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Samar Farage


Samar Farage was born and grew up in Lebanon, in a tradition where the figure of the hakim (both a philosopher and a physician) was still alive. She studied political theory, philosophy and classical Arabic, a language and literature that still reflects the twinning of philosophy and medicine, a correspondence between microcosm-macrocosm and hence, a radically different notion of health (or being in the world) than the one she learned during her graduate studies in France and the United States. From almost a decade of Ivan Illich's lectures and conversations in Pennsylvania and Bremen, Farage now explores the fundamental reasons for and implications of the divergence between the hakim and the doctor.

Farage studies the transformation of the Galenic felt body and the complex notion of krasis (as the balance of humors) when it passes from the Greek to the Latinized West, through Arabic medieval translations and interpretations. She asks the following question: What are the linguistic, cultural and professional elements that led to the bifurcation into scientific medicine in the West and the survival of the Galenic tradition, best embodied in the figure of the hakim in the East?

This inquiry reveals an intimate relation between philosophy and medicine in antiquity at the ethical level. The aim of philososphy was virtue and that of medicine, health. Both implied a notion of proportion and demanded rigorous discipline. Samar looks at two significant moments in the Latin West that have altered the felt body of the Galenic tradition. A first moment occurred with the transformation of the Greek cardinal virtues into the moral virtues of Christianity. With the moralization of virtues, the way is paved for the disembodiment of the humors. A second shift occured in the twelfth century with the separation of philosophy and theology. As a result, the union of philosophy and medicine itself slowly dissolved. Medicine was institutionalized in universities and academies as a practical science and later as modern medicine.

With the loss of a cosmology, medicine also lost its telos and its ethical foundation. The relatedness of physician and patient was rooted in a mimetic understanding of the patient's condition through word, gesture, tone, stance and rhythm. Judgement was based on common sense and interpreted through the logical deductive tradition in which the physician stood. Sense knowledge ensured that each physician knew the particular nature of the patient and his habits in order to assist nature in correcting its imbalances. In modern medicine, knowledge becomes verifiable, repeatable and standardized; whence, nature it-self can no longer be consulted. The senses become receptive organs. Diagnosis and prognosis of the Galenic physician are today dictated by the hollow reflections of diagrams, charts and the sense-less numbers of risk analysis.

Anamnesis and mimetic understanding have been replaced with the statistical assemblage of profiles--outcomes of tests and instrumentation. Health, a continuous "becoming" for the Galenic patient, turns into a a purely engineered state. One's being in the world is radically altered. Such a historical investigation does not aim at a nostalgic revelling in the past, but offers a disciplined reflection for an alternative to "health".



  • Farage, Samar (2003): "Conversations around a Table" Opening speech delivered at the Inauguration of the Ivan Illich Center for Intercultural Do-cumentation in Lucca, Italy: 13-15th June, 2003.
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