The Case Study: From Detective Fiction to Medical Narratives

In his Studies on Hysteria, Sigmund Freud writes that his case histories “read like short stories and […] lack the serious stamp of science,” and notes that tools borrowed from literature, rather than neuropathology, help him develop unique insights into psychic phenomena. Taking these remarks on the interdisciplinary nature of the case as a starting point, this course surveys some of the most famous cases in German cultural history, with an eye to specifying their “literary” or “scientific” qualities. We will focus especially on the epistemological ramifications of the genre, asking what kind of knowledge case studies transmit and how they transmit it. Do they depict exceptional phenomena, or do they seek to delineate the qualities that are representative of a given phenomenon? What stylistic and generic conventions do authors of case studies draw upon? We will look at classic representations of psychological, medical, and legal cases, considering at each step the points of intersection and divergence between cases in different fields and genres. Readings and discussion in German.