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THE WOUNDED STORYTELLER by Arthur W. Frank

THE WOUNDED STORYTELLER

Body, Illness, and Ethics

By Arthur W. Frank

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-226-25992-7
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

 Meticulous explication of the significance and value of narratives of illness by a Canadian (Univ. of Calgary) sociologist who, as a survivor of both a heart attack and cancer, is himself a ``wounded storyteller.'' Seriously ill people are wounded in both body and voice and ``need to become storytellers to recover the voices that illness and its treatment have taken away,'' according to Frank (At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness, 1991). He draws on illness accounts by Oliver Sacks, Norman Cousins, Gilda Radner, Steward Alsop, and other lesser known individuals to illustrate his points. Frank begins with a fairly esoteric analysis of these stories in terms of four body types (e.g., dominating, disciplined) and their responses to various embodiment problems (e.g., control, desire). Understanding these requires assimilating a rather daunting vocabulary: ``The dominating body shares the qualities of dissociation and lacking desire with the disciplined body, with the crucial difference that the dominating body is dyadic.'' More accessible is his discussion of the three basic narratives into which he categorizes illness stories: restitution narratives, in which the ill person is restored to health; chaos stories, in which life never gets better; and quests, in which the illness leads to new knowledge. For each type of narrative, Frank describes its powers and its limitations. He is deeply concerned with what he terms the pedagogy of sufferingwhat ill people have to teach society. Although illness stories can make a contribution to medical decision making, their value in Frank's view is not in clinical adjudication but in personal becoming, in addressing the question of how to live a good life. Too academic to have wide appeal, but worthwhile for students of ethics, medical and otherwise.