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

  • Author / Creator
    Woodman, Dorothy
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2012
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Keränen, Lisa (Department of Communication), University of Colorado Denver
    • Chisholm, Dianne (English and Film Studies)
    • Zwicker, Heather (English and Film Studies)
    • Ball, Karyn (English and Film Studies
    • Taylor, Chloë (Women's Studies Program and Philosophy)