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The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  340 ratings  ·  28 reviews
In At the Will of the Body, Arthur Frank told the story of his own illnesses, heart attack and cancer. That book ended by describing the existence of a "remission society," whose members all live with some form of illness or disability. The Wounded Storyteller is their collective portrait.

Ill people are more than victims of disease or patients of medicine; they are wounded
Paperback, 231 pages
Published May 15th 1997 by University Of Chicago Press (first published 1995)
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4.03  · 
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 ·  340 ratings  ·  28 reviews

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Emma Sea
Mar 15, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf, i-own-it, kindle
this is a pretty good time capsule of the medicalization of embodied experience in the early 1990s.

"Just as political and economic colonialism took over geographic areas, modernist medicine claimed the body of its patient as its territory, at least for the duration of the treatment. “When we’re admitted to a hospital or even visiting a doctor . . . the forms ask for ‘Patient Name.’ We stop being people and start being patients. . . . Our identity as people and the world we once knew both are re
Kayla Rausch
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is a powerful insight into the way we understand how our body tells the story of our illness. Frank's insight into the way we use narrative power to give voice to illness that plagues our body is a beautifully written approach to narrative medicine. If you have any interest in the way we talk about our own medicine narratives, this book should be number one on your list.
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is most directly relevant for medical ethics involving ill people talking story to tell modern medicine what it cannot know. His use of narratives strongly supported my understanding of his argument. His overuse of new typologies made the reading slightly tedious, but I will be able to use his terms, so I am grateful for them, in order to broaden the situations of suffering the body speaks and witnesses to torture and incarceration. He briefly mentions torture, and though it cannot be compa ...more
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
A really interesting book that I took a lot of notes from, in which Frank, who had previously written about his experience with cancer, returned to collect illness narratives. There's a notion that the main form of narrative regarding illness in western culture is 'restitution narrative' - I was healthy, I am ill, I will be healthy again - but where does this leave those in the 'land of remission' or those who will not be healthy again (and become a productive member of society). Written from a ...more
Jun 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Arthur W. Frank’s The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics is not a craft book for writers. It is a meticulously constructed, yet elegant and impassioned, examination of the centrality of storytelling as a way of deriving and communicating meaning, by and among individuals. Frank, a sociologist as well as a cancer and heart attack survivor and memoirist, concerns himself with the stories people tell when serious illness disrupts a life story, severing the present from a past that was s ...more
Dec 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Frank hacks into the grimy, unspeakable corners of personal experience in the face of horrendous natural evil. This is an in-depth exploration of different "narratives" that are drawn on by people who experience illness.

I tied this book into an exploration of the phenomenological experience of illness, bioethical conceptualizations of suffering, and read it along with Mike Nichols' 2001 film "Wit" (starring Emma Thompson). The film and the book complement each other wonderfully. I'm not sure wh
Josephine Ensign
Jun 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book gets better on re-reading. Parts are dense and academic, but most of it is accessible. Provocative is mostly how I would describe it. My 'working copy' of the book is now dog-eared and green sticky-tagged throughout. His later chapters on the quest narrative and on testimony stand out as particularly well-written.
Apr 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because it's cited by everyone who studies health and narrative. It was a good read though it took me a while to get through. The chapter on the Quest Narrative was probably my favorite since it's most relevant to the work I'm doing. If you're interested in medical memoirs, it's a must-read.
Jan 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Useful categories for thinking through and creating narratives of illness.
Glenn Martinez
Proposes that wounded bodies are also wounded in voice. Illness narratives are therapeutic in that they allow the "body-self" to articulate and make sense of the interruptions caused by illness.
Sep 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
I use this as a text in a class I teach for a BSN nursing program and it works quite well.
Jonas Stage
Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Earlier this day I went to a workshop with Arthur Frank in Copenhagen, Denmark. The workshop was about the use of narratives in health practice and research for people with life-threatening illness.

As a way of preparing myself for the workshop I decided to read the ‘Wounded Storyteller’. I was familiar with Franks concepts of the quest-, chaos- and the restitution narrative beforehand, throughout my study of sociology. But I wasn't quite sure why we need to tell other people's stories. More accu
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Frank has a really nice tone to his writing that is remarkably easy to engage with even when dealing with difficult subjects like illness or heady subjects like storytelling. The narrative themes and conceptual ideas that Frank works with in this book are straightforward and easy to understand, and he does a fantastic job showcasing their implications through extended discussion and apt illustrations. I don't know that I would ever say the book is fun to read, but it is engaging and thought-prov ...more
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Frank writes about how ill people -- or those who can serve as witnesses to the land of illness -- tell their stories. He writes about the competing narratives of doctors and patients, agency and/or healing that can come from writing about experiences with illness, and the importance of listening carefully to the testimonies of ill people in order to empathize and truly hear their experiences.

I was surprised by how much I loved this book, and how much I related to it because of my own experience
Ann Michael
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a reader with an intellectual bent--psychology, sociology, anthropology, neurology, postmodernist theories, philosophy, literary criticism and theory, etc...I read and learn from such texts. They're not always quick, easy reads.

As a reader who has fairly recently had to find her way to live with physiological challenges (chronic and degenerative), I'm seeking insights and wisdom.

As a writer, I've long believed in the value of story/narrative as not necessarily a method of healing but certainl
Bruce Campbell
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Dense, fascinating, and important. Did I say dense? Frank draws on dozens of sources from Aristotle to Riceour to Lorde to Parsons to Nietzsche to Sacks, to describe how the ill create narratives to cope with their illness. He shows how the healthcare system is modernist while patients are often postmodern, setting up a therapeutic dissonance. You'll learn a new "language" along the way: We all aspire to maintain a Communicative body type pursuing a Quest narrative where we accept illness as a v ...more
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A really, really important read for anyone who deals with illness regularly, or is interested in exploring perspectives about illness.

A bit difficult to read/follow at times, but overall, an incredible and important project.
Chris Nagel
The butler did it.
Sep 20, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
Prescribed text for study.
Corinne Natasha
Sep 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: death
This was a slog. It's graduate-level sociology and very difficult to relate to real-world situations.
Aug 30, 2013 rated it liked it
I picked this book up hoping it would assist me in writing my own memoir, but it didn't. Instead it was almost like reading a scientific study into the writing voices of people who are ill. While it might be interesting to study those behaviors, that kind of reading is not really my cup of tea. That being said, the Preface rocked and I thought, this book is going to be great. Not! I loved this one sentence that the author wrote - it really resonated with me: "The Wounded Storyteller is a surviva ...more
Apr 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: embodiment, writing
When I started reading it, it reminded me a lot of discourse in the 90s, not only by the references, but as well in its way how to analyze and similar also how Frank refers to the body and embodiment. Only near the end he breaks through the body/mind barrier and attests its breakdown in and through illness.

He carefully works on his concept of story telling, which he distinguishes from the breakdown of the meta narratives, but defines as essential source of agency in and for the ill body/mind. Fr
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
If you ignore the embarrassing cover and try not to pay too much attention to the gushy North-American style that Frank uses, this is an interesting and potentially empowering read. In quite a Nietzschean manner, he explores how sufferers can appropriate their illness and re-tell it in the form of a "story" (very 90s). Telling your story to someone else forces you to give it some sort of shape; you have to acknowledge your illness and present your thoughts about it to someone else. This allows y ...more
John Capecci
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Regardless of when this was written and the theoretical frames of post-colonialism or postmodernism it explores, this book underscores an enduring truth: people who have experienced illness or disease (or trauma or adversity of any form) frequently are urged to speak their stories either for healing, renewed sense of self or--what I find most interesting--as a form of advocacy and agent of change. Frank's definition of "the communicative body" and characterization of the wounded storyteller as " ...more
Andrew Griffith
Oct 09, 2012 rated it liked it
I enjoyed his earlier book recounting his experience with cancer, At the Will of the Body. The Wounded Storyteller is heavier, with some interesting themes of dichotomies (he uses Control, Body-Relatedness, Other-Relationships, and Desire as his frame), as well as reinforcing the importance of storytelling for the ill person to assert their identity as they go through the healthcare system, whether through restitution (getting better), chaotic (chronic) or the quest (transformation) form of stor ...more
May 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a book you can just pick up and breeze through, but extremely insightful and highly recommended.
Dottie Bossman
Nov 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is a fascinating examination of a genre.. it also happens to be inspirational, since the author is himself one of the wounded storytellers.
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