Showing 21 - 30 of 121 annotations tagged with the keyword "Literary Theory"

Summary:

This study examines representations of feminine illness in American culture from 1840 to 1940. It argues that the figure of the invalid woman emerged in the 1840s amid significant changes in "American literature, medicine and culture," including the emergence of a specifically American literature, the professionalization and masculinization of medicine, and the "sometimes complementary, sometimes opposed" ideologies of feminism and domesticity (17).

The book discusses mid-nineteenth-century medical theories that articulated women as "biologically inferior . . . given to disease and pain" (34) before analyzing contemporary literary works by E.D.E.N. Southworth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne (see this database for annotations of The Birthmark and Rappaccini’s Daughter) Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and works by twentieth-century authors including Ellen Glasgow, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (see this database for The Yellow Wallpaper annotated by Felice Aull and also annotated by Jack Coulehan), Tillie Olsen, Edith Wharton, F. (Francis) Scott Fitzgerald (see this database for Tender Is the Night annotated by Jack Coulehan, also annotated by Pamela Moore), and Henry James. Art, advertisements, and the film, Dark Victory (see annotation) are other points of reference.

Price Herndl examines compliant and resistant uses of women as invalids; the surprisingly small changes in figures of feminine illness in response to changes in women’s rights; the links literature constructs between illness, money, work, and value; shifting theories of cure (from somatic to psychic); and the rise of germ theory in relation to fictional representations of illness. She argues that male and female fiction writers in the period she studies use feminine illness for different purposes: "What that figure signifies is kaleidoscopic, shifting to suit the political needs of its user" (218).

Invalid figures in literature and culture, Price Herndl asserts, can "divert political dis-ease into an overwhelming attention to the individual body and away from the body politic," locating people’s problems in their individual bodies and selves rather than in the oppressive aspects of their culture (220). Recurrent representations of sick women reflected the extreme unease attached to the position of women in American culture in the years 1840-1940. While her study stops at 1940, Price Herndl asserts that after World War Two and at other points when "masculine privilege seems threatened . . . illness is figured more and more often as male" (220).

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Somatic Fictions

Vrettos, Athena

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This scholarly study examines "what it meant to ’talk of diseases’ in the second half of the nineteenth century" (2) and how discourses of health and illness were a vehicle for exploring individual and social identities, including gendered, racialized, and national identities. Narratives of physical illness are not simply artifacts of Victorian medical culture, Vrettos argues, but offer examples of the pervasive "master narratives" that shaped Victorian middle-class culture.

Individual chapters focus on the ill female body as an expressive text with variable legibility (and on nurses as privileged readers of ill bodies); "nervous illness" and the role of narrative in reconstructing the self; "neuromimesis" or neurotic imitation of disease; and the "politics of fitness and its relation to imperialist ideology." Vrettos discusses fictional works by Louisa May Alcott, (Hospital Sketches; see this database) Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot (Middlemarch; see this database), H. Rider Haggard, Henry James, Bram Stoker, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

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The Body Silent

Murphy, Robert

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Robert Murphy was a professor of anthropology at Columbia University when he became progressively paralyzed by an inoperable spinal cord tumor. His book is a personal journey through profound physical disability, an exploration of the self, and a study of the social construction of disability ["Disability is defined by society and given meaning by culture; it is a social malady" (4)]. As he writes The Body Silent he is virtually quadriplegic, hitting the keys of his computer with the eraser end of a pencil held in place by a 'universal cuff' wrapped around his palm. He is still traveling to Columbia to teach his classes.

Murphy applies the metaphor of an anthropological field trip to his experience: "This book was conceived in the realization that my long illness with a disease of the spinal cord has been a kind of extended anthropological field trip, for through it I have sojourned in a social world no less strange to me at first than those of the Amazon forests. And since it is the duty of all anthropologists to report on their travels . . . this is my accounting" (ix). Drawing not only on his own experience but also on research for which he received funding, Murphy instructs his audience in the metaphysics of his situation, and in the social as well as physical challenges of disability.

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To Suffer a Sea Change

Phelan, Peggy

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Professor of performance studies at New York University, Peggy Phelan narrates the story of a vision disorder that began when she was 23 years old, caused by "open-angle glaucoma," a difficult-to-treat condition in which the vessels draining ocular fluid periodically constrict. The episodes are excruciatingly painful and disorienting: "I feel a staggering push behind my right eye. The right upper half of my face is on fire: I am certain that my eye has fallen out of its socket . . . " (508).

Phelan resists patienthood, beginning with her first visit to the doctor, in which she underplays what has happened to her. Rejecting surgery, coping with side effects of the drugs she must take, and concerned about her ability to continue as a visual arts scholar, she muddles through for several years. Then she experiences a frightening, vividly described episode of temporary blindness, which is followed by a migraine headache. Six months later she agrees to have surgery.

During the surgery, under local anesthesia, "my eye, which is frozen, can still see things as they pass over it . . . colors I have never seen before . . . I am seeing the roof of my own eye from the interior side. It is utterly breath stopping. I cannot speak" (521-522). Enabled to see her eye from a perspective that was not available to the physician, and grateful for this "visionary experience," Phelan finally accepts her situation. She is not cured, although her condition improves. "My story is finally the same as those of all the other patients . . . The only difference between me and them comes from the words I’ve suffered to find and the words I’ve suffered to flee" (525).

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A Book of Reasons

Vernon, John

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In his dedication to the book, the author addresses his sons: "The secret to life? Clean your room." The meaning of this becomes clear as Vernon traces the story of his brother, Paul, with whose death the book begins. Paul was 15 years older than the author and had been only a shadowy presence in his life. When Paul died, John Vernon had to exercise his duties as executor of Paul's "estate," an estate that turned out to be a festering, stinking nightmare of a house.

The house was filled with 20 years worth of trash that represented 20 years of Paul's life as a recluse. This memoir is an attempt to imagine Paul's life and to understand the reasons for the course it took. It is also an attempt to "bear painful news" and to reflect on his own reactions to what he discovers and to Paul's death.

In order to do this, Vernon calls on history, interweaving his memories and what was revealed of Paul's life after his death with discussions of the beliefs and discoveries of past eras. Finding himself nailing a thermometer to the outside of Paul's house, the author describes the development of thermometers, and the nature of heat ("Heat"). What, he asks, is meant by "normal" atmospheric pressure? How abnormal was his brother? After all, he bought nursing-home insurance a year before he died. And how normal is he, John Vernon, affixing a thermometer to this wreckage?

As he builds a primitive set of steps to the house, the author explores the history of tool making and speculates about what distinguishes humans from animals; did Cain murder Abel with a hammer, and is he, John Vernon, his brother's keeper? ("Tools") Similar expositions and speculations interdigitate in subsequent sections entitled "Body," "Corpse," "House," "Origins." [At the end of the book, there is a bibliography of references for each section.]

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

The author, a scholar of autobiography and other forms of life writing, has expanded his scholarship to include what he calls "autopathography"--autobiographical narratives of illness and disability. This book is the result of an extensive study of such narratives. The works discussed are full-length and recently published--most were published in the 1980s and 1990s. Couser is particularly interested in issues of narrative authority, in how autopathography can be counterdiscursive to the prevailing biomedical narrative, and, especially, in how autopathography is counterdiscursive to the cultural stigmatization and marginalization that often accompany illness or disability ["insofar as autobiography is the literary expression of the self-determined life" (182)].

Since social/cultural counterdiscourse is of particular importance to Couser, he has focused on four specific illnesses/disabilities that have been associated with stigma: breast cancer, AIDS, paralysis, and deafness (182). His analysis of each condition is diachronic because he is searching for "the enrichment of the genre by successive writers who defy, complicate, or refine its conventions" (44). In addition, Couser asks, to what extent do authors "integrate illness narrative into a larger life narrative?" (14). He considers who narrates illness stories (biographer or autobiographer), how the stories are constructed, whether and how they achieve a "comic plot" and narrative closure.

The book's introduction (chapter 1, "Human Conditions--Illness, Disability, and Life Writing") provides a framework, relating what will follow to current issues in life writing, "identity politics," the culture of medicine, and illness experience, as well as to other work on illness narratives such as Anne Hunsaker Hawkins's Reconstructing Illness: Studies in Pathography and Arthur Frank's The Wounded Storyteller (annotated in this database).

Chapter 2, "Medical Discourse and Subjectivity," develops further the questions of narrative authority, representation, and resistance to a dominant medical or cultural narrative. Each subsequent section--breast cancer, AIDS, paralysis, deafness--is prefaced by an informative discussion of the cultural and narrative issues that are relevant to the particular condition; the subsequent analyses of individual texts further elaborate these themes.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Shay, a psychiatrist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), juxtaposes the narrated memories of his patients who are Vietnam veterans to the story of Achilles in Homer's Iliad. He finds that the roots of their illness, like that of the ancient hero, lie in betrayal of duty by senior officers who failed to do "what's right," in the repression of grief, and in the social limitations imposed on expressions of love between men.

These stressors lead to guilt, wrongful substitution, and dangerous rage, called the "berserk" state. The mental pathology is fostered by an equally wrongful failure to honor the enemy; return to "normal" is never possible. The book concludes medically with recommendations for prevention.

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Summary:

Thirty, three-line haiku poems, each set in a large clear font on its own page in a small booklet (approx 4 “ X 6”). The cover is a tender watercolor of a spring scene by an artist identified as Jackie.

Like all haiku, the evocative phrases celebrate ordinary life, seasonal wonder, and memories of family, gardens and home cooking: “rain on the window / happy smiles / and home made cookies.” The juxtaposition of some fragments produces a startling resonance: “last kiss / takes in a lot of territory / even in Saskatchewan.” Humour and wisdom are keenly felt: “tom boy / town boy / luxury farmer”.

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The Line of Beauty

Hollinghurst, Alan

Last Updated: Nov-19-2009
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Hollinghurst's Booker Prize winning novel begins in 1983, just as Nick Guest has graduated from university. A young middle class gay man, he has secured for himself a rather cozy spot in the posh Notting Hill mansion of the wealthy Fedden family, based on his friendship at Oxford with the family scion, Toby, and partly earning his keep by looking after the daughter, Catherine, whose manic depression is marked by mood swings, lability, suicidal thoughts, and self-mutilation.

Gerald Fedden, the imposing paterfamilias has recently been elected a Tory MP (Member of Parliament), rising to power on the coattails of Margaret Thatcher's dominance of British politics in the 1980s. The story follows Nick through the mid-1980s, between Thatcher's two re-elections, chronicling his relationships with the Fedden family, his parents and his lovers, as his own fortunes and opportunities swell and then burst.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Suzanne Poirier has studied over 40 book-length memoirs describing medical training in the United States. These texts vary in format from published books to internet blogs, in time (ranging from 1965 to 2005), and in immediacy, some reporting during medical school or residency while others were written later--sometimes many years later.

A literary scholar and cultural critic, Poirier analyzes these texts thematically and stylistically, finding pervasive and regrettable (even tragic) weaknesses in medical education. Her three major points are these: such training (1) ignores the embodiment of future doctors, (2) is insensitive to the power relationships that oppress them, and (3) makes it difficult to create a nurturing relationship--especially by tacitly promoting the image of the lone, heroic physician.

While some of these repressive features have improved in the last decade or so--in contrast to the momentous scientific progress--there is a general failure to deal with the emotional needs of persons in training as they confront difficult patients, brutal work schedules, and mortality, both in others and in themselves.

In her conclusion, Poirier describes some contemporary efforts to help medical students write about their feelings, but she also sees the negative consequences of "an educational environrment that is inherently hostile to such exercises" (169).  Her challenge is this: " "Emotional honesty is a project for all health professionals, administrators, and professional leaders" (170).

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