By Kathlyn Conway
Released debts of affliction and incapacity frequently emphasize desire and confident considering: the lady who nonetheless appeared 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 disease narrative questions that upbeat process. writer Kathlyn Conway, a three-time melanoma survivor and herself the writer of an affliction memoir, believes that the triumphalist method of writing approximately sickness fails to do justice to the shattering event of sickness. through wrestling with the problem of writing concerning the fact of significant affliction and damage, she argues, writers can provide a more true photo of the advanced dating among physique and brain.
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Additional resources for Beyond Words: Illness and the Limits of Expression
It is not simply a narrative that one can take or leave, but one that the ill and disabled must contend with in the media, in personal interactions with doctors, in conversations with friends and family, and even 38 / Beyond Words in themselves. Often this narrative is invoked as a way to cover up more negative attitudes toward those who are ill or disabled—that they are actually less capable than others. Because the triumph story has become so embedded in our culture, its repercussions play out with regard to individual patients.
Told retrospectively, the triumph narrative views the events of illness in light of a person’s recovery or return to life. Narratives that describe the devastation of serious illness or disability focus less on the ‹nal resolution than on the actual experience of the self in the aftermath of illness or injury. It is not that their authors fail to recover, survive, or even triumph, but their achievement rests in acknowledging all aspects of their experience—including the shattering of the self and the upending of their life.
When illness is depicted in TV ads for pharmaceuticals, people suffering the ailment not only appear more beautiful than the general population but also more vigorous. Television movies bathe the sufferer in soft light that hides the reality of the injured or suffering body. As a culture we hide suffering. By keeping the ill, elderly, and dying out of view, we manage to keep the story of the damaged body, of physical weakness or limitation, out of earshot. When we do encounter the ill and disabled, we meet them with a coercive insistence that they rise above their suffering, battle their disease, and believe that everything will be ‹ne in the end.