Showing 61 - 70 of 381 annotations tagged with the keyword "Narrative as Method"

To Suffer a Sea Change

Phelan, Peggy

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Professor of performance studies at New York University, Peggy Phelan narrates the story of a vision disorder that began when she was 23 years old, caused by "open-angle glaucoma," a difficult-to-treat condition in which the vessels draining ocular fluid periodically constrict. The episodes are excruciatingly painful and disorienting: "I feel a staggering push behind my right eye. The right upper half of my face is on fire: I am certain that my eye has fallen out of its socket . . . " (508).

Phelan resists patienthood, beginning with her first visit to the doctor, in which she underplays what has happened to her. Rejecting surgery, coping with side effects of the drugs she must take, and concerned about her ability to continue as a visual arts scholar, she muddles through for several years. Then she experiences a frightening, vividly described episode of temporary blindness, which is followed by a migraine headache. Six months later she agrees to have surgery.

During the surgery, under local anesthesia, "my eye, which is frozen, can still see things as they pass over it . . . colors I have never seen before . . . I am seeing the roof of my own eye from the interior side. It is utterly breath stopping. I cannot speak" (521-522). Enabled to see her eye from a perspective that was not available to the physician, and grateful for this "visionary experience," Phelan finally accepts her situation. She is not cured, although her condition improves. "My story is finally the same as those of all the other patients . . . The only difference between me and them comes from the words I’ve suffered to find and the words I’ve suffered to flee" (525).

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A Book of Reasons

Vernon, John

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In his dedication to the book, the author addresses his sons: "The secret to life? Clean your room." The meaning of this becomes clear as Vernon traces the story of his brother, Paul, with whose death the book begins. Paul was 15 years older than the author and had been only a shadowy presence in his life. When Paul died, John Vernon had to exercise his duties as executor of Paul's "estate," an estate that turned out to be a festering, stinking nightmare of a house.

The house was filled with 20 years worth of trash that represented 20 years of Paul's life as a recluse. This memoir is an attempt to imagine Paul's life and to understand the reasons for the course it took. It is also an attempt to "bear painful news" and to reflect on his own reactions to what he discovers and to Paul's death.

In order to do this, Vernon calls on history, interweaving his memories and what was revealed of Paul's life after his death with discussions of the beliefs and discoveries of past eras. Finding himself nailing a thermometer to the outside of Paul's house, the author describes the development of thermometers, and the nature of heat ("Heat"). What, he asks, is meant by "normal" atmospheric pressure? How abnormal was his brother? After all, he bought nursing-home insurance a year before he died. And how normal is he, John Vernon, affixing a thermometer to this wreckage?

As he builds a primitive set of steps to the house, the author explores the history of tool making and speculates about what distinguishes humans from animals; did Cain murder Abel with a hammer, and is he, John Vernon, his brother's keeper? ("Tools") Similar expositions and speculations interdigitate in subsequent sections entitled "Body," "Corpse," "House," "Origins." [At the end of the book, there is a bibliography of references for each section.]

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A World of Light

Skloot, Floyd

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Poet and essayist Floyd Skloot gives us his third memoir; each of the three concerns a somewhat different facet of his attempt to recover from and live with mental and physical damage resulting from a viral illness that struck him in 1988. This book, written approximately 15 years after the initial insult, "is a memoir of the reassembled life" (ix). Life for Skloot is different than before, but a kind of order--Skloot calls it "harmony"--has been constructed out of memory loss, mental disorder and incoherence: "I have learned to savor the fragments themselves, and to live in the moment" (xi). A World of Light is perhaps more a collection of essays than a memoir.

Most of part one and some sections of parts two (Ch. 5, "1957") and three (Ch. 15, "Taking Stock") concern Skloot's interaction with his aged mother as she slides further and further into dementia. Anyone who wants an idea of what it is like to interact with a person who has Alzheimer's disease should read these sections. Skloot masterfully reproduces the often bizarre conversations that occur--the sometimes maddening repetition of comments during attempts at conversation.

Skloot's mother admires his wife, Beverly, and repeatedly instructs them to marry each other, no matter how often they assure her they are already married. She forgets their previous visits to her in the nursing home, although they visit regularly, and becomes anxious when they leave, even though she isn't certain who they are. Skloot writes about how receptive his mother is to music, which delights her, and how she sings snatches of old songs triggered by the words of any offhand comment--phenomena that have been noted in some other descriptions of Alzheimer's patients.

The essays in part two look back on Skloot's childhood, his family's background, and on his development as a writer. Part three centers on his current life with his wife, Beverly, whose home in rural Oregon provides a refuge for them both (although they are now in the market for different surroundings).

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In short, episodic chapters that move unpredictably and unchronologically through the years between 1956 and 2003, Nick Flynn tells us about his father, Jonathan Flynn--a man of many trades, a writer, an alcoholic with a prison record, a homeless person--and of his own life, which sporadically interweaves with Jonathan's. When Nick was six months old, his 20-year-old mother left Nick's father and made a meager life for herself and her two young sons. A string of her live-in boyfriends and one more failed marriage wound their way through Nick's young life, which was in the seaside town of Scituate, Massachusetts, "the second most alcohol-consuming town . . . in the United States" (77).

At 12, Nick is drinking beer; at 17 he is drinking to get drunk, sometimes with his mother, and smoking marijuana (and later doing other drugs). For years Nick's father "had been manifest as an absence, a nonpresence, a name without a body" yet, "some part of me knew he would show up, that if I stood in one place long enough he would find me, like you're taught to do when you're lost. But they never taught us what to do if both of you are lost, and you both end up in the same place, waiting" (24).

The place where Nick and his father "end up" is the Pine Street homeless shelter in Boston where 27-year-old Nick is a caseworker and Jonathan Flynn appears, a few months after being evicted from his rooming house. Reluctantly, Nick gradually acknowledges his father's presence in the shelter, and gradually, during the next 15 years, reconstructs the lost years through conversations with his father and his father's acquaintances, letters, and manuscript excerpts. The title of the memoir is what Jonathan Flynn mutters at night, when he is looking for a place to sleep (205).

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is an autobiographical novel in which the author relates the emotional life of a childhood and young manhood lived with cerebral palsy. The disease is never named (except on the fly-leaf of the book cover); its impact is revealed through incidents and personal relationships experienced by the protagonist in a narration which reflects by its style, the intellectual maturation from childhood to adulthood.

As a child, Felix spends long periods in a children’s home, to receive therapy and educational training, and to relieve his family of the strain of his care. Felix learns to walk with painstaking effort and surges of determination, but the reactions of others, even of his mother, make clear that he is not normal. His social life is complicated by anti-semitism and by just being from a different religious background. With puberty comes sexual longing and the need for female affection, and eventually the painful recognition that his desire will not be reciprocated. What saves Felix is the life of the mind and a love of literature and writing which a few influential mentors and a clever, similarly disabled friend help him to develop.

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Arturro Burro

Cisneros, Sandra

Last Updated: Jan-09-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In the sing-song voice of a Latin-American child, with the repetition and rhythm of a nursery rhyme, the poem tells of "my brother/who spins his eyes" and the child-narrator's awareness of the shame the parents feel about having a mentally retarded son. The poem superbly captures traits of mental retardation, and the sibling child's awareness of its impact on the family.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

The author, a scholar of autobiography and other forms of life writing, has expanded his scholarship to include what he calls "autopathography"--autobiographical narratives of illness and disability. This book is the result of an extensive study of such narratives. The works discussed are full-length and recently published--most were published in the 1980s and 1990s. Couser is particularly interested in issues of narrative authority, in how autopathography can be counterdiscursive to the prevailing biomedical narrative, and, especially, in how autopathography is counterdiscursive to the cultural stigmatization and marginalization that often accompany illness or disability ["insofar as autobiography is the literary expression of the self-determined life" (182)].

Since social/cultural counterdiscourse is of particular importance to Couser, he has focused on four specific illnesses/disabilities that have been associated with stigma: breast cancer, AIDS, paralysis, and deafness (182). His analysis of each condition is diachronic because he is searching for "the enrichment of the genre by successive writers who defy, complicate, or refine its conventions" (44). In addition, Couser asks, to what extent do authors "integrate illness narrative into a larger life narrative?" (14). He considers who narrates illness stories (biographer or autobiographer), how the stories are constructed, whether and how they achieve a "comic plot" and narrative closure.

The book's introduction (chapter 1, "Human Conditions--Illness, Disability, and Life Writing") provides a framework, relating what will follow to current issues in life writing, "identity politics," the culture of medicine, and illness experience, as well as to other work on illness narratives such as Anne Hunsaker Hawkins's Reconstructing Illness: Studies in Pathography and Arthur Frank's The Wounded Storyteller (annotated in this database).

Chapter 2, "Medical Discourse and Subjectivity," develops further the questions of narrative authority, representation, and resistance to a dominant medical or cultural narrative. Each subsequent section--breast cancer, AIDS, paralysis, deafness--is prefaced by an informative discussion of the cultural and narrative issues that are relevant to the particular condition; the subsequent analyses of individual texts further elaborate these themes.

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Epsilon Country

Cohen, Marion

Last Updated: Jan-09-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In 1977 Marion Cohen's physicist husband, Jeffrey, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He was 36 years old. Cohen, a mathematician and poet and mother of four, became his chief caregiver. As her husband's illness progressed, the caregiving role became increasingly absorbing, demanding, all-encompassing. Eventually daytime attendants were hired but sometimes they didn't show up. This collection of 77 poems is a kind of journal, primarily from late 1989 through January, 1991, that chronicles Marion's ambivalent caregiving, despair, resignation, "temper tantrums," love, and compassion.

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The Wounded Storyteller

Frank, Arthur

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Frank argues that the modernist conception of illness is a form of "colonization" in that the ill person hands over his or her body (and life narrative) to biomedical expertise. In a post-modern conception, however, the ill person reclaims the authority and ability to tell his or her own story, and to construct a new life narrative from the "narrative wreckage" of serious illness or injury.

Frank identifies four dimensions by which one's relationship to the body may be understood: control versus contingency, self-versus other-relatedness, dissociation versus association with the body, and desire versus lack of desire. Frank presents a diagram (p. 30) in which he sketches four "ideal typical bodies" that arise from various combinations of control-contingency, etc. These include (a) the disciplined body, (b) the mirroring body, (c) the dominating body, and (d) the communicative body. While the first three lead to problems in constructing a satisfactory illness narrative, the last is an "idealized type" in that it is not only descriptive, but also "provides an ethical ideal for bodies." (p.48)

Frank then categorizes patients' illness narratives into three main themes: (a) restitution narratives, in which the plot involves returning to one's previous state of health; (b) chaos narratives, in which all life events are contingent and no one is in control; and (c) quest narratives, in which illness is seen as a spiritual journey. This understanding serves as a starting point for a narrative ethic of illness.

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The Alienist

Carr, Caleb

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story begins with Theodore Roosevelt's funeral. The narrator, a reporter with the New York Times, decides to tell a story that happened more than 20 years earlier in 1896 when Roosevelt was Police Commissioner of New York City. A serial killer is murdering young male prostitutes.

Roosevelt invites the infamous Dr. Laszlo Kreizler to form a special unit to track down the killer. The unit also includes the narrator and three members of the police department. Kreizler's qualification is that he is an alienist who champions the radical new concept of forensic psychiatry: the belief that one can predict a criminal's behavior by reconstructing his personality based on evidence in the crimes themselves. This concept smacks of determinism. Thus, Kreizler was violently opposed by many, including the religious establishment, who believed Kreizler was denying that people were morally responsible for their crimes.

Because of the sensitivity of their mission, the small investigative unit operates secretly, but runs into powerful opposition. Over several months Kreizler and his colleagues perform the seemingly impossible job of identifying and tracking down the killer, using Kreizler's psychological methods.

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