“My speech turned into a symptom”: Hilary Mantel’s Giving Up the Ghost (2003) and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion

"My speech turned into a symptom": Hilary Mantel’s Giving Up the Ghost (2003) and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion

Mr Alex HenryZoom

In this work-in-progress paper, I read Hilary Mantel’s memoir as a chronic illness narrative in which ghostly (in)visibility permeates lived experience of undiagnosis (Kafer), epistemic injustice (Fricker) and the cruel optimism (Berlant) of normatively imagined futures. Self-diagnosed with endometriosis after more than a decade of unexplained chronic symptoms and psychiatric misdiagnosis, Mantel invokes ghostly (in)visible presences to problematise the status of (medical) knowledge(s) where (as in many cases of endometriosis) diagnosis requires both the literal looking for visible evidence in surgical investigation, and the willingness to listen. This privileging of the visible over the intangible qualities of imaginative patient testimony reinforces the notion that ghosts are, as Mantel puts it, ‘knowledge that you can’t process’ (p. 233). I argue that despite Mantel forcefully and convincingly refuting pathologisation and hystericisation of her symptoms, her memoir has attracted critical attention (particularly psychoanalytic readings) which repeat the epistemic (and gendered) violence of her clinical encounters upon her writing. Building on work which revises narrative medicine (Jurecic, Bolaki), I suggest that reading literary illness narratives (especially involving unexplained chronicity) requires a recalibration of reading away from a dominant ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ toward a mode of critical engagement which exemplifies ‘the willingness to listen’ (Ricoeur).

School of English, University of Leeds, UK
Fri 09:30 - 11:00
Mental Health, Narrative
Standard paper