Event Title

The ‘Unpresentable’ in Illness Narratives

Presenter Information

Sandra Dutkowsky, Ithaca College

Location

Panel 16: Kearney 314

Start Date

27-10-2012 10:15 AM

End Date

27-10-2012 11:45 AM

Description

Clancy and Svensson listened to the narratives of a number of Norwegian public health nurses to try to understand the themes that emerged when they spoke of their work as caregivers. The authors then attempted to frame the themes within the context of Levinasian ethics. They do this ultimately to show that taking responsibility for the other can bring emotional satisfaction while at the same time creating feelings of fear, worry, loneliness, and ambiguity (160)

The idea that intrigues me the most in Clancy and Svensson’s article is the one involving the ambiguity that is present in caregiving. Levinas’s ideas about taking responsibility for the other are filled with ambiguous ideas–what it means to care for the other cannot be confined or described and it is beyond space and time in that it is able to bind the past, present and future together. Although it is difficult to express exactly what this means in practice, anyone who has been called to care for someone else can attest that there are things that happen that are an important part of the experience, yet they are difficult to describe. Clancy and Svensson attempt to describe this phenomenon as, “the puckered lips of the suckling infant, the untidy hair of the teenager, and the tired but contented face of the nursing mother” (159). Brenda L. Cameron expands upon this idea in her article, “Towards Understanding the Unpresentable in Nursing: Some Nursing Philosophical Considerations.” She discusses the idea that caregivers, nurses, and arguably anyone who provides care to someone who is sick regularly spend time on “the edges of life, i.e. suffering, ethical conundrums, and death itself” (24). Within that space exists a reality that cannot be “caught, represented, universalized” (Cameron 30). Cameron writes that Dienske calls this place “ineffable” while Lyotard calls it “unpresentable” (24). Levinas may call it responsibility. Finding a name for it is certainly difficult but regardless of what it is called, it is present and extremely important in relation to caring for the other. Cameron states that the unpresentable needs to be discussed along with the scientific, cultural, and historical understandings of care even though it escapes language. She writes, “We need to grope for words that take us back to the space where we can bear witness to the fullness of the human condition” (26). By attempting to represent, in some way, the unpresentable that is present in the caretaking relationship, we will be able to move beyond the dominant discourse of care and open up new avenues where caring for the other is more humane and loving because it is grounded more deeply in the human condition. This paper explores the idea of the “unpresentable” in illness narratives and its implications for the writers and the delivery of healthcare.

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Oct 27th, 10:15 AM Oct 27th, 11:45 AM

The ‘Unpresentable’ in Illness Narratives

Panel 16: Kearney 314

Clancy and Svensson listened to the narratives of a number of Norwegian public health nurses to try to understand the themes that emerged when they spoke of their work as caregivers. The authors then attempted to frame the themes within the context of Levinasian ethics. They do this ultimately to show that taking responsibility for the other can bring emotional satisfaction while at the same time creating feelings of fear, worry, loneliness, and ambiguity (160)

The idea that intrigues me the most in Clancy and Svensson’s article is the one involving the ambiguity that is present in caregiving. Levinas’s ideas about taking responsibility for the other are filled with ambiguous ideas–what it means to care for the other cannot be confined or described and it is beyond space and time in that it is able to bind the past, present and future together. Although it is difficult to express exactly what this means in practice, anyone who has been called to care for someone else can attest that there are things that happen that are an important part of the experience, yet they are difficult to describe. Clancy and Svensson attempt to describe this phenomenon as, “the puckered lips of the suckling infant, the untidy hair of the teenager, and the tired but contented face of the nursing mother” (159). Brenda L. Cameron expands upon this idea in her article, “Towards Understanding the Unpresentable in Nursing: Some Nursing Philosophical Considerations.” She discusses the idea that caregivers, nurses, and arguably anyone who provides care to someone who is sick regularly spend time on “the edges of life, i.e. suffering, ethical conundrums, and death itself” (24). Within that space exists a reality that cannot be “caught, represented, universalized” (Cameron 30). Cameron writes that Dienske calls this place “ineffable” while Lyotard calls it “unpresentable” (24). Levinas may call it responsibility. Finding a name for it is certainly difficult but regardless of what it is called, it is present and extremely important in relation to caring for the other. Cameron states that the unpresentable needs to be discussed along with the scientific, cultural, and historical understandings of care even though it escapes language. She writes, “We need to grope for words that take us back to the space where we can bear witness to the fullness of the human condition” (26). By attempting to represent, in some way, the unpresentable that is present in the caretaking relationship, we will be able to move beyond the dominant discourse of care and open up new avenues where caring for the other is more humane and loving because it is grounded more deeply in the human condition. This paper explores the idea of the “unpresentable” in illness narratives and its implications for the writers and the delivery of healthcare.