Recommend to your Librarian

Illness as Many Narratives

Arts, Medicine and Culture

Stella Bolaki

Hardback i (Printed to Order)
eBook (ePub) i
eBook (PDF) i

Explores the aesthetic, ethical and cultural importance of contemporary representations of illness across different arts and media

Illness narratives have become a cultural phenomenon in the Western world but their analysis continues to be framed by the context of biomedicine, the doctor–patient encounter and the demands of medical training. This reductive and instrumental attitude prevents the inclusion of more formally experimental genres, different themes and interdisciplinary methods within the field. It also perpetuates the view of the medical humanities as a narrow area of study largely serving the needs of medicine.

Show more


Introduction: Illness as Many Narratives
1. Re-Covering Scarred Bodies: Reading Photography
2. Artists’ Books in the Medical Community
3. Performance Medicine and Radical Pedagogy
4. Collaborative Film as Terminal Care
5. Messy Confrontations: Theatre and Expert Knowledge
6. Animated Documentary and Mental Health
Afterword: #Illness

About the Author

Dr Stella Bolaki is Senior Lecturer in American Literature in the School of English at the University of Kent. She is the author of Unsettling the Bildungsroman: Reading Contemporary Ethnic American Women’s Fiction (Rodopi, 2011) and the co-editor, with Chris Gair of Disability and the American Counterculture, a special issue of the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (forthcoming, 2015), co-editor, with Sabine Broeck, of Audre Lorde's Transnational Legacies (University of Massachusetts Press, forthcoming, 2015), and co-editor, with Derek Ryan, of Contradictory Woolf: Selected Papers from the Twenty-first Annual International Virginia Woolf Conference (Clemson University Digital Press, 2012).


Illness as Many Narratives is a thorough and thought-provoking analysis of the multiple ways people have tried to shape their own and others’ stories, and so find meaning in the overwhelming turmoil of illness. From the medical perspective, this book acts as a springboard for a deeper understanding of the patient experience of illness, and allows reflection on the way we as clinicians encounter and interpret the illness narratives of our own patients – in both personal and medical education contexts.
- Dr Sophie Fitzsimmons, Centre for Medical Humanities
There could be no stronger sign of the coming of age of the critical medical humanities than Stella Bolaki’s Illness As Many Narratives. A piece of artistry as deft, intricate, and steadfastly complex as the astonishingly diverse range of artworks presented within it, Illness as Many Narratives is rich scholarship in keeping with the new wave of creative explorations in care, in pedagogy, and in health and illness, a book at last adequate to their demands.
- Dr Claire Hooker, University of Sydney and Dr Scott Fitzpatrick, University of Newcastle, Australia, Centre for Medical Humantites

In this book's examples, we can see what we already know but often ignore: that no patient’s illness experience happens in a vacuum, or, perhaps even more importantly, within a medical bubble. The artistic forms are of great importance because they are related to questions of ethics and politics that explore the many "metastasised" conflicts around illness. Stella Bolaki presents the patient (perhaps for some uncomfortably so) as a complex, lively, and creative being. She convincingly works out what her "emergent narratives" can do better than other word-based narratives: they solicit dialogues and shape perceptions in a much more public and political way.

- Birgit Bunzel Linder, BMJ, Medical Humanities

Illness as Many Narratives intervenes in recent debates on the shape and direction of the medical humanities, and is at the forefront of a new emphasis on critical as opposed to instrumental or worse (!) "feel good" approaches. Stella Bolaki opens up the category "illness narrative" with smart and lucid readings of a wide variety of texts and performances not usually brought under the sign "illness narrative."

- Lisa Diedrich, Stony Brook University

Challenging the dominance of literary forms of the illness narrative genre, Stella Bolaki questions false boundaries to that field of study through a celebration of multiple ‘interloping’. This book offers an innovative, beautifully crafted and academically rigorous addition to the growing field of the critical medical humanities.

- Alan Bleakley, Falmouth University & University of Plymouth Peninsula School of Medicine