Published accounts of personal illness are easy to find in the contemporary United States, some might say too easy. We encounter them in books, magazines, and films, in vast quantities online, and even compressed into 140 characters on Twitter. The general willingness to disclose information about sickness would have been unthinkable a century ago. American and British literature, for instance, is virtually silent on the topic of the 1918 flu. But seventy years later, an outpouring of memoirs about AIDS established the illness narrative as both a popular and literary genre. It has, in turn, inspired memoirs about disability and, more recently, genetic risk. In this talk, Professor Jurecic will discuss the emergence of narratives about illness and embodied experience during the twentieth century and consider what cultural work these narratives do. She will also examine contemporary memoirs about genetics and genomics and ask how the stories we tell about health, illness, risk, and the self are evolving as our understanding of humanity is transformed by personal DNA testing.
Ann Jurecic is an Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University.