Showing 151 - 160 of 1285 annotations tagged with the keyword "Death and Dying"

Illness as Narrative

Jurecic, Ann

Last Updated: Jul-03-2012
Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

In Illness as Narrative, Ann Jurecic thoughtfully examines the unruly questions that personal accounts of illness pose to literary studies: What is the role of criticism in responding to literature about suffering?  Does the shared vulnerability of living in a body, which stories of illness intimately expose, justify empathic readings?   What is the place of skepticism in responding to stories of suffering?  Does whether or how we read illness narratives matter?  Jurecic's questions entice discussion at an interesting cultural moment.  The numbers of memoirs and essays about illnessand their inclusion in medical school and other humanities coursesmultiplied from the later decades of the 20th century to the present.   However, their increase, and their potential to encourage empathic readings, coincided with dominant literary theories that advocated vigorously skeptical, error-seeking responses to texts and their authors.  Jurecic reminds us that Paul Ricoeur called such responses "the hermeneutics of suspicion" (3). 

Jurecic's astutely researched, nuanced answers to those questions propose a corrective to the extreme skepticism of "disembodied criticism." Such criticism, she claims, dismisses testimonial writing from "a position of distance and privilege."  But her answers also affirm that intellectually "rigorous" responses to texts are central to the critical humanities (15).  To further her position, she offers attentive readings of accounts of illness by Virginia Woolf, Reynolds Price, and Jean-Dominique Bauby, as well as the theoretical writing of literary and other scholars.  For instance, Jurecic speculates that the condition of a reader's body aligns with his or her responses to texts.  In a chapter called "Theory's Aging Body," she observes that as skeptical scholarly readers ageStephen Greenblatt, Michel Foucault, Judith Butlerthey have turned their attention to "illness, vulnerability, and mortality" (93).  Jurecic also suggests that a function of criticism is to uncover the cultural conditions that memoirs and essays about illness respond to.  Living "at risk" is a recent one.  In stories of living with the risk of experiencing a particular illness in the future, potential patients create narratives of uncertainty to discover the "personal meaning of the impersonal statistics" that medical research now regularly delivers (18). 

 Jurecic also reflects on the ways theorists have understood the possibilities of representing and responding to pain in the varied approaches of philosophers Elaine Scarry, Martha Nussbaum, and Richard Rorty and of anthropologists Jean E. Jackson, Byron Good, and Veena Das.  In an exceptionally comprehensive and nuanced reading of Susan Sontag's theoretical, fictional, and journal writing about suffering, Jurecic uncovers Sontag's inconsistent, yet revelatory positions on the human capacity for responding to representations of pain.  The chapter on Sontag is enriched by Jurecic's reading of Annie Lebovitz's and David Reiff's responses to Sontag's suffering: in Lebovitz's controversial photographs of Sontag's final days (included in A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005) and Reiff's memoir about his mother's illnesses (Swimming in a Sea of Death). 

Illness as Narrative closes with examples of what Jurecic calls reparative writing and reading practices.  In the first instance, ill writers such as Jean-Dominique Bauby (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) both recreate "a more coherent sense of themselves" and dislodge "fixed ideas and narratives" about illness (109).  In the second instance, Jurecic outlines the limits of two competing readings of Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.  One assumes that readers will by nature empathically imagine those who are culturally different from themselves.  The other looks skeptically at the assumption that what medical educators call cultural competence can be acquired by reading a book.  Jurecic suggests that strategies for reading and teaching informed by Janelle S. Taylor, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Rita Felski can encourage more complex habits of response, such as Taylor's "'empathic curiosity'" (quoted 122).

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Island of the Dead

Böcklin, Arnold

Last Updated: Jun-05-2012
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on wood

Summary:

A small stone island sits in the middle of a body of water. No other land is visible. Within the apparently naturally formed stonewalls that constitute the island’s perimeter, vestiges of man-made dwellings are apparent. On the left-hand embankment, the front of what appears to be a white house is visible albeit only slightly. On the other side of the island, doorways or windows have been carved out of the rock itself. Below the front most door some white paint has been added, as though to signify the fading presence of man’s creations on this island.

The center of the island opens up as a bay of sorts. In the middle of the bay and island, large vertical trees similar in appearance to Cyprus trees stretch all the way up past the stone and to the very top of the painting. Nothing of the island is visible through the dense trees. One solitary boat with two passengers makes its way into the middle of the bay. One passenger controls the oars while the other stands erect, as though a statue, and is completely white. At the front of the boat sits a box that looks like a coffin.

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Remedies

Ledger, Kate

Last Updated: Apr-30-2012

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Simon Bear is a hard-charging physician; his wife Emily is a successful public relations executive, now a senior partner in her firm. Although they have a lavish house, a teen-aged daughter, and much wealth, their marriage is troubled, in large part because they have never fully mourned the death of their baby Caleb.

The title “Remedies” fits well with the long struggle for how to heal their grief. The remedies that clearly have not worked are obsessions with career, professionalism, rationalism, and the trappings of American materialism.

Simon has two obsessions about his practice. The first is that he is a rescuer, the perfect doctor who listens to his patients and gives them what they want. As a self-appointed expert on pain, he is free and easy about prescribing opiates. When his father-in-law feels no pain after a car accident, Simon is sure that a drug that the man is taking is, in fact, the Holy Grail of pain medications. Simon becomes obsessed with this “discovery,” promoting it to his patients, without a scientific study or consideration of ethical implications. When he flies to a national medical meeting to trumpet the news of this remedy, no one will listen to him.

While Simon is the point of view for Parts One, Three, and Five, Emily—structurally separated—is the voice and focus of Parts Two and Four. She is troubled by her distance from Simon and, increasingly, her 13-year-old daughter, who is sullen and rebellious. When she meets Will, a former lover, she seeks another kind of remedy in an affair with him, even prospects of marriage. Contrasting with her strategic, rational approach to life, Will is an open, easy-going man, conveniently separated from his wife.

A series of crises rock Emily, then Simon. Emily begins to understand her anger; she has a breakthrough with her daughter. Simon has several setbacks, including humiliations, but he is not crushed. Although ordinarily a secular Jew, Simon attends the Kol Nidre service the evening service before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In a powerful and moving passage, he finds healing, relief, and a new direction for his life—a true remedy.   

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Annotated by:
Winkler, Mary

Summary:

In this satirical etching, a recumbent, slack-limbed man is attended by two shadow background figures (one of whom may be his wife) and his physician--a fashionably attired ass! The ass/physician is searching for the pulse of his patient, a pose that accentuates the ostentatiously large gem encircling his hoof.

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Corporate Decision

Tooker, George

Last Updated: Apr-26-2012
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Summary:

The foreground of this painting is dominated by a "pieta" type grouping. One woman hovers closely over what appears to be a dying man, while another comforts a small child. This part of the canvas is underlighted. The colors are rich earth tones. The figures are non-Caucasian.

In the background, in harsh light, is a group of identical looking starkly white men. In fact, their faces are almost skeletal. All are in suits, three are seated, with four others standing behind the seated figures. They look very much like a "tribunal."

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Self-portrait at 70

Willing, Victor

Last Updated: Apr-26-2012
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

Large blue circular eyes stare up from this frontal self-portrait. The sclera is visible underneath the eyes, which reflect the same washed blue of the background. This blue is as startling as, and reminiscent of, the green background of a Van Gogh self-portrait. The visage is grimly determined and the mouth a thin-lipped line. Ears are large and the shoulders blend into the background. He is thin and somewhat haggard.

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The Courtroom

Layton, Elizabeth

Last Updated: Apr-26-2012
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Summary:

This is an aerial view of a comatose patient being force-fed by a funnel leading directly into her stomach. Surrounding the consultation table are six (identifiable) black-robed supreme judges gleefully pouring nutritious foods (grapes, fish, Quaker Oats, peanut butter, water and 7-Up) into her. Two tiny symbols, the scales of justice and a red-white-and-blue eagle contribute to the otherwise empty courtroom decor.

In the upper right corner, barely visible, is an open door with a "Keep Out" sign dangling from its knob, through which a doctor and nurse peer in. Four tiny red paper-doll figures holding hands, symbolizing the family, are also by this door. Hanging precariously over the patient and consultation table is an ugly, large, bare 25-watt light bulb.

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The Last Illness

Neel, Alice

Last Updated: Feb-18-2012
Annotated by:
Winkler, Mary

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

This portrait of the artist's mother was done a few months before her death in 1954. An elderly woman with white, feathery, unkempt hair sits facing the viewer, wearing a plaid wool bath robe. Although the chair is set on a slight diagonal with the picture plane, the impression is one of frontality: the subject faces (confronts) the viewer with a combination of fortitude and vulnerability.

Neel has suggested spiritual and emotional conflict by dividing the face and accentuating the frightened eyes behind large spectacles. The strong geometrical pattern of the bathrobe gives a sense of stability to the form, while simultaneously setting up a contrast with the delicate hands and aged face of the sick woman.

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City Hospital

Neel, Alice

Last Updated: Feb-18-2012
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Summary:

In 1953 Alice Neel created a series of ink and gouache drawings depicting the last weeks of her mother's life, which were spent in a New York city hospital. One of these is at the Robert Miller website linked to this annotation. In the drawing, a black nurse comforts a prone elderly lady. The pale hues of the painting--blue, black, white--evoke a somber mood and imply sickness. This sense of despair is augmented by a harsh cityscape background beyond a dark river, which the viewer sees through a window.

Compassion counters these desolate surroundings, however, for a bond is apparent between the nurse and elderly patient. The nurse's hands rest on the patient in a partial cradling gesture, and the trajectory of the lines made by the nurse's arms and hands and the elderly patient's flowing hair establishes a visual and emotional link. The connection between the two figures is supplemented by the thin smiles on both women's faces.

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Sailing

Kenney, Susan

Last Updated: Feb-12-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A few years into their marriage, while their children are still young, Sara and Phil discover that he has an aggressive form of cancer.  He undergoes grueling surgery, but the cancer returns.  For Sara the prospect of Phil's death reawakens the trauma of losing her father when she was twelve.  Phil does his best to live a normal life between chemotherapy treatments and further surgeries, and even enters an experimental treatment in hope of seeing his children grow up.  His greatest pleasure in life is sailing, and one of his deepest hopes for his remaining time with his family to enjoy sailing with them in the ocean near their New England home.  But Sara finds it scary, even though she gamely learns to crew, and the kids never take to it.  So Phil sails with friends, and sometimes alone.  After learning that the cancer has continued to spread despite every medical effort, Phil decides to take one last sailing trip, this time alone, on the ocean.  There he has to make a decision:  his intention is simply to sail until his body gives out and die on the boat he loves, sparing Sara, he thinks, having to watch him die a slow and painful death.  But he begins to realize that letting her see him through might, after all, be a better way to go.  As the novel ends, he turns the boat, now quite far from land, toward home.  

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