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Strange and Tender Fracture: Flash Illness Writing, Chronic Pain, and Alternatives to “Resilience”

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>12/03/2024
<mark>Journal</mark>Literature and Medicine
Issue number2
Number of pages31
Pages (from-to)430-460
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


How might flash writing be peculiarly effective in pain representation? This question drove the Translating Chronic Pain project at Lancaster University (2017-2019) focused on the potential of fragmentary, episode-driven, experimental and hybrid literary forms, rather than traditional illness memoir. The project includes an ongoing online anthology of flash writing about chronic pain. Constrained to 150 words or less, either poetry or prose, and sometimes accompanied by an image or a panel of sequential art, these works could be written from the perspective of a person living with pain, a carer, a healthcare practitioner, or another witness. Flash may offer a complete story in its own right. Yet there are also ways in which flash or microfictions may flirt with a different kind of narrative completeness. The teleogenic variability of flash is evoked in the title of the online anthology: Moments and Fragments. The nouns were chosen advisedly: 'Fragments' can describe the way these short pieces of writing are parts of a longer whole, with an arc of its own. ‘Moments’, by contrast, draws attention to a self-contained quality in the glimpse – bounded and jewel-like, mindful, located in a present. As Nathan Leslie says, flash can ‘‘capture .. one discrete moment in time. What else is there?’
Several benefits to this form of writing emerged, as reported by the anthology’s contributors and readers and workshop participants. The form and navigation allows multiple voices to be juxtaposed and encountered sequentially, rather than the emphasis on a single individual’s journey which tends to dominate long-form illness writing; instead, the anthology could foreground polyphony, and in the process, arguably can help move away from a focus on personal journey to emphasising social context and collective experience. The anthology also has a striking affective breadth, and this article shows how particular entries in the anthology use the short form to allow writers and readers to slip free of certain affective imperatives and conventions of narrative telos. These fragments and moments invite us to nuance our sense of the possibilities of narrative in pain representation.