Beyond the Subject. Vienna Conference Papers

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


  • Anita Wohlmann Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz



autopathography/illness narrative, self-help, infertility


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.

Author Biography

Anita Wohlmann, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Anita Wohlmann, Dr. phil., is a postdoctoral researcher. She currently works at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. She is the author of Aged Young Adults: Age Readings of Contemporary American Novels and Films (2014). She has also published various articles in the fields of age studies, American cultural studies, film and literature. She is currently working on an interdisciplinary research project that combines medical and autobiographical approaches and analyzes the metaphors and narratives on age-related infertility. 





Beyond the Subject. Vienna Conference Papers