Constructing Chronicity and Clouding Kairos The Fragmentation of Temporal Dialectics in Descriptions of Chronic Depression

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Ellen Defossez


Extending Sarah Singer and Jordynn Jack’s (2020) definition of illness chronicity as a complex rhetorical process of identification, this essay suggests that the development of specific temporal vocabularies (ways of defining and describing time) is an important part of this process, one that precedes and enables identification. Drawing from underemphasized temporal themes in Kenneth Burke’s work, this essay analyzes a collection of public descriptions of chronic depression to identify implicit patterns of temporal vocabulary development and to consider how these patterns relate to identification. The analysis shows that descriptions of chronic depression consistently utilize what Burke termed “directional” strategies of definition, which center permanence as the essence of the illness experience, obscuring recognition of change. While this definitional strategy enables two potentially ameliorative disidentifications, it comes at the expense of precluding kairos, which requires a dialectically-intact temporal vocabulary featuring terms of both permanence and change.  

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