I have taught undergraduate writing and literature courses centered around the histories and representations of illness, disability, and health in various sociopolitical contexts. Please find examples of course descriptions below.
E343U: Literature, Health, and Disease (University of Texas at Austin, Fall 2022)
Disease and health are not politically neutral or innocent phenomena, and neither is the practice of medicine. As scholars such as Daniel Headrick have argued, medicine was one of the key “tools of empire” deployed to justify colonial occupation and exploitation. How do postcolonial or “Global Anglophone” novelists, poets, and memoirists reconceive the histories of illness, medical practice, and extractive biomedical research in former colonies of Euro-American empires and among marginalized or colonized communities today? What does it mean to apply a postcolonial approach to illness and the discourses of health and medicine that still hold so much sway on contemporary life? How are certain diseases racialized? This course shall take up these important questions, attempting to answer them through the sustained close reading of key texts in postcolonial theory, postcolonial historiography, and contemporary postcolonial literature. We shall strive to be geographically diverse and inclusive in our reading, covering scholarly and literary voices from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, the Caribbean, and minority U.S., as well as genres such as the novel, the short story, poetry, and the memoir. Assignments will comprise quizzes, online discussion posts, an in-class group presentation, and three essays of varying length.
Tstisti Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions, Seal Press, ISBN 1-58005-134-0
Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I’m Dying, Vintage Press, ISBN 10: 1400034302
Amitav Ghosh, The Calcutta Chromosome, Perennial, ISBN 0-380-97585-8
Hanya Yanagihara, The People in the Trees, Anchor Books, ISBN 978-0-345-80331-3
Additional readings will be provided by the instructor.
E350V: Physicians and their Fictions (University of Texas at Austin, Winter 2023)
The great Russian short story writer Anton Chekhov once quipped: “Medicine is my lawful wife
and literature is my mistress.” The modernist poet William Carlos Williams is known to have
written poems on his medical notepad and wrote a short story–”The Use of Force,” about a male
physician’s violent diagnostic encounter with a little girl–that has become required reading in
medical humanities courses. In British popular writer and lapsed physician W. Somerset
Maugham’s novel The Painted Veil, the breakup of a physician’s marriage takes place amid a
cholera epidemic in colonial Hong Kong and China. In this course, we will examine the writings
of Chekhov’s, Williams’s, and Maugham’s literary descendants: contemporary physicians who
write fiction and poetry. While analyzing how these authors’ medical training informs their
literary imaginations (and vice versa), we will also scrutinize the gender politics of these authors.
Why is it that so many of these physician-authors are men? Even going back to Chekhov,
Maugham, and Williams, what does it mean that they frame medicine and literature in the
register of male heterosexual relations? As historian of science Ludmilla Jordanova showed
vividly in Sexual Visions, medical discourse from its inception performs an ethos of “unveiling”
the secrets of a feminized “Nature.” We will analyze all these intersections but also see how
contemporary authors trouble them—for instance, how do postcolonial and openly queer
authors resist the conflation of the clinical, the colonial, and the straight male gazes?
Rafael Campo, What the Body Told.
Daniel Mason, The Piano Tuner.
Vikram Paralkar, Night Theater.
Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone.
C. Dale Young, The Affliction.
ENG 125: “On Being Ill”: Writing Sickness and Health (University of Michigan, Winter 2019)
What does it mean to be ill, and what does it mean to be healthy? How have writers depicted illnesses, real or imagined, in their work? And how have others reflected on healing? Susan Sontag famously began her monograph Illness as Metaphor (1978) as follows: “Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” In this section of English 125 we will explore these two “kingdoms” through numerous genres of writing, including memoir, personal and argumentative essays, literary criticism, historical narrative, and some poetry and fiction. Authors will include Sontag, Joan Didion, Audre Lorde, Randolph Bourne, Virginia Woolf, Mark Doty, Danez Smith, Atul Gawande, William Carlos Williams, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Eula Biss, and others. The focus shall primarily be on how these authors achieve their rhetorical effects and how we can emulate these techniques to make our own writing clear, concise, and engaging. We shall also think about and discuss how experiences of illness and health are not monolithic and self-evident but are constituted through social, historical, and political forces.
ENG 125: On Immunity: Representing Infectious Disease (University of Michigan Health Sciences Scholars Program, Fall 2019).
This course takes as its theme the proliferation of art and literature about infection. Contrary to what Virginia Woolf argued in her 1926 essay “On Being Ill,” literature before, during and since her time abounds with representations of infectious diseases such as bubonic plague, Hansen’s disease (leprosy), diphtheria, cholera, influenza, syphilis, malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola, and AIDS. In this section of English 125 we will explore these illnesses through numerous genres including memoir, personal and argumentative essays, literary criticism, historical narrative, film, painting, poetry, and fiction. Authors and artists will include Giovanni Boccaccio, Daniel Defoe, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Albert Camus, Sylvia Plath, Susan Sontag, Mark Doty, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tony Kushner, Eula Biss, Danez Smith, and others. We shall also go on a field trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts to view Diego Rivera’s 1932 sketch entitled “Vaccination,” as well as his other murals. The focus shall primarily be on how these authors and artists achieve their rhetorical effects and how we can emulate these techniques to make our own writing clear, concise, and engaging. We shall also think about and discuss how representations of infection and immunity are informed by social, historical, and political forces.