Literature and Medicine
Literature and medicine share a special affinity, a preoccupation with matters of life and death, health and suffering, and the art and practice of knowing and healing. This survey course takes an interdisciplinary approach to examine the long-standing relationship between these two essential fields of human inquiry. We will consider a wide array of fictional and non-fictional texts—poems, short stories, novels, memoirs, diaries, films, and critical theory—to explore how our perception of illness and medicine has changed over time. We will closely analyze how writers contend with and characterize individual illnesses as well as large-scale epidemics (from the Bubonic Plague to the Flu Pandemic, AIDS to COVID) that have broader cultural, social, and political significance. We will also take a critical look at how dominant norms of race, gender, sexuality, and citizenship inform medical science and discourse. Texts for the course may include: Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, Anton Chekhov, “Ward No. 6”; Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper”; Frederick Wiseman, Hospital; Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals; Bill T. Jones, Still/Here;Susan Sontag, Cancer and Its Metaphors; Todd Haynes, Safe; Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, Eli Clare, Exile and Pride, Harriet Washington, Medical Apartheid. Assignments for the course will include two short essays (5 pages each), a midterm, and a final exam.