We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE


The Cultural Discourses of Breast Cancer Narratives

Mary K. DeShazer

Publication Year: 2013

While breast cancer continues to affect the lives of millions, contemporary writers and artists have responded to the ravages of the disease in creative expression. Mary K. DeShazer’s book looks specifically at breast cancer memoirs and photographic narratives, a category she refers to as mammographies, signifying both the imaging technology by which most Western women discover they have this disease and the documentary imperatives that drive their written and visual accounts of it. Mammographies argues that breast cancer narratives of the past ten years differ from their predecessors in their bold address of previously neglected topics such as the link between cancer and environmental carcinogens, the ethics and efficacy of genetic testing and prophylactic mastectomy, and the shifting politics of prosthesis and reconstruction. Mammographies is distinctive among studies of contemporary illness narratives in its exclusive focus on breast cancer, its analysis of both memoirs and photographic texts, its attention to hybrid and collaborative narratives, and its emphasis on ecological, genetic, transnational, queer, and anti-pink discourses. DeShazer’s methodology—best characterized as literary critical, feminist, and interdisciplinary—includes detailed interpretation of the narrative strategies, thematic contours, and visual imagery of a wide range of contemporary breast cancer memoirs and photographic anthologies. The author explores the ways in which the narratives constitute a distinctive testimonial and memorial tradition, a claim supported by close readings and theoretical analysis that demonstrates how these narratives question hegemonic cultural discourses, empower reader-viewers as empathic witnesses, and provide communal sites for mourning, resisting, and remembering.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (34.5 KB)
p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Acknowledgments

pdf iconDownload PDF (368.7 KB)
pp. 2-9


pdf iconDownload PDF (156.1 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more

Introduction: Representing Breast Cancer in the Twenty-first Century

pdf iconDownload PDF (459.1 KB)
pp. 1-16

Narratives that explore women’s lived experience of breast cancer and interrogate its cultural discourses provide the focus of my study, which offers a critical analysis of postmillennial autobiographical and photographic representations of this life-threatening illness. ...

read more

1. Postmillennial Breast Cancer Photo-narratives: Technologized Terrain

pdf iconDownload PDF (531.7 KB)
pp. 17-39

Visual and autobiographical narratives that explore women’s lived experience of breast cancer and its cultural discourses are the subject of this book, which offers a critical analysis of postmillennial representations of a gendered and potentially lethal illness.1 ...

read more

2. Audre Lorde's Successors: Breast Cancer Narratives as Feminist Theory

pdf iconDownload PDF (426.2 KB)
pp. 40-65

The compelling legacy of the self-described “Black lesbian feminist warrior poet” Audre Lorde (1934–92) has been the subject of significant critical commentary by theorists of breast cancer during the past decade. In Beyond Slash, Burn, and Poison Marcy Jane Knopf-Newman claims that both The Cancer Journals (1980), ...

read more

3. Narratives of Prophylactic Mastectomy: Mapping the Breast Cancer Gene

pdf iconDownload PDF (423.1 KB)
pp. 66-91

In Manmade Breast Cancer Zillah Eisenstein offers not only a feminist manifesto but also a genealogical narrative of her family’s illness history: “I want to go deeply into my body’s story, which is entwined with my mother’s and sisters’ bodies. . . . If there is such a thing as genetically inherited breast cancer, I most probably have it” (1–4). ...

read more

4. Rebellious Humor in Breast Cancer Narratives: Deflating the Culture of Optimism

pdf iconDownload PDF (467.9 KB)
pp. 92-118

Despite the seriousness of the disease, not all breast cancer narratives are somber; many are actually funny. Indeed, rebellious humor serves as an antidote to resignation and despair in postmillennial autobiographical writing by scores of U.S. women about their cancer experience, from diagnosis to surgery to chemotherapy and/or radiation to recovery and/ or recurrence. ...

read more

5. New Directions in Breast Cancer Photography: Documenting Women's Post-operative Bodies

pdf iconDownload PDF (681.4 KB)
pp. 119-155

Photographic representations of women living with or beyond breast cancer have gained prominence in recent decades due to increasing incidences and heightened public awareness of this disease. Visual breast cancer narratives constitute both documentary projects and dialogic sites of self-construction, for all “selves” are texts to be deciphered, ...

read more

6. Cancer Narratives and an Ethics of Commemoration: Susan Sontag, Annie Leibovitz, and David Rieff

pdf iconDownload PDF (403.9 KB)
pp. 156-174

Susan Sontag’s cultural critique of cancer stigmatization in Illness as Metaphor (1977) and her theoretical musings in On Photography (1977) and Regarding the Pain of Others (2003) offer rich insights through which to analyze photographic and literary representations of Sontag’s own experience with cancer by Annie Leibovitz (her lover) ...

read more

7. Bodies, Witness, Mourning: Reading Breast Cancer Autoanatography

pdf iconDownload PDF (408.7 KB)
pp. 175-194

The critical term autothanatography is in one sense redundant, for as Susanna Egan acknowledges in Mirror Talk: Genres of Crisis in Contemporary Autobiography, “the spectre of death hovers over all autobiography, usually unnamed” (196). However, in breast cancer memoirs written by women whose disease has metastasized to stage four ...

read more

Afterword: What Remains

pdf iconDownload PDF (424.2 KB)
pp. 195-204

As a final consideration of the public impact of autothanatographic projects that reckon with breast cancer, let us turn to Lisa Saltzman’s theories of commemorative art in Making Memory Matter, where she offers rich avenues for exploring “the aesthetic dimensions and the ethical capacities of visual objects that pursue the question of memory in the present” (11–12). ...

Appendix: Links to Selected Breast Cancer Websites and Blogs

pdf iconDownload PDF (156.8 KB)
pp. 205-206


pdf iconDownload PDF (387.7 KB)
pp. 207-218

Works Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF (380.9 KB)
pp. 219-228


pdf iconDownload PDF (385.5 KB)
pp. 229-240

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029235
E-ISBN-10: 0472029231
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118823
Print-ISBN-10: 047211882X

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 12 halftones, 7 color images
Publication Year: 2013