On Being Ill Virginia Woolf

It’s hard to write about the body.  Even when that is the intention setting out.  Even though we live in a time that the boundaries of “too much disclosure” have once again been stretched. If I air an complaint or talk about pain it quickly sounds whiny or hysterical.  Or I’m exposing my weak mind and lack of character and control.  In writing and in living, how do I find a heroic model of endurance to follow?  Another hindrance leaps up:  the body is riddled with negative messages about shape and size, the ego’s lack of well being and freedom from the chronic pain I’m currently stuffing.  The body has secrets.  It has it’s own room which we call the bathroom.  Perhaps we should call it the bodyroom!  Incorporating the body into writing, noticing when we use its metaphors, and honoring it’s own wisdom is a great start for the practices of living in 2015.  Below are some thoughts on it from Virginia Woolf and Leslie Jamison.

From Virginia Woolf’s On Being Ill”:

“…strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature. Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia; lyrics to toothache. But no, with a few exceptions … literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear, and, save for one or two passions such as desire and greed, is null, and negligible and non-existent. On the contrary, the very opposite is true. All day, all night the body intervenes; blunts or sharpens, colours or discolours, turns to wax in the warmth of June, hardens to tallow in the murk of February. The creature within can only gaze through the pane—smudged or rosy; it cannot separate off from the body like the sheath of a knife or the pod of a pea for a single instant; it must go through the whole unending procession of changes, heat and cold, comfort and discomfort, hunger and satisfaction, health and illness, until there comes the inevitable catastrophe; the body smashes itself to smithereens, and the soul (it is said) escapes. But of all this daily drama of the body there is no record.”

Leslie Jamison: “On Being Ill” isn’t just making a case for illness as a literary subject, but for the brute, bare fact of the body itself. By insisting we acknowledge that we sweat and crave and itch all day (“all day, all night”), Woolf reminds us we have the right to speak about these things—to make them lyric and epic—and that we should seek a language that honors them. The man who suffers a migraine, she writes, is “forced to coin words himself, taking his pain in one hand and a lump of pure sound in the other.” What does it sound like, this strange, unholy language of nerves and excretions? How do we articulate the kind of pain that refuses language? We throw up our hands, or we hurl our charts: one through ten, bad to worse, from the smiley face to its wretched, frowning cousin.

an interesting resource:  http://www.bookslut.com/nonfiction/2012_12_019693.php


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