Showing 171 - 180 of 582 annotations tagged with the keyword "Individuality"

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Triggered in part by a trip to the Galápagos Islands, the author interweaves two parallel narratives: Darwin's "journey toward evolution" along with the related work of Alfred Russel Wallace; and the author's own journey through life, partially disabled and dependent on the specially fitted shoes that help him to walk.  Together these two narratives develop "all I have come to understand about chance and change, fear and transformation, variation and cultural context, ideas about the body that question the definition and existence of difference in all of our lives" (xvii).

Born with an unnamed congenital condition in which his fibulae are absent along with other lower limb "abnormalities," Fries underwent five major reconstructive surgeries as a child, but after those, what helped him most were special shoes that were fitted to his special body, assisting him to walk.  As an adult, however, he begins to experience back pain and knee problems.  The memoir relates, both in flashback, and in the present day, Fries's quest for a proper pair of shoes that will help him avoid yet another surgery -- the shoes he has been wearing are 20 years old and no longer do the job.  We meet Dr. Mendotti, who treated him like a peculiar specimen and offered a pharmacologic way out of his pain; shoemaker Eneslow, in a dingy Union Square office, whose shoes not only fit Fries well, but were festive in appearance -- "I felt both normal and special" (17); other practitioners of orthotics who try but fail to construct shoes that relieve Fries's pain, and finally, the gifted, patient orthoticist, Tom Coburn, who persists until he is able to provide shoes that work.  The shoes have been adapted for Fries's body, just as man has constructed adaptations that allow him to live in a variety of climates and circumstances.  Conversely, Fries, convinced he "can adapt to the circumstances in which my body places me (169)," draws from Darwin, whom he quotes: "individual differences are highly important for us, as they afford materials for natural selection to accumulate" (169).
 
Darwinian connections are invoked throughout the narrative.  The peculiar configuration of Fries's feet and shoes help him to ascend a series of mountain ladders while his partner, Ian -- who usually has to assist Fries with such physical maneuvers -- suddenly becomes fearful of the height and exposure;  back problems might have developed even without his congenital abnormalities because evolution of the capacity to walk upright included the tendency toward back pain; the role of chance in natural selection and the role of chance in the physical fact of congenital conditions; the positive role that his partner Ian's attention deficit disorder (ADD) could have played in the days of hunter-gatherers and the cultural context in which ADD is now considered to be "abnormal."
 
Fries discusses his fears -- both rational and irrational -- as well as his awareness of stigma, difference, and sameness.  The context of these discussions is usually a reminiscence about vacations in far-flung countries (Thailand, the Galápagos, Bali, Alaska, the Canadian Rockies) and physically challenging domestic locales (a Colorado River raft trip, the Beehive Mountain in Acadia National Park).  He  occasionally brings into the discussion his homosexuality, especially as his physical deformity affected sexual encounters.  The relationship between Fries and Ian is woven throughout the memoir as one of understanding, mutual need and benefit.  As the memoir ends, Fries worries about the likelihood he will need a wheelchair, but is at the same time gathering confidence in his ability to ride the Easy Flyer bicycle that Ian has discovered at the local bike shop.

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Summary:

Kaplan Publishing has recently released several anthologies aimed at a nursing audience or perhaps at a reading audience that wants to know more about what nurses think and feel about their professions.  This anthology, a collection of poetry and essays, looks at the various reasons these authors went into nursing in the first place, how nursing changed them, and why they either stayed the course or went on to other pursuits.  As the editors say in the Introduction, "nursing abounds with experiences that can either reinforce our vocational commitment or cause us to reconsider it" (p. xi).

In the first section, "The Calling," poems and essays examine "the idealistic reflections of those aglow with nursing's promise of intimacy and connection" (xii).  Here we meet student nurses with a true calling who are "living, breathing and sleeping nursing" (p.5), and students who are sure they are going "to murder someone" (p. 6).  Like most professionals, nurses often have mentors, and those mentors--"brisk, frank, fast, sometimes sharp" (p. 30)---are honored in this section as well.  Readers, upon completing this section, will be moved and cheered by the poems and essays that reflect the romance of nursing and the intense drive that many nurses have to give of themselves to others. 

The editors, however, are no Polyannas.  They know that a student's illusions and dreams will run right smack into reality.  While the rewards will certainly be many, the discouragements will be present as well.  The fact that both experiences---the highs and the lows---can occur within a single day is reflected in the collection's second section, "The Reckoning."  Here the realities of death, exhaustion, burnout and doubt are faced full on.  Some of the works in this section are by nurses who have chosen to leave the profession:  "Brazil, the new hospital.  We have no water.  Doctors protest poor facilities by refusing to see patients and sitting in their cars outside in the parking lot" (p. 81), writes Veneta Masson as she traces her career from 1958 to 1998 when she decides to leave nursing and "use my hands to write and to bless" (p. 84).  While some have chosen to leave, other nurses have found ways to survive: "Nursing allowed me to help my mother die; my music has helped me live" (p. 88) writes Colleen O'Brien, and Fr. Robert J. Kus writes about his dual roles, priest and nurse, how they balance and enhance one another (pp. 102-110).  The works in this section remind readers of the sacrifices caregivers must make every day.  As Jo Ann Papich writes, "Please appreciate your nurse while you still have one" (p. 99).

Section Three, "Reincarnation," tells of the "informed commitment that arises after sustained trial" (p. 165).  Here nurse-writers talk about survival and the oddly comfortable balance between stress and transcendence that comes, at last, after many years in nursing.  In "Why I Like Dead People," Sallie Tisdale takes a wry look at death, nursing homes and their "cockeyed logic" (p. 175).  Anne Webster, in "Slow Night in the E.R." talks about doing what you must do to help others even when you "can't do it," when you "stand outside the curtain, shaking" until the patient asks, "Are you there?" (p. 186-7).  Kathryn Gahl, in "The Reason Nurses Write Mostly Poetry" says it's because nurses "convert heart sounds // and hard words into art before the next patient / arrives, hemorrhaging, counting on that nurse / to flow like a pen, bleed for both of them" (p. 195).  And in the book's final essay, "I'm Staying," Shirley Stephenson offers a series of lovely statements about why she, and others, might continue in the frustrating, tiring, challenging and miraculous profession of nursing.  "Because I have been in the bed, and beside the bed. Because I have waited. Because I believe any one of us could face the circumstances of those for whom we provide care, and we're much more similar than different. Because this is where the rhythm is loudest---yes this yes this yes this yes this" (p. 246).

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Murder in Byzantium

Kristeva, Julia

Last Updated: Apr-05-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Clever, investigative journalist Stephanie Delacourt is sent from Paris to the mythical Santa Varvara to cover police inspector, Northrop Rilsky, in his quest to solve a series of high profile murders with political overtones. The back of each victim is “signed” with a carved figure 8 (or infinity?). At the same time, the distinguished historian Sebastian Chrest-Jones (CJ) disappears. Unbeknownst to everyone but the reader, he has just murdered his Chinese mistress, who is pregnant with his child.

Anxious that CJ has come to harm, his wife appeals to Rilksy, drawing on the connection that he is a step-relation of the missing man. She has been conducting an affair with CJ’s assistant who soon becomes another corpse signed with an 8. Suspicions fall on CJ.

Distracted from the murders she was to cover, Stephanie becomes increasingly involved in CJ’s historical research on the first crusade and the twelfth-century Anna Comnena, considered Europe’s first woman historian. In tracing the connections that CJ has drawn between Anna Comnena and one of his own (and Rilsky’s) ancestors she “derives” his obsessions and his likely whereabouts.

Late discovery of mistress’s corpse offers bizarre genetic clues about the identity of the serial killer and the paternity of the child, again tying the two mysteries into one. A thrilling climax is set in monastery of Notre Dame du Puy en Velay.

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The Good Priest's Son

Price, Reynolds

Last Updated: Mar-23-2009
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Mabry Kincaid, a New York art conservator is flying home on September 11, 2001, when news comes to him on the plane of the attacks on the World Trade Center.  Unable to return to his apartment in the city, he decides to visit his aging father, an Episcopal priest, in his boyhood home in North Carolina. There he meets Audrey, an African-American seminary student in her forties, who has moved in to care for his disabled father.  In the ensuing weeks Mabry is led to reflect deeply not only on the fate of the country and of his career, but on how his father's apparently final illness compels him to come to new terms with their constrained relationship. The death of the brother Mabry always believed to be the favorite has left a painful chasm between father and son, made more so by his father's own admission of favoritism.

At the same time Mabry is coming to terms with his own diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and with the grief he continues to process since his wife's death from cancer.  Audrey and her son bring a new dimension to the life of the household and a widened sense of family to the two men as they struggle to lay the past to rest and to accept the radical uncertainties of the personal and national future. One interesting subplot involves Mabry's discovery of what is reputed to be a minor, uncatalogued Van Gogh painting, covered by the work of another artist, that he has brought home for his employer, now dead, and his musings about what to do with this undocumented treasure.  The question remains open for symbolic reflection as he leaves it behind in North Carolina and returns to New York for a very different kind of life than the one he left. 

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In this candid chronicle of what many would call a prolonged depression occasioned in part by her husband's illness and death, Norris, a popular memoirist and essayist, seeks carefully to distinguish the psychological or psycho-medical category of "depression" from the spiritual state of "acedia" or, more bluntly, "sloth," in its oldest and most precise sense.  In doing so she raises important questions about widespread and often imprecise use of categories derived from clinical psychology, an imprecision that may muddy the distinction between spiritual and psychopathological experience.

"Acedia" she defines as a failure of will, signifying a need for spiritual guidance and prayer, whereas "depression" requires medical treatment.  Going beyond the confessional, Norris suggests that acedia may be an endemic condition among middle-class Americans, over-busy but spiritually slothful.  The book is loosely organized, often characteristically lyrical, and more invitational than diagnostic.  Her purpose, finally, seems to be to inspire readers to embrace simple life-giving spiritual disciplines like reading the Psalms as a stay against excessive self-preoccupation and actual depression as well as spiritual depletion.  

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Mind Talk: The Brain's New Story

Drake, Bob

Last Updated: Mar-10-2009
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

This documentary film explores the interdisciplinary quest to understand the mind--its relationship to the brain, to the soul, to consciousness and sentience, and to the societal implications of free will. The film begins with the crisscrossing flow of people in a train station and an overvoice expressing the existential questions of "who are we?" and, ultimately, "who am I?"

This compelling image, filmed in black and white, serves as a representation of people as humanity and as individuals, as well as a metaphor for flow, such as of time or of impulses along a neural network. Hence, already in the introduction, the viewer is aware that this film will address some of the deep philosophical questions of all time complemented by visual imagery which enhances and enlarges on the dialogue.

The film is then divided into twelve sections: The Soul, The Body, Mental Disorder, Mind to Molecule, Bit to Brain, Consciousness, Free Will, Citizenship, The Moral Brain, The Brain on Trial, The Medical Mind, and Who Am I? Experts from multiple fields such as theology, neuroscience, psychiatry, law and justice, philosophy, sociology, history of medicine, physics, computer science, and filmmaking offer insights and questions either directly to the camera, or as voice-over for other imagery.

For example, to name just a few of the numerous eminent persons in the film, there are statements by mathematical physicist Roger Penrose (Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, and The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and the Laws of Physics), philosopher Daniel Dennett (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, and Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds), philosopher John R. Searle (Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy in the Real World) and neurologist Antonio Damasio (Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain). The multiple experts all address the basic question posed by the film: "What will a science of the brain add to the human story?" but the approaches to the question, and what aspects of the question are most important, vary considerably in this far ranging journey through religion, history, ethics, medicine and science.

A few of the many interesting segments of the film include sections on cognitive neuroscientist Nancy Kanwisher who studies specialization by parts of the brain, such as a face-recognition center; developmental neuroanatomist Miguel Marin-Padilla, who has studied the motor cortex for over 25 years, which he demonstrates by dissection to be smaller than the tip of his finger; and Dennett’s one-armed robot, Cog, which is "learning" in developmental stages as an infant would. Eloquent commentary is also provided by computer scientist Jaron Lanier, sociologist Howard Kaye, psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, and filmmaker Ken Burns, among others.

Much of the film deals with psychopathology and implications for morality, behavior, and responsibility for behavior (free will and crime). Segments include an interview with a patient with manic-depressive disorder, a historical note on Phineas Gage (whose dramatic wound of his frontal lobe so altered his behavior), and a lawyer, psychiatrist and judge discussing free will, diminished capacity, and the legal system.

The film concludes with some concerns about reductionism to the biologic model of the mind, the growing haziness of borders between human and artificial intelligence, and the role of psychoactive medications. Although full mapping of the brain may not lead to complete understanding of the mind, still, the film concludes, the quest is fun.

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Bioethics at the Movies

Shapshay, S., ed.

Last Updated: Feb-20-2009
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Anthology (Essays)

Summary:

Intended to "spark a philosophical dialogue among readers and in classrooms, clarifying, refining, and challenging the ethical positions people hold on a great many bioethical topics"(1), Bioethics at the Movies contains 21 essays discussing bioethical issues, from abortion and cloning to disability narratives and end-of-life care, in relation to various films. The two dozen authors come from the United States, Spain, Australia, Israel and the United Kingdom, and the majority have their academic homes in Departments of Philosophy. For the most part, the essays use one particular film as a springboard to discuss a bioethical topic, such as terminating pregnancies (The Cider House Rules), marketing organs (Dirty Pretty Things), and memory deletion (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Two films get a pair of essays (Gattaca and Million Dollar Baby), and several authors cover more than one film. In addition to the aforementioned films, Wit, Citizen Ruth, Bicentennial Man, I, Robot, Babe, Multiplicity, Star Trek: Nemesis, Ghost in the Shell, Dad, Critical Care, Big Fish, Soylent Green, Extreme Measures, Talk to Her, and Ikiru are closely covered.

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Hotel du Lac

Brookner, Anita

Last Updated: Feb-12-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Pseudonymic writer of romantic novels, Edith arrives at her Swiss hotel on lac Leman. She had been sent by friends to extract her from a situation, which at first is not clear.  The month ahead looks bleak and long.

With a keen eye, she observes her fellow guests, almost all female: beautiful, slender Monica with an eating disorder masked as indulgence of her tiny dog; a deaf, lame dowager ousted from her own home by a churlish daughter-in-law; a narcissistic mother and daughter whose amiable but inane conversation slowly begins to engulf Edith. These encounters ought to be fodder for her writing and they lead Edith to contemplate her own relationships with parents, aunts, women, men, and love.

Part of the narrative is conveyed in detailed letters to “dearest David,” letters that, we later learn, are never sent. Edith and David must be lovers, but soon it emerges that he is married and intent on staying that way; their affair is secret – possibly even to David. Even later, the reader discovers that Edith was on the verge of marriage to sensible, kind, older Geoffrey. But at the last minute, she left him literally standing at the altar--to his horror and that of those friends who have since packed her off to Switzerland.

A well turned out, wealthy male guest appears on the scene, Phillip Neville. He guesses Edith’s identity and challenges her to be less romantic and more selfish. He points out the value of marriage in terms of career, social standing, and simple companionship. Then he startles her by proposing. No love exists between them, they both admit. Nevertheless, Edith is on the verge of accepting his offer and his crass, unromantic view of the world, when a tedious, banal observation changes everything. She opts for freedom in romantic solitude.

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Unaccustomed Earth

Lahiri, Jhumpa

Last Updated: Jan-06-2009
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

The unusual title is borrowed from Nathaniel Hawthorne's story, "The Custom House," to suggest a shift in fortune when immigrants "strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."  Set almost entirely in the United States (the unaccustomed earth), eight separate stories are connected most obviously by cultural dissonances affecting characters who are Indian or have Indian parents.  Three of the stories, however, are linked by a strong narrative connection that is unexpected, profound, and unforgettable.

For Indian readers, the narratives describe complexities about migration patterns, cultural issues, alienation, and generational differences. The stories deal with well-educated children of immigrants who become offspring their parents barely recognize.  For other readers, the stories reveal situations about families and customs that are strangely familiar, especially those stories dealing with relationships between parents and children.
 
The forces of globalization have created and accelerated shifts that can seem staggering to all parents intent on preserving cultural patterns and traditions. Whether Indian or not, most parents experience a sense of alienation while watching their children flourish in a world that increasingly appears unfamiliar and foreign.

Not surprisingly, the stories concern strains and challenges affecting mixed relationships and/or mixed marriages and stresses on disapproving and disappointed parents, while others focus on children succumbing to drugs and alcohol(for the latter, see annotation of "Only Goodness").  All deal with some kind of emotional loss, but provide connections to feelings experienced by children and their parents in life's quiet and more kinetic negotiations.
 
The first story is about Ruma, a well-educated woman who lives in Seattle with her work-alcoholic American husband, and child, Akash.  Generational and cultural contrasts are revealed in overt and more subtle ways when her recently widowed father arrives for a short visit. Even though Ruma's complete assimilation into her non-Indian home as well as her on-going worries about her father's loneliness are major considerations, another story thread is spun, one that quietly reveals the father's thoughts about himself and a new relationship made recently during a vacation in Europe. Ruma's assumptions about her father, his loneliness, his possible dependency on her, and the Seattle vacation as a possible signal for relocating to her household turn out to be entirely wrong. 
 
The last three stories follow a boy, Kaushik, and girl, Hema, into adulthood.  In the first story, "Once in a Lifetime," Hema recalls her first memory of Kaushik when he was 9 and she was 6. The occasion was a farewell party for Kaushik's parents who were returning from the United States to live in Calcutta. The mothers, who grew up in Calcutta, but met in Cambridge, Massachusetts had become very close and were saddened by this separation.

Seven years pass before Kaushik‘s parents return to the Boston area and stay with Hema's family. Hema found the now 16-year old young man appealing, but brooding and totally uninterested in her. Even though Hema expected Kaushik to be Indian-like in behavior, he was more Americanized than she was. That the family had flown first-class shocked Hema's conservative family as did their new smoking and moderate drinking habits.

After a long search, and to the relief of Hema's parents, Kaushik's family found a  modern house on the North Shore.  Before they moved to their new home, Kaushik surprised Hema with confidential information-- his family had left India to seek treatment in Boston for his mother's breast cancer.  All medical efforts had been unsuccessful and his mother had only a short time to live.  Hema promised to keep this disclosure secret and grieved for the woman she had come to admire and love.
 
The second story in the link, "Year's End," is narrated by Kaushik.  With the opening line, "I did not attend my father's wedding," readers know that Kaushik‘s mother has died.  His father, in Calcutta for a visit, had married Chitra, a woman with two young daughters, and all would be returning to the North Shore house to live. Most of the chapter recounts the ordeal of the mother‘s dying, Kaushik‘s tremendous sense of loss, and the loneliness experienced by him at Swarthmore College.  No mention is made of Hema by the desolate narrator except to remember he had hated every day spent under her parents' roof, but later had come to think of that time with nostalgia.  

"Going Ashore" brings Hema and Kaushik together in Rome where she has a study grant and a visiting lectureship and he is on vacation from his work as an award-winning photo journalist.  Hema's parents have arranged for her to marry Navin in Calcutta.  Navin has accepted a teaching position at MIT. Until her unexpected reunion with Kaushik and the intense love affair that follows, neither had experienced any real connection with another person.  The story about them in Rome seems to represent an independence from the cultural forces that have shaped their lives, but this independence is short lived.  Ultimately, she is unable to set aside the expectations imposed by her parents.  The consequences of their final separation are more than any reader might imagine.

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The Human Stain

Roth, Philip

Last Updated: Dec-04-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Human Stain is the third of Philip Roth's trilogy of novels that explore the relationship between public and private life in America during the second half of the 20th century. As in American Pastoral (1997) and I Married a Communist (1998), Nathan Zuckerman, Roth's favorite alter ego, serves as the narrator. After a prostate operation rendered him impotent, Zuckerman has retired from the world to become writer in residence at idyllic Athena College.

There he meets Coleman Silk, a former dean and classics professor who was forced to resign because of a supposed racial slur, in which he asked whether two students who had registered for his course but never attended a lecture were "spooks." They were African-Americans. Hence, political correctness dictated that Silk's academic career was history.

Zuckerman enters the scene a couple of years later, when the septuagenarian Silk is having an affair with an illiterate college janitor. This liaison has revitalized the old professor, whose wife died during the period of disgrace after his "racism" was exposed. However, Silk's enemies at the college, led by a bitterly proper young deconstructionist, have gone on the warpath again, this time condemning him for exploiting the young janitor.

The real story, though, lies deep in Coleman Silk's past. We eventually learn that Silk is a light skinned African-American who gradually drifted across the American racial divide and for 50 years has successfully passed as a white Jew. The irony in this situation is complex. A black man thought by the world to be Jewish is publicly disgraced for uttering the word "spook" in its correct denotation. (This is reminiscent of a case a few years ago in which a public official in the United States was chastised for using the word "niggardly" with reference to an inadequate budget allocation.)

The situation is doubly ironic because Silk has chosen to live his life as a white man, thereby in a sense establishing his own racism. Silk's original goal had been to live as an individual, and not as a representative of his race, but in choosing to deny his roots, perhaps Coleman Silk's guilt is deeper and more complex than his pursuers at Athena College realize.

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