Showing 231 - 240 of 386 annotations tagged with the keyword "Narrative as Method"
During a sabbatical year in Florence, English professor and writer James McConkey immersed himself in reading Anton Chekhov’s works, as well as biographies of the Russian writer. He began to feel a particular affinity for Chekhov’s crisis of 1889-1890 and his resolution of that crisis by traveling alone to Sakhalin Island off the eastern coast of Siberia to investigate conditions in the penal colonies that the Russian government had established in that distant region. Perhaps because McConkey himself was recovering from a series of traumatic experiences in his own life, he felt a kinship to this depressed young Russian author and his search for a new direction in life.
McConkey responded to this feeling of kinship by writing To a Distant Island, which is partly biographical, in that it retells the story of Chekhov’s six month long journey to Sakhalin Island in 1890; and partly a memoir, in that McConkey relates Chekhov’s life events to the feelings and events of his own life at the time. McConkey establishes this perspective from the beginning, when he explains why he refers to Chekhov throughout the book as "T": "I honor the man too much to call him by name throughout an account, which. . . is bound to be a fiction of my own" (8).
To a Distant Island dwells especially on the motivation for Chekhov’s journey to Sakhalin, a question scholars have debated for a hundred years now. Of the many contributing reasons for the trip, McConkey chooses to highlight and fictionalize "the suicidal tendency that surfaced again a decade later in the marriage his health simply couldn’t afford" (26). McConkey refines this to "T. wants to escape--he wants out, at whatever the personal cost" (27). It is in this state of mind (or soul) that the brilliant and sensitive T. begins his journey to the end of the earth.
Perhaps as a metaphor that characterizes any human quest, McConkey devotes most of the writing and energy to T’s justification, preparation, and outward-bound journey. Only 37 pages remain for the story of what happens to his hero once the goal is achieved; and less than 6 pages for the homeward trek (or homeward "sail" in this case). [This is a technique, come to think of it, quite the opposite of Homer’s in "The Odyssey"!]
The conclusion? "Sakhalin, then, gave to T. nothing he hadn’t known all along. . . Perhaps despair--that absence of hope--is a requisite for any deepened understanding of a universal hope for something never to be found in the present time or place" (82).
Written while Carruth was approaching or had reached the age of 80 years, this collection understandably reflects the recognition of aging, loss, and of a changing world. Also, there are memories--of jazz and jazz players, relatives, pets, youth. And there is life in the present--with grown children, old friends, the Vermont countryside, writing, remembering, coping, not coping. Throughout, Carruth has a no-nonsense style; a mixture of straight talk, irony, irreverence, contemplation--and wonderful craft.
Carruth's adult daughter, Martha, died miserably of cancer in the late 1990s; in Part II, "Martha," Carruth describes himself as "blocked and almost silent / for two years. Titled "Dearest M --", this is a 15-page elegy that accomplishes "a release of some dire kind" (46) for Carruth, but he can't take pleasure in the release, feeling shame instead ("how shaming, how / offensive!"). Even in his mourning, Carruth raises questions about the ethics of writing such poems, and questions whom he is addressing ("not Martha. The absence / is like a hollow in my mind" ).
Section IV, "Faxes to William," is a series of 54 short poems addressed in "faxes" to a mysterious William: "William, do you know why / I like writing these faxes / to you? Because you / don't have a fax machine" (75). The poems instruct William about writing poetry ("some poets write blurbs, William, / and some do not. And it is by / a law of nature that the former / envy the latter desperately . . . They have unmade / their beds and they must schlepp in them" ); and life ("William, for the things / life didn't give us / we have no / compensation. None." ); and pose conversational questions ("You say I shouldn't write / so much about old age?) that have their own answers (I always / told my students to write / about what they know" ).
Section V, "Basho," is in dialogue with a 17th-century Japanese poet who is considered to be the best haiku poet during the time this form was being developed. Carruth's haiku-like poems in this section blend reflections on aging with reflections on writing poetry.
The final section, "Second Scrapbook," continues to explore memories ("Memory," in which Carruth learns of a former wife's death and can remember her--fondly--only as she was years ago. "My dear, / How could you have let this happen to you?" ); growing old ("Senility": "week after week, the mist gathering" ); representation ("Something for the Trade": Please note well, all you writers, editors, directors / out there: when a phone call is terminated / by the other person you do not, NOT, hear / a dial tone" ).
Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born in 1928 and is best known in the English-speaking world for his novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, which appeared early in his career in Spanish (1967) and later in English (1970). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 and in 1988 published the novel, 0008 (see annotation), which received considerable attention for its evocative story of love and memory.
Garcia Marquez's autobiography is recent (2002, 2003); it covers the first twenty-seven years of his life in Columbia, ending in 1955 when he is sent as a journalist to Geneva to cover the Big Four Conference for his newspaper in Bogota. Although he remained in Europe for three years after that the book does not cover that period.
Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, Columbia in his grandparents' home, the first child in a family that grew to include ten younger siblings. He had a hectic childhood being reared by his parents' large extended family, which included several children sired by his father with women other than his mother.
Finances were always tenuous; when he worked as a journalist he was an important supporter of the family. He received a broad classical education at the Jesuit College in Bogota, where he began his writing career. Later he studied law and journalism but did not finish law school. He read extensively from all genres of literature.
Garcia Marquez's family relationships and personal experiences were traumatic in many ways as was the political situation in Columbia. It was a tumultuous initiation to a life of creative writing. His words quoted on the flyleaf describe the book: "Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it."
Physician and poet Rafael Campo sometimes gives poems to his patients, tucking them in with educational materials and prescriptions. He knows that poetry can be therapeutic for both patient and caregiver, and in this beautifully organized and executed book he tells readers why and how poetry can enhance healing.
The chapters (in which Campo ponders questions such as: Is poetry necessary for survival? How does poetry locate us inside the experience of illness? Why is poetry therapeutic?) follow the arc of illness itself. In Chapter 4, "Inklings," Campo discusses how not-yet-diagnosed symptoms of sickness may be revealed in poetry, the patient "divining" signs of illness "from the clues discernible in a sentient relationship to the world around us" (p. 52).
In following chapters ("Diagnosis," "Treatment," "Side Effects," and "End of Life"), he expertly unfolds, through brilliant poem analysis, how "At every station of the disease experience, poetry has suggested an ulterior discourse that, as it accumulates, forms a composite picture of a humane idea of wellness" (p. 127). In other chapters ("Daniel," "Clara," "Sunny," "Eduardo," and "Mrs. Twomey") he discusses how poetry has changed and informed his clinical and personal interactions with patients.
Fully aware that poetry is not a "cure" for illness and that relationships between patients and caregivers are not always ideally sympathetic, Campo demonstrates how, nonetheless, poetry can be a valid healing modality. In the "Afterword," he urges readers to imagine poetry "as a metaphor itself for the process of healing" and "to experience it through the stories and voices of real people who have themselves called upon it as they faced illness" (p. 188), and he states his wish to see "non-poet physicians use this book with their own patients and medical trainees" (p. 190). An excellent "Further Reading" appendix provides wide-ranging selections for further study.
The story begins soon after the narrator has moved his elderly mother into Cherry Orchard, an "independent living" facility near his home in Providence, Rhode Island. Because of progressive dementia, she was no longer able to maintain her own home in New Jersey, or her relationship with Warren, her boyfriend of 20 years, with whom she spent part of each year in Florida. Thus, the narrator and his sister arranged for her move to an apartment in the exclusive Cherry Orchard, where her symptoms of Alzheimer's disease had to be hidden in order to ensure her eligibility.
The mother and son have never been close, especially after the boy's father died during his early adolescence. She was a pleasant, but distant parent, more interested in her own social and cultural affairs than in taking care of her children. The narrator is 34 years old now, married, with his own son. He has little emotional attachment to this woman who is slowing losing her mind, yet now he feels duty-bound to visit her at least weekly at Cherry Orchard.
The mother has almost entirely lost her short-term memory, yet at first blush seems surprisingly intact because of her ability to cover-up with social skills. She writes notes to herself. The texture of her life unravels. She begins to wander. Other residents complain. Occasionally a glimmer of insight appears, but quickly dies. Fighting his inclinations every step of the way, the narrator provides ever increasing physical and emotional support, while at the same time gaining a deeper understanding of how his mother was (and is). In the end nothing is changed--the mother spirals slowly downward. But in another sense everything has changed. The narrator concludes, "I had taken her in so that I could understand why I had agreed to take her. I would do it again."
Birth Sounds includes 45 short tales of labor and delivery, ranging through a wide swath of the human comedy, but always maintaining focus on the very first scene. In most of these stories, it isn't the delivery that provides the drama, but rather the people. Take the first story, for example. In "Faceless" a Vietnamese husband cautions the obstetrician-narrator, "In our country no man will examine a woman in such an intimate way." The obstetrician never sees the patient's face, which she has covered with a towel. After the delivery, he examines her and speaks carefully, not sure that she understands English. However, from beneath the towel, she thanks him in a perfect American Southern accent. A neat surprise!
In "The Little Devil" (p. 6) a 38-year-old member of a satanic cult announces that she intends to kill the baby if it is a boy. She has been directed to do so by her satanic mentor. When, amid a panoply of lit candles and inverted crucifixes she delivers a boy, the resident contacts the sheriff's office, where the mother's intentions are already known. Sure enough, the SWAT team storms the delivery room and takes the baby.
In "Red Bag" (p. 31) the narrator is serving as a medical expert in a murder trial. The defendant had arrived at the hospital hemorrhaging after delivering a baby at home, evidently into the toilet bowl. The baby had died of head injury. The obstetrician-narrator turns out to be more supportive of the woman and less compliant than the prosecutor had expected; but afterward the doctor receives his financial reward--a check from the state for a full $7.00!
In "Resilience" (p. 259) a woman with a near-term pregnancy asks the obstetrician to examine her breast, which has suddenly developed a red lump. He takes one look and immediately experiences a flashback to another young woman he cared for who had developed breast cancer during pregnancy and died of metastatic disease about a year later. Sure enough, the current patient also has cancer. But in this case the patient delivers, receives treatment, and recovers, apparently cured of her cancer.
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) was one of this country’s premier poets, winning the Bollingen Prize for poetry in January of 1953. As a practicing physician, Williams (hereafter "WCW") incorporated many of his medical experiences into his fiction, less into his poetry. Brian A. Bremen’s book examines WCW, "a medicine man," to use Kenneth Burke’s phrase for Williams (Kenneth Burke was a lifelong friend and publisher of WCW), for whom writing was "always a form of criticism-as-diagnosis." (p.6) For Bremen, a professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin and former editor of the William Carlos Williams Review, WCW’s poetics "embrace ideas about literature, history, medicine, gender relations, politics that are currently finding expression in the contemporary critical enterprise of ’cultural studies.’ " (p. 7) Bremen’s book explores how WCW developed these ideas between "Spring and All" (1923) and Paterson, Books I-IV (1951).
After quoting a remark that Burke recalls WCW making about the nature of man, Bremen states that the quotation substantiates "the close relationship between Burke’s and Williams’s thinking" and also points out "how naturally Williams’s roles as doctor and poet combine with Burke’s closely related roles of ’Cure’ and ’Pontificate.’ If, along with this coincidence, we remember that the word ’Semiotic’ comes from the Greek meaning ’concerned with the interpretation of symptoms’ and was used by d’Alembert in his ’Tree of Knowledge’ to describe that branch of medicine concerned with diagnosis, we can begin to see how Williams’s own concern with history, culture, and the word becomes the way in which he can extend his diagnostics beyond the individual to embrace both the language and the community, providing both with cure and consolation." (p. 7)
Bremen develops his argument in four chapters: Chapter 1: "Finding the Poetry Hidden in the Prose," in which Bremen lays the groundwork for his discussion of Williams’s views on poetry and prose and introduces key figures in Williams’s thinking and/or Bremen’s analysis, e.g., Kenneth Burke, Heinz Kohut, and Ludwig Wittgenstein; Chapter 2: "The Language of Flowers," in which the author uses the psychology of Jessica Benjamin and the botany of Erasmus Darwin to demonstrate how WCW’s poetry eventually shares in a "more feminine, ’mother-based’ psychology that privileges the "narcissistic" over the "oedipal" (p. 46) while his "more modern language of flowers moves beyond these simple associations to act as ’representative anecdotes’ that embody a complex notion of ’empathy’ and ’identification,’ one that both empowers and even attempts to ’cure’ the reader." (p. 45).
Chapter 3: "Modern Medicine," is of especial interest to the readers of this bibliography, and a chapter heavily dependent on the relationship between Burke and Williams and the critical evaluation of the latter by the former. This chapter argues that "it is precisely Williams’s role as a doctor and its symbiotic--not merely complementary--relationship to his role of poet that provides the clearest model of Williams’s aspirations for his writing. Specifically it is the act of diagnosis that is at the core of both Williams’s medicine and his poetry." (p. 85).
In chapter 4, Attitudes toward History, Bremen offers a critical reading of WCW’s In the American Grain, an American history text as WCW felt history should be written and understood--a thesis Bremen successfully compares to WCW’s analogous views about poetry and prose. Chapter 5, The Radiant Gist, a chapter devoted primarily to Paterson, Books I-IV, serves as well as a coda to the book.
Three stories are intertwined in this complex novel; in the end, they become one. In a series of flashbacks, the elderly Iris Chase Griffen writes of her long life. At the outset, newspaper clippings present three tragic deaths from 1945 to 1975: sister, husband, and daughter.
Iris's pretty, younger sister, Laura, died at age 25 when she drove her car off a bridge. Two years later, Iris published Laura's novel, Blind Assassin, to critical acclaim, projecting the author to posthumous fame. Only weeks later, Iris was widowed when her husband drowned. Then many years later, Iris's daughter, Aimée, breaks her neck and dies from the ravages of drug and alcohol abuse. Iris also loses care of her only grandchild, four-year old Sabrina. Iris looks back on the circumstances before and after these deaths.
Growing up in small-town Ontario without a mother, Iris was expected to look after Laura. But the younger girl's guileless intensity inspired exasperation and jealousy, as well as affection. In the 1930s, the sisters managed to hide a young radical, Alex Thomas, in the family attic before he escaped to Spain; they both fell in love. But at age nineteen, Iris is forced to enter a joyless marriage to wealthy Richard Griffen out of obedience to her father who hoped that the union would save his factory. It did not.
Laura is bossed by the politically ambitious Richard and his domineering sister, Winifred. Defiance and maternity allow Iris to carve out her own space within the confines of the social situation. But she is increasingly estranged from the romantic, inscrutable Laura who is eventually sent to an "asylum" where she has an abortion. Upon her release, the sisters reconnect, only to hurt each other with painful revelations (unrevealed here to avoid spoiling the effect for readers; some will have guessed them in advance).
The other two of the three stories stem from Laura's acclaimed novel "Blind Assassin," parts of which are interspersed. On one level, it relates the passionate affair of a refined woman (very like the author) and a political fugitive (very like Alex) who meet in his sordid hiding places. On another level, it is an Ali Baba-esque fairy tale, invented by the lovers, about a cruel society in which child-labor, ritualistic rape, and human sacrifice are routine. The killers are children who have been blinded by their enforced work knotting beautiful rugs.
The now famed American poetess, Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a Fulbright scholar at Cambridge, England in 1956. Angered over a stinging review of her work by the literary roué Ted Hughes (Dennis Craig), she is then charmed by his poetry and blatantly sets out to seduce him. They marry soon after.
Sylvia had tried to commit suicide several times in her youth. Recalling one terrifying near miss, her cold-seeming mother resents Hughes, sensing the power in passionate love to harm her fragile, brilliant daughter. The initially torrid life that Ted and Sylvia share in both America and in rural Britain, grows tired through the strain of two children, her lack of joy in teaching, and his greater poetic success, all of which seem to stifle her creativity.
It ends because of his chronic infidelities, reduced in this version to a committed affair with a mutual friend, the thrice-married, Assia Wevill (Amira Casar), who becomes pregnant. Rage, jealousy, and depression become Sylvia’s muse. The more she suffers with Hughes, the more productive and poignant is her work. Unable to lure him back, she leaves buttered bread and milk for her children, seals the kitchen, and gasses herself to death.
Ten "forms of devotion" are described briefly in one or two pages of accessible, everyday prose: Faith, Memory, Knowledge, Innocence, Strength, Imagination, Prayer, Abundance, Wisdom, Hope. Each is illustrated with an engraving of an allegorical image with Latin and gothic German text. In the first mini-essay, the narrator contends that "the faithful are everywhere." She demonstrates that faith in a future and in immortal continuity is the driving force, not only for religious folk, but for anyone who goes to school, gets up each day, drives to work, embarks on a journey, takes a pill.
The following mini-essays show how each of the forms of devotion are wielded by "the faithful" to carry on valiantly confronting the challenges of ordinary existence. Faith and Hope together beget power. By the end, the reader senses a certain irony--as if the writer is not a member of the faithful. She may acknowledge and sometimes envy their resolute success, but does she share it? Perhaps not, and we are left wondering if she even admires it.