Showing 211 - 220 of 373 annotations tagged with the keyword "Religion"

The Year of Magical Thinking

Didion, Joan

Last Updated: Jan-30-2006
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Joan Didion has written a very personal, powerful, and clear-eyed account of her husband's sudden and unexpected death as it occurred during the time their unconscious, hospitalized daughter was suffering from septic shock and pneumonia.

Quintana, the couple's 24-year-old adopted child, has been the object of their mutual care and worry. That John Gregory Dunne, husband and father, writer and sometime collaborator, should collapse from a massive, fatal coronary on the night before New Year's Eve at the small dinner table in their New York City apartment just after their visit with Quintana can be regarded as an unspeakable event, beyond ordinary understanding and expression. "Life changes fast . . . in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends" (3).

As overwhelming as these two separate catastrophes are, the account provided by Didion evokes extraordinary descriptions of the emotional and physical disorientations experienced by this very lucid, but simultaneously stunned and confused wife, mother, writer dealing with the shock of change. Her writing conveys universal grief and loss; she spins a sticky filament around the reader who cannot separate him or herself from the yearlong story of difficult, ongoing adjustment.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

A variety of figures, all of them Tahitian, sprawl across the wide frame of the painting, each engaged in a particular and significant act. In the center of the image, a man wearing a simple loincloth picks an apple from the top edge of the image. To his right, a nude person examines his or her underarm, two clothed women in the background walk together with their arms around one another, three women sit together around a babe, and a dog looks inward from the exterior of the right edge.

On the left of the apple-picking man, two white kittens play with one another next to a clothed young girl who eats an apple. Behind her lies a goat. In the far background stands a blue religious statue, to the right of which stands a lone fully clothed woman. At the far left of the painting, a dark-skinned unclothed old woman sits with her head in her hands, next to a seated, nubile young woman with firm, full, bare breasts. A white bird sits to their immediate left.

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The Hour of Our Death

Ariès, Philippe

Last Updated: Jan-09-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This is a comprehensive social history of European (or "Western") attitudes toward death and dying over the last thousand years. Ariès organizes his history into five sequential cultural constructs, each of which conveys the meaning of death to the individual and community, as well as the social institutions around death and dying, during a different period of Western history, beginning in the Middle Ages.

Cultural responses to death must begin by acknowledging that death is mysterious and overwhelming; a wild beast; a meaningless monster. Death lurks at the edge of our consciousness, ready to destroy us and demolish whatever meaning we attribute to our lives. In medieval Europe Christianity had domesticated this monster by establishing a comprehensive set of beliefs and practices that Ariès calls the "tame death." Death was merely a transition to eternal life. The individual was understood as an integral part of the community and not as autonomous and isolated. Therefore, death and dying were communal events, supported by specific prayers and practices (i.e. ars moriendi) that "tamed" the unknown.

In the centuries that followed, Ariès's "tame death" evolved through five stages into the radically different cultural conception of death that characterizes Western society--especially in its American form--today. These changes result largely from the gradual replacement of community-oriented personal identity with today's radical individualism; and the gradual sequestration of death to a position behind the scenes, so that dying and death become remote from ordinary experience.

In today's world we encounter "invisible death," a somewhat paradoxical name because its invisibility allows the savage beast free rein. Death is no longer "tame" because we deny its existence so effectively we no longer develop personal and communal resources to give it meaning. Death's invisibility enhances its terror; our culture's loss of spirituality enhances death's meaninglessness.

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Summary:

Healy focuses on the social and cultural meaning of disease in Britain during the early modern period (roughly the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). Her chapter on "The Humoral-Paracelsan Body" discusses how the humoral theory of Galen, at this time still dominant in constructing a notion of the human body and its functions, was challenged by a new Paracelsan medicine, with its emphasis on spirit and on experiment instead of book-learning, and by the emergence of syphilis. She also establishes the genre of the "regimen[t]," a text advising how to achieve personal and social order.

Her two chapters on "The Plaguy Body" review the late-medieval and Renaissance history of the plague and argue that the social meaning of the plague as a trope of violence and rebellion shifts over the course of the sixteenth century, from a judgment on Britain's "rich extortioners," careless of the welfare of the poor, to the threat represented by London's unruly urban underclass.

Healy's two chapters on "The Pocky Body" argue that the new disease of syphilis became another dominant metaphor for social disorder because it helped focus anxieties about cultural hypocrisy, corruption, and degeneration, linked to the problems of sin generally and excessive appetite in particular. Her final chapter examines "The Glutted, Unvented Body," another powerful figure of excessive appetite, threatening that the body (and its appetites) would dethrone the head (the site of reason).

Healy demonstrates the importance of debates over the glutted, headless body as a way for British writers to negotiate the problems of a trade imbalance and the tricky terrain of resistance against the intemperate Stuart monarchs, culminating in the execution of Charles I in 1649. In the book as a whole, Healy reads literary and historical texts by authors as diverse as William Bullein, Thomas Dekker, Lucretius, Erasmus, William Shakespeare (Measure for Measure and Pericles), and Milton (Comus).

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The Verdict

Reed, Barry

Last Updated: Aug-26-2005
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A down-and-out attorney, who has become somewhat obsessed with the case of a severely impaired woman who had suffered brain damage during the course of a surgical procedure, presses forward to prove medical malpractice. In the course of developing the case he is opposed by the Bishop of the diocese which owns the hospital in question; one of the most powerful law firms in the city; and, acting as "spy" for the defense team, a beautiful woman lawyer.

Galvin, the protagonist, is encouraged to continue his pursuit of justice by an honest former partner and his own belief in the patient's childrens' right to a settlement. Galvin wins his case by proving that the medical records have been altered.

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A Time to Keep Silent

Whelan, Gloria

Last Updated: Aug-11-2005
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

At thirteen, Clair's mother has died, her father has withdrawn, and she suddenly stops speaking. Uncertain what to do with or for her, her father, a pastor, opts for complete change and follows his own dream, leaving an upscale suburban parish for a remote one among the rural poor in the northern Michigan woods. Furious, Clair strikes a deal with him that if she doesn't like it in six months, they'll return.

In the course of that time, while her father builds new kinds of relationships and trust among the local people, Clair discovers and becomes friends with a girl her age who lives mostly alone in a makeshift shelter, avoiding the attentions of her laissez-faire chain-smoking grandmother and, more importantly, her violent father who is temporarily in prison and therefore unable to hurt her.

From this girl, Dorrie, Clair learns a great deal about survival, both physical and psychological, and ultimately, surprised by an emergency into the necessity, learns to speak again. As the six months draw to a close, she finds her sisterly bond with Dorrie, whom her father has invited to live with them, and a growing appreciation of the natural setting and local people have made her not only willing, but eager to stay and make a new life where she is.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

In four lengthy chapters, the biographies of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert are carefully presented. Special attention is given to health, both physical and psychological, throughout life and at its end. Autopsy information is included. In particular, the author emphasizes the impact of illness on the composers' relationships with family members and doctors, and on their musical composition.

Evidence is derived from a wealth of primary sources, often with long citations from letters, poetry, musical scores, prescriptions, diaries, the remarkable "chat books" of Beethoven. Neumayr also takes on the host of other medical biographers who have preceded him in trying to retrospectively 'diagnose' these immortal dead.

Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Vienna emerges as a remarkable city of musical innovation and clinical medicine. The composers' encounters with each other link these biographies. Similarly, many patrons, be they aristocrats or physicians, appear in more than one chapter, such as the Esterhazy family and Dr Anton Mesmer.

The disease concepts of the era, prevalent infections, and preferred therapies are treated with respect. Rigid public health rules in Vienna concerning burial practices meant that ceremonies could not take place in cemeteries and may explain why some unusual information is available and why other seemingly simple facts are lost.

Biographical information about the treating physicians is also given, together with a bibliography of secondary sources, and an index of specific works of music cited.

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Comfort

Munro, Alice

Last Updated: May-02-2005
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Margaret returns one afternoon from tennis to discover that Lewis, her husband, has committed suicide by taking an overdose of pain medication. Lewis had been bedridden from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They had thoroughly discussed his plan to kill himself before he was unable to do so, but Margaret is surprised when it happens because she expected Lewis to leave her a message. There is none.

As Margaret prepares for her husband’s cremation, she recalls the circumstances under which he left his teaching job--not because of the ALS, but because he used to teach human evolution in his high school biology class, without giving "equal weight" to creationism.

Because this upset many of his students’ parents and local clergy, the principal several times suggested that Lewis might at least give a nod to creationism. However, Lewis, an outspoken opponent of religion, was insulted by this proposal and quit his job.

The undertaker encourages Margaret to hold a wake--to comfort her and their many friends--but she insists that Lewis wanted no wake and no service. The next day the undertaker brings her Lewis’ ashes; she goes out into the country at night and disperses them.

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Comfort

Munro, Alice

Last Updated: May-02-2005
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Nina Spiers comes home to find that her husband, Lewis, has committed suicide. Lewis, a former high-school biology teacher, had ALS, and they had discussed this possibility, but Lewis has not included Nina in his final decision and its enactment. She searches in vain for a last message from Lewis, but can find nothing. We learn that Lewis left his teaching job over the community's pressure on him to incorporate the possibility of divine creation in his teaching of evolution; profoundly rationalist and scornful of religion, he refuses and resigns.

Lewis's body is taken to the local funeral home where, inadvertently, it is embalmed, which he would not have wanted. Ed Shore, the undertaker, arranges to have the body cremated immediately and brings Nina a note found in Lewis's pajamas. Instead of a message for her, it is a piece of badly-written satirical verse about the school and the argument between creationism and science. There is nothing for Nina.

Later Ed brings Nina the ashes. Ed and Nina have a history: once, on an evening when Lewis and Kitty, Ed's saint-loving Anglican wife, were engaged in a fierce argument, Ed had kissed Nina. Now, they talk of the preservation of the body and the existence of the soul. Nina then takes Lewis's ashes and scatters them at a crossroads outside of town. At first she feels shock at what she is doing, and then pain, but we infer too that as she sheds the comfortable self-effacement of her role as Lewis's wife, Nina is perhaps coming back to life herself.

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Prayer to a Purple God

Studer, Constance

Last Updated: Jan-31-2005
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The author of this bold collection is a registered nurse who relates, through her poems, patient and caregiver experiences culled from her own years of working in Intensive Care-Coronary Care. There are 24 poems here, most running two to three pages and most written in short lines, a point of craft that adds to their power. There is not one moment of easy sentimentality in these poems. Instead, the author plunges into the grittier side of nursing and illness--and yet, in aggregate, these poems celebrate the embodied and holy work of healing.

In the opening poem, "The-Trickle-Down-Theory-Of-Health," Adam, in the Garden of Eden, is surprised by "The knife" that "separates his ribs." By poem's end, we see health slip "like a ring / from earth's finger" (2), and with this simile we are introduced to the book's underlying metaphor and also to the poet's technique: dense and sometimes near-extreme imagery that ranges, in this poem alone, from encyclopedias to acid rain to barefoot children to librarians to a patient in the dark, "her arteries and shelves / of bone in a ruby gloom" (2). This accumulation of unrelenting, unusual images recreates the world of a patient's pain and suffering and the fierce determination and occasional despair of a caregiver.

"Coma" is written from a comatose woman's point of view, and yet we also see her from the nurse's vantage. In a lovely and surprising twist, the coma becomes, for the patient, a sort of liberation as "Slowly she sloughs, / cell by cell, / the old thorn" (15). This patient is not Sleeping Beauty, who in some fairy tale might be wakened by a kiss. "On the Fireline" becomes a wonderful metaphor for the daily confrontation of illness, for the way the nurse, returning daily to tend her patients, also "coalesces into fire" (16).

The 5-page poem "Intensive Care" perfectly renders the physical sense of being alternately caregiver, patient, and family member within the rarified atmosphere of the ICU (24-28). A patient's blood "pulls against/ the moon, his breath / this tide going out" (26) and, as she comforts a waiting family member, a nurse's eyes "beyond clarity, / unfold a silken language / all their own" (28).

Other not-to-be-missed poems are "The Holy O" (36), "Prayer to a Purple God" (38), "Pieta" (44), "A Riot of Flowers" (52), "What the Body Remembers" (57), and one of my very favorites, "Anesthesia" (59). In "Anesthesia" the caregiver lets an anesthetized patient float like "an embryo / tethered on the end of IV tubing, / floated like an astronaut / in cold stratosphere, / a naked thing / alone / in the universe" (60). But since these poems are finally loving, involved, experienced and hopeful, the patient is told to hush; he is watched over; he is protected. When danger is past, he is reclaimed: "She will hold you / within white-curved wings. / She will reel you back in / when you are healed" (60).

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