Illness and the Limits of Expression

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University of Michigan Press, 2007 - Literary Criticism - 158 pages

A sophisticated literary, psychoanalytic, and philosophical treatise on illness and narrative form, Illness and the Limits of Expression investigates the failings of standard survivor literature by asking how language can be used to express the catastrophic experience of disease. While battling three bouts of cancer herself, Kathlyn Conway became familiar with the "success" narratives of disability and sickness---stories of the woman who still looked beautiful after three successive treatments or the man who ran five miles a day during chemotherapy---all of which emphasized victory born of hope and positive thinking.

Believing that such upbeat accounts insufficiently portrayed the intense emotional strain, physical deterioration, and mental terror brought about by illness, Conway began to investigate the far less popular nontriumphalist genres of illness literature---by authors such as Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion, and Susan Sontag. Instead of shying away from the uglier sides of illness, these writers explore how disease and devastation separate us from ourselves and why much can be learned about identity and language by noting this division.

Through her readings of both sets of narratives, Conway shows how difficult it is to express the reality of serious illness or injury, but she also argues that by wrestling with this challenge, writers can offer a better picture of the complex relationship between body and mind.

Kathlyn Conway is a practicing psychotherapist and the author of Ordinary Life: A Memoir of Illness. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

"This is a wonderful book, whose message is extremely important but all too rarely heard: most published accounts of illness gloss over its difficulties and horror. People struggling with serious illness and disability deserve more. With clear writing and sound scholarship,Illness and the Limits of Expressiontakes on this challenge and should be read by both scholarly and general audiences."
---Emily Abel, University of California, Los Angeles


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About the author (2007)

Kathlyn Conway is a practicing psychotherapist who lives in New York City with her husband and two children. "Ordinary Life" is her first book.

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