, 2011. 6 Jacques Derrida sottolinea lo stretto rapporto tra questi due termini creandone un terzo, quello di «ostipitalità», a sottolineare l’ineludibile componente di intrusione e violenza, ovvero di ostilità, che l’ospitalità comporta. Cfr. J. Derrida, De l’hospitalité, (a cura di A. Dufourmantelle), Calman-Lévy, Paris, 1997. 

Martin Poltrum
rMH 19, 2011, 42-47

The beautiful as a medicament and stimulant for life

Parallel to the growing request for an evidence-based medicine, in recent times a need for an aesthetic-based medicinewas felt. This article argues that an aesthetic-based medicine has much to offer to medicine in general, and psychiatry in particular, on grounds of the almost-therapeutical effect of the aesthetic dimension. On the line of a long philosophical tradition, the author asserts the intrinsic relation between the true and the good, expressed in beauty, and the function of aesthetic experience as the major stimulus of life. Art is at once a consequence and a representation of human freedom and of the perfection of the world: every sensitization towards certain aesthetic values is a process of selection, in which other possible sensitivities are weakened. The recognition of the importance of the aesthetic dimension opens new horizons to research and therapy. 

Virginio Pedroni
rMH 19, 2011, 48-53

Aesthetic processing of grief

In the Japanese film Departures, the young Daigo starts a career as a nokanshi, a beautician of corpses: the one who prepares the corpse, following an ancient ritual, before it is buried in the grave. Thanks to the careful restoration of the body, the last farewell of the relatives to the departed becomes a sort of aesthetic processing of the grief. That of the nokanshi is a work of cosmetics, and here we are suddenly reminded of the common root of “cosmetics” and “cosmos”, the Greek word Kosmos, which also denotes the complex of feminine ornaments and is associated to the concepts of order, decency, appropriateness, politeness. It is as if the defunct appeared for a last time, recovering the visible form and beauty of the time past. This is the coming into conscience of the fact that what we call reality is in fact what emerges from the indistinct as a visble, recognizable, respectable and admirable form. With its attention and respect for the exterior forms, Japanese culture helps us understand the importance of the formal and aesthetic (i.e. sensible) dimension of life and of interpersonal relations. As Wittgenstein wrote: “the human body is the best image of the human soul”. 

Vittorio A. Sironi
rMH 19, 2011, 85-93

Beyond the mind/brain dualism?

 Cartesian dualism has informed and directed Western culture for many centuries. Only since the XIX Century has the brain/mind complex become the focus of a reductionistic approach. The XX Century witnessed from the outset new and ambitious syntheses, like Freud’s Projekt, the neuro-physio-psychological approach of Penfield, Lurija, Sperry and Gazzaniga or, in the field of epistemology, the Eccles and Popper’s theory of the three worlds. This essay explores the possibilities provided by the contemporary multidisciplinary approach of going beyond the traditional mind/brain dichotomy.

Laura Boella
rMH 19, 2011, 94-97


Is there a “moral brain”, a system of areas controlling moral behaviour and judgement? What role does the automatic, involuntary component of behaviour play? What is the minimum level of cerebral functioning necessary for the exercise of moral capacity and for the ensuing assumption of moral responsibility? Correspondences have been drawn between the Kantian ethics of duty and the functions of the frontal lobes, between utilitarianism and the prefrontal lobes, the limbic and sensory regions, while the eudaimonistic ethics of Aristotle seems to presuppose a the co-ordination of all cerebral areas. Vis-à-vis similar questions, many experience “ethical panic”, deriving from a concern for the eclipse of our whole moral tradition. These issues will be explored in the essay.