Showing 61 - 70 of 206 annotations tagged with the keyword "Nature"

Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

Winter surveys the rise and fall of mesmerism in Victorian Britain, from animal magnetism to hypnotism, including electrobiology (a form of group hysteria), table-turning, and other fads. The book offers rich detail about the different stages of the use of mesmerism in medicine: its initial appearance in staged experiments; its uncertain status and the struggle to locate the boundary demarcating alternative medicines; its performance by professional medical men as well as travelers and quacks; its importance in the development of anesthesia; and its role in prompting skeptical scientists to consider the possibility of mental reflexes as one way to explain away mesmeric phenomena.

Winter argues that mesmerism was not "illegitimate" so much as it brought "legitimacy" itself - of medical authority, of evidence, of knowledge -- into question. Thus, she argues, mesmerism crucially inspired many of the considerable changes in nineteenth-century medicine as well as the reorganization of science and the educational reforms of the later nineteenth century. The book also discusses mesmerism as a form of religion, as a conduit for spiritualism and communication with the dead, as a catalyst in orchestral conducting, and as a model for liberal political consensus.

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Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Bewell examines the rise of "colonial geography," the assumption that disease naturally belongs to the colonial setting. He argues that British colonialism was "profoundly structured" by disease encounters, as diseases began to piggyback on the increased mobility of both troops and trade (2). The book traces colonial disease as both figure and reality in travel journals, diaries, medical treatises, prose, and poetry of the eighteenth century and the Romantic period. It focuses on the rising British anxiety about colonial disease from the mid-eighteenth through the mid-nineteenth century.

Romanticism and Colonial Disease examines the development of the field of medical geography, tracing the cultural meaning of various disease theories focused on climate, topography (disease landscapes), diet, habit, gender, and of course race. Bewell argues that British identity was based on a relational model, in which national health, and even "British" diseases such as tuberculosis, could be understood only in contrast to the tropical diseases that defined colonial lands.

The Asiatic cholera pandemic of 1817, as it approached ever nearer to British shores, shook the nation by explicitly showing that colonial disease had become global. Chapters focus on specific projects and problems, such as the doomed attempts to explore the Niger River and "open" West Africa to European trade, or the problem of the diseased colonial soldier, rather than tracing a general history.

Bewell includes readings of Tobias Smollett, Oliver Goldsmith, William Wordsworth, SAmuel Taylor Coleridge, George Gordon Byron, William Hogarth, Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, Charlotte Bronte, and the Shelleys, as well as little-known writers like Joseph Ritchie and Thomas Medwin.

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Get a Life

Gordimer, Nadine

Last Updated: Jan-02-2007
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Untouchable. Paul Bannerman considers himself a modern day leper. Diagnosed with papillary carcinoma of the thyroid at the age of 35, the white ecologist in South Africa undergoes surgery to remove the malignant thyroid gland. Four week later, he is treated with radioactive iodine to obliterate any residual cancerous cells. Paul will remain radioactive for 16 days and poses a risk to anyone in contact with him. He must be quarantined. His parents, Adrian and Lyndsay, offer to care for him in their home so that Paul will not expose his wife, Berenice (Benni), and 3-year-old son, Nickie to potentially harmful radioactivity. While at his parent’s house, Paul is isolated. Nothing of Paul’s is allowed to mingle with that of others. He spends considerable time in the garden reflecting on his life.

As Paul recovers, his parent’s marriage unravels. His mother has had a previous affair. Now his father has a fling of his own (with the tour guide) during a trip to Mexico. His dad never returns home and dies of heart failure in Norway. Paul’s mother adopts an HIV-positive 3-year-old black girl.

Benni wants to have another child, but Paul is worried. Are his radioactive sperm still capable of fertilization, and if so, will the child be somehow deformed or mutilated? Eventually conception occurs, and the baby is healthy. Paul’s most recent scan shows no signs of recurrent cancer. On the professional front, Paul gets additional good news. The environmental and conservation organization he works for has been successful in opposing and temporarily halting a mining project in the sand dunes and the development of a pebble-bed nuclear reactor. Lately, most things associated with Paul are starting to glow.        

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Heroes and Saints

Moraga, CherrĂ­e

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

This searing play takes place in California's central valley where Mexican immigrants are employed at survival wages to work in fields poisoned by pesticides. Their ramshackle government homes are built over dumps where toxic waste poisons the water. The community has suffered a high incidence of cancer--especially in children--, birth defects, and other illnesses related to long-term intake of toxic substances.

One of the main characters, Cerezita, has only half a body, and often occupies center stage encased in an altar-like contraption where only her head shows. She turns pages, points, and performs other basic functions with tongue and teeth. She is a prophetic figure, willing to see and speak, because seeing and speaking are all she can do, and to name the evils that others prefer to call the will of God.

She seeks and finds intellectual companionship in the local priest who is struggling to find an appropriate way to minister to a parish divided among disillusioned cynics turned alcoholic, pious women who want nothing to do with politics, and the angry young, including one young homosexual who feels driven to leave a loving but uncomprehending family, and reveals to the priest that he has AIDS.

The community has been involved in recent protests that consist of hanging the bodies of recently deceased children on crosses in the fields. This dramatic protest has caused public outrage and attracted media attention. The play culminates in a protest in which Cerezita and the priest are shot down and the young man with AIDS cries out for the community to burn the fields. The curtain falls on burning vineyards.

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Bless Me, Ultima

Anaya, Rudolfo

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this lyrical tale, Ultima, an old curandera or healer, comes to live with the family of a young New Mexican boy who learns from her about the healing powers of the natural environment and the human spirit. Antonio's family respects her wisdom and legendary power, though some in the community believe she is a witch. Antonio finds himself drawn to her and under her tutelage develops an awareness of the primal energies of earth and sky that affect human lives and fate.

He goes with her to gather herbs and to visit the sick and comes to understand a connection between healing powers and knowledge of nature. Though he never receives a rational explanation of how Ultima foresees events, cures illnesses, blesses or curses, or why and when she chooses not to intervene, he learns that the knowledge healing requires is threefold: knowledge of the patient, the healing substance, and one's own limitations. He learns that healing requires making oneself vulnerable to sickness and to the spiritual as well as physical needs of the sick.

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Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

With some 70 characters and a wide array of events spanning 500 years and several continents, the plot of this novel is less a linear plot than an elaborate web of events. Peopled with addicts, alcoholics, corrupt judges and politicians, unscrupulous and greedy land speculators, and a host of other unsavory characters, the novel also tells the story of resistance to Euro-American oppression and a growing effort of indigenous people and their allies to retake the land and ultimately to become agents of its healing. Woven throughout the novel are folk stories of the past, pronouncements on the present and predictions of a dire future for the offspring of the European conquerors.

Spatially, Tucson, Arizona functions as a focal point, with much of the action radiating away from, or towards, the city. Arizona is about to go belly-up from the effects of a declining economy and devastating drought and growing civil unrest in Mexico. As the prophecies have foretold, the narrator reminds readers, the inexorable movement of the people is North, and while it may take 500 or 5000 years, the indigenous and their allies will reclaim the diseased and corrupted land (and presumably become instruments of its healing).

Into this milieu Silko inserts a host of characters who work as part of the resistance. Among them are twin sisters Lecha (a demerol-addicted psychic who helps police locate the bodies of murder victims and has a lucrative profession as a talk show guest) and Zeta (who has made a fortune running drugs and guns across the North and South American borders with the help of Lecha’s son and his sometime lover Paulie); twin brothers, Tacho (a chauffeur for the wealthy Menardo who also functions as a spy for the indigenous resistance movement), and El Feo (who heads that movement in the far South of Mexico). Both brothers commune with spirit macaws for advice.

There is an "army of the Homeless" who plan to retake "stolen" goods and land from the wealthy. The Barefoot Hopi organizes incarcerated prisoners for an uprising against the U.S. Government. Many of these and other characters converge at novel’s end at the International Holistic Healer’s Convention where "German root doctors" and "Celtic leech handlers" join with "new-age spiritualists" and the Green Vengeance eco-warriors.

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Annotated by:
Marta, Jan

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In these selected works of the Afro-Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen--ranging from his early sound experiments through his more overtly political poetry to his final works--the Afro-Cuban experience of everyday life and its socio-historical and contemporary political underpinnings are constants. From slavery on to the natural and urban settings of Cuba, to the international places and communities of poets, politicians and activists shaping contemporary Cuban life, to the twinned invasions of Cuba by soldiers and tourists, and to the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Guillen portrays a life where everything, including love, is colored by suffering and rebellion.

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Annotated by:
Poirier, Suzanne

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Rosita Arvigo is a Chicago-trained doctor of naprapathy (an alternative therapy that involves soft tissue manipulation, diet, and other non-drug modalities) who moved with her husband (also a naprapath) to Belize to open a medical clinic. Shortly after her arrival she met Elijio Panti, given a variety of names by his patients: el viejito, the old man, numero uno, or el mero, the authentic one.

One of the last traditional healers of Mayan medicine, Panti uses observation, experience, and divination with his sastun to diagnose his patients' illnesses; and herbs, manipulation, and prayers to treat them. Arvigo studied with Panti for five years, learning to identify and use countless plants in the rainforest that surrounds her home and, eventually, discovering the object that becomes her own sastun.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Subtitled "My Journey through Autism," Prince-Hughes's memoir leads the reader through a poetic, at times mystical, journey from "being a wild thing out of context" (1) to finding a way to understand the world and live "in context" (11). The author, an anthropologist, has Asperger's syndrome. Prince-Hughes explains that Asperger's is a form of autism in which the individual develops "age-appropriate" language and cognitive skills as well as "self-help skills" and curiosity about the environment but has marked difficulties with social interaction and shows the obsessive, ritualistic behavior similar to other autistic individuals.

As the author relates, her poor social skills, discomfort with physical closeness, sensory sensitivities (to touch and odors for example) and other odd behaviors annoyed her instructors and triggered taunts and even physical abuse from classmates and acquaintances. She describes her misery one such day when she was confronted by an impatient teacher: "I often couldn't take in people as whole entities, even when I was relatively relaxed . . . I was caught in a whirlwind of horrible sensory information and unrelenting criticism" (43).

Getting through each day was filled with emotional pain and suffering, and required a tremendous expenditure of energy in usually unsuccessful attempts to "fit in." Complicating her social isolation was the gradual recognition that her adolescent sexuality was somewhat blunted or, if anything, inclined toward lesbianism. She began drinking (alcohol) in the seventh grade. At 16 she left school and home, embarking on a long period of alcoholism, drug dependence, a "hippie" lifestyle and outright homelessness.

Prince-Hughes had always found refuge in nature, but later she also took pleasure in the physical activity of dancing, becoming a club performer in Seattle. During time off one day, she packed lunch and ate it at the zoo. She spent three hours watching the gorillas. "It was so subtle and steady that I felt like I was watching people for the first time in my whole life . . . Free from acting, free from the oppression that comes with brash and bold sound, blinding stares and uncomfortable closeness that mark the talk of human people. In contrast, these people spoke softly, their bodies poetic, their faces and dance poetic, spinning conversations out of the moisture and perfume, out of the ground and out of the past. They were like me" (93).

Thus began the author's profound relationship and identification with gorillas, an interaction that changed her life, resulting eventually in scholarly work and a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary anthropology, a faculty appointment, and gradual understanding of her own neuroatypical condition, not diagnosed as Asperger's until she was 36 years old.

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Still Waters in Niger

Hill, Kathleen

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Described as an autobiographical novel, this book is narrated in the first person and reads like a memoir. But it is a "memoir" charged with atmosphere, imagery, and longing. The narrator is an American woman, a mother of three children, and the wife of an academic. After an absence of 17 years she has returned to Niger--the country in northwestern Africa where she had lived with her three small children and husband, while the latter was completing his doctoral dissertation. Now she is visiting her oldest child, Zara, who has been living for the past two years in Niger, and working in a medical clinic.

As the narrator reacquaints herself with the culture and climate of the country, she re-visits--in memory--young motherhood, her relationship with the six-year-old Zara, and her interactions with the people and surroundings. The novel shifts back and forth between the past and the present Niger while the narrator attempts to integrate her experiences: she sees the country and her daughter through new eyes.

She is overwhelmed with guilt about what she calls her "inattention" (17 years ago) to the lives of the Nigerans around her; guilt about her failure to learn the native language; guilt toward her children, for her own self absorption. "After all, what was I doing the year we lived in Zinder [the city where they had lived]? That is the question that looms between Zara and me . . . Of what was I thinking? It is not enough to say that instead of working in a clinic [as Zara now does] I was spending my days with Lizzie and Tulu and herself. That doesn't answer it. All of Zinder waited beyond the gate." (71)

The narrator watches with admiration and envy as Zara interacts comfortably, even intimately, with the native women and their children, speaks the language fluently, and negotiates her way with self assurance in this foreign land. Not only does the narrator feel inept, she feels that she has "lost Zara to a world in which I am entirely a stranger." (73) Thus cultural dislocation becomes the trigger for intense reflections on the nature of parenthood, and the female experience of marriage, pregnancy, motherhood, and aging. These reflections are magnified by the narrator's loss of her own mother, who has recently died.

The native women that she meets through Zara help her to understand that some of these experiences transcend cultures, even though their surface manifestations may differ. For example, the often hyper-critical attitude toward first born children, and the refusal of native parents to even utter the name of the first born child relates to the shame associated with this evidence that the mother has lost her virginity. "Shame is the right word, exactly," thinks the narrator, "and I wonder now that I have not stumbled on this knowledge before." (77) But more than the "thorough and irrevocable . . . violation of the space around one's skin" it is the associated separation from the mother that the narrator recognizes as being at the core of sexual awakening; it is this inevitable separation from her own daughter that she is now trying to absorb.

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