Showing 91 - 100 of 121 annotations tagged with the keyword "Literary Theory"
The narrator, Jeremy, orphaned at age 8, is attempting to write a memoir of his wife's parents, June and Bernard Tremaine. The pair married in England in 1946, idealistic young members of the British Communist Party, but on their honeymoon in France something happens to June that estranges her from her husband and his values forever. After the birth of their daughter, Jeremy's wife, the two live separately. June dies in a nursing home in 1987, after telling Jeremy a great deal about her life and marriage.
In 1989 Jeremy and Bernard travel to Germany together to share in the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Bernard has taken a lot longer than his wife did to give up on communism. In Berlin, Jeremy hears his father-in-law's very different version of the couple's biography. Jeremy then travels to France to try and unearth the truth about their honeymoon, finding unreliable storytellers, poor memory, and, at the center, June's encounter in the French countryside with a pair of black dogs, owned and trained and then abandoned by the Gestapo. The story, as Jeremy reconstitutes it, is a discovery of evil that, regardless of literal factuality, bears a terrible truth about the human capacity to do harm, both personal and political.
The narrator, Latimer, begins the story with a vision of his death, which he attributes to a heart attack. He explains that, always sensitive after a childhood eye affliction and his mother's death, the further shock of a "severe illness" while at school in Geneva enabled him to see the future, and to hear others' thoughts--an experience which he describes as oppressive. He is fascinated by his brother's fiancée, Bertha, the only human whose thoughts are hidden from him, and whom he marries after his brother dies in a fall.
The marriage falters after Latimer eventually discerns Bertha's cold and manipulative nature through a temporary increase in his telepathy. When Latimer's childhood friend, the scientist Charles Meunier, performs an experimental transfusion between himself and Bertha's just-dead maid, the maid briefly revives and accuses Bertha of plotting to poison Latimer. Bertha moves out, and Latimer dies as foretold.
Helen Reed, a novelist, newly widowed, moves to the University of Gloucester for a semester to teach creative writing. There she meets Ralph Messenger, professor of cognitive science. Their relationship is set within a web of complex professional and family connections, most of which focus on variations of adultery. Everyone has a secret. Helen learns by reading the novel-in-progress of one of her students that the student had had an affair with her husband.
Ralph, awkwardly involved with a Czech grad student who is trying to blackmail him, is regularly unfaithful to his wife, who is in turn having an affair. Another scientist is addicted to on-line child pornography. Helen and Ralph eventually become lovers, until Ralph is found to have a lump on his liver (which later turns out not to be cancer) and then betrays Helen by reading her private journals. She then returns to London and he remains with his wife.
Nan Shin was an American woman living as a Zen Buddhist nun in France. She is diagnosed with advanced uterine cancer, undergoes surgery and chemotherapy and, by the end of the book, it appears, is dying. Her account does not, however, take the conventional form of the illness narrative; in fact its form might be called anti-narrative, for its focus is not on the story of Shin's illness and dying, but rather on the "every day living" that is at the center of her Zen beliefs.
The book consists of several strands that recur in alternating sections. One strand describes, in minute detail, the course of a single day's devotions and activities in the life of a Zen nun. Another traces the author's travels in the United States with her sensei, an astonishing man whose perspective on American culture is both detached and hilariously insightful.
A third tells of the author's frequent horseback rides through the French countryside, with beautifully focused and precise descriptions of the natural surroundings. Finally, there is the illness, presented matter-of-factly but conveying powerfully the author's (not always wholly successful) efforts to put into practice, in such trying circumstances, all she has learnt as a practitioner of Zen.
The author, an internist and medical educator with a long-term interest in literature (she recently was awarded a Ph.D. in English literature), describes the literary exercise she uses to develop empathy in students taking her required course in medical interviewing. Charon has her students choose a difficult medical encounter from their own recent training and then write, using the first person, the story of that patient’s life in the day before the difficulty--including being treated by the medical student who is doing the writing. Because much of the story must be imagined, the writer’s intuition is automatically brought into play.
Because it is told from the patient’s point of view, the medical student is forced to see the patient whole and without reference to medical terms. Charon argues that this exercise of the imagination yields a combination of objectivity and empathy that forms the basis for good medical care. She also finds that the exercise helps medical students see themselves as their patients see them--and thus to understand, for instance, the effect on their patients of their youth and nervousness.
This book is composed of a series of essays written by Dr. Percy over a period of twenty years from 1954 to 1975. All have been published in journals except the last one, "A Theory of Language." The first one was written before his first novel, The Moviegoer, was published. These all reflect his recurring interest in the nature of human communication.
The first essay, "The Delta Factor," is perhaps the easiest to understand. It has a long subtitle: "How I Discovered the Delta Factor Sitting at my Desk One Summer Day in Louisiana in the 1950's Thinking About an Event in the Life of Helen Keller on Another Summer Day in Alabama in 1887." Percy asks why man feels so sad in the twentieth century; he goes on to state that this book is about two things: man's strange behavior, and man's strange gift of language and how understanding the latter might help understanding of the former.
Percy's view is that man's singular asset, which differentiates him from animals, is language. His interest in language and how children acquire language is almost certainly related to the fact that one of his daughters is deaf, hence also his interest in Helen Keller. Subsequent essays are further approaches to these questions, including the importance of symbolization as an essential act of the mind and a basic human need.
The essay, "The Message in the Bottle" is built around the supposition that a man who is a castaway on an island and has no memory of his past life finds on the shore a series of bottles which contain messages. The man, who has become a useful member of the island community, must decide which messages appear to state empirical facts and which seem to refer to the nature of reality. Dr. Percy sees that the messages can be in some ways like the news of the Christian faith. This fits with his own personal way of dealing with a feeling of alienation by turning to religion. He sees belief in one of the theistic historical religions as a way to redeem man from the catastrophe which has overtaken him. He describes not only himself but also man as a castaway who can recognize his need and have hope that some message might relieve his predicament.
Narrated in the first person, the transforming events of Peter's life as a 15 year old are told years later. The opening paragraphs set the scene: "the older brother who went off to school" leaving "the brilliant . . . mother . . . bereft"; the father, "son of a bankrupt Hudson Valley apple grower"; "the darkening drift and dismay of my parents." Into this family unease steps the local veterinarian, Dr. Mason, whom Peter assists during after-school hours, and who is a sometime dinner guest in his parents' home.
Dr. Mason not only tries to persuade Peter to go into a medical profession, ignoring Peter's interests (writing poetry, reading about mountain climbing) but self-importantly insists on "offering [him] lessons in nothing less than all of life" (63). Dr. Mason, we learn, is singularly unqualified to dispense such lessons. He is, at least in Peter's eyes, overbearing and insensitive in his interactions with the owners of the pets he treats, and perhaps even unethical in his professional decisions. Then, Peter discovers, his mother is having an affair with Dr. Mason (who is also married). It is the burden of this knowledge that drives the narrative.
Warren here supposedly presents the papers of a late friend, detailing the interesting cases he had encountered as a physician. In fact, the "cases" are sensational short stories, presented as a novel due to the framing chapter introducing the narrator's "Early Struggles" to make a living as a physician. Other stories investigate typically Gothic themes like ghosts, duels, graverobbing, elopements, and broken hearts, with other scandalous problems like gambling, dissipation, murder, domestic abuse, and suicide. Medical topics include mental illness, epilepsy, hysterical paralysis ("catalepsy"), cancer, toothache, consumption, syphilis, heart disease, alcoholism, disease of the spine, gout, amaurosis (blindness), puerperal hemorrhage, measles, and stroke ("apoplexy").
The narrator, a writer, prides himself on his astute review of Hugh Vereker's latest novel. Vereker dismisses his efforts, explaining that all critics have "missed my little point," "the particular thing I've written my books most for," "the thing for the critic to find," "my secret," "like a complex figure in a Persian carpet." The narrator racks his brains and, in desperation, tells his friend Corvick of the puzzle. Corvick and his novelist fiancée, Gwendolyn, pursue "the trick" without success until Corvick, traveling alone in India, wires Gwendolyn and the narrator "Eureka! Immense."
He refuses, however, to divulge the secret to Gwendolyn until after they are married, and then dies in a car crash. Since Gwendolyn refuses to share her knowledge, the narrator speculates, "the figure in the carpet [was] traceable or describable only for husbands and wives--for lovers supremely united." She marries Drayton Deane, and after her death, the narrator approaches Deane to discover the secret. But Deane is surprised and humiliated by the news of his wife's great "secret," and he and the narrator conclude by sharing the same throbbing curiosity.
The first chapter of this memoir consists of two words: "I exaggerate." The narrator then tells us the story of her childhood and early adult experiences as an epileptic. After having her first seizure, at the age of ten, she spends a month at a special Catholic school in Topeka, Kansas, where the nuns teach epileptic children to fall without hurting themselves. This falling may or may not be literal; it is certainly symbolically apt.
During adolescence, Lauren begins lying, stealing, and faking seizures to get attention. She reveals that she has developed Munchausen's Syndrome, whose sufferers are "makers of myths that are still somehow true, the illness a conduit to convey real pain" (88). A neurologist, Dr. Neu, performs surgery severing Lauren's corpus callosum, effectively dividing her brain in half and markedly alleviating the seizure disorder.
Later she attends a writer's workshop where she begins an affair with a married man, a writer much older than she. After it ends badly, she starts going to Alcoholics Anonymous (although she does not drink) and tells her story with such authenticity that when she later confesses that she is NOT an alcoholic, no-one believes her, dismissing her true story as denial. The memoir ends both with her recognition of the value of narrating and with a silent fall to the snowy ground, as the nuns taught her to do, in the knowledge that the sense of falling (rather than the material certainty of landing) is all that is finally, reliably, real.