Showing 101 - 110 of 199 annotations tagged with the keyword "Institutionalization"

The Scarlet Flower

Garshin, Vsevolod

Last Updated: Aug-23-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The story opens with the protagonist, identified only as the "Patient," being forcibly carried into the insane asylum. Once there, he no longer protests, but seems to accept his incarceration in the huge, overcrowded hospital. The doctor and other staff members seem particularly kind. Because the Patient rapidly loses weight, despite his good appetite, he receives a special diet.

The Patient notices a single scarlet flower among the many beautiful flowers in the hospital garden. He suddenly realizes that all the evil in the world is condensed into the scarlet flower. His mission is to destroy it. But when he attempts to pick the flower, hospital personnel prevent him from doing so, since picking flowers is prohibited. Eventually, he manages to destroy the flower, but notices a second scarlet blossom in the garden. He destroys that one as well, but a third scarlet flower appears. Finally, the Patient sneaks out at night to deal with the third flower, and then is found dead in the garden the next morning, clutching the remains of the scarlet blossom.

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Summary:

A long hallway stretches almost all the way to the end of the viewer's perspective. One solitary figure about halfway down the hall makes a quick exit from our view as it ducks into an abutting room. The hallway is colored in somber tones--browns, greens, and muddy yellows make up most of the coloration. These colors make the hallway appear as though it is composed of awkward rivers flowing across the plane of the floor, suggesting a sort of moat or barricade across which travel might be difficult. Additionally, the archways are not stylistically consistent--the arch closest to the viewer is more plain, more bleak, and seems to cordon off the viewer's end of the hall from the remainder of the corridor.

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Fragments

Wilkomirski, Binjamin

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Note, entered 12/99: The authenticity of this account has been called into question. Legal documents and school records contradict the author’s claim of being a Holocaust survivor. The author, however, maintains that his story is true. News accounts of this controversy first appeared in Weltwoche, a Swiss publication, in an article written by author, Daniel Ganzfried, who researched Wilkomirski’s background (August 27, 1998). Among later reports are those in The Times of London (Sept. 8, 1998), and The New York Times (Nov. 3, 1998). In October, 1999 (Oct.,14, 1999 NY Times report) the German publisher, Suhrkamp Verlag, withdrew from stores all hardcover copies and Schocken Books suspended publication on November 1, 1999.

My Summary and Commentary below were written under the assumption, which appears to be false, that Fragments is a memoir, and not fiction. All indications are that Wilkomirski believes his story to be true. Readers might consider the metaphoric significance of the Holocaust in ongoing individual suffering.

Note, entered 10/01: Interestingly, in relation to my final comment of 12/99 above, a recent article places Wilkomirski’s book within the context of scholarly work on trauma, memory, and testimony. See "Beyond the Question of Authenticity: Witness and Testimony in the Fragments Controversy" by Michael Bernard-Donalis (Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, 116/5, October 2001: 1302-1315).

Note: 2/02: The recently published book, A Life in Pieces, by Blake Eskin (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002) tells the story of Wilkomirski, Fragments, and the research into Wilkomirski’s claims, and places the affair into sociohistoric context.

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Subtitled "Memories of a Wartime Childhood," this Holocaust memoir unveils the memory "shards" of a childhood spent in the Nazi death camps of Poland. The author, now a musician living in Switzerland, believes himself to have been born around 1939, in Riga, Latvia. He can’t be certain because his father was shot by militia as young Binjamin watched; later he was separated from his brothers; he remembers his mother only from one brief, forbidden visit with her in Majdanek concentration camp when they were both confined there.

Because the memoir is narrated primarily in the present tense, from the perspective of a confused, frightened child, in disjointed flashbacks, the reader viscerally experiences the bewilderment, physical hardships, the viscious cruelty of the guards, the sickening realities of existence (rats, lice, beetles; standing barefoot, ankle-deep in excrement), the fear and guilt [yes, guilt!--for inadvertently betraying another child]. But there was kindness as well--the wise older child, Jankl, who taught Binjamin survival techniques; the women inmates who hid Binjamin and other children under cloths in the laundry room--for weeks on end.

Near the end of the war, camp guards deserted and the surviving inmates staggered out--Binjamin was literally dragged along, against his will, by a camp inmate who recognized him. Somehow he ended up in an orphanage in Krakow, Poland. Here, there was fear of a different kind--distrust of all adults, fear of being "discovered" as a camp survivor (to be held responsible for another child’s death, and for abandoning his mother), total unfamiliarity with the habits of "normal" life.

Wilkomirski’s memoir begins and ends in Switzerland, where he was placed in foster care. In Switzerland there are other nightmares. Spastic attempts to verbalize his experiences are ridiculed, disbelieved, squelched. Not until a high school teacher--a German who fled to Switzerland during the war--shows documentary footage of the allied liberation of Mathausen concentration camp, does Binjamin realize that HE was never liberated. "Where was I when everyone else was being freed? . . . nobody tended us . . . the way it happened in the film. Nobody ever told me that the camp was . . . finally, definitely over . . . that . . . I could go forward without fear or threat into a new time . . . Not even later."

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Summary:

Shortly after the American Civil War, neurologist S. (Silas) Weir Mitchell became interested in a certain group of women, whom he describes as "of a class well known to every physician,--nervous women, who, as a rule, are thin and lack blood." Mitchell’s basic premise was that these women, largely between the ages of 20 and 30, have lost their vitality as a result of some form of prolonged strain--which has caused them to become thin, of insufficient blood, and unable to perform their regular duties.

In his long essay, essentially a compilation of case studies, he further characterizes these patients and outlines the treatment which he found to be unfailingly successful in returning them to normal activity. The treatment he utilized had the following essentials: seclusion and rest; massage; electric stimulation, a high-fat and high-calorie diet. His patients were not allowed to see their families, nor to read, write or otherwise strain themselves. The average duration of therapy was six weeks, usually carried out in an institution or private retreat.

Of interest is the single male who Mitchell felt met the criteria for his treatment plan. This patient, who had some (to the modern reader) lung findings suggestive of tuberculosis, allegedly was cured after three months of bed rest and frequent feedings.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This film is biographical, based on the life of the actress Frances Farmer (1914-1970), who was briefly successful in Hollywood in the early 1940’s and was then institutionalized for mental illness. She was "cured" by a transorbital prefrontal lobotomy.

The film begins with Frances (Jessica Lange) winning a high school writing competition with an essay criticizing God. This outspoken intelligence characterizes her. As a young actress, she wins a trip to Russia in a competition run by a Communist newspaper, performs on Broadway, and ends up in Hollywood. Quickly, however, it becomes clear that her unconventional behavior and attitudes make her vulnerable to people, including her overbearing and vicariously ambitious mother (Kim Stanley), who demand that she conform to more passive forms of femininity.

When Frances is arrested for drunk driving, her mother puts her in a "convalescent home," where she is given insulin injections in the guise of "vitamins." She escapes and, deciding that the pressures of the film industry are causing her drinking problem, tells her mother that she won’t be returning to Hollywood. Her starstruck mother, appalled, has her committed.

After undergoing the closely filmed experiences of the strait jacket, the padded cell, and shock treatment, all in the frighteningly bedlam-like atmosphere of the asylum, Frances submits to psychiatric surgery. This is perhaps the most disturbing part of the film. She is lobotomized in front of an audience by a mallet-wielding surgeon who boasts he can do ten patients per hour because "lobotomy gets ’em home."

Sure enough, Frances is allowed to go home. The film ends several years later in 1958, when Frances Farmer really did appear on the television show, "This is Your Life." We watch the show through the eyes of Harry York (Sam Shepard), the journalist who has always loved her, and he goes to meet her afterwards.

She has been transformed: composed and seemingly serene, but fundamentally blank, she has become a chilling shadow of herself. Early on in the film, she refuses to cooperate with a psychotherapist, saying "I don’t want to be what you want to make me: dull, average, normal." By the end of the film she has been reduced to the hollow appearance of all these things--and is grateful for it.

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Erewhon

Butler, Samuel

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Higgs, a sheep farmer, and Chowbok, an old man, decide one day to visit the forbidden country that lies beyond the mountains. When they find a pass through the mountains, Chowbok gets frightened and runs home, so Higgs goes on alone. After a dangerous journey, he wakes one morning surrounded by beautiful shepherdesses. They take his belongings, give him a medical exam, and throw him in jail.

There he learns that he has come to Erewhon (an anagram for nowhere). In this country, illness is considered a crime. Sick people are thrown in jail; sickness is their own fault. Even sad people are imprisoned, for grief is a sign of misfortune and people are held responsible for actions that made them unfortunate. People who rob or murder, on the other hand, are treated kindly and taken to the hospital to recover. No machines are allowed in Erewhon as one philosopher thought that machines could rapidly evolve and take over the world.

Higgs is invited to dinner with Nosibor, a recovering embezzler. He stays with his family and falls in love with his youngest daughter Arowhena. Nosibor insists that the eldest daughter marry first, so Higgs goes to study at the University of Unreason, where students study anything that has absolutely no practical purpose. Arowhena and Higgs meet there secretly and when Nosibor finds out, he is very angry. Higgs and Arowhena fly away on a balloon. They land in the sea and are taken to England where they marry and plan a missionary trip to Erewhon.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The surgeon Jack McKee (William Hurt) carries on an outwardly successful practice while treating his patients with aggressive sarcasm and general disrespect. "There is a danger in becoming too involved with your patients," he warns his residents, reminding them of the surgeon’s credo: "Get in, fix it, get out." Then McKee himself is diagnosed with cancer of the vocal chords, and the doctor discovers patienthood. The process is enormously uncomfortable for him, as he experiences a sharp decline in autonomy and everything that goes with it, and he begins to develop some empathy for those he has always scorned.

Particularly inspiring are several encounters with a coldly professional specialist and a platonic friendship with a young cancer patient named June (Elizabeth Perkins) who is dying because her doctors failed to diagnose her brain tumor. By the end of the film, Dr. McKee is both recovered and converted, and in the last scene is requiring his residents to spend 72 hours as hospital patients as part of their medical training.

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Dialogues with Madwomen

Light, Allie

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This documentary presents a pastiche of illness narratives, the stories of seven women (including the filmmaker and the associate producer) who have struggled with mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder. Intercut with the interviews are reenactments of key events in the women? lives; vivid depictions of sometimes frightening, sometimes exhilarating mental states experienced by the women; films and still photographs from the womens' childhoods, and archival film footage. In the process of exploring their illnesses and recoveries, the women discuss experiences that hurt them (rape, misdiagnoses, racism) as well as those that helped them heal (creativity, caring, therapists, and spirituality).

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This remarkable book takes the reader into a Dutch nursing home where many of the 300 patients are terminally ill. The main protagonist is Anton, a competent, tough, and compassionate physician who tries to discover some meaning in the suffering of his patients, while at the same time disavowing any such meaning. Anton’s colleagues include Jaarsma, a somewhat detached and bureaucratic older physician, and Van Gooyer, a young physician who still believes that science has all the answers.

The first-person narrative consists of short, punchy segments (almost like an endless series of discrete physician-patient interactions) detailing the stories of Anton’s patients and his reactions to them. Many of these persons request assisted suicide or euthanasia. Anton reveals what he feels about these requests, how he goes about judging their validity, and the manner in which he actually carries out assisted deaths. A strong spiritual theme permeates the book; while Anton denies the relevance of God and religion, he seems constantly to be searching for a spirituality that "makes sense" of contemporary life.

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Absence of Mercy

Stone, Robert

Last Updated: Aug-01-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Mackay’s story begins in the 1940s when, at age 5, he was sent to a "boarding school" run by the Catholic order of the Pauline Brothers. Mackay’s mother had herself been institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia and his father was not in the picture. In the school Mackay was exposed to pervasive violence: "intramural" violence wherein the stronger children taunted and beat up the weaker ones; classroom violence in which the instructors slapped or beat with a razor strop those boys they deemed to be errant in any respect; organized boxing matches; and, most feared, "statutory evening punishment" where students had been selected out by a Brother to be humiliated and beaten after the evening meal and prayers. The latter violence was characterized by "the absence of mercy" and a sadistic ritualism that induced "sick-making terror" in its victims.

We follow Mackay through additional episodes of violence as he progresses through delinquent adolescence--now living in a welfare hotel with his mother--through a stint in the Navy, marriage and fatherhood, and, finally, to an episode in the New York City subway that is the crisis point of the story. In the Navy he is once again victimized by a drill instructor who humiliates Mackay into losing the "instinctive cringe" he had developed during his years at the institution.

Mackay reads in the newspaper that an old buddy--"they had suffered shame and pain together that could never be explained to anyone (38)"--has been murdered in the subway while coming to a woman’s aid. Mackay is terribly troubled by this incident, not only because of the earlier close relationship, but also because he finds himself intrigued by the story. A year later, Mackay is in a similar situation--in his presence, a well dressed but deranged man is threatening a woman in a subway station.

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