How can the arts and humanities make us receptive to human vulnerability? How do they help us develop a capacity to respond to the suffering of others? How does injury and trauma affect one’s relationship to language, memory and society? This course will engage the work of writers, scholars and care providers in mapping a contemporary ethic and politics of care, building upon the recent “ethnographic turn” as well as recent developments in the medical humanities. Through a variety of literary works that foreground themes of compassion, resilience, empathy, and wellbeing, as well as emerging narratives from the COVID-19 pandemic, we will reflect on the therapeutic power of language, and the way in which listening contributes to the complex matrix of things that impacts healing. Throughout the semester we will both engage and collaborate with several projects at Penn, including the Penn Medicine Listening Lab, a storytelling initiative that embraces the power of listening as a form of care; the Rx/Museum Initiative, a Penn Medicine effort to foster clinician well-being through humanistic pedagogy; and the Health Ecologies Lab, a public programming of Penn Social Policy & Practice and Slought.
Course requirements include active preparation, regular attendance, substantive participation in discussions and timely submission of assigned work. Assignments will include weekly postings on Canvas, presentations in class, and a final paper.