When I had to repeat the story of the X-ray that led to suspected cancer, I began to feel after multiple tellings that a voice outside of me was talking, and I was listening to that voice. I was not speaking of how I felt; I was addressing the interests of particular listeners in rhetoric appropriate to our relationships. I felt written on from the outside, but my own voice was doing the writing. ~ Arthur W. Frank (2013). p.71
One of the challenges I have with looking at illness narrative, and pathography specifically, is that things seem to need to be published as books in order to be considered pathographies. David Elpern has created an entire website dedicated to the listing and reviewing of pathographies told in the form of books.
I am a little challenged by the idea that something must be in book form to be considered pathography – or illness narrative. I think there is an issue with inherent privilege that happens when stories are required to be translated into a book. I also think there is an issue of needing to translate the illness experience into a narrative that aligns neatly with the format of a book. I think there is something lost in that translation.
I should unpack the idea of privilege first. There is privilege in telling the illness narrative in blog form, just as there is in book form. I just think that blog form is a little bit more accessible than book form is. Writing a book requires a lot more dedicate time. It requires skill. And getting a book published requires a lot of skill and a fair bit of knowing the right people at the right time. It reeks of privilege. Blogging requires privilege too – just different privilege. You don’t need to be a good writer to blog. You don’t need to be too terribly technically literate – although knowing a bit about technology certainly will help you get started. I know many people who use free blogging platforms like Blogger and WordPress.com. So, in many ways blogging has fewer barriers to entry than publishing books.
The act of converting a blog to a book feels a little like retelling of the story. As Arthur Frank says (above), it feels like you are being written on from the outside. For me there is something of the authenticity lost in the retelling. There is also the question of how much ‘fiction’ you add to the narrative in order to make it a good story. How much of the illness narrative changes when it is translated into a book?
In discussing my new dissertation topic with my new supervisor (yay), we talked about the difference between pathography as books versus pathography as blogs. One of the differences is that blogs are living documents. Books are static. There is a discrete beginning, middle, and end to a book. Blogs on the other hand may have a beginning, but they don’t really have a middle or end. Blogs stay alive as long as there is someone to continue with the writing. There is no end, until the end. Perhaps a book is a good way to talk about a “lived experience”, where a blog does a better job of describing a “living experience”?