The Body, (Anti)Narrative, and Corporeal Creative Practices


About the Cluster
How do we story embodiment? The relationship between narrative and the body continues to trouble feminist, queer, critical race, and disability studies. The question is all the more vexing in the case of unruly, challenging, non-normative and/or crip bodies in the throes of extreme experiences of change, pain, or illness.

Approaches to the body/narrative problematic have tended towards one of two positions: either that profound bodily states exist prior to, or in a destructive relationship with, language (e.g. Scarry 1994; Woolfe 1926); or, that the ability to cast the body into story is essential for those who experience disability, illness, pain, and trauma (e.g. Broyard 1992; Jackson 2014). In the former approach, the focus of the critic or artist inevitably turns to the ethics of witnessing. Knowing that we cannot know the pain of another, what is the status of our accounts of human suffering from routine illness to torture? To paraphrase Susan Sontag, herself a somewhat contradictory commentator on narrative and the body, for whom do we regard the pain of others (1978; 2003)? In the second approach, narrative takes on a kind of instrumentality beyond itself and questions revolve around what a story does, either for individuals or communities. A telling example of this perspective comes from literary critic Anatole Broyard, who remarks in his memoir about life with the cancer that would eventually cause his death, Intoxicated by My Illness, “The patient has to start by treating his illness not as a disaster, an occasion for depression or panic, but as a narrative, a story. Stories are antibodies against illness and pain… To die is to be no longer human, to be dehumanized — and I think that language, speech, stories, or narratives are the most effective ways to keep our humanity alive” (20).

We contend that there is much to learn from all of these works. Rather than reproduce their argumentative agonism, however, our cluster moves into a terrain less concerned about the veracity or social circulation or therapeutic value of narrative, and more about the corporeal practices of creative life and its audiences.

Principal Investigators
Micah Perks, Literature (Creative Writing)
Irene Lusztig, Film and Digital Media
Megan Moodie, Anthropology

Faculty Participants
Jerry Zee, Anthropology
Savannah Shange, Anthropology

Graduate Student Participants
Courtney Kersten, Literature
Kirstin Wagner, Literature
Nathan Osorio, Literature
Angie Sijun Lou, Literature
Kiley McLaughlin, Literature
Elana Santana, Feminist Studies
Katie Gougelet, Anthropology
Jessica Madison, Anthropology
Karina Ruiz, LALS


February 24, 2020: Mania Akbari – A Moon For My Father 

February 19, 2020: “Unrest” Film Screening

November 21, 2019: Living Writers – Peg Alford Pursell and Sophia Shalmiyev