Showing 101 - 110 of 123 annotations tagged with the keyword "Literary Theory"

The Figure in the Carpet

James, Henry

Last Updated: May-22-2001
Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator, a writer, prides himself on his astute review of Hugh Vereker's latest novel. Vereker dismisses his efforts, explaining that all critics have "missed my little point," "the particular thing I've written my books most for," "the thing for the critic to find," "my secret," "like a complex figure in a Persian carpet." The narrator racks his brains and, in desperation, tells his friend Corvick of the puzzle. Corvick and his novelist fiancée, Gwendolyn, pursue "the trick" without success until Corvick, traveling alone in India, wires Gwendolyn and the narrator "Eureka! Immense."

He refuses, however, to divulge the secret to Gwendolyn until after they are married, and then dies in a car crash. Since Gwendolyn refuses to share her knowledge, the narrator speculates, "the figure in the carpet [was] traceable or describable only for husbands and wives--for lovers supremely united." She marries Drayton Deane, and after her death, the narrator approaches Deane to discover the secret. But Deane is surprised and humiliated by the news of his wife's great "secret," and he and the narrator conclude by sharing the same throbbing curiosity.

View full annotation

Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir

Slater, Lauren

Last Updated: Apr-13-2001
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The first chapter of this memoir consists of two words: "I exaggerate." The narrator then tells us the story of her childhood and early adult experiences as an epileptic. After having her first seizure, at the age of ten, she spends a month at a special Catholic school in Topeka, Kansas, where the nuns teach epileptic children to fall without hurting themselves. This falling may or may not be literal; it is certainly symbolically apt.

During adolescence, Lauren begins lying, stealing, and faking seizures to get attention. She reveals that she has developed Munchausen's Syndrome, whose sufferers are "makers of myths that are still somehow true, the illness a conduit to convey real pain" (88). A neurologist, Dr. Neu, performs surgery severing Lauren's corpus callosum, effectively dividing her brain in half and markedly alleviating the seizure disorder.

Later she attends a writer's workshop where she begins an affair with a married man, a writer much older than she. After it ends badly, she starts going to Alcoholics Anonymous (although she does not drink) and tells her story with such authenticity that when she later confesses that she is NOT an alcoholic, no-one believes her, dismissing her true story as denial. The memoir ends both with her recognition of the value of narrating and with a silent fall to the snowy ground, as the nuns taught her to do, in the knowledge that the sense of falling (rather than the material certainty of landing) is all that is finally, reliably, real.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

The author first presents an introduction and rationale for the concept of using creative writing as therapy, either self-prescribed or as part of professional treatment. She then provides practical guidelines for starting a journal (Chapter 3), and for beginning to write poetry, fiction, and autobiography (Chapter 7).

The text includes an accessible introduction to images and metaphors--aspects of the craft--as well as to methods of capturing dream material (Chapter 6) for use in one's creative writing. The later chapters present therapeutic writing in various contexts--as group work (Chapter 9), or in various institutional settings (hospital, nursing home, hospice, and prison). There are examples of therapeutic writing, especially poetry, throughout the book.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Journal

Summary:

Anna, the "I" of this journal, suffered the pain of emotional abuse in her childhood. As an adult, she works in a hospice and cares for patients consumed by physical pain. She begins to "hunger for storylessness," wishing to find a way to separate pain from the experience of pain; yet without a narrative frame she cannot recognize pain in its original and pure state--the pain that occurs before language or thought. And so she enters into a meditation practice in order to see pain "uncompounded."

The book is divided into three sections, each reflecting a part of Anna's meditation practice and each containing sections of dreams, meditation notes, and musings on three friends who have died. As her meditations deepen, Anna begins to see pain in more detail, and in so doing begins to understand the difference between pain and suffering. Pain, she concludes, is inevitable. But suffering can be dismantled, carefully, like a house might be. The goal is to keep the house "whole enough" so it doesn't collapse and crush the individual living within.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Anthology (Essays)

Summary:

The purpose of this collection of essays written by teachers of literature and medicine is to serve as a guide for those who are preparing courses or seminars in the field. The collection is divided into four sections, each one approaching the theory and pedagogy of the discipline in a different way: one section is made up of model courses; a second views the subject matter from the standpoint of individual texts, authors, or genres; the third takes a broader look at some effects of literature on the practice of medicine and/or nursing and the role illness and medicine have played in the creation of literature; the fourth is a collection of resources available in the field. There is blurring of some of the boundaries of the sections, but read in the whole, the collection provides a good sense of the way medicine and literature is being taught in this country at this time.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

This psychobiographical reading of Katherine Mansfield's stories links the fiction to particular traumas in Mansfield's life and speculates about the various motives at work in her use of personal pain as material for fiction. Each of seven chapters is focused upon a key event in Mansfield's life, including, for instance, the death of her younger sister, maternal rejection, venereal disease, and abortion.

Burgan draws widely upon psychological theory, including allusions to Freud, Breuer, Erikson, Horney and others. She also comments on Mansfield's own extensive writing about her own fiction including material from letters and journals that vex the question of how, whether, and to what extent to read the stories in light of the biographical backdrop.

View full annotation

The Lives of the Dead

O'Brien, Tim

Last Updated: Jul-09-1999
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This excerpt from Tim O'Brien's autobiographical fiction about the war in Vietnam is a reverie of memory, dream, and story that resurrects the dead. The dead are fellow soldiers, the enemy dead, and a first love who died in childhood.

Tim, the narrator and writer, was only four days into his tour of duty when his platoon commander ordered an air strike against a village that is the source of sniper fire. When the platoon walked through the destroyed village, they found one old, dead, mutilated villager. Tim's fellow soldiers had developed a ritual of "greeting the dead" in which they pretended the dead person was still alive, was someone to be greeted, spoken to, both in mockery and in respect. They applied this ritual to the enemy dead as well as to their own dead.

Both repelled and fascinated by the ritual, Tim remembered his own method for animating the dead-in childhood-friend, Linda, whom he mourned and continues to mourn. After she died of brain cancer, he intentionally dreamed her alive and held conversations with her, just as his compatriots held conversations with their dead colleagues. Now, years later, he is telling the story of these experiences, these dead, these rituals, "keeping the dead alive," and "trying to save Timmy's [his younger self's] life with a story."

View full annotation

Summary:

An engaging anthology of writings about illness, from over 330 sources, literary and medical, men and women, ranging from Deuteronomy and Hippocrates to Virginia Woolf and Oliver Sacks. Readable explication introduces the chapters devoted to various themes, a list of which will serve best to illustrate the scope.

1. Generalities; 2. Illnesses (greater and lesser); 3. Eyes, Ears and Teeth; 4. Doctors and Cures; 5. Hospitals and Patients; 6. Philosophers and Kings; 7. Intellectual and Spiritual Frets; 8. Strange Complaints, Mishaps, Embarrassments; 9. Imaginary, Feigned, Psychological; 10. Melancholy and Love Sickness; 11. Manias, Phobias, Fantasies, Fears; 12. Breakdown and Madness; 13. Young and Old; 14. Animals; 15. Invalids and Convalescents; 16. Short and Sharp (a collection of pithy aphorisms about illness).

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

For Booth all encounters between a storyteller (author) and listener (reader) are ethical in that they bring together the character (ethos) of each. These good and bad qualities of character describe both the author and the reader who "keeps company" with the author. Narratives, in addition to whatever aesthetic pleasure they may give us, always interpret life; they tell us about our lives and other possible lives. We are changed by our reading; the quality of life in the moment of our listening is not what it would be if we had not listened.

While we may disagree about what is great literature within and between cultures, Booth asks if we can hope to find a criticism that will respect variety and yet offer knowledge about why some fictions are worth more than others. His answer is "yes," and he devotes several hundred pages of careful argument and plentiful examples to support his claim.

Fictions are the most powerful of all the architects of our souls and societies. The ethics of criticism is a universal concern; no one can escape the effect of stories because everyone tells them and listens to them; therefore everyone consciously or not asks and answers these questions: Should I believe this narrator and thus join him? Am I willing to be the kind of person this story-teller is asking me to be? What kind of company am I keeping?

Ethics of narrative is a reflexive study, because it starts with one of its conclusions: that some experiences with narrative are beneficial and some are harmful. The minds we use in judging stories have been in part constituted by the stories we judge; there is no control group of untouched souls who have lived without narrative. We absorb the values of what we read; we have been that kind of person for at least as long as we remain in the presence of the work. The ethics of narrative is reciprocal; it affects teller as well as listener. Ethical debate about narrative values can lead to ultimate questions about the quality of life as it is lived.

Booth says every use of language carries freight of cultural values and norms. Ethical criticism cannot divorce itself from social and political contexts. Therefore, he says we come to our sense of value in narratives by experiencing them in context of others that are like and unlike them. We rely on past experiences to make judgments; validity is checked and corrected in conversation (a process he calls coduction). Coduction incorporates what we have experienced of other poems and poets; it judges by comparison and conversation (like a case-based approach). Whenever a narrative really works for us, we are sure to feel that the author's choices and ours are alike in kind, that he or she is our kind of person, practicing skills, virtues, moral powers that we admire.

In reader-response theory, regardless of what the author has tried to give, we can judge only what we manage to take. The reader-response denial that literary works have any intrinsic power or value comes in 2 forms: (1) all aesthetic values are subjective, belonging to each individual; (2) evaluations are corrected and improved in a given community; the community confers value. (Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? Harvard Univ. Press, 1980) Booth says that the question of whether the value is in the poem or in the reader is radically ambiguous. On the one hand, value is not there actually until it is actualized by the reader; on the other hand, it could not be actualized if it were not there in potential in the poem.

When we read a story we find ourselves in a world different from our own; we are exposed to the "Other" and to other value systems, which we "try on" and evaluate in comparison to the ones we know. We can surrender uncritically to whatever appeals to us, or we can stay aloof so we don't have to really examine these other values, or we can correct and refine our own experience once we have really understood the other value system (coduction).

According to Booth, serious ethical disasters produced by narratives can occur when people sink themselves into an "unrelieved hot bath" of one kind of narrative, such as one of racial superiority. He also notes that writers who come from ideological positions, such as Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor, often hold those positions against the mistaken views held by their characters, so if the reader cannot distinguish the author's position from his characters' the reader is likely to misinterpret the message. He comments on that problem in Twain's Huck Finn, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. He refers to Chekhov's story, Home (annotated in this database), and many of Dostoevsky's works.

Booth says that we conduct our lives with and in metaphor, and he warns us not to think we have a literal picture when we're really dealing with metaphor. Some think ordinary language is unfigured and refers literally to a real world behind their language. They don't recognize their own metaphoric world. (See also Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, annotated in this database.)

In a discussion pertinent to medicine as a "battle against disease," Booth points out that the war metaphor implies a world where winning or losing is primary. While that cultural value may dominate western culture, it does not accurately describe the value systems of many people. Even the simplest narratives imply whole worlds according to which the narrative makes sense; all narrative is metaphoric.

View full annotation

Aura

Fuentes, Carlos

Last Updated: Jul-08-1998
Annotated by:
Marta, Jan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

Felipe Montero, a young historian, accepts a live-in position, editing the memoirs of General Llorente, whose elderly widow, Consuelo, seeks their publication before her death. In the dark, enclosed house, filled with the perfumes of medicinal plants, Felipe dreams of sexual union, and escape, with the young beautiful niece, Aura; and he reads of Consuelo's infertility, her fantasy of medicinally creating a spiritual child, her delirium of walking toward her youth. Intoxicated by desire and the stifling atmosphere, Felipe embraces Aura, who transforms into the 109-year-old widow. Consuelo promises, "She will return, Felipe. Together, we will bring her back."

View full annotation