Honors | Medicine, Magic & Mortality
H203 | 6670 | Jack Rollins
Honors 203 fulfills COAS topics requirement.
If you were suddenly afflicted with a catastrophic illness, would you
feel compelled to write about it? If so, you are a part of a growing
number of Americans who, once confronted by visions of their own
mortality, feel a need to memorialize their experiences in print.
But where are these “memories” coming from? Is this the wax tablet
Plato wrote of, or are these “memories” of the past, now clouded by
Illness simply new ideas coming from clusters of spindle cells in the
insula section of the brain? Who’s talking? Is it the “synaptic
self” or the “soul that makes love and magic possible?”
This course, with the help of several visitors—a surgeon, a cancer
patient, an AIDS patient, an organ donor, an organ recipient, a
transplant surgeon, a rabbi, a curator, as well as several other
health care professional and chronically ill patients—present their
experiences with chronic illness and the choices they have made to
help them face their own mortality.
The class will have several venues on campus, including the Art
Museum, the MAC and others. One semester we visited the IU Medical
Center to witness an organ transplant.
The course is multidisciplinary, multicultural and multimedia. In
addition to cinematic presentations, we will be reading
autopathographies, ranging from Lucy Grealy’s to William Styron’s.
While the class will write Living Wills and two short ciritical
essays, the major project in the class will be to “adopt” an
illness, research it, and then write chapter six of a fictive
There are no exams.
The instructor, who was chronically ill until a kidney transplant,
is a professor in the Honors College and an adjunct professor of
Comparative Literature, English, and African Studies. He has also
written about his own chronic illness.