Reading Group - Tell me, how do I feel?

Reading Group - Tell me, how do I feel?

01 May 2020

Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow

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  • This reading group will situate Tell me, how do I feel?, an exhibition of new moving image work by artist Annie Crabtree, in a wider context of research, writing and thought on illness, medicine and the experience of being a patient. Expanding upon the themes of the exhibition, the reading group will hold space for conversation, focusing on the relationship between illness and culture, and examining the stigmas and taboos associated with ill-health, disease and the body and the accompanying emotions of shame, guilt and fear.

    The reading group will look at extracts from Illness as a Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors by Susan Sontag, Complaints and disorders: the sexual politics of sickness by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, and On Being Ill by Virginia Woolf. The texts have been selected for their resonance in the current political climate and their potential to unpack the entanglement of social norms and moral judgements with our understandings of health and disease, whether that be through the lens of the AIDs crisis or notions of hysteria.

    Tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided. Copies of these extracts will be supplied in advance of the reading group. Large print versions of the texts will be available. A BSL interpreter will be present during the reading group.

    The event start at 2pm in the Library Reading Room.

    Attendees may also be interested in the screening on Thursday 7 May, which explores how patients are often positioned as unreliable narrators and inaccurate witness of their own bodies, pain and ill-health.

    About the texts:

    Illness as a Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors by Susan Sontag, 1978 and 1989, published together in 1991
    “When diagnosed with breast cancer Susan Sontag discovered the extent to which we are developed a mythology to cope with disease, which can often distort the truth about illness and isolate the patient. In ‘Illness as a Metaphor’ she strips away the myths and presents the true significance of disease as it has affected cultures throughout the centuries. ‘AIDS and Its Metaphors’ extends her critique to examine the metaphors surrounding AIDS and to expose the truth, free of guilt, shame, and fear.”

    Complaints and disorders: the sexual politics of sickness by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, 1973, republished with an introduction by Susan Faludi in 2011
    “From prescribing the “rest cure” to diagnosing hysteria, the medical profession has consistently treated upper-class women as weak and pathological, and poor women as dangerously polluted. First published by the Feminist Press in 1973, Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English’s concise history of the sexual politics of medical practices show how a biomedical rationale was used to justify sex discrimination throughout society.”

    On Being Ill by Virginia Woolf, 1930, republished with an introduction by Hermione Lee with Notes from Sicks Rooms by Julia Stephen, 1883, in 2012.
    “In this poignant and humorous work, Virginia Woolf observes that though illness is part of every human being's experience, it has never been the subject of literature--like the more acceptable subjects of war and love. We cannot quote Shakespeare to describe a headache. We must, Woolf says, invent language to describe pain. And though illness enhances our perceptions, she observes that it reduces self-consciousness; it is "the great confessional." Woolf discusses the cultural taboos associated with illness and explores how illness changes the way we read.”

    Note: the reading group will not explore each text in depth, but will draw on extracts to examine the common themes arising across the selection. A further reading list of texts the artist drew upon when producing Tell me, how do I feel? is available for those interested.


    The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow is located on St Vincent Street, near Blythswood Square, in the city centre of Glasgow. The nearest train stations are Glasgow Central, Queen Street Station, and Charing Cross Station. The nearest subway stop is St George’s Cross. Bus routes 2, 3, 4, 57, and 77 can be used to get to the College. The College has limited on street parking outside of the building, with a two hour parking restriction.

    The College is accessed via the main double doors on Saint Vincent Street, up eight steps with a handrail. A lift is located next to this staircase and is accessed by ringing the bell at street level. The exhibition is located in the library on the second floor of the college, accessed by either stairs or a lift. The reading group will take place in the library.

    The exhibition consists of film shown on a loop on two flat screen monitors with headphones, alongside selected items from the College’s collection in exhibition vartrines. The film is captioned for D/deaf and hard of hearing audiences and a transcript is available in the exhibition handout. Large print copies of the texts and a BSL interpreter will be available for the reading group.

    If there is anything we can do to make it easier for you to attend the exhibition and events associated with it, or if you have any questions, thoughts or feedback around access at the College, please feel free to contact Clare Harrison, Library and Heritage Manager on

    Suitable for:

    • Public
  • Category Product Amount
    Attendee Registrations £0
    Non-Member Registrations £0
    Member of the College Registrations £0
  • Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow

Closing date: 01 May 2020

Other dates

24 April - 08 May 2020
07 May 2020


Clare Harrison
+44 (0) 141 221 6072

Email Coordinator

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