Depathologizing the diseased body, creating alternative knowledges: Chicana and African American women's epistemologies of critical illness




Gutierrez, Christina

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This dissertation recognizes states of critical illness as potential pathways to distinct and even subversive counter-knowledges. I focus specifically on illness narratives by selected Chicana and African American women writers, arguing that these texts articulate epistemic reconstructions of Western medical scientific knowledge and of white heteropatriarchal productions of a "mythical norm." A connecting theme that joins all the narratives together is the desire, or perhaps more accurately, the urgency to heal. And while the authors considered in this dissertation do express hope for restored bodily health, the healing processes and paradigms they enact through their narratives extend beyond their corporeal survival. For Gloria Anzaldúa, Gabriela Arredondo, Lucille Clifton, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, and Ire'ne Lara Silva, whose lives before illness were profoundly structured by their raced, gendered, sexed, and classed subjectivities, healing acquires personal, spiritual, political, and community-based resonances. That is, their narratives capture the ways in which the experience of illness wrests them from any semblance of stability or cohesion and thus forces them to shift perspectives, to redefine in their own terms their relationships to their bodies and their conceptions of self. The illness narratives featured in this dissertation reveal the authors' intimate experiences with critical illnesses, concomitantly documenting their physical and psychic suffering and, as I show, their development of new and alternative knowledges. These new knowledges, what I name epistemologies of critical illness, emerge from the disruptive presence of illness and from the ensuing work of redefining and reclaiming the diseased body. I use "epistemologies of critical illness" as an umbrella phrase to refer to the counter-knowledges communicated across the multiple texts addressed throughout this dissertation. However, this is not to propose a monolithic or generalizing epistemological paradigm that erases the particularities of each author's experience with illness. As I demonstrate in the chapters that follow, the authors articulate epistemologies of critical illness that, in many ways, intersect and can be placed in dialogue with one another. Equally important and productive, however, is to note where these epistemologies diverge and to position them within the different genealogies that inform their development. Therefore, each chapter situates the authors' respective epistemology within their unique vision of the world that draws from and reflects their personal and political ideology.


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African American, Chicana, Disability Studies, Feminism, Illness Narratives, Women's Studies