Heroes, Storytelling, Tragedy: Opening up the Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid

Email jep40@cam.ac.uk for 40% Book reduction & Teachers’ notes for Literature Cambridge online courses:

*Odysseus the Storyteller, Weds 6 – 7.30pm UK time 5th Oct.-Nov.2022 https://www.literaturecambridge.co.uk/book-classical/course-odysseus

*The Aeneid Weds 11 Jan.-8 Feb.2023 [How] does Virgil translate Homer’s heroes? https://www.literaturecambridge.co.uk/book-classical/virgil-course

BOOK The Iliad and the Odyssey: The Trojan War: Tragedy and Aftermath Review Journal of Classics Teaching bit.ly/3R0TdV9 ‘ideal companion to Homer and his heroes’ Professor Barry Strauss, Cornell


Book Summaries, analysis, key word sections, ‘Layers’, ‘Others’ Stories, Women’s Stories’

‘Heroic Values, Heroic Values’, ‘Heroic Bonds: Hektor and aidōs, the Wrath of Achilles’

‘Waiting for Odysseus’, ‘From Calypso to Phaeacia’, ‘Odysseus’ Stories’, ‘Return to Ithaca’

Index A People of the Iliad and Odyssey; Index B Greek Key words; Index C Themes and Contents


‘The World of the Hero’: good title for the A Level Homer and Virgil course book but my teaching notes are all about different worlds – Troy citadel, Greek camp, Calypso’s island, Ithaca, Carthage, the Underworld, site of Rome.

And such different heroes, heroes’ mentality, values!

All layered into dramatic narratives with shifting perspectives, where the battlefield is a place of glorious endeavour and bloody waste, where a Hektor and an Aeneas can fight for heroic status yet be trammelled and trapped; where the founding of Rome can both beckon but also cost, where the enthralling storyteller become a bloody revenger.

Iliad– some key words running through narrative, for discussion:

Troy as a testsite of aretē? What is aretē?!

A Day in the Life, an aristeia (time of being first, pre-eminent) of a typical hero – Diomedes’ comic and tragic encounters in Book 5

Is kleos aphthiton, undying fame, worth dying for?

What is the story of the ‘Wrath, mēnis, of Achilles’?

Paris v Hektor shamelessness v bounded by shame aidōs

Valuing (?) women – Chryseis, Briseis, Helen as geras (material correlate, prize)


Everyone knows Odysseus’ stories, but what about Odysseus as a storyteller? How does he answer the challenge to all xenoi, guests, once rested, that they explain who they are and how their experiences have brought them here – tis pothen (who are you and how did you get to be that?)

How does he measure up to the ‘gold standard’ that he applies to the Phaeacian Bard, that he shapes his material kata kosmon, according to the [beautiful] order of things, and kata moiran, according to the shape of things, destiny.

And what about those whose stories he enters – Nausicaa, Calypso, Circe?

When Odysseus is landed back on Ithaca, he tells the disguised Athena a long ‘Cretan Tale’. Athene is overjoyed at his tricksiness, his subtlety, his alikeness to her – his ‘flexible presentation’ (poikilomētis) or ‘conman’ skills – but wonders that he does not rush to the Hall to his wife and son.

Instead he initiates a series of tests, adopting the persona of the ‘absent judge’ of folk story, returning to test and judge those he left behind. Meanwhile Penelope sets up a series of challenges for the Suitors and the unknown Stranger: she is Odysseus’ like-minded ‘other half’: homosphrosunē.

AeneidDoes Aeneas get lost in translation?

At the start of the Aeneid, Augustus’ circle would hear Aeneas entangled with one of the great figures of literature – Queen Dido: a sympathetic figure but one created out of Calypso and Cleopatra. Aeneas constantly loses himself in translation – whereas Calypso, although complaining to Hermes about male gods’ anti feminism, works with Odysseus to send him on his way, Aeneas when alerted by Mercury to his forgotten mission, sneaks away without facing Dido.

And whereas Hephaistos crafts armour for Achilles, now, to die in, with all the beauty, joy and variety of the social and agricultural year, Aeneas will have to go into battle with Augustus literally on his shoulder.  

Whereas Odysseus ends reunited with his life partner, Aeneas starts with losing his wife and city, is forced to leave his new found partner and kingdom and ends with the young fiancée of his enemy.

Most of all, his – and Augustus’ – preeminent quality, that of pietas, claimed and restated by Aeneas time and time again, even when replaying Achilles’ killing of priests and suppliants, chimes with and brings a dark resonance not with mēnis/furor-ridden Achilles but with the always [over] observant, aidōs-bound Hektor.

The Aeneid ends with a big question: will it end on an act of charis, graceful reciprocity, respecting the suppliant (Priam/Turnus) as the Iliad, or will Aeneas, seemingly for the first time, replay nothing but act agentively, in his own right?

Bridging, not minding, the gap [between Classics and Classical Civilisation]

via Class Civ A Level teaching with glossed texts; some theoretical and practical considerations

Classics for All, Teaching Classics, the OU’s Classical Studies OpenLearn and so many other wonderful outreach programmes are offering a start for those wanting to learn Latin and Greek.
The Classical Civilisation A level similarly inspires in introducing students to so many facets of studying the ancient world. And of course that opens up those many disciplines whether focussing on Classical or other cultures.
But as someone who fell instantly in love with the Greek language at school and who annually introduces my 3rd year English students to Greek texts’ linguistic structures, I’m here proposing that the Homer Virgil The World of the Hero A Level compulsory component be a bridge into Classics courses if teachers – especially perhaps literature teachers – can teach it as a ‘Comp. Lit.’ subject.
But it needs an understanding that what’s needed to teach these texts is ‘good enough’ language, using – and able to communicate the inspiration of – prepared texts glossed with key words.

1 Glossed Texts, Reading Through Translation and the Question of Good Enough Language

2 Reading Through Translation: theoretical framings

3 Classics v Classical Civilisation

4 What is ‘good enough’ language acquisition?

Glossed Texts, Reading Through Translation and the Question of Good Enough Language
The question, what would an aim of ‘good enough’- rather than expert, proficient, insufficient – language skills raises the question: good enough for what?
Short answer – Good enough language not to read the Greek, not to be able to construe the text’s grammar and syntax but to read through, not in translation.
Specifically, to read a prepared translation which allows ‘keyholes’ into the Greek text: “glossed texts”, releasing the reader imaginatively and practically from being confined to the intercultural as well as interlingual interpretation that is ‘the translation’.
Eg Iliad or a Greek Tragedy sections glossed with key words with some suggested ideas:
Heroic bonds
aitios (responsible), aitia (reason, cause) philos (one’s own and so ‘dear’), charis (reciprocity, grace, graciousness), timê (price, honour)
aidôs (shame, sense of shame; sense of respect for others & others’ claims)

Dikê and other Cosmic Explanatory Models in the Oresteia
dikê [retribution/Right/right/Justice/redress]
Fate: moira (the shape of things), kêr (perhaps spirit of death, doom, peprômenon (what has been laid down) tuchê [chance], anagkê [necessity]
erinus, plural Erinues /Eumenides – daimons/spirits of vengeance
koros [excess prosperity]; hubris[outrageous behaviour/attitude, getting above oneself]; atê [destruction]
phthonos [both human & gods’ envy and the force in the cosmos that brings down man when he ‘gets above himself’]
Emeritus Professor of English Literature David Hopkins, University of Bristol, said of my Iliad and Odyssey, which contained such glossed texts:
‘The book will be extremely useful for students and readers at all levels and of all ages coming to Homer. .. The book seems to me to be, in effect, three books in one: ….
2. A ‘glossary’ of key terms, clarifying Homer’s psychological and moral assumptions, which are often very different (at least on first acquaintance) from those of many modern readers. These sections of the Homer book are particularly valuable, since they preserve the key Greek terms in the original language, and render them in ways that make clear how susceptible they are to a range of meanings, rather than being easily translatable by one-word English equivalents. They go as far as is possible to make ‘Greek ways of thinking’ accessible to non-Greek readers: a new approach which makes your book particularly valuable.

Reading Through Translation
(see my contribution as ‘the Classicist’ to the Modern Languages Association of America (MLA) Ad Hoc Committee Working Party )
I proposed and now teach using ‘Reading Through Translation’ prepared texts. For we proposed that various traditional disciplinary divisions – reading in the original vs reading in translation; literal vs free translation; language learning for study vs for cultural enlightenment, Classics vs Classical Translation… – to be invidious as well as outdated. For ‘translation’ is not a text but an imaginative interpretative practice; by keeping key issues debated and played with and on in the original language rather than rendered univocal by an authoritative text, reading through translation aims to open up the ‘original’ text in various ways so that we can discuss key issues in the text, issues that resonate with and affect modern readers. The argument in my ‘Framing Ideas from Classical Language Teaching, Past and Future’ is that the reason to engage with Classic texts is that they affect audiences now as then and that it is for the modern reader to do the imaginative work of ‘translating’.
Domestication vs Alienation
Venuti, the founder of Translation Studies, proposed that there were two operations in translation which is not only an interlingual but an intercultural act: domestication or alienation. In domestication, the world – not just the words – of the text is translated (Barthes talks of translating Brot into pain ); Antigone in Polly Findley’s National 2012 production of Antigone is set not in Thebes but in a modern office.) Domestication brings the world of the text to the world of the reader.
Alienation works in the opposite direction: it insists that it is the reader or audience who must make the imaginative journey, as William Radice said in his tribute to Betty Radice, the founder of Penguin Classics ‘A translation should not lift the reader out of the ancient world but immerse him in it; and the reader must be prepared to think himself imaginatively into that world’.
But the texts that I work on, teach and think with: Classical epic and Greek Tragedy, present an extra problem, containing as they do both alienating and domesticating dramatic effects: – Hecuba describes herself as standing forever as the Queen of Troy, as forever the highest now brought lowest (as in the medieval wheels of fortune, presided over by Hecuba Regina) but every reader relates to her as the grieving grandmother. Medea appeals for sympathy for all time to the state of womanhood:
“Of all the living things, of all those things that have a soul and a sense, we, yes we, the women, are the most pathetic!….”(Medea 214-66)
but uses male active verbs; she cries as any mother at what she describes as the necessity of killing her children but describes that overwhelming necessity to be that of exulting over her enemies. We relate to her both as a woman in a recognisably impossible situation and are alienated – sic – by her barbarous history and her exit on the godwalk. For a Greek protagonist is deinos – awe-ful, awesome, out of nature exceptional; he or she is a figure of myth, with stories told and retold from a previous culture that the Greeks of the Classical Theatre of Dionysus would both recognise and be alienated by.
So, translating ‘the world of the play’ has to present a text that is both recognizable, familiarizing but also alienating.
There is a second aspect, a second dynamic – that both Homer and Greek tragedy contain what I call ‘a dramaturgy of disturbance’ – not only an alternating or simultaneous affect of alienation and recognition but also of problematising sympathy – for such as Helen, Iliad book 3, eg – and problematising alienation – for an Antigone, eg, who is rebarbative, seemingly obsessive and, as Ismene so justly observes, for someone claiming that the only claim on her is that of philia (kin bond), she is remarkable un –philial to her living sister and fiancé.
The third aspect made accessible and discussable by glossed texts is the tragic issue at play:

* What happens to a central Greek tenet: like the necessity of philein philous echthairein echthrous when put into the mouth of a fallible Greek ‘hero’?
* Or the Iliadic language of Medea’s debate with her thumos (1045-64)?
* Or Hippolytos’ claims to sōphrosunē, problematically variously translated throughout the play (innocence, virtue, chastity etc)
It is for each reader to answer…if they have access…

Classics v Classical Civilisation
I am here concerned with teaching Classical Literature, not teaching ‘Classics’ as a research discipline, although the Modern Languages Association of America (MLA) Ad Hoc Committee Working Party Report: Critical and Intercultural Theory and Language Pedagogy did not so distinguish: we reported that ideas of fluency and mother tongue facility were problematic for all language learners, both as failing to attend to the intercultural aspects and benefits of the act of translation and as disempowering.
The Working Party suggested that certain language course objectives should be rethought, with ‘good enough’ language acquisition the aim rather than the utopia of ‘native’ or ‘mother tongue’ proficiency. But, good enough for what? We pointed to an unexpressed aim of college language teaching to be ‘mother tongue’ proficiency; formally by definition impossible, vitiating, disempowering and also not thinking about why students might want to take on the challenge not of ‘going native’ but of exploring from a position of difference another culture’s texts. The MLA Working Party concluded that the all important primary objective for US language study should be, ‘good enough to comprehend that other languages inscribe ideas and values differently from one’s mother tongue’.

What about Classical languages, long attracting by their otherness and by their otherness from each other?!
Long story short, after interviewing many learners on post school Classics’ courses I recommended that the division between Classics students – language haves – and Classical Studies – language have nots – could be rethought along the same lines.
For in the minds of students wanting to read Classical texts there was a similar image of what Iris Murdoch called ‘seamless facility’: ability to read Classical texts ‘fluently’. That canonical texts can be picked up and ‘just read’ (and also that problems reading the text are the student’s inadequacy). I have long argued that this, like ‘mother tongue’ is, if not [o]utopian, at least largely misguided: implying that the objective is render the text ‘transparent’ to the fluent linguist. (Transparency, as suggested by Benjamin, being a desire for ‘pure communication’/ unembedded, pre-Babel ‘pure’ language: reine Sprache. )

What is ‘good enough’ language acquisition? (As with the MLA Working Party,)
Teaching Final year Classical texts to students with no classical language but fine close reading skills as I do, my answer is, good enough to understand the play of the text especially around key issues, the destabilising effect of the texts’ dynamics and affect.
To have a sense of the Greek texts we work on together as multi-layered, multifaceted, coming down to us – now bound canonically in an Oxford Classical Text, a Loeb or Classical translation series, established and stabilised by 2 millennia of scholarship – rather, as fragments of texts passed down over generations of oral performance and heard, experienced and responded to in performance.
And all importantly to have the confidence and tools to be able to raise and explore questions for themselves rather than seeing a secondary work or commentary as providing the answer.

LAST CALL! FOR SUBMISSIONS: Religion and Collection conf.

This is a CALL-OUT FOR SUBMISSIONS in the area of religion and
Deadline Tuesday 01.03.22
The Religion, Collections & Heritage Group, launched in 2020 will be
holding its Inaugural Conference as a hybrid virtual and live event in London,
June 2022.
We are now opening our call out for submissions;
We invite you to give a presentation, run a practical session or offer a site
visit of your space, collection or archives.
RCHG’s first Conference aims to provide something for all the huge variety of
people concerned with religion and collections.
We are looking for applications in these four broad themes, from which the
conference will be selected:
– Museum and Gallery Collection
– Archival and Research
– Audiences
– Creativity and Curation
If you wish to express interest in being involved please send a 250 word
proposal and single attachment and/or weblink.
We welcome both individuals and representations from institutions.
Some of the questions to which the conference could perhaps seek to suggest
answers, include:
• How can we tell the world about the exciting things in our modest little
• How can a big, traditional, Art Gallery better explain the religious side of its
• How does our space or collection engage new audiences?
• Can our collection help local Religious Education teachers?
• What (affordable) techniques could we use to display our collections better?
• How could our collection contribute to interfaith understanding?
• How does religion relate to social history?
• How can we learn more about the ‘religious’ meaning of our objects?
• What contribution can religious collections make to wider scholarship?
• How does religion relate to diversity? Can our collection contribute?
For more information please contact Rosalind Parker on
Religions, Collections & Heritage Group

Seminal AHHE Special Issue:Humanities & the Liberal University: Calls to Action & Exemplary Essays

Special Double Issue: Humanities and the Liberal University: Calls to Action and Exemplary Essays

A Special Issue of writings from and inspired by:

 Arendt, Attridge, Barnett, Bhabha, Clarke, Deegan, Derrida, Evans, Heaney, Kanter, Mandela, Moltow, Ndebele, Nussbaum, Stimpson, Strathern, Tagore, New Voices and Editors.
*How do we defend the Humanities?
*How do we stave off anti-liberal agendas?
*How do we make our universities fit for [liberal] purpose?

Our answer has always been, by our writing – advocating and illuminating the values inherent in and produced by our ‘skill-ful’ meaning-making practices – on campus, in the virtual classroom, in the community. We founded AHHE to publish exemplary writing about the place and purposes of the Arts and Humanities in and as higher education: discipline-transforming case studies, essays, New Voices (as here):

Table of Contents

*Introduction:How do we defend the Humanities? Jan Parker
*Editorial: Calls to action for the Arts and Humanities in the US, Donna Heiland, Mary Taylor Huber, and Response, Martha J Kanter
*Liberal values at a time of neo-liberalism, Mary Evans
*‘This ever more amorphous thing called Digital Humanities’: Whither the Humanities Project? Marilyn Deegan
*Imagining the humanities – Amid the inhuman, Ronald Barnett
*The Humanities without condition: Derrida and the singular oeuvre, Derek Attridge
*Innovation or replication? Crossing and criss-crossing in social science, Marilyn Strathern
*Music and consciousness: A continuing project, David Clarke and Eric Clarke
*Exploring religious identity through the arts: A call to theologians, Rosalind Parker
*A poem in a medium not of words: Music, dance and arts education in Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan, Matthew Pritchard
*Pedagogical symmetry and the cultivation of humanity: Nussbaum, Seneca and symmetry in the teacher–pupil relationship, David Moltow
*Bathing in reeking wounds: The liberal arts, beauty, and war, Catharine R Stimpson
*‘Something adequate’? In memoriam Seamus Heaney, Sister Quinlan, Nirbhaya, Jan Parker
*Love and politics: Sister Quinlan and the future we have desired, Njabulo S Ndebele
*The evil of banality: Arendt revisited, Elizabeth Minnich

The Humanities without condition AHHE article by Derek Attridge

The Humanities without condition: Derrida and the singular oeuvre

by Derek Attridge

In an important lecture on the function of the Humanities, ‘The University without Condition’, Jacques Derrida asks what it means to ‘profess’ the truth and advocates a commitment to the oeuvre – the work that constitutes an event rather than just a contribution to knowledge. I examine a few phrases from the lecture, focusing on questions of the unconditional, the ‘as if’, singularity, the future, and the impossible. (more…)

Emma Barnard: An Artist’s Perspective into the World of Medicine

Illustrations for the Arts and Humanities in Higher Education Medical Humanities Broken Narratives & the Lived Body Special Issue blogs come from Emma Barnard:

 a London based visual artist specialising in lens-based media and interdisciplinary practice and research within Fine Art and Medicine

Emma Barnard – ‘Profecta est Tableau Latin – duo’

Primum Non Nocere: An Artist’s Perspective into the World of Medicine

Her solo retrospective exhibition Primum Non Nocere, focused on the patient experience at Berlin Blue Art Gallery.

In a blog article for the British Medical Journal’s Medical Humanities blog http://mh.bmj.com/, Emma Barnard wrote about her solo retrospective exhibition: http://blogs.bmj.com/medical-humanities/2017/08/31/primum-non-nocere-an-artists-perspective-into-the-world-of-medicine/

‘Without your medical file you don’t exist within this environment’. I will never forget those words, spoken to me by an ENT Consultant at what was the beginning of several years research as an artist into patient experience. This led me to the writings of French philosopher Michel Foucault and his book The Birth of the Clinic. It is said that Foucault coined the term ‘medical gaze’ to denote the dehumanizing medical separation of the patient’s body from the patient’s person or identity. Already at one of the most vulnerable times in their life, the patient can sometimes be viewed by their consultant as their diagnosis rather than as a person.


CType Photographic Print, 2013

I felt led to do my small part as an artist in offering patients a voice. After observing the consultation I invite the patient into another consulting room and discuss how it feels to be them: right here, right now. I’ve now spoken to hundreds of patients from various departments. Every single person has answered that question differently, often surprising the consultant when they are shown the patients’ drawing afterwards. During the consultation process patients’ show little emotion; it’s quite difficult to read how they really feel about the impact of the words spoken during the clinical encounter.

So many different patient stories flood my mind as I write this. I witnessed a patient who was without their larynx and therefore communicated through writing to ask the doctor how long he had to live, he needed to get ‘his house in order’. I still have that writing as a powerful testament. In our current climate, with the richness of many different languages being spoken and the issues that this situation may pose when there is no one to translate, how much more difficult must it be when a person is unable to use the ‘voice’ that they are born with?

Patients facing life-threatening illnesses are heroic; they have allowed me to witness the brutality of a treatment that is intended to cure them, from surgery, through to radiotherapy, chemotherapy and subsequent complications that may arise from being the recipient of these. I am constantly humbled by their generosity in allowing me an insight into their world, but also their sheer courage when faced with a diagnosis that rocks their very existence.

This work has now grown to encompass the surgeon’s view, the patient pathway, the surgeon/patient dynamic, and to include the experience of being a doctor in a busy outpatient clinic. The following images contain snapshots of the doctors’ experience in clinic between patients.


As an artist working collaboratively with doctors I feel privileged to have been given a fascinating insight into the field of medicine and I have a huge amount of respect for them, the work that they do and the immense pressure that they are under.  In their 2002 presidential address, neurosurgeons Stan and Raina Pelofsky write: 

Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre suggested that alienation occurs when we divide the world into two distinct parts: the ‘true’ world of science is on one side, and the ‘flawed’ world of human perception is on the other. It’s as if we try to strip ourselves of human values in order to understand this perfect scientific world, and we begin to substitute science for meaning. But science alone is empty, and it threatens to separate us from our human connections…we neurosurgeons may become separated from our patients through our use of new technologies, by the hassles of our professional lives, or by lack of time. This in turn makes us isolated.

We might think to ourselves: We are the doctors – they are the patients. They are sick – we are healthy. We are objective and scientific; they are objective and emotional. This is a form of alienation and we have to understand it if we are to find ways to soothe it and become connected to our patients and to the essence of medicine.

FULL ARTICLE AT http://blogs.bmj.com/medical-humanities/2017/08/31/primum-non-nocere-an-artists-perspective-into-the-world-of-medicine/

Representing Trauma: Broken Narratives in film, photography & music

AHHE-17-1 Special Medical Humanities Issue: Representing Trauma; Honouring Broken Narratives

‘I am tired from all of these feelings’: Narrating suffering in the film Sick                      by Senka Božić-VrbančićRenata KokanovićJelena Kupsjak

This article explores ‘the politics of sentimentality’ with specific reference to the documentary film Sick, which represents the narrative of a young lesbian woman, Ana, who was confined in a psychiatric hospital in Croatia and ‘treated’ for her homosexuality. We consider the ways our most intimate emotional relationships and states, such as pain and suffering, articulate with a wider context of familial citizenship and critically examine the political limits of compassion within the sentimentalised public sphere. In this analysis, we problematise the film’s emotional logic, which presents an individualised narrative resolution at the expense of dwelling on the political question of institutional violence. We examine the role that politics of sentimentality plays in neutralising the film’s political critique of the state apparatuses (psychiatry and family) that enforce heterosexual norms.

Mental illness within family context: Visual dialogues in Joshua Lutz’s photographic essay Hesitating beauty by Agnese Sile

The status of photography within medical arts or humanities is still insecure. Despite a growing number of published photographic essays that disclose illness experience of an individual and how illness affects close relatives, these works have received relatively little scholarly attention. Through analysis of Joshua Lutz’s Hesitating Beauty (2012) which documents his mother who was suffering from schizophrenia, this article will explore how the photographic essay attempts to reconstruct a dialogue between mother and son out of fragmented, broken and undeveloped communications, and in the process how it challenges representation itself, on which it is dependent. The focus of the analysis is on identifying and illuminating the intimate space that opens between the photographer and the photographed person and that provides new forms of communication as well as uncovers existing forms of knowledge that is shared between them. This paper will also assess the political and cultural significance of such representation.

Music as post-traumatic discourse: Nikolay Myaskovsky’s Sixth Symphony
                   by Patrick Zuk

This essay explores ways in which musicologists might extend work undertaken by humanities scholars in the interdisciplinary field of trauma studies that has highlighted the centrality of traumatic experience to modernist creativity. It is focussed around a case study of a musical composition that represents the emotional aftermath of a traumatic event, the Sixth Symphony of the Soviet composer Nikolay Myaskovsky (1923). A central concern is to demonstrate how the symphony’s musical symbolism is strikingly evocative of typical features of post-traumatic mentation, such as dissociation and emotional numbing, and the inhibition of the ability to mourn. It closes by considering the potential implications of the findings for understanding work by other modernist composers.

Knowing the past affectively: Screen media and the evocation of intergenerational trauma by Ana Dragojlović

This article explores the relationship between the affective intensities of screen media and its potential to serve as an affective force for the transmission of intergenerational trauma. I explore how watching a documentary portraying historical atrocities that preceded the birth of the documentary’s viewers yet affected their lives in profound ways, is one of the manifold engagements in genealogy and memory work that seeks to know the past affectively. My focus is on Indisch (Indonesian-Dutch) viewers whose relatives suffered through various atrocities that took place in Indonesia in the 20th century. By ethnographically exploring Indisch affective engagements with Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary, The Act of Killing (2012), I show how such engagements need to be analysed as occurring across human and non-human interactions and beyond the subject–object distinction. I argue that the affectivity of screen media (in particular, documentaries) that showcase instances of historical violence that have never received much public representation needs to be understood with particular historical contingencies. This article alerts us to how processes of getting to know the past affectively reveal the fragility of the embodied self in the wake of cataclysmic violence.

The seeing place: Talking theatre and medicine by Deborah and Joanna Bowman

Just published in AHHE vol 17 no.1  

©Emma Barnard @Patientaspaper

The seeing place: Talking theatre & medicine by Deborah & Joanna Bowman

A Professor of Medical Ethics and a theatre director, also mother and daughter, talk about health, illness, suffering, performance and practice.

Using the lenses of ethical and
performance theory, they explore what it means to be a patient, a spectator and a
practitioner and cover many plays, texts and productions: Samuel Beckett’s Not I and All
That Fall, Sarah Kane’s Crave, Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree, Enda Walsh’s Ballyturk, Annie
Ryan’s adaptation of Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Duncan
MacMillan’s People, Place and Things and Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.

These were selected because first we have seen, studied or worked with each and they have
continued to inspire us.

Second, they offer rich and revealing insights into the ways in
which meaning(s) is/are both negotiated and contested in relation to health and illness.
It is the iterative negotiation of meaning(s) that, it is argued, is the essence of narrative
practice, be it in medicine or in the theatre. The difference and divergence of perception,
response and interpretation to dramatic performance can test relationships, be
they professional, creative or familial. Yet, the capacity to understand, and embrace,
disagreement and uncertainty is vital; fundamental to a flourishing life. For it is by
recognising our part in creating narratives, broken and otherwise, that we can begin
to recognise the necessary interactionism and humanity of both medicine and theatre.


‘Stories, narratives, scenarios in Medicine’ in AHHE 17.1

AHHE-17-1 Special Medical Humanities Issue: Representing Trauma; Honouring Broken Narratives

‘Stories, narratives, scenarios in Medicine’

by Jan Parker

©Emma Barnard @PatientAsPaper

in Representing Trauma; Honouring Broken Narratives Special Issue 


There are occasions when ‘literary’ academic writing abuts and can profitably engage with other disciplines and other professional practices. Life-writing, archaeological and land- and sound-scape writing and many other ‘New Humanities’ tackle the possibilities and practicalities of making Humanities narratives – meaning-making, significance-highlighting accounts – out of their subject matter.

None more urgent than Narrative Medicine; like life-writing to [auto]biography, literary geography to both literature and topography and material culture to both fine art and historiography, Narrative Medicine is charged with exploring, interrogating and challenging the received wisdom in and about the ethical and epistemological processes of both its disciplines.

For Medicine, based as it is in traditions of case study and pathography, Narrative Medicine stresses the hermeneutics of patients’ accounts, of attending to the silences and silenced as well as what is said. And the ethics, problematics and effect of mediating the experience and condition of those who, perhaps disenvoiced by that very condition, are unable to speak for themselves: the affordances of constructing ‘Broken Narratives’.

For literary narrative studies, patients’ narratives demand scrupulous attention to the ethics and responsibility of interpretation: to the effect of ‘applying’ analytical critical tools to an individual’s particular life story, life experience, pain.

For both there is the ethical challenge of constructing a narrative at all: of creating an ordered account with claims of ‘before and after’; ‘cause and effect’; and perhaps attributing or denying culpability.

Theatre directors talk about the contract they set up between stage and audience: about the structures of the world that the audience is entering, about the shape and affect of the experience. Literary critics are practised in analysing the contract between text and reader but have been accused of practising ‘cultural hygiene’: of developing, and teaching students to ‘apply’, techniques to distance the text.

For practitioners of medicine, this perhaps has two important implications: to be aware that they ‘stage’ the clinical encounter onto which they demand or invite the patient to ‘present’; and second, that they create, or better co-create, a narrative when they turn observations, vital signs and ‘data’ into an ordered account. That created narrative has to use the constructions that the discipline offers: about the role of medicine, its discriminating processes (of health from sickness and between diseases and treatments). And, in complex ways, those narratives are illuminated by as they illuminate non specialist models of health and sickness.

Together, the two fields, with such different ethical demands on them but with common or overlapping knowledge-making processes, can round out and explore the meta questions that both need to take for granted in day to day practice. As interrupted life stories (the narratives that patients develop in response to medical or other crises) reveal the unformulated expectations that are now challenged by illness, so the patient entering the consulting room ‘presents’ an account that reveals much about conceptions of health and illness, minds and bodies but also potentially about constructions of identity, integrity, moral worth, formation of character, guilt, shame … and finally, the human condition.

So, given that health and illness narratives are constructions:

  • How can particular narratives be best ‘co-created’ between clinician and patient?
  • What are the ethics and proper processes for turning [medical/psychiatric] ‘cases’ into ‘material’?
  • What is it, and how best, to give that material its due?
  • What is it to give an account of that material?
  • What are the ethics and impact of ‘accounting for’, of [necessarily] interpreting, of giving one’s account when others’ accounts may be differently located?
  • What is the effect of being so ‘accounted for’?
  • What is the effect of exposing oneself to another’s narration?
  • What is the effect of re-telling, re-presenting a traumatic event?
  • How does one give a meaningful, significance-highlighting account of the material without appropriating it, alienating it from the teller, rendering it closed to other and others’ narratives?
  • What are the ethics of electing and re-presenting ‘test’ cases?
  • [As raised in the later articles in this issue] What are the ethics of electing and re-presenting test cases not in narrative but as ‘scenarios’?

This Special Issue is interested in narrative practices around medical, psychiatric and trauma care and in what it is to first hear and then to give an account of complex, psychological and ‘psychosomatic’ conditions.

For medical and clinical practitioners, it asks what it is to listen to, attend to, be co-present with a ‘patient’: what are the power relations and ethics of re-presenting and re-narrating someone whose narrative is broken – by illness, trauma, psychosis or a ‘condition’.

In so doing, they each raise questions about that accounted for and the ethics of the accounting: in both senses.

First, the Issue explores ‘Broken narratives and the lived body’; narratives of self harm as embodied expressions of pain; the psychiatrist experiencing, witnessing and co-constructing meaning while ‘weathering a violent storm together’ with her patient and the problematics of the ‘narrative work’ involved in ‘honouring a life’.

Then in a section about trauma narratives in/and art, we turn to narratives of ‘emotional breakup, suffering and wilfulness’, to visual and textual dialogues in a photo essay of mental illness, to music and post-traumatic discourse and finally in this section to visual media and intergenerational transmission of violence.

Representation and theatre

Finally, a different kind of envoicing in encounter is discussed in an article about using participatory theatre with medical practitioners, where audience members are drawn into participating and speaking for both the patient and others involved and implicated in a chronic problem’s treatment.

For whereas Narrative Medicine has emphasised the importance of attending to the patient as narrator and the clinician as co-constructor of narrative, many aspects of the medical encounter are actually multidimensional, formed of mutual and common interactions: intersubjective dynamics and affect that can be ‘played out’ in theatre.

Using theatre in this way draws attention to the power dynamics of the patient-clinician interaction: issues of control and ‘noncompliance’, challenge to authority; and also to the possible problematics of ‘empathy’: to negative intersubjective ‘affects’ which are usually unacknowledged, such as irritation, disgust, dislike – critical and judgmental reactions so far from the model of empathy!

And so in a final dialogue, a professor of medical ethics and her theatre director daughter explore the commonalities and differences between the two practices.

Narrative ‘identity’

Narrative identity presupposes a storied life; broken and fragmented narratives show rather some of the layers that go to make up a narrative identity: the master and meta narratives that frame and structure experience; the counter and cover stories formed in times of trial. Such ‘master’ and ‘meta’ narratives come from social convention and sensibilities: concerning ‘health’; gender; medical intervention; behavioural norms …

In constructing any narrative, ethics demand that ‘selfhood’ be respected, even or perhaps especially when dealing with conditions affecting memory, recall or a unified sense of self. For ‘identity’ is a tricky term, connoting two overlapping but not identical (sic) ideas: of unique ‘quiddity’ and of ‘constant sameness’: yesterday as today. Memory plays an important role in constructing and maintaining both; certain of the cases referred to deal with conditions where memory impairment or fragmentation or trauma repress or debilitate the ‘storying’ self. In so doing, such cases ‘beat the bounds’ of the model of unitary identity.

All the cases here raise issues for identity and narrative studies, for instance by drawing attention to such terms as ‘the storied life’, ‘performative identity’ and a ‘narrative arc’. But they also raise the issue of the representation of trauma, repression, violence and mental illness. They involve encounters with those who are dis-envoiced in one way or another in a clinical setting, whose ‘storied selves’ have to be represented. We question what is the epistemological, educative, ethical, therapeutic and even, perhaps, re-traumatising effect of being so re-presented…


New AHHE Narrative Medicine article:’Honouring a life and narrative work: John’s story’ by Sara Ryan

©Royal College of General Practitioners

Honouring a life

AHHE-17-1 Special Medical Humanities Issue: Representing Trauma; Honouring Broken Narratives

& narrative


John’s story

by Sara Ryan



The importance of witnessing broken narratives and somehow writing or representing these is matched by the challenges associated with trying to do this within a context of normativity and expected academic practice. We have to be convincing in our work, both in terms of rigour and dependability but also in terms of the way we make sense of the stories we are told. In this essay, I examine the narrative of John, a 63-year-old British man diagnosed with autism. I explore how, by interrupting John’s narrative in search of the story I wanted and anticipated, I was disrupting his attempts to understand, form and reform his experiences within the interview setting. I argue we have a commitment to ignore the ‘rules’ of interviews and narrative in order to open up space for people to explore and make sense of their experiences beyond the tyranny of our research questions. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1474022217729178