The Ecstatic Witness

  • Rita CharonEmail author
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 997)


Illness insists on the transit of the self. Unbounded by dumb health, the self in illness—either the self of the sick person or the self who ministers to the sick person—finds itself not only freed to but required to move into altered states. When serious physical or mental illness befalls the body, the self must travel outside its ordinary boundaries onto daring expeditions into the unknown. We know this, if only from memoirs written by seriously ill people, yet we tend to underestimate both the reach of such travel and the impossibility of return. When one cares for a seriously ill person—either as a doctor or nurse, a chaplain or ethicist, or a relative or friend—he or she similarly is launched onto perilous travel outside the self, not simply into the awareness of the fragility of health but more fundamentally and transformingly and irrevocably into an identity with that ill person and hence into a subject position from which one must own up to not only the certainty of the self but also the certainty of its end.


Sick Person Narrative Medicine Illness Narrative Ordinary Boundary Motorize Wheelchair 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.the Program in Narrative Medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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