Intensification and the Discourse of Decline: A Rhetoric of Medical Anthropology



Our use of academic rhetorics does not just deliver old arguments more eloquently, but rather serves an epistemological purpose that enables us to ask new questions. The rhetorical strategy of intensification contests and dislodges unnoticed and untheorized presuppositions in academic arguments by redefining taken-for-granted uses of language, by reemphasizing the often overlooked social imbrication of metaphors presented as neutral scientific descriptions, and by reopening the textual and conceptual "black boxes" that allow authors to evade responsibility for their rhetorical choices. As deployed by Emily Martin (1987) in The Woman in the Body, intensification reveals how rhetorical gestures rooted in negative sociocultural attitudes toward women's bodies sometimes masquerade as "scientific" or "medical" knowledge. Martin reveals a pattern of medical metaphors that incorrectly associate menstruation and menopause with processes of decline and decay. Intensification enables Martin to contest the discourse of decline in accounts of menstruation by underscoring how it is shaped by cultural metaphors of production and information processing, by foregrounding its anachronistic voices and their outmoded language and attitudes about women's reproductive systems, by calling attention to the persistently negative terminology that permeates discussions of women's reproductive processes, by emphasizing the different languages used for women's reproductive physiology and for similar but ungendered physiological processes, and by accentuating the celebratory language used for men's reproductive physiology. Intensification serves to demonstrate that these metaphors misrepresent or suppress fundamental aspects of physiology, inappropriately impose gendered attitudes on processes more accurately represented by nongendered terms, and negatively influence representations of women, their physiological processes, and their medical needs, [rhetoric of inquiry, discourse analysis, intensification, reproductive physiology, menstruation and menopause, Emily Martin]