As someone who lives and works on the unceded territories known as New York, I would like to acknowledge and honor the Lenni-Lenape people, the original custodians of these lands, and all the other Indigenous peoples who have been or have become part of this region. I recognize the complexities of my positionality as a member of the Eelam Tamil diaspora, born on the ancestral lands of the Setalcott people and raised in the U.S. — a nation founded upon genocidal settler colonization and land theft whose legitimacy requires the erasure of its systematic violence — because genocidal violence in Sri Lanka kept my parents from returning home. Land acknowledgments alone are not enough, but they help to dispel America's origin myth, revise our relationships with the stolen lands on which we reside, and honor their original stewards.
As a disabled scholar, I commit to material actions within my means as requested by local Indigenous organizations like The Manna-Hatta Fund, including donating money to Indigenous-led organizations and supporting Indigenous-led grassroots campaigns for environmental protection, the removal of tributes to colonial war criminals, and the return of stolen property, like ceremonial objects and land.
Too often, academic scholarship is built by transforming people and their material needs into excessively theorized abstractions. "Nothing about us without us" means taking care not to exploit the very communities I identify and align with. The goals of justice and accountability for Tamils in Sri Lanka exceed the scope of this work, but as an Eelam Tamil American writing about the Tamil genocide, I strive to cite and engage with Eelam Tamil knowledge, amplify Eelam Tamil histories, and support Eelam Tamil people in the North-East of Sri Lanka through Tamil-led organizations like People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL).
Indigenous land will always be Indigenous land. Eelam will always be Eelam.
I am indebted to the people who make my very survival possible. Anji, my thangachchi (younger sister) and lifelong co-conspirator, confidant, friend, fact-checker, and first audience for my stories. Mary Krienke, my literary agent, and Sara Fuller, my visual arts collaborator and Pilates instructor, who helped care for me after flare-ups, surgeries, and the end of the war in Sri Lanka. These three people have been with me at every step of my chronic illness journey and doctoral research, and this project would not exist without their feedback or support. I was also sustained by my feline "co-author" and constant companion Athena, the red-and-white Siberian tabby who joined my household in the summer of 2015 and who comforted me through post-surgical rehabilitation, chronic pain and fatigue, academic stressors, painful writing sessions, and bereavement. Nandri (thank you).
I am grateful to my dissertation committee for their patience and openness to genre experimentation. Jack Bratich, my advisor, for all the ways he accommodated my misabled bodymind, as I went on and off medications, underwent surgery twice, changed my research focus post-quals, and labored under perpetually soft deadlines due to full-time teaching, the death of my Appa, and fibromyalgia's interruptions. Marija Dalbello, for our discussions about phenomenology, tactility, paper art, and cats; the former three subjects inspired the creation of physical artifacts photographed for inclusion in this work. Susan Keith, for making time and space for my anxieties, gifting me with her storytelling, and driving me from Brooklyn to Manhattan two days after my appendectomy. Remi Yergeau, my outside member, whose encouragement to "disable all the things" helped me openly identify as fibromyalgic and seeded this project before I knew I had it in me; their scholarship and career advice has been invaluable to me. Nandri.
I am grateful to nurse practitioners Kathy Sanders and Lynda Krasenbaum, Dr. Bertha Bauer, Dr. Amy Kok Wai Lau, Dr. Kristen Lee, Dr. Prashant Sinha, Dr. Natalie Azar, Dr. Susan Polizzi, and Dr. Yevgenia Pashinsky for believing me. I am also thankful for Ms. Pearl and Ms. Pam at my local Duane Reade pharmacy for their good humor and warmth whenever I filled a prescription. Nandri.
Parts of this dissertation were vastly retraumatizing, and so I am grateful to my friends and colleagues for encouraging me. Andrea Olinger for her infectious enthusiasm about my research, even when I couldn't muster any of my own, and for all the joys of our long-running friendship. Katie McCollough for her candid, judgment-free mentoring. Ruth Osorio and Jessie Male for wholeheartedly affirming everything I did as necessary, important work. Ada Hubrig for their kindness and care packages. Christina Cedillo for offhandedly telling me something like "fuck them and just fucking do it" at a Computers and Writing conference when I said senior academics had warned me against writing about race, which encouraged me to incorporate Tamil language, customs, and sensorial attitudes into my writing. Elkie Burnside, Rachel Ryerson, Michael Day, and Angela Haas for their words of wisdom and support in the wake of Appa's death. Lydia Wilkes, Cara Marta Messina, Kyllikki Rytov, Lynn Reid, Franny Howes, Cheryl Ball, Katie Randall, Erika Sparby, Bernice Olivas, and Alli Giordano for collaborating with me, holding space for me, amplifying my voice, reminding me to be kind to myself, believing me, and believing in me. Nandri.
I also want to acknowledge that, even though this dissertation is an autoethnography, it isn't possible to tell a story about myself that isn't also about other people. To everyone who ever shared a story with me or in a public forum about acute or chronic pain that was dismissed on the basis of gender, race, age, class, sexuality, or non-apparency: nandri.
I am thankful for my parents: Amma, who insisted I put my education and career first and told me stories about pain, stoicism, and disease in Batticaloa, much of which informed how I interacted with the healthcare system and what I included in this dissertation; and Appa, who taught me in middle school where the red thread of ocularity is located in B. gouldiana and how to extract it with a microscope, scalpel, and tweezers, and who — when he became disabled — could commiserate about our physicians possessing such dominion over us.
Finally, I am indebted to this shipwreck body I exist in and repeatedly dive back into, for the debris and treasure it holds.
This dissertation includes previously published work that has appeared in the following journals and collections, listed below:
- "Notes to Self" copyright © 2013 by Vyshali Manivannan. Modified and reprinted from theNewerYork (tNY.Press).
- "'But you look so well!': (Un)professionalizing chronic pain through academic dress" copyright © 2020 by Vyshali Manivannan. Reprinted from the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics.
- "The Successful Text is Not the One That Murders Me to Protect You" copyright © 2022 by UP Colorado, first publishing rights. Modified and reprinted with permission from Bodies of Knowledge: Embodied Rhetorics in Theory and Practice (UP Colorado).
- Excerpts from "Bioculturalizing Pain," "Padam: Introduction," "For Whose Gaze is This Collection Meant?," "Fibromyalgic Fascial Cunning," and "Maya and the Phenomenology of Pain" copyright © 2017 by Vyshali Manivannan under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 AU. Reprinted from "'A Way of Life That is Not Entirely Unfortunate': The Peripheral Cunning of Chronic Pain" in Platform: Journal of Media and Communication.
- Excerpts from "Vali: Introduction," "Biomedicalizing Fibromyalgia," "Padam: Introduction," "Atlases of Blood and Bone," "Peyththai," and "Sensation Language" copyright © 2017 by Vyshali Manivannan. Reprinted from "What We See When We Digitize Pain: The Risk of Valorizing Image-Based Representations of Fibromyalgia over Body and Bodily Experience" in Digital Health.