What’s your research all about?
The central question of this research is: what does anorexia patients’ life-writing reveal about narrative, reading and writing practices and anorexia nervosa? This can be broken down into four key subsidiary questions:
- Why does writing about anorexia reinforce, or seem to reinforce, the anorexia illness experience?
- What part do textual consumption and individual reading and writing behaviours play in anorexia illness experience?
- How do clinical writings about anorexia nervosa and conceptions of the textbook case contribute to the anorexia illness experience, including treatment?
- (How) does the role of narrative affect the anorexia illness experience; what role does narrative play in anorexia recovery?
My project initiates an interdisciplinary analysis of narrative and reading and writing practices in anorexia life-writing, 1970-present, the texts of which both illustrate and participate in the phenomena under investigation. These include memoirs, diaries and other ways of iterating anorexia patients’ stories from interior perspectives, such as poetry and graphic narratives. This project aims to provide greater understanding of how anorexia is narratively constituted, transmitted, shaped and performed. It also aims to show how differences in the anorexia illness experience within and between anorexia life-writings provide important means to understanding anorexia treatment and recovery.
Why research reading and writing in anorexia nervosa?
In recent years, pro-anorexia has received increasing attention as a disturbing and apparently harmful network of dangerous online rhetoric promoting eating disorders. There has also been some suggestion — anecdotal, academic and in popular media — that anorexia is catching, and it has lately been suggested that alongside the longstanding arguments for the dangers of very thin models and the ubiquity of food and diet content in magazines, reading books about anorexia (especially narrative memoirs) is an especially potent hazard.
There is a long historical tradition of viewing reading as potentially harmful — that the practice of reading itself could be dangerous, or at least that particular texts could be uniquely potent in this regard, inducing illness in those who consumed them. But in the case of anorexia nervosa, there seems to be a deeper connection. For anorexia, and more broadly and enduringly the subjects of hunger and self-starvation, these pursuits draw attention for their curious relationship to writing—meaning both behaviours with textual artefacts (i.e. reading) and to the productive act of writing itself. There seems to be a special relationship between reading and writing behaviours and illness experience, including particular premorbid narrative acts: books are hoarded; obsessed over; adored; consumed in secret, like junk food. Writing is frenzied; exacting; disjointed. Literary forms and body frames are manipulated in concert, the one with the other, as if written word alone might sustain a life.
This curious relationship we see (in various forms) between literary texts and anorexia acquisition and transmission is not well understood. Thus, there is an an urgent need to gain a better understanding of reading and writing practices in anorexia.
This research is important in several ways. Perhaps most obviously, I believe that understanding these epiphenomena about reading and writing could have important implications for anorexia treatment and recovery. It could also have broader implications in related research areas, for instance in neurodiversity research or obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Additionally, anorexia research in the humanities is broadly dominated by political and cultural critiques, sociological investigations and historical analyses: this work provides and important literary-oriented intervention in the field. And lastly, I believe this work to be equally important within literary studies itself, where it will introduce new insight into ongoing discussions of cultures of reading, cultural consumption and reception study.
So, do you have some personal experience of anorexia?
Please see this page.
What breed is your dog?
Like all good research, she is interdisciplinary! She’s a Labrador/Springer Spaniel cross.