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Co-authored by a Professor of English Literature and her physician husband, a Professor of Medicine, this is a readable interdisciplinary commentary on fourteen operas (19th and 20th century) in which particular diseases are represented, including mostly epidemic infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, syphilis, cholera, and AIDS. The analysis of each opera combines solid literary analysis of language and metaphors with fascinating historical information on the contemporaneous medical understandings of the diseases, and a sophisticated discussion of the social, sexual and cultural representations of these diseases.
The most persuasive chapters include "The Tubercular Heroine" in La Boheme, and La Traviata; "Syphilis, Suffering and Social Order" in Parsifal; "The Pox Revisited" in 20th century operas, Lulu and Rake’s Progress; the final chapter, "Life-and-Death Passion" compares theatrical representations of AIDS in Angels in America (see annotation) with cholera, TB, and syphilis.
A child of a beautiful, talented woman and ambiguous paternity craves learning. Adopted by a Spanish officer and an "uncle" who is a painter, s/he is sent off to Edinburgh as a pedagogic experiment to become James Barry, a male medical student. Barry adores the vivacious Alice, an illiterate but intelligent servant, whom he teaches to read.
Later as a doctor and medical officer, he travels the world to the Crimea, to the Caribbean, to South Africa and America, a scion of society and a good scientist. By happy fortune, he lives in retirement with Alice, who has become a famous actress. The book ends with the scandalous revelation of Barry's femininity when his body is laid to rest.
In this poem, a young male patient receives stitches in an emergency room for a face wound from an alleyway knife fight. It seems the violence involved drugs, as a "broken syringe" is involved in the fight. However, more telling is the label that the ER doctor uses to describe the patient. The narrator of the poem, apparently an exhausted physician-in-training, is told by the ER doctor to quickly "Stitch up the faggot in bed 6."
The narrator meticulously sews his patient's wound, empathizing completely with him: "Each suture thrown reminded me I would never be safe / in that town." He too, could be ripped open "to see the dirty faggot inside." Furthermore, he ruminates that when the perpetrators of such violence themselves become victims, he would also stitch their wounds--silently, carefully, passively, "like an old woman."
Adolph Myers (aka Wing Biddlebaum) is an aging former schoolmaster who is noted in his Ohio town for the incessant activity of his nervous hands. For twenty years Wing has isolated himself from nearly everyone except for young George, whom he wishes to educate about life much as Socrates had shared his experience with the young men at his feet. In a moment of inspiration, the old man laid his hands upon the boy's shoulders. Suddenly he turned and hurried away, saying that he could no longer talk with his friend.
The story then moves into Wing's past to explain the events of his young days as Adolph, the school master in Pennsylvania. Myers was driven from his school and home by a bevy of men who accused him of perverted behavior towards the pupils whose shoulders he stroked and hair he touched in his effort to carry a dream into the boys' young minds. Thus ended the teacher's career and developed his lifelong attempt to still his nervous hands.
Attorney Rebecka Martinsson returns to her northern Swedish home to recover from a traumatic experience. She becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of Mildred, a woman priest who was found hanging from a beam in her own church. The investigating police office, Anna Maria Mella, meets opposition, especially from the local organization of hunters, who clearly resented Mildred for having offered shelter on the church lands to a stray wolf.
It is clear that Nalle, a large, mentally challenged boy, was close to the dead priest, and that his single parent father Lars-Gunnar did not appreciate their friendship. Nalle begins to trust Rebecka, as he trusted Mildred, and he appears to know something. But Anna Maria learns that Mildred had another enemy in her jealous, male colleague; moreover, some of the women in town resented her freedoms.
The many historical and personal ways in which the members of this isolated community are entwined becomes part of the investigation, but before it is complete Mella is confronted with two more murders and two suicides.
Summary:Minna Bernays is the younger sister of Martha, Sigmund Freud's wife. Her own fiancé has died and by 1895, she is reduced to joining her sister’s family in Vienna because she has abandoned her position as a companion to a demanding, prejudiced aristocrat. The six Freud children love her, but she finds them exhausting and undisciplined. Obsessed with order, housework, and social standing, and possibly suffering from psychosomatic ailments, Martha is happy to leave the care of the children to Minna. She disapproves of her husband’s theories about sexual frustration as a cause of mental distress and refuses to discuss his ideas. Nevertheless, Martha is well aware that growing anti-semitism hampers her husband’s career, and she is eager for him to succeed: he could consider a conversion of convenience, like the composer Gustav Mahler.
Summary:Stitches is a beautifully crafted graphic novel by award winning writer and illustrator David Small. The memoir chronicles Smalls’ life with chronic illness, focusing on his experience as a child and adolescent with cancer in the setting of an abusive upbringing. We learn through the eyes of a child what being a patient is like, and how, despite all odds Small was able to use art as a way to make a normal life for himself.
Angels in America is really two full-length plays. Part I: Millennium Approaches won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. This play explores "the state of the nation"--the sexual, racial, religious, political and social issues confronting the country during the Reagan years, as the AIDS epidemic spreads.
Two of the main characters have AIDS. One, Prior, is a sane, likeable man who wonders if he is crazy as he is visited by ghosts of his ancestors, and selected by angels to be a prophet (but the audience sees the ghosts and angels too). The other main character, Roy Cohn, based on the real political figure, is a hateful powerbroker who refuses the diagnosis of AIDS because only powerless people get that sickness.
A rabbi opens the play, saying that in the American "melting pot" nothing melts; three Mormons try to reconcile their faith with the facts of their lives. Belize, an African-American gay nurse, is the most compassionate and decent person in the play, along with Hannah, the Mormon mother who comes to New York to try to untangle the mess of her son and daughter-in-law’s marriage. In contrast to their commitment, Prior’s lover, Louis, abandons him in cowardly fear of illness. The play portrays a wide range of reactions to illness, both by the patients and by those around them. Included is the realization that much of the nation’s reaction is political and prejudiced.
The second play, Part II: Perestroika (winner of a Tony Award), continues the story, with the angel explaining to Prior that God has abandoned his creation, and that Prior has been chosen to somehow stop progress and return the world to the "good old days." Prior tells the angel he is not a prophet; he’s a lonely, sick man. "I’m tired to death of being tortured by some mixed-up, irresponsible angel. . . Leave me alone."
Ironically, Belize is Roy Cohn’s nurse, as Cohn--even as he is dying in his hospital bed--tries to manipulate the system to get medication and special treatment, and to trick the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg into singing him a lullaby. Meanwhile, the Mormon mother, Hannah, manages to help save the sanity and integrity of her daughter-in-law, Harper; and she also is a good caregiver for Prior.
At the end of the play, we see Prior, Louis, Belize, and Hannah sitting on the rim of the fountain in Central Park with the statue of the Bethesda angel. They say that when the Millennium came, everyone who was "suffering, in the body or the spirit, [and] walked through the waters of the fountain of Bethesda, would be healed, washed clean of pain."
These four characters represent Jews and Christians and agnostics; homosexuals and heterosexuals; blacks and whites; men and women; caregivers and patients; two generations--the American mix, in this case, caring about each other. Somehow, although the real angels in this play seem inept and reactionary, these folks together at the Bethesda angel fountain seem competent contributors to the future.
American Beauty, a story about Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), his family, and his neighbors, is both comic and tragic. In addition to a loveless marriage, an unhappy teen-age daughter, and an unimaginative, routine job, Lester is worried about aging. Nothing has turned out as expected. From the outside, all seems ideal: the white-framed house, the well-tended red roses, and the white picket fence. As illustrated by meal time settings, a highly-charged cold war atmosphere prevails inside the house. Lester and his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening), a realtor, cannot stand each other and their daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), has no desire to be with either of them.
From the onset, Lester’s narrating voice tells us that he will be dead in a year. He has no illusions about the repressive nature of his life and decides, unilaterally, that abrupt changes are in order. His scripted family role is cast aside as he quits his job, lusts after his daughter’s sexy friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), and smokes an illegal substance with Ricky (Wes Bentley), a teen-ager who has moved in next door.
Uncharacteristic of his customary, go-along behavior, the new, rebellious Lester throws a plate of asparagus against the wall during dinner, drinks beer while lounging on the expensive off-limits couch, works as a cook and waiter at a local fast food restaurant, and begins a body building program so as to impress and seduce Angela. Meanwhile, Carolyn has an affair with a competing realtor and Jane falls in love with Ricky.
Two gay men, who are thoughtful and kind, live on one side of the Burnhams; on the other side, Ricky lives with another version of disturbed parents: an abused and deeply depressed mother and a retired, Marine father (Chris Cooper) who bullies his son, is expressively homophobic, and collects guns and Nazi era memorabilia.
The lives of these characters, many of them familiar to viewers, gain in intensity as various threads cross to produce an unresolvable knot.
The poems in physician Rafael Campo's latest collection examine familiar themes: lost homelands, the agonies of patients and providers, local and global abuses, love and betrayal, of both the heart and the body. In this book, Campo expands these themes, writing of child abuse, war, and the certainties and uncertainties of maturing love. As in his earlier collections, Campo investigates these themes in poems that are expertly crafted and often in form, as if form might contain this poet's empathic and deeply felt connection to the world. While Campo has always been a reliable witness, especially to the world of healthcare, in this volume his vision becomes even more incantatory, paradoxical and mature. The narrator's personal losses and responsibilities expand into the universal, into a world that cries out to us to care, to act, to heal, to notice, to tell, to "realize the human" (92).
Divided into four sections, the first section begins with a poem, "Dialogue with Sun and Poet," dedicated to June Jordan, a deceased activist and poet whose poems once made Campo uncomfortable but now mobilize him to "arise." Following poems tell of local abuses--an abused woman ("Addressed to Her"), the displacement of memory ("Elsa, Varadero, 1934" and "Night Has Fallen"), the crushing of the spirit ("Personal Mythology") and the reality of evil, evil that calls poets to "refuse nostalgia's reassurance that the way was clear" ("Brief Treatise on the New Millennial Poetics"). This section ends with a translation from Neruda's "Book of Questions," a poem that asks if we are in control and if we are indeed capable of change (22).
In the second section, Campo takes us, in sonnets, through "Eighteen Days in France," another country and yet one in which he is still haunted by melancholy, by both sadness and joy--when one sees clearly one cannot leave behind suffering or the potential for suffering. These sonnets speak of loss, fear, doubt and death grounded in moments of pure happiness.
The book's third section, "Toward a Theory of Memory," opens with another masterful Neruda translation, one that speaks of love's convolutions, "just as life is of two minds" (47). Following are exceptionally beautiful poems that speak of the misuse of love and power ("Granymede, to Zeus") and of the deep joy and deep complications of long-married love (see especially "The Story of Us").
Section Four, "Dawn, New Age," is a collection of laments for human selfishness, for war, for the inevitable passage of time, for the emotional depressions we might lose ourselves in, for the patients we cannot cure. In "Tuesday Morning," the poet says, "No poet cares / for such deceptions anymore, and words / don't cure" (93). Perhaps words alone cannot cure, but these poems, intelligent and very often incredibly beautiful, can sustain us and remind us that only human connection, human love might help us survive.