Showing 11 - 20 of 120 annotations tagged with the keyword "Literary Theory"

Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Margaret Price, a university professor with expertise in disability studies and rhetoric, alerts us to rhetorical and institutional strategies that marginalize or exclude from academic life people regarded as mentally disabled.  Her term "mental disability" subsumes an array of cognitive and psychological conditions--autism, attention deficit disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, difficulties processing spoken language or speaking in a group, among others--that are generally identified as falling outside definitions of normative cognitive or psychological functioning.  Whether a student or a teacher, manifesting such conditions can label one unfit for school.  Price asks us (1) to consider whether such conditions rightly disqualify one from academic life, (2) to question the validity of some assumed criteria for academic success, and (3) to design institutional infrastructures that accommodate neurodiversity. 

Price's analysis and her insights into forms of exclusion point to an underappreciated relationship between academia and medicine, which after all generates diagnoses of mental illness or fitness and the presumed teachability of students.  Price's book thereby engages the wider culture, which can deem the "unteachable" unfit for society.       

Probably the most startling chapter, titled "Assaults on the Ivory Tower: Representations of Madness in the Discourse of U.S. School Shootings," analyzes the rhetoric of the stories told within academia and throughout print and televised media about two campus shootings: the ones at Virginia Polytechnic and Northern Illinois Universities in 2007 and 2008.  The chapter uncovers the easy acceptance of stereotypes about mental disability and of the presumed, but unsubstantiated link between mental disability and violence that these stories insistently repeat.             

Three chapters have direct bearing on pedagogic and professional practices and assumptions.  Chapter 2 scrutinizes typical classroom practices and Chapter 3 questions criteria for professional excellence in academia, such as collegiality and productivity, from a disability perspective.  Both chapters uncover the often hidden problems that those with mental disabilities have meeting what Price views as a limited range of academic expectations and practices.  Together the chapters propose ways that academia can become more accommodating and ask what it might lose by not doing so.  In Chapter 6 Price interviews disabled independent scholars Cal Montgomery, Tynan Power, and Leah (Phinnia) Merridith.  Questioning the "rhetoric of ‘choice'" that infuses discussions of the institutionally unaffiliated or marginally affiliated, Price asks to what extent disabled scholars become independent by default.  By interviewing people she knows and who share her experience of living with a mental disability, Price also challenges models of research that assume that disengagement with its subjects generates the most valid knowledge.    

Another chapter examines three examples of autobiographical writing about mental disability:  Susanne Antonetta's A Mind ApartLauren Slater's Lying , and Wendy Thompson's essay "Her Reckoning."  Price finds "transgressive power" in autopathographies written by those "who are not (conventionally) ‘articulate'" (178).  Part of that power, Price proposes, arises from the narrators' unconventional use of pronouns (Who is "I"?) and ways of "refiguring the rational" (195).  

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Summary:

Johanna Shapiro, Director of the Medical Humanities Program at University of California Irvine School of Medicine, brings her considerable skills and experience as medical educator, writer and literary critic to this unique volume of medical student poetry. Shapiro collected over 500 poems by medical students not only from her home institution but also from other US medical schools and performed a content and hermeneutic analysis. As Shapiro carefully details in her methodology section, she treats "poetry as a form of qualitative data, and [therefore] techniques of analysis developed for other sources of qualitative data (such as interviews, focus groups, and textual narratives) can be applied to an understanding of poetry." (p. 42)

Relying on the work of Arthur W. Frank (see The Wounded Storyteller), Shapiro devises a typology of student poems: chaos, restitution (and anti-restitution), journey, witnessing, and transcendence (this last category was not Frankian in origin). These categories are developed and explicated in Chapter 2: Functions of Writing for Medical Students. As the author notes, poems traverse the boundaries between types; nonetheless, the framework of the analysis rests with this typology. Further, Shapiro explores the metaphors of topography (illness as a foreign land) and quest (student on a heroic, however tentative or confused, journey) throughout her study.

The book contains many fully reproduced medical student poems, contextualized with academic theory on medical education. Hundreds of references, particularly in the fields of narratology and medical education, are cited. After three chapters of theory and methods, eight topics are explored using the outlined analytic tools: anatomy class, becoming a physician, patient experience, doctor-patient relationship, student-patient relationship, social and cultural issues, death and dying, love and life. Prefacing each of these topics is a scholarly essay providing historical and research foundations; every chapter concludes with a summation.

Within the chapters are examples of poems, not only organized by typology, but also by content. For instance in the patient experience chapter, the topics are: "patient pleas for empathy and compassion," "patient fears and suffering," "stigmatized voices," "vulnerability/courage of child patients," and "personal experiences of illness." Within each topic/subtopic, different poems are highlighted and fully analyzed. Additionally, other poems, not reproduced, are quoted as illustrative examples. Summary arguments are provided at the conclusion of each chapter as well as in the final chapter: "Strangers in a Strange Land: What Matters to Medical Students on Their Journey and How They Tell About It."

Although Shapiro states that her purpose "is not to address the literary and aesthetic attributes and value of the poems", she also notes "when students write authentically about their own experience, the results are uniformly moving, compelling and impossible to ignore." (pp 44-5) Indeed many of the poems are rewarding to read not only for content but also for word choice, word play, imagery and narrative line. For instance, in "Ode to the Peach" Brian McMichael explores the senses Neruda or Pollitt-like: "you invite me with / your voluptuous curves / your feminine little cleft". (p 236) Another example is the humorous, self-deprecating "Piriformis" by Curtis Nordstrom relating an early clinical experience by a medical student who hopes against hope that the patient's presenting complaint will require the student to demonstrate his acumen. Unfortunately the sum total of the student's knowledge base is limited to the location of the piriformis muscle; both the student and patient are "so screwed" when, "Alas, the patient presents with / an upper respiratory infection." (p. 16)

Shapiro's sensitivity and generosity of spirit vis-à-vis the medical student experience are evident throughout the volume. She concludes that "what may be most noteworthy about the analysis of these poems is that, amidst their own difficulties and fears, time and again these students reported engaging deeply with their patients." (p 259) She hopes that medical educators will be encouraged to support "in solidarity" the "idealism and high aspirations" expressed in these student poems. (p. 260)

In a postscript, Shapiro reveals her own experiences as a poet-patient. After noting that "[m]edical students are mostly annoyingly healthy, energetic, smart, and capable young adults who like order, structure, and control", (p 261) she also acknowledges how frequently students grapple with the topic of death and dying in their poems. That her poems emerged from advising a student creative writing group demonstrates how poetry can be renewing and vital not just to the student, but to the educator as well.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Anthology (Essays)

Summary:

As explained in the succinct yet thorough introduction by co-editor Kimberly Myers, an international conference on the topic of "The Patient" was convened at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania in 2006. This collection of essays, which range from personal experience to scholarly literary critique, results from the conference presentations.
 
Of the ten essays, four concern personal or familial experience of illness. These four cover a vast range: literature and disability specialist Kristin Lindgren describes her story of the elusive diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome and her coping skills; medical humanities and medical ethics expert Carol Schilling offers a poignant narrative of her experience as a mother of a previously healthy, athletic son who suffers a cervical spine injury from a skiing accident; Gayle Whittier places the story of her daughter's disability amongst a trio of nonfictional and fictional narratives of disability and illness; and renowned poet Tess Gallagher explores her relationship with and caring of her mother who has Alzheimer's disease. These essays, written as they are by women steeped in literature and writing, are not merely chronicles; rather they are infused with commentary on story and the meaning of life as story, journey and relationship.
 
The other six essays are likewise diverse and range from cultural/political studies from the Navajo to the Irish (which includes literary analysis of works by poets Eavan Boland and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill), to insightful critiques of literary works such as  Hjalmar Soderberg 's Doctor Glas, Lauren Slater's Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, Brian Clark's Whose Life Is It Anyway?, Alejandros Amenabar's film The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro), and George (Marian Evans) Eliot's Janet's Repentance.

Consistent with the nature of medical humanities, the essays cross boundaries. For example, Whittier weaves her experiences as a mother of a disabled child with reflections on embodiment and literary critique. Gallagher compares the notions of time in poem-making with the necessity to live in the moment when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's. She notes: "Of the written arts, poetry is most responsive to the moment and so coincides with the condensed time frame of those with Alzheimer's - which oscillates between the distant past and the present moment." (p. 71) Schilling tenderly writes of her family (for an illness strikes not just the patient): "We live the best lives we can, folding each of our stories into one another's." (p. 40) Diedrich explores not just the (at times infuriating) play with deceit in Lying, but also examines the ways in which patients lie and medical language obfuscates illness. She further explores, with great insight, expectations: of literary reviewers, patients and physicians.

 

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The Parabolist

Ruddock, Nicholas

Last Updated: Sep-01-2010
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Jasper Glass and his brother Jonathan are medical students in Toronto, circa 1975. Their father is a repressed, language professor endlessly writing a never-to-be published book on French idioms.  Jasper is having an affair with a married classmate, and he lusts after his dissection partner, Valerie. But Valerie isn’t interested.

In its wisdom, the medical faculty has decided that electives in the humanities must be taken to broaden the educational experience. Jasper and his friends opt for literature. When the graduate student assigned to the teaching task dissolves in angst over how to communicate with savage medical students, the young, Mexican poet, Roberto Moreno, becomes their instructor. The students love Roberto, and through him they learn to love poetry too. Valerie especially loves Roberto. Jasper learns to deal with it.

Over the course of the year, the friends have many adventures. Jasper rescues a young woman from assault, and she, in turn, defends him from a wrongful accusation. Jonathan loses his way and fails miserably. They meet a sinister psychiatry resident who abuses his position with patients, colleagues, and students. Only slowly do they realize the full potential of his dangerous mind. They deal with that too. 

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Less Than Zero

Ellis, Bret

Last Updated: Jul-30-2010
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

19 year old Clay has returned to Los Angeles for the Christmas break, his first time back after leaving for a Northeastern college.  He spends the next month meeting with his clique, going to parties and restaurants, visting a friend hospitalized for anorexia, lying on his bed at home and joining his family at the mall or for dinner.  As Clay and his friends are the progeny of LA's wealthiest, this typical return-from-college-for-the-Christmas-break story also entails driving expensive cars, steady drinking, constant smoking, copious amounts of cocaine and marijuana, and frequent sex (gay, straight; voluntary, paid-for).  Dulled by drugs and boredom, these teenagers are drawn to excesses to jolt them out of their expensively-maintained ruts: to prostitution and snuff films, to dead bodies in the street and, ultimately, to sadistic child abuse.

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Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Co-authored by a Professor of English Literature and her physician husband, a Professor of Medicine, this is a readable interdisciplinary commentary on fourteen operas (19th and 20th century) in which particular diseases are represented, including mostly epidemic infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, syphilis, cholera, and AIDS. The analysis of each opera combines solid literary analysis of language and metaphors with fascinating historical information on the contemporaneous medical understandings of the diseases, and a sophisticated discussion of the social, sexual and cultural representations of these diseases.

The most persuasive chapters include "The Tubercular Heroine" in La Boheme, and La Traviata; "Syphilis, Suffering and Social Order" in Parsifal; "The Pox Revisited" in 20th century operas, Lulu and Rake’s Progress; the final chapter, "Life-and-Death Passion" compares theatrical representations of AIDS in Angels in America (see annotation) with cholera, TB, and syphilis.

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Autism and Representation

Osteen, M., ed.

Last Updated: Jun-02-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Anthology (Essays)

Summary:

The book's chapters derive from a conference entitled "Representing Autism: Writing, Cognition, Disability" held in 2005. Contributors are scholars of English, communication studies, psychology, and other disciplines; some are on the autism spectrum themselves or are parents of autistic people. The book attempts to address what editor Mark Osteen in his introduction cites as a deficit in the field of disability studies, namely that the field has ignored cognitive disabilities. Osteen notes that autism is a spectrum not only among people but within individuals: "any given autistic person's abilities will occupy different locations on [the spectrum] at different times" (7) but a severely autistic person is not merely "different." The editor also addresses the question of self- representation, arguing that "we must strive to speak not for but with those unable or unwilling to communicate through orthodox modes" (7).

The book is divided into four sections: Clinical Constructions, Autistry, Autist Biography, and Popular Representations. Clinical Constructions includes a chapter on Virginia Axline's work with the boy, Dibs (see Dibs: In Search of Self in this database), a child who is now thought to have been autistic; and a chapter on how Bruno Bettelheim convinced the world of science and the public that autism was caused by parental behavior, especially that of mothers ("refrigerator mothers") and that he knew how to cure it. The essayists show how these two psychologists constructed a persona of omnipotence that enabled them to appear to "save" autistic children. Chapter 3 reviews the history of autism as a named condition and contextualizes it.

Chapters in the section on Autistry discuss the mental world of people with autism. Patrick McDonagh (chapter 4) postulates that "the capacity to perceive autism in the 1940s may be connected to the proliferation of modern, and modernist, notions of the self" (102) -- for example, isolation and alienation, and "the removal of referential and conventionally communicative functions from language" (111) that appear in the works of Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce. Subsequent chapters apply theories of information processing (chapter 5), metaphor and metonymy (chapter 6), and narrative (chapter 8) to an understanding of the mental world of autistic individuals, and chapter 7 discusses poetry written by autistics.

The section on Autist Biography concerns memoirs written by parents of autistic children. Deborah Cumberland contrasts the memoirs of several mothers with one written by a father (chapter 9) and Sheryl Stevenson (chapter 10) writes about the rhetorical strategies that mothers use "to negotiate contradictions of motherhood that are exacerbated by autism and their own privileged abilities" (199).

The essays in the section, Popular Representations, concern several films and Mark Haddon's novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (see annotation). Anthony Baker presents an "autistic formula" used in films and notes that the plots hinge on the way a central character who is not autistic uses the "special powers" of the autistic character, thereby robbing the latter of agency (Chapter 12). Stuart Murray is also critical of how films portray autistic people (Chapter 13). Phil Schwarz, father of a child with Asperger's and an Asperger's adult himself writes about four films ( Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn GouldSmoke Signals, Breaking the Code, The Secret of Roan Inish) he uses to raise the consciousness of autistic peers and to promote self-esteem in the face of society's attitudes toward autistic individuals (Chapter 14).

The authors of chapters 15 and 16 come to different conclusions about the novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Gyasi Burks-Abbott, "a 34 year-old African-American male on the autism spectrum" (303), criticizes the novel for perpetuating stereotypes and for "relegat[ing] the autistic to otherworldliness while establishing a non-autistic author like himself as the necessary medium between autistic and non-autistic reality" (295). James Berger, on the other hand, argues that Haddon uses the protagonist Christopher to "explore questions about language and social relations" (fn1, 286) and observes that Haddon understands human neurological features as a continuum.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

In 1818, the newly trained physician, John Keats (1795-1821) (Ben Wishaw) is living with his well-off friend, Charles Brown (Paul Schneider), and they are trying to devote themselves to the art of writing. Keats cannot abide the idea of having to practice medicine. 

The uneducated, fashion-conscious Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), notices Keats, moved by the care that he bestows on his dying brother. She offers a gift of a beautifully embroidered pillow, which soon finds it way into the lad’s coffin.

Affected by the young man’s death and the mystery of poetry, Fanny flings herself at Keats, undeterred by Brown’s open disapproval of her lack of class, education and bearing. Flattering his work, she asks Keats for lessons in literature and then reveals herself to a reasonable judge of poetry. In spite of himself Keats is drawn to her and declares his love.

But the poet’s health is fragile. Funds are raised to send him to Italy, and Keats announces that he must go, because his friends have decided. He seems to know that he will die. Fanny is brave and hopeful. Chastened, Charles Brown comes to Fanny’s home to announce the death of Keats in Rome.

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The Sweet Hereafter

Banks, Russell

Last Updated: Mar-22-2010
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is a novel that begins with a fatal school bus accident in Sam Dent, a small town in upstate New York. The circumstances leading up to the accident appear in the first chapter, whose narrator is the bus driver Dolores Driscoll. The remaining chapters have three different narrators: Billy Ansel, who lost a son and daughter and now drinks himself into a less painful state; Mitchell Stephens, a lawyer from New York City who appears days after the accident, fueled by his belief that there is no such thing as an accident, himself the grieving father of a drug-addicted daughter; Nichole Burnell, a teenage survivor of the crash, now a parapalegic. Each presents a different view because of the unique history each brought to the tragedy.

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Summary:

This study examines representations of feminine illness in American culture from 1840 to 1940. It argues that the figure of the invalid woman emerged in the 1840s amid significant changes in "American literature, medicine and culture," including the emergence of a specifically American literature, the professionalization and masculinization of medicine, and the "sometimes complementary, sometimes opposed" ideologies of feminism and domesticity (17).

The book discusses mid-nineteenth-century medical theories that articulated women as "biologically inferior . . . given to disease and pain" (34) before analyzing contemporary literary works by E.D.E.N. Southworth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne (see this database for annotations of The Birthmark and Rappaccini’s Daughter) Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and works by twentieth-century authors including Ellen Glasgow, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (see this database for The Yellow Wallpaper annotated by Felice Aull and also annotated by Jack Coulehan), Tillie Olsen, Edith Wharton, F. (Francis) Scott Fitzgerald (see this database for Tender Is the Night annotated by Jack Coulehan, also annotated by Pamela Moore), and Henry James. Art, advertisements, and the film, Dark Victory (see annotation) are other points of reference.

Price Herndl examines compliant and resistant uses of women as invalids; the surprisingly small changes in figures of feminine illness in response to changes in women’s rights; the links literature constructs between illness, money, work, and value; shifting theories of cure (from somatic to psychic); and the rise of germ theory in relation to fictional representations of illness. She argues that male and female fiction writers in the period she studies use feminine illness for different purposes: "What that figure signifies is kaleidoscopic, shifting to suit the political needs of its user" (218).

Invalid figures in literature and culture, Price Herndl asserts, can "divert political dis-ease into an overwhelming attention to the individual body and away from the body politic," locating people’s problems in their individual bodies and selves rather than in the oppressive aspects of their culture (220). Recurrent representations of sick women reflected the extreme unease attached to the position of women in American culture in the years 1840-1940. While her study stops at 1940, Price Herndl asserts that after World War Two and at other points when "masculine privilege seems threatened . . . illness is figured more and more often as male" (220).

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