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“The Death of Ivan Ilyich” and multiple dimensions of illness

Abstract

The short story “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” (1886), Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) provides key elements for a reflection on the meaning of long-term illness. Based on Tolstoy's short story the present paper analyzes the multiple dimensions of the process of illness. It starts with the argument that illness is not an a priori totality, but a trajectory of associations between the sick person, the doctor, family members, friends and caregivers. Acting, being affected, thinking and feeling all come together in the development of these associations. The analysis of the Ivan Ilyich's illness will consider the following points: (a) illness as otherness and incomprehensibility (growing unfamiliarity with one's body and the stages by which the body is gradually objectified); (b) illness as trajectories in an field of practices that involves the development of skills and the “education of attention”; (c) modes of health care as a set of techniques, objects and discourses that are put together or associated throughout trajectories concerned with the establishment of health. Long-term illness is therefore a mode of immersion of the sick person in networks of relations that come to be a part of her everyday life.

Key words
Long-term illness; Literature; Health care

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