Drug of Choice: Self-medication and Self-preservation in De Quincey and Andrews
When Tom Andrews, a poet and the author of Codeine Diary, went to his first hematologist, the doctor told him that it is impossible for a hemophiliac to survive a motocross accident and dismissed his story by saying “I’m sorry, but you wouldn’t withstand the head injuries. You like the sound of yourself being dramatic” (Andrews 1994: 122). Of course he does and countless others do. In a more ornate style, Thomas De Quincey, the author of the once-scandalous Confessions of an English Opium Eater, makes one of many proclamations of his dramatic aptitude when he bids “farewell to hope and to tranquil dreams, and to the blessed consolations of sleep… I am now arrived at an Iliad of woes” (De Quincey 2002: 50). This penchant for drama seems to be a vital prerequisite for structuring the experience of chronic illness. Skilled dramatisers as well as ordinary storytellers seek drama as a means of developing a new sense of wholeness after experiencing embodied discontinuities of acute illness.1 In this light, illness narratives are seen as necessary dramatizations of the self that secure its preservation.
For the purposes of the present article, narrative is defined as a culturally viable framework of references through which a story, a simple sequence of events, is organised in a meaningful way. In other words, “[a] narrative portrayal of experience is artifice in the sense that no life has the congruence of the well-told tale”, as the point of connection between the...
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