Professor speaks on illness, society

Ryan Sullivan and Ryan Sullivan

Bill Albertini, Ph.D., an assistant English professor at the University, presented “Bodies and Pain: How to be Ill and Unhappy” yesterday at the Student Union.

The presentation was a part of the Institute for the Study of Culture ‘ Society lecture series.

The presentation was divided into two main points focusing on people with disabilities and people with terminal illnesses such as AIDS.

The main theme throughout was how society tends to perceive people in these positions as being without sexuality and devoid of desires. It also had a focus on how people tend to view them as being alone and isolated.

“Pain is a subjective phenomenon,” Albertini said. “Pain is the term used by societies to reflect its norms.”

Albertini went on to discuss how being “able-bodied” is temporary and society tends to treat people who are in good physical health as the norm rather than the exception when this isn’t always the case.

“A visual representation of pain isn’t always necessary or good,” Albertini said. “Your pain doesn’t count unless a doctor can look at you and find this pain.”

He said that when somebody says he or she is in pain, it doesn’t necessarily have the same meaning to everybody and people can’t feel what others are going through.

Albertini then went on to discuss the difficulties people living with AIDS have to deal with.

In his presentation, he used specific examples of the people’s suffering through the photographs of Nicholas Nixon and the graphic novel, “Seven Miles a Second,” by David Wojnarowicz.

“Graphic novels use the same types of images as photographs, but the meaning of the images change with the text,” Albertini said.

“Seven Miles a Second” is the autobiography of Wojnarowicz and his feelings of social isolation while dealing the AIDS, especially after the loss of his partner to the same disease.

Albertini was selected to be a participant in the lecture series based on the strength of his application and because of his approach to dealing with the pain suffered by people through the use of graphic novels as a means to explain things in a different way.

Mark Bernard is a Ph.D. student in the American Culture Studies department as well as a research assistant with ICS.

“[The ICS] gives arts and humanities faculty the chance to work on independent research,” Bernard said. “[It] helps improve the University’s profile.”

Bernard said that he liked this approach because graphic novels open up a new avenue of looking at people with disabilities.

Albertini also discussed how organizations such as ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, are standing up and attempting to bring national attention to their cause.

One of the images from the graphic novel was of David, the main character, destroying St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City as a sign of protest. St. Patrick’s was a major target of groups such as ACT UP because of their stance against AIDS education and condom distribution.

“I like the use of a graphic novel as a third space to illustrate pain that can’t normally be seen,” said Stacy Rue, a popular culture graduate student.

Rue also said that she liked how the graphic novel was used as a means to communicate this information as opposed to normal ways such as books and photographs that can’t do it as effectively.