Showing 121 - 130 of 584 annotations tagged with the keyword "Individuality"

Somatic Fictions

Vrettos, Athena

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This scholarly study examines "what it meant to ’talk of diseases’ in the second half of the nineteenth century" (2) and how discourses of health and illness were a vehicle for exploring individual and social identities, including gendered, racialized, and national identities. Narratives of physical illness are not simply artifacts of Victorian medical culture, Vrettos argues, but offer examples of the pervasive "master narratives" that shaped Victorian middle-class culture.

Individual chapters focus on the ill female body as an expressive text with variable legibility (and on nurses as privileged readers of ill bodies); "nervous illness" and the role of narrative in reconstructing the self; "neuromimesis" or neurotic imitation of disease; and the "politics of fitness and its relation to imperialist ideology." Vrettos discusses fictional works by Louisa May Alcott, (Hospital Sketches; see this database) Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot (Middlemarch; see this database), H. Rider Haggard, Henry James, Bram Stoker, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

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Metamorphosis

Updike, John

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The protagonist, Anderson, has a skin cancer growing dangerously close to one of his tear ducts. An aging "idler and playboy," he has spent too many years in the sun (67). Anderson consults and promptly becomes infatuated with his facial plastic surgeon, Dr. Kim, "who turned out to be a woman, a surprisingly young Korean-American who even in her baggy lab coat evinced considerable loveliness" (67). Anderson is fascinated with Dr. Kim's body, her visible pregnancy, her way of moving and speaking, and her face. He enjoys the "bliss of secure helplessness" of the surgery itself, performed by Dr. Kim and two female nurses who "rotate[]" around him conversing as they work (67).

While successful, the surgery leaves a small bump on his face that Anderson asks Dr. Kim to correct surgically. The second surgery achieved, Anderson returns a third time for the much more ambitious project of tucking his somewhat saggy eyelids. His goal, however, is not just to tighten slack skin but to make his lids look like Dr. Kim's, "with an epicanthus" (69). The six-hour surgery is both successful and satisfying to Anderson--until he sees a photo of Dr. Kim's husband.

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Learning Sickness

Lang, James

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

James Lang was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 1996, when he was twenty-six years old. Five years later, however, a particularly severe bout with Crohn's, including a hospital stay, dramatically changed his relationship to the disease. Lang's memoir explores his ongoing relationship to Crohn's disease, both in the context of medical reassessments and diagnostic adjustments and in relation to his personal and professional development in his first year as a tenure-track professor of college English.

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Claire's Head

Bush, Catherine

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Claire, Rachel, and Allison Barber share the trauma of having lost both parents in a strange and sudden accident. The youngest, Claire, and the oldest, Rachel, also share their late mother's migraine headaches. The novel's focus is Rachel's disappearance and Claire's search for her through North America, Europe, and Mexico. By herself and eventually with the help of Rachel's friend and sometime lover, a massage therapist named Brad Arnarson, Claire traces the steps of Rachel's professional (as a freelance science journalist) and personal meetings with researchers and health practitioners who work on migraines.

Initially, Claire's search is motivated by concern for Rachel and intensified by fears that Rachel's worsening migraines may have caused her to take desperate action. Her need to find Rachel is inevitably intertwined, however, with her own migraine experiences and with her drive to individuate within her family and her longterm relationship with her partner Stefan.

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A Stone Woman

Byatt, A. S. (Antonia Susan)

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The story opens with the death of the protagonist’s beloved mother, with whom she lives. Ines, a dictionary researcher, is soon jolted from her grief by the excruciating pain of a “twisted and gangrenous gut” (112). After a hospital stay and emergency surgery, she returns home to recuperate from the physical trauma and revisit her mourning. On the day when she can remove the wound dressings, Ines discovers a surprising change in her body: it seems to be turning to stone. Her incision has become a “raised shape, like a starfish, like the whirling arms of a nebula in the heavens” that gradually spreads to the rest of her body, forming "ruddy veins" across her belly and "greenish-white crystals sprouting in her armpits" (119).

Ines assumes that this process is fatal and that she will "observe [death's] approach in a new fantastic form" (121). Deciding to write a record for those who will find her after her demise, she studies the names and nature of minerals in order to understand and describe her metamorphosis. From her new, mineralizing perspective, she realizes that stones can be dynamic and living as well as fixed and dead; minerals are memorials to the relationships and reciprocities between living creatures and dead ones.

Unable to write the record of her transformation, Ines finds herself passionate to be outdoors. She explores the city, looking for "a place to stand in the weather before she became immobile" (127). In an old graveyard, she meets and gradually forms a bond with Thorsteinn, an old Icelandic stonecutter who may also be mourning the death (apparently of a child). The Ines shares the secret of her metamorphosis with the stonecutter and eventually travels with him to his homeland, a geologically young country, where stones are alive and myths tell of “striding stone women.” Thorsteinn sketches here in this landscape and creates a standing stone image of Ines that reflects his ability to see her as she is and find her beautiful: "Petra faction saw that she existed, in there" (150).

Ines's metamorphosis culminates in her inability to see or speak as a human and her ability to perceive a whole new realm of living creatures, "earth bubbles and earth monsters" (151) and other stone people who are "flinging their great arms wide in invitation" (156). She joins their wild dance.

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The Pearl Diver

Talarigo, Jeff

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Leprosy looms large in this story about transformation and loss set in post World War II Japan. A nineteen-year-old pearl diver notices a numb red spot on her forearm. Later on, another blemish appears on her lower back. These two lesions are manifestations of a mild case of leprosy. Her infection will be arrested by medication and never get any worse. The girl is forcibly transported to the Nagashima Leprosarium, an island where she will spend the rest of her life except for a few brief excursions and one extended "escape" at the age of sixty-four.

Despite the introduction of new and effective drugs--Promin (sulphone) and dapsone--authorities still fear allowing the leprous patients to return to society. Inhabitants of the sanatorium are admonished on arrival that their past is erased. Each individual must begin a new life and select a new name. The protagonist chooses the moniker Miss Fuji. She is a kind and sensitive young woman who eventually functions as a nurse and caregiver for the other patients incarcerated in the sanatorium. As a punishment, Miss Fuji is required to attend abortions and dispose of the dead fetuses.

As the decades pass, conditions on the island improve. The number of residents with leprosy still living there dwindles from about two thousand people to six hundred. Even a bridge connecting Nagashima to the mainland is constructed. It no longer matters. Emotional and psychological barriers remain. When Miss Fuji has an opportunity to create a new life for herself away from the sanatorium, she still returns to the place and the people that have been her home and family for so many years.

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The Tennis Partner

Verghese, Abraham

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

A Doctor's Story of Friendship and Loss, this book is, in a sense, a sequel to Verghese's earlier memoir, My Own Country: A Doctor's Story of a Town and Its People in the Age of AIDS (see this database). The Tennis Partner tells the parallel stories of Verghese's disintegrating marriage as he establishes new roots in El Paso, Texas and of his new deep friendship with a (male) medical student who shares his passion for tennis. Both men are struggling to re-establish order in their personal lives: Verghese, in easing himself out of a dying marriage while trying to maintain a close relationship with his two sons; David (the tennis partner), in remaining drug-free and successfully completing medical training, which had been interrupted by his addiction.

Verghese, an experienced physician trained in infectious disease and an expert on AIDS treatment, relishes his role as David's mentor; David, a former tennis "pro," enjoys teaching Verghese how to play better. Playing tennis together for the sheer joy of it, each finds release. Tennis becomes the route through which each can unburden himself to the other, seeking solace in a difficult time. Through it "we found a third arena outside of the defined boundaries of hospital and tennis court . . . at a time in both our lives when friendship was an important way to reclaim that which had been lost." (339)

While the reader suspects that David must have a drug problem because the Prologue to the book, narrated in the third person, describes a "young doctor from El Paso" in drug treatment, Verghese the biographer has no inkling of the problem until one-third into his first person narrative. He is shocked, but in some ways the bonds of their friendship are strengthened. Each has only the other as a confidant.

David, however, has another addiction: women. The friendship becomes increasingly complicated as Verghese tries to remain both supportive and objective. Eventually David resumes "using" and Verghese must decide how to respond, both professionally and on a personal level. The turmoil in both lives ends tragically for David and causes profound grief in Verghese.

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Charming Billy

McDermott, Alice

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The charming alcoholic, Billy, has been found unconscious, on a street in his home neighborhood of Queens, New York City. His cousin and lifelong friend, Dennis, must identify his body after he dies, and help his widow Maeve through the funeral and its aftermath--just as he has often helped Maeve to carry the stuporous Billy to bed. Billy's funeral is the occasion for the reminiscences about him by his friends and family that forms this novel's story. These reminiscences reveal the web of community and generational continuity that is at the narrative's core.

A central tragedy in Billy's life has often been invoked by his friends to account for his alcoholism. Recently back from the second World War, Billy had met the Irish girl, Eva, and fallen in love with her. When she returned to Ireland he was determined to bring her back, along with her family, so that they could be married. But, as the story goes, Eva died and Billy, heartbroken, never really recovered. We learn early on, however, that Eva's death was fabricated by Dennis, who could not bear to reveal to Billy and to the rest of the family that Eva had married an Irish beau and used the money that Billy had been sending her to set her new husband up in business.

Even though Billy eventually learns that Dennis has lied to him, their friendship is undiminished. Neither Billy nor Dennis enlighten anyone else with the truth, until Dennis tells his daughter, following Billy's funeral. It is as if the truth would force Dennis to confront the inexplicable--that a man so loved by all destroyed himself for no apparent reason, was unable to accept all efforts to help him, unable to help himself, and, in effect, abandoned and rejected those who cared for him. But the novel concludes with an affirmation of trust, faith (religious and secular), friendship, and family ties and with an acknowledgment that the stories we tell and believe may be more important than what actually happens to us.

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The Body Silent

Murphy, Robert

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Robert Murphy was a professor of anthropology at Columbia University when he became progressively paralyzed by an inoperable spinal cord tumor. His book is a personal journey through profound physical disability, an exploration of the self, and a study of the social construction of disability ["Disability is defined by society and given meaning by culture; it is a social malady" (4)]. As he writes The Body Silent he is virtually quadriplegic, hitting the keys of his computer with the eraser end of a pencil held in place by a 'universal cuff' wrapped around his palm. He is still traveling to Columbia to teach his classes.

Murphy applies the metaphor of an anthropological field trip to his experience: "This book was conceived in the realization that my long illness with a disease of the spinal cord has been a kind of extended anthropological field trip, for through it I have sojourned in a social world no less strange to me at first than those of the Amazon forests. And since it is the duty of all anthropologists to report on their travels . . . this is my accounting" (ix). Drawing not only on his own experience but also on research for which he received funding, Murphy instructs his audience in the metaphysics of his situation, and in the social as well as physical challenges of disability.

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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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