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The space between words: on the description of Parkinson’s disease in Jonathan Franzen’s 'The Corrections'

Abstract

Disability or health-related literature has potential to shape public understanding of disability and can also play an important role in medical curricula. However, there appears to be a gap between a health humanities approach which may embrace fictional accounts and a cultural disability studies approach which is deeply sceptical of fiction written by non-disabled authors. This paper seeks to reconcile these perspectives and presents an analysis of the language used by Jonathan Franzen in his description of Parkinson’s disease in the novel The Corrections. We use detailed linguistic analysis, specifically stylistics, to identify the techniques Franzen adopts to represent aspects of impairment and disability. We describe four specific linguistic devices used in the novel: reflector mode, iconicity, body part agency and fragmentation. We show how stylistics offers a unique analytical perspective for understanding representations of disability and impairment. However, we emphasise the need to promote critical and even resistant understandings of such representations and we discuss the potential role of patient/service user input to assess fictional accounts.

  • linguistics
  • medical humanities

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