Treatments, Introduction: Diablog Part 1


Hey Reina and everyone! I hope you're all well, especially in light of this somewhat gloomy reading about deadly illnesses.

Anyways, I thought I'd open open our diablog discussion by covering the introduction through the first two chapters. I'll provide a summary of each in separate blog entries and after each I'll provide a little subsection with connections made in the readings between chapters and authors, and with questions and comments about each chapter that we might use to structure discussion on Tuesday. I thought perhaps we might best carry out our dialogue through comments under our blog entries.


In the Introduction to her work Treatments: Language, Politics, and the Culture of Illness, Lisa Diedrich states:

"I explore the ways that illness narratives can be read as symptomatic texts of our time in at least two respects: as texts that literally describe symptoms (and struggle with finding a form to describe the affective and physical experience of symptoms), and as texts that describe illness as an event that goes beyond any particular individual's experience and account of it, reflecting wider cultural categories, including race, gender, class, and sexuality," (vii).

In the first sense of reading memoirs of illness as the struggle to describe the affective and physical aspects of illness, Diedrich wants to explore the prospects of "the gap" between "words and things," expressing the lack of words to make "accurate" or truthful representations of things. In particular, she wants to move toward an exploration of the prospects of the act of writing as a negotiation of such a gap, as an "art of self making" (borrowed from Foucault's "technology of the self" as an ethical act) that utilizes both language and sensory experience to produce both effective and affective change and experiential histories (as indicated in the second sense of reading memoirs of illness as events which go beyond one's personal experience). She asserts that the utilization of experience through the particular art of self making that is the memoir form is not always simply being an act of fishing for pity and attention. Rather, it is not only useful to the healing process of those with deadly illnesses, but in effecting political change that addresses the hegemonic subjectivities of patients and figures of authority in the medical industrial complex along the lines of hegemonic categories of sexuality, class, race, and gender, to name a few.

Diedrich goes on to describe the interdisciplinary nature of her engagement with memoirs of illness:

"In her book Ghostly Matters, Avery Gordon quotes Ronald Barthes on interdisciplinarity: "Interdisciplinary work, so much discussed these days, is not about confronting already constituted disciplines (none of which, in fact, is willing to let itself go). To do something interdisciplinary it's not enough to choose a subject, a theme and gather around it two or three sciences. Interdisciplinary consists in creating a new object that belongs to no one" (Gordon, 1997)," (vii-viii).

I find this quote from Gordon (from Barthes) compelling, as it seems to reflect the nature of that with which Diedrich is struggling in her book and expressed in her first sens of reading memoirs of illness as the negotiation of the gaps inherent in the attempt to represent some "thing." The negotiation of the ill person between boundaries of health/illness, patienthood (victimhood)/warrior (agent), and across hegemonic social categories seems to be an experience that does not, shall I say, make one feel comfortable in one's own skin. Rather, it pushes one to the limits of what can endure, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and politically, and confronts one with the limits of their own mortality. Diedrich contends that the "art of being ill" that memoir is a part of is a radically transformative practice, both for those writing memoirs and those reading them. Thus, it seems an interdisciplinary approach is the only approach for an engagement with such transformative material, as Barth implies that interdisciplinary work is all about confronting head-on the limits of one's own knowledge and ways of knowing, not to bolster a comfortable sense of owner ship in one's own disciplinary field, but to develop common ground that negotiates distance and creates new languages.

Diedrich deplores the backlash wave of condemnation of memoirs of illness she cites as being all too common in contemporary criticism, and seems baffled by accounts of experience-based writings and performances as "unmediated self indulgence and self pity." Such works, she insists, are hardly unmediated, and to reduce them to self indulgence denies their effective and affective characters and doings. She disagrees with the idea that one cannot judge a piece of writing or performance art that deals explicitly with personal experience, as one would then be forced to judge a person or a person's illness. She cautions that:

". . . to judge a memoir is not to judge a life but to judge a representation, which is always partial and contingent, and determined as much by the reader and what she brings to the text as by the author," (xvii).

Diedrich goes on to explain what she means by memoirs of illness being "effective and affective histories." To do this, she quotes Foucault's (borrowed from Nietzsche) definition of an effective history:

"The problem and the stake [of writing about topics in which Foucault had personal experience] there was the possibility of a discourse which would be both true and strategically effective, the possibility of a historical truth which could have a political effect," (64)," (xvii).

While Diedrich wants to highlight the political and ethical efficacy of memoirs of illness after the fashion of Foucault, she also realizes that Foucault's ". . . work sometimes fails to provide a theoretical and methodological model for reading experiences of loss such as those articulated in illness narratives. . . It is necessary, therefore, to do affective as well as effective history in order to grasp the ways in which the breakdown of the body that occurs in illness provides a phenomenological reduction of of sorts that allows one to look anew upon that which one has formerly taken for granted, in terms of one's relationship to the world, to others, and to the self," (xviii). Thus, "By doing both effective and affective history I approach the figure of the ill person and the writings that emerge out of the experience of illness from, in the terminology of Elizabeth Grosz, both the "outside in," and the "inside out," (xviii). Diedrich uses this terminology to describe the movement in illness narratives between a movement in "(the embodied self in relation to itself and to death) and a movement out (the embodied self in relation to others. . .," (xix).

At the end of her introduction, Diedrich alludes to her proposal of "an ethics of failure" which she develops in the final chapter of the book. She asks, "What aesthetic, ethical, and political practices must we invent to communicate across this incommensurability [between the idioms of medicine, among other things]?" (xxiii). She describes this ethics of failure as the persistence in the face of unknowingness and literal failure, the seeking of new routes, methods, and connection when old ones have died or collapsed. In this gesture, Diedrich hopes to revalue both loss and failure, ". . . the idea that we are fallible, that we get things wrong, that we might not be able to do, [etc.]. . .," (xxiii).


-What might be the challenges of "judging" a memoir, and how is "judging" understood here?

-Diedrich alludes to the effective and affective history of the illness narrative as going beyond one's self and one's own experience of illness. Later she cites Audre Lourde's book The Cancer Journals where Lourde says that her political work around breast cancer and women's health comes both before and after herself. What happens to the self in this understanding of a/effective histories, and what happens to the way personal experience is understood?

-I'm interested in exploring the interdisciplinary nature of "technologies of the self," and the "art of doing illness," through memoir. Thoughts, anyone?

-Where do you suppose the "backlash" against personal, experience based work comes from? What about work done through personal experience produces discomfort? What can be made of the tensions between the neoliberal obsession with self-responsibility, the backlash against the form of memoir, and the politicization of patienthood?

-Can we queer or stir up Diedrich's explanation of the movements from the "inside out" and from the "outside in?"


Hey Chloe. Since there is a lot going on throughout Diedrichh's I just wanted to comment on the judgment conversation from the intro. I was intrigued by her definition of "judging" in that she is saying thats it is not about judging a life but a "representation" of that life. (I am assming she is implying that there is often not a language to accurately to speak of these illness narratives.) But I was struck by her comments that although illnes narratives and memoirs are often inaccurate they are still necessary. Why do you think she might think they are necessary? And if they are inaccurate, what is at stake here? I was thinking of this with regards to our discussion of judgement and death, that we had a few weeks back. What do you think?

Hey Reina. Sorry you couldn't find me on twitter. I haven't really tweeted this semester.

In response to your comment about Diedrich's use of the term judgment, earlier in the introduction Diedrich is trying to draw out some tensions within the Romantic idea that one is somehow possessed by art, or by writing, which she explains when she discusses the unenthusiastic response of an art critic to a political artistic performance about AIDS that explicitly referenced the artists own experience being HIV+. (Wow, super run-on sentence). Not only do I think she is criticizing the Romanticist idea that one is "possessed" by one's art, which implies that there does exist a "pure" sort of expression or form that unilaterally communicates something, but also that this sort of approach doesn't engage with art or memoir as a doing with political and social usefulness, which is what Diedrich is interested in exploring. So, I think the importance of judgment for Diedrich comes from the recognition, not only is there an inherent gap between words and "things" but also to judge an illness memoir as being "bad" for example, is not a judgment of a person who is being actually represented through language, but is a judgment of what a memoir is doing, as an act of writing, not a possession by writing.

I would be interested in seeing what people have to say about any connections between "judgment" in the Diedrich and the discussion we had about judgment and death, as well. I'm not sure about that myself. . . thoughts? Did you have something specific in mind, Reina?

Well, I should note that I wasn't thinking about the critique of judgement as in being "possessed" by art. I guess I have to think about that part a little more. For me, it seems to be the case tha anytime we discuss any reading-not only I. This class (I am also guilty of this) there tends to be a sense of judgement about what the author did and didn't do well enough precisely because of the political and social usefulness that Diedrich is tryin to point to...does that make sense? I think the gaps that she is addressing between words/things "experience" and recognition, are what I am interested in questioning...she states that these narratives are necessary although often inaccurate...I guess I'm grappling with that part. so the gaps are inevitable and contribute to inaccuracy, yet are necessary for the narratives. Idk...
And for specifics, I'm thinking mostly of Chavez and Cacho, but I'm sure there are more.

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