Showing 21 - 30 of 298 annotations contributed by Aull, Felice

Stitches

Small, David

Last Updated: Mar-03-2014
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

While the author's surgery for throat cancer when he was 14 years old, and its aftermath are the central events in this graphic memoir, Stitches is more essentially the story of a dysfunctional family. The memoir begins when David Small is six, growing up in Detroit, drawing, and observing the body language of his often silent parents and brother. Tension fills the house. David's mother's face is in an almost permanent scowl and the "mere moving of her fork a half inch to the right spelled dread at the dinner table" (16).  She slams pots and kitchen cabinet doors while David's radiologist father lets loose on a punching bag in the basement and his brother beats drums. David is in a constant struggle to avoid his mother's fury, which author/artist David depicts as a tidal wave. His father is remote, puffing silently on his pipe.
 
When David is 11 a female friend of the family, the wife of a surgeon, draws attention to a growth on David's neck, which his parents have either failed to notice or knowingly ignored. In due time the neck is x-rayed. The surgeon-friend diagnoses a sebaceous cyst and recommends an operation. With the mother's frequent protests about lack of money--in spite of an extended shopping spree the parents undertake-- it is three and a half more years before the surgery takes place. David undergoes the procedure with relative equanimity, the hospital and medical staff being familiar -- people he "thought of as my extended family, my protectors" (160). When he wakes up from the surgery, his father assures him that nothing is wrong but that he will need a second operation by a specialist. Uncharacteristically, his mother asks if there is anything she can get for him.

Waking up from the second surgery, David has no voice -- one vocal cord and his thyroid gland have been removed. "The fact that you now have no voice will define you from here on in" (186). Later, when changing his bandage by himself, he discovers a long, ugly array of stitches on the side of his neck. He has nightmares, and on one sleepless night as he wanders the house, discovers a letter written by one of his parents to "mama" which says, "of course the boy does not know it was cancer" (204). The accumulated silences and parental betrayal trigger David's delinquent behavior and  time in a boarding school, from which he runs away three times; ultimately he is expelled with a recommendation to get psychiatric help. Reluctantly, his mother drives him to a psychoanalyst -- "it's like throwing money down a hole, if you ask me" (247) -- but this intervention turns David's life around. The analyst, depicted by the author as a tall, fully clothed white rabbit, explains to David, "your mother doesn't love you" (255).  "It was such a relief to hear" said Small in an interview. Another truth is eventually revealed by David's father, who takes David out to dinner to tell him, after a lengthy silence, that the numerous x-ray treatments for sinus infections he had given the young David must have caused the throat cancer: "two-to-four hundred rads. I GAVE YOU CANCER" (286-287).

 

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The Last Eleven Days

Coe, Sue

Last Updated: Feb-03-2014
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Charcoal

Summary:

Artist Sue Coe's mother Ellen was 64 years old when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The artist and her sister went to Liverpool to be with their mother at home, since Ellen did not wish to spend her last days in hospice. Sue Coe documented her mother's last days by drawing her, producing the series, "The Last 11 Days: July 20th to July 31, 1995." In the first drawing, dated July 20 (first drawing, right side), Ellen was still at the hospice. The drawing concentrates on face and hand, which are also the main features of other drawings in the series. The hand is large and bony as it is brought to Ellen's mouth, which is partially covered by the hand. Ellen's eyes are wide open and express anxiety and fear.

In a drawing dated July 31 (last drawing, left), the last day of Ellen's life, the artist's face and hands loom large in the right foreground while in the left rear the mother lies in bed, a small thin figure, barely awake, mouth open, her large skeletal hands resting on the blanket. The artist's face is thoughtful, sad, resigned--her thoughts seem to be drifting.

Another drawing, dated July 29 shows the artist's sister cradling Ellen in her arms, supporting her head. The mother's eyes are closed and she appears peaceful, comfortable. Of this scene, Coe writes that her sister was "reading a Stephen King novel behind the pillow. That's the only way she could survive, reading a Stephen King novel that just made her mind go blank." (National Museum for Women in the Arts Magazine, Holiday, 2005, p.20)

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Arena

Moore, Frank

Last Updated: Jan-29-2014
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

This painting depicts what in some respects mimics an anatomy amphitheater, but the title, "Arena," tells us that what is going on here is more spectacle than instruction. Painted in 1992, early in the AIDS epidemic, when rapid decline and death from the disease was almost unavoidable, this complex artwork catalogs some of what was taking place in society at the time. A shaft of window light illuminates the center where a masked doctor is examining a Caucasian patient while a nurse, similarly masked, stands nearby. A large white plume of smoke or steam is emanating from the patient's head. The examination is being filmed and narrated.
 
In the lower right-hand corner a dark skinned patient attached to an IV is lying on a gurney. An attendant has his back toward the patient, whom he seems to be ignoring as he speaks with another white clad hospital worker. If one follows a diagonal from the ignored patient through to the central figures, toward the upper left, another patient, covered completely by a sheet and apparently dead, is being wheeled out of the arena. Adjacent to this scene are people seated cross-legged on the floor, listening to a speaker reading from a book while a Buddha floats above him. [According to art critic Klaus Kertess, the reader is poet John Giorno, "who instructed Moore in Buddhist practice" (Toxic Beauty, p. 11)]. In the lower left, a vendor wheels his cart, selling soda and sausages, adding to the carnival atmosphere. Just ahead of him an elderly woman holds a flattened out body in her arms.
 
To the upper right, police barricades and struggling policeman attempt to hold back a group of protesters carrying a sign saying "Who's in Charge?". In the upper center, two skeletons stand in front of a screen and hold banners bearing Latin inscriptions. An instructor is pointing to drawings on the screen - molecules and cell membranes. Other skeletons are positioned at the edges of the painting, also bearing banners, and in the lower center two skeletons stand in front of a fruit tree. One of these skeletons holds what seems to be a heart dripping blood. Several figures dressed in costume are posing or dancing. The curved rows of the arena are sparsely populated and include skeletons of various animals as well as two men who are injecting themselves in the arm. Robotic figures appear here and there in the painting.

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Patient

Moore, Frank

Last Updated: Jan-29-2014
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

A hospital bed, pale blue sheets and pillows, white snowflakes. Where there might be an individual nestling his head into the pillow, there is instead a small pile of autumn leaves. In the center of one of the leaves, a small metal-like pentagon. Other leaves flutter on the bed and a small bird is perched on the bed railing above the pillow. There is blood issuing from a needle that is lying on the bed and is attached through tubing to an inverted bottle containing blood labeled "Irradiated" and "Moore, 1997." The juxtaposition of pastel colors and snowflakes with the leaking blood is striking.

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Epileptic

B., David

Last Updated: Nov-10-2013
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

First published in France as a six-volume series from 1996-2003, this narrative is often referred to as an autobiographical graphic novel, but it is more accurately described as a graphic memoir. The author, born Pierre-François Beauchard, tells and draws the story of his family's life with the author's older brother, Jean-Christophe, whom we meet on the first page, in the year 1994: "It takes a moment for me to recognize the guy who just walked in. It's my brother . . . The back of his head is bald, from all the times he's fallen. He's enormously bloated from medication and lack of exercise." Flashback to 1964 when the author is five years old and his seven-year-old brother begins to have frequent grand mal epilepsy seizures. There follows the parents' mostly fruitless search for treatment to control the seizures, including: possible brain surgery which Jean-Christophe refuses in favor of an attempt at zen macrobiotics (this seems to work for six-months), consultation with a psychic, Swedenborgian spiritualism, magnetism, alchemy, exorcism by a priest, psychiatry (a different form of exorcism!).

Jean-Christophe's illness transforms family life as other children mock and fear the boy, the family moves to an isolated area, joins communes, and attempts to cope with Jean-Christophe's increasingly disturbed and disturbing behavior that alternates between passivity and physical aggression. The author has vivid visions and dreams and changes his name to David ("a symbolic act. I've won the war [against the threat of acquiring epilepsy" (164)]; his sister Florence suffers from constant anxiety; his mother grieves for many months after her father dies. As an adolescent and young man Jean-Christophe spends time in several institutions for handicapped individuals as well as at home, where he lives a desultory existence that is interspersed with violence toward the author and his father.

David escapes to Paris, living in a studio apartment paid for by his father, reading, writing stories, drawing, and attending classes at the Duperre School of Applied Arts. "I had to draw and write constantly. I had to fill my time in order to prevent my brother's disease from reaching me" (276). He is lonely but avoids people, feels guilty for neglecting his brother and ‘picking on' him yet is fearful that he too will be taken over by epilepsy, or death. Equally upsetting is when David discovers writings by Jean-Christophe: "He speaks of his despair and loneliness and the words might as well have come from my pen" (316). On and off, in moving displays of empathy, the author attempts to understand what happens to his brother during the seizures -- is he conscious, where does he go, does he die temporarily?

Within the narrative are intercalated multigenerational family histories that include two world wars, and European philosophical and cultural movements that influenced his parents and their search for treatments. The final section of Epileptic relates in words and images the author's adult life as he becomes a commercial artist; struggles through several relationships with women; his own infertility; his ever-present confusion, anger, and misery about his brother's illness; and his founding with five colleagues of the independent publishing house, L'Association: "It's the creation of L'Association that saves me" (327).

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Madonna

Munch, Edvard

Last Updated: Sep-02-2013

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Lithograph

Summary:

A woman stands in the center of this work, her head tilted to one side and slightly back. Her eyes are closed and her black hair falls around her shoulders. She is nude, although no details of her bust are given; instead, she hovers as though a ghost, her pallid skin defined by the darkness engulfing her. Swarming around her form are bands of color--red, blue, and shades of gray--that add to the painting's eerie affect. Wrapped around the crown of her head, one red, swirling band alludes to the halo so often seen in traditional depictions of the Lady Madonna.

In the frame's bottom left corner, a small figure that is perhaps a fetus or newborn looks out at the viewer with huge eyes devoid of pupils. Its arms are crossed over its chest and its lower body trails off like a vapor. A slight downward turn of the figure's mouth adds to its pathos.

A red border full of squiggly lines evocative of sperm runs around almost the entire perimeter of the painting; only the bottom of the frame and the area around the small figure are unbounded. The sperm swim clockwise from the small figure around the top of the painting, down the right side, and into the bottom of the black background. Lines trespassing from the border into the Madonna's space suggest movement of the sperm into the nether regions of the Lady--i.e. her genitalia--and imply pregnancy.

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Stag's Leap

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: Jun-21-2013
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

With the publication of Stag's Leap, it is very publicly (on the flyleaf) revealed that Olds is writing about the sudden, unexpected death of her 32 year marriage when her husband left to be with another woman. She waited 15 years after the event to publish this book, not wishing her children to have to face the immediate publicity.  Stag's Leap refers both to the favorite wine that she and her husband drank together, and to his leap out of the marriage.

The collection is divided into sections: the year of her husband's revelation and departure, beginning with "While He Told Me"; several years following, divided into seasons; and "Years Later." The poems detail her shock, grief, and eventual acceptance, covering a wide range of emotion, hindsight, and insight. Since the poems were written more or less in the moment, and extend over several years, the reader experiences Olds's evolving inner landscape along with her. The perspective is one of shock - with only the slightest hint of possible trouble ahead: while doing the laundry, she found a picture of the "other woman" in her husband's running shorts ("Tiny Siren," p. 56). But "he smiled at me, / and took my hand, and turned to me,/ and said, it seemed not by rote, / but as if it were a physical law / of the earth, I love you. And we made love, / and I felt so close to him - I had not / known he knew how to lie. . ."
 
Throughout much of the book there is this theme of blissful ignorance torn to shreds and a questioning of how the poet could be so deceived in her assumptions about the relationship - "when I thought he loved me, when I thought / we were joined not just for breath's time, / but for the long continuance" ("Unspeakable," p. 4). The realization of self deception and love lost is both annihilating and shameful: "if I pass a mirror, I turn away, / I do not want to look at her, / and she does not want to be seen  . . . I am so ashamed . . . to be known to be left" ("Known to Be Left," p. 18).

These poems are an intense self-examination and an attempt to understand what happened. "I was vain of his / faithfulness, as if it was / a compliment, rather than a state / of partial sleep" ("Stag's Leap," p. 16). "I think he had come, in private, to / feel he was dying, with me" ("Pain I Did Not," p. 26). "maybe what he had for me / was unconditional, temporary / affection and trust, without romance" and "what precision of action / it had taken, for the bodies to hurtle through / the sky for so long without harming each other." ("Crazy," p. 65 ). There is a recognition that their two worlds were vastly different - he a physician, she a poet - and that their personalities were vastly different - he taciturn, she verbal and open. Olds speculates that even her writing about family and marriage could have been a factor in the divorce: "And he did not give / his secrets to his patients, but I gave my secrets / to you, dear strangers, and his, too . . Uneven, uneven, our scales / of contentment went slowly askew" ("Left-Wife Bop," p. 83).

Still, Olds finds something redeeming: "I saw again, how blessed my life has been, / first, to have been able to love, / then, to have the parting now behind me  . . and not to have lost him when he loved me, and not to have / lost someone who could have loved me for life" ("Last Look," p. 14). "What Left?," the last poem in the collection, presents the marriage and its aftermath as a movement: "we did not hold still, we moved, we are moving / still - we made, with each other, a moving / like a kind of music: duet; then solo, / solo." (p. 89)

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Musee des Beaux Arts

Auden, W.

Last Updated: Jan-23-2013
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This thought-provoking poem is best read with a representation of the painting to which it refers in view (the painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel, is reproduced in On Doctoring). Auden considers the nature of human suffering: "how it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking / dully along . . . . " For each individual life affected by personal catastrophe (in the painting, Icarus falling from the sky into the ocean), there is the rest of humankind which must go about its daily business, either oblivious or unable to assist (in the painting, Icarus might almost be overlooked, flailing in the lower corner of the picture while the ploughman in the foreground has his back turned). Life, and death go on although the sufferer, and sometimes those who are paying attention, find this inconceivable. And what about the ship "that must have seen / Something amazing" but "had somewhere to get to"? What is the context in which suffering is noticed, what obligations exist, what can and cannot be remedied?

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The Waiting Room

Tooker, George

Last Updated: May-23-2012
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Egg tempera on wood

Summary:

On the viewer's right, in receding repetition, are narrow, numbered, blue wooden, open stalls.  Inside the stalls, and only partially visible, people are standing, dressed in street clothes, either alone or in couples, their coats still on.  In the most forward stall there are no people--only two coats that hang from coat hooks, their owners no longer "waiting."  The stalls are open at bottom and top and are illuminated by repeating fluorescent ceiling tubes.  In the lower right foreground sits a bald man dressed in a blue jacket and brown pants who looks down the narrow corridor from which the stalls branch off.  In the lower left foreground is a bench on which two men are dozing -- one man leans forward with his head tilted down, his face obscured by the hat he is wearing.  The other man has his eyes closed, his head tilted backwards.  Both are still wearing their coats.

Standing in front of the dozing men, all the way to the viewer's left, is a looming figure -- a man who stares out at the viewer, his thick glasses hiding his eyes, his mouth turned down in a suspicious frown.  He wears a dark blue coat and a brown hat.  Scraps of paper and possibly cigarette butts litter the floor in front of the sitting men. Blue is a prominent color in this painting but some of the figures wear bright red sweaters, shoes, or a dress, and a red scarf hangs from one of the hanging coats.  These individual touches of color seem to represent attempts by the sequestered people to preserve both their individuality and vitality.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

Painted while Neel was enrolled in the Works Progress Administration--a New Deal program to help the unemployed-- the work depicts a scene with which the artist was probably familiar, being herself impoverished at the time. The setting is a room at The Russell Sage Foundation, established by Margaret Olivia Sage in 1907 for "'the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States.' In its early years the Foundation undertook major projects in low-income housing, urban planning, social work, and labor reform" (quote from http://www.russellsage.org/about) .

At the painting's rear center sits an elderly (gray haired) woman facing sideways, dressed all in black, head buried in her hands. From her clothing and affect, she is probably a widow. She is seated in front of a small table around which, in a semicircle, sit her interrogators - nine men and two women. They all face her. One of the women seems to be interviewing her while the other people listen with varying expressions on their faces, ranging from thoughtful to impassive. The men are all wearing suits and ties except for one (possibly two), with clerical collar. The women, including the elderly lady under investigation, all wear hats. All are white, with the possible exception of a clergyman, who may be a light skinned black. To the right foreground of the painting sit two men, facing sideways, who appear to be waiting to be questioned. The man closest to the viewer is elderly, with a white mustache, apparently Latino since his skin color is light brown; he is wearing a suit and tie and holds two bananas in his hand. The expression on his face is one of worry and fatigue. To the left foreground, with his back to the viewer, a man sits leaning forward, apparently one of the questioners.

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