Lisa Mendelman is Assistant Professor of English and Digital Humanities at Menlo College. She works in the medical and digital humanities, with a particular focus on gender, race, and affect in twentieth-century America. She is the author of Modern Sentimentalism: Affect, Irony, and Female Authorship in Interwar America (Oxford University Press, 2019).
Questions of scientific testing, symptomatology, medical solutions, and epidemiological modeling have been front-page news this past year. But our diagnostic moment began long before the COVID-19 pandemic: from 23andme’s mail-in genetic analysis to WebMD’s online medical symptom checkers; from wearable fitness trackers that get smaller and sleeker with each new model to books and web series that promise inner joy through a simplified material existence; from a resurgence in theories of genetic determinism born of “scoring” individual genomes to the advent of a professional field dedicated to “diagnosing organizational culture.”
This installment marks the last planned set of responses—at least for now—to the special issue on Weak Theory. We’ll bring the discussion to a close, in several weeks’ time, by giving the writers from that issue a chance to answer the responses. Many thanks to all who have participated!
The information superhighway is paved with good intentions. This thought occurred to me earlier this summer, as I drove the Silicon Valley corridor of 101. “The first survivor of Alzheimer’s is out there,” one billboard declared. “Hello marijuana, goodbye anxiety,” announced a second (the company, Eaze, hand-delivers the substance, à la Instacart). “No data left behind,” avowed a third. Perhaps because I was headed to the ALA to deliver a paper on Edith Wharton’s satire of interwar scientific culture, Twilight Sleep, the third struck me as particularly ludicrous and problematic.