Willful Vulnerability: Generous Offerings in Cancer in Two Voices and The Century Project

Michelle Peek, McMaster University
Vol. 32, No. 2/Vol. 33, No. 1 (Fall 2013/Spring 2014), 189-217

This article examines the self-conscious, willful desire to leave traces of the self behind after death to find life in others. Cancer in Two Voices alternates between two authorial subjects in a journal-style record of Barbara Rosenblum’s three-year and ultimately fatal experience with breast cancer. The Century Project is a collection of nude portraits, in which several subjects bear visible marks breast cancer, photographed and compiled by Frank Cordelle. While both projects are interesting collaborations in their own right—a coauthored autothanatography and uneasy collaborations between a male artist and his female subjects—this article reads both projects as embedding a second-order collaboration. The authorial female subject engages in an imagined exchange with her reader that endeavors to make the self personally and politically visible, exhibiting a desire for both self-recognition and community. The women offer willful vulnerability: the resistant, willful expression of vulnerable bodies against their biomedical and aesthetic management, specifically, in the case of The Century Project and Cancer in Two Voices, against prescriptive patriarchal modes, the biomedicalization of health and illness, and heroic cancer narratives.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]