Illness Narrative and Self-Help Culture – Self-Help Writing on Age-Related Infertility

Anita Wohlmann

Abstract


Both self-help books and illness narratives are motivated by an impulse to overcome a crisis and, simultaneously, to help others who suffer from similar conditions. In doing so, authors of self-help and illness narratives move in between polar opposites: they have both individual and collective motives, they have a desire to overcome uncertainty and achieve control and they negotiate the authority of experience versus the authority of expertise. This paper has two objectives: (1) It describes the intersections of illness life writing and self-help culture and traces the thematic, cultural and historical similarities. (2) It analyzes a selection of four autobiographical, U.S.-American self-help books on age-related infertility published between 1987 and 2009. In juxtaposing these books with research perspectives from self-help criticism and medical humanities, the paper suggests that the authors blur the boundaries between patient and expert in their attempts to achieve control over what is ultimately uncontrollable – the body. The paper closes with a reflection on how scientific discourses and the Quantified Self-movement influence self-help narratives on illness. 

 

This article was submitted on June 1st, 2014 and published on November 3rd 2014.


Keywords


autopathography/illness narrative; self-help; infertility

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5463/ejlw.3.90

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