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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Syphilis in Victorian Literature and Culture: Medicine, Knowledge and the Spectacle of Victorian Invisibility

Prophylaxis and Treatment: Geopolitics of Differentiation

The complex visual typology of syphilis was accompanied by various discursive-material practices of geographical and spatial ordering. Despite Fleck’s 1935) disregard of these aspects in his history of syphilis concepts, early denominations of the ailment show that geopolitical dimensions have been essential to its cultural significance (see Chapter 2). Indeed, in an era of frantic historiographic and aggressive expansionist projects, the mapping of syphilis spaces became an integral part of Victorian endeavours.

Until now, investigating syphilis mappings has been part of more general projects concerned with the geographical dimensions of sexual politics. Recent scholarship has spotlighted the local specificity of regulatory directives, positioned them in relation to continental projects and inspected their geographical patterns along with tracing their historical development and their function in more general gender, class and racial conflicts, and with reference to British nationalist and imperialist ambitions.1 Certain places have gained particular significance in these inquiries: colonies as a cradle of contagion; cantonments, brothels, docklands and ports as local spaces of principal visibility; lock hospitals as junctions of broader geopolitical networks. In these studies, the flow of bodies, their spatial distribution and disciplinary targeting have gained particular importance. As has already been noted in Chapter 4, the body of the prostitute offered a scaffold

© The Author(s) 2017 185

M. Pietrzak-Franger, Syphilis in Victorian Literature and Culture,

Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-49535-4_5

both for nineteenth-century regulatory practices and for contemporary historiographic projects.2 Yet the mapping of venereal diseases in the Victorian era involved practices that went beyond the regulation of prostitution. Contemporary projects concerned with disciplinary technologies in the Victorian army and with the history oflock hospitals have also addressed these issues.3 Many of these publications have examined the relationship between corporeality, geography and architecture and addressed various control mechanisms as well as practices of resistance developed by targeted populations. Taking into consideration these findings, this chapter offers a panorama of Victorian geographies of the disease.

Due to its contagious character, syphilis was regarded as dangerous both to individual and national integrity. As Alison Bashford and Claire Hooker have made abundantly clear, “[d]efying fantasies of control, corroding internal integrity, and ignoring the borders that define and defend identity, contagion is considered a threat to individual, national and global security” (2001: 1). In the context of the late nineteenth- century preventive practices, ordering and isolation were the core mechanisms in the struggle against syphilis. Historically, they partook in the tradition of ordering, containment and neutralization of potential sources of social and political excess and chaos.4 By identifying and isolating dangerous bodies, such policies aimed at purging the public sphere of the pollution that they connoted. For this to be possible, the politics of ordering had to be based on a complex “system of differentiations” that would allow an identification of dangerous spaces of encounter - perilous contact zones - whose policing was necessary for the preservation of the reigning hierarchies (Hooper 2000: 363). Underpinned by continuous tensions between the centre and the fringe, nineteenth-century maps and sites of syphilis were socially constructed localities in which the margin became the centre only to be relegated to the recesses of the periphery. As Barbara Hooper contends:

In times of social crisis - when centers and peripheries will not hold - collective and individual anxiety rise and the politics of difference become especially significant. [... ] In these periods, bodies, cities, and texts become key sites of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic contestations. (2000: 367)

The nineteenth century saw a number of practices of corporeal, geographical and textual spacing of syphilis, which moved towards a geopolitics of differentiation.

This chapter spotlights some of the sites and mechanisms of this geopolitics. First, it briefly looks at the tentative, if increasingly popular, medical mappings ofsyphilis incidence. As the second part ofthe nineteenth century witnessed a skyrocketing of publications on non-venereal types of syphilis, medical demographic endeavours testified to the sheer impossibility of demarcating the sites of the disease as programmatic in its elimination. With virtually every inter-human exchange pathologized, civilization became synonymous with syphilization.5 As an effect of this development, the project of syphilis prevention proved a particularly difficult feat. As the century progressed and the sites of syphilis - at least in the medical discourse - multiplied, preventive policies turned away from isolation towards education and individual responsibility as the viable prophylactic means. Medical mappings of syphilis, and the frantic geographies of the disease they produced, were instrumental in this change of official policy.

Yet syphilis mapping was not only the domain of medicine. Regulationists, who supported the implementation of the CD Acts, and abolitionists, who demanded their repeal, both used spatial imagination to further their conflicting goals. “Geographies in Flux” inspects the ways in which these and other official discourses used syphilis to outline but also to police the (imaginary) British borders. It examines the extent to which the soldier, in his mobility, was regarded as dangerous to the stability of the country and to the British Empire and surveys the ways in which his movements were restricted. It regards the colonies, with their cantonments, and military hospitals on the British soil as crucial to this isolationist politics. In their ambiguous function as contact zones, these loci reminded of the porousness of Britain’s frontiers. These spaces of syphilis also functioned as heterotopias: as particularly potent sites of reference in the process of cultural self-definition. Traversing through these heterotopias, soldiers were the living incarnations of a failing isolationist political economy as they embodied the growing fears of Britain’s own demise.

On the background of these practices of ordering, the final section examines the isolationist politics of the state that targeted the civilian population of the late nineteenth century. It traces the spaces of syphilis inspection and treatment and attends to the dominant strategies ofmaking them (in)visible. Focusing on chosen governmental lock facilities, and in relation to other urban hospitals, this section examines planning, architecture, interior design and social-medical practices in terms of their multilayered (conceived, perceived and lived) spaces of confinement. With reference to the hitherto uninspected plans of governmental lock hospitals, and attentive to their dependence on broader medical, social, architectural and political networks, the section also considers their effectiveness as sites of healing and reformation. Like the practices of stereotyping, mapping and spacing of syphilis were viable technologies of ordering and othering. Thus, overall, this chapter addresses the role of space and mobility in the late nineteenth-century prophylaxis of syphilis and links them to problems of national security and matters of civic responsibility.

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