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Article

Pain and Healing in the First-Person Narrative, Historically Speaking

Literary Theory & Criticism eJournal. 2012. Vol. 2. No. 3.

Most studies of pre-modern first-person writings suggest their contextualization. One common way of placing these writings into a context is to approach them in relation to others of the kind – earlier, contemporary or later. The other way, comparatively new and much less common, is to approach them in relation to the concrete social contexts of their appearance and functioning. The article suggests that this second way is particularly helpful for understanding pre-modern first-person narratives better. To prove this suggestion it offers a reading of one such piece of writing as a constituent part of historically specific social activity. The text under discussion is the autobiographical Life (Zhitie) of a Russian monk Epifanij, written around 1675-1676. The analysis of this text is focused on one topic: representations of pain and healing. Within this topic three sections are read in detail: on the author‟s genitals, fingers and tongue. The paper concludes that although each of three refers to a different part of Epifanij‟s body and each is narrated in a different manner, all three have two major characteristics in common. First, they refer to Divine Providence as the only source of healing, and, second, they send a strong propagandist message to their readers. These characteristics support the idea that socio-historical contextualization of pre-modern first-person writings allows for deeper comprehension of their meanings and compositional structures.