Essay #2

Healing in Ethnography and Literature

ANTH 272/ENGL 264

Spring 2020 | Prompts for Essay #2

Due Friday, March 27, by 11:59 p.m. – upload to Website (Assignments for Grant’s Sections) or Sakai (for Julio’s sections)


Instructions: For this assignment, we are asking you to write a 4-5 page analytical paper (formatted double-spaced, in 12 pt font, with full bibliographic references at the end).

You will focus your essay on works by one or more of these writers/artists: Jean-Dominique Bauby, Peter Dunlap-Stohl, Julian Schnabel, Joyce Sutphen, Mary Oliver, Robin Morgan.

Choose one of the topics listed below.  In crafting your essay, please make sure to quote directly from the texts and use one or more techniques of close reading. This is essential: make sure to use, and discuss, evidence. This may include dropping images into your paper, but remember that images also need your “glossing” (discussion and interpretation). Pictures do not speak for themselves!

  1. Portraying Parkinson’s:

Do some background reading on Parkinson’s Disease. Then, focusing on My Degeneration and Robin Morgan’s poems about Parkinson’s, write an essay that examines the portrait of the condition that emerges from these works. How do the writers “re-purpose” the language of biomedicine – what Mattingly calls “chart talk” – in their portrayals? What is revealed through the artful deployment of metaphor, imagination, word-play, personification, hyperbole, and other techniques? Robin Morgan urges that she finds the subject matter of Parkinson’s “tragic, hilarious, and sometimes joyful”– is there an unrealistic optimism in these first-person accounts of living with a disease that is (as Dunlap-Stohl writes) “progressive, disabling, incurable”?


2. Disability, Social Roles, and Dignity:

Anthropologists study disability as a lens through which we can understand how specific societies create norms and expectations for inclusion, and how they treat people who do not conform to these constructed norms. The memoirs we have read by Bauby and Dunlop-Stohl provide insights into societal expectations regarding what is considered necessary for living a “dignified life.” These memoirs also reveal how each author copes with the threat that their disabling condition may lead them to lose social status and face social exclusion/abandonment.  Write an essay examining how one or both of these memoirs illuminates these issues, highlighting the author or authors’ strategies for retaining their sense of dignity amidst enormous physical transformations.

3. Thinking with Pictures:

A key aspect of modern biomedicine is the clinical gaze, which places the emphasis on vision as a key epistemology. First x-rays, and now CT scans and MRIs, produce images that show the marks of disease hidden within the body. Yet in the process the patient’s experience can be obscured. We have examined how narrative can remedy this by giving voice to the experience of illness from the first-person perspective. Now we have two works – one a film, the other a graphic memoir – that also use images to portray the experience of illness. Write a paper in which you focus on two or more key moments in Schnabel’s film and Dunlap-Stohl’s memoir to examine the role of these visual forms in illuminating what it is like to live with a particular condition. What is “lit up” by being cast into pictorial form; what is obscured (if anything) through an emphasis on picturing illness? Note that the selection of scenes will be important for your essay.

4. Poetry and the Body

Robin Morgan in her TEDtalk writes of falling in love with poetry, with “the rhythms and the music of language, with the power of metaphor and of imagery, poetry being the essence of communication, the discipline, the distillation.” Select two or more poems that we have read for this class and examine how they seek to represent the sensuous aspects of the physical body while also giving voice to the less tangible aspects of the human spirit. What do you find are the peculiar affordances of poetry – perhaps the use of rhythm, repetition, ambiguity, imagery, multiple meanings – that make it an expressive form suited to the depiction of illness, pain, healing, mortality?


5. Competence

Why do the authors need to go beyond the “cultural competence” framework and argue for “structural competence”? In composing your essay, first describe and explain the concept of “cultural competence.” Then explain the strengths and weaknesses that Metzl and Hansen identify, and additional concerns you can think of from our class. Finally, describe and explain what the authors mean by “structural competence” and what advantages they see it offering over “cultural competence.”

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