Sunday, January 25, 2009

Narratives and visualizations of health, healing, and rebirth

Narratives are the stories that we create to construct our identities...who we are...and sometimes who we would like to be. Narratives played an important role in my thesis research as it was the stimulus material used to assess people's willingness to become an organ donor. These narratives ranged from short to long, stories of death and dying, to stories of rebirth. Never had I really thought about the complexity through which such stories were developed nor the significance that such retelling of one's story might have. These narratives we re collected from people who had had experiences with organ donation either from the donating side wherein a family member had to make the tough decision to donate a loved one's organs or from the recipient side wherein the individual received another's organs or lastly from the perspective of an individual that is still waiting for a life-saving transplant. All narratives were compelling but some narratives in particular stuck out given our recent readings for Culture and Health.

In looking back on the narratives that were collected I saw much variation in the stories of recipients. One might think that recipients might have a similar story to tell; they waited for a transplant and one faithful day they got a phone call that a match had been found, but the story is not that simple. If our narratives that we create help us to create our identity and define ourselves, it is quite interesting to look at what aspects of the transplantation experience gets incorporated and left out of the overall narrative. Stories ranged from completely and utterly gruesome to very clean and politically correct. One of the things that I found quite interesting was the choice of whether or not an individual included the story of their donor in their narrative. For obvious reasons, some people may know more about their donor than others but on the whole I found it interesting that some people elaborated on the lives of and gratitude they had for their recipients. A question came to mind. What makes one adopt or not adopt another's story into their own narrative of health and healing? I am very interested in the language used to discuss the joining of lives through the narrative and what that means for the recipient and the donor family. This language seems to take on the qualities of rebirth and the afterlife for some as donor families talk about their loved ones living on through the act of donation. For those who do not express this same amount of gratitude, how much different do they see their personal narrative before and after transplantation? How does one's identity change through transplantation and how is that manifested in the narratives we tell?

In thinking about the chapter in our Postcolonial Disorders text at first I was a bit confused as to why this chapter was included in the mix given the four previous readings I'd done for the class. Initially I thought that this artistic display had little to do with narratives in the context which they were previously being discussed. However, after examining the graphics and reading the descriptions and explanations the artists gave about there work it all made sense to me. These artists were using visual narratives to express their frustration and concern with the political unrest of their region. Without words we could see the pain and heartache, the anger and frustration, yet at the same time the hope for a new day and change to come under a new democratic rule. In a sense these works of art could be seen as narratives about the health of Indonesia. These visual narratives spoke perhaps with even more strength than do many of the narratives that we recount verbally. Which is the more powerful narrative, the visual or written narrative? What can we learn from these different narratives about the identities that people construct or fight from constructing in times of turmoil? These are a few things that I was left pondering.


Lala said...
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Mohan J. Dutta said...

You bring out this important observation about the role of performance in the realm of culture and health. As a strategy of communicating, what kinds of avenues does performance open up? The representation of health and illness narratives through art offers an alternative entry point for entering in dialogue with the dominant rationalities of health communication. Aesthetic rationalities offer us with modes of evaluation that consider the meaning of art as an epistemological tool.

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