In The Atlantic, essayist Leslie Jamison reflects on the words of Virginia Woolf that shaped her view of bodies in literature. Jamison recalls struggling to represent the physical aftermath of surgery, fearing that “writing about bodily experience [is] somehow… the ultimate solipsism,” and ultimately finding solace in Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill.” Jamison connects Woolf’s essay, Elaine Scarry’s theory on pain and speech, and the works of Whitman and Faulkner to memories of her own discomfort in waiting rooms and creative writing classes. Ultimately, she concludes that “the surface of the body isn’t poverty; it isn’t lack,” and moreover, it can be a site of deep connection between authors and readers.
Read Jamison’s piece in full here.
Learn more about Jamison’s volume of nonfiction essays on bodies and others, The Empathy Exams, here.
Image by Doug McLean for The Atlantic.
“When we want to co-create, we read. We want to participate; and we want ownership. We would rather have sketches than verisimilitude — because the sketches, at least, are ours.”
Peter Mendelsund, associate art director at Alfred A. Knopf, explores what we envision (and what we do not) when reading literature. The answer, it turns out, is “not much” — at least nothing close to what we see in the physical world — and yet we have a strong connection to these sketched-out images because they are, in part, our own creative handiwork. Blending narrative theory and personal reflection, Mendelsund offers some bold answers to the question of how vision and literature align; and by juxtaposing classic texts (from Chaucer to Calvino) with striking illustrations and simple questions, he challenges readers to reflect on their own experiences of seeing while reading.
Visit Mendelsund’s blog to learn more about this book and other projects here.
All images by Peter Mendelsund