This article suggests that some illness experience may require a reading practice less concerned with narrative coherence or self-authorship, and more interested in the value of textual fragments, episodes and moments considered outside a narrative framework. Chronic pain can pose multiple challenges to the narrative orientations celebrated in both ‘survivorship’ discourse and classic medical humanities scholarship. In its recalcitrance to cure, its often mysterious aetiology and its complex blend of somatic, interpersonal and affective elements, representations of chronic pain can require a richer vocabulary of temporality. I draw on contemporary affect theory to augment the available critical vocabulary for the textual representation of protagonists’ temporal orientation within illness experience, identifying a language for the emergent present that resists a narrative form. Beyond identifying narrative ‘incoherence’, affect discourse gives a way to recognise the strained, equivocal labour of incoherence, of inhabiting a cryptic present moment. Affect theory’s attention to the emergent present may give a way to read incoherent ‘chaos’ outside from a narrative framework, not only as a dark, formless stage in a personal story. To expand our vocabulary for this position, I offer a term for a particular affective experience of the present amid repeated marginalisation: the temporality of thwarted connection. I illustrate how these concepts can enable an alternative reading stance by offering a brief analysis of Lous Heshusius’s hybrid autobiography and academic study, Chronic Pain from the Inside Out.
- literary theory
- literature and medicine
- narrative medicine
- pain management
- patient narratives
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Contributors SW is the sole author.
Funding This research was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (grant number AH/P015085/1), as part of the research network Translating Chronic Pain.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Correction notice This article has been corrected since it was published Online First. Author’s acknowledgement has now been included.
Presented at Part of this paper was presented as a plenary address at the Discourse of Identity II conference in June 2016.