Nyack College Arts and Sciences News
Dr. Lux presents at American University in Paris
Dr. Elaine Lux, Professor of English, presents paper, “Fiction and the Illness Narrative: Wrestling Meaning in, and through, Hugh Cook’s Heron River” at the Narrative Matters 2014 conference at the American University in Paris. This conference brings together scholars of all disciplines — psychology, psychoanalysis, sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy, linguistics, literary studies, feminist and gender studies, education, medicine/healthcare, social work, biology, law, theology, computer science, visual studies, etc. — to reflect on the issue of the, sometimes, contested epistemic powers of narrative
Abstract: Fiction and the illness narrative: wrestling meaning in, and through, Hugh Cook’s Heron River” focuses on Hugh Cook’s beautifully rendered novel Heron River and the wrestling for meaning within it, by characters, author, and readers. It concentrates primarily on two of Heron River’s characters: Madeline and her son Adam. Madeline, middle aged, now suffers from MS. She deals with her own debilitating illness; the dementia of her aged father, who lives in a nursing home; and the challenges faced by her twenty-six-year-old son Adam, who lives in a group home because of retardation he incurred when he fell into and became stuck in a well when he was about six years old.
The paper examines the way the stories of Madeline and Adam individually and together shift from chaos narrative to quest narrative, illness narrative genres identified by Arthur Frank in The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics. Frank’s work deals primarily with autobiographical, real life narratives, with the intent of helping to create a real-world opportunity for people to tell their illness stories. This paper applies key elements of Frank’s theoretical rubric to a specific work of fiction, Heron River, as it explores the “call [of illness] for stories” in fictional formats, too, with the intent of showing that fiction can make an important contribution to the genre of illness narrative. In its exploration of the wrestling for meaning by characters, author, and readers of Heron River, the paper examines, as well, how an illness narrative on a theme of intense multiple sufferings can provide emotional enjoyment and ethical value to the novel’s writer and readers, drawing upon Keith Oatley’s ideas about the association of the enjoyment of fiction with play and with the emotional rewards of friendship and Hugh Cook’s explanation of his impetus for writing.
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