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Physician and poet Rafael Campo sometimes gives poems to his patients, tucking them in with educational materials and prescriptions. He knows that poetry can be therapeutic for both patient and caregiver, and in this beautifully organized and executed book he tells readers why and how poetry can enhance healing.
The chapters (in which Campo ponders questions such as: Is poetry necessary for survival? How does poetry locate us inside the experience of illness? Why is poetry therapeutic?) follow the arc of illness itself. In Chapter 4, "Inklings," Campo discusses how not-yet-diagnosed symptoms of sickness may be revealed in poetry, the patient "divining" signs of illness "from the clues discernible in a sentient relationship to the world around us" (p. 52).
In following chapters ("Diagnosis," "Treatment," "Side Effects," and "End of Life"), he expertly unfolds, through brilliant poem analysis, how "At every station of the disease experience, poetry has suggested an ulterior discourse that, as it accumulates, forms a composite picture of a humane idea of wellness" (p. 127). In other chapters ("Daniel," "Clara," "Sunny," "Eduardo," and "Mrs. Twomey") he discusses how poetry has changed and informed his clinical and personal interactions with patients.
Fully aware that poetry is not a "cure" for illness and that relationships between patients and caregivers are not always ideally sympathetic, Campo demonstrates how, nonetheless, poetry can be a valid healing modality. In the "Afterword," he urges readers to imagine poetry "as a metaphor itself for the process of healing" and "to experience it through the stories and voices of real people who have themselves called upon it as they faced illness" (p. 188), and he states his wish to see "non-poet physicians use this book with their own patients and medical trainees" (p. 190). An excellent "Further Reading" appendix provides wide-ranging selections for further study.
Among animals only humans have difficulty giving birth. While other primates deliver their babies with little fuss, women experience painful labor and childbirth. The explanation for this discrepancy lies in the size of the human head at birth. As hominids evolved ever larger and larger brains, the fetal head had to increase in size at birth. Eventually the head almost outstripped the female pelvis's ability to expand enough to allow it through the birth canal. This delicate balance between fetus and pelvis accounts for human fetal and maternal morbidity and mortality.
As a response to the growing threat of childbirth, human females evolved away from estrus (i.e. sexual receptivity only when ovulating) to the menstrual cycle and continuous sexual receptivity. The mysterious moon-related cycle led women to formulate the concept of "time" and make the connection between sex and pregnancy. It also allowed them to refuse sex when they were ovulating.
Women then taught time consciousness to men, and men used their growing self-consciousness to begin to establish control over nature (and women). The sense of being-in-time led inevitably to awareness of mortality. This, in turn, stimulated humans to create gods and religion in order to ward off death anxiety.
In the fall of 1983, Treya Killam was about to be married to Ken Wilber, a prominent theorist in the field of transpersonal psychology, when she was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of breast cancer. This is Ken Wilber's story, with much of it told through his wife Treya's journals and letters, of their five-year battle against her cancer, a long roller-coaster ride that ended in her death by euthanasia in 1988. The narrative includes details of several conventional and unconventional cancer therapies.
Author Horace Davenport is a retired professor of physiology who had a distinguished career in medical science. This book reflects his more recent interest in the history of medicine and physiology in the 19th and 20th centuries. The best summary of this transcription with commentary resides in the author's own introductory paragraph, paraphrased here: From 1899 to 1900 fourth year medical students at the University of Michigan doing their medicine and surgery rotations attended a diagnostic clinic twice a week with George Dock, A.M., M.D., professor of theory and practice of clinical medicine. Dr. Dock had a secretary make a shorthand record of everything that was said at these clinics by Dock himself, the patients, and the students.
The clinics and recording of the interactions continued until the summer of 1908 when Dr. Dock left Michigan for a position at Tulane. The typed transcripts of these sessions fill 6,800 pages. This book is Davenport's distillation and, on occasion, clarification of these documents. In these transcriptions resides not only a view of the practice of academic medicine at the turn of the 20th century, but also a glimpse at one clinician's interpretation of clinical material in his own time.
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.
The events in Dry follow those in Burroughs's memoir of his bizarre childhood, Running with Scissors (see this database). Burroughs, at 24 years old and with no formal education beyond grade school, works in the high pressure advertising world of Manhattan. He's also an alcoholic, and his addiction definitely interferes with his work. Fortunately for Burroughs, he is not fired, but rather, his boss and co-workers set up an intervention. Burroughs--after telling his best friend, Pighead, who is HIV positive; his drinking buddy, the undertaker Jim; and his abusive, alcoholic father, of the plan--leaves for an inpatient rehabilitation program in Minnesota designed for gay people.
Thus begins Burroughs journey to sobriety. A journey that is replete with temptation, relapse (not only with alcohol, but also crack cocaine), love, success, loss, and grief. Burroughs experiences hallucinations, coma and life-threatening withdrawal. But ultimately, Burroughs achieves the title of his memoir. What he reveals is that, for an addict, remaining clean and dry is hard work. This daily, moment-by-moment work forces the addict to examine what is truly precious in life.
As James Morris, the author was the dashing journalist who covered the first successful ascent of Everest in 1953 for The Times of London; a member of the elite and quintessentially male 9th Queen's Royal Lancers ("famous for their glitter and clublike exclusivity"--p. 27); the husband who married Elizabeth, fathering several sons. But, as the writer says in the first sentence of the book, "I was three or perhaps four years old when I realized that I had been born into the wrong body, and should really be a girl. I remember the moment well [James was sitting beneath his mother's piano], and it is the earliest memory of my life."
Realizing he was a member of a tangled (a favorite word of the author) group of transsexuals, James felt himself trapped in a conundrum of gender (he felt and considered himself female) versus sex (he was genotypically and phenotypically male). "To me gender is not physical at all, but is altogether insubstantial; it is soul, perhaps, it is talent it is the essentialness of oneself" (25). (Morris goes on to quote C. S. Lewis's Perelandra.)
After some fruitless interactions with the medical profession, Morris travels to Casablanca in the summer of 1972 to undergo sex-changing surgery and becomes Jan Morris. Unlike many if not most transsexuals, post-operatively Morris fared quite well emotionally and has, to date, been quite happy with the change (see below). Jan Morris's writing is as humorous and eloquent as James Morris's was. She describes (magazines like Rolling Stone and publishers like Random House and thousands of readers have never cared what gender or sex was holding the pen) how life changed in clubs, restaurants, and in taxi-cabs, where Jan met the first man to kiss her, post-surgery, "in a carnal way" (151). (Morris records that "all I did was blush.")
Dr. McKechnie begins his overview of the history of the practice of medicine in British Columbia with records of Coastal Native practices encountered by the first explorers of the Northwest Territory in the 18th century. This opening section of the work contains interesting folklore regarding some of the methodologies and medicinals utilized, and terminates in descriptions of the rites surrounding the initiation of a new Shaman.
Moving forward in time, the author explores the early naval medicine of the seamen and their captains, including the early intermingling of the explorers with the Coastal Indians. The plagues of smallpox, measles, syphilis, and tuberculosis attributed to the arrival on the western continent of organisms to which the natives were not immune are covered briefly.
The third portion of the book is devoted to the changes in medical practice on this particular frontier as the emerging science of the 19th century moved gradually westward. The final chapters cover the century of the great world wars and the progressive advances in medical science as they affected the residents and physicians of British Columbia.
Dr. Flaherty, a practicing neurologist, sets out to explore the act of writing and, more broadly, creativity, in the context of both neuroscience and emotion. She begins by describing several brain conditions that seem to enhance the need to write, even to the extent of obsessive hypergraphia. Next she turns to the opposite state, writer's block, looking at both psychological and neuroscientific perspectives.
Using some of the recent studies of the relationships between certain brain centers and language related phenomena, Flaherty further clarifies some of the cognitive bases for creating literature. Finally, the study turns specifically to the temporal lobe as the possible organic site of the perceived voice of the muse in religious and creative inspiration.
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.