Narrative Medicine, the Body, and Justice
ISSN Guaranteed Panel, MLA 2016, Austin TX 7-10 January
Recent work in autobiographical theory, testimony/trauma work, and embodiment studies by Susan Brison, John Paul Eakin, and Dori Laub, among others, contests the proposal, made by Elaine Scarry long ago, that there exists no language for pain. Instead, we see more and more clearly that there are potent means of transducing pain and other bodily states into language or its congeners in visual and aural media. Spoken word performances by kids with cerebral palsy, pianist Fred Hersch’s concert “My Coma Dreams” that tells in jazz of his near-death by AIDS, or accounts of traumas of war, genocide, and sexual violence testify to a perhaps increasing power to represent pain, mortality, and differently abled states in ways that can be communicated first to self and then to others. Such tellings do work in the world for the individuals who tell and listen as well as for the wider surround. With a potential to contribute not only to individual recovery but also toward social justice goals, these practices can also pose risks of exposure, distortion, misplaced trust, and ultimately exploitation.
Narrative Medicine and its relatives in the medical or health humanities arose to fortify the capacity of those who work in health care to hear what patients say. Maturing from an initial naïve stance that supposed that altruism alone was sufficient for clinicians to improve their listening practice, these cross-cutting disciplines are now well-positioned to critically examine the complexities of late modern narrative ethics, mind/brain cognitive processes surrounding corporeality and emotion, the poetics of the telling of the self in pain, and the always primary considerations of social justice in these accounts. Increasingly, the foci of study transcend individual clinical instances to investigate meta-situations of violence and pain in the banal, cultural memory and post-memory, and state and institutionalized violence.
Up to now, Narrative Medicine has largely focused on using interpretive methods and theoretical understandings from the humanities, especially the study of narrative as such, to critically examine these complexities in the body, the clinic, and the world. However, adapting practices to new contexts necessarily broadens and deepens theory. Attending to narrative practice among clinicians and witnesses will change how we approach narrative literature, film and performance, completing a recursive loop.
This panel aims to expose some of the controversies and promising veins of thought in this terrain. Papers of interest will explode the periphery of these fields to identify that which lies beyond the easily tellable. Papers might take up some of the following topics:
- How to contend with the nonrepresentational material (thingness) of bodies while recognizing that their representations create the real
- The roles of creativity in the representation of bodily states
- The core of doubt in any spoken or inscribed representation of the mortal state
- Genres particularly suited to contemporary expression of erstwhile untellable tales of violence and pain
- The effect of theorizing/interpreting genres expressing the untellable on theorizing/interpreting literary genres
- Cognitive or cultural aspects of how one might be “programmed” to tell of pain and how another might be programmed to understand that account as meaningful or not
- Aspects of narrative ethics that illuminate global responsibilities toward instances of state violence or terror
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Narratologist?
Collaborative Session: International Society for the Study of Narrative and the Goethe Society of North America
Modern Languages Association Annual Convention Austin, Texas 7-10 January, 2016
Although constituting an innovative and influential narrative corpus, the prose works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe are not often invoked in either the core texts of classical narratology or in contemporary narrative theory. According to Martin Swales, however, Goethe maintained a life-long interest narrativity that significantly shaped his narrative practice. The inattention to Goethe’s work on the part of narrative theorists thus represents a significant oversight. We invite papers to consider how narrative theory can illuminate Goethe’s prose works—in particular his four novelistic masterworks Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774, The Sorrows of Young Werther), Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-1796, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship), Die Wahlverwandschaften (1809, Elective Affinities), and Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (1821/1839, Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years). We also wish to explore the ways in which Goethe’s narrative work enacts its own particular narrative theory. Possible presentations might address the following questions: How can narrative theory be productively deployed in analyses of Goethe’s works? How does an examination of his works help us to better understand the narrative conventions of the novel as they developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, whether in the context of German-language literature or transnationally/translinguistically? How do his prose works invite or resist narratologically inflected readings? How can insights into the narrative dynamics of Goethe’s texts enrich existing narratological paradigms? We invite papers that either narrow in on particular narrative theoretical aspects of Goethe’s works or broaden their focus to consider Goethe’s narratives alongside the work of other writers.