Malte Völk

Popular health guides between knowledge transfer, entertainment and storytelling*


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The article follows the intertwining of Walter Benjamin’s narrative theory with a 1911 Swiss herbal book (Johann Künzle: Chrut und Uchrut). The resulting findings on the connection between ancient ‘folk medicine’ and narrative art are associated with the enormous popularity of this book, which continues to this day. Benjamin’s definition of a storyteller who takes what he tells from experience is used as a heuristic category to comparatively examine Giulia Enders’ contemporary book Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ (German 2014, English 2016). What both books have in common, apart from their extraordinary popularity, is that they elude clear genre definitions. They are both hybrids of a medical guide, nutritional guide and entertaining story collection. To answer the question of how medical knowledge is conveyed, the narrative characteristics of the books are analyzed and compared, thereby, revealing persistent patterns of knowledge transfer in connection with the topos of activating the readers’ own experience.

narrative research, Walter Benjamin, health guides, medical culture, popular culture