Monday, 17 June 2013

Fabrication (in fiction and medicine)

It's something of a relief to be finished Karl Ove Knausgaard's A Man in Love (I finished a week ago) though I would still recommend it. There are four volumes of the series (of six) still to be translated. I skipped the first one as I don't much want to read about alcoholic fathers, especially when I am trying to write about it (have been sporadically for the last year, a kind of novella-memoir). I feel the same way, these days, about alcoholic father narratives as I do about illness narratives, jaded, but I recognise we still have a desire and need to read - and write - such narratives. My favourite quote from trawling through 520 pages of A Man in Love - and it is a trawl but worth it for the gems - is when he is talking about potential research for a novel:
"… just the thought of fiction, just the thought of a fabricated character in a fabricated plot made me feel nauseous, I reacted in a physical way."
And at the end of this memoir/novel, he tells us:
"The only genres I saw value in, which still conferred meaning, were diaries and essays, the types of literature that did not deal with narrative, that were not about anything, but just consisted of a voice, the voice of your own personality, a life, a face, a gaze you could meet."
Knausgaard is wholly self-obsessed - and not as interesting or original in his 'profound' thoughts as he thinks he is - and neither is he afraid to use dreadful clichés - but his narrative/voice is oddly compelling - and comforting. He has certainly pulled something off, although I am still unsure of what exactly it is. And I love this comment: You write novels because something is broken. 


A great article from Dr Nigel Speight in the Saudi Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences, making some excellent points about the politics and history of ME. He notes that in severe cases:  Multiple symptoms are the norm, and severely affected cases may have more than 20 symptoms. I remember when I first got ill in 1982 I seemed to have a new symptom every day, I would write them down to keep track (this was, of course, the beginning of the writing process but I could not have known at the time):
"Her symptoms have signed a lease behind her back and moved in permanently. They like living in her muscle tissue. It’s nice and warm there." (The State of Me) 
Dr Speight also refers to the scoundrels McEvedy and Beard, the psychiatrists who famously claimed that the Royal Free outbreak in 1955 had been hysteria without even examining the patients (1970), and incomprehensibly influenced others. Dr Byron Hyde, in his very interesting book, describes how when he met McEvedy years later he had justified the hysteria claim by saying it made for 'an easy PhD'. You couldn't make it up. (A shorter version of Dr Speight's article is here via ME Association.)

1 comment:

TKno2 said...

I remember dealing with a student doing a Masters in Science Communication who did her big project on M.E. She ended up producing something that focused on psychobabble. We had give her various information on the science and in discussions she hadn't looked like she was going down this route. Although I can't be sure, I got the feeling that she hadn't left herself much time to do proper research on the biological side, so went with the psychobabble to allow her finish the project in time. Who knows.