Showing 21 - 30 of 155 annotations tagged with the keyword "AIDS"

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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Summary:

Johanna Shapiro, Director of the Medical Humanities Program at University of California Irvine School of Medicine, brings her considerable skills and experience as medical educator, writer and literary critic to this unique volume of medical student poetry. Shapiro collected over 500 poems by medical students not only from her home institution but also from other US medical schools and performed a content and hermeneutic analysis. As Shapiro carefully details in her methodology section, she treats "poetry as a form of qualitative data, and [therefore] techniques of analysis developed for other sources of qualitative data (such as interviews, focus groups, and textual narratives) can be applied to an understanding of poetry." (p. 42)

Relying on the work of Arthur W. Frank (see The Wounded Storyteller), Shapiro devises a typology of student poems: chaos, restitution (and anti-restitution), journey, witnessing, and transcendence (this last category was not Frankian in origin). These categories are developed and explicated in Chapter 2: Functions of Writing for Medical Students. As the author notes, poems traverse the boundaries between types; nonetheless, the framework of the analysis rests with this typology. Further, Shapiro explores the metaphors of topography (illness as a foreign land) and quest (student on a heroic, however tentative or confused, journey) throughout her study.

The book contains many fully reproduced medical student poems, contextualized with academic theory on medical education. Hundreds of references, particularly in the fields of narratology and medical education, are cited. After three chapters of theory and methods, eight topics are explored using the outlined analytic tools: anatomy class, becoming a physician, patient experience, doctor-patient relationship, student-patient relationship, social and cultural issues, death and dying, love and life. Prefacing each of these topics is a scholarly essay providing historical and research foundations; every chapter concludes with a summation.

Within the chapters are examples of poems, not only organized by typology, but also by content. For instance in the patient experience chapter, the topics are: "patient pleas for empathy and compassion," "patient fears and suffering," "stigmatized voices," "vulnerability/courage of child patients," and "personal experiences of illness." Within each topic/subtopic, different poems are highlighted and fully analyzed. Additionally, other poems, not reproduced, are quoted as illustrative examples. Summary arguments are provided at the conclusion of each chapter as well as in the final chapter: "Strangers in a Strange Land: What Matters to Medical Students on Their Journey and How They Tell About It."

Although Shapiro states that her purpose "is not to address the literary and aesthetic attributes and value of the poems", she also notes "when students write authentically about their own experience, the results are uniformly moving, compelling and impossible to ignore." (pp 44-5) Indeed many of the poems are rewarding to read not only for content but also for word choice, word play, imagery and narrative line. For instance, in "Ode to the Peach" Brian McMichael explores the senses Neruda or Pollitt-like: "you invite me with / your voluptuous curves / your feminine little cleft". (p 236) Another example is the humorous, self-deprecating "Piriformis" by Curtis Nordstrom relating an early clinical experience by a medical student who hopes against hope that the patient's presenting complaint will require the student to demonstrate his acumen. Unfortunately the sum total of the student's knowledge base is limited to the location of the piriformis muscle; both the student and patient are "so screwed" when, "Alas, the patient presents with / an upper respiratory infection." (p. 16)

Shapiro's sensitivity and generosity of spirit vis-à-vis the medical student experience are evident throughout the volume. She concludes that "what may be most noteworthy about the analysis of these poems is that, amidst their own difficulties and fears, time and again these students reported engaging deeply with their patients." (p 259) She hopes that medical educators will be encouraged to support "in solidarity" the "idealism and high aspirations" expressed in these student poems. (p. 260)

In a postscript, Shapiro reveals her own experiences as a poet-patient. After noting that "[m]edical students are mostly annoyingly healthy, energetic, smart, and capable young adults who like order, structure, and control", (p 261) she also acknowledges how frequently students grapple with the topic of death and dying in their poems. That her poems emerged from advising a student creative writing group demonstrates how poetry can be renewing and vital not just to the student, but to the educator as well.

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The Man with Night Sweats

Gunn, Thom

Last Updated: Jul-27-2010
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The theme of this book of poems is life in a time of deadly plague. The author depicts his world ravaged by illness. Some of the poems are quiet love songs for others, for the world and its delights, a world turned upside-down by the ravages of AIDS. Many of the poems are elegies for friends who have died in the epidemic.

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Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Co-authored by a Professor of English Literature and her physician husband, a Professor of Medicine, this is a readable interdisciplinary commentary on fourteen operas (19th and 20th century) in which particular diseases are represented, including mostly epidemic infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, syphilis, cholera, and AIDS. The analysis of each opera combines solid literary analysis of language and metaphors with fascinating historical information on the contemporaneous medical understandings of the diseases, and a sophisticated discussion of the social, sexual and cultural representations of these diseases.

The most persuasive chapters include "The Tubercular Heroine" in La Boheme, and La Traviata; "Syphilis, Suffering and Social Order" in Parsifal; "The Pox Revisited" in 20th century operas, Lulu and Rake’s Progress; the final chapter, "Life-and-Death Passion" compares theatrical representations of AIDS in Angels in America (see annotation) with cholera, TB, and syphilis.

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Dying for Beginners

Clary, Patrick

Last Updated: Jun-04-2010
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Patrick Clary's Dying for Beginners is a collection of vibrant poems about living (as well as dying); about family, friends, music, loss, war and love. The book's title is evocative of the countercultural insight that dying is an essential part of living.  We only become fully human by coming to grips with our own mortality.  This engagement with mortality emerges from love and humor, as well as from suffering and loss.  Clary's poems speak to what he has discovered about himself, as a beginner to his fellow beginners.

The poet's route to discovery traverses Death Valley, where, during a spiritual retreat and vision quest, he has this epiphany: "Suddenly, I find all my wounds are turning into blessings" (p. 1). This inversion of categories is not an exotic, one-off event, but becomes a new way of looking at the world, a perspective in which life events, carefully observed and described, blossom with deeper meanings that can only be expressed by metaphor or paradox. For example, in "Days I Don't Remember," Clary reflects, "And all my roads are turning into rivers" (p. 27). Or, in "Meditation on the Pays d'Oc," he observes, "Instead of dying, I cough up a butterfly, watch it / dry its wings in the sun..." (p. 74). Or the essential quietism of "That silence moving through our lives was me" (p. 33).

The poet had his first lessons in dying when he worked as a medic during the Vietnam War, In "Orientation at Bien Hoa," he discovers, "Yes, gentlemen / This little war here / Exists only / For one reason: / To give you all the pleasure / You can handle" (p. 10).  He also learns how easy it is to kill with an M 16 rifle, which can "Put eighteen holes in / Whatever you point it at / Inside of two seconds" (p. 11). Meanwhile, the human tragedy of Vietnam takes place all around him.  

Clary reflects on the limits of his calling in "Three Variations", where he observes his own hands, "professionally / Tender on demand, but still uneasy / At your easy tenderness" (p. 35). The words "professionally tender on demand" evoke his work in palliative medicine, although the same words could-and should-apply to medical practice in general.  But Clary recognizes that the human capacity for compassion is not inexhaustible. There will always be a tension between the work that needs to be done ("another pair of hands in the emergency room," p. 63) and our limited reserves of kindness and empathy.

The book ends with a humorous and moving short prose narrative ("Origins of the Earwax Patrol," pp. 83-86) about caring for terminally ill patients.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author, a young physician, guides the reader in temporal sequence through her years as a medical student, medical resident at several levels, and into the final days of her formal training. The format of the work is anecdotal, that is, a series of memorable patient encounters that seem to shape the writer's developing attitude toward her chosen profession. The precise time frame of the experiences is not clear, but this is an acknowledged story of growing into the practice of medicine as a trainee at Bellevue Hospital.

In describing her interactions with her patients, Dr. Ofri reveals her own doubts about her ability to accomplish some of the things expected of her as "healer." As she grows more confident with experience, she begins to challenge some of the rituals in which medical education seems mired. Each of the chapters is a self-contained story focused on a particular patient, some of which have been published previously as free standing essays. The composite is the physician-writer's personal narrative of her own growth and change.

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Summary:

The story centers on Tsotsi (meaning thug), an adolescent in Soweto, the shantytown slum of modern Johannesburg, South Africa.  There Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagai) leads a loose-knit gang of menacing thugs.  When gang members are first encountered, Butcher reveals his disturbing and sinister nature; Boston (Mothusi Magano), except for his alcoholism, represents a potentially thoughtful but ineffective source of goodness and decency; Aap (Kenneth Nkosi), a simpleton, is devoted to Tsotsi; and Tsotsi seethes with, as yet, inexplicable rage. 

As the story unfolds, a petty crime leads to senseless murder and an old wheelchair-bound man is threatened and cruelly abused.  Finally, Tsotsi, without gang participation, shoots a woman during an auto theft.  When he drives recklessly away, he discovers an infant in the stolen car's backseat.  Rather than killing the baby, his first inclination, he puts it into a paper bag and takes the baby home.  This new relationship--and responsibility becomes the harrowing twist in the story.   

Throughout, short and disturbing flash backs of Tsotsi's childhood reveal unimagined beginnings that have led to the boy's simmering rage and the string of unforgiving actions.  While concerns about vulnerable children within a context of social injustices are foremost in the minds of film viewers, the overwhelming circumstances and complexities frustrate thoughts about realistic interventions. 


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Push

Sapphire

Last Updated: Mar-22-2010
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Narrated by Precious Jones, a 16-year-old African-American girl pregnant for the second time with her father's child, Push is a novel tracing her movement from anger, illiteracy, resignation, and self-contempt to some version of hope. The voice of Precious, raw and almost unintelligible at the beginning of the story, is changed when a courageous African-American teacher relentlessly inspires Precious, along with several other seemingly doomed teenagers, to learn to read, to discover what and how they feel, and to put it all down in a diary. The novel ends with everything uncertain and unfinished, but with a young woman changed by the appearance of self-respect.

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Summary:

The Caregiver’s Tale: Loss and Renewal in Memoirs of Family Life is divided into three parts. The first section, “Care Situations,” provides the cultural context of illness and disability and focuses on four common family care situations: cancer, HIV/AIDS, mental illness/chemical dependence, and dementia. The second section of the book, “Care Relationships,” highlights patterns of caregiving, including caring for children, sibling care, couple care, and parent care. The third section of the book contains well over 100 annotations of memoirs of caregiving, each approximately a half-page in length.

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Summary:

This edited anthology, which includes poems, essays, short stories, and other creative forms (e.g., a radio diary, a letter to a social service agency), is organized into sections that include Body and Self, Diagnosis and Treatment, Womanhood, Family Life and Caregiving, Professional Life and Illness, and Advocacy. Most works found their way into this collection through a call for submissions, although a few selections are well known, such as Lynne Sharon Schwartz's "So You're Going to Have a New Body !," or an excerpt from Rachel Naomi Remen's Kitchen Table Wisdom (see annotations). In addition, the anthology also includes essays by scholars such as Arthur W. Frank and Rita Charon, who theorize gendered illness narratives.

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