Edna Bonhomme interviews Rupa Marya, co-author of Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice for the Full Moon Journal. Become a member to join the community, receive special discounts and gifts and access the Full Moon Journal featuring audio offerings, poetry, rituals, essays, interviews, concoctions and contributions by Ignota's team, friends and family and our Contributors-at-large.
EB: In the book Inflamed, you and your co-writer, Raj Patel, examine the anatomy of the human organ systems and how they can become inflamed. You do this with care and rigour, but there’s also much generosity to center people who are made sick through anthropogenic forces. Part of the beauty of this text is that it makes spaces for people to engage with biology directly through human stories. You create sites of possibility and biomedical education. To what extent are other physicians like yourself invested in dissecting medical knowledge for everyone?
RM: Most doctors I work with are deeply committed to helping people understand what science can share with us about our bodies and our health. Most doctors I work with are also pretty limited at understanding how that health is dependent on the health of the systems of which we are a part. For example, I do not know many physicians who say ‘We are all so hopelessly detached from the web of life and our place in it, there’s no wonder so many of us are sick!’ We fail to see how systems interact, because we haven’t been trained to think that way. This is what Raj and I were hoping to offer people in our book – both medical and lay people. We wanted to bring a language and vantage point that would repair what has been fractured and separated in our minds/intellects/imaginings.
EB: The opening line of your book states, ‘Your body is inflamed.’ You then describe how the body is part of a political field, defined and shaped by power relations, such as industrial pollution, racial violence and economic precarity. If we are all inflamed, can we lessen physical malaise?
RM: Absolutely! That’s what the practice of Deep Medicine is. But to move with the correct alleviation of suffering so as not to sustain or inflict more untoward suffering, we have to have the correct diagnosis. And that’s what we spend a great deal of time outlining in the book: a higher order of diagnosis that incorporates history and power into our understanding of what is happening on the cellular and microscopic level.
EB: In recent years, people have had to contend with a pandemic that has been unevenly felt while also attending to collective grief. As a physician who has witnessed these inequalities, how have you made space for yourself and other healers to salve the emotional weight of this witnessing?
RM: Yes and still we are carrying so much. We formed an organisation in 2021 called the Deep Medicine Circle (DMC) and through that organisation, we work specifically to heal the wounds of colonialism through food, medicine, story, restoration and learning. These wounds are ones that were blasted open by Covid, that were impossible to ignore and have created great hardship for patients and healthcare providers alike. Through the DMC we have hosted monthly gatherings called Heal the Healers, where we brought healthcare workers to land to heal our trauma collectively through reconnecting to food and land. It has been really powerful work but there’s still so much to unpack. It will be a lifetime of processing this harm.
EB: Your work offers a space to think about deep medicine, not as an individually-based self-care perspective but as a collective healing practice. Can you share how you can work through this in a society with growing inequality and dispossession in US society? How do you think wellness culture undermines healing practices?
RM: In a society that was founded and based on inequality (stolen land, stolen labour), Deep Medicine is the only way to really change health outcomes for the majority of human and non-human entities suffering under colonial capitalist arrangements of power. From the destruction of wildlife, ecosystems and human kinship systems, our health has been gravely impacted. Surrounded now by climate catastrophes, those who are least prepared to deal with the consequences are those who have had the smallest hand in creating the disaster. To change these dynamics we have to change the balance of power and heal what has been sundered through colonialism – which is our kinship to one another and the web of life. With that kinship comes duties of care. Deep Medicine plays a part in the Care Revolution, in reimagining the world along principles and actions of care.
EB: To what extent do abolitionist practices yield space for healing?
RM: Abolition is Deep Medicine. When we create better ways of doing things together, better arrangements of power sharing, better ways of being in relationships with each other and the web of life, we are bringing into being a world where healing is possible. Abolition is that creative activity, that imagining and those practices that materialise better ways of being.
Edna Bonhomme is a historian of science, culture writer, and editor based in Berlin, Germany. Edna’s essays critically engage with how people navigate the unsavory and unwieldy states of health—especially how people contend with contagious outbreaks, medical experiments, reproductive assistance, and illness narratives.
These days, Edna writes feature articles, long reads, and book reviews; these texts have appeared in Al Jazeera, The Atlantic Magazine, The Baffler, Esquire, Frieze Magazine, The Guardian, The London Review of Books, The Nation, WIRED, and other publications. Edna earned a Ph.D. in the History of Science from Princeton University and a Master’s of Public Health from Columbia University, and a Bachelor’s in Biology from Reed College. Edna has previously had fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for History of Science, the Ludwig Maximilian Universität, the Camargo Foundation, and the Baldwin for the Arts.
Moreover, Edna is completing a book, Captive Contagions (One Signal/Simon & Schuster, Forthcoming), which examines the role that confinement has played in fostering and hindering epidemics. This is a narrative-driven historical text that hones in on seven epidemics—from nineteenth century cholera to twenty-first century COVID-19— to show how people who are made captive on the plantation, the prison, and the factory, become infected but also survive.
Rupa Marya is a physician, activist, artist and writer who is an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and the founder and executive director of the Deep Medicine Circle, a worker-directed nonprofit committed to healing the wounds of colonialism through food, medicine, story, learning and restoration.
In 2021, she published her first book with political ecologist, food system activist and policy professor Raj Patel, Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice. This book advances a new level of diagnosis that incorporates history and lines of power into our understanding of the root causes of health disparities and the rise of inflammatory disease in industrialized places, offering compelling treatment options for what is ailing people and the planet.