Recovering Bodies: Illness, Disability, and Life-Writing / Edition 1

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Overview

    This is a provocative look at writing by and about people with illness or disability—in particular HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, deafness, and paralysis—who challenge the stigmas attached to their conditions by telling their lives in their own ways and on their own terms. Discussing  memoirs, diaries, collaborative narratives, photo documentaries, essays, and other forms of life writing, G. Thomas Couser shows that these books are not primarily records of medical conditions; they are a means for individuals to recover their bodies (or those of loved ones) from marginalization and impersonal medical discourse.
    Responding to the recent growth of illness and disability narratives in the United States—such works as Juliet Wittman’s Breast Cancer Journal, John Hockenberry’s Moving Violations, Paul Monette’s Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, and Lou Ann Walker’s A Loss for Words: The Story of Deafness in a Family—Couser addresses questions of both poetics and politics. He examines why and under what circumstances individuals choose to write about illness or disability; what role plot plays in such narratives; how and whether closure is achieved; who assumes the prerogative of narration; which conditions are most often represented; and which literary conventions lend themselves to representing particular conditions. By tracing the development of new subgenres of personal narrative in our time, this book explores how explicit consideration of illness and disability has enriched the repertoire of life writing. In addition, Couser’s discussion of medical discourse joins the current debate about whether the biomedical model is entirely conducive to humane care for ill and disabled people.
    With its sympathetic critique of the testimony of those most affected by these conditions, Recovering Bodies contributes to an understanding of the relations among bodily dysfunction, cultural conventions, and identity in contemporary America.

The book contains no figures.

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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Noel E. Phillips, D.Min.(Salem Hospital)
Description: This is a survey of books, mostly personal narratives, written by people who have experienced illness and disability. It's a book about literature, not about illness and disability. After surveying the literature on the human condition of sick people and the psychology of illness in general, it then focuses on four areas: breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, paralysis, and deafness.
Purpose: According to the author, the purpose is to inform readers about the literature available in the area of illness and disability. The author's goal is worthy, but there is so much comparison between works that the survey becomes jumbled and confused and disoriented. It covers too many books to be able to treat any of them with the depth that would guide the reader in understanding them.
Audience: The author states that his target audience is the lay reader. Unfortunately, his language is very academic. The book reads more like the research for a doctoral dissertation or notes for a research project rather than a book aimed at the lay reader. Because the author overanalyzes and overcompares the books, the reader is not inspired to read the original works on his/her own.
Features: Research and references are pertinent and current. The bibliography is good. The table of contents is too general and does not include the subtitles and topics within each chapter. For example, the chapter on breast cancer has 11 distinct subsections. The skimpy four-page index is inadequate because it has too many page references for authors, but comparatively few page references for topics.
Assessment: The book fails to reach the author's goal of informing his readers. The author demonstrates his ability to do research and collect and survey the literature, but he is unable to make the material real to the reader. It is too academic and too wordy and provides too much of the author's own opinion. While the author approaches the subject from a literary standpoint, the subjects of illness and disability are really very subjective and personal. The reader is likely, therefore, to be disappointed.
Noel E. Phillips
This is a survey of books, mostly personal narratives, written by people who have experienced illness and disability. It's a book about literature, not about illness and disability. After surveying the literature on the human condition of sick people and the psychology of illness in general, it then focuses on four areas: breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, paralysis, and deafness. According to the author, the purpose is to inform readers about the literature available in the area of illness and disability. The author's goal is worthy, but there is so much comparison between works that the survey becomes jumbled and confused and disoriented. It covers too many books to be able to treat any of them with the depth that would guide the reader in understanding them. The author states that his target audience is the lay reader. Unfortunately, his language is very academic. The book reads more like the research for a doctoral dissertation or notes for a research project rather than a book aimed at the lay reader. Because the author overanalyzes and overcompares the books, the reader is not inspired to read the original works on his/her own. Research and references are pertinent and current. The bibliography is good. The table of contents is too general and does not include the subtitles and topics within each chapter. For example, the chapter on breast cancer has 11 distinct subsections. The skimpy four-page index is inadequate because it has too many page references for authors, but comparatively few page references for topics. The book fails to reach the author's goal of informing his readers. The author demonstrates his ability to do research and collect and survey the literature, but heis unable to make the material real to the reader. It is too academic and too wordy and provides too much of the author's own opinion. While the author approaches the subject from a literary standpoint, the subjects of illness and disability are really very subjective and personal. The reader is likely, therefore, to be disappointed.
Booknews
Couser (English, Hofstra U.) analyzes personal narratives of HIV-AIDS, breast cancer, paralysis, and deafness. He finds that the writers are not producing medical accounts but attempting to recover their bodies from marginalization and impersonal medical discourse by telling their stories in their own terms. He examines such texts as memoirs, diaries, collaborative narratives, photo documentaries, and essays. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

1 Star from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299155643
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1997
  • Series: Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

G. Thomas Couser is professor of English at Hofstra University.  His previous books include Altered Egos: Authority in American Autobiography and American Autobiography: The Prophetic Mode.
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Table of Contents

Foreword
Preface
1 Introduction: Human Conditions - Illness, Disability, and Life Writing 3
2 Medical Discourse and Subjectivity 18
3 Self-Reconstruction: Personal Narratives of Breast Cancer 36
4 HIV/AIDS and Its Stories 81
5 Crossing Out the Border: Autobiography and Physical Disability 177
6 Signs of Life: Deafness and Personal Narrative 221
7 Epilogue: The Value of Body Stories 288
References 299
Index 311
Titles in Wisconsin Studies in American Autobiography 315
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