Showing 81 - 90 of 293 annotations tagged with the keyword "Obsession"

In the Springtime of the Year

Hill, Susan

Last Updated: May-18-2007
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the Springtime of the Year opens with the death of Ben Bryce, a young man in his 20's whom we only get to know posthumously but one who has clearly left his imprint on all who knew him. Dying as a result of a freak accident--an apparently healthy tree suddenly falling on him--Ben, as a friend notes, "had been at one with things" (62). The death, happening so unexpectedly and to such a young man of promise, leaves his small rural English community eerily stunned. "People felt changed, as by war or earthquake or fire, even those who lived closest to death and knew its face" (56). As Moony, the same friend, remarks to himself, "it was no ordinary death" (63). Ruth--his young wife--she is 7 or 8 years younger--begins a grieving process that occupies the rest of the novel, beginning with the news of her husband's death in early March until the last page in December.

Although the attention the author pays to Ruth's grief is extraordinarily close, there are other events external to her grief that occupy her and the reader's gaze. Ben's family is equally devastated but hampered in their effort to perform grief work by an egoistically blinkered and unimaginative, selfish mother who has ruined her grown daughter's life, stultified her husband's, and only failed to affect her two sons, Ben and Jo, by dint of their physical and mental exodus, respectively, from the household. Jo, at fourteen (he was exactly half Ben's age at the time of the accident) is precociously generous, supportive of Ruth, and self-sufficient. Indeed, he is the most wise character in the book.

Ruth's attempt to make sense of her husband's tragic death; the usual small town happenings in the village; and Ruth's eventual emergence from her grief, partly as a result of her helping others suffering these small town hardships--all form a tightly knit story that centers around grief, tragedy, and humans' attempt to impose meaning on life's often unfairly dealt hand.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Chicago architect Stourley Kracklite (Brian Dennehy) and his much younger, beautiful wife, Louisa (Chloe Webb), arrive in Italy to work for a year preparing an exhibition on his hero, the post-revolutionary French architect, Etienne-Louis Boullée (d. 1799). They make love as the train enters Italy; however, he scarcely looks at his wife again. On the evening of his welcoming dinner--set in the piazza in front of the Pantheon--Kracklite is wracked by the first of the endless, excruciating pains in his belly.

Louisa is pregnant, but in boredom and frustration, she takes an Italian lover, Caspasian (Lambert Wilson). The dashing, young architect has designs on the American's exhibition as well as on his wife; his photographer sister, Flavia, shares the intrigue. Kracklite entertains the hypothesis that his unfaithful wife is trying to poison him. A doctor tells him that the sinister pains are due to his lifestyle, but he does not believe this diagnosis and drifts into a subdued paranoia with delusions of persecution and of grandeur.

Obsessed with the shapes and contents--the architecture and the anatomy--of bellies in sculpture, painting, and photography, Kracklite photocopies ever larger and larger images which he "maps" on to his own prodigious abdomen. He writes postcards to Boulleé pouring out his fears. He identifies with Roman emperors, Christ, and Isaac Newton, to whom Boullée designed a never-constructed, hemispheric cenotaph, the belly-like model of which appears often, recapitulating Kracklite's obsession and Louisa's pregnancy.

After he learns he has cancer, he ends his life by falling backward in a Christ-like posture through a window during the opening ceremony of his Boullée project. At that same moment, his wife gives birth to their child, having cut the ribbon/cord to open the hemispherical exhibition.

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Painting

Bacon, Francis

Last Updated: May-17-2007
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Summary:

The foreground of Painting features a man dressed in a black suit and holding an umbrella. His face, hoary and grotesque, is obscured above his moustache by the shadow of an umbrella. A yellow flower attached to the lapel of the man's jacket stands out clearly against the black of his clothing, and is the only yellow used in the painting.

The man sits or stands inside a round enclosure made either of white metal or wood. Around the perimeter of these circular bars, two pieces of meat--what appear to be shanks of beef--are penetrated and supported by the enclosure. In front of the man, a platform of some sort extends toward the viewer. Behind him hangs a massive carcass, its limbs suspended outwards to expose the ribcage.

Three rectangular shapes that seem to be window blinds hang with cords behind the suspended meat. In the middle of the painting, in the deep background, abstract shapes that may or may not be human forms stand around on a catwalk.

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Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

This 2002 DVD, copyrighted by WHYY in Philadelphia and narrated by Blythe Danner, consists of a one-hour documentary about Philadelphia-born painter, photographer, and sculptor Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) and eight short films about different facets of his life and work. Photographs by and of Eakins, his paintings, letters, and sketches are interspersed with commentary by his biographer Elizabeth Johns, and by art historians and historians. The DVD describes Eakins’s training, art production, and aspects of his personal life.

Eakins was already an excellent draftsman, trained at Central High School in Philadelphia, but he first learned to paint during the three-plus years he spent in Paris at École des Beaux Arts. The practice there was to paint from live, nude models instead of from plaster casts, as was customary in Philadelphia. After Paris, he traveled to Spain where he visited Madrid and Seville. He developed great admiration for Goya, Ribera, and Velazquez. His letters home indicate how much he missed his family, yet also how seriously he worked on his art.

Returning to Philadelphia, Eakins set up his studio in his family's home on Mt. Vernon Street. He spent most of the rest of his life in his childhood home. Eakins painted portraits of athletes, for example, rowers and boxers. He chose sitters skilled in the arts, in medicine, business and industry, and painted family members. He always portrayed people and scenery he knew well, and athletes skilled in sports he himself loved. An excellent draftsman and highly trained painter, Eakins became a popular instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts had an institute policy that prohibited the use of live, nude models, especially in mixed classes, but Eakins rebelled against these rules by asking his students to model nude in the classroom and outside. Eakins also modeled in the nude himself. He photographed and painted his students in the nude. He believed that artists must study human anatomy through anatomy lectures, dissection, and observation of the body in motion. He assigned such tasks to his American students. Because of his rebellion against Academy rules, he was forced to resign.

Eakins finished his most ambitious painting, The Gross Clinic (annotated in this database) when he was 31 years old. The work, now recognized as an American masterpiece, was poorly received by his contemporaries. Much of his later production was portraits of people he asked to sit for him, including Walt Whitman. He painted a number of cowboy pictures during his stay at a North Dakota ranch where he was recuperating from depression. He also painted twenty-five portraits of Philadelphia physicians.

The last photo of Eakins in his studio, featured in the documentary, shows him seated with his back to the viewer and surrounded by the many pictures he had been unable to sell or which were rejected by his sitters. Eakins is now recognized as a major American artist, particularly in portraiture.

 

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The Calcutta Chromosome

Ghosh, Amitav

Last Updated: Feb-15-2007
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the not too distant future, the morose Egyptian, Antar, works in New York City, as a home-based computer employee, monitoring artifacts which he can study holographically through cyber space. He conjures up the I.D. card of one L. Murugan, who had supposedly disappeared in Calcutta back in 1995. Murugan is/was an expert on Nobel laureate Ronald Ross, discoverer of the role of the anopheles mosquito in the transmission of malaria.

Through flashbacks to the intense week of his disappearance and to episodes in the late nineteenth century, the virtual Murugan roams Calcutta trying desperately to understand and expose a subtext of counter science in Ross's laboratory. He is joined by Urmila, a journalist whose life is endangered by their collaboration.

Murugan theorizes that Ross was sloppy, intent on fame and fortune though a simplistic rendering of the parasite-host relationship; his discoveries were fed to him by others and he was blind to the spiritualistic ambitions of Mangala, his Indian laboratory technologist. Conceiving of the powerful significance of malaria prevention and control, Mangala held different views on the purpose and means of investigating the disease and, Murugan thinks, she anticipated the later discovery of another Nobel laureate, J. Wagner-Jauregg, in the use of malaria for the treatment of syphilis. The travels of Murugan and Urmila imply that these views are still there awaiting their own discovery.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Canadian surgeon Norman Bethune, 1890-1939, (Donald Sutherland) journeys 1500 miles into China to reach Mao Zedong's eighth route army in the Wu Tai mountains where he will build hospitals, provide care, and train medics. Flashbacks narrate the earlier events of his life: a bout with tuberculosis at the Trudeau sanatorium; the self-administration of an experimental pneumothorax; the invention of operative instruments; his fascination with socialism; a journey into medical Russia; and the founding of a mobile plasma transfusion unit in war-torn Spain.

Bethune twice married and twice divorced his wife, Frances (Helen Mirren) who chooses abortion over child-rearing in her unstable marriage. By 1939, Bethune had been dismissed from his Montreal Hospital for taking unconventional risks and from his volunteer position in Spain for his chronic problems of drinking and womanizing. As his friend states: "China was all that was left." Even there, Bethune confidently ignores the advice of Chinese officials, until heavy casualties make him realize his mistake and lead him to a spectacular apology. The film ends with his much-lamented death from an infected scalpel wound.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

As a medical student, Martin Arrowsmith (Ronald Colman) approaches the revered Professor Gottlieb (A. E. Anson) wishing to accelerate his studies into bacteriology research. Gottlieb insists that he complete his clinical training first. But Arrowsmith meets the cheeky nurse Leora (Helen Hayes) and throws over his plans for science in order to earn a marriage-sustaining living as a general practitioner in her native South Dakota.

Assuaging his undying passion for research (in the family kitchen), he takes on the problem of an epidemic of black leg disease of cattle and earns the animus of a veterinarian and the admiration of the Swedish farmers by single-handedly disproving the efficacy of a government serum, developing his own serum, and conducting a controlled trial to prove its worth. His frustrated and unemployed wife--now displaced from her own kitchen--continues to support him, answering always "Yes, Martin. No, Martin. Whatever you say, Martin."

The couple move to New York City where Arrowsmith intends to devote himself full time to science at the side of his old hero Gottlieb in the McGurk Institute (a thinly disguised Rockefeller Institute). In his new laboratory, Arrowsmith utters a prayer for clear vision and humility--a prayer that seems to go unanswered.

Late one snowy night after two years of fruitless work, he discovers that "something" (in the novel, it is bacteriophage) has killed the bacteria he has been incubating. "Is it important, Martin?" asks Leora. He is brutal in his zealous response, his eyes gleaming with the promise of promotion, fame, and fortune. But after days of exhausting labour, he learns that he has been scooped by Felix D’Herelle a (real) researcher at the Pasteur Institute.

Arrowsmith quickly finds a new passion and travels to the Caribbean to conduct research into the effect of a serum on bubonic plague. Gottlieb makes him promise to act like a scientist (not a G.P. or a quack) and to withhold the remedy from half his patients. He tries to convince the colonial authorities of the importance of controlled testing, but is rebuffed with accusations of turning humans into guinea pigs. A black medical graduate of Howard University invites him to a different island where the epidemic is so thick that the people willingly cooperate with the controlled trial.

Leora, who had refused to remain in New York, is now left behind. The film implies clumsily that the now solitary Arrowsmith--ecstatic to be back in the research trenches--has a romantic encounter with Joyce, a beautiful stranded tourist (Myrna Loy). Meanwhile, Leora contracts plague from a cigarette, which has absorbed plague germs from Martin’s sloppy lab technique, and which she smokes because of Martin’s inattention and abandonment. She dies miserably and alone.

Crazed with remorse, Arrowsmith abandons his scientific principles and allows the entire population to be treated with the serum after all. The epidemic is arrested. But Martin knows that his success does not justify his scientific sin. Still grieving for Leora, he returns to New York to much fanfare, but is unable to find absolution from Gottlieb who has just had a stroke. He runs out on his lover, his institute, and a press conference to join a friend who is establishing a Walden-like institute dedicated to pure research in Vermont.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

During the Nazi occupation of Paris, the deranged doctor Petiot (Michel Serrault) abuses the trust implied by his profession to "help" frightened Jewish citizens. By day, he conducts his clinic and supports his family with a kindly obsession. By night, he leads his victims from a metro-station rendezvous to his apartment, their worldly possessions dragged in a trailer behind his bicycle. He then administers a "vaccine" and locks the now poisoned refugee in a room to face an agonizing death alone.

The doctor takes the possessions of his victims, and dismembers and incinerates their corpses in a makeshift crematorium in his basement. In March 1944, the nauseating black smoke betrays his activities; however, the now notorious doctor vanishes, abandoning his wife and son. Following the war, he is living incognito as a soldier pursuing war criminals and collaborators. But he is identified by his fascination with the Petiot case and his handwriting. In the final scene, dozens of people stand at a long table silently sorting through clothing, jewelry, books, seeking belongings of their loved ones who became the doctor's victims.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

A three-year old girl with globular cheeks patiently allows her calligrapher father to brush letters on her face and lips, as he recounts the story of creation: "And when God saw it was good, he signed it." Gently, he turns her round to sign at the base of her neck. Several years pass with the ritual repeated, accompanied by a cheery song that had been popular when her parents were first in love.

An aunt gives her a diary (or "pillow book"), and so begins N's obsession with writing. The tender scenes are marred by the brusque visits of her father's publisher (Yoshi Oida), with whom he has a sexual relationship. Through the child's eyes, the father is forced to prostitute his body for his written work.

Grown into a beautiful woman, Nagiko (Vivian Wu) escapes an unhappy marriage with the misogynist office boy from the publishing house by fleeing to Hong Kong. She works as a model and seeks solace (and her absent parent) in a perpetual quest for calligraphers who will become her lovers and write on her body.

She tries unsuccessfully to print her own work with the publisher as a kind of revenge for the power he held over her father. Her lover, the polyglot translator, Jerome (Ewan McGregor), urges her to write on his body for "submission" to the reluctant publisher. Jerome is already yet another of the publisher's lovers. Nagiko agrees and the plan works, but she is overcome with jealousy and spurns Jerome.

Counseled by a disingenuous friend, the unhappy Jerome takes a supposedly temporary poison in order to win her back; her affection is restored, but the poison kills him. The publisher exhumes Jerome's body, for a gruesome harvest of his skin and her words. Disconsolate and enraged, Nagiko submits book after book of her work to the publisher, each chapter written on a different male body, some perfect, some dilapidated, all her lovers.

Finally she sends "Book 13, the Executioner" on the sumo-wrestler-like body of a man who slashes the publisher's throat. Nagiko returns to Japan where she gives birth to Jerome's child and the cheerful song of her childhood returns as she writes on the infant's face.

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so much depends

Williams, William Carlos

Last Updated: Jan-10-2007
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The eight-line poem frustrates expectations about poetry. It stands like a small aside, a voice suggesting in rather emphatic terms, "so much depends upon," that the seemingly simple, often overlooked elements of life are what really matters. In fact, the short aside is akin to the wheelbarrow and "white chickens" in the poem--essential, but easily ignored. Pay attention, the speaker advises, to the ordinary, to the quotidian.

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