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EN2M4/EN3M4 Sick Imagination: Illness, Disability and the Critical Medical Humanities

This 15 CAT module (likely to run in Term Two) will introduce you to the rich creative and critical work in medical humanities and disability arts, thinking about what literature, lifewriting, film and graphic fiction might offer to the understanding and critique of the practice of medicine and conceptions of illness and disability. The module spans the twentieth and twenty-first century, investigating medical humanities writing from as early as 1926 and as late as 2022, but it concentrates its attention on the last twenty years, introducing recent work and theory in relation to physical disability, chronic illness and severe mental health conditions. It also encourages you to think not only about the psychological, phenomenological and social dimensions of illness and disability, but also the new forms of creativity, art and narrative that such experiences have produced.

In the wake of Covid-19, issues such as chronic illness and mental health have gained new complexity and greater prominence in the social and cultural landscapes. You will explore new writing and answer questions about how language and form can hope to represent such subjective and non-normative experiences as pain and psychosis, as well as thinking about how to create narrative about experiences that frustrate traditional linear story-telling, such as chronic illness, or terminal illness. You will learn new theoretical and critical skills useful on other modules, as well as participating in research-led teaching at the forefront of a rapidly developing field. Experiences and identities of illness and disability are of course intersectional, and the module will foreground the intersections of illness and disability with race, gender, sexuality and age.

This module has big ambitions -- we will in our collective work contribute to the cutting edge of the field of critical medical humanities, expand current understandings of the corpus of illness and disability literature and culture, and explore new forms for representing, expressing and examining experiences of non-normative embodiment.

**This module would complement the 15 CAT IATL module 'Navigating Psychopathology' (likely to run in term 1) very well, if students are looking for something to pair it with: Navigating Psychopathology (

An illustrative syllabus is below (some of these will be excerpts):

Week 1

Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor (1978): Chapters One and Two

Arthur Frank, The Wounded Storyteller (1995): Chapter Three: 'Illness as a Call for Stories'; Chapter Five: 'The Chaos Narrative: Mute Illness'

Weeks 2 to 3

The Big 'C'

Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals (1980) [memoir/ political essay]
Anne Boyer, The Undying: A Meditation on Modern Illness (2019) [critical memoir]

Anne Hunsaker Hawkins, Reconstructing Illness: Studies in Pathography (1998)

Weeks 4-5

Chronic Narratives

from Hilary Mantel, Giving Up the Ghost (2003) [autofiction/memoir]
from Sarah Manguso, The Two Kinds of Decay (2008) [memoir]
Sarah Rose Etter, The Book of X (2019) [YA sci fi fiction]
Tessa Brunton, Notes from a Sickbed (2022) [graphic novel]

from Kathlyn Conway, Beyond Words: Illness and the Limits of Expression (2007)

from Meghan O'Rourke, The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness (2022)

Weeks 7-8

Disability, Performance, Identity

The Endgame Project (production of Samuel Beckett's Endgame by movie actors with Parkinson's Disease) (2021) [play/documentary]
Terry Galloway, Mean Little Deaf Queer (2009) [memoir]
from Keah Brown, The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me (2019) [essays]

Ato Quayson, Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation (Columbia UP, 2007)

Matt Hargrave, Theatres of Learning Disability: Good, Bad or Plain Ugly? (Springer, 2016)

Eli Clare, Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999)

Weeks 9-10

The Land of Enlightenment: Experiences of Psychosis and Delusion

from Marguerite Sechehaye, Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl [clinical memoir] (1951)
from Esmé Weijun Wang, The Collected Schizophrenias (2019) [essays]
Janet Frame, An Angel at My Table (1984) [memoir]
Jane Campion (dir.), An Angel at My Table (1990) [film]
Lodge H. Kerrigan (dir.), Clean, Shaven (1993) [short film]

Angela Woods, The Sublime Object of Psychiatry: Schizophrenia in Clinical and Cultural Theory (OUP, 2011)

Matthew Broome, 'The Neuroscience, Psychopathology, and Philosophy of Time', Philosophy, Psychiatry, Psychology, vol. 12, no. 3 (2005): 187-194

Stephen Harper, 'The Suffering Screen: Cinematic Portrayals of Mental Distress', Madness, Power and the Media (Springer, 2009): 59-102


Essay (3000/4000 words)

Critical bibliography (800 words) -- descriptive bibliography of sample entries for an anthology: an affirmative collection of writing on illness and/or disability.

The Collected Schizophrenias

Notes from a Sickbed : Brunton, Tessa, Brunton, Tessa: Books