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In this boldly intimate and intelligent blend of personal memoir, social history, and cultural criticism, Susan Griffin profoundly illuminates our understanding of illness. She explores its physical, emotional, spiritual, and social aspects, revealing how it magnifies our yearning for connection and reconciliation.
Griffin begins with a gripping account of her own harrowing experiences with Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS), a potentially life-threatening illness that has been misconstrued and marginalized through the label "psychosomatic." Faced with terrifying bouts of fatigue, pain, and diminished thinking, the shame of illness, and the difficulty of being told you are "not really ill," she was driven to understand how early childhood loss made her susceptible to disease.
Alongside her own story, Griffin weaves in her fascinating interpretation of the story of Marie du Plessis, popularized as the fictional Camille, an eighteenth-century courtesan whose young life was taken by tuberculosis. In the old story, Griffin finds contemporary themes of "money, bills, creditors, class, social standing, who is acceptable and who not, who is to be protected and who abandoned." In our current economy, she sees "how to be sick can impoverish, how poverty increases the misery of sickness, and how the implicit violence of this process wounds the soul as well as the body."
Griffin insists that we must tell our stories to maintain our own integrity and authority, so that the sources of suffering become visible and validated. She writes passionately of a society where we are all cared for through "the rootedness of our connections. How the wound of being allowed to suffer points to a need to meet at the deepest level, to make an exchange at the nadir of life and death, the giving and taking which will weave a more spacious fabric of existence, communitas, community." Her views of the larger problems of illness and society are deeply illuminating.
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Illness is often a transformative experience. In What Her Body Thought, Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet Susan Griffin describes the years of suffering and frustration that marked her battle against an autoimmune fatigue disorder. Her experience comes to resonate in her own mind with the fate of the famous 19th-century courtesan Marie Duplessis, the inspiration for both Dumas's La Dame Aux Camelias and Verdi's La Traviata (and, by extension, the 1937 Garbo classic Camille). Griffin is not the first writer, of course, to tackle the notion of disease as social epiphany--among the most notable are Norman Cousins (Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient) and Susan Sontag (Illness as Metaphor). But Griffin is a particularly fearless teacher; she writes passionately about the culture of blame that attaches words like psychosomatic to etiologies it does not fully understand. And as her disease drains personal and financial resources, she discovers how terrifyingly easy it is to become someone whom society overlooks. We have made progress since the 19th century in our understanding of health and medicine, Griffin concludes, but we have failed miserably in our social obligation to extend those benefits to all who suffer and to teach compassion to those who don't. --Patrizia DiLucchioAbout the Author:
Susan Griffin is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated A Chorus of Stones, as well as the bestselling Woman and Nature, Pornography and Silence, and The Eros of Everyday Life.
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