Showing 31 - 40 of 120 annotations tagged with the keyword "Literary Theory"

Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Originally delivered as a ten-hour lecture at a conference and subsequently partly published in various forms, The Animal That Therefore I Am has been collected in this one volume, also including a transcription of Derrida's extempore lecture, delivered at the end of the symposium, on the 'animal' and Heidegger. The Animal That Therefore I Am is a sustained meditation on the role of the 'animal' in philosophy.  Derrida questions the logic, the ethics, and the rhetorical and philosophical effects of establishing (or assuming) a boundary that seems to distinguish so clearly, so finally, and so permanently the human from the animal.

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The Work of Mourning

Derrida, Jacques

Last Updated: Feb-13-2009
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Memoirs)

Summary:

The Work of Mourning is a collection of tributes, eulogies, essays, and funeral orations by a controversial philosopher, who was attacked as much for his enigmatic style (obscurantism, to some) as for his intellectual hubris (deconstructionism).  Some of those remembered in this book are equally famous philosophers - Foucault, Levinas, Barthes, Althusser - and others less so; this collection includes superb short biographical essays by Kas Saghafi that provide a foundation for Derrida's public expressions of grief on the death of his friends, teachers, and colleagues.

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Diary of a Bad Year

Coetzee, J. M.

Last Updated: Jun-16-2008
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

 

A well-respected, but aging and infirm author living in Australia has been invited to submit his thoughts on the world to a German publisher. Consisting first of his 'Strong Opinions' on contemporary sociopolitical controversies (such as terrorism, paedophilia, Al Qaeda) and then his 'softer' opinions (on such topics as birds, compassion, Dostoevsky and writing), these short essays lie across the top of the page. Beneath them run one, then two narratives, laid out like ribbons underneath. These consist of the story of the writer's relationship with Anya, and of Anya's relationship with her boyfriend in light of her interactions with the writer, including his plan to scam the author out of his money.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) lives in the Sun City retirement community in Arizona with Doris, his companion of 20 years. When Doris dies, her children sell their home and Lenny's son and daughter, both in their late 30's, become responsible for his care. Wendy (Laura Linney) is a playwright in New York City. Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a theater professor in Buffalo. Niether has seen Lenny for many years. He had been an abusive and violent father. The mother is absent, apparently having abandoned the family when the children were young. Both Wendy and Jon seem lost. Wendy is having an unsatisfying affair with a married man and Jon's partner, Kasia, is about to return to Poland because her visa has expired and he is not ready to marry her. Reaquainting themselves with their father forces them to confront the danger of letting unhappy childhood haunt them, and makes them recognize their difficulties being adult (they have Peter Pan names).

Lenny has dementia, probably Parkinson's. Wendy and Jon find him in restraints in a hospital bed. He is hostile from the outset. They take him from the bright light in Arizona to dark sleet in upstate New York, and they put him in a nursing home. Wendy stays with Jon as their father "settles in." She feels guilty but does all the wrong things in trying to make up, while Jon is pragmatic and resentful. Brother and sister get to know each other better. As they bicker, their father seems to watch from a distance with an opacity that is also a kind of dignity. His condition deteriorates and he dies in the nursing home. Wendy returns to New York.

Six months later, Wendy's play about their childhood ("Wake Me up when it's Over") is being produced in New York, and Jon is on his way to give a conference paper ("No Laughing Matter: Dark Comedy in the Plays of Brecht") in Poland where he plans to be reunited with Kasia.

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Summary:

Janis Caldwell, who practiced emergency medicine for five years before getting her Ph.D. in English, examines the philosophy and practice of nineteenth-century British literature and medicine in this book. In an erudite introduction, she explains what she means by the "double vision" of "Romantic materialism," "Romantic because [physicians and authors] were concerned with consciousness and self-expression, and materialist because they placed a particularly high value on what natural philosophy was telling them about the material world" (1). These writers' intellectual context, influenced by natural theology, was dualist, including both the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. Their methodology "tacked back and forth between physical evidence and inner, imaginative understanding" (1), giving rise to the two-part "history and physical exam" familiar to physicians today.

The book examines this dual hermeneutic in six influential sites over the course of the century. In Chapter Two, Caldwell reads early-nineteenth-century debates over vitalism in the context of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, arguing against the materialist-spiritualist divide so often cited in that period. She also brings readings of the novel into line with contemporary theories of physiologic sympathy. Next, she turns to the enormously influential sage Thomas Carlyle, arguing that he broadens the body/soul model to include both natural and supernatural aspects of the world. Again rejecting the notion of a philosophical dualism that prohibits mixing differing approaches, she argues, both Carlyle and the anatomist Richard Owen enthusiastically endorse a more heterodox vision of the world, in which we learn from both natural and spiritual enquiry.

The fourth chapter reads Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights in the context of contemporary popular treatises on children's health and child-rearing. Caldwell argues that Brontë's image of the Romantic child, as emblematized in Cathy and Heathcliff, and characterized as "a more social, empirical, physical, literal version of childhood," derives in part from the "domestic medical texts which function as a sort of secular scripture in the Brontë household" (74). She suggests that the dualist language of natural theology, which combined spiritual and natural interpretation, and which was well-known in the Bronte household, influenced Emily's mixture of religious and medical concepts in her portrait of Romantic childhood.

Chapter Five contrasts Emily Brontë's version of childhood to that of her sister, Charlotte Bronte, in Jane Eyre and Villette. Charlotte Brontë, argues Caldwell, inclines more to the professional version of medicine, less suspicious of physician authority and more likely to experiment (in her fiction) with alternative medical theories such as phrenology. In an extended discussion of theories of literalization and metaphor, using Ricoeur to argue that the literalization of a metaphor returns us to the fact but also reinvigorates the metaphor through its dissonance with the fact. Caldwell proposes that the supposed "coarseness" of Brontë's novels is linked to her use of literalization.

A chapter on Darwin posits that "Darwin's thought arises directly out of ... Romantic materialism" (117). Although by the end of his life Darwin had renounced literary reading, the "dialectic of Romantic materialism" (shaped by Romantic literature as well as science) appears in "Darwin's preferred scientific method," in his rhetoric, and in the narrative structure of his scientific autobiography (123-24).

Caldwell's final chapter provides a significant new reading of the genre of the medical case history, by studying George Eliot's Middlemarch in the light of the bipartite structure of "the patient's narrative and the physical exam" (143). Emphasizing the negotiations between doctors and patients in the mid-nineteenth century, and calling for similar negotiations today, Caldwell navigates the differing critical positions on George Eliot's novel, weighing whether the narrator "participates in the systematic, totalizing knowledge of the pathologist" or undercuts that knowledge (156). Caldwell concludes that the narrator of Middlemarch practices a "hermeneutic circling" that shuttles back and forth between incommensurate perspectives, part and whole, nature and spirit, seeking "a partial and provisional, rather than absolute or positive, knowledge" (160). The book ends with a call to return the term "clinical" to its full meaning, not just of detachment, but of engaged practice.

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Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

This book could perhaps have been called "Pathology and Identity in the Medical Case History and the British Novel." Tougaw here examines the mutual fascination of both nineteenth-century medicine and the British novel with pathology: that both "novels and case histories require a suffering body at narrative's center" (8), and that both "put into circulation a model of identity whereby the subject is always caught in a double bind... between health and pathology" (9). He examines developments in the medical case history, as a narrative, and argues that both this and the novel permitted an escape from "the nineteenth-century zeal for classification" (2). He reads the doctor-patient relationship as analogous to the reader-novel relationship, and argues that both genres must balance competing modes of approach: diagnosis and sympathy.

The book focuses on "controversial or marginalized maladies" (18), with each chapter acting as, itself, a case study. The first chapter, however, sets up Tougaw's critical terms of diagnostic and sympathetic reading, alternatives that help readers negotiate their discomfort with controversial conditions. The second chapter examines how the rhetoric of disability helps provide cover for "scientific scrutiny" (19) in cases of breast cancer, which bring to the foreground concerns over the limits and gendering of privacy and the body. Chapter Three builds on Peter Logan's work on the nervous narrator, examining Jane Austen's use of indirect discourse to finesse questions of hypochondria, compulsive storytelling, and early-nineteenth-century medical knowledge.

The fourth chapter focuses on the mid-century debate over mesmerism and anesthesia, reading cases alongside relevant novels by Wilkie Collins, Sheridan Le Fanu, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. It traces Victorians' interest in altered consciousness and the effects of drugs on agency, and it argues for an analogy between the intersubjective relations of mesmerist/subject, doctor/patient, and narrator/reader. The final chapter reads Freud's "Rat Man" and "Wolf Man" against three novels by William James. Tougaw sees both these authors as putting forward a complex epistemology based on interpretation and intersubjectivity rather than assertion or individuality. The Afterword reframes Tougaw's arguments in the context of contemporary debates over the doctor-patient relation and the patient narrative; that "the real work of autobiography is the establishment of an intersubjective rapport between writer and reader" (21).

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Therese Raquin

Zola, Emile

Last Updated: Jan-28-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Madame Raquin, a widowed haberdasher, lives with her son, Camille, who has a history of poor health and is weak and uneducated, and her niece, Thérèse, conceived in Algeria by Madame’s soldier brother and a “native woman,” both of whom are now dead. Raised by her aunt as companion to the invalid Camille, Thérèse is a model of repression. When Thérèse turns twenty-one, she and Camille marry, and the three move from the country to Paris. One day Camille brings home an old friend, Laurent. He and Thérèse become lovers and decide to murder Camille so they can marry. On an outing they go boating and Laurent drowns Camille.

The murder replaces their mutual passion with guilt, remorse, and evenutally, hatred. The two must wait before they can marry without arousing suspicion; they are both increasingly haunted by memories of Camille and visions of his corpse. When the aging and still-bereft Madame Raquin actually helps arrange for them to marry (to ensure that they will take care of her), they torture each other with their proximity, and they torture Madame Raquin, now immobilized and silenced by a stroke, by allowing her to learn that her trusted caregivers killed her son. The three live in torment until, finally, Thérèse and Laurent kill each other.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Manuela (Cecilia Roth) a nurse who works in a transplantation unit, witnesses the accidental death of her romantic son, Esteban, as he chases a car bearing the famous actress, Huma Roja (Marisa Paredes), from whom he wants an autograph. Esteban had longed to know about his absentee father, but his mother had always refused to tell him. His heart is transplanted, and Manuela is shattered by grief, leaves her work, and sets out to recover her past.

Obsessed with her son’s obsessions, Manuela trails the famous actress, Huma, who gives her a job. She finds old friends in the underworld, and a beautiful nun, Rosa (Penélope Cruz), who works with the poor and plans to go abroad. Soon it emerges that Esteban’s father is "Nina," a transvestite prostitute, and that Rosa is not only pregnant by him/her, she has also contracted AIDS.

Rosa’s austere mother was unhappy about her decision to become a religious, but she is even more horrified by her daughter’s pregnancy and illness. Initially reluctant, Manuela nurses Rosa and after her death, she adopts the infant son who is of course named Esteban.

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Summary:

The authors analyze developments in the scientific article in Europe from the seventeenth century to the present. They devote a chapter to "style and presentation" in each century, and a separate chapter to "argument" more specifically in each century, in French, German, and English examples. They find a remarkable similarity of style already evident in seventeenth-century examples, demonstrating that scientific authors were already addressing an international audience. Seventeenth-century articles show an "impression of objectivity" and "a movement toward a more impersonal style" (47), although the English examples were somewhat more personal, less quantitative, and less interested in explanation than were the French examples, and the prose overall is hardly what we would currently expect from a scientific article.

Although the eighteenth-century examples should, perhaps, be considered part of a larger period that included the seventeenth century, Gross et al do track a movement from impersonal to personal style, nominal to verbal style, and minimal presentation to more elaborate presentation during this period. Also, the French examples continue to approximate more closely to twentieth-century norms of scientific style, reflecting their more professionalized community. Overall, the authors characterize much of the eighteenth century as a period of "consolidation and altered emphasis," with "relative stability" of style (116), although the last quarter of the eighteenth century showed a sharp rise in standardization and standards for accuracy and precision.

Gross et al note that nineteenth-century prose still addresses amateurs as well as professionals, and they comment on its persistent difference from "the highly compressed, neutral, monotonal prose" of late-twentieth-century science(137). However, the English and German examples do become more professional in their use of impersonal style, and examples demonstrate a consolidation toward a more "homogeneous communicative style" (138). They also note that the nineteenth century exhibits a "master presentation system approaching maturity," with "title and author credits, headings, equations segregated from text, visuals provided with legends, and citations standardized as to format and position," as well as standardized introductions and conclusions (138).

They find that the combination of an increasing "passion for factual precision" and systematization produces more careful theorizing generally in science during this period, even as individual sciences specialize and diverge (158). Increased attention is given to the process by which facts are linked to theory, and to the role of evidence, governed by an "overriding need for explicitness" (160).

Twentieth-century examples include shorter sentences with more information packed into each by way of "complex noun phrases with multiple modifications in the subject position, noun strings, abbreviations, mathematical expressions, and citations" (186). The scientific article is now generally marked by high incidence of passive voice and low incidence of personal reference, along with a "master finding system" made up of "headings, graphic legends, numbered citations, numbered equations, and so on" (186). They argue that the current state of the scientific article reflects an evolutionary process whereby "current practices are a consequence of the selective survival of practices that were, persistently, better adapted to the changing environments of the various scientific disciplines over time" (212).

 

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Reading Lolita in Tehran

Nafisi, Azar

Last Updated: Feb-15-2007
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author reminisces about her experiences teaching English literature in Iran before, during, and after the revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Chronology is not important and the book opens near the end of her sojourn in Tehran. A small group of young women who met when they were University students gather in her home to read and discuss English literature. They wear western clothes, remove their veils, and eat sweets. Some have been in prison. They conceal their simple purpose from fathers, husbands, brothers, because their gathering to read Western fiction would be construed as an act of defiance.

In four sections, two named for twentieth-century novels and two for nineteenth-century authors--"Lolita," "Gatsby," "James," and "Austen"--Nafisi constructs a series of flashbacks that describe the events of late 1970s to the 1990s in the inner and outer world of an academic woman. The books and writers used in the section headings have walk-on parts or starring roles that jar in this ostensibly alien context. Yet, they work surprisingly well for the women students, stimulating them to think in new ways about the situation in which they find themselves. Conversely, as the students assimilate the English and American writers into their world, we learn more about their Iran.

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