Honors | Medicine, Magic and Mortality
H203 | 0009 | Rollins, J.
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.
This course, with the help of ten visitors -- two practicing surgeons, a
local shaman, a cancer patient, an AIDS patient, an organ donor, an organ
recipient, an intensive care nurse, a NY film maker, and a distinguished
scholar of Thomas Mann -- will survey the different ways people have
chosen to write about their experiences with illness and mortality or
illness and recovery.
The class will have several venues on campus, as well as some off campus.
Last semester, while studying American attitudes toward death, we took a
field trip to Shaman Babalawo's "Meditation Gardens" to explore rituals
traditionally used to reconnect people to the spirits of their ancestors,
and, later, while studying organ transplant issues, we visited the IU
medical Center to witness an organ transplant.
The course is multidisciplinary, multicultural and multimedia. In addition
to five cinematic presentations, we will be reading six books, ranging
from Thomas Mann and Simone de Beauvoir to Lucy Grealy and Bill T. Jones.
The class will produce an all-inclusive course video which will attempt to
document all aspects of instruction, discussion, research and student
performances. Portions of all the classes will be taped. The final master
will be copied and given to each member of the class at the end of the
While the class will write Living Wills and two short critical essays, the
major project in the class will be to "adopt" an illness, research it, and
then write a chapter of a fictive pathography. There are no exams. The
instructor, who is himself a kidney transplant, is a Professor of English
at Indiana State University, an adjunct professor of Comparative
Literature, at IU, and a writer and lecturer on organ donation issues.