Countering Prescriptive Coherence in Narratives of Illness: Sarah Manguso’s The Two Kinds of Decay and Maria Gerhardt’s Transfer Window

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This chapter situates the concept of counter-narrative within discussions about the role of narratives and the form that they should take, in understanding, representating and communicating experiences of illness. The chapter thus outlines different perspectives within the medical humanities and narrative scholarship: on the one hand a set of cultural and generic preferences that inform a masterplot for the triumphant patient capable of telling a meaningful and coherent story about illness, and on the other, calls for representations that shift dynamics away from coherence and plot and toward the meanings of moments and episodes. Arguing that this call is an invitation for counter-narratives that resist cultural preferences, I explore how works provide such narratives: the memoir The Two Kinds of Decay (2008) by the American author Sarah Manguso and the novel Transfer Window. Stories about the mistakes of the well (2018) by the Danish author Maria Gerhardt. In texts of non-fiction and fiction respectively, the authors counter prescriptive coherence by shifting from a narrative trajectory that strives towards closure to a more segmented, episodic composition, and they resist the prescriptive narrative through triumph by utilizing form to embrace ambiguities and contradictions about what illness is and means.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Counter-narratives
EditorsKlarissa Lueg, Marianne Wolff Lundholt
Publication date2021
ISBN (Print)9780367234034
ISBN (Electronic)9780429279713
Publication statusPublished - 2021
SeriesRoutledge International Handbooks


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