Showing 141 - 150 of 582 annotations tagged with the keyword "Individuality"

In the Land of Pain

Daudet, Alphonse

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The French writer Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) developed the form of tertiary syphilis called tabes dorsalis in the early 1880’s. Tabes progressively destroys the structures of the dorsal column of the spinal cord, leading at first to lower extremity ataxia and neuropathic pain, and eventually to paralysis of the legs associated with intractable pain. Daudet sought treatment from the leading neurologists of his time, including J. M. Charcot and C. E. Brown-Séquard, but the disease progressed relentlessly.

At some point Daudet began making notes for a book about his illness. He spoke to several of his contemporaries about this project, but the book never became more than a collection of brief notes, which were collected and published posthumously as "La Doulou" (Provencal for "pain"). This short book, translated here by Julian Barnes, consists of "fifty or so pages of notes on his symptoms and sufferings, his fears and reflections, and on the strange social life of patients at shower-bath and spa." (p. xiii)

The notes are generally in chronological order, beginning with short comments like "Torture walking back from the baths via the Champs-Elysées" (p. 4) and "Also from that time onwards pins and needles in the feet, burning feelings, hypersensitivity." (p. 6) In a long section toward the end Daudet comments on his experience at Lamalou, a thermal spa that he visited annually from 1885 to 1893. "I’ve passed the stage where illness brings any advantage or helps you understand things; also the stage where it sours your life, puts a harshness in your voice, makes every cogwheel shriek." (p. 65)

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this novel, with the help of some friends, Gregor Samsa has survived his seeming death at the end of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and joined a freak show in Vienna. A little man named Amadeus Hoffnung, who suffers from Werner’s syndrome (premature aging), runs this Chamber of Wonders. The human sized cockroach proves to be a big hit with the public and a good friend for his assorted colleagues, who come to admire his optimism, compassion, and sense of social responsibility. Gregor thrives, except for the festering wound in his carapace (back) that will not heal--the wound made when his father threw an apple at him during his traumatic early life in "Metamorphosis" as a human-turned-insect.

In 1923, as a result of an life-changing encounter with Ludwig Wittgenstein, and in the context of growing anti-Semitism in Central Europe, Gregor flies (literally) to New York, where he takes up residence and soon runs into Mr. Charles Ives, the composer and insurance executive, who gives him a job as an actuary. The novel describes Gregor’s subsequent adventures over the next 20 years--as a surprise witness at the Scopes trial, as the subject of Ives’s famous "Insect" Piano Sonata, and finally as the confidant of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and member of his "brain trust." Along the way, Gregor contributes greatly to the science of risk analysis and management.

In 1943, at the president’s request, Gregor joins the atomic bomb project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he serves as risk analyst and all-around moral questioner during the bomb’s development. Finally, Gregor Samsa, having survived 30 years as an insect, becomes physically ill as the old apple-infection turns to septicemia; and he becomes existentially ill, as he confronts the implications of nuclear warfare. He decides to commit suicide by placing himself among the instruments at Ground Zero of Trinity site, vaporizing in the explosion of the first atomic bomb; indeed, "Gregor’s was the most expensive assisted suicide in history." (p. 458)

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Barney's Version

Richler, Mordecai

Last Updated: Dec-14-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Barney Panofsky--like so many of Richler’s protagonists (and like Richler himself, one suspects)--is a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, foul-mouthed, hedonistic writer and producer. He has many sexual exploits in his past and loads of self doubt in his present, together with digitalis and dentures.

But there was only one true love in his life, although he has had three wives: Clara a mysterious artist-poetess whose suicide in Paris helped to establish his fame; "the second Mrs. Panofsky" whom he loathed for all of their short time together; and Miriam, mother of his three children and his partner for decades, until Barney blows it with presumptuous inattention culminating in a vain indiscretion, and she leaves.

Since the end of his second marriage, Barney has lived under the shadow of the unproven accusation of having murdered his best friend, Bernard "Boogie" Moscovitch. Supposedly, he committed the crime in a drunken rage provoked by his discovery of Boogie in flagrante with "the second Mrs Panofsky." Barney may have been drunk, but he didn’t do it. At least, he doesn’t remember doing it.

Barney’s "version" is an autobiographical account written in old age, and annotated with footnotes by his priggish and obsessive son. It is Barney’s side of the murder and his life, and it leads up to and devolves from that fateful evening when, far from being angry, he felt joy in a bedroom scene that would be his ticket to live with Miriam.

He recalls drinking with Boogie and their going for a swim. But he alone still expects to see Boogie stride through the door. Everyone else, including his children, believe that he was the killer, spared imprisonment because Boogie’s body was never found. The weight of Barney’s guilt waxes and wanes.

But remembering anything is increasingly difficult for Barney. He fears dementia. As its specter looms over his memories, it raises doubt about the veracity of his "version."

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Shay, a psychiatrist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), juxtaposes the narrated memories of his patients who are Vietnam veterans to the story of Achilles in Homer's Iliad. He finds that the roots of their illness, like that of the ancient hero, lie in betrayal of duty by senior officers who failed to do "what's right," in the repression of grief, and in the social limitations imposed on expressions of love between men.

These stressors lead to guilt, wrongful substitution, and dangerous rage, called the "berserk" state. The mental pathology is fostered by an equally wrongful failure to honor the enemy; return to "normal" is never possible. The book concludes medically with recommendations for prevention.

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Scar Tissue

Ignatieff, Michael

Last Updated: Dec-10-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story of a woman artist's slow decline into dementia and death as told through the eyes, words, and reflections of her philosophy professor son. Through his memories of their 1950s life together, he reconstructs a speculative analysis of her early married life with his soil-scientist, Russian-immigrant father.

The one older brother becomes a neuropathologist who investigates the very disease that slowly strips their mother of herself. Their father tends to her growing needs at the family farm, but he dies suddenly and she must be placed in an institution where one nurse alone seems to respect her dignity.

The brothers' rivalries and misunderstandings are recapitulated in their different responses to their father's death and their mother's illness: the physician retreats to scientific explanations of the "scar tissue" in her brain; the philosopher looks for evidence of personhood and for reassurance that death should not be feared. His obsession with his mother's condition stems from a deeply felt sense of guilt; it destroys his marriage and condemns him to depression, hypochondria, and shame as he creates and diagnoses the same illness in himself, long before it can be detected by doctors.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Augusto and Michaela Odone (Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon) are the adoring parents of a bright little boy who inexplicably develops alarming behavioral problems, after they return from working in the Comoro Islands. A series of investigations results in a diagnosis of adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), but the boy rapidly deteriorates into a bed-ridden, inarticulate state. Frustrated by the medical profession's inability to help, Augusto and Michaela embark on an odyssey of salvation, studying lipid metabolism, promoting international conferences, and trying to disseminate their findings to other parents.

Their insights lead them to experiment with at least two effective therapies, one of which is erucic acid (Lorenzo's oil). Michaela feels guilt as well as grief, when she understands that the X-linked disease is passed from mother to son. In an effort to keep Lorenzo at home, she refuses to admit the extent of his disability, alienates her family, dismisses nurses, and assumes most of the care herself, nearly ruining her own health and her marriage. The film ends hopefully with tiny signs of recovery in Lorenzo. The credits roll over the faces and voices of happy, healthy-looking boys who have been taking Lorenzo's Oil.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

In dire financial straits, the physician-researcher, Dr. Malcolm Sayres (Robin Williams), accepts a clinical job for which he is decidedly unsuited: staff physician in a chronic-care hospital. His charges include the severely damaged, rigid, and inarticulate victims of an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica. Sayres makes a connection between their symptoms and Parkinson’s disease. With the hard-won blessing of his skeptical supervisor, he conducts a therapeutic trial using the new anti-Parkinson drug, L-Dopa.

The first patient to "awaken" is Leonard Lowe (Robert De Niro) who, despite being "away" for many years, proves to be a natural leader, with a philosophical mind of his own. Other patients soon display marked improvement and their stories are told in an aura of fund-raising celebration marked by happy excursions.

Gradually, however, problems develop: patients have trouble adapting to the radical changes in themselves and the world; Leonard grows angry with the imperfection of his rehabilitation; the horrifying side effects of L-Dopa appear; and Leonard’s mother (Ruth Nelson), initially happy for her son’s recovery, is later alienated by the concomitant arousal of his individuality, sexuality, and independence. The film ends with "closure of the therapeutic window" and marked regression in some patients, but not before they have awakened clinical commitment and a new ability to express feelings in their shy doctor.

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HA! A Self Murder Mystery

Sheppard, Gordon

Last Updated: Dec-10-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

On 15 March 1977, the acclaimed Quebec writer, Hubert Aquin (HA) born 1929, blew out his brains on the grounds of Montreal's Villa Maria, a convent girls' school, where his first wife had been educated and only steps from the Westmount home that he shared with his psychiatrist partner, Andrée Yanacopoulu (herself now a writer of medical history) and their nine-year old son, Emmanuel. Yanacopoulo had known of the suicide plan well in advance and, as part of a pact, had agreed not to stop it.

Through a series of interviews with family, ex-family, friends, lovers, colleagues, secretaries, students, and cleaning ladies, mostly between 1977 and 1983, Sheppard conducts an "investigation" to determine why Aquin ended his life at that time and in that way; and why his partner allowed it. Only a single interview seems to have been conducted after 1985. Each chapter is preceded by an extensive citation from one of Aquin's four novels, followed by stage direction notes for music, sound effects, and mood, and comprised of situated testimony written as dialogue for a film script.

Just as many explanations for Aquin's suicide emerge from this inquiry as there are witnesses. The causes range from the political, through the physical, psychological, social, symbolic, and emotional, to the spiritual. For each witness, they are the truth. They include 1. the failure of the recently elected separatist government to declare Quebec to be a sovereign nation; 2. Aquin's much publicized dismissal from a newspaper job, which he had counted on for a prominent editorial opportunity; 3. the failure of one (or several) love affair(s); 4. the collapse of two marriages; 5. estrangement from the two sons of his first marriage; 6. chronic ill health due to alcoholic epilepsy; 7. unresolved conflicts with his parents; 8. the result of his own writing which displayed a longstanding fascination with sex, death, violence, and suicide; 9. the result of writer's block; 10. a "classic" capitulation of a "québécois" male to the tyranny of women, either a "québécoise" mother or--(take your choice)-- a non-québécoise lover; 11. a covenant with 9 year-old boys crossing several generations; 12. the destiny of a man with a death wish, a chronic predisposition to self killing, who, according to one engaging friend (Jacques Languirand), had probably already committed suicide in a previous life as a late Antique Roman, and would likely do again--perhaps already has.

Sheppard dedicates his book to more than one hundred suicides from Sappho to Kurt Cobain. He shapes the responses of his subjects by his pointed questions and the juxtaposition of their answers to advance his overriding theory that Aquin's suicide was his finest work of art. All the varying explanations co-exist peacefully within Aquin's immortality, which resides in the minds of those who remember and grieve for him. No single interpretation is more plausible than another. Sheppard explicitly links these multiple "truths" to the early film work of Kurosawa; we are also reminded of Iain Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost and The Dream of Scipio (see this database).

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

In September 1796, 32-year-old Mary Lamb (1764-1847), stabbed her mother to death with a carving knife during an incoherent frenzy. Almost immediately, she became calm and was sent to a madhouse, remaining away from home for months until her grieving and unforgiving father had died. Mary was released into the care of her much younger brother, Charles (1775-1834), soon to be known for his poetry and essays. She never went to prison, but would return to the madhouse many times over the next fifty years. As a result, this life is an interesting exploration of chronic mental disturbance in the early nineteenth century.

Neither Charles nor Mary ever married; they always lived together and professed to be each other's dearest friend. Obliged to eke out a middle class income--she (until her crime) at dressmaking, he in an office--they turned to writing, often together. The Lambs' famous Tales from Shakespear [sic] was written mostly by Mary, but their friend William Godwin under Charles's name as sole author first published it. Mary's other books, edifying texts for young female readers, were published anonymously.

Letters to their many friends reveal Mary's vexation with Charles's drinking and smoking and his concerns over her multiple relapses, which were triggered by being obliged to move house. Charles predeceased his older sister by ten years and she spent the rest of her life in chronic care of a private couple, visiting his grave almost every day.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The title and first line, "My Beautiful Grandmother / died ugly," set the tone for contrasts that continue throughout the poem: health and illness, beauty and ugliness, youth and age, life and death, staying and leaving. The poem initially describes the grandmother as aged, ready to die, anorexic and in such pain that she required six years of morphine. The needles used to inject medication, which left her arms bruised "black and blue" are contrasted with her previous embroidery needles, which she had used to stitch "pink cornucopias / on square after square of white cotton."

The grandmother was ready to die for a long time, to a place and time apart--to the mountains and to her spirited youth, when she was "dashing" and her "mind was as quick / as the stitch of a sparrow's wing." The poem continues with the compression of time yet marking the effects of time: old love letters to the grandmother crumble "like stale bread" in the hands of the granddaughter. The poem concludes with a short stanza alluding to difficulties that the granddaughter experienced leaving the Georgia town where her "beautiful grandmother stayed."

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