The theorizing of the body has differentiated our knowledge of changing attitudes towards embodiment. As a history of the embodied self, the genre of literary autobiography fulfills various cultural functions. More specialized genres of autobiography have emerged from the 1980s onwards, which focus on experiences of illness and ageing. In this seminar, we will examine a variety of illness memoirs, so-called ‘pathographies’, on cancer, AIDS as well as on more recently emerging texts on the Covid-19 pandemic. As another variant of somatic life writing, the ‘age memoir’is often also a narrative of loss and grief. One of the premises of this seminar is that embodied life writing is inevitably gendered and the choice of texts reflects this insight.
A reader with shorter texts will be provided for the seminar. In preparation, please read Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals (1980) and Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life (2013).