Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 11, Issue 1, Summer 2004

Feminist Apporoaches to the Body

Hilde Lindemann Nelson
Pages 7-11

Damaged Bodies, Damaged Identities

In this essay I examine Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer prizewinning play, Wit, to explore the numerous connections drawn there between damage to bodies and damage to identities. In the course of this exploration I aim to get clearer about the kinds of illness, injury, or medical interventions that damage patients’ identities; how the damage is inflicted; and what might be done to repair identities that have been damaged in these ways. I argue that just as bodily illness and injury can damage the identity-constituting narratives by which we understand ourselves and others, so too (as the play demonstrates) injurious identity-constituting narratives can result in bodily harm. Because identities are narrative constructions, the damage inflicted on them requires narrative repair. The defective stories must be uprooted and replaced, but the success of the repair depends on both the soundness of the replacement story and the willingness of others to take up the new story.