English 3633

Literature and Medicine
Fall 2005
TTh 2:30-3:50

Dr. Elizabeth McKim Usual Office Hours: T-Th 4:00-5:00
322 Edmund Casey Hall Other times by appointment or by chance.
(506) 452-0448
Mailbox: EC302

Literature and Medicine is a well-established interdisciplinary field of study that has been carried out both in medical school and liberal arts settings since the 1960s. More than just a combination of the literary and the medical, the field explores the complementarity and the conflicts between the disciplines. Like literature, medicine is concerned with stories that derive from the mythologies, values, assumptions, and ideologies of their tellers, and the kinds of analyses that scholars of literature apply to other texts can be productively applied to patients' and physicians' accounts of illness and healing. Unlike literature, however, medicine must always remain grounded in the often painful factuality of the body, and herein lies one of the primary tensions explored in the study of literature and medicine: illness as construct versus illness as concrete reality.

Through a combination of lecture and discussion, this course will examine the writings of patients and physicians to discover the narrative modes they use, the explicit and implicit functions their narratives serve, and the role of narrative in developing or maintaining their identities. Students will also be introduced to the large body of theoretical writing that has been produced in the area of literature and medicine.

This course will be of interest to students majoring or honouring in English as a study of the communicative and therapeutic functions of literature, the latter an important aspect rarely addressed in English curricula. It will also be of interest to students planning to pursue medicine, or any of the helping professions, given its focus on the reading and understanding of different authorial perspectives.


The English 3633 Literature and Medicine coursepack is available at the university Bookstore.

Literature and Medicine and The Journal of Medical Humanities, the main journals in the field, are available in electronic form through the library.

The main scholarly web site in the field, the Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database, is maintained at New York University. Get to know it well! http://endeavor.med.nyu.edu/lit-med/lit-med-db/index.html

Other relevant sites:

Columbia University's program in narrative medicine:
See especially the videos of the Spring 2003 conference.

Hiram College Center for Literature, Medicine, and the Health Care Professions

Medical Humanities Resource Database At University College, London

Wellcome Trust History of Medicine Resources

Wellcome Trust General Resources


Weekly Writing 20%
Annotated Bibliography 30%
Illness Narrative 40%
Participation 10%

Weekly Writing. Most weeks, you'll be asked to do a page or more of informal writing about one of the texts we're studying. You'll be provided with your assignment one week in advance. Occasionally, you'll be summarizing a theoretical text; sometimes, you'll be applying that theory to a literary text. You'll receive full credit simply for handing in an acceptable assignment. We'll often use the assignments as the basis of discussion on the day they are due.

Annotated Bibliography. Due approximately halfway through the course, your annotated bibliography will consist of summaries of ten essays found in Literature and Medicine or the Journal of Medical Humanities. Issues of both journals, from 1995 and 1997 respectively, are available online through the Harriet Irving Library. Detailed instructions will be provided in class.

Illness Narrative. At one time or another, we have all been ill, whether from a sports injury, a chronic condition, or even the flu. Your task, as a demonstration that you have understood the concepts presented throughout the course, is to write an autobiographical illness narrative. Should that be impossible because you have always been disgustingly healthy, then you may write an autobiographical narrative from the perspective of a caregiver. Should you never have had the experience of caregiving, either, then obtain it between now and then: it's virtually guaranteed that some of your family or friends will fall ill with colds and flu this semester. Narratives will be kept confidential to protect your privacy. Detailed instructions will be provided in class.

Assignments must be submitted on the day they are due. Late weekly work defeats the purpose, so will not be accepted unless you were absent on the day the discussion took place. A late annotated bibliography or illness narrative will be accepted only after prior consultation and the setting of a new due date; I reserve the right not to accept a late submission.

Attendance is required. A sign-up sheet will circulate daily, and it is your responsibility to sign it. Students who miss more than two classes will lose the 10% participation grade. Students who miss more than four classes will receive an F for the course. You are responsible for keeping track of your absences. Missing fewer than two classes does not guarantee that you will receive the full 10%: participation also involves playing an active role in group discussions and providing regular evidence that you have kept up with your reading and thinking.

You are expected to arrive at class on time;
frequent lateness will be reflected in your participation grade.

Topics and Readings
September 8 Introduction and Organization
September 13 The Nature of Narrative
Culler, "Narrative"
Bruner, "Life as Narrative"
Kenyon and Randall, "The Stories of Our Lives"
Charon, "Medical Interpretations: Implications of Literacy
Theory of Narrative for Clinical Work"
Weekly Writing #1
September 15
September 20 O'Connor, "The Lame Shall Enter First"
Olsen, "I Stand Here Ironing"

Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper"
Weekly Writing #2
September 22
September 27

The Clinical Gaze: Doctors' Stories
Coles, "Stories and Theories"
Hunter, "A Case for Narrative"

Meyd, "The Knee"
Williams, "The Use of Force"

Warren, "Outpatient"

Mates, "The Good Doctor"

Grouse, "The Lie"

Selzer, "Imelda"

Weekly Writing #3
September 29
October 4 Weekly Writing #4
October 6
October 11 Weekly Writing #5
October 13
October 18 Annotated Bibliography due
October 20 No class
October 25 The Wounded Storyteller:
Patients' Stories
Hawkins, From Reconstructing Illness
Frank, "Listening to the Ill";
"Illness as a Call for Stories"

Swander, "The Fifth Chair"
Foster, "Little Shelters of Repair"
Dominick, "Pamphlets"
Butala, "Fever"

Jamison, From An Unquiet Mind
Thomas, "Illness"
Sacks, "Becoming a Patient"
Weekly Writing #6
October 27
November 1 Weekly Writing #7
November 3


November 8

Weekly Writing #8
November 10  
November 15

November 17
Body and Mind
Dickinson, Selected poems

Morris, "Living Pain: Mystery or Puzzle?"
Kleinman, "Chronic Pain: The Frustrations of Desire"

South, "Understanding Migraine"
Sacks, "Situational Migraine"

Babylonian Tablet poem
Winscom, Selected poems
Pastan, "Migraine"
Shafer, "Headache"
Bush, "The International Headache Conference"
Butala, "Queen of the Headaches"
Weekly Writing #9
November 22 Weekly Writing #10
November 24
November 29
December 1 Illness Narrative due

English 1006 Introduction to Literature
English 2006 Study of Literature
English 3203 The Sound and Performance of Poetry

Elizabeth McKim / English / Faculty / STU Homepage