Medical Narratives of Ill Health
The field of literature and medicine has been steadily growing over the past four decades, solidifying itself as a vital component of the medical and health humanities. The intersection of literature and medicine enriches how we view issues of health, disease, and care, particularly in how we value the individual’s narrative of health and ill health to help with diagnosis, treatment, and the relationship between the practitioner and the patient. In an attempt to wade through the difficult terrain of defining disease and health, Kenneth Boyd provides the following medical definitions (adapted from Marshall Marinker’s earlier work): “Disease […] is the pathological process, deviation from a biological norm. Illness is the patient's experience of ill health, sometimes when no disease can be found. Sickness is the role negotiated with society” (Boyd, 1997). What Boyd reveals about these definitions is that one allows for the individual’s experience of ill health (illness), while the other two rely on others’ perceptions of ill health. Thus, he concludes, a clear definition of disease (and even sickness) is elusive: “to call something a disease is a value judgement, relatively unproblematic in cases when it is widely shared, but more contentious when people disagree about it” (Boyd, 1997). This contentious space has widened during the modern medical era (early nineteenth century to the present day), as medical reliance on technology favors an objective identification of disease. However, literary works, through both personal accounts and fictional scenarios, challenge this singular narrative of disease and ill health provided by the medical community.
For this special issue of Humanities, we seek to explore how literature from the early nineteenth century to the present day engages with and challenges modern medical authority when it comes to understanding disease, illness, and sickness. Papers for this special issue of Humanities should focus on narratives—fictional and/or non-fictional (such as medical realism, science fiction, pathographies, medical reports, etc.)—that explore the … read more