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Bodies and texts, spaces and borders: women re-envision breast cancer Open Access


Other title
breast cancer
medicine and literature
breast cancer art
patient narratives
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Woodman, Dorothy
Supervisor and department
Bracken, Christopher (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Keränen, Lisa (Department of Communication), University of Colorado Denver
Taylor, Chloë (Women's Studies Program and Philosophy)
Ball, Karyn (English and Film Studies
Chisholm, Dianne (English and Film Studies)
Zwicker, Heather (English and Film Studies)
Department of English and Film Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This dissertation explores breast cancer experiences by predominately contemporary American women that are creative interventions into, and re-visions of, experiences in medical and therapeutic environs as well as culturally produced post-surgical bodies. During diagnoses, surgeries and treatments, and self-reflexive considerations of their altered bodies, writers and artists locate ruptures, fragments and polysemy within apparently bounded, controlled and determined spaces, relationships and cultural discourses. They pursue the implications of such states by deploying postmodernist techniques, feminist language and metaphors, and non-western literary influences. The microcosm of a single autopathography is thereby entangled in a macrocosm of cultural engagements, movements across bodies, and material and discursive transformations. The critique and re-visioning of breast cancer in a patient narrative envisions corporeal subjectivity as mutually transforming; breast cancer discourse as a commons of shared language, narratives and practices; and breast cancer itself as an ecology of human and non-human materialities, environments and texts. I focus on four texts and four visual collections by women with breast cancer, covering a period of approximately twenty years that begins in the early nineteen-eighties. Kathy Acker and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick are avant-garde literary figures and critics for whom the material of breast cancer, together with rhetorical strategies, produces postmodern conceptions of medical experiences. Jo Spence (who is British), Matuschka, Hollis Sigler and contributors to Art.Rage.Us. create, through their unconventional images and techniques, strikingly political interventions in conventions that shape illness and aesthetics, the reception of altered bodies, the “pink campaign” ubiquitous in popular culture and private medical experiences. Janet Gilsdorf uses her medical expertise as a doctor and literary acumen to depict breast cancer as a politics of citizenship. By re-circuiting psychotherapeutic processes, “Sally” and Sedgwick each create an intimate commons of engagements with therapists, histories, relationships and texts. By using tactics and strategies, rather than developing policies and programs, the women in this dissertation produce a postmodern intervention into cultural issues saturating contemporary breast cancer that excavates and engages with an always already diverse nature of what seems to be monolithic and unassailable.
License granted by Dorothy Woodman ( on 2011-12-16T17:24:29Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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