On Being Ill (in Britain and the US): Illness Narratives of the Self


  • Franziska Gygax English Department University of Basel



Illness narratives, pathographies and autopathographies, have been published in recent years in great number and so have critical studies on the cultural and social constructions of illness and on the impact such texts have on the writer and the reader. Yet few studies have analysed cultural differences between American and British illness narratives and addressed the issue of the different tradition of confessional writing in America and in Britain. In my paper I want to explore potential cultural differences between selected British and American illness narratives and focus on the specific ways in which the suffering self is constructed: How do the sick autobiographers theorize the act of writing about their illness? How do they represent themselves as authors and patients? How are the deteriorating body and impending death represented in these texts? My discussion of the suffering self will rely on Emmanuel Levinas and his concept of self and other that has influenced theories of affect studies, a field that also addresses notions of self and otherness. As the three British and also the three American autobiographers have all been acknowledged writers before the publication of their illness narratives, the aesthetic impact of these literary texts must be discussed as well since these narratives go beyond the personal experience of an illness.

doi: 10.5463/ejlw.2.42

Author Biography

Franziska Gygax, English Department University of Basel

Professor of American Literature