Chronic illness contradicts the cherished belief that individuals control their own destiny. It disrupts one’s sense of identity, purpose, and moving forward in life. In this seminar, we will read first-person illness narratives and use the tools of literary analysis to pay close attention to the patient/writer’s narrative rather than relying on preconceived ideas about the nature of illness.

Our goals will be to (1) understand the experience of illness from the patient’s point of view; (2) analyze how and the extent to which these patients use the process of writing to restore a sense of coherence, purpose, and progress to their lives; (3) analyze how and the extent to which they create a new sense of identity that includes their illness; and (4) explore how these narratives can be used to the benefit of different parties involved in the experience such as the friends and family of the chronically ill, those who are chronically ill themselves, members of health professions, and others who are seeking a greater understanding of this part of the human condition.

Readings include:

Autobiography of a Face

A Whole New Life (Literature and Medicine)

Waist-High in the World

Body Silent (Medical Humanitites)

Girl Interrupted

Darkness Visible