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SYMPTOMSPEAK

Women’s Struggle for History and Health in Post-War Kosovo

By Hanna Kienzler

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Can we feel the pain of others? How does pain connect and reach across histories, gendered realities, and social politics? How is illness shaped by context, and what kind of life worlds rise from it? I explored these questions among women in Kosovo and discovered a unique symptomatic language through which they communicate their pain and suffering about the Kosovo War and post-war hardships.

I call this language Symptomspeak.

Symptom [sɪm(p)təm]: Bodily, mental and social phenomena, circumstances, or conditions arising from, or accompanying diseases and affections, as well as social and political ills.

Speak [spiːk]: A verbal, performative or embodied action of conveying information, views and feelings in interaction with others.

MOBILE ONLY

Can we feel the pain of others? How does pain connect and reach across histories, gendered realities, and social politics? How is illness shaped by context, and what kind of life worlds rise from it? I explored these questions among women in Kosovo and discovered a unique symptomatic language through which they communicate their pain and suffering about the Kosovo War and post-war hardships.
I call this language Symptomspeak.
Symptom [sɪm(p)təm]: Bodily, mental and social phenomena, circumstances, or conditions arising from, or accompanying diseases and affections, as well as social and political ills.
Speak [spiːk]: A verbal, performative or embodied action of conveying information, views and feelings in interaction with others.

Remembering War and Hardship

And isn’t it important that we acknowledge that in sharing stories, we affirm life in the face of death, rejoining the dead with the living, and ourselves with one another? (Michael Jackson 2013)

Through the memories and stories of women survivors of the Kosovo War I invite the reader to explore the difficulty of facing reality . Their stories tell of violence and uncertainty, but also of bravery, creativity and humour in the face of extreme hardship. They raise questions about what we can learn about the troubled and violent past when we, as listeners or readers, allow ourselves to be exposed to others’ painful memories and stories. What does it take to imagine their pain and sense its shadow within us?

Speaking Through Pain

Even the idea that we should recover the narratives of violence becomes problematic when we realize that such narratives cannot be told unless we see the relation between pain and language that a culture has evolved. (Veena Das 2007)

How is it possible to grasp stories and meanings communicated through bodily and emotional pain? Here, you will meet women who master the art of embodied storytelling. Through symptomatic expressions, symptomspeak, they share critical messages about Kosovo’s violent past and, through the past, about both the present and the future that are otherwise difficult, if not impossible to hear.

Realms of Healing

Only when we are prepared to be shouldered from our comfortable position in the here and how, will we be able to learn about the meaning of pain and how to provide care instead of merely a cure.  (Hanna Kienzler, field notes)

Follow me into the realm of healing where you will meet doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists as well as traditional healers who grapple with women’s symptomspeak. You will read about diagnostic practices and healing in resource scarce settings, magical encounters, and ethical dilemmas. Overall, the stories reveal creative forces through which new commentaries and understandings are created about health and illness, family arrangements, national politics and the state of the world.

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