Showing 1 - 10 of 35 annotations tagged with the keyword "Vision Disorder"

Essex Serpent, The

Perry, Sarah

Last Updated: Sep-07-2017
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The idea for her second novel came to Sarah Perry in a flash (Ref. 1) as her husband was telling her about the 1699 sighting of a serpent or dragon in Henham, a village slightly to the northwest of the town of Essex, where Ms.Perry was born in 1979. The late 19th century events of the novel occur primarily in Aldwinter, a fictional fishing village on the Blackwater estuary.  Divided into 4 books (with titles derived from a 1669 pamphlet on the Serpent), each with subdivisions by month, further subdivided into chapters, the story takes place over 11 calendar months, from New Year's Eve to November, 1892. Although the story does not feel complicated and should not be difficult to describe in a synopsis, it is a tribute to the novelist's Dickensian talents  that in fact it is somewhat complex, involving four couples and their various children and friends and their increasingly intricate relationships, all revolving around the palpable feeling in Aldwinter that the famous Essex Serpent has returned, resurfaced, or decided to re-animate all the lives therein. The protagonist is Cora Seaborne,  a recently widowed free-thinker, adept in biology and natural sciences, and mother of an adolescent boy, Francis, who would nowadays probably receive the label "autistic." After the death of her abusive husband from oropharyngeal cancer, Cora becomes emotionally involved with Luke Garrett, the treating surgeon, an idiosyncratic, brilliant man, who has a bosom buddy, George Spencer (simply called "Spencer"), a very wealthy former medical school classmate. With an introduction from her friends Charles and Katherine Ambrose, Cora and Martha - her intimate companion - visit William (often referred to as just "Will") and his wife Stella Ransome in Aldwinter, where Will is the parish minister and father to three children. The eldest is Joanna, a precocious adolescent girl one imagines, alongside a younger Cora, as a younger version of this novel's author, who describes herself as vibrantly curious of all her surroundings while growing up in Essex as a young girl. (Ref. 2)

With the arrival of Cora and Martha in Aldwinter, the narrative begins in earnest with the development of the mounting anxiety over the mysterious events (a missing boat, unexplained drownings) attributed to possibly a resurgent Essex Serpent besetting Aldwinter; Luke's miraculous operation saving a man named Edward Burton from a knife wound to the heart; the increasingly romantic relationship between Cora and Will, to Luke's dismay; Stella's rapidly progressive pulmonary tuberculosis; the disappearance of Naomi Banks, a friend of Joanna; and an attack on Luke by the same man who had knifed Edward Burton. By novel's end, without spoiling the plot, most loose ends have been cauterized, left more neatly dangling or deftly retied.  


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On the Move: A Life

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Jun-22-2015

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

On the Move:  A Life describes the extraordinary life of Oliver Sacks from his childhood during World War II to shortly before its 2015 publication.  Using his journals (“nearly a thousand,” he writes), correspondence, and memories—as well as his 14 or so books—Sacks has given himself free rein to describe and analyze his long, productive, and unusual life.

A dozen chapter headings nominally corral his wide variety of interests, adventures, and travels, including his medical career, his homosexuality, and diverse writing projects.

Sacks came from an English medical family, including some observant Jews, but not him. As a youth he loved (prophetically) writing and chemistry. He rode motorcycles then and for many years to come. He did poorly on his Oxford practical anatomy exam but immediately (and drunk on hard cider) sat for a competitive essay on anatomy and won a large prize.  Later, he was warned away from bench science and focused successfully on patient care, patient narratives, and personal essays of many sorts, including A Leg To Stand On, the account of his injured leg and recovery.

Sacks left England for Canada, then the US.  He quotes from some of the journals about his travels. In LA, he worked out at Muscle Beach (setting a California squat record) and did drugs, including amphetamines. A shy man, he thought of himself as Doppelganger: Dr. Sacks by day, a black-garbed biker by night. 

Fascinated by vision and photography, Sacks includes 58 photos from the ’50s to 2006; some black and white, some in color.  These are printed together on slick paper and well illustrate his text.   

Neurology training concluded, Sacks served various institutions in New York but read widely, ever eager to find theories of brain chemistry, anatomy, perception, behavior, and more. As readers of his books know, he enjoyed using his own interests in drugs, music, and travel, as well as personal medical experiences such as his injured leg and his lack of facial recognition. He describes his meetings with patients with unusual dilemmas: the postencephalics of Awakenings, as well as people with Tourette’s syndrome, deafness, colorblindness, autism, or migraines. He became fascinated—obsessed, one might say—with these and wrote so voluminously that cuts had to be made from his huge manuscripts to yield books.

Sacks describes interaction with editors, film crews, playwrights and others wishing to collaborate. His audiences grew as he became an intermediary to the non-medical public. We read about Peter Brook, W. H. Auden, Jonathan Miller, Bob Silvers (New York Review of Books), the cartoonist Al Capp (a cousin), Abba Eban (another cousin), Stephen Jay Gould, Temple Grandin, Francis Crick, and others. One striking passage describes taking Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams to see locked-in patients in preparation for the film version of Awakenings.

In his 70s, his robust health faded. He had a melanoma in his right eye, with more than three years of treatment before it became blind. Being Sacks, he observed interesting phenomena as his vision changed, “a fertile ground of enquiry” (p. 376). His left knee was replaced. He had sciatica.   

He fell in love again after 35 years of celibacy; he dedicates his book to his partner Billy Hayes.

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Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This essay concerns a very unusual man, Washington Woodward, whom Donald Hall met as a young boy during his summers in New Hampshire and came to know even more from the tales he heard from his grandfather. Abandoned at age 6, Washington grew up on the author’s grandparents’ farm until age 12 when his “lazy and mean” father reclaimed him. Running away 4 years later, Washington began the highly eccentric life limned in this poetic mini-biography.

“Eccentric” probably does not do justice to Washington’s style, habits, skills, and foibles. He was entirely self-sufficient, from his clothes to his food - much of which he hunted or grew - to his handmade machines, including a complicated boulder-moving contraption designed to clear the way for cows, not humans. Washington could repair almost anything, from an outhouse to a baseball bat to a mowing machine.

The range of his skills is impressive by anyone’s standards, not just a 21st century reader: “I knew him to shoe a horse, install plumbing, dig a well, make a gun, build a road, lay a dry stone wall, do the foundation and frame of a house, invent a new kind of trap for beavers, manufacture his own shotgun shells, grind knives, and turn a baseball bat on a lathe” (page 23), reminding this reader of a similar passage about Nate Shaw in Theodore Rosengarten’s All God’s Dangers. Living the life of a hermit most of the time on Ragged Mountain, New Hampshire, Washington spent a great deal of his life with his beloved animals: Phoebe the pet Holstein and Old Duke the ox, whom he taught to shake hands and roll over.

The nails? Washington would gather stray nails he found in boards or discovered on walks, and take them back to his hut where he would straighten them and store them. Why? “He saved the nails because it was a sin to allow good material to go to waste.” (page 26)

He died in a state nursing home, a month after a visit by the author and his grandfather.


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Syndrome E

Thilliez, Franck

Last Updated: Aug-26-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A movie buff in northern France goes blind after watching a short anonymous horror film. He calls on Lucie his ex-girlfriend and a cop in Lille, to take the film to an expert film analyst. The expert demonstrates that the film, made in Canada in 1955, contains subliminal images and a whole other hidden movie of little girls torturing rabbits. He is soon found brutally murdered and the film stolen.

Four bodies missing part of their skulls, their eyes, and hands are found buried by a crew laying a pipeline and the profiler Sharko is brought in to explore the crime. They make a connection to a triple murder of girls in Egypt in 1994—the three girls who did not know each other were found in different places with their brains and eyes missing.

Sharko and Lucie begin to unravel the mystery by tracking the people in the film and those who made it. Sharko goes to Egypt; she goes to Canada –both nearly lose their lives as a result. Their research brings them closer to linking the seemingly disparate murders to occult military operations, involving the French Foreign Legion and the CIA.

They solve the crime, but the ending is disturbing.

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Monet Refuses the Operation

Mueller, Lisel

Last Updated: Jan-23-2013
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Claude Monet (1840--1926) was a French impressionist painter. As he aged, he developed cataracts, but refused to have them surgically removed. In this 46-line free verse poem, Monet, the speaker, tries to make the doctor understand his reasons for refusing the operation.

What the doctor sees as deterioration, an "aberration" and an "affliction," is for the artist the result of a long process of development, a kind of culmination of his life’s work: exploring the way that people (rather than eyes) see. For Monet, removing the cataracts would "restore / my youthful errors" of vision, a world seen according to "fixed notions" of discrete objects rather than as the flux of pure light it has become. Monet wishes the doctor could see what he does: "if only you could see / how heaven pulls earth into its arms . . . ."

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Propofol

Kirchwey, Karl

Last Updated: Jan-23-2013
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

"Propofol" is a 20 line poem of five quatrains each with an a-b-a-b rhyming scheme. Appearing in the June 30, 2008 New Yorker magazine, it is a description of the Classical allusions and hallucinatory experience surrounding the administration of the hypnosedative, propofol, to the speaker-patient for an undescribed medical procedure.

It involves a whimsical conversation, of sorts, between the patient and the physician. After the patient references many of the Greek and Roman materials (moly, mandragora), art ("Euphronios' famous calyx-krater" [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphronios_krater]) and deities (Somnus, Hypnos, Morpheus) involved with sleep and death ("Sleep and Death were brothers"), the physician is made to ask why the patient is there - one presumes, and only hopes, he in fact knows!

The poem ends with the onset of what is known as procedural sedation ("A traveller/approached the citadel even while I was speaking,/seven seconds from my brain; then it was snuff."). The final two lines describe the image - apparently now in the hallucinating patient's head - of Félicien Rops' 1879 painting "Pornokrates", in the Musée provincial Félicien Rops, Namur, France (http://www.museerops.be/tech/drawing/pornokrates.html), the genesis of which Rops described thus in a 1879 letter to Henri Liesse:

"I did this in four days in a room of blue satin, in an overheated apartment, full of different smells, where the opopanax and cyclamen gave me a slight fever conducive towards production or even towards reproduction."[quoted at the Musée provincial Félicien Rops site.]

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Summary:

This is an anthology of poetry by poets who have disabilities. The book's sections are ordered more or less chronologically, although the editors have identified other groupings as well: "The Disability Poetics Movement," "Lyricism of the Body," and "Towards a New Language of Embodiment." Also included is a well organized preface by editor Jennifer Bartlett and an informative "Short History of American Disability Poetry" by editor Michael Northen. An essay by or about each poet prefaces that poet's work. The book makes no pretense at being comprehensive but offers a large selection of poets with a variety of physical impairments (e.g. cerebral palsy, rheumatoid arthritis, dystonia, blindness, deafness, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke). It presents important figures who have contributed to current thinking about the disabled body and social and physical constraints imposed on it, as well as poets who do not/did not identify themselves as disabled in their work.

The first section, "Early Voices" presents poets no longer alive who wrote in the mid to late 20th century and rarely forefronted their disability (Larry Eigner, Vassar Miller, Robert Fagan, Josephine Miles-- and  Tom Andrews, who DID write about his hemophilia). Their work took place mostly during a time when disability was stigmatized and kept hidden. Michael Davidson's essay on Larry Eigner's work is particularly informative, showing how the poet's severe cerebral palsy, which kept him housebound, pervaded his work although he made no overt reference to his condition.

"The Disability Poetics Movement" highlights poets ("crip poets") who openly celebrate their unusual bodies. These are poets who emerged shortly after passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1992. Some, such as Jim FerrisKenny Fries, Petra Kuppers became disability rights advocates and educators in the field of disability studies. Editor Michael Northen speculates that Fries "may be the single most powerful representative of this group" because he rejects both the medical and social models of disability and is "asking instead for a redefinition of beauty and of the way that disability is perceived" (20-21). Other poets in this section are Daniel Simpson, Laura Hershey, Jillian Weise, Kathi Wolfe, and John Lee Clark.

Ten poets contribute to the section, "Lyricism of the Body," most of them unknown to me (Alex Lemon, Laurie Clements Lambeth, Brian Teare, Ona Gritz, Stephen Kuusisto, Sheila Black, Raymond Luczak, Anne Kaier, Hal Sirowitz, Lisa Gill). Their prefatory essays are particularly helpful in providing context for their work. The final section, "Towards a New Language of Embodiment," is more experimental than the rest of the collection. "Rather than explaining an individual story, bodily condition is manifested through the form" (17). Poets are Norma Cole, C. S. Giscombe, Amber DiPietra, Ellen McGrath Smith, Denise Leto, Jennifer Bartlett, Cynthia Hogue, Danielle Pafunda, Rusty Morrison, David Wolach, Kars Dorris, Gretchen E. Henderson, Bernadette Mayer.

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Letters to a Stranger

James, Thomas

Last Updated: Jul-25-2010
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Letters to a stranger is a slim volume of poems by Thomas James ((1946 - 1974) posthumously collected and published in 2008 by an admiring reader/ critic, Lucy Brock-Broido. James died by suicide in 1974.

There are 54 poems in all. Forty-one of them were first published in 1973 as James's only published book of verse, Letters to a Stranger. Ms Brock-Broido has collected 13 more from various small magazines. Most have a faint formalistic ring to them with rhymed triplets (a-x-a) predominating.   Preceding the poems is an introduction by Ms Brock-Broido, an introduction that can only be called unusually confessional. (In his characteristically succinct diction, series editor Mark Doty calls it "a love letter, a biography and exorcism all at once".) For subjects, the bulk of the poems have, as we call a type of educational conference in medicine, morbidity and mortality. Indeed, the book might perhaps have been more appropriately entitled "Intimations of morbidity and mortality". Many of the poems are graphic.

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Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir purposefully intertwines a personal and professional coming of age with the chronic illness that shaped it. Roney's stories of her adolescence, college years, and beyond (she is now a graduate student approaching her fortieth birthday) integrate the story of her diagnosis with juvenile diabetes around age 12 and her changing approaches to living with, rather than simply "managing," her illness.

How diabetes inflected Roney's development as a woman, including such issues as body image; food, eating, and weight; and sexuality and love relationships, is a recurrent focus, with her unsatisfactory relationships with men often taking center stage. One chapter addresses her decision, in the face of fears about blindness, to become a writer instead of a visual artist. Other sections address travel and exercise, both explored as solo experiences and as struggles negotiated in the company of friends and strangers. Roney's experiences with family members and medical professionals in the context of her illness are an occasional focus.

While in most of the memoir Roney positions herself as an ill person in relationships with healthy people, in two sections she explores her relationship to others with diabetes: a woman her own age whose illness has made her completely blind, and her aging cat. Throughout the memoir, Roney moves from her own experience to broader philosophical reflections on the social construction of illness, especially the way that interpersonal relationships shaped by "invisible" disabilities like diabetes reflect cultural beliefs about illness and how it changes personhood.

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To Suffer a Sea Change

Phelan, Peggy

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Professor of performance studies at New York University, Peggy Phelan narrates the story of a vision disorder that began when she was 23 years old, caused by "open-angle glaucoma," a difficult-to-treat condition in which the vessels draining ocular fluid periodically constrict. The episodes are excruciatingly painful and disorienting: "I feel a staggering push behind my right eye. The right upper half of my face is on fire: I am certain that my eye has fallen out of its socket . . . " (508).

Phelan resists patienthood, beginning with her first visit to the doctor, in which she underplays what has happened to her. Rejecting surgery, coping with side effects of the drugs she must take, and concerned about her ability to continue as a visual arts scholar, she muddles through for several years. Then she experiences a frightening, vividly described episode of temporary blindness, which is followed by a migraine headache. Six months later she agrees to have surgery.

During the surgery, under local anesthesia, "my eye, which is frozen, can still see things as they pass over it . . . colors I have never seen before . . . I am seeing the roof of my own eye from the interior side. It is utterly breath stopping. I cannot speak" (521-522). Enabled to see her eye from a perspective that was not available to the physician, and grateful for this "visionary experience," Phelan finally accepts her situation. She is not cured, although her condition improves. "My story is finally the same as those of all the other patients . . . The only difference between me and them comes from the words I’ve suffered to find and the words I’ve suffered to flee" (525).

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