Illness Stories

How can we make sense of illness stories as being told through the  diseased body?

The ill body’s articulation in stories is a personal task, but the stories told by the ill are also social. The  obvious social aspect of stories is that they are told to someone, whether that other person is immediately present or not. Even messages in a bottle imply a potential reader. The less evident social aspect of stories is that people do not make up stories by themselves. The shape of the telling is molded by all the rhetorical expectations that the storyteller has been internalizing ever since he first heard some relative describe an illnesss, or she saw her first television commercial for a non-prescription remedy, or he was instructed to “tell the doctor what hurts” and had to figure out what counted as the story that the doctor wanted to hear. From their families and friends, from the popular culture that surrounds them, and from the stories of other ill people, storytellers have learned formal structures of narrative, conventional metaphors and imagery, and standards of what is and what is not appropriate to tell. Whenever a new story is told, these rhetorical expectations are reinforced in some ways, changed in others, and passed on to affect others’ stories.

Arthur W. Frank The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics 1995 The University of Chicago Press

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