Paper 1: The Historical and the Literary-Representations of Dr. Luce and Dr. Money

mpottash's picture

The Historical andthe Literary: Representation of Dr. Money and Dr. Luce


In 1967, a babyboy – who came to be known as John/Joan - was transformed into a boy by amedical team headed by Dr. John Money. In 2002, Jeffrey Eugenides wrote the book Middlesex, which tellsthe story of Cal, an intersexed individual, and his journey from female to male.  In his book, Eugenides blends thehistorical and scientific with the literary by using Dr. Money as the model forDr. Luce, the doctor who handles Callie’s case.  John Colapinto’s article “The True Story of John/Joan”,which appeared in Rolling Stone in 1997,also blends the historical with the literary. Yet while Eugenides’ book isfictional, Colapinto’s article narrates the true events of John/Joan’slife.  Colapinto tells the story ofthe historical events, but does so in a way that is not particularly scientificor scholarly, focusing instead on the individuals and telling the story fromJohn/Joan’s point of view.  In thisway, by presenting us with a highly personal point of view, Colapinto turns thehistorical into the literary.  Inthis case, the historical can be viewed as referring to facts, to a straighttelling of events, while the literary involves a more personal element, dealingmore with the individuals involved in those events.  Both Eugenides and Colapinto blend the historical with theliterary by using what historians refer to as the “historical imagination”;Eugenides and Colapinto add personal voices to history, transforming it intothe literary.  Through the use ofthe “historical imagination”, Eugenides and Colapinto portray Luce and Money asinjurious to both Callie and John/Joan; this perspective comes across throughthe authors’ reflection of the point of view of the victimized individual.

In order forEugenides and Colapinto to paint the doctors in a negative light, they firstneed to provide background on the doctors, in order to help readers form anopinion about the doctors and their actions .  It is in this way that Middlesex and Colapinto’sarticle most resemble historical or scholarly work.  In Middlesex, Dr. Luce embodies Money’s ideas.  In his report on Callie, Luce writesthat “It is clear…that sex rearing, rather than genetic determinants, plays agreater role in the establishment of gender identity” (437).  Reflecting Dr. Money’s main theory,Luce believes that the sex of rearing, not gonadal sex, is the most importantelement in determining gender. This report is one of the few times in which we learn about Luce’s ideasdirectly from him.  For a moment,Eugenides takes us more directly into a scientific realm.  Colapinto similarly describes Money’sviews, focusing on his theories of gender identity, saying that Money believedthat children developed a view of their gender identity based on how they areraised and socialized.  We need tolearn about these scientific ideas first in order to see how they directlyaffect both Callie and John/Joan. We can also contrast these theories with what we know to be true ofCallie and John/Joan, since we are provided with their own personal narratives.

To gain insightinto the ways in which Eugenides and Colapinto represent these medicaltheories, we can study a more scholarly work.  In her article “The Medical Construction of Gender: CaseManagement of Intersexed Infants”, Suzanne Kessler presents a scientific viewof Money.  Kessler emphasizes thefact that Money believed that gender identity can be changed, and thus is notdetermined exclusively by genes or gonads (6-7).  All three authors highlight Money’s main ideas in ascientific manner.  However,Kessler focuses more on the theory than on the individual.  She stresses the prevalence of Money’sideas, saying that his theory provides the basis for the management ofintersexed cases (6).  Kessler alsoonly interviews doctors, and not the patients themselves; therefore, her pointof view is different from that of Eugenides and Colapinto.  Kessler’s article is not affected bythe personal as is Eugenides’ and Colapinto’s work.  In a sense, scholarly works such as Kessler’s lack thehistorical imagination (at least as it is described above), as their focus ison the facts, rather than the personal. However, we must acknowledge that although Kessler’s work is morescholarly and scientific, her own views nevertheless come across.  For example, she writes that “cases ofintersexuality…illustrate physicians’ and Western society’s…failure to imaginethat each of these management decision is a moment when a specific instance ofbiological ‘sex’ is transformed into a culturally constructed gender”(26).  Kessler believes thatsociety needs to reexamine the ways in which we conceive gender.  While Kessler’s personal views comeacross, particularly in her conclusion, her article still lacks the personalnature of Eugenides’ and Colapinto’ work, that provide their work with agreater sense of the “historical imagination”.

            Oneof the ways in which Colapinto and Eugenides highlight the personal aspect oftheir work, and eventually lead us to draw a conclusion about the doctors, isby focusing on the doctors as people, rather than just the creators of certaintheories.  One of the firstcomments about Luce in Middlesex involves his appearance, when Calwrites that “[she] saw right away that Luce wasn’t your normal lookingdoctor.  Instead of a medical coathe wore a suede vest with fringe. Silver hair touched the collar of his beige turtleneck.  His pants were flared and on his feetwere a pair of ankle boots with zippers on the side.” (408).  Eugenides provides us with thisphysical description of Luce so that we can see him from Callie’s point ofview.  Eugenides also describesLuce as a “brilliant, charming, work-obsessed man”.  It is peculiar that Eugenides portrays Luce as “brilliant”and “charming”, as eventually he is seen as being detrimental to Callie.  However, Eugenides’ presents us with acomplete picture of Luce, because we need to understand his whole person inorder to make the judgment that Eugenides ultimately wishes us to make.  Colapinto takes a similar approach todescribing Money.  Colapinto writesthat Money is “a suavely, charismatic and handsome individual in his late 40s,bespectacled and with sleekly brushed-back hair”.  Like Eugenides, Colapinto wants to paint a picture of Moneyfor his readers.  Colapinto alsoprovides a personal history of Money. For example, Colapinto describes the setbacks that Money faced as achild as a result of his father’s death. One might wonder why, if Colapinto wishes to portray Money as an antagonist, he provides us withthis personal background.  However,as does Eugenides, Colapinto allows his reader to get a more well-roundedpicture of Money, eventually allowing us to make a more complete judgment. The“historical imagination” allows the reader to get a view of the doctors that isnot solely characterized by scientific theories.

In order to paintthe doctors as injurious to Callie and John/Joan, both Eugenides and Colapintoillustrate the ways in which the doctors treat their patients as scientificobjects.  Both Luce and Money haveprofessional gains to be made from these cases, and thus are simply concernedwith the scientific discovery and not with the actual human beings (even thoughat times it may appear that they do care).  Eugenides writes that “Luce had at his disposal a body ofresearch material – of living, breathing specimens – no scientist has ever hadbefore” (412).  For Luce, Callie isan object, his “star attraction” (420), useful for the purpose of gainingfunding (421).  Colapintohighlights the fact that the “case was to be the most publicly celebratedtriumph of a 40-year career”, and that John/Joan’s parent’s “cry for help was onethat he might have been waiting for his entire career”.  For Money, the family’s pain was a wayof proving a scientific theory. The objectification of both Callie and John/Joan is disquieting toreaders because of the ways in which Eugenides and Colapinto write.  In both of the works, the patients arenot objects, but human beings.  Byproviding us with the personal narratives of the main characters – Eugenides byusing Callie as a narrator and Colapinto by focusing in John/John’s own story –these authors insert the personal (“imagination”) into their work, giving us amore subjective point of view. Thus, the “historical imagination” contributes to our view of thedoctors as harming Callie and John/Joan.

            Ourpersonal vicinity to the characters also makes the deception in which Luce andMoney engage even more troubling. In Middlesex, Dr. Luce lies to Callie by neglecting to tell herthat she has XY chromosomes. Callie expresses the extent of this damage when, in a letter to herparents, she blames him for causing her to run away, calling him a “big liar”(439).  This deception iscomplicated, however, because as Callie acknowledges, she had lied to him, aswell (438).  Thus, while Eugenidespresents Luce as harming Callie by not telling her the truth, this harm isqualified by his lack of information. The fact that Callie admits lying to Luce could perhaps justify Luce’sactions.  However, as Callienarrates the story, we are able to hear her reasons for lying to him.  Callie writes that “if [she] seemednormal enough, [Luce] might send [her] back home” (418).  Thus, while Luce is a doctor solelyinterested in medical accomplishments, Callie is a scared teenager who onlywants to go home.  Here, thepresence of the personal and of Callie’s own feelings makes it easier to seethe ways in which Luce harms Callie. Dr. Money, on the other hand, had more information, and was purposefullydeceitful.  Joan had confessedbeing attracted to girls, which Money attributed to homosexuality (which, ofcourse, could have been the case). However, Money was also aware of Joan’s unhappiness, yet presented hiscase as a success.  Upon beinginterviewed by Colapinto, he showed no remorse in falsifying his report.  We are turned against money, because,through the use of the “historical imagination”, we hear firsthand aboutJohn/Joan’s unhappiness.

            Fromstudying Colapinto’ article and Eugenide’s novel, we can see that thehistorical, and the literary do not always need to exist in separaterealms.  The historical can enhancethe literary, and in turn, the literary can enhance the historical, adding morepersonal elements to a chronology of facts.  Thought the use of the personal style of the “historicalimagination”, we gain insight into not only the historical events and theoriesinvolving these cases, but also into the people involved in these events.  However, we also must acknowledge thatthis definition of the “historical imagination”  as pertaining to the personal aspects of a story is not allinclusive.  Anytime an authorwrites anything, it can be said that their own personal views go into it –nothing is completely objective; thus, any historical piece can have the“historical imagination”.  In thecase of Eugenides and Colapinto, however, it really is the “imagination”, thepersonal feelings of the characters, that allows the authors to paint adistinct view of the doctors.    




Anne Dalke's picture

The Historical Imagination


I've been repeatedly asking questions in class about the relation between the "two cultures" of science and humanities, as well as about the intersection of the political and the literary: how does literature perform a political function? how does it refuse that function? So you know that you have, in me, an interested reader for your comparative exploration of the literary, the historical, and the scientific modes of storytelling. It's very interesting to see the ways in which Colapinto's portrayal of Money accords with Eugenides' of Luce, and how they both jive w/ what you call Kessler's "more scientific" account.

I'm not sure I quite follow, though, your treatment of these various categories, and of the relations beween them. On the one hand, you say that "the historical can be viewed as referring to facts, to a straight telling of events" (so that adding personal voices to history transforms it into literature). On the other hand, you observe that "the personal nature" of Eugenides' and Colapinto's work provides a "greater sense of the 'historical imagination'" (which would makes history not factual, but imaginative?). Is "the personal imagination" the same as "the historical imagination"? On occasion, you speak of the "personal style of the historical imagination" (which seems to equate the two); but in the same paragraph--arguing that "the historical can enhance the literary, and in turn the literary can enhance the historical"--you seem to treat them as separate entities capable of influencing one another. In short: I'm confused.

So--is Kessler, for example, more or less "scientific" when she "only interviews doctors, and not the patients"? On the one hand, you suggest, this means her account is "not affected by the personal." On the other, I might suggest, it's incomplete, insufficient in the evidence she gathers (and so "not scientific enough"?). When Eugenides provides a physical description of Luce ("so that we can see him from Callie's point of view") what do we see? What do the fringe, the flared pants, the ankle boots with zippers suggest about the habits of mind of the man who wears them? I'd like a more deliberative reading--really, an interpretation of the "facts"--here, of their subjective meanings. You say that such details give us a "more complete picture" of the "whole person," but with that completeness seems to come an incoherence that your term "well-rounded" doesn't quite acknowledge.

You conclude with the claim that "anytime an author writes anything...their own personal views go into it--nothing is completely objective." I would say then, not only (as you do) that "any historical piece can have the historical imagination" but that it cannot avoid employing it. If so, whereto/wherefrom those "facts," that "straight telling" with which you began?

If you'd like to go further in exploring these questions, some stepping off points might include the core course in the history department. As an earlier student of mine, Jen Sheehan reported, "I'm taking The Historical Imagination this semester and one text we just finished reading (History: A Very Short Introduction) took pains to demonstrate over and over that the notion that historians were to uncover "the true story of the past" may be romantic, but is simply not practical; there IS no one story of the past, and there are always different points of view. Can the storyteller ever really find THE truth?"

Then there's a Social Text piece by Robbins on "Interdisciplinarity in Public" which evokes a framework of "four tropes--metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, irony" as defining the "deep structure of the historical imagination." There's an archive of a conversation on Serendip about Memory and History
which describes memory as a construction ("an imagination"?). And, even closer to home, there's the conclusion of lrperry's paper for this course, which describes the"gap between representation and reality....which makes imagination possible."


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