ENGLI531-21A (HAM)

Special Topic: Literature and the Medicalised Body

30 Points

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Division of Arts Law Psychology & Social Sciences
School of Arts


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Paper Description

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‘Odd to think that the piece of you I know best is already dead. The cells on the surface of your skin are thin and flat without blood-vessels or nerve-endings.’ – Jeanette Winterson, ‘The Cells, Tissues, Systems and Cavities of the Body’.

This paper explores literature’s engagement with the medicalised body and mind, mapping out the arts’ responses to medical advances from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. We will study late nineteenth-century reactions to the scare of germs, nervous disorders, and homosexuality, engage with shell shock and pregnancy in modernist texts, move through dark periods of eugenics and plagues, and arrive at contemporary engagements with immune diseases and cancer. Incorporating novels, short stories, plays, and poetry, this paper will also draw on philosophical and medical texts to engage with illnesses and disorders in the body, mind, and nation-state.

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Paper Structure

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This paper has one three-hour workshop every Thursday. We have a room available to us, and at the time of writing we can hold the seminars in person. Should anyone not be able to attend, do let me know, and we can discuss ways of accommodating remote access. In-person discussions are preferable, but if this paper is open to anyone who needs to participate in an online capacity.

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Learning Outcomes

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Students who successfully complete the paper should be able to:

  • Undertake close readings of literary prose
    Linked to the following assessments:
  • Successfully read and comprehend theoretical texts and relate those theories to the literary texts in original ways
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  • Engage with literary texts as works reflecting specific interests in and anxieties about the body
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  • Relate medical understandings to the periods in which they happened, and specifically to the literature of that period
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  • Understand the ways in which illnesses and the body can be utilised by critical and creative writers as structuring metaphors
    Linked to the following assessments:
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All work must use proper referencing and include a full bibliography of works cited. The English Programme at Waikato prefers students
to use MHRA (footnotes) referencing systems.

A full MHRA style guide can be downloaded for free from the MHRA website (www.mhra.org.uk/Publications/Books/StyleGuide/

The library page also has useful information on MHRA: https://www.waikato.ac.nz/library/study/referencing/styles/mhra

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Assessment Components

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The internal assessment/exam ratio (as stated in the University Calendar) is 100:0. There is no final exam. The final exam makes up 0% of the overall mark.

The internal assessment/exam ratio (as stated in the University Calendar) is 100:0 or 0:0, whichever is more favourable for the student. The final exam makes up either 0% or 0% of the overall mark.

Component DescriptionDue Date TimePercentage of overall markSubmission MethodCompulsory
1. Leading a Discussion
  • In Class: In Lecture
2. Essay 1
16 Apr 2021
5:00 PM
  • Online: Submit through Moodle
3. Reflections 2 x 5 marks each
  • Online: Submit through Moodle
4. Presentation
3 Jun 2021
12:00 PM
  • In Class: In Lecture
5. Essay 2
18 Jun 2021
5:00 PM
  • Online: Submit through Moodle
Assessment Total:     100    
Failing to complete a compulsory assessment component of a paper will result in an IC grade
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Required and Recommended Readings

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Required Readings

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Novels and longer works - please purchase or borrow these:

Susan Sontag, Illness as metaphor and Aids and its Metaphors (1978)

Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847)

Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (1925)

Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)

Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau (1936)

Albert Camus, The Plague, trans. Stuart Gilbert (1947)

Margaret Edson, W;t: A Play (1999)

Eula Bliss, On Immunity: An Inoculation (2014).

Shorter fiction and essays - available on reading lists:

Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, ‘What Can Narrative Theory Learn from Illness Narratives?’, Literature and Medicine, 25.2 (2006): 241-254.

Jeanette Winterson, ‘The Cells, Tissues, Systems and Cavities of the Body’, Granta 39 (1992): np.

Peter Conrad, ‘Medicalisation: Context, Characteristics, and Changes’, in The Medicalization of Society: On the Transformation of Human Conditions into Treatable Disorders (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), pp. 3-19.

Ivan Dalley Crozier, ‘The Medical Construction of Homosexuality and its Relation to the Law in Nineteenth Century England’, Medical History, 45 (2001): 61-82.

Elaine Showalter, ‘Victorian Women and Insanity’, in Madhouses, Mad-Doctors, and Madmen: The Social History of Psychiatry in the Victorian Era, ed. Andrew Scull (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), pp. 313-336.

Charlotte Gilmore Perkins, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories (New York: Dover Publications, 1997), pp. 1-16.

Daylanne K. English, 'Introduction', in Unnatural Selections: Eugenics in American Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004), pp. 10-33

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, in Collected Poems 1909-1962 (London: Faber and Faber, 2002), pp. 53-76.

Layne Parish Craig, ‘Introduction: Setting Motherhood Free’, in When Sex Changed: Birth Control Politics and Literature Between the World Wars (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2013), pp. 1-21.

Elizabeth Outka, '"Wood for the Coffins Ran Out": Modernism and the Shadowed Afterlife of the Influenza Pandemic', Modernism/modernity 21.4 (2014), 937-960

Emily Martin, ‘Toward an Anthropology of Immunology: The Body as Nation State’, Medical Anthropology Quarterly 4.4 (1990): 410-426.

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Online Support

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Essays and short stories are available on the Reading Lists page for ENGL531.

The novels need to be purchased or borrowed from the library. Some are out of copyright and can be read on Project Gutenberg, but students who work from paper copies tend to get higher marks.

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This is a 30 point paper, which means that it comprises 50% of a full-time load, or two undergraduate papers. You should aim to spend the equivalent of about 15 hours a week, not including our seminar time, on reading, research and writing for this paper.

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Linkages to Other Papers

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Restricted papers: ENGL531

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