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Treatments: Language, Politics, and the Culture of Illness

Lisa Diedrich
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Lisa Diedrich considers illness narratives, demonstrating that these texts not only recount symptoms but also describe illness as an event that reflects wider cultural contexts, including race, gender, class, and sexuality. Looking at narratives including Susan Sontag’s Illness As Metaphor, Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s “White Glasses,” Diedrich demonstrates how language both captures and fails to capture these “scenes of loss.”

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5415-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction: Doing Treatments
    (pp. vii-xxiv)

    This is a book about bodies, language, and death; it is about illness, culture, and politics, and the discourses and practices of medicine, literature, and philosophy. I have chosen to look at these broad themes as they come together in a particular object, contemporary memoirs about illness. InTreatments, I investigate the sociohistorical contexts in which these illness narratives¹ are being written and read, as well as the subjective experience of the ill and dying body as described in these narratives. I consider what kinds of cultural work illness narratives do in contemporary Western culture: for those who write them,...

  4. 1. Patients and Biopower: Disciplined Bodies, Regularized Populations, and Subjugated Knowledges
    (pp. 1-23)

    “This is a book about space, about language, and about death; it is about the art of seeing, the gaze” (ix). So beginsThe Birth of the Clinic(1973), Foucault’s “archeology of medical perception” that describes the emergence at the end of the eighteenth century of what he calls the “anatomo-clinical method” (4). In looking back, first at Foucault’s treatment of the emergence of a particular method of medical perception, and then at two mid-twentieth-century memoirs that are also about space, language, and death with regards to the experience of tuberculosis in the mid-twentieth-century United States, I hope to provide...

  5. 2. Politicizing Patienthood: Ideas, Experience, and Affect
    (pp. 24-53)

    In the final two volumes of his three-volumeHistory of Sexuality, Foucault turns from his earlier analyses of discursive practices (his archaeological work) and the “manifestations of power” (his genealogical work) to an analysis of the constitution of the subject, or what he calls the “arts of existence” or “techniques of the self” (1985, 6–11). InThe Use of PleasureandThe Care of the Self, Foucault looks at the particular arts of existence in Classical Greece and Imperial Rome, and the transformation of these arts from one period to the next. If in the last chapter I was...

  6. 3. Stories for and against the Self: Breast Cancer Narratives from the United States and Britain
    (pp. 54-81)

    Jackie Stacey beginsTeratologieswith the chapter “Heroes,” in which she critiques the Western cultural narratives available to her for describing the experience of cancer, or, for that matter, any crisis of the self. According to Stacey, “In contemporary Western culture, we are encouraged to think of our lives as coherent stories of success, progress and movement. Loss and failure have their place but only as part of a broader picture of ascendance. The steady upward curve is the favoured contour” (1997, 9). With regards to illness, this need to move quickly beyond loss and failure, to show, indeed, that...

  7. 4. Becoming-Patient: Negotiating Healing, Desire, and Belonging in Doctors’ Narratives
    (pp. 82-114)

    What has informed all of my discussions up to this point, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly, is the emergence of HIV/AIDS in 1981 and the early days of the epidemic in the West, before the protease inhibitors came on the treatment scene in 1995. Although I take the publication of Lorde’sCancer Journalsin 1980 as the moment of emergence of the figure of the politicized patient, it is impossible to imagine such an emergence occurring without the concomitant emergence of HIV/AIDS in the West. The figure and the genre emerged out of the ontological and epistemological rupture that was...

  8. 5. Between Two Deaths: Practices of Witnessing
    (pp. 115-147)

    I have discussed many of the ways that illness narratives read and write the body, but I have also sought to explore the ways that they demonstrate the impossibility of reading and writing the body in any complete form. Illness narratives bring up a number of questions about the relationship between language and embodiment: Is the experience of embodiment determined and structured by and in language? What is lost in the attempt—the urgency, even—to bring the body to language? Can we encounter the body outside of or prior to language? Can we tell stories and bear witness, not...

  9. Conclusion: Toward an Ethics of Failure
    (pp. 148-166)

    I endTreatmentsby beginning to formulate what I call an ethics of failure: that is, an ethics that emerges out of, or along with, an experience of failure, be it of the body, of (conventional and alternative) medicine, or of language. I explore the ethical implications of failure in a final case study, which treats two illness narratives: one, Atul Gawande’sComplictions(2002), from the doctor’s side of the doctor-patient binary, and the other, Gillian Rose’sLove’s Work(1995), from the patient’s side. In order to delineate the ethics of failure that Rose’s and Gawande’s works suggest, I turn...

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 167-170)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 171-198)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-216)
  13. Index
    (pp. 217-225)