Aging, Illness, Death and Mourning: Narratives of Disability cancelled
Disability Theory has worked to destigmatize and to understand the full potential of states of living at variance with our notions of a living body in full health and mobility, with all common capacities intact. This course will work to both examine such thought and then extend such work to help us face and analyze our responses to highly stigmatized disabilities that most of us inevitably face: aging, illness, and what might be thought of as the ultimate states of non-ability: dying and death. Is the state of mourning faced by those who live with and continue on beyond the deaths of others a form of disability? The goal of this course is to closely analyze a limited number of texts and films in order to confront, familiarize, and enrich our comprehension of and compassion for the aging, ill, and dying. Our society stigmatizes and secludes the old and infirm beyond sight, out of mind. How can we not only respect but build and maintain close relationships with the elderly, who might trigger fears of our own vulnerability? We will look at fiction and film in which young people maintain warm relationships with the aged, as in The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson (1972) and Gerontophilia (La Bruce, 2013). Diagnosed with cancer, poet Audre Lorde continued to write poems and memoir and cultivate community. We will read Cory Taylor’s recently published memoir, Dying (2017). Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. (Weerasethakul, 2010), a Thai film, tells a tale of both peaceful dying and the unthreatening return of the dead.
Survivors must grieve; such is a form of temporary, necessary disability. We will turn to works of mourning-in-process such as Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking(2005), her Blue Nights (2011), Allen Ginsburg's Kaddish, and Agha Shahid Ali’s poem “Lenox Hill.” We turn to Charles Darwin, harbinger of death as mere organic process in Darwin’s Worms, in which Adam Phillips (1999) tells the story of Darwin’s process of grieving after the loss of beloved daughter Annie. We will read extensively from recent books on geriatric and palliative care that explore how to improve such care and respect and honor the dignity of the aged and dying. We will sample from these prescriptive works such as The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America by Ann Neumann, 2017 to Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (2014). We will consider the question of euthanasia through Amour (Haneke, 2013) and Still Alice (Glatzer, Westmoreland 2013). We will print and practice the completion of our own living wills / health directives after watching Wit (Nichols, 2001). Students will complete two brief take-home exams, design and complete a final research project, and engage in vigorous, exploratory classroom discussion.