Incoherence/coherence in narratives of illness or trauma: On the necessity of challenging conventional narrative structures

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Informed by my own experience of bearing witness to and being made vulnerable by a life-threatening event in a loved one, this essay draws on philosophical, psychological and narratological underpinnings to investigate the gap that exists between conventional narrative structures and the narratives employed by those with lived experience of trauma or critical illness. Overall, I argue that writers and other creative artists have a responsibility to represent trauma or illness in ways that resist the temporal unification, neat closures and trajectories that often present such events as disruptions to be overcome. Following this line of thinking I argue that narrative coherence is not dependent on the cohesion of a whole. Instead it relies on the shared understandings and the process of recognition that forms between the teller and recipient of a story. In other words, coherence is dependent on the recipient’s ability to read structural characteristics such as fragmentation, discontinuity, irresolution and uncertainty not as aberrations to narrative stability, but as potential signifiers of the trauma itself. As such I suggest creative professionals can do more to experiment with the language of trauma. I conclude with a personal reflection that illustrates how knowledge of this language allows for coherence even in the most fraught narratives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalText (Australia)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


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