Photo courtesy of Ava Burzycki To the Victorians, tuberculosis was a deeply romantic ailment to be consumed by. To be rosy-cheeked, sweaty, pale and deteriorated to the point of extreme slenderness from tuberculosis was to be tragically beautiful — especially to artists, writers and other creative intellectuals. There was no greater sign of aestheticism and talent than to cough up blood during a poetry reading — a public health professor told me this — and no greater poetic honor than to be bedridden in the beauty of the illness. Despite this antiquated perception, tuberculosis was never dainty droplets of blood and decaying beautifully; it is complete and utter bodily destruction, starting in the lungs. This sat at odds with this aestheticization of their decay, setting a prime standard for writers of all sorts to turn their utter misery into complex works of art. While tuberculosis is a distinctly physical ailment, the deep romanticization of it bears almost no difference from the deep romanticization of anguish. Literature, especially autofiction, poetry and contemporary literature, is addicted to spilling its guts. The world thrives on indulging in foreign pain or mirrored pain, and authors have always been ready to romanticize themselves and put their wounds on display. Maybe surprisingly, this is not genre-bound to drama, poetry or any other sector of literature. Horror is often psychological, playing on nightmares and misery; comedy can be cathartic, only because our lives are better than the plot-driven mess; even memoirs are dominated by lives of tragedy that ultimately lead to triumph. We are addicted to portrayals of pain and the aftermath. Even further from expectation, my first encounter with exploiting trauma for entertainment was the children's novel “ Bridge to Terabithia ” by Katherine Paterson. The chapter book chronicled the beautiful friendship growing between two middle schoolers — Jesse and Leslie — who both have tragic backstories, angst and alienation from others their age. The two driving characters are artistic storytellers in their right and build a world free of the trials and tribulations of reality. The novel ends in tragedy when the whimsical Leslie […]
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