This paper will investigate the extent to which the embodied experience of chronic illness can be explored through the shapeshifting figure of the therianthrope. Expanding on Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject, I will unravel how the body of the sick woman ‘strays on the territories of animal’ in order to consider how this collapse of the boundary between human and animal can critique and complicate normative categories of sex and gender.
I will employ Barbara Creed’s notion of the ‘monstrous feminine’, or the femme animale, in order to challenge patriarchal notions of acceptable and unacceptable female bodies. I will argue that social and cultural discourses of sex and gender place pressure on female patients to conform to hegemonic ideals of beauty and desirability, and that recovery narratives often support gender normative notions of what constitutes a ‘healthy’ body. Furthermore, I will argue that women are often prohibited from expressing the reality of their bodies due to the pressure placed on them to embody heteronormative definitions of femininity.
I will focus specifically on the figure of the lycanthrope found in folklore and myth in order to subvert patriarchal forms of representation. As a figure of resistance and transgression, the female werewolf can undermine essentialist notions of sex and gender and provide a new model of thinking about female identity as fluid and evolving rather than rigid and discrete. Exploring the amorphous body of the sick woman through the figure of the lycanthrope will enable me to examine the embodied experience of illness, whilst unsettling binary notions of femininity.
About the speaker
Jane Hartshorn is a Practice as Research PhD candidate at the University of Kent. Her poetic practice explores female embodiment in relation to cultural and social discourses of illness and wellbeing. She has had poems published in amberflora, Front Horse, Raum, and her pamphlet Tract was published in 2017 by Litmus Publishing.