Showing 41 - 50 of 298 annotations contributed by Aull, Felice

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Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In May of 1944 the author, a Hungarian Jewish physician, was deported with his wife and daughter by cattle car to the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. This memoir chronicles the Auschwitz experience, and the German retreat, ending a year later in Melk, Austria when the Germans surrendered their position there and Nyiszli obtained his freedom. The author describes in almost clinical detail and with alternating detachment and despair what transpired in the crematoria and the dissecting room during his tenure as chief pathologist working directly under Dr. Josef Mengele.

From the first, Nyiszli suspected that there were horrors emanating from the crematoria but he singled himself out from a group of physicians by deciding to "[break] ranks" when Mengele asked those with forensic training to identify themselves. This act secured his survival: the remaining physicians, none of whom stepped forward, all soon perished, while he was assigned to the Sonderkommandos--the prisoners who carried out the exterminations, and who were themselves regularly exterminated to prevent the truth from becoming known. He writes, "As chief physician of the Auschwitz crematoriums, I drafted numerous affidavits of dissection and forensic medicine findings which I signed with my own tattoo number."

At times self-congratulatory about his forensic expertise, at times forcing himself to witness atrocities which he could have avoided, occasionally finding a way to delay death for some of the inmates, Nyiszli was determined to record what he saw--to bear witness, were he to survive. Uncannily able to read a situation and take advantage of it, the author relates how he managed to get his family out of Auschwitz just before they were scheduled for annihilation. Even in the final weeks of the war, when he and thousands of prisoners trudged on foot for weeks with the retreating German army, many dying along the way, he remained shrewdly assertive--and lived.

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Autism and Representation

Osteen, M., ed.

Last Updated: Jun-02-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Anthology (Essays)

Summary:

The book's chapters derive from a conference entitled "Representing Autism: Writing, Cognition, Disability" held in 2005. Contributors are scholars of English, communication studies, psychology, and other disciplines; some are on the autism spectrum themselves or are parents of autistic people. The book attempts to address what editor Mark Osteen in his introduction cites as a deficit in the field of disability studies, namely that the field has ignored cognitive disabilities. Osteen notes that autism is a spectrum not only among people but within individuals: "any given autistic person's abilities will occupy different locations on [the spectrum] at different times" (7) but a severely autistic person is not merely "different." The editor also addresses the question of self- representation, arguing that "we must strive to speak not for but with those unable or unwilling to communicate through orthodox modes" (7).

The book is divided into four sections: Clinical Constructions, Autistry, Autist Biography, and Popular Representations. Clinical Constructions includes a chapter on Virginia Axline's work with the boy, Dibs (see Dibs: In Search of Self in this database), a child who is now thought to have been autistic; and a chapter on how Bruno Bettelheim convinced the world of science and the public that autism was caused by parental behavior, especially that of mothers ("refrigerator mothers") and that he knew how to cure it. The essayists show how these two psychologists constructed a persona of omnipotence that enabled them to appear to "save" autistic children. Chapter 3 reviews the history of autism as a named condition and contextualizes it.

Chapters in the section on Autistry discuss the mental world of people with autism. Patrick McDonagh (chapter 4) postulates that "the capacity to perceive autism in the 1940s may be connected to the proliferation of modern, and modernist, notions of the self" (102) -- for example, isolation and alienation, and "the removal of referential and conventionally communicative functions from language" (111) that appear in the works of Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce. Subsequent chapters apply theories of information processing (chapter 5), metaphor and metonymy (chapter 6), and narrative (chapter 8) to an understanding of the mental world of autistic individuals, and chapter 7 discusses poetry written by autistics.

The section on Autist Biography concerns memoirs written by parents of autistic children. Deborah Cumberland contrasts the memoirs of several mothers with one written by a father (chapter 9) and Sheryl Stevenson (chapter 10) writes about the rhetorical strategies that mothers use "to negotiate contradictions of motherhood that are exacerbated by autism and their own privileged abilities" (199).

The essays in the section, Popular Representations, concern several films and Mark Haddon's novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (see annotation). Anthony Baker presents an "autistic formula" used in films and notes that the plots hinge on the way a central character who is not autistic uses the "special powers" of the autistic character, thereby robbing the latter of agency (Chapter 12). Stuart Murray is also critical of how films portray autistic people (Chapter 13). Phil Schwarz, father of a child with Asperger's and an Asperger's adult himself writes about four films ( Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn GouldSmoke Signals, Breaking the Code, The Secret of Roan Inish) he uses to raise the consciousness of autistic peers and to promote self-esteem in the face of society's attitudes toward autistic individuals (Chapter 14).

The authors of chapters 15 and 16 come to different conclusions about the novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Gyasi Burks-Abbott, "a 34 year-old African-American male on the autism spectrum" (303), criticizes the novel for perpetuating stereotypes and for "relegat[ing] the autistic to otherworldliness while establishing a non-autistic author like himself as the necessary medium between autistic and non-autistic reality" (295). James Berger, on the other hand, argues that Haddon uses the protagonist Christopher to "explore questions about language and social relations" (fn1, 286) and observes that Haddon understands human neurological features as a continuum.

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The Odds of Recovery

Friedrich, Su

Last Updated: Jun-01-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This is an imaginative documentary film by director-producer Su Friedrich, of her experiences with health problems, physicians, the health-care system, and how these affected her relationship with her female partner over a period of more than two decades. The narrator-subject takes us through her numerous surgeries, hormonal (prolactin) imbalance, and her growing disenchantment with the traditional health-care system.

She films herself: getting dressed into the "humiliating" paper garb prior to being examined by her physician; in exchanges with her various physicians; reading from medical texts and self-help books as she tries to understand her condition(s); taking t'ai chi classes and preparing herbal potions; gardening and doing needle work. As the film ends, she is grappling with the prospect of menopause, but she feels that she has taken charge of her body and of her own care, that she tends herself as she tends her garden.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The film opens on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation -- called "the rez" by its inhabitants -- in 1998. Immediately there is a flashback to July 4, 1976 when the community was celebrating "white man's Independence Day" in drunken abandon. Accidentally Arnold Joseph (Gary Farmer) sets an uncontrollable fire to his neighbor's house, killing the couple who live there. But Joseph catches the baby, Thomas, when he is thrown out of a second story window from the burning house. The rescued Thomas (Evan Adams) is brought up by his grandmother and along side of Victor (Adam Beach), Arnold Joseph's son of about the same age. Joseph keeps on drinking but is in despair about the conflagration and its consequences.

12-year-old Victor watches sullenly while his parents drink until one night he smashes all their beer bottles. This action is a wake-up call for Victor's mother, Arlene (Tantoo Cardinal), who insists that she and Arnold both stop drinking. She chases Arnold out of the house; he leaves, never to return, while Victor watches, sobbing. These elements of the story occur in flashbacks while the 20-year-old Victor and Thomas travel by bus to retrieve whatever they can of Arnold Joseph, who has died outside of Phoenix. The remaining story unfolds in that forsaken spot where Joseph lived in a trailer and befriended Suzy Song, a young Indian woman originally from New York.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Subtitled "Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History," the book chronicles the medical and societal treatment of tuberculosis in the United States from the perspective of individuals who suffered from the disease. The author includes illness narratives derived from letters and diaries of the afflicted; her analysis spans the period in American history from the nineteenth through the first half of the twentieth century.

The book is divided into four sections. Part I, "The Invalid Experience: New England Men, 1810-60" and Part II, "The Female Invalid: The Narrative of Deborah Vinal Fiske, 1806-44" reveal an interesting contrast in the medical/societal treatment of tubercular men and women, and the resulting differences in their lives as "consumptives." Whereas men were expected to seek a cure by embarking on sea voyages and other travel, women remained at home and sought to control the disease by adjustments in domestic life. For men this meant major disruption and even change of career along with a sometimes exhilarating change of scene; for women it meant relentless anxiety and elaborate coping strategies.

Part III, "Health Seekers in the West, 1840-90" describes the role of cure-seekers in the westward migration and demonstrates how the culture of the time, an optimistic faith in nature and in the economic promise of the newly settled western territories, was reflected in the treatment regimen for tuberculosis. Interestingly, much of the promotional effort to bring "consumptives" west was initiated by physicians who were themselves tubercular.

The final section, "Becoming a Patient, 1882-1940," moves into the modern era with the discovery of the tubercle bacillus, public health measures, and the illness narratives of people who were confined in sanatoriums. Rothman points out that this period marked a transition away from the patient’s ability to understand and determine his/her treatment to one more like the current one in which the medical establishment is the authoritarian "expert."

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In a Dark Time

Roethke, Theodore

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This beautiful poem appears in a section called "Sequence, Sometimes Metaphysical." It is a penetrating rendering, at one and the same time, of "pure despair" and of transcendence; of the curse and simultaneous exaltation of heightened awareness; of the personal experience of "madness," "my shadow pinned against a sweating wall," "the edge is what I have," and of a more profound soul-searching that contemplates union with nature and with God: "I climb out of my fear / The mind enters itself, and God the mind, / And one is One, free in the tearing wind."

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Meditation in Hydrotherapy

Roethke, Theodore

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This short poem appears chronologically just before another poem entitled "Lines Upon Leaving a Sanitarium." The narrator describes a treatment he is undergoing for suicidal depression--soaking in a warm bath for hours each day. Rhyming couplets chillingly (in contrast to the water temperature) relate how the treatment is supposed to work to "refit" him for life. But the narrator is numb: "I do not laugh; I do not cry; / I'm sweating out the will to die."

He notes in ending, the paradox of mental illness: that recovery requires disposing of the past. But how can one dispose of that which is a part of the self? What does it mean to "be myself again"? Is it possible to be yourself if you lose your past? In another poem, In a Dark Time, Roethke asks, "Which I is I?" (see this database).

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The Tennis Partner

Verghese, Abraham

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

A Doctor's Story of Friendship and Loss, this book is, in a sense, a sequel to Verghese's earlier memoir, My Own Country: A Doctor's Story of a Town and Its People in the Age of AIDS (see this database). The Tennis Partner tells the parallel stories of Verghese's disintegrating marriage as he establishes new roots in El Paso, Texas and of his new deep friendship with a (male) medical student who shares his passion for tennis. Both men are struggling to re-establish order in their personal lives: Verghese, in easing himself out of a dying marriage while trying to maintain a close relationship with his two sons; David (the tennis partner), in remaining drug-free and successfully completing medical training, which had been interrupted by his addiction.

Verghese, an experienced physician trained in infectious disease and an expert on AIDS treatment, relishes his role as David's mentor; David, a former tennis "pro," enjoys teaching Verghese how to play better. Playing tennis together for the sheer joy of it, each finds release. Tennis becomes the route through which each can unburden himself to the other, seeking solace in a difficult time. Through it "we found a third arena outside of the defined boundaries of hospital and tennis court . . . at a time in both our lives when friendship was an important way to reclaim that which had been lost." (339)

While the reader suspects that David must have a drug problem because the Prologue to the book, narrated in the third person, describes a "young doctor from El Paso" in drug treatment, Verghese the biographer has no inkling of the problem until one-third into his first person narrative. He is shocked, but in some ways the bonds of their friendship are strengthened. Each has only the other as a confidant.

David, however, has another addiction: women. The friendship becomes increasingly complicated as Verghese tries to remain both supportive and objective. Eventually David resumes "using" and Verghese must decide how to respond, both professionally and on a personal level. The turmoil in both lives ends tragically for David and causes profound grief in Verghese.

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Charming Billy

McDermott, Alice

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The charming alcoholic, Billy, has been found unconscious, on a street in his home neighborhood of Queens, New York City. His cousin and lifelong friend, Dennis, must identify his body after he dies, and help his widow Maeve through the funeral and its aftermath--just as he has often helped Maeve to carry the stuporous Billy to bed. Billy's funeral is the occasion for the reminiscences about him by his friends and family that forms this novel's story. These reminiscences reveal the web of community and generational continuity that is at the narrative's core.

A central tragedy in Billy's life has often been invoked by his friends to account for his alcoholism. Recently back from the second World War, Billy had met the Irish girl, Eva, and fallen in love with her. When she returned to Ireland he was determined to bring her back, along with her family, so that they could be married. But, as the story goes, Eva died and Billy, heartbroken, never really recovered. We learn early on, however, that Eva's death was fabricated by Dennis, who could not bear to reveal to Billy and to the rest of the family that Eva had married an Irish beau and used the money that Billy had been sending her to set her new husband up in business.

Even though Billy eventually learns that Dennis has lied to him, their friendship is undiminished. Neither Billy nor Dennis enlighten anyone else with the truth, until Dennis tells his daughter, following Billy's funeral. It is as if the truth would force Dennis to confront the inexplicable--that a man so loved by all destroyed himself for no apparent reason, was unable to accept all efforts to help him, unable to help himself, and, in effect, abandoned and rejected those who cared for him. But the novel concludes with an affirmation of trust, faith (religious and secular), friendship, and family ties and with an acknowledgment that the stories we tell and believe may be more important than what actually happens to us.

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The Body Silent

Murphy, Robert

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Robert Murphy was a professor of anthropology at Columbia University when he became progressively paralyzed by an inoperable spinal cord tumor. His book is a personal journey through profound physical disability, an exploration of the self, and a study of the social construction of disability ["Disability is defined by society and given meaning by culture; it is a social malady" (4)]. As he writes The Body Silent he is virtually quadriplegic, hitting the keys of his computer with the eraser end of a pencil held in place by a 'universal cuff' wrapped around his palm. He is still traveling to Columbia to teach his classes.

Murphy applies the metaphor of an anthropological field trip to his experience: "This book was conceived in the realization that my long illness with a disease of the spinal cord has been a kind of extended anthropological field trip, for through it I have sojourned in a social world no less strange to me at first than those of the Amazon forests. And since it is the duty of all anthropologists to report on their travels . . . this is my accounting" (ix). Drawing not only on his own experience but also on research for which he received funding, Murphy instructs his audience in the metaphysics of his situation, and in the social as well as physical challenges of disability.

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