Showing 171 - 180 of 228 annotations tagged with the keyword "Humor and Illness/Disability"

Matuschka Archive

Matuschka,

Last Updated: Mar-26-2003
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Visual Arts

Genre: Multimedia

Summary:

In 1991 the artist and model Matuschka was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. Following her surgery, which she discovered had not been necessary, Matuschka became an activist on breast cancer issues. Hoping to increase awareness of the prevalence of breast cancer and also to suggest a more positive self image for women who had had mastectomies, she continued producing artistic portraits of herself, many of them revealing the results of her mastectomy.

Her career took a very public turn with the appearance of her photographic self-portrait on the cover of the New York Times Magazine on August 15, 1993.(She appears in a tailored white dress cut away from her right shoulder and torso to give a full view of her mastectomy scar.)This photo (titled "Beauty out of Damage" and accompanied by Susan Ferraro’s article, "The Anguished Politics of Breast Cancer") and a dozen other photos and paintings were exhibited on the Web by the Pincushion Forum web site and later put into an archive. The archive also contains several texts that help orient viewers to the visual works.

Viewer-readers may be interested in numerous poems, stories, and longer works about breast cancer that have been annotated in this database. Especially recommended are: Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals; Betty Rollin’s First, You Cry, excerpt from; Joyce Wadler’s autobiography, My Breast; Marilyn Hacker’s poem sequence, Cancer Winter; Linda Pastan’s poem, Routine Mammogram; Henry Schneiderman’s poem sequence, Breast Cancer in the Family; and a story by Helen Yglesias, Semi-Private. Other titles may be found here by searching for "breast And cancer."

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Summary:

When literature and cultural studies professor Michael Bérubé's son James was born in 1991, he was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Negotiating various medical, social, and educational environments and the identities each assigns their son, Bérubé and Janet Lyon (his wife, a literature professor and former cardiac-ICU nurse), become effective advocates for Jamie and embark on a course of questions about the social systems that produce disabled identities and administer to those human differences termed significant ones. Bérubé engages these questions with a mixture of family experience (his own, and that of other families with disabilities), historical research, critical theory, and sophisticated critical analysis.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This book's title is from a Goethe poem, "The Holy Longing," translated from German in its entirety by Robert Bly: "And so long as you haven't experienced / this: to die and so to grow, / you are only a troubled guest / on the dark earth." Ten intensely personal essays tell of the suffering and everyday presence of pain of a severely disabled writer who has advancing multiple sclerosis, and of how, "in a very real sense, and entirely without design, death has become [her] life's work." (p. 13)

Beginning with her father's sudden death when she was a child, the essays describe her aging mother's expected death and the family's decision to take her off life support; her caretaker husband's diagnosis of metastatic cancer with uncertain prognosis; her own attempted suicide; death of friends, pets, including her beloved dog; and a young pen-pal executed on death row. If that weren't enough, a coda, her foster son's murder and again the decision to remove life-support, provides "[t]he end. For now." (p. 191)

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Progressive Health

Dennis, Carl

Last Updated: Jan-22-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A corporate narrator ("We here at Progressive Health") thanks the poem's addressee (presumably the poet) for "being one of the generous few who've promised / To bequeath your vital organs to whoever needs them." However, the narrator goes on to point out that there is another, even more generous, step he could take, by "acting a little sooner than you expected." In fact, why not turn tomorrow morning's routine physical examination, which wouldn't ordinarily benefit anyone except the poet himself, into a splendid opportunity to save six lives?

Yes, indeed, at this very moment there are six persons whose lives are hanging by a thread in the ICU, and the poet is a good tissue match for every one of them. If he would agree to have his liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys removed, and transplanted into these patients, he would save six lives.

Of course, the poet would die, but look at the situation from a cost-benefit analysis: The poet, who is "an aging bachelor," has perhaps 20 more years of life left in him and the poems he might yet write--even assuming they are better than those he has thus far written--are not going to "raise one Lazarus from a grave / Metaphoric or literal." On the other hand, the six potential beneficiaries have a multiplier effect because of their husbands and wives, parents and children.

The great gratitude of so many people will mean that the poet will be remembered after death--"Summer and winter they'll visit your grave, in shifts, / For as long as they live, and stoop to tend it, / And leave it adorned with flowers . . ."

Alternatively, if he chooses selfishly to refuse, and to grow old and die, his friends will likely forget him after death; and, moreover, his conscience will probably be stricken by having failed to respond to these patients' needs. The poem concludes, "You could be a god, one of the few gods / Who, when called on, really listens?" [48 lines]

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The Dead Alive and Busy

Shapiro, Alan

Last Updated: Jan-16-2003
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This collection of 36 poems, some of which have been published individually in various literary magazines, is primarily about dead--or nearly dead--family members: a brother and sister lost to cancer; the speaker's palsied, nearly blind father dying of Parkinson's disease; his mother's struggle with chronic arthritis and heart disease.

The collection is divided into three untitled sections. The first deals primarily with the aging and death of the speaker's parents; the second with a wider range of abandonment and death, lost loves, dreams, innocence; the third almost exclusively with his sister's six year struggle with breast cancer and dying.

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White Noise

DeLillo, Don

Last Updated: Dec-04-2002
Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A dark comedy about an upper-middle class blended family living the technology overloaded, mall-mad contemporary American life in a small midwestern town until catastrophe strikes. Jack Gladney teaches Hitler studies at the College-on-the-Hill. He is married to his fourth wife Babette, who reads tabloids to the blind and teaches posture classes to senior citizens. Together, they have four children, and a quirky extended family.

Interspersed in the noisy, chaotic family relationships is the central questions that obsesses Jack and Babette: who will die first? Death is everywhere in this story--on TV, radio, at the mall, in Hitler studies, and at home. Then an industrial accident releases an "airborne toxic event"--a lethal cloud of Nyodene D. to which Jack is exposed.

Absurd, witty, and almost plausible, the catastrophe answers his question about who will die first, but tells him nothing about death itself. What is the meaning of death, and, by implication, life? In the final section, dying Jack goes to hospital and meets nun Sister Hermann Marie and questions her about her faith. She explains that her piety is only a pretence: . . . "we are here to embody old things, old beliefs. The devil, the angels, heaven, hell. If we did not pretend to believe these things the world would collapse." (p. 318)

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The Anatomist

Andahazi, Federico

Last Updated: Oct-21-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This historical novel is set in 16th century Venice, where the great anatomist and physician Mateo Colombo has just been charged with heresy and placed under house arrest. The book proceeds in a series of short frames or fragments, presenting Colombo’s story from a wide variety of perspectives, ranging from the perspective of Mona Sofia, the most prestigious whore in Venice, to that of Leonardino, the crow who waits each morning to scavenge an eyeball or piece of flesh from one of the anatomist’s cadavers.

What is Colombo’s heresy? True, he has consistently violated the Papal Bull of Pope Boniface VIII that forbid obtaining cadavers for dissection, but his scholarly eminence and friendship with Pope Paul III have protected him from recrimination. His heresy is far worse than simply ignoring a Papal Bull; in fact, Mateo Colombo has discovered a dangerous new anatomical structure, the clitoris!

Mateo was called to the bedside of an unconscious holy woman named Inés de Torremolinos. In the process of examining her, the physician was amazed to discover "between his patient’s legs a perfectly formed, erect and diminutive penis." (p. 105) He took hold of the strange organ and began massaging it. As he did so, there was an amazing response in his patient: "(Her) breathing became hoarser and then broke into a loud panting . . . Her lifeless features changed into a lascivious grimace . . . " (p. 107) Subsequent research undertaken with Mona Sofia, the resplendent whore, as well as with cadavers, confirmed the significance of Colombo’s discovery.

At his hearing before the High Tribunal, Colombo explains his findings, which are far too complex and subtle to summarize (pp. 138-165). The finding of greatest interest, however, is that "there is no reason to believe that there exists in women such a thing as a soul." (p. 151) In fact, Colombo contends he has proven that the "amor veneris" or clitoris performs in women "similar functions to those of the soul in men, " although its nature "is utterly different since it depends entirely on the body." (p. 153)

You’ll have to read the book to discover what the verdict of the High Tribunal of the Holy Office was and Mateo Colombo’s fate.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

It is 1965. Graduate student, Adam Appleby (the name is significant), twenty-five years old and father of three, is terrified that his wife, Barbara, is pregnant again. He loves her and is faithful, but their commitment to Catholicism turns their sex life into a furtive obsession, encumbered with calendars, thermometers, and guilt.

This day in his life, like all others, is spent in the British Museum, researching an interminable thesis on 'the long sentence' in minor English writers. But Adam cannot concentrate for frustration, anxiety (over Barbara's delayed period), and financial despair. When a young descendant of a minor writer tries to seduce him in exchange for a steamy manuscript that could easily make his career, Adam discovers a shocking willingness to compromise on his principles.

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Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Born breech and deprived of oxygen for two hours, Irish poet and writer Christopher Nolan was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and is unable to speak and virtually unable to move voluntarily. His book, subtitled "The Life Story of Christopher Nolan," is narrated as a third person account of the life of "Joseph Meehan." The memoir opens with Meehan's winning the British Spastics' Society Literary Award for his first book of poetry, Dam-Burst of Dreams (1988) and ends with his last day at Trinity College, having turned down the invitation to continue his studies there towards a degree.

In the mixture of linear, traditional life narrative and lyrical, neologistic description that falls in between, the memoir addresses Meehan's birth, early life, education, and growing acclaim as a poet and writer. It recounts how his family and teachers helped develop a combination of medication, tools (a "unicorn-stick" attached to his forehead), and assistance that allowed him to type.

It details, above all, how various family, friends, and health and education professionals advocated Meehan's special-school and mainstream education and made available to him such normative life experiences as riding a pony, boating, fishing, skipping school with his mates, and going on school trips without his parents--and such unusual life experiences as becoming an award-winning writer.

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On the Couch

Herbert, Mary Kennan

Last Updated: May-10-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

I am feeling crabby / unlikely to reveal any hidden tidbits . . . Yet, the narrator gamely decides to continue psychotherapy, hoping to "crack open" the shell and discover the "succulent confessions" that lie within. She recalls her neighbor telling her about soft-shelled crabs and the adventurous day she ordered them for the first time at "a favorite hangout of my past." Sure enough, she ate the crabs, and "I was so pleased with myself / trying some exotic new dish" and not being afraid. [35 lines]

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