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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2005

T C 357 • Healing Words: The Literature of Medicine & the Medicine of Literature—W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
41135 TTh
2:00 PM-3:30 PM
GEA 114

Course Description

The relationships between medicine and literature are many and varied and as old as the Greeks. Above the door of the Library at Thebes were inscribed the words "Medicine for the Soul," and the methodology of Greek empiricism and Epicurean rhetoric was first formulated in the Hippocratic writings. Milton once discussed tragedy as a kind of homeopathic physic intended to "purge the mind," and George Puttenham thought his "poetic lamentations" acted therapeutically by "making the very grief itself cure of the disease." John Keats, Anton Chekhov, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and William Carlos Williams all had medical training, and countless other physicians, such as Richard Seltzer and Oliver Sacks, have written about their practices in ways more literary than scientific. This course will examine works by, about, and for doctors. In it we will explore how the "medical arts" developed historically into what we now consider the "science of medicine." Along the way we will look at how medical issues inevitably involve historically specific cultural biases and, at times, disguise these biases in the supposedly neutral terms of an empirical discourse. We will also examine how some doctors have sought to expand the boundaries of their practice by exploring the literary arts. Student projects will include an examination of contemporary issues such as alternative medical practices, the relationship between the mind and healing, and the AIDS crisis.

About the Professor Brian A. Bremen is an Associate Professor in the English department, specializing in American Literature, Modernism, and Literary Theory. He is the author of William Carlos Williams and the Diagnostics of Culture, articles on W.E.B. DuBois, Jean Toomer, and James Joyce, and the former editor of the William Carlos Williams Review. He is currently at work on a book that examines the ways in which contemporaneous religious and scientific thought interacted in the formation of Modern literature, tentatively called What Was Modernism (and Does It Still Matter)? An avid surfer of the Internet since 1992, Bremen is presently archiving graphic, audio, and video material to aid in the instruction of large lecture sections of 316K, Masterworks in American Literature, and experimenting with ways in which to introduce web-based instruction in large lecture classes. A fan of all kinds of music, he is interested in some day working on a book that examines the ways in which popular music and populist politics intersect in the songs of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen.

Grading Policy

This course contains a substantial writing component. Students will write a series of short papers (2 pages), and give a brief presentation (15 min.) based on a longer, research paper (10-12 pages). Short papers may be revised and resubmitted before the next paper is due. Grades will be based on class participation (15%), as well as on the above requirements (short papers—45%; presentation—10%; final paper—30%).


Daniel Defoe, The Journal of the Plague Year Barbara Ehrenreich and Deidre English, The Sexual Politics of Sickness Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper" G. E. R. Lloyd (ed.), Hippocratic Writings S. Weir Mitchell, The Autobiography of a Quack Mary Shelley, Frankenstein Samuel Shem, The House of God Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor William Carlos Williams, The Doctor Stories Virginia Woolf, "On Being Ill" Selected poems by John Keats, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, William Carlos Williams, and others.


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