Sociologist Arthur Frank delivers the Sue Eckstein Memorial keynote address at the 2014 Comics & Medicine conference on the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus. This address was sponsored by the Brighton Sussex Medical School and is introduced by Ian Williams of Graphic Medicine dot org.
Lecture Description: When Bodies Need Stories in Pictures
In my 1995 book, The Wounded Storyteller, I asked when do bodies need stories, especially ill bodies. Back then, graphic novels were scarcely on my radar, and certainly not as illness narratives. Today, some of the most compelling writing about illness experience is in the graphic-novel form, complemented by a new generation of physician writing about a side of medical practice that was rarely given public expression in the last century. This lecture contrasts prose representations of typical illness experiences with graphic-novel representations in order to ask what might be the unique possibilities of each; for example, how does a storyteller convince readers in different formats; how is a scene made real? Based on these somewhat formal considerations, I want to get to what has always mattered most for me: why does humanity need representations of suffering; what distinct forms of witness can different representations provide; and what responses do differnt representational practices call forth?
Arthur Frank is professor emeritus in the Department of Sociology at the University of Calgary. His first book was a memoir of his own illnesses, At the Will of the Body (1991, new edition 2002). He then wrote a study of how people narrate their own illnesses, The Wounded Storyteller (1995, second edition 2013), complemented by a book on the ethics of clinical relationships, The Renewal of Generosity (2004). His most recent book is Letting Stories Breathe, about how stories affect our lives. In 2014 he will give invited lectures in Sweden, Norway, England, Spain, Portugal, and be Resident Fellow in Canadian Studies at UCLA. His interests include narrative bioethics, clinical education, and healthcare practice, especially end-of-life care. But, in whatever venue–all it’s ever really about is saying something that helps somebody make better sense of a life that’s become troubled.