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Mrs. Dumpty

Bloch, Chana

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem is written from the point of view of a caregiver, one with seemingly endless patience, who steps in to piece together her loved one after the "doctors gave up." Indeed, after Humpty has fallen again, we find him at the speaker’s door "begging / in that leaky voice / and I start wiping the smear / from his broken face."

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this novel, with the help of some friends, Gregor Samsa has survived his seeming death at the end of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and joined a freak show in Vienna. A little man named Amadeus Hoffnung, who suffers from Werner’s syndrome (premature aging), runs this Chamber of Wonders. The human sized cockroach proves to be a big hit with the public and a good friend for his assorted colleagues, who come to admire his optimism, compassion, and sense of social responsibility. Gregor thrives, except for the festering wound in his carapace (back) that will not heal--the wound made when his father threw an apple at him during his traumatic early life in "Metamorphosis" as a human-turned-insect.

In 1923, as a result of an life-changing encounter with Ludwig Wittgenstein, and in the context of growing anti-Semitism in Central Europe, Gregor flies (literally) to New York, where he takes up residence and soon runs into Mr. Charles Ives, the composer and insurance executive, who gives him a job as an actuary. The novel describes Gregor’s subsequent adventures over the next 20 years--as a surprise witness at the Scopes trial, as the subject of Ives’s famous "Insect" Piano Sonata, and finally as the confidant of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and member of his "brain trust." Along the way, Gregor contributes greatly to the science of risk analysis and management.

In 1943, at the president’s request, Gregor joins the atomic bomb project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he serves as risk analyst and all-around moral questioner during the bomb’s development. Finally, Gregor Samsa, having survived 30 years as an insect, becomes physically ill as the old apple-infection turns to septicemia; and he becomes existentially ill, as he confronts the implications of nuclear warfare. He decides to commit suicide by placing himself among the instruments at Ground Zero of Trinity site, vaporizing in the explosion of the first atomic bomb; indeed, "Gregor’s was the most expensive assisted suicide in history." (p. 458)

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Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

After five unproductive meandering sessions, Mr. Trexler, the patient, turns the tables on his psychiatrist, batting back to him the question he has just been pitched: "What do you want?" The doctor's pathetically shallow and concise answer, "I want a wing on the small house I own in Westport. I want more money and leisure to do the things I want to do"(101), propel Mr. Trexler towards compassion for the doctor, and a feeling that he himself had regained his own quirky hold on the world.

After leaving the "poor, scared, overworked" doctor, Trexler thought again about what he wanted: "'I want the second tree from the corner, just as it stands,' he said, answering an imaginary question from an imaginary physician. And he felt a slow pride in realizing that what he wanted none could bestow, and that what he had none could take away. He felt content to be sick, unembarrassed at being afraid; and in the jungle of his fear he glimpsed (as he had so often glimpsed them before)the flashy tail feathers of the bird courage"(102-3).

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The Country Doctor

Balzac, Honore de

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The country doctor, Monsieur Benassis, practices in a village called Voreppe at the base of the Grande Chartreuse Mountains. He is a seedy and unkempt, but very kind-hearted, bachelor of 50 who lives with his authoritarian housekeeper. Benassis was brought up in the country, but had lived for many years in Paris where he enjoyed a dissipated life and loved two women. He left the first, only to learn later that she bore him a son and died of heart disease. Later his illegitimate son died.

His second love, Evelina, broke off their engagement when her parents objected to the suitor’s sordid past. Benassis became very depressed and considered suicide. After visiting a monastery in the Grand Chartreuse region, he decided to move to Voreppe and devote his life to serving the poor rural people. He not only practices medicine, but over the years has also initiated a number of economic and community development projects in the area.

Above the village is a hamlet that contains a dozen cretins among the thirty families who live there. Cretinism is common in the region. Dr. Benassis decides that it would be good for the public health to have all the cretins sent to an asylum in Aiguebelle, some distance away. When Benassis becomes mayor, he arranges to have the cretins transported to Aiguebelle, despite opposition from the local people. One cretin remains "to be fed and cared for as the adopted child of the commune."

Benassis later moves the other inhabitants of the hamlet to a new, more fertile, site in the valley and installs an irrigation system for them. At the end of the novel, Benassis has a stroke and dies. He is the first to be buried in the new cemetery.

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Morphine

Bulgakov, Mikhail

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

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Bomgard, a young doctor recently transferred from a rural area to a small town hospital, receives an urgent message from Polyakov, the doctor who replaced him. Polyakov has become ill; he needs medical help. Before Bomgard can respond, however, Polyakov arrives at the hospital, dying of a self-inflicted wound. In his last moments, he gives Bomgard a notebook, on which is recorded the story of Polyakov's addiction to morphine.

Polyakov first took morphine to relieve an abdominal pain. He found that it also relieved his despair over the loss of his lover, an opera singer in Moscow. Morphine relieved his loneliness and improved his work. He gradually increased the dose until he became hopelessly dependent on the substance. He failed in his attempts to break the habit at a clinic in Moscow. Eventually there is nothing in life but the drug and Polyakov suicides.

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Having it Out with Melancholy

Kenyon, Jane

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

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A poem in nine parts telling of the poet's life engagement with melancholy. She encounters melancholy first as an infant, when it hides "behind a pile of linen" in her nursery. She passes through a life's worth of bottles of anti-depressant medication. The moment she sees that she is "a speck of light in the great / river of light," melancholy alights on her "like a crow who smells hot blood" and pulls her "out / of the glowing stream." Then she discovers monoamine oxidase inhibitors. "High on Nardil," she finds beauty in the world and is "overcome / by ordinary contentment."

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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 Twin

Bakker, Gerbrand

Last Updated: Dec-18-2009
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The twin of the title is Helmer van Wonderen. He is a 54 year old dairy farmer in Noord-Holland, the northwest peninsula of the Netherlands and the year is 2002, 35 years after his only sibling, his twin brother Henk, died. Henk was the front seat passenger of a car driven by Henk's fiancée, Riet, when the car plunged into lake Ijssel. Riet lived; Henk drowned. Helmer's life immediately changed from that of a 19 year old university student in Dutch linguistics to a farmer and successor to their father, a tyrannical and distinctly unlovable man. Henk had been the father's clear favorite, if we accept Helmer's and the narrator's viewpoints. Helmer stays a bachelor and maintains the farm into the present, the time of the novel. His father is elderly and confined to the upstairs. Helmer treats him with disdain; he feeds and bathes him with barely disguised contempt awaiting his death with a vague sense of hope, symbolized by Helmer's re-organizing and painting the interior of their house at the beginning of the book.

Abruptly Riet, a recently widowed mother of three, re-enters the van Wonderen world with a letter requesting Helmer to allow her youngest child, an 18 year old son, also named Henk, to live with Helmer as a farmhand. Riet wants her son Henk to learn farming and discipline and receive the parental (read "fatherly") direction she feels he needs and she cannot supply. Helmer consents. Henk comes to live with him, working desultorily as a hired hand.

Riet and Helmer become estranged over the latter's lying to her that his father was dead when in fact he was upstairs at the time of her only visit to their home since her fiancé's death. One day Henk saves Helmer's life when the latter becomes pinned by a sheep in a ditch. Henk leaves soon thereafter; the father dies; and a Frisian farmhand from Helmer's youth re-appears at the time of the father's funeral. He and Helmer take off, after Helmer sells the farm, to Denmark, a much vaunted Shangri-La for Dutch farmers in this novel.

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Headturner

Worsham, Erin Brady

Last Updated: Dec-16-2009
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Visual Arts

Genre: Digital art

Summary:

A woman's profile occupies the foreground of this computer-generated image. She is depicted from the base of her neck up to near the top of her head. A blue device protrudes from her neck, and a small section of a ridged tube, presumably connected to the blue device, occupies the bottom right-hand corner of the image. The device is a tracheal breathing tube, shown in the online photograph of the artist that accompanies the image. Worsham suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

The lady in the artwork wears a polka dot blouse and a vibrantly patterned hat. Her eyes look directly forward, as though oblivious to the onlookers in the image's background, and her mouth hangs agape. She wears lipstick, eye shadow, and rouge.

A young boy's face with big eyes, rosy cheeks, and brown hair looks impudently at the woman from the lower right half of the image; his mouth holds a slightly upturned grin. Behind the boy and occupying the background stands a woman whose green eyes stare at the disabled lady's profile. The staring lady has long light brown hair and she wears lipstick, makeup, a purple kerchief, and a green dress. Partially separating the boy and the woman from the disabled lady is a thin band of blue background - presumably sky - that cuts down through the center, albeit the background, of the image.

A dull green border of blocks frames the scene. Each corner is decorated with a red heart, the points of which angle into the center of the image. Big block letters inscribe the artwork's title: the top of the frame reads "HEAD," the bottom reads "TURNER."

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

Munch has many works dealing with the illness (tuberculosis) and death of his dear sister, Sophie. In this painting she is seated in the wicker chair with her back to us. The aura of sanctity is in no way diminished by the medicine bottles, bedpan and paraphernalia of the sickroom. The bed is empty and in the background. The artist directs our focus not to the dying person but to the inner thoughts and grief of the family members, the soon-to-be survivors.

Munch's father (a physician) and aunt Karen (who brought up the children after Munch's mother died when he was five years old) are close by Sophie. Munch and his sisters are in the foreground. His brother Andreas is alone to the left (perhaps wanting to leave--the lithograph version shows the door slightly ajar).

Munch was fourteen when his sister died. Members of the family (who can be identified in so many of his pictures, e.g. "Death Agony," "The Dead Child") are painted not at the ages they were when the event happened, but closer to the ages they were when Munch painted the picture. Munch would not dispute that illness and death laid the foundation for his art. He himself said, "In the same chair as I painted the sick one I and all my dear ones from my mother on have been sitting winter after winter longing for the sun--until death took them away--I and all my dear ones from my father on have paced up and down the floor in anxiety." (Bente Torjusen, Words and Images of Edvard Munch {Chelsea Green Publ. Co., Chelsea, Vt., 1986)

 

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