How can we imagine what it is like to live inside a body that looks drastically different from other bodies? What happens when a community gets sick, and no one takes responsibility? What happens when the mind ceases to serve the body and spirit it lives in? What is it like to live with dying, as a doctor, or a patient, or both?
In this course, we’ll read novels, short stories, plays, poems and memoirs that explore the experience of illness – physical and mental, in isolation, and as part of an ailing community. The texts come from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, primarily from America and England.
Some may be familiar – Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for example. Others have become (deservedly) well-known recently, including Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal and Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. You’ll have a chance to re-read and re-think some of the books.
The course will be a mixture of lecture and discussion. The discussion will often grow from your writing. Class participation is required. Assignments include very brief in-class writing, a mid-term paper and a final project.
This course is open to anyone who wonders about how illness and narrative shape each other.
You need no previous experience with literature, only patience and curiosity.