The project that I’m working on during my summer fellowship aims to develop a new approach to illness narratives through an investigation of the intersection of pain and exile. Here, the specific focus is the artistic development of the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta, during her stay in Iowa City as a graduate student and teacher, and how she communicated the pain of exile and displacement in her ritual performances. This project includes a website called After the Illness that includes information about the work developed during the project and about its progress. This platform will give more visibility to a topic that is central to Iowa City identity, that of exile, and the consequences of exile. It will also make this information more accessible to the public. Moreover, the website will allow me to bring the discussion on the pain of exile into conversation with the contemporary by offering a timely consideration of the role of the Internet and blogs in the discussion of pain. I intend to extend the polemic begun on the website into an original work of literary scholarship. The research conducted in this project would become part of my new book After the Illness, which explores the intersection of pain, illness, and exile.
Pain can be described as one of the most universal cultural phenomena. Nonetheless, perceptions of pain and the treatment of it have varied across the ages. It is through society’s norms and values that pain is culturally obtained and placed. It is not difficult to identify extreme cases where cultural norms dictate what are acceptable and unacceptable pains. While certain pains, such as chronic or some forms of psychological pain, are expected to remain silent, others – grief and mourning, for example – are required to be displayed in public. Through a collection of archival material, personal experience and the experiences of authors and artists like Ana Mendieta, Robert Walser, Camille Claudel, Virginia Woolf, and Sylvia Plath, this project – After the Illness – considers the hierarchies of pain and the different types of speech and silence that surround the body in pain. The project rests on the premise that history is not restricted to the past; rather, it is a forceful presence that never ceases to have an influence over generations of family members.
- To establish an innovative and interdisciplinary approach to exploring narratives of pain and illness, which will result in the creation of one book.
- To share the material produced, via poetry readings, seminars, conversations between writers and historians of pain, and an interactive website, thereby helping to increase public understanding of pain.
The first few weeks of work have been very productive and exciting, as this is a project that has been for a long time in my head and the Studio Summer Fellowship program has offered me the time and space to focus on it. My original intention when planning this project was to use the months of the fellowship to write a series of short talks and essays that would lead to the creation of an interactive website. In the first week of work, I realized it was too early in the project to do this and so I decided to divide the project into two phases. First, I have decided to create a WordPress that I understand as a digital archive and online draft of the book. Once the book is ready to be published I will transfer the data into an interactive website called After the Illness, that would allow me to bring the discussion on the pain of exile into conversation with the public. So far, I’ve been familiarizing myself with WordPress as well as conducting research on Ana Mendieta and writing short talks. I have introduced other historical actors in the project already, thus I’ve been conducting research on Virginia Woolf, Camille Claudel, and Marguerite Duras and putting their voices in dialogue.
What I’ve been thinking the most about these past weeks, in terms of what it means to do a Digital Humanities research project, is how I could approach digital platforms and software in a way that would provide me with new avenues to my own research and writing. With no background in digital methods, I had the sense that there is a “normative” way of approaching WordPress or building a website. It has been enriching to discover the freedom that the digital medium offers and to learn to use these platforms in a way that enhances my research and writing. Ultimately, when working on this project I’ve been thinking about how to create a sense of solidarity between the reader and the different historical actors of the book in an effort to make different audiences understand the difficulties with which sufferers and their families are often confronted, and relieve the shame associated with experiences of pain and suffering.