Mammographies: The Cultural Discourses of Breast Cancer Narratives
Mary K. DeShazer
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
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.
broadly through interpretations that rest on what he terms the studium, “the contextual, cultural narrative that helps one read a photograph” (Hirsch, 3). Competing cultural narratives evoke shifting interpretations; hence Hirsch’s claim that whenever photographic portraits are publicly scrutinized, multiple looks circulate. Hirsch’s caveat is relevant to Art Myers’s Winged Victory because that collection’s stated impetus is familial experience, and one featured subject is the photographer’s
left breast has transformed itself into a red rose—sacred—which grows in my dreams” (Davis, 71). Although several of Davis’s photographic subjects express discomfort with their mastectomy scars, most agree with Snyderman that scars “mark the trail, the passage taken” through the breast cancer continuum (Davis, x). In her preface Davis states her goal of providing accurate information and feminist support for women facing breast surgery. With this book in hand, women can eliminate their
cancer and discusses the ways in which both diseases are “spectacularly, and similarly, encumbered by the trappings of metaphor” (5). Tuberculosis and cancer have long evoked terror and dread, she explains; physicians have described these diseases as consuming, corrupting, insidious, while the culture at large has deemed them unspeakable, monstrous. For cancer patients, portrayed in life and in art as “humiliated by fear and agony,” such language may exacerbate suffering and self-blame;
suffocation by the pink sticky sentiment embodied in that teddy bear,” Ehrenreich begs the gods and her rampaging cells (45). While there are ten million cancer survivors in the United States today whom we all can celebrate, more than two hundred forty thousand women are diagnosed annually with breast cancer, and forty thousand per year die of it; many thousands more die annually of lung, ovarian, and uterine cancers, as well as blood cancers caused by chemotherapies necessitated by earlier
inhabits as a metastatic breast cancer patient can be analyzed through a series of questions that Sidonie Smith poses in a valuable essay on women autobiographers and embodiment, “Identity’s Body.” The first questions—“Whose body is speaking?” and “What are the implications for subjectivity of the body’s positioning?”—can be used to illuminate Picardie’s narrative representations of medicalization following her diagnosis and subsequent unsuccessful treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation,