My Degeneration Reading Response 2

In Peter Dunlap-Schohl’s My Degeneration, he illustrates his journey through Parkinson’s disease in the form of a graphic memoir, largely using metaphors and imagery to portray his experiences. On page 66, Dunlap-Schohl describes the process of rating his wellness by clicking different smiley face options: “Better than average, fair, poor” (65). He is choosing the first option when he is struck by the realization that he does not feel good at all. Before Parkinson’s, if he was having difficulty with daily tasks, he “would have chosen the ‘frowny’ and considered that an understatement” (66); but now, it is the better than normal.

This is an example of how much Peter embodies his illness and symptoms. His expectations of daily and normal life have changed. Illness forces him to carry everyday pain, but if the same symptoms were associated with his “healthy self,” he would not accept it as normal. This illustrates more broadly the expectations that are placed on the individual who is suffering. There are assumptions that the individual suffering should be getting stronger through the illness, and able to take on immense physical pain. Similar to the boxing analogy Peter uses, narratives of fighting the illness or rising above the symptoms can be problematic, as it puts a responsibility on the individual. As a parallel, often there is an understanding that the individual suffering should be able to handle it mentally. By Peter putting on the smiley face to replace his head, it shows a mask that many individuals have to put on in their daily lives to hide the struggles they are truly facing. The balance between accepting the illness and still maintaining the self is difficult, and a struggle Peter faces.


Dunlap-Shohl, Peter. My Degeneration: a Journey through Parkinson’s. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2016.

Reading Response #2

Sam Whitfield

ANTH 272

Grant Glass


Dunlap-Shohl’s graphic memoir is an innovative illness narrative, and as such it could be beneficial to try and classify it under Frank’s models of restitution, chaos, and quest narratives. Looking at these models, I would say this graphic memoir is the most similar to what Frank would consider a quest narrative. This first piece of evidence to support this conclusion is that the book is a memoir, which is commonly used to document quest narratives. On top of this, the narrative itself has many concepts that Frank would consider as an indication of a quest narrative. For one, Dunlap-Shohl is diagnosed with a disease described as “progressive and incurable” (Dunlap-Shohl 7), and he is left to simply deal with it. This sends Dunlap-Shohl on a spiral downards, even bringing him close to suicide, until his wife helps talk him out of it (Dunlap-Shohl 30-31). After this emotional point, Dunlap-Shohl begins his long quest, one to both understand and learn to live with Parkinson’s. However, unlike a traditional quest narrative as described by Frank, Dunlap-Shohl’s quest does not seem to have a return. He departs from his old life when he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s (Dunlap-Shohl 6), and initiates this quest when he takes his first steps learning about Parkinson’s, as exemplified by the chapter “learning to speak Parkinson’s” (Dunlap-Shohl 17), but he never returns from where he started. This breaks from Frank’s model of a quest narrative, but it exemplifies that learning to live with Parkinson’s can be seen as a lifelong process, with no clear end in sight.

Dunlap-Shohl, Peter. My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015.

Impact of Graphics in My Degeneration

Illness experiences can oftentimes be difficult to put into words, as pain and suffering easily cross the boundaries of language. In The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Bauby’s disability occasionally hides behind his storytelling. The audience temporarily forgets how he communicates his narrative by only blinking his left eye (Bauby 4). However, in the film adaptation, Bauby’s locked-in syndrome cannot be overlooked because it is prevalent in most scenes. Graphic memoir functions in a similar way, where images can be used to evoke meaning beyond language and depict concepts not easily placed into words. In My Degeneration, Dunlap-Shohl’s illustrations and visual techniques, such as spacing, are tools readers can use to more closely imagine how Parkinson’s Disease (PD) can impact an individual’s life.

Figure 1

Dunlap-Shohl’s drawings provide context to his illness experience that would otherwise be lost in textual form. In Figure 1, Dunlap-Shohl describes becoming “smellblind” as a symptom of PD (51). The associated image of him preparing to step in dog feces provides just one implication of this condition. Although his facial expression makes the situation seem light-hearted, Dunlap-Shohl prompts us to explore how smellblindness impacts other areas of life, such as the inability to smell your favorite meal or experience memories triggered by olfactory sensations. If Dunlap-Shohl’s description of smellblindness had no supporting illustration, it would have been clumped in with the long list of PD symptoms and forgotten. However, the depiction contextualizes this phenomenon and hints at how PD can truly control even the smallest aspects of life.

Figure 2

Spacing the panels in a particular fashion is another technique Dunlap-Shohl uses to evoke meaning. In Figure 2, Dunlap-Shohl depicts his task to learn photoshop in order to preserve his passion of graphic drawings as his disease progresses (41). This process is divided among multiple panels, which suggests his efforts were long and tedious. The space between the panels implies passing time, and it isn’t until later illustrations he expresses the temporality of the process through words. Simply stating the steps of building a photoshopped image, such as “create new, select tool, make layer…” shadows the meaning behind Dunlap-Shohl’s efforts (42). Mastering photoshop was important to Dunlap-Shohl because he knew PD would hinder his ability to draw, and his determination is conveyed in Figure 2 through illustrating the demands and accommodations Parkinson’s requires.

Figure 3

Dunlap-Shohl’s illustrations also allow for a more complete understanding of certain ideas he communicates. For example, in Figure 3, he describes how you cannot assume others are healthy simply because you are not (61). He depicts seemingly healthy people, but writes that they suffer from an illness of some sort that is not outwardly evident. Simply hearing the names of certain illnesses produces a stigmatized image of what that affliction looks like, but this image is not universal. Through pairing this idea with an illustration, Dunlap-Shohl limits the assumptions one can make about an illness experience.

Dunlap-Shohl, Peter. My Degeneration. University Park, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015.

Bauby, Jean-Dominique. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Paris, Editions Robert Laffont, 1997.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Directed by Julian Schnabel, performances by Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Seigner, and others, Pathé Distribution and Miramax Films, 2007.

Reading Response 2: My Degeneration

In the beginning of the semester, we focused a lot on Arthur Frank’s classification of narratives: the restitution, chaos, and quest narratives. Throughout previous classes, we have seen repetitive examples of this division of narratives, most of which fall into more than one category. However, when it came to the quest narrative, it seems to be more difficult to envision a narrative that is completely focused on the accepting the illness and being completely honest to the situation, besides Nancy Mair’s story.  Yet, interestingly enough, Dunlap-Shohl, in his graphic memoir provides us with a thorough and holistic overview of what the quest novel should look like.

Throughout his graphic memoir, Dunlap-Shohl provides detailed images of his experience with Parkinson’s disease. His encounter appears to be what Frank would refer to as a quest narrative, mainly because he is gifted a voice to be the teller of his own story, a critical aspect of what the quest narrative is[1]. Yet rather than be a typical quest narrative that describes one’s illness, Dunlap-Shohl uses his own interpretation and skillsets to showcase his narrative through the use of images. The images offer the readers the opportunity to better understand Dunlap-Shohl’s views of his condition. For instance, Dunlap-Shohl creates a personified version of Parkinson’s and gives the disease its own character[2]. This decision allows the readers to insight as to what Parkinson’s means to Dunlap-Shohl and the way he views the disease. Moreover, by the end of the story, we see that the same image of Parkinson’s is used again. However, rather than in a form to intimidate, the manifested image symbolizes Dunlap-Shohl’s growth in acceptance of the disease and his willingness to fight back. This switch in mentality corresponds with Frank’s belief that in the quest narrative, the ill person surrenders control of health yield, which is precisely what Dunlap-Shohl does.

One major action that differs from Frank’s description of the quest narrative is Dunlap-Shohl’s use of the word memoir. In Frank’s definition, he recalls that a memoir is very gentle and is told stoically without any “special insight”. And while this may hold true to some aspects of Dunlap-Shohl’s graphic memoir, like how he chooses to not linger on the moments of anger, it is not the complete truth. Rather, Dunlap-Shohl offers a memoir that is not entirely stoic. He mentions his battling thoughts with suicide, his annoyance with the disease as it tears at his ability to work, and even the tears shed between him and his wife among hearing about his diagnosis. This is not to say that Frank is wrong in his definition of a memoir, however, it does serve to act as an alternative opinion on the appearance of a quest narrative in a differing form of memoir.

[1] “The Quest Narrative,” 75-136.Frank wounded storyteller ch 6

[2] Dunlap-Shohl, Peter. My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015.

Reading Response #2 Topic 4

This drawing here has very few defined outlines, is a blur to look at, and almost seems “pieced” together. As a reader, it’s hard to comprehend what he truly looks like. This ties into one of our earliest class discussions on the patient-doctor relationship. We explored the postmodern issue of patients who lack a role in their own treatment methods. Patients themselves barely exist in any clinical assessment because modern medicine only focuses on disease mechanisms. A few ways that we’ve learned how patients can exist in medicine is through storytelling and understanding their different cultural perspectives. Thus, doctors actually need a definite body, a true image, one capable of speech to clearly communicate to the observer or they will risk walking away with only pieces of their entire tale.
Another image packed with connections to our discussions on the patient-doctor experience is of Dunlap-Shohl describing the “language of Parkinson’s.” First, this image is displayed in many boxes and could possibly cause confusion as the reader looks at one place immediately to the next. This arrangement reflects the difficulty to grasp all that Parkinson’s disease encompasses. Even the wide vocabulary of words is difficult to understand because they seem to have multiple pronunciations and many different ways to look at them. What’s even more frightening is that these are the odd conversations that circulate in the world of medicine in which doctors like to bombard patients with all the nitty-gritty medical terminologies.
A final image is one that personifies Parkinson’s disease—a green monster. There’s only one bright side to looking at this monster, and that’s that it gives the disease a meaning. Thus, Dunlap-Shohl is helping the reader identify with this disease in a way that restores understanding so that we can respond appropriately to his incredible memoir.

Paragraph 1. Image to the left




Paragraph 2. Image to the right.

Works Cited

Dunlap-Shohl, Peter. My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015.


How titles and snow create a narrative

Before the book even begins the reader is presented the table of contents: here lies the road map of the graphic memoir that equips the reader with what to expect in the pages to come. The organized list of titles is contrasted by the sporadic background of what appears to be snow. Upon a closer examination we can see circles and even letters. The author can be found in the corner: cold and alone. The difference between the uniform types words and the hand drawn letter and circles can show how the unpredictability PD and the comfort of Dunlap-Shohl’s career are combined into one page. The letters and circles seem to be hand drawn, perhaps the author was practicing his letters as his condition progressed. The black border at the top of the page is almost like a transition of what our reality and narrative is to the author’s story. it is like  Without getting into too much of the contents of the graphic memoir, one is able to graph the type of narrative Dunlap-Shohl is presenting.

The first title explicitly tells us that there is a sad beginning, the author is going to experience his diagnosis of Parkinson’s and is experiencing depressing feelings. From the second title, the reader can infer that he is learning to understand and work around the struggles of having PD. There is an educational experience that comes with an illness that changes one’s life. It is like a culture with its own language and mannerisms and one must adapt to it because it takes on a visible role in one’s life. 

In the third chapter, Parkinson’s is personified to create an identity for the disease: separate from the author. Though they are of the same body, they are two different “people”. This can be interpreted as the author not accepting PD as a part of his life and as a part of himself while also understanding that he is still a multifaceted person though he has a debilitating disease.

The fifth chapter’s title along with the chapter’s first page shows a confusing reality. This notion is supported by the graphic novel-esque form: cartoons and drawings are not reality. They mimic reality but are not a complete copy of what is perceived as 3D or real. The prism is not only changing his view on life but also how the author is viewed by others: “it changes the way you perceive things and the way you are perceived” (Dunlap-Shohl 50). It is a combination of the disease, medication, and his personal thought processes that create his reality. 

The last chapter title reminds me of a musical where musical numbers have reprises, or songs that appeared earlier and entering the story once more. Reprise means to repeat, to show up again: which is odd to think that there is another diagnosis for a disease that does not “leave” or have the ability to “come back”. Yet the last title has a more hopeful meaning in a sense that the author is returning to where he started. There is a tone of finality: a final negotiation of the diagnosis and its meaning for the author’s life. 

A restitution narrative does not seem fitting due to the nature of Parkinson’s, there is no return to a life without Parkinson’s once one is diagnosed: “Yesterday I was healthy, today I’m sick, but tomorrow I’ll be healthy again” (Frank 77). They are restored to their former self, pre-illness with the help of medicine. I don’t think any story about Parkinson’s will fit the restitution narrative. “So mark this moment with gratitude and relief, and anticipate the next ten years” (Dunlap-Shohl 96). This quote contradicts the end of what a restitution narrative should end like, it is ten more years of living with Parkinson’s disease.

The titles are giving the reader a timeline which contradicts the chaos narrative which is anti-narrative in a sense. Chaos narratives “are chaotic in their absence of narrative order” (Frank 97). The progression of Parkinson’s is “linear” for everyone though there is a lack of control because there is no cure for Parkinson’s. Events are not by chance, they are predictable in the sense that the patient will progressively get worse and lose their motor skills. There is a sequence of events that Peter Dunlap-Shohl is telling the reader: there is a beginning, middle, and end. 

 From the titles, there does seem to be a journey that is compliant with a quest narrative. “Quest stories have at least three facets: memoir, manifesto, and automythology” (Frank 119). There is a plot, the genre is a graphic memoir, and there is a story acceptance. 


Dunlap-Shohl, Peter. My Degeneration. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015. 

Frank, Arthur W. The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics. University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Reading Response 2

A graphic memoir is a narrative genre that is able to combine visual forms with text forms in order to preset information in a unique way. By including this imagery in addition to text, Dunlap-Shohl is able to communicate his personal journey through Parkinson’s that people from all types of backgrounds can relate to. By utilizing various fonts, speech bubbles, contrasting colors, and spacing, Dunlap-Shohl presents Parkinson’s Disease in a way people have not seen before.

One of the first differences I noticed between the graphic memoir and a novel was the use of bolding words. When looking at the graphic memoir, there are many words bolded on each page, something not commonly seen within novels. On pages 32 and 33, there are many bold words which seem to fit into two categories. The first category I see the words fitting into are words that are related to strong emotions and feelings. These words include “despair”, “fear”, “loathing”, “sanity”, and “mad.” On the other hand, some words seem to be bolded to represent which words are emphasized in thoughts or conversations. For example, Dunlap-Shohl’s though bubble on page 32 reads “But it was more than just what she said. It was also the conviction in her voice” (Dunlap-Shohl, 32).

In addition to Dunlap-Shohl’s use of font, color also plays an important role in how ideas are represented. When personifying Parkinson’s Disease, Dunlap-Shohl uses a light green color. Though green can be used to represent nature and harmony, it also has negative connotations like envy, sickness, and disease. Dunlap-Shohl used the same color green when depicting his negative side on page 53. Because he has the same green skin as Parkinson’s, I believe this shows that he sees his disease and as well as himself (in that particular moment) as monsters.

Another important part of graphic memoirs is spacing. While the variety of spacing techniques keep me interested as a reader, I believe they also have a deeper meaning. Some of the illustrations, such as the one on page 58 depicting him falling off a ladder, are large and are meant to grab your attention right away while others are much smaller and compact. When Dunlap-Shohl explains his process of learning to use the computer to illustrate on page 42, the boxes seem smaller than many of the other ones. I believe this is because it makes the reader slow down. During this scene, Dunlap-Shohl is frustrated with learning the new program because it takes such a long time. By using the small boxes, it takes the reader a much longer time to read this page compared to other pages with larger images.

Overall, Dunlap-Shohl portrays his journey though Parkinson’s Disease in a new light. From fonts and speech bubbles to color choice and box size, Dunlap-Shohl keeps the reader entertained while also including hidden meanings.


  1. Dunlap-Shohl, Peter. My Degeneration: a Journey through Parkinson’s. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2016.