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01 March 2021
Orientation and Recognition in Contemporary Illness Narratives
This special issue of Prose Studies aims to explore the critical possibilities of Phenomenology for illness narratives. Phenomenology, as a critical perspective, provides an especially adequate framework for illness narratives, as it deals particularly with one’s embodied situatedness. The phenomenological concepts of ‘recognition’ and ‘orientation’ function as useful critical lenses to reveal the cultural mediation of illness narratives on the issues of illness, pain, death, but also survival and resilience.
The phenomenological notion of ‘orientation’ derives from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception (1945), and is later taken up by Sara Ahmed in her Queer Phenomenology (2006), where she aims to develop the relevance of the concept of ‘orientation’ for queer studies and within phenomenology itself.
The dynamic nature of ‘orientation’, as the notion refers to the space in between bodies and objects, involves one’s position in time and space, and its double-sidedness lends to useful approaches to interpret contemporary narratives of illness where bodily engagement with the world acquires multiple forms that deal with orientation, dis-orientation and re-orientation. Then, ‘orientation’ is pivotal for illness narratives where bodily intentionality, that is, the physical directedness towards objects and bodies in space and time is essential (Ahmed 2006).
In turn, ‘recognition’, as defined by Rita Felski (2008), is associated with “affective orientation” (18; emphasis added), that takes place in the act of reading, a dynamic interplay between texts and readers. Felski develops four modes of engagement in contemporary reading practices (recognition, knowledge, enchantment and shock), calling for “a phenomenology of reading” (18), her own contribution to “neo-phenomenology”. Felski highlights phenomenological “attentiveness to the first person perspective” (17) in embedded and embodied narratives. In this sense, the concept of recognition lays bare the dialogical mode of contemporary illness memoirs, as well as help us elucidate the social and cultural mediation of illness narratives.
In this critical context, contemporary illness memoirs such as Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air (2016), Hilary Mantel’s Giving up the Ghost (2003) and Ink in the Blood: A Hospital Diary (2010), Jenny Diski's In Gratitude (2016), or Olive Sacks’ Gratitude (2016), to name but a few, artfully bring the reader into the reading/writing dynamics of the author's self-reflexive embodied experience of illness. Also, these writers negotiate and re-orient themselves between embodiment and disembodiment, life/survival and death, showing a heightened interest in the materiality of the world through the persistent presence of relevant objects in their narratives. Thus, we need to further investigate the need for recognition on the part of the readers, or, in other words, what it is that authors demand from readers in terms of acknowledging their new embedded and embodied realities of illness.
We would welcome submissions that will open up questions about the problematics of textual engagement in the dialogical mode of contemporary illness memoirs from the perspective of ‘orientation’ and ‘recognition’.
Some of the questions that might be addressed (but not limited to):
-What are the main phenomenological concepts, following Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, among others, used in contemporary critical theory?
-How does Sarah Ahmed’s concept of ‘orientation’ apply to the experience of illness? How does ‘orientation’ relate to Felski’s concept of ‘recognition’?
-How can we approach contemporary illness memoirs through the critical lens of the concepts of ‘orientation’ and ‘recognition’?
-How are illness memoirs received and interpreted by contemporary readers? What impact do they have on contemporary perceptions of illness and disability?
-What are the strategies of re-positioning, re-orientation and/or dis-orientation in the textual engagement with an illness narrative?
-What is the role of materiality and objects in illness narratives in relation to the concepts of ‘orientation’ and ‘recognition’?
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Deadline for abstract submissions: 15 September 2020
(acceptance will be communicated before November 2020)
Deadline for full-manuscript submissions: 1 March 2021
Expected date of publication: September 2021
**This initiative is part of a research project that deals with key critical concepts to interpret contemporary literatures in English (more information in https://orionfiction.org/).
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