Friday, March 16, 2012

2nd Close Reading Passage

This is a continuation of this

We see a shift in the nature of Hornbacher’s “I” as the memoir continues, though. No longer is the “I” decisive and forceful. Instead, it is momentary and visceral, cataloguing what are usually the more mundane moments of the life the memoir is supposedly chronicling. In the passage that follows, Hornbacher again uses pronouns interchangeably yet skillfully, but does so with slightly different effects than in the previously-analyzed passage:
You go insane about now. You understand, it just happens. Crazy isn’t always what they say it is. It’s not always the old woman wearing sneakers and a skirt and a scarf, wandering around with a shopping cart, hollering at no one, nothing, tumbling through years in her head . . . No. Sometimes it is a girl wearing boots and jeans and a sweater, arms crossed in front of her, shivering, wandering through the streets at night, all night, murmuring to no one, nothing, tumbling through the strange unreal dimensions in her head. . . Bedtime, and the house falls darker still. I sit at the window, waiting for the mutterings and shufflings to slow and stop. . . I hold the back of the chair with one hand, do exercises endlessly, waiting for one o’clock. Only four hours till morning, I think. (171-172).
In the above passage, there is a clear divide between the splintered narrator and other people (she is not the woman with the shopping cart), implying a certain cohesiveness of the “I,” “you,” and “she” all used in the passage. By both separating and collecting her narrative self with her pronominal use, Hornbacher negotiates the dilemma articulated by Buss – that the female autobiographer must present herself as stable and unified while acknowledging herself as “fragmented [and] decentered” (97). Since there is a boundary between the woman with the shopping cart (as there is between the narrator and the others characters in the book), evidenced by a distanced perspective, the reader could then conclude that Hornbacher’s distinct pronouns are, indeed, referring to the same narrator, and that instead of reflecting the disintegration of a coherent self into multiple, weaker selves, they are instead evidence of the authorial negotiation involved in female autobiography.
However, Hornbacher’s memoir complicates Buss’ observation about female autobiographical challenges, as Hornbacher’s is also a memoir of illness. Couser writes that autobiographical texts about illness may be written as a “retort” to the “misrepresentation of disability” (400). Here, Hornbacher does this explicitly by defining “crazy” as something other than what she presumes to be the social conception of “crazy.” She writes that crazy is not what society would expect – it is not “always the old woman . . . hollering. . . tumbling. . .” (171). Instead, it is the ‘normal’-looking girl – the girl who defies the social depiction of mental disability – that Hornbacher casts as “crazy” in an obvious attempt to shatter preconceived notions about the face of mental illness. Hornbacher furthers her retort not only by labeling a third-person female crazy, but also by labeling “you” crazy as well. “You” go insane. “It” happens to “you.” By placing “you” at the start of the passage, which comes after a page break and starts off its own section within the chapter, Hornbacher collects her three pronouns – “I,” “you,” and “she” – into her representation of her mental illness, thus resisting social constructions about how eating disorders and the insanity that accompanies them are ‘supposed’ to appear. Mental illness – insanity – can happen to a ‘normal’ girl in a sweater; they can happen to “you,” just as they happened to “I.” Further, as Margaret Price points out, the use of these three discrete yet inherently (by way of the text) intertwined pronouns contributes to a counter-diagnostic culture, in which Hornbacher not only pushes on representations of her mental illness, but also the framework in which those representations exist. By stating that “crazy” is not the woman with the shopping cart, Hornbacher suggests that our contemporary diagnostic culture is structured such that discrete mental sufferings are only recognized within the framework of the shopping cart-woman, thus overlooking individual difference by lumping it into one singular socially recognized category – shopping cart “crazy.”
Hornbacher’s pronominal plurality, in addition to representing a female autobiographical dilemma, then, also represents a rebuff of the cultural construction of mental illness. However, since the three pronouns, though separate, are also connected, and since one pronoun refers to a “girls wearing boots and jeans and a sweater” (171), the reader may assume that the three pronouns are all feminized, in which case Hornbacher is not representing mental illness and autobiographical femininity separately, but it rather exploring what the impact of mental disability means for a female subject, especially when the mental disorder in question is perhaps the most feminized of all mental illnesses – an eating disorder. Hornbacher writes that she “sit[s] at the window, waiting for the mutterings and shufflings to slow and stop” (171). She – I – You cannot leave the house until the morning. It is not permissible for her to leave the house until the morning, and it is in this nocturnal waiting that the social confines in which the narrator moves are made apparent. Here, the house acts metaphorically, working to represent the long history of female domestic confinement and the confinement of the mentally ill to asylums. In morning – when it is allowed – she will emerge. Her actions, as Wendell notes, are governed by cultural authority, which strips the individual of a narrative deviating from ‘proper’ cultural representation.
This cultural confinement, ultimately resulting in the individual’s inability to decide a course of action for him- or herself, is also perhaps the cause of Hornbacher’s weakened “I” in this passage. In contrast to the passage I first analyzed, which encompassed an extremely decisive “I” – “I chose an eating disorder” (6) –, the “I” in this second passage is paired with sedentary verbs. Whereas the “I” in the first passage “chose,” “think[s],” “believe[s],” and “sought” (6-7), the “I” in this passage “sit[s]” and “hold[s].” It is only in waiting – in the “four hours till morning” (172) that the narrator “think[s]” (172). This “I” is static, waiting for morning as she engages in another activity that lies within the scope of the cultural narrative for the female body – exercises. The “I” is confined, and the “I” is engaging in an activity by which she hopes to confine her body to cultural standards. Her exercises are done on a chair; they, too, are sedentary. There is no choice for this “I.” The “I” of this second passage is prescriptive, bowing to the disabling cultural constructions of both mental illness and the female gender (McDermot and Varenne).
Though Hornbacher represents her condition as female and mentally ill as confining (and therefore undesirable to a restless woman who, in the middle of the night, would rather be wandering), she also represents herself within a diagnostic framework that resists labeling confinement negatively. Like many anoretics, the narrator is plagued by insomnia and restlessness, medical hallmarks of malnutrition. She compulsively exercises, which is explicitly listed in the DSM-IV symptoms of both Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa – Binge-purge Subtype. The “she” in this passage “tumbl[es] through the strange, unreal dimensions in her head” (171), reflecting the lack of concentration and confusion reported by many eating-disordered individuals. And Hornbacher’s use of words discussing time – “years,” “one o’clock,” “hours,” “morning” (171-2) – references the obsessive-compulsive thinking characteristic of anoretics, who are often obsessed with various ‘counts’ – calories, minutes, times something ‘must’ be repeated in order to be done ‘correctly’. The language in which her pronouns exist is permeated by a diagnostic undertone, situating the I-you-she within the clinical literature surrounding eating disorders. It is in this situating that Hornbacher strays from a disabilities studies perspective, using disabilities studies only to highlight the cultural constructions that gave rise to and defined her behaviors. By placing her narrator within clinical literature, molding the narrator’s narrative to match the narrative not delineated by a larger society, but by medical professional specifically, Hornbacher develops the language of the medical humanities, namely, as Edwards pointed out, a language that allows patients to describe their experience with illness in a ways that the medical community can understand (241).
In the space of a few sentences, Hornbacher sets up a triangulation of theoretical contradictions. She is at once embracing a diagnostic framework while at the same time refusing its constriction. She is expressing several selves within one narrator, feminizing each self in the process, while maintaining a divide between the I-you-she and a woman with whom I-you-she might identify. Hornbacher straddles the line between individual and collective experience, drawing her reader (through a feminized “you”) and otherwise unnamed “shes” into a collective perception of embodying a disabled and confined gender, drawing eating-disordered individuals together into a discrete diagnostic category, and drawing disabled persons into collective societal constriction, yet, by virtue of the personal details of her narrative account and by virtue of her genre – memoir – Hornbacher also emphasizes the experience of her created I-you-she as individualistic. It is the singular individual who sits in a specific house and waits for specific people to stop shuffling. It is the singular individual who waits “four hours till morning” (172). The details of her narrative define her work as a memoir. Because these details are so specific, even if they sit within a larger discourse of collective experience, Hornbacher reserves an autobiographical label for her work. 

1 comment:

  1. Cassie--
    I'm sending you most of my comments (most of which are line edits) in e-mails now, but also wanted to keep up the public side/face to this conversation. Reading over all the four field reviews you've just done, I'm wondering where you now see yourself locating your own project: in disability studies after all, not in medical humanities, as we'd hypothesized earlier?