Monthly Archives: February 2016

Thoughts on “Sick Woman Theory” by Johanna Hedva

Those parallel circumstances and kindred images to which we readily conform our minds are, above all other writings, to be found in narratives of the lives of particular persons; and therefore no species of writing seems more worthy of cultivation than biography, since none can be more delightful or more useful, none can more certainly enchain the heart by irresistible interest, or more widely diffuse instruction to every diversity of condition.  (Samuel Johnson, Rambler 60, 1750).

While debate continues for some as to the utility of life writing and what it should and should not be, such as whether or or not it is or is not meant to be truthful[1], the stakes are even higher for some life writing authors, especially those with disabilities. We are not meant to take up space in the world or page. Our spaces are often temporal, e.g., a bus sign that reads, “please give up this seat if . . . .” Recently, author and self-described “anticapitalist psychonaut sorceress,” Johanna Hedva, wrote a blog post titled “Sick Woman Theory,” in which she holds space and a protest.

We are not meant to survive, notes Hedva, as she explains, “For those who, in Audre Lorde’s words, were never meant to survive: because this world was built against their survival,” and this also means we are not meant to take up space. Holding space can be a form of protest. Hedva holds a writing sit-in. She literally holds space in her piece with autobiographical writing. She has already told us that she is unsure of how to protest with her illnesses—going into the streets is something she cannot do—before she holds her sit-in, which helps frame her autobiographical writing as a political action. Her autobiographical narrative of what has come to her (I love how she framed this!), her illnesses, is a form of protest.

Some have expressed concern about her autobiographical content because, in part, they read it as an unnecessary ethos move, in which she shows she is part of the community about which she writes. I have heard these concerns, but I have not heard these concerns about her images in her piece, which are also autobiographical—representations of her autobiographical narrative. It is important to ask why one’s holding space with one’s voice is so uncomfortable for people, even affronting for some, and why, detailing disability is not accepted as holding space by a marginalized community.

[1] Jerome Bruner, in Acts of Meaning (1993), discusses autobiography as a process in which the teller resolves the non-canonical occurrences so that the teller can fit into the teller’s non-canonical narrative, which makes the emphasis on truth secondary to the process of the work of resolving, e.g., how to make non-canonical events such as a sudden loss of a friend or family member, an injury, and the like fit in the daily canonical.