A Journey into the Shadows
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This challenging and provocative chronicle of an illness reaches far beyond the author's symptoms to incorporate the romance of Camille, a child's abandonment, the body's relationship to nature and to history, money, poetry, the environment, democracy, and the loss of a certain kind of consciousness. Griffin (The Eros of Everyday Life: Essays on Ecology, Gender, and Society, 1995, etc.) has been called "a great visionary" by some critics; she clearly has a vision, but one that resembles a Moebius strip more than a straight line. For instance, she argues that the body, as well as the mind, retains both personal and social history. So-called psychosomatic disease is not the body acting out the mind's repression, but a teamwork approach as it were, as the body "thought, felt, and expressed everything that my mind did." But, Griffin points out, insurance won't pay for a psychosomatic diagnosis. This was of no little consequence to her, since her diagnosis, CFIDS (chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome), a true viral infection with debilitating symptoms, bore the stigma of the earlier "Yuppie disease," chronic fatigue syndrome. Unable to work, at times unable even to get out of bed, Griffin envisioned terminal poverty and herself as a victim of the mercantile body, consumed by consumption. Hence, she explores the life of another woman who died from consumption, Marie de Plessis, courtesan extraordinaire (fictionalized by Dumas as the Lady of the Camellias and famously portrayed by Bernhardt, Garbo, and Callas), whose tubercular deterioration paralleled Griffin's own decline. Her survey of Camille's history in Paris also opens inquiries into shame, medical care, money, and death, and loops back at last to the author's alcoholic mother. Narrative chapters are interspersed with poetic stanzas. Close reading of this deceptively simple itinerary from Berkeley to Paris is required; stay with it—an extraordinary number of ideas from, birth to earth, are plowed and seeded.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: ---
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco