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Reconstructing Illness


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About the Author

Anne Hunsaker Hawkins, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Humanities; Director, The Doctors Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine Ph.D., University of Rochester, 1978


Hawkins, an associate professor of humanities at Pennsylvania State University School of Medicine, argues convincingly that today's ``pathographies,'' or first-person written accounts of experiences with disease, are replacing the stories of religious conversion that were popular in earlier eras. She posits that each of these works chooses one of three central themes to make sense out of impending death. One theme views death and illness as a battle or journey to be undertaken; a second is framed as a quest for ``the good death''; the third posits the belief that patients can take responsibility for their own recovery. Sources such as Paul Monette's Borrowed Time and Gilda Radner's comic autobiography back up these theories, but sometimes Hawkins flits from one work to the next without lending the reader any complex understanding of them. Furthermore, the organization of the three types of pathography into separate chapters does not allow for the possibility that some books fall into more than one category. However, the observations about contemporary culture and our feelings about death and illness are plausible and intriguing, and the writing is clear. (June)

"Doctors may describe diseases and their effects from the
outside; only patients can describe them from the inside. Such descriptions,
which Anne Hunsaker Hawkins calls 'pathographies, ' take the form of vivid
personal accounts, often of journeys into a fearful realm of sickness. Reconstructing illness is a beautifully
written and profound consideration of the range of such pathographies, their
organizing myths and metaphors, and the light they cast on what it means to be
human in the face of illness."

-- (08/09/2018)

"Anne Hunsaker Hawkins's Reconstructing
is an intelligent and insightful consideration of what she characterizes
as a new literary genre."

--Times Literary Supplement (08/09/2018)

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