Avatars, Illness, and Authority: Embodied Experience in Breast Cancer Autopathographics
Abstract

ABSTRACT:

This essay argues that the medium of graphic illness memoir, or “autopathographics,” can work to challenge the master plot of “survival” that has circulated as part of breast cancer culture for the past thirty years. Exploring the emergent genre of breast cancer autopathographics through an analysis of two best-selling memoirs published in 2006—Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s Cancer Vixen: A True Story and Miriam Engelberg’s Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person: A Memoir in Comics—this essay examines the graphic in two senses: first, it strives to enter an emergent conversation about the uses of the visual-verbal genre of graphic memoir as a means to narrate stories of illness and disability; further, it takes into account the popular usage of the word graphic to note the kind of explicitness or excess for which illness narratives are commonly critiqued. Autopathographics offer new possibilities for women to represent the embodied changes occasioned by cancer in ways that register the uncertainty of the disease’s temporality in the face of metastasis and terminal illness—part of breast cancer’s epidemiological narrative that is too often ignored.