Showing 331 - 340 of 385 annotations tagged with the keyword "Narrative as Method"

A Strong Dose of Myself

Abse, Dannie

Last Updated: Jul-05-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This is a collection of autobiographical essays, most of them previously published in magazines or adapted from radio talks. "Return Ticket to Cardiff" describes Abse's pilgrimage in 1978 to visit the house in which he was born. "A Skull in the Wardrobe" and "Notes Mainly at the Clinic" draw upon the author's medical training and practice experience. Other pieces like "Pages from a Princeton Journal," "A Voice of My Own," and "Pegasus and the Rocking Horse" reveal Dannie Abse, the poet and writer.

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Helping Verbs of the Heart

Esterhazy, Peter

Last Updated: Jul-05-1999
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel begins with the death and funeral of a mother, told from the viewpoint of a son. The reader meets other family members, including the father, a sister and a brother. This portion of the work drifts back and forth in time, putting together a history of the family and relationships among its members.

Abruptly, the viewpoint drifts to that of the mother, who tells her secret story--glimpses of her past, memories that come as a surprise in the face of the impressions gained from the opening narrative. Finally, the story returns to the last days of the mother's life, and the power of her love for her son, who once again assumes the role of narrator, as well as the loss of the inhibitions between the two.

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The Cunning Man

Davies, Robertson

Last Updated: Jun-28-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Dr. Jonathan Hullah writes a memoir of his life in response to a young reporter who questions him about the death, years ago, of an old Anglican priest during Good Friday services. The tale unfolds of three schoolboy friends in Toronto before the Second World War: Brocky Gilmartin, who becomes a noted professor of literature; Charlie Iredale, who enters the Anglican priesthood; and Hullah himself, who begins as a police surgeon and later becomes a practitioner of his own unusual brand of psychosomatic medicine.

The central image of this story is the sudden death of Father Hobbes, the saintly vicar of St. Aidan's Church. Soon after Hobbes' death, the curate Charlie Iredale leads a movement to declare the elderly priest a saint. This movement is aborted by the bishop and Iredale, his vision crushed, goes on to become an itinerant (and alcoholic) clergyman in rural Ontario.

The central story though is that of Dr. Hullah, the "cunning man" who learns that healing is not just a matter of the body, but also the mind and spirit. He practices a type of "holistic" health care that the Canadian medical authorities find very suspicious. Yet, he is quite successful in his work, serving as physician-of-last-resort for many patients who have not been helped by other doctors.

The "cunning man" is a listener; he seems to stay on the outside, observing carefully, but revealing little of himself. In these memoirs he gradually reveals his rich experience and complex character. Only at the very end, however, does he reveal the true story of Father Hobbes's death.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This is a study of the influence of medicine and medical practice on Chekhov's writing. While the material is presented in a roughly biographical manner, the chapters are thematically organized. In "University Years" the author discusses Chekhov's experience at Moscow University Medical School (1879-1884) and the influence of several of his professors. "Diseases of the Mind" focuses on the play "Ivanov" and several stories that demonstrate Chekhov's keen interest in and understanding of mental disorders, including endogenous depression (Ivanov), neurotic depression or dysthymia (Uncle Vanya), and reactive or exogenous depression(An Attack of Nerves (A Nervous Breakdown)).

The next chapter covers Chekhov's extended trip to Sakhalin Island in 1890. "Tolstoy Versus Science" describes Tolstoy's position that scientific and technical progress lead to moral regression. For several years Chekhov was sympathetic to Tolstoy's ethical position, although he never embraced the older man's opposition to science.

"The Country Doctor" deals with Chekhov's medical and public health work during the years he resided at Melikhovo (1892-1897). The last chapter describes Chekhov's own battle with pulmonary tuberculosis.

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Spin Dry

Hollingshead, Greg

Last Updated: Feb-08-1999
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Rachel is married to passive Leon who is utterly dependent on her care and organizational skills. They live in a vast, blanc-mange of a suburb where Rachel constantly looses her way while driving home from work. One night, she seeks direction from Wilkes. A strange recluse, he is obsessed with his teenage memory of the lost "girl on the bus" and leads a support group for agoraphobics.

Through contact with Wilkes, Leon gradually grows more independent and finds himself a job. Rachel becomes obsessed with the search for the meaning of "Harry," a mystery man who recurs in her husband's dreams and begins to take over her thoughts. She consults a psychologist, Alex Silver, who soon has Rachel enrolled in a study with two other women. Silver uses dream-deprivation with the goal of enhancing insight about her marriage, her life, and her friends.

Cameo appearances of three depressive, mid-life siblings, Dick, Jane, and Sally, with their dog, Spot, and cat, Puff, emphasize that life in modern suburbia can be a pathology in itself. In Jane, Wilkes finds his lost girl on the bus. Rachel dumps Leon and finds happiness with the agoraphobic developer of the aptly named "Arcadia Centre," where expense, space, light, greenery, and intimacy are employed unstintingly to create a non-pathogenic space for human collectivity.

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Visiting Hours Are Over

Bloch, Chana

Last Updated: Jan-26-1999
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This 22-line poem lacking any punctuation is a breathless narration of an urgent need to escape from the hospital environment. The narrator runs past the bodies "crumpled on every bed" and "the lead apron / of hospital drapes" to emerge outside into the rain. She is immensely relieved to experience the cold wetness of the rain and to feel the pavement against her feet as she runs to her car.

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

For Booth all encounters between a storyteller (author) and listener (reader) are ethical in that they bring together the character (ethos) of each. These good and bad qualities of character describe both the author and the reader who "keeps company" with the author. Narratives, in addition to whatever aesthetic pleasure they may give us, always interpret life; they tell us about our lives and other possible lives. We are changed by our reading; the quality of life in the moment of our listening is not what it would be if we had not listened.

While we may disagree about what is great literature within and between cultures, Booth asks if we can hope to find a criticism that will respect variety and yet offer knowledge about why some fictions are worth more than others. His answer is "yes," and he devotes several hundred pages of careful argument and plentiful examples to support his claim.

Fictions are the most powerful of all the architects of our souls and societies. The ethics of criticism is a universal concern; no one can escape the effect of stories because everyone tells them and listens to them; therefore everyone consciously or not asks and answers these questions: Should I believe this narrator and thus join him? Am I willing to be the kind of person this story-teller is asking me to be? What kind of company am I keeping?

Ethics of narrative is a reflexive study, because it starts with one of its conclusions: that some experiences with narrative are beneficial and some are harmful. The minds we use in judging stories have been in part constituted by the stories we judge; there is no control group of untouched souls who have lived without narrative. We absorb the values of what we read; we have been that kind of person for at least as long as we remain in the presence of the work. The ethics of narrative is reciprocal; it affects teller as well as listener. Ethical debate about narrative values can lead to ultimate questions about the quality of life as it is lived.

Booth says every use of language carries freight of cultural values and norms. Ethical criticism cannot divorce itself from social and political contexts. Therefore, he says we come to our sense of value in narratives by experiencing them in context of others that are like and unlike them. We rely on past experiences to make judgments; validity is checked and corrected in conversation (a process he calls coduction). Coduction incorporates what we have experienced of other poems and poets; it judges by comparison and conversation (like a case-based approach). Whenever a narrative really works for us, we are sure to feel that the author's choices and ours are alike in kind, that he or she is our kind of person, practicing skills, virtues, moral powers that we admire.

In reader-response theory, regardless of what the author has tried to give, we can judge only what we manage to take. The reader-response denial that literary works have any intrinsic power or value comes in 2 forms: (1) all aesthetic values are subjective, belonging to each individual; (2) evaluations are corrected and improved in a given community; the community confers value. (Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? Harvard Univ. Press, 1980) Booth says that the question of whether the value is in the poem or in the reader is radically ambiguous. On the one hand, value is not there actually until it is actualized by the reader; on the other hand, it could not be actualized if it were not there in potential in the poem.

When we read a story we find ourselves in a world different from our own; we are exposed to the "Other" and to other value systems, which we "try on" and evaluate in comparison to the ones we know. We can surrender uncritically to whatever appeals to us, or we can stay aloof so we don't have to really examine these other values, or we can correct and refine our own experience once we have really understood the other value system (coduction).

According to Booth, serious ethical disasters produced by narratives can occur when people sink themselves into an "unrelieved hot bath" of one kind of narrative, such as one of racial superiority. He also notes that writers who come from ideological positions, such as Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor, often hold those positions against the mistaken views held by their characters, so if the reader cannot distinguish the author's position from his characters' the reader is likely to misinterpret the message. He comments on that problem in Twain's Huck Finn, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. He refers to Chekhov's story, Home (annotated in this database), and many of Dostoevsky's works.

Booth says that we conduct our lives with and in metaphor, and he warns us not to think we have a literal picture when we're really dealing with metaphor. Some think ordinary language is unfigured and refers literally to a real world behind their language. They don't recognize their own metaphoric world. (See also Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, annotated in this database.)

In a discussion pertinent to medicine as a "battle against disease," Booth points out that the war metaphor implies a world where winning or losing is primary. While that cultural value may dominate western culture, it does not accurately describe the value systems of many people. Even the simplest narratives imply whole worlds according to which the narrative makes sense; all narrative is metaphoric.

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Casualty

Wolff, Tobias

Last Updated: Aug-25-1998
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

B.D. and Ryan are completing their tour of duty in Vietnam. They are bonded to each other--"some kind of cultish remnant"--because they are the only men from the original unit who have not returned home. Unexpectedly, a new lieutenant takes command. He views the unit as undisciplined; he lacks patience and a sense of humor.

Ryan's reaction is sarcastic mimicry, which the lieutenant overhears. When challenged, Ryan responds with a scurrilous comment. This initiates a menacing, deadly interaction between them. B.D. watches this interaction helplessly. He tries to persuade Ryan: "All you have to do . . . is keep quiet." (22) But Ryan can't help himself; his mission is to make the lieutenant aware of "what an asshole he is." (21)

B.D. feels increasingly desperate, fantasizing that he will blow the lieutenant up with a grenade. When he tries to enlist help from the former unit head the latter suggests that B.D. put himself in the line of fire in place of Ryan. B.D. realizes that officers stick together, and, even worse, he feels "weak, corrupt, and afraid." (30) Soon thereafter, Ryan is killed during a routine mission.

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Outside Passage

Scully, Julia

Last Updated: Aug-17-1998
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Subtitled, A Memoir of an Alaskan Childhood, this spare, compelling work recalls young Julia's difficult and unusual life in a splintered family living "at the edge of the world." When Julia was born in 1929 the family had just moved to Seattle and entered an economic crisis--"somehow, my father had been bilked out of their money." (17) The marriage went downhill as poverty and the father's serious illness compounded an underlying conjugal incompatibility.

Julia was only seven years old when she and her older sister Lillian found their father dead--a suicide. "Nothing is said about how my father died, or even, in fact, that he is dead." (8) Not long thereafter Julia's mother, Rose, without any explanation or advance warning, left the girls at the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum; there they remained for two years. Rose went to Nome, Alaska to try to find work. "Meanwhile, I strive to be a model orphan. I do all my chores . . . I'm quiet, do well in school, am extremely polite. And most of the time, I'm afraid." (33)

There follows another stay in a different orphanage. Here "I never hear my name . . . No one ever touches me. And, in my memory of that time, that place, I am always alone." (72) Finally, they join their mother again in a remote mining outpost of Alaska where Rose operates a roadhouse. Moving with the seasons back and forth between the outpost and the city of Nome, Julia's life takes on a semblance of normalcy. The environment is strange but interesting, the men who frequent the roadhouse are rough but friendly--there is a sense of camaraderie.

As Julia reaches puberty she becomes subliminally aware of a relationship between her mother and the owner of the Nome liquor store, Cappy. Cappy is married--his family is back in Seattle. There is never any open display of affection between Cappy and Rose, but he eats his meals with them and is almost a surrogate father to Julia and her sister. Suddenly Rose decides to move the family to Fairbanks. Here there is a "secret scenario" that Julia only pieces together many years later. As the events unfold in Fairbanks, Julia knows only that her mother is "distracted, not there." And that a man "carrying a small black satchel" comes to the house and leaves her mother moaning in bed.

Once more, Rose leaves her now teenaged children behind as she returns to Nome. It is wartime and Lillian and Julia find jobs at the military base in Fairbanks. As suddenly as they came to Fairbanks, they are summoned back to Nome--no questions asked, no explanations given. Cappy's son is missing in action. Once again, Julia cannot understand the silence, the absence of grief displayed--"Isn't anybody sad? Isn't anybody upset?" (181) Rose's relationship with Cappy quietly ends.

As Julia finishes high school she fantasizes about leaving Nome, going to college, becoming a journalist--fantasies inspired by Rosalind Russell's role in the film, His Girl Friday, and by Sinclair Lewis's critique of small town life in the novel, Main Street. "I begin to discern, vaguely, tentatively, that somewhere there exists a world where the accepted language is the one that Sinclair Lewis speaks--a language of ideas and, even, of feelings." (212) Indeed, as the book jacket notes, the author graduated from Stanford and became a magazine editor; she lives in Manhattan.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Case Study

Summary:

During the Battle of Smolensk in the Second Word War, a soldier named Zazetsky sustained a severe head wound, causing "massive damage to the left occipito-parietal region of his brain." This injury shattered his whole perceptual world. His memory, his visual fields, his bodily perception, even his knowledge of bodily functioning--all break into fragments, causing him to experience the world (and himself) as constantly shifting and unstable.

Zazetsky coped with this fragmentation by writing a journal of his thoughts and memories as they occurred, day after day, for 20 years. He then arranged and ordered these entries, in an attempt to reconstruct his lost "self." From over 3000 pages of this journal material, the neurologist A. R. Luria has constructed this extended case history from which emerges a remarkable portrait of Zazetsky as a determined and courageous human being. Zazetsky's first-person account is interspersed with comments and descriptions by Luria himself, explaining the relevant structure and function of the brain.

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