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Friday, July 8 • 14:50 - 16:20
Session 2A: Performing Illness

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Staging Mental Illness in Life? or Theatre? - Ariela Freedman

Few graphic narratives have made the connection between stage and page more explicit than Charlotte Salomon’s proto-comic and serial narrative Leben? Oder Theatre? (Life? or Theatre), which opens with a painting of a red curtain and divides the story into three acts, outlining a full cast of characters. Rather than simple graphic autobiography, we can call Life? or Theatre? an act of self-fashioning, centrally and consciously preoccupied with the performance of identity. Salomon inserts her artistic signature onto every page, through the linked C and S that is her constant insignia. Her multimodal artwork, complete with musical cues that channel the subtitle of Singspiel, or Song-Play, explores a family legacy of mental illness and suicide in the ouroboros of the text—the circular trauma that encompasses and swallows the narrative. The story begins with the suicide of her aunt and namesake, and ends with the suicide of her grandmother. In the interim, six other friends and family members take their own lives, including her own mother, who she is told died of the flu. This is the role that Salomon is herself expected to play—in the theatre of her life, suicide is the anticipated final act, and in the bildungsroman of the story, Salomon’s challenge is to find a different way to stage her future. Life? or Theatre? explores the problem of mental illness in a fraught and dangerous era. Charlotte Salomon came of age as an artist at a time when she was told that her art and her race were both an expression of mental illness and a vector for mental illness. Ultimately, as Salomon chooses not the escape of the window but the potential of the page, she rejects the inevitability of madness, and in doing so, rejects the Nazi alignment of Judaism, modernism and madness.

Performing Illness Panel - Lisa Dietrich, Sarah Hildebrand, Andrew Godfrey 

This panel will blend the theoretical and the personal in order to reflect on “illness as performance” in graphic narratives. Calling attention to both form and function, we will analyze how the genre shapes and is shaped by the experience of being ill, and how we might more critically engage with Graphic Medicine by making our own readings more performative. If comics are indeed stages upon which authors perform their illness, how might Graphic Medicine be used as a filter through which to view and respond to other people’s experiences, as well as our own? How might the subject “become” through drawing? And how might a better understanding of the performativity of patienthood help us breakdown obstacles to care? Each speaker will present his or her work, leaving ample time for Q&A. Lisa Diedrich will explore the way the representation of illness and identity is staged through the doubling of mirrors, photographs, and other imaging technologies in the graphic narratives of Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel, and Brian Fies. Andrew Godfrey will draw on his own experiences with Cystic Fibrosis, as well as reader-response theory, to investigate reading as performance in Graphic Medicine, along with his own performances of being ill. Sarah Hildebrand will examine scenes depicting therapy within the graphic works of Alison Bechdel, Ellen Forney, and Marjane Satrapi, positing the therapist’s office as a stage upon which both patients and doctors are called to perform uncertain roles. Together, we will deconstruct the performative nature of illness, offering new perspectives on the strengths and limitations of graphic narratives in providing a stage for sharing these experiences. 

avatar for Lisa Diedrich

Lisa Diedrich

Associate Professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Stony Brook University
Lisa Diedrich is Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Stony Brook University. She is the author of Treatments: Language, Politics, and the Culture of Illness and her second book Indirect Action: Schizophrenia, Epilepsy, AIDS, and the Course of Health... Read More →

Ariela Freedman

Ariela Freedman is an Associate Professor at the Liberal Arts College, Concordia University, Montreal. She is the author of Death, Men and Modernism (Routledge, 2003) and has published articles on modernism, James Joyce, the First World War, and graphic novels in journals and collections... Read More →
avatar for Andrew Godfrey

Andrew Godfrey

PhD Student, University of Dundee
Andrew Godfrey is a PhD student in English at the University of Dundee and graduate of the university's MLitt Comic Studies program. His research focuses on the links between comics and performance within Graphic Medicine with a particular focus on liminality, the empty space, materiality... Read More →
avatar for Sarah Hildebrand

Sarah Hildebrand

PhD Student, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Sarah Hildebrand is a PhD student in English at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, specializing in the Medical Humanities. Her work examines spaces and ethics of care in 20th and 21st century graphic memoir and life writing.

Friday July 8, 2016 14:50 - 16:20 BST
Lecture Theater 1