The Invading Body: Reading Illness Autobiographies

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University of Virginia Press, 2007 - Biography & Autobiography - 192 pages

Widely debated in feminist, poststructuralist, and literary theory is the relationship between subjectivity and the body. Yet autobiographical criticism--an obvious place for testing this conceptual relationship--has lagged behind contemporary queries about the embodied self. In The Invading Body, Einat Avrahami corrects this deficiency by analyzing the genre of terminal illness autobiographies. These personal narratives challenge the world of self-writing in their power to question the assumption that autobiography--and the body--are products of cultural constructs and discursive practices. Their self-disclosures of symptoms, disabilities, and the physical and psychological pains of treatment, especially when combined with thoughts of further deterioration and imminent death, defy the theoretical formulations of identity and alter the definition of autobiography itself.

Avrahami investigates an array of autobiographical testimonies of terminal illness ranging from Harold Brodkey’s poignant account of his struggle with AIDS to Hannah Wilke’s and Jo Spence’s gripping self-portraits of cancer. By challenging the artificial and contrived skepticism that critics and theorists bring to their concepts of the self, the author argues, these illness narratives constitute an "invasion of the real," confronting the notions of self-representation and self-invention on which current autobiographical studies are based.

The author’s examinations of these moving memoirs and photographs will engage not only the growing field of disability studies, but also a more general readership interested in the transition that occurs when one’s body suddenly falls out of step with one’s mind.


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About the author (2007)

Einat Avrahami is Adjunct Professor of English at Tel Aviv University, Israel.

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