Showing 451 - 460 of 606 annotations contributed by Coulehan, Jack

Anatomy Lesson

Coulehan, Jack

Last Updated: Jan-11-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry — Secondary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Coulehan speaks to the cadaver (Ernest), beginning with factual observations about his damp face and beard. He then becomes confessional--in fact, by directly paraphrasing the traditional Catholic formula of confession ("Bless me, father, for I have sinned . . . "). He implores the cadaver to reveal himself, to yield the truth of his condition.

In the last stanza, the tears of conjunctival irritation (formaldehyde) become tears of sorrow "for all offenses / to the heart . . . " and "for the violence / of abomination . . . . " Cutting up a corpse is an "abomination," but one that must be accepted and transcended in order to gain the power to heal. In the end, the tears become life-giving rain on the canyon wall.

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Motorcycle Ward

Moolten, David

Last Updated: Jan-11-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The speaker's high school classmate was "scraped out from under an eighteen-wheeler" after an accident while driving his Harley 650. Along with the other seniors, the speaker "paraded to say goodbye / On the trauma floor." One of the surgeons called the place "the motorcycle ward." They saw everything in the ward--the pain, the casts, the equipment--but the speaker also saw within himself "the closeness / To the dead that comes with fear, / A sleeping empathy."

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Open Workings

Bamforth, Iain

Last Updated: Nov-25-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This is the third volume of poetry by Bamforth, a physician and scientific translator who practices in Strasbourg, France. Open Workings is precisely that--the poet opens various ideas, places, and events and shows us their inner workings. But we find that the workings are not what we expect.

Some of these poems (e.g. "Between the Rhins and the Machars," pp. 20-23) evoke Scottish folk tales and traditions. "The Fever Hospital" (p. 33) alludes to William Carlos Williams's famous poem "Spring and All," which begins, "By the road to the contagious hospital . . . " Several are set in a mining town in the Australian outback. In "A Clear Thought" (p. 39) Bamforth recalls the "scorched mesas / and camel-track droppings / of overland Australia" where he and his wife, "two transients, / (we) were crossing a language / bigger than its markers." The long sequence (30 poems) called "Doing Calls on the Old Portpatrick Road" provides a richly textured view of the life and interactions of a country doctor, one of whose patients asks, "Why do you call it failure now my heart breaks?" (p. 64)

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The Commodore

O'Brian, Patrick

Last Updated: Nov-16-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is the 17th of Patrick O'Brian's novels about the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey of the British Navy, and his friend, Stephen Maturin, the ship's surgeon and secret intelligence agent. Aubrey is a large, hearty, cheerful man who loves music and astronomy, and whose fortunes wax and wane as O'Brian follows him through numerous engagements and exploits around the world, roughly from 1800 to 1815. (While the early books in this series place Aubrey in some of the actual sea battles of the British war against Napoleon, "real time" gets suspended in the later novels.)

Maturin is small, dark, and secretive; of Irish and Basque descent; and a Roman Catholic. Nonetheless, he hates Napoleon so much that he becomes an agent for the British, working under the intelligence chief, Sir Joseph Blaine. Maturin is also a famous physician and naturalist, and he plays the cello to Aubrey's violin. The two men are the closest of friends, despite their many differences; in fact, this series of novels is the story of two complex and engaging characters and their years of friendship, as much as it is a series of sea yarns and adventures.

In The Commodore, Aubrey and Maturin have returned to England after a protracted trip around the world that occupied the previous four novels. Aubrey happily spends time with his wife and children, but Maturin discovers that his wife, Diana, has disappeared and his young daughter appears to be autistic.

Shortly, Aubrey receives orders to lead a squadron of ships to the west African coast, where he is to harass the slavers and, on the return voyage, to engage a French squadron being sent (secretly) to attack Ireland. Maturin joins the squadron after carrying his daughter to safety in Spain. They successfully knock off some slaving ships and terrorize the Coast of Guinea, before hurrying back to the southwestern coast of Ireland where they catch up with the French ships and defeat them.

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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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Anton Chekhov. A Life

Rayfield, Donald

Last Updated: Jul-16-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This is the most detailed and comprehensive biography of Anton P. Chekhov written to date. Rayfield is a Chekhov scholar who published an earlier biography of the writer in 1975. There are numerous biographies of Chekhov available. In the Preface to this book, Rayfield explains why he wrote it. Chekhov's life is documented by a vast amount of archival material, much of which was unavailable to Western scholars in the past. Russian scholars have studied these sources extensively, but the studies they have published use only a small part of the material. Rayfield's own study convinced him that by drawing liberally from these archives he could write a new biography that would increase our understanding of Chekhov's life and character.

Rayfield's approach is strictly chronological. The book consists of 84 short chapters, each one named and subtitled with the period covered (e.g. July - August 1894). Rayfield sticks closely to the texts, developing a rather staccato style that is heavy on factual statements and light on his own interpretations. He also chooses not to discuss Chekhov's writings as such, except to present brief summaries of the plays and some of the more important stories, and to indicate relationships between Chekhov's life and his art.

The new material gives us a much better view of the day-to-day texture of Chekhov's life, his interactions with family and friends, and his interesting and enigmatic relationships with women. The book also includes a helpful diagram of the Chekhov family tree, two maps of Chekhov's country, and many photographs.

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Three Lives

Stein, Gertrude

Last Updated: Jul-05-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Novellas)

Summary:

This first published work of fiction by Gertrude Stein includes two stories, "The Good Anna" (71 pp.) and "The Gentle Lena" (40 pp.); and a novella, "Melanctha" (151 pp.) Each one is a psychological portrait of the named protagonist. All three are members of the lower socioeconomic stratum of the fictional town of Bridgepoint.

"The Good Anna" tells the story of a German immigrant who kept house for Miss Mathilda. Anna was honest, steadfast, and loyal as the day is long, but she was also stern and difficult to deal with. Anna's special friend was Mrs. Lehntman, the romance of her life. After Miss Mathilda moved to a far country, Anna took in boarders for a living, didn't make much money, and after a while died. "The Gentle Lena" is the story of another German servant girl who married unhappily and died shortly after the birth of her fourth child.

"Melanctha" is an extended portrait of Melanctha Herbert, a mulatto woman, and her unhappy love affair with Dr. Jeff Campbell, the doctor who took care of Melanctha's mother during her final illness. Much of the novella consists of protracted conversations between Melanctha and Jeff and extensive descriptions of their respective mental states.

Eventually the two lovers drifted apart. Melanctha took up with Jem Richards, "who always had to know what it was to have true wisdom." But that relationship didn't work out either. Melanctha became depressed and considered suicide. After she recovered from depression, she developed consumption and died.

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The Veteran

Massad, Stewart

Last Updated: Jul-03-1998

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This is the narrative of an old doctor. Once greatly admired, he is now ridiculed by young doctors who find his techniques outdated and his lectures boring. His specialty is microbiology; his lab works on AIDS. His daughter asks him to support a group demanding that researchers release without so much delay the preventive drugs they are developing for AIDS patients. The doctor refuses on the grounds that the drugs need more testing. Later he finds out that his son is dying of AIDS.

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AIDS and Its Metaphors

Sontag, Susan

Last Updated: Jul-03-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This essay was written ten years after the author's Illness as Metaphor (see this database). Sontag begins by explaining the stimulus for her earlier essay: her own experience as a cancer patient. During that time, she discovered that cultural myths about cancer tended to isolate and estrange cancer patients. They suffered needlessly because of "meaning" attributed to their illness by society. A decade later, Sontag observes that attitudes about cancer have become more open and truthful. However, a new illness (AIDS) has arisen to carry forward the metaphorical banner.

AIDS brings together two powerful metaphors about illness. First, AIDS develops further the theme (seen earlier in cancer) of disease as invader: the enemy invades and destroys you from within. Thus, AIDS strengthens the use of military metaphors in medicine. The war against cancer is reincarnated as a war against AIDS. Secondly, because AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease, it also evokes the theme of plague-as-punishment.

Sontag's project in this essay is more focused than in the earlier book. She acknowledges that the medical and public health response to AIDS explicitly counters these myths. She concludes that "not all metaphors applied to illnesses and their treatment are equally unsavory and distorting" (p. 94). The metaphor she is most anxious to see eliminated is the military metaphor, both on an illness level (illness invades the person) and a societal level (social problems invade society).

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The Knot

Jones, Alice

Last Updated: Jul-03-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Alice Jones divides The Knot into three sections. The first is a series of poems evoking the poet's painful and tender relationship with Peter, a former lover who is dying of AIDS. We encounter him first on a rainy day in his hospital bed at St. Vincent's ("The Umbrella"), and then through flash-backs to their earlier lives ("In the Pine Woods," "Painting," "Communal Living"). In the long poem "Blood Clot" the author creates and sustains a dynamism between detachment and engagement, objectivity and subjectivity, medical and personal knowledge: from "This time it's his heart. He has / a tumor" to "The glacier that / freezes us in place for centuries, / the same old separateness, only / this time it's called death. / How dare you do it to me / one more time."

The second, and most intensely personal, section imagines the poet's relationship with her mother. The title poem is the centerpiece here. In it, the knot has two faces: the tie that binds us together and an obstacle to be overcome. While loss is real, she writes, "I refuse to be alone. // There is only one / of us. Loss does not / exist in our vocabulary." ("The Lie") The last section consists of poems on a variety of topics, including a long poem about gross anatomy as an initiatory experience ("The Cadaver").

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