Lawrence Abu Hamdan

The invention of the stethoscope by René Laennec in 1816 inaugurated the practice of auscultation—listening to the inner sounds of the body—and transformed the practices of medical diagnosis. While the stethoscope symbolizes communication between doctor and patient, this entailed direct communication with the body, bypassing the subjective account of the patient. The body was accordingly conceptualized as a collection of voices, which, unlike the speech of the patient, didn’t lie; it was unable to dramatize, embellish, and exaggerate the patient’s condition. The stethoscope thus shifted the medical ear from listening to speech to listening to the sounds of the body itself. As a form of forensic listening, it transformed the patient’s body into a hostile witness against its own speech acts, as simultaneous, not necessarily corroborative testimonies are emitted from the body and from the speaking voice.

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