HC421H - TB or not to Be: Writing Sickness, and Death (Spring/2024)

Professor: Gantt Gurley

4.00 credits

  • CRN 36006: Monday & Wednesday, 4:00-5:50pm @ CHA 202

The illustrious poet Lord Byron, looking at himself in the mirror, once declared “How pale I look! I should like, I think, to die of a consumption.” Apparently, Byron thought that having tuberculosis would make him irresistible to others, more interesting, more desirable. Byron points out for us a fascinating phenomenon in which the diseased body becomes culturally read as the body par excellent. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there was a tubercular fashion in which perceptions of the consumptive disease, the so-called White Plague, became inextricably tied to contemporary notions of beauty and allure. By the end of the 19th century there was a staggering list of artists and poets who had contracted and died of tuberculosis, and the tally loomed larger and larger until the 1950’s when streptomycin and isoniazid were developed. This course will examine writers who represent tuberculosis in their fiction as well as writers who contracted the illness themselves, paying close attention to the metaphors and lyrical meaning they attached to the illness. The course will also explore the community of the sanatorium as a wellspring of creativity and a transnational nexus. These spaces allowed for unlikely contact between individuals, producing a collaborative framework for a new fiction of disease and sickness. Writers and thinkers to be examined include Susan Sontag, Manuel Bandera, Franz Kafka, Vũ Trọng Phụng, Edith Södergran, and Herman Bang among others. This course bridges medical humanities, illness studies, and literary theory to reframe the narrative of writing while sick.