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For most of literary history, personal confessions about illness were considered too intimate to share publicly. By the mid-twentieth century, however, a series of events set the stage for the emergence of the illness narrative. The increase of chronic disease, the transformation of medicine into big business, the women’s health movement, the AIDS/HIV pandemic, the advent of inexpensive paperbacks, and the rise of self-publishing all contributed to the proliferation of narratives about encounters with medicine and mortality." – Ann Jurecic

Illness Narratives: On the Politics and Poetics of Sickness

In this module we will encounter and write new narratives of physical and mental illness and impairment; both learning and busting the genres of autobiographical, socio-literary and poetic forms of life-writing and storytelling. Through engagement with the work of various writers, theorists, philosophers, and artists, students will develop their own narratives through their own practices, in a transdisciplinary manner.

Throughout the course, we will turn to major works on pain and suffering by the likes of Audre Lorde and Susan Sontag. We will visit historic and preceding bodies of writing on “madness,” contemplate the contemporary mandate for unwavering happiness and positivity (‘Cruel Optimism’), debate the effects of cultural discourses on “the good life” and self-optimization, intervene through cultural difference, radical care, and the politics of the body, and examine the affective affordances of neoliberal capitalism on what ‘illness’ – and potential resistance – really entails today.

"Illness Narratives" seeks to explore new forms of knowing and writing, and argues for new approaches and practices that are personal, whilst both compassionate and critical. 

We will consider why writers compose stories of illness, how readers receive them, and how the uses of these narratives make meaning of human fragility, mortality, identity, stigma, and social relations.