Showing 231 - 240 of 381 annotations tagged with the keyword "Narrative as Method"

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

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.

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Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

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.

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The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

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.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

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.

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Forms of Devotion

Schoemperlen, Diane

Last Updated: May-27-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

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.

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Body Language

Schoemperlen, Diane

Last Updated: May-27-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

What appear to be early-twentieth-century anatomical engravings of various body parts--eye, tongue, spine, breast, legs, foot, genitalia--accompany a male narrator's thoughts about his wife and their relationship. He describes the "good days" and "bad days" in their mundane life. He suspects that she may be having an affair and wonders if he should have one too. Her disturbing restlessness is felt "in [his] bones," but he avoids confronting it, hoping that they will continue happy.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

A woman describes the male body, beginning with the torso--neck, chest, belly, genitals--then the appendages, the back, and finally the head. Her description features the appearance and uses of these anatomical parts from the perspective of female taste and needs. The essay is illustrated with strategically placed images of the human form in exotic settings, taken from Bernard Siegfried Albinus's remarkable treatise of anatomy of the mid-eighteenth century.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The narrator has four loves--one for each chamber of her heart: right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, left ventricle: music (from her mother), painting (from her husband), language (shared with her son), and light. Each section, introduced by an anatomical engraving of the heart, describes how the love entered and developed in her life. Their relative importance is related to the size and thickness of the cardiac chambers. Carefully placed engravings of domestic scenes and landscapes, mostly nineteenth century, complete the essay.

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Destiny

Parks, Tim

Last Updated: May-11-2004
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Written as an interior monologue, Destiny begins as Chris Burton receives a phone call informing him of his schizophrenic son's suicide. Burton, a British ex-pat journalist in the final stages of writing his chef d'oeuvre--a cultural history on national character--is married to Mara, a provocative, capricious, flamboyant Italian. The vitriolic arguments and hurtful stratagems that characterize their discordant marriage intensify with the crisis of death and its aftermath--the identification, transport and entombment of Marco's body. Family relationships are further complicated by Mara's distrust and estrangement of her adopted daughter, Paola.

Burton reveals the chaos that schizophrenia imposes not only on the patient, but also on the entire family. In order to avoid prison following an attack on his family and home, Marco had been placed in a psychiatric institute, Villa Serena, and it was at this facility that Marco stabbed himself to death with a screwdriver. The onset of disordered thinking and erratic behavior, the search for therapies, the various repercussions of guilt and blame (including recriminations about the intense, border-blurring maternal love lavished on Marco), are re-examined by Burton as he travels from London to Rome, sits vigil by his son's body in the camera ardente, and confronts his wife at her family's tomb.

Burton's physical distress mirrors his mental anguish. Burton has heart disease and obsesses about lacking his anti-coagulant medication. In addition to the worry of clot formation, urinary retention prevents Burton from emptying his bladder. These physical ailments of containment, confinement, obstruction and blockage form resonances throughout the book: the tomb, the strictures of marriage and the leakage of adultery, the oppressive family 'house of ghosts,' the separateness of interior thought from observable behavior, the barriers of language, the herky-jerky redirections of emergency travel.

Furthermore, the will to create permanence, to make one's destiny more than a transient destination, informs Burton's moves. In the midst of his exploding marriage and tormented trek home, Burton agitates over his work, and in particular, his book, which "must serve to transform a respectable career into a monument" (p. 1).

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The Dream of Scipio

Pears, Iain

Last Updated: May-10-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Manlius is a 5th C Roman patrician living in Provence who has studied with the wise, reclusive Sophia. He writes his understanding of her teaching in his essay, 'Dream of Scipio,' which trades on an essay by the great Roman orator, Cicero. Sensing that the Empire is gravely threatened, he makes a pact with barbarians, sells out his neighbors, slays his adopted son, and becomes a bishop of the Christian religion, which he has long despised. Late in this ruthless and doomed attempt to salvage what he values most in his world, Sophia makes it clear that he has misunderstood her teaching.

Olivier is an astonishingly gifted 14th century Provencal poet whose intolerant father tries to stifle his love of letters, among which is Manlius's 'Dream'; his father destroys the manuscript, but Olivier recopies it from memory. As plague advances on their region, Olivier finds a mentor in the high churchman, Ceccani, who is bent on keeping the papacy in Avignon. He plans to destroy Jews as symbolic expiation for plague, widely construed to be a form of divine punishment. Olivier befriends a Jewish scholar and falls in love with his beautiful heretic servant.

The 'Dream' and the imprisonment of his friends lead Olivier to question and then betray his mentor. Either because of his efforts to save them, or for his role in a murder, he is mutilated--his tongue and hands cut off to rob him of speech and writing. The brutal mutilation appears early in the book--it is not fully explained until the end.

Julien is a French historian who has studied the poet, Olivier, and the rendition of Manlius' manuscript. He finds solace in his erudition as his county falls to the Nazi occupation. An old school friend who is a collaborator, gives him work as a censor and tolerates Julien's Jewish lover, the artist Julia. In the end, Julien is forced to choose between saving either another school friend in the Resistance or Julia. He chooses Julia, looses her anyway, and commits suicide in a vain attempt to warn his friend.

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