Showing 131 - 140 of 297 annotations tagged with the keyword "Obsession"

Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The unnamed narrator recalls--he hesitates to use "this ghostly verb" (107) in the presence of Funes’s memory, in every sense of the word--the dialogue he had with Funes, a young man from Fray Bentos (in present day Uruguay), "a half century ago," (111) as an invited written dithyramb in his memory.

The narrator’s initial encounter with Funes, a tough living and working on a ranch, was to hear him give the time, in the middle of the afternoon, immediately and accurately as an innate skill. Later, when the narrator inquired what had become of Funes, he was told that the latter "had been thrown by a wild horse at the San Francisco ranch, and that he been hopelessly crippled" (109). It is at this point that the saga of Funes the memorious begins.

When the narrator visits Funes to recover some Latin texts the crippled and housebound Funes had requested, he enters to hear the autodidact Funes reciting from memory the section of Pliny’s Natural History relating to memory. For Funes, with only these texts and a dictionary, has learned Latin and memorized the texts. In fact, Funes, as a result of his injury, has learned to live in the present, a present that "was almost intolerable it was so rich and bright; the same was true of the most ancient and most trivial memories" (112).

His memory is so precise, so individual in detail that he develops a unique numbering system and that "in a very few days he had gone beyond twenty-four thousand" (113). Funes had ascribed to each number from 1 to 24,000 a unique name so that, "In place of seven thousand thirteen, he would say (for example) Máximo Perez [italicized in original]; in place of seven thousand fourteen, The Train [italicized in original]. . . . In lieu of five hundred, he would say nine [italicized in original]" (113). In mathematical terms, Funes had treated each number as a prime, a unique integer without relation to other unique integers.

The narrator points this out to Funes, i.e., that "this rhapsody of unconnected terms was precisely the contrary of a system of enumeration. . . . Funes did not understand me, or did not wish to understand me" (113). [The reader would do well to remember that the Spanish for "rhapsody" is "rapsodia" and thus suggests "rhapsode," a singer of the Homeric poems, poems written by a blind story-teller (like Borges), and poems that required prodigious memories to recite.]

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Doctor Faustus

Marlowe, Christopher

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Faustus was born into lowly circumstances. He studies hard and masters all the knowledges known to man, but he is still dissatisfied. Faustus determines to study magic, the one knowledge that can break the limits of all others. He engages two master magicians to teach him. While he awaits their arrival, a good and an evil angel appear. The good angel urges him not to go through with his plans, but Faustus is determined. He learns quickly and for his first act calls up Mephistophilis, Satan’s messenger. Faustus is very pleased, thinking he has control over the forces of evil, but Mephistophilis says he only showed up because Faustus had rejected God. Faustus offers to give his soul to Lucifer if Mephistophilis will wait on him for twenty-four years. Lucifer agrees.

Faustus is not troubled by this pact because he does not believe in eternal life. With Mephistophilis’ help, Faustus makes a great career for himself. He amazes the Pope by becoming invisible and stealing things from his hands. He calls forth the spirit of Alexander the Great for the Emperor. As his twenty-four years draw to a close, he begins to fear Satan and nearly repents. Instead, he asks Mephistophilis to bring him Helen of Troy to be his lover in his final moments. Just before his end, he reveals to his fellow scholars how he gained his powers. He is then carried off by a group of devils.

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The Doctor's Wife

Ariyoshi, Sawako

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story is based on the life of Hanaoka Seishu, Japanese physician, who lived from 1760-1835. The author, using Hanaoka’s personal papers, has created a fictional representation of the jealous hatred that grows between his mother and his wife living in their feudal Japanese household. The physician is involved in trying to develop an anesthetic which would enable surgeons to remove diseased breasts. The beautiful, widowed mother of the young surgeon begins to compete with his wife for the "privilege" of being his first human subject to take the toxic substances. The remainder of the story revolves around the complex relationship among the family members, with predictably unhappy outcomes, and the results of the experiment.

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The Dress Lodger

Holman, Sheri

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In early nineteenth-century England, Gustine is a "dress lodger" who rents a room and a fraying but elegant robe which she wears to work as a prostitute. The dissolute, violent landlord takes all her earnings and to keep her from hiding the money or stealing the dress, he has her followed by an elderly, sinister-seeming woman, called "the Eye."

Gustine has a baby, born with its heart on the outside of its chest (ectopia)--the beating muscle is covered only in a thin membrane. Gustine loves her child and tries to care for it, in the grinding poverty and filth of the crowded rooming house. She is convinced that the Eye is dangerous.

The young physician, Dr. Henry Chiver, is intent on making his name as a scientific doctor and educator through dissections. Cholera breaks out in the town to challenge his skill; even when confronted with death, however, he perceives an opportunity for research much to the alarm and disgust of citizens who fail to understand the advantages promised by an act of desecration. He is both attracted to Gustine and appalled by her profession; but when he discovers the secret of her child he sees yet another opportunity and his obsession to become a famous researcher makes him lose sight of all that is appropriate.

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Dr. Haggard's Disease

McGrath, Patrick

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this first person narrative, Dr. Edward Haggard addresses his story to James, the son of his former lover Fanny Vaughn. Haggard, once a surgical registrar at a major hospital in London, has isolated himself in a coastal town, where he serves as a general practitioner. The "present" of Dr. Haggard’s story is the early stages of World War II, when James Vaughn, a Royal Air Force pilot, lies dying in Edward Haggard’s arms.

The story’s "past" has multiple dimensions. The outermost, framing story recounts the relationship between James and Edward that began several months before the war and a year or so following Fanny Vaughn’s death from kidney disease. James sought out the reclusive Dr. Haggard to discover the "truth" about Haggard’s relationship with his mother.

The inner story consists of Haggard’s description of his reckless and passionate love affair with Fanny, an ultimately hopeless liaison between a young registrar and the wife of the hospital’s senior pathologist. Their few brief months of happiness ended when Dr. Vaughn learned of the affair, and Fanny made the realistic choice to remain with her husband and adolescent son. In a confrontation between the two men, Vaughn knocked Haggard to the floor, causing a leg injury that resulted in chronic pain and permanent disability.

Haggard resigned from the hospital and withdrew to a solitary life, in which "Spike" (the name he gives to his deformed and painful leg) is his only companion. He must constantly "feed" Spike with intravenous morphine to quell the emotional, as well as physical, pain. The situation only worsens when Haggard learns of Fanny’s death from kidney failure.

The obsession worsens further still after James Vaughn shows up at his door. As Haggard treats the young pilot for a minor wound (he has become the local RAF surgeon), he notices that James has a feminized body habitus--gynecomastia, lack of body hair, broad hips, narrow shoulders, and pre-pubertal penis. He interprets this as "a pituitary disorder" and attempts to convince James that he needs treatment. James is repulsed by these advances, which eventually escalate.

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Doctor Faustus

Mann, Thomas

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The full title of this novel is "Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend." Mann wrote it during the latter part of World War II when he was living in exile in the United States. The Faust character in this story is a German composer named Adrian Leverkühn (1885-1940), whose biography is recounted by his childhood friend, a schoolmaster named Serenus Zeitblom. Zeitblom presents the tale in his own voice--in essence, the novel is an extended reflection on the composer’s life (the past) set into the context of the deteriorating military situation in Germany (the present) as he is writing; i.e. the same period that Mann is actually writing the novel.

Adrian Leverkühn starts out as a student of theology, but succumbs to his passion for musical composition. His early pieces, though technically skillful, lack energy and imagination. However, all this changes when the young man experiences himself as having made a pact with the devil. In a confession written years later, Adrian recounts that he "voluntarily" contracted syphilis in an encounter with a prostitute, an episode that he believed was emblematic of this Faustian bargain.

In the confession he recreates his dialog with Satan, who promises the composer an artistic breakthrough, if he agrees to forego human love. As a result of the pact, Leverkühn sets off on a brilliant 24-year career, becoming the greatest German composer of his time. Throughout the novel Serenus intersperses technical details of Leverkühn’s many compositions, culminating with his masterwork, an oratorio called "The Lamentation of Doctor Faustus."

Adrian Leverkühn had been a self-centered youth who failed to reciprocate the friendship and devotion that others, especially Serenus, had lavished upon him. As an adult he leads an austere, solitary, monk-like life. Yet, while he lives only for his music, he also yearns for love. His personal life consists of a series of aborted relationships. Leverkühn becomes attracted to a female acquaintance and asks a friend to court her for him, only to learn that she has fallen in love with the friend.

Toward the end of his career, Adrian’s 5-year-old nephew comes to live with him in the country. The nephew ignites in him another spark of love, only to be snuffed out when the boy suddenly dies of meningitis. Finally, just as he is in the process of "unveiling" his great composition to a select group of friends, Leverkühn experiences a "stroke" and lapses into a coma from which he recovers physically, but not mentally. He survives for another decade in a demented, childlike state, and cared for by his mother.

The larger theme of this somber work relates to the decline of German culture during the decades before the onset of the Nazi era. Mann explores the collapse of traditional humanism and its replacement by a mixture of sophisticated nihilism and barbaric primitivism. In "The Story of a Novel" (1949),

Mann wrote that "Dr. Faustus" was about "the flight from the difficulties of a cultural crisis into the pact with the devil; the craving of a proud mind, threatened by sterility, for an unblocking of inhibitions at any cost; and the parallel between pernicious euphoria ending in collapse with the nationalistic frenzy of Fascism." In Zeitblum’s narrative comments, Mann subtly relates the composer’s personal tragedy to Germany’s destruction in the war. Mann also claimed a "secret identity" between himself, Leverkühn, and Zeitblom.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Four lonely individuals, marginalized misfits in their families/communities, each obsessed with a vision of his or her place in the world, collect about a single deaf-mute with whom they share their deepest secrets. An adolescent who desires to write symphonies, an itinerant drunk who believes he must organize poor laborers, a black physician whose desire is to motivate his people to demand their rightful place in American society, and a cafe owner whose secret wish is sexually ambiguous, believes that the deaf Mr. Singer understands and validates his or her obsession. Singer, ironically obsessed with a friendship of questionable reciprocity, commits suicide when the friend dies.

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The Shooting Party

Chekhov, Anton

Last Updated: Apr-26-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Chekhov wrote The Shooting Party during his final year in medical school, and it was published serially in 32 weekly segments during 1884 to 1885. The book's plot is essentially a murder mystery, although in its depictions of setting and character the story anticipates Chekhov's mature style.

"The Shooting Party" is the name of a manuscript that an unknown author, who appears out of nowhere, begs a publisher to read and publish. The author agrees at least to read it, and the author says that he will return in three months for the verdict. The body of the book then is this mysterious manuscript, which is written as a first person narrative. Its narrator and central character is the author recounting his own experience. In a "Postscript" the publisher tells us what happened when the author's returned three months later.

The narrator is the local magistrate in a rural region. His good friend and drinking partner, Count Alexei, has an estate nearby. Count Alexei's bailiff, Urbenin, is a middle-aged widower with two children. Also living on the estate are Nikolai Efimych, an old retainer who has gone crazy, and his beautiful daughter Olga. During the first part of The Shooting Party we learn that Count Alexei is a drunk and a lecher; Urbenin is a decent, hard-working, and lonely man; and Olga is caught between her presumably "true" love of the narrator and her desire to advance in life by marrying Urbenin. However, after marrying the bailiff, she takes another step upward by leaving her husband for a live-in affair with the Count, meanwhile secretly protesting her love for the narrator.

The climax occurs during a hunting party in the woods, when Olga goes off by herself and is later found murdered. All the evidence leads to her husband as the culprit. When an unexpected witness who might be able to implicate a different killer appears, the witness himself is mysteriously murdered. At the end of the manuscript, Urbenin is convicted of murder and sent to prison. However, in the "Postscript" the publisher, who proves to be a far better detective than the narrator/magistrate, identifies the real killer from clues that he has observed in the manuscript.

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Nathaniel Lachenmeyer’s memoir is a reconstructed account of his father Charles’s battle with paranoid schizophrenia and Nathaniel’s inability or unwillingness to recognize his father’s need for help. After his father’s death, Nathaniel contacted many of the people who had known his father, both when he was a student and college professor and later when his illness forced him into mental hospitals, squalid apartments, and homeless living on the streets. Nathaniel’s search to understand his father after his death led him to interview the many health care workers, police, street people, restaurant staff, and others who knew Charles when he was very ill.

Charles was delusional, often hearing voices and talking to his mother, who had been dead for years. Typical of people suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, Charles did not see himself as mentally ill. Therefore he did not like to take medications and would refuse treatments when he could, although his health care workers could see substantial changes for the better when he was on medication. He believed he was the victim of a mind control experiment, forced on him by his persecutors. He died out of touch with his family, having suffered almost twenty years on his own with his illness.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

The artist faces the viewer at a slight angle. He wears a bandage across his ear and under his chin, a purple and black winter cap upon his head, and a green overcoat with only the top button fastened. His sallow skin, in combination with the bandage, makes clear that the artist is unwell. In the background, upon a yellow wall, hangs one completed painting, vibrant and colorful, depicting a landscape and three women. Another painting that is only a sketch sits on a wooden easel to Van Gogh's right. A small section of a large window is visible on the right side of the painting.

Every color used to paint Van Gogh's person and clothing finds its pair in his surroundings: the purple of his hat couples with the window, his yellow skin couples with the wall, his overcoat and eyes pair with the landscape in the painting on the wall, and the white of his bandage complements the sketch behind him.

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