L240 2075 WOODCOCK
Literature and Public Life

2:30p-3:45p TR (30) 3 cr.


This course is devoted to a consideration of cultural issues, interpersonal situations, and problems of values or ethics that are characteristic of modern medicine. Students from any discipline who have an interest in medicine are encouraged to consider the course. Being sick and healing the sick are experiences that can reach far technical and narrow professional matters to engage our emotions, our metaphysics, and our moral and ethical sense. In this course we will explore these non-scientific dimensions of medicine by reading and discussing a selection of literary and autobiographical works that emphasize the cultural and experiential aspects of illness and medical practice. Most of our authors are doctors or patients, and some are both.

Our discussions will move from the concrete situations presented in the reading to consideration of the personal, social, and ethical questions these experiences raise for patients and medical professionals. Some likely areas of discussion: the personal and social meanings of illness and recovery, cultural images of the physician, varieties of patient-physician relationships, and patients' and physicians' rights and responsibilities. Students should finish the course with a broad awareness of important non-technical factors in medical situations, and with some clarity about the place of these factors in effective health care.

The reading list, while not final, will contain many of these works: Virginia Axline, Dibs: In Search of Self; Norman Cousins, Anatomy of an Illness; Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People; Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted; Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Illych; Joyce Wadler, My Breast; and William Carlos Williams, The Doctor Stories. We will read a number of shorter works, for which there will be a modest duplication charge, and we will see two or three films with medical themes.