Beyond Words: Illness and the Limits of Expression by Kathlyn Conway

By Kathlyn Conway

Released money owed of disorder and incapacity usually emphasize desire and optimistic pondering: the lady who nonetheless regarded appealing after wasting her hair, the fellow who ran 5 miles an afternoon in the course of chemotherapy. This acclaimed exam of the style of the disorder narrative questions that upbeat procedure. writer Kathlyn Conway, a three-time melanoma survivor and herself the writer of an affliction memoir, believes that the triumphalist method of writing approximately disorder fails to do justice to the shattering adventure of illness. by way of wrestling with the problem of writing concerning the truth of great sickness and harm, she argues, writers can provide a more true photograph of the complicated courting among physique and brain.

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They allow those who are ill to speak honestly about their suffering. They allow those who listen to come closer to understanding that suffering. And, in the end, there is nothing more compelling. ” —Robert McCrum, My Year Off In The Noonday Demon Andrew Solomon offers this description of the collapse of self that characterized his depression: Shortly before my thirty-‹rst birthday, I went to pieces. My whole system seemed to be caving in. . On the way home from the store, I suddenly lost control of my lower intestine and soiled myself.

Schooled in suffering and articulate about written expression, the writers discussed here have something profound and radical to tell us about illness and narrative. They speak not out of a concern with techniques for managing illness but out of a deeply felt desire to describe their suffering and pain. These writers create a literary space within which they acknowledge limitation and offer a range of views on the possibilities of writing in the face of death. Anatole Broyard powerfully endorses the notion that telling one’s story is a way to stay alive even when dying.

I had forgotten how to talk. Then I began to cry, but there were no tears, only a heaving incoherence. I was on my back. I wanted to turn over, but I couldn’t remember how to do that either. 1 Solomon is describing the near total inability to function that characterized his emotional collapse. This experience of some degree of disintegration of the self is often characteristic of the experience of serious physical illness or injury as well. Robert Lipsyte describes the kind of physical breakdown that accompanied his knowledge that he had a life-threatening illness.

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