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Our Writers beyond Synapsis
Humanities in the Emergency Room with Synapsis editor Rishi Goyal
December 7, 2020
For the final Health Humanities Research Seminar of 2020, the University of Texas at Austin Humanities Institute is pleased to welcome Rishi Goyal, M.D., PhD, Director of the Medicine, Literature, and Society Program and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. His most recent research explores the political, aesthetic, and social dimensions of the representation of physical trauma in literature. Dr. Goyal’s HHRS presentation, “Humanities in the Emergency Room,” will take place at 4pm on December 7. The presentation is inspired by his experiences as an ER physician in New York City during the COVID pandemic. To RSVP for this event, visit https://utexas.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bBnyWXd0OZmtV77.
Synapsis editor Arden Hegele discusses teaching a narrative medicine course via distance learning, asking How do the characteristic tools of the humanities—historical reflection, critical inquiry and attention to feeling and justice—help us make sense of what we’re experiencing?
This article is part of a Columbia News series, titled Lessons Learned, which invites the Columbia community to reflect on the pandemic and the insights they have gained from their COVID-19 experience.
While New York City was the epicenter of the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic, Rishi Goyal served as Attending Physician in the Emergency Department at Columbia University Medical Center. Every day, he and his colleagues tended to and cared for patients struck down by this incurable illness as mortalities throughout the city, and throughout the United States, overwhelmed and exposed systems of medical care in America.
At the same time, Goyal is a PhD in English and Comparative Literature, Director of the Medicine, Literature, and Society major at Columbia University, and a coordinator of CHCI’s Health and Medical Humanities Network. That is to say, these sometimes seemingly unbridgeable continents of knowledge—the humanities and the natural sciences—find a meeting point in Goyal.
Recently, CHCI’s Global Programs Strategist, Jason Rozumalski, had a phone call with Goyal in order to talk about the experience of working in Emergency Medicine during the pandemic and how the humanities not only create important ways to make that experience comprehensible but also have the power to transform those experiences into actions toward better care systems and the reimagining of a better tomorrow.
Save the Date for the Narrative Medicine Basic Virtual Workshop, March 19-21, 2021!
Hosted by Columbia’s Division of Narrative Medicine
Our virtual format combines live virtual sessions and asynchronous learning modalities to deliver an introduction to the field that provides the same learning, connection, and transformative experience over the course the weekend as our traditional workshops, while taking into consideration the fatigue and burnout of demanding virtual schedules.
Our intensive workshop content will offer rigorous skill-building in narrative competence and provides an immersive introductory experience to the methods and skills of narrative medicine. These practices are then applicable to unlimited clinical and non-clinical settings. Participants will experience plenary presentations by the founders of the Division of Narrative Medicine in both live and asynchronous formats, and will engage with faculty and each other live via Zoom for interactive presentations, Q&A, and small group work.
We will be announcing our schedule and registration information soon, so save the dates and we hope to see many of you there!
We are delighted to announce the publication of a new book by a Synapsis writer:
Travis Lau’s new chapbook, Paring, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press this November.
Lau says: My work has long focused on embodiment, specifically disabled experience, but this book reconnects with my longer investments in thinking about queerness, intimacy, and care. This book centers on the image of pared fruit: what parts of the self do we pare away (or thought we have pared away)? how do we reconcile the violence of paring away even if it is to enable new growth? how does revisiting what has been pared teach us something?
Please consider pre-ordering a copy of the book at Finishing Line Press.
Narrative Medicine & The Creative Impulse
A Virtual Basic Workshop and Online Course, hosted by Columbia’s Department of Narrative Medicine
In light of the ongoing and necessary precautions surrounding travel and public gatherings, we will be transforming this workshop and introductory Narrative Medicine course into a virtual experience! While we hope to be able to be together in person again for future workshops, we are excited by the possibilities of bringing this learning experience to you in a new and even more broadly accessible format. Over the last few weeks the narrative medicine faculty and program directors have worked to preserve all of the original content, including lectures, small group work, literature, educational and networking resources, continuing education credits, and direct interaction with narrative medicine faculty and our guest speakers. Our new format combines live virtual sessions and asynchronous learning modalities to deliver an introduction to the field that provides the same learning, connection, and transformative experience over the course of our October weekend as our traditional workshops, while taking into consideration the fatigue and burnout of demanding virtual schedules.
Amidst a global foreclosure of the polis in the name of public health and public care, this platform aims to maintain and reimagine a conversation long established among humanists and designers, social scientists and health experts, artists, artisans and planners: namely, a conversation on Care for the Polis–on the relationship between medical practices of care, cities, and their publics–which is now rapidly evolving and taking on new urgencies in the face of an uncertain future.
Care for the Polis is a conversation that exists in a multi-temporal and virtual space, a space designed to reimagine how medical humanities and public humanities shape, and are shaped by, the city and its diverse publics. In a series of weekly Z-Panels, our invited speakers will discuss the effects of health on the conception of cities and publics—including, in the context of pandemic, the foreclosure of public space and what it means to become an online yet domestic-bound public. Together, we will address emerging concerns such as economic impact and recovery, domesticity and democracy, public care and public reconstruction.
A discussion of Elizabeth Outka’s latest book Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature, published by Columbia University Press, hosted by the Columbia Global Center Paris on YouTube.
ABOUT THE BOOK
The influenza pandemic of 1918–1919 took the lives of between 50 and 100 million people worldwide, and the United States suffered more casualties than in all the wars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries combined. Yet despite these catastrophic death tolls, the pandemic faded from historical and cultural memory in the United States and throughout Europe, overshadowed by World War One and the turmoil of the interwar period. In Viral Modernism, Elizabeth Outka reveals the literary and cultural impact of one of the deadliest plagues in history, bringing to light how it shaped canonical works of fiction and poetry.
Outka shows how and why the contours of modernism shift when we account for the pandemic’s hidden but widespread presence. She investigates the miasmic manifestations of the pandemic and its spectral dead in interwar Anglo-American literature, uncovering the traces of an outbreak that brought a nonhuman, invisible horror into every community. Viral Modernism examines how literature and culture represented the virus’s deathly fecundity, as writers wrestled with the scope of mass death in the domestic sphere amid fears of wider social collapse. Outka analyzes overt treatments of the pandemic by authors like Katherine Anne Porter and Thomas Wolfe and its subtle presence in works by Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, and W. B. Yeats. She uncovers links to the disease in popular culture, from early zombie resurrection to the resurgence of spiritualism. Viral Modernism brings the pandemic to the center of the era, revealing a vast tragedy that has hidden in plain sight.
Purchase a copy of the book from Columbia University Press.
Elizabeth Outka is Professor of English at the University of Richmond, where she teaches modernism and contemporary literature. She is the author of Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature (Columbia 2020) and Consuming Traditions: Modernity, Modernism, and the Commodified Authentic (Oxford 2009). Her essays have appeared in Modernism/modernity, NOVEL, Contemporary Literature, The Paris Review Daily, and many edited collections.
Sarah Cole is Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Dean of Humanities at Columbia University. A specialist in literary modernism, she is the co-founder of the NYNJ Modernism Seminar and director of the Humanities War and Peace Initiative at Columbia. She is the author of three books, Inventing Tomorrow: H. G. Wells and the Twentieth Century (Columbia, 2019), At the Violet Hour: Modernism and Violence in England and Ireland (Oxford, Modernist Literature and Culture series, 2012) and Modernism, Male Friendship, and the First World War (Cambridge, 2003), and has published articles in journals such as PMLA, Modernism/modernity, Modernist Cultures, Modern Fiction Studies, and ELH, and in edited collections. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.
This virtual event is organized in collaboration with Columbia University Press, Synapsis, a health humanities journal, the Institute for Ideas and Imagination, the Columbia Maison Française, and the Alliance Program.
Amala Poli, Writing the Self in Illness: Reading the Experiential Through the Medical Memoir (Manipal, 2019):
Writing the Self in Illness: Reading the Experiential Through the Medical Memoir attempts to understand the contemporary turn to health narratives through closely reading medical memoirs. The author uses the term medical memoir for a narrative of illness that seeks to question, resist, and engage in a dialogue with prominent medical discourses and cultural perceptions. The book attempts to understand how individuals have reflected on their experiences of illness, redefined health for themselves, and responded to systemic and social depersonalization through the writing of memoirs. In turn, it invites readers to a deeper exploration of the spectrum of health and its meanings for each of us. (Flyleaf)
Jac Saorsa with Rebecca Phillips, Like Any Other Woman: The Lived Experience of Gynecological Cancer (Cardiff, 2019):
Like Any Other Woman speaks to the suffering that cancer causes, and to the profound human experience of renegotiating the physical and emotional balance between sickness and health when that balance is tipped by the onset of disease. As a moving collaboration between an artist and a young woman who has endured the impact of a cancer diagnosis and its consequences, this is not a book about the cancer itself, the medical world of causes, symptoms, interventions and treatment regimes. It is rather about what it feels like when all sense of normality, all the expectations of a future that accompany good health, suddenly become submerged in degrees of suffering that impact both on the individual and on the people who care for and about her.
Madness and the Demand for Recognition: A philosophical inquiry into identity and mental health activism
Mohammed Abouelleil Rashed, Oxford University Press
Developments in mental health activism pose a radical challenge to psychiatric and societal understandings of madness. Mad Pride and mad-positive activism reject the language of mental ‘illness’ and ‘disorder’ and demand recognition of madness as grounds for identity. This book examines and responds to the claims and demands of Mad activism.
Teaching Health Humanities
Ed. Olivia Banner, Nathan Carlin, Thomas R. Cole, Oxford University Press
Teaching Health Humanities expands our understanding of the burgeoning field of health humanities and of what it aspires to be. The volume’s contributors describe their different degree programs, the politics and perspectives that inform their teaching, and methods for incorporating newer digital and multimodal technologies into teaching practices.
The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care
Anne Boyer, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (forthcoming September 17)
Award-winning poet and essayist Anne Boyer delivers a one-of-a-kind meditation on illness in the age of data—sharing her true story of coping with cancer, both the illness and the industry, in THE UNDYING. A week after her forty-first birthday, the acclaimed poet Anne Boyer was diagnosed with highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. For a single mother living paycheck to paycheck who had always been the caregiver rather than the one needing care, the catastrophic illness was both a crisis and an initiation into new ideas about mortality and the gendered politics of illness. A twenty-first-century Illness as Metaphor, as well as a harrowing memoir of survival, THE UNDYING explores the experience of illness as mediated by digital screens, weaving in ancient Roman dream diarists, cancer hoaxers and fetishists, cancer vloggers, corporate lies, John Donne, pro-pain ”dolorists,” the ecological costs of chemotherapy, and the many little murders of capitalism. It excoriates the pharmaceutical industry and the bland hypocrisies of ”pink ribbon culture” while also diving into the long literary line of women writing about their own illnesses and ongoing deaths: Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker, Susan Sontag, and others.
After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine, and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China
Howard Chiang, Columbia University Press
From anticastration discourses in the late Qing era to sex-reassignment surgeries in Taiwan in the 1950s and queer movements in the 1980s and 1990s, After Eunuchs explores the ways the introduction of Western biomedical sciences transformed normative meanings of gender, sexuality, and the body in China. Chiang investigates how competing definitions of sex circulated in science, medicine, vernacular culture, and the periodical press, bringing to light a rich and vibrant discourse of sex change in the first half of the twentieth century. He focuses on the stories of gender and sexual minorities as well as a large supporting cast of doctors, scientists, philosophers, educators, reformers, journalists, and tabloid writers, as they debated the questions of political sovereignty, national belonging, cultural authenticity, scientific modernity, human difference, and the power and authority of truths about sex. Theoretically sophisticated and far-reaching, After Eunuchs is an innovative contribution to the history and philosophy of science and queer and Sinophone studies.
Another Person’s Poison: A History of Food Allergy
Matthew Smith, Columbia University Press
Another Person’s Poison parses the political, economic, cultural, and genuine health factors of a phenomenon that dominates our interactions with others and our understanding of ourselves. For most of the twentieth century, food allergies were considered a fad or junk science. While many physicians and clinicians argued that certain foods could cause a range of chronic problems, from asthma and eczema to migraines and hyperactivity, others believed that allergies were psychosomatic.
Gender, Health, and History in Modern East Asia
Edited by Angela Ki Che Leung and Izumi Nakayama, Hong Kong University Press
This groundbreaking volume captures and analyzes the exhilarating and at times disorienting experience when scientists, government officials, educators, and the general public in East Asia tried to come to terms with the introduction of Western biological and medical sciences to the region. The nexus of gender and health is a compelling theme, for this is an area in which private lives and personal characteristics encounter the interventions of public policies. The nine empirically based studies by scholars of history of medicine, sociology, anthropology, and STS (science, technology, and society), spanning Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong from the 1870s to the present, demonstrate just how tightly concerns with gender and health have been woven into the enterprise of modernization and nation building throughout the long twentieth century.
A Medical History of Hong Kong: 1842–1941
Moira M. W. Chan-Yeung, The Chinese University Press
This book tells the fascinating story of the development of medical and sanitation services in Hong Kong during the first century of British rule and how changing political values and directions of the colonial administration and the socioeconomic status of Hong Kong affected the policies of development in these areas. It also recounts how the bubonic plague of 1894 changed the government’s laissez-faire attitude towards sanitation and public health and began sanitary reforms and developed public health infrastructure.
The Rise of Autobiographical Medical Poetry and the Medical Humanities
Johanna Emeney, ibidem Press
In this fascinating book, Johanna Emeney examines the global proliferation of new poetry related to illness and medical treatment from the perspective of doctors, patients, and carers in light of the growing popularity of the medical humanities. She provides a close analysis of poetry from New Zealand, the U.S., and the U.K. that deals with sociological and philosophical aspects of sickness, ailment, medical treatment, care, and recuperation.
Buddhism and Medicine: An Anthology of Premodern Sources
Edited by C. Pierce Salguero, Columbia University Press
From its earliest days, Buddhism has been closely intertwined with medicine. Buddhism and Medicine is a singular collection showcasing the generative relationship and mutual influence between these fields across premodern Asia. The anthology combines dozens of English-language translations of premodern Buddhist texts with contextualizing introductions by leading international scholars in Buddhist studies, the history of medicine, and a range of other fields.
Exhaustion: A History
Anna Katharina Schaffner, Columbia University Press
Medical, cultural, literary, and biographical sources have cast exhaustion as a biochemical imbalance, a somatic ailment, a viral disease, and a spiritual failing. It has been linked to loss, the alignment of the planets, a perverse desire for death, and social and economic disruption. Pathologized, demonized, sexualized, and even weaponized, exhaustion unites the mind with the body and society in such a way that we attach larger questions of agency, willpower, and well-being to its symptoms. Mapping these political, ideological, and creative currents across centuries of human development, Exhaustion finds in our struggle to overcome weariness a more significant effort to master ourselves.
The Facts of Life
Paula Knight, PSU Press
April’s dreams of motherhood come true before too long, but as Polly enthusiastically builds a career, her desire and hope to start a family become less firmly ingrained. Her struggles with chronic illness also have an effect on her choices and relationships, and she wonders whether motherhood will be in the cards for her at all. Soon she meets Jack, and together they start a fraught journey, first debating whether parenthood is right for them and then facing the heartbreak of repeated miscarriages and the effects of illness on their ability to have a child. Through it all, Polly is forced to reexamine what family can mean in a society that so often associates family—and womanhood—with children.
Beautifully drawn and poignantly honest, The Facts of Life is a funny, sometimes painful graphic memoir that explores what it takes to be a woman, a partner, and a mother . . . or not.
Narrative in Social Work Practice: The Power and Possibility of Story
Editors: Ann Burack-Weiss, Lynn Sara Lawrence, and Lynne Bamat Mijangos, Columbia UP
Narrative in Social Work Practice features first-person accounts by social workers who have successfully integrated narrative theory and approaches into their practice. Contributors describe innovative and effective interventions with a wide range of individuals, families, and groups facing a variety of life challenges. One author describes a family in crisis when a promising teenage girl suddenly takes to her bed for several years; another brings narrative practice to a Bronx trauma center; and another finds that poetry writing can enrich the lives of people living with dementia. In some chapters, the authors turn narrative techniques inward and use them as vehicles of self-discovery. Settings range from hospitals and clinics to a graduate school and a case management agency. Throughout, Narrative in Social Work Practice showcases the flexibility and appeal of narrative methods and demonstrates how they can be empowering and fulfilling for clients and social workers alike.
Politics, Piety, and Biomedicine: The Malaysian Transplant Venture
Jenny Schreiber, Transcript-Verlag
The discourse on transplantation and brain death has become emblematic of conflicts between certain perspectives on adequate medical care, death, and dying. Scientific and religious, modernizing and traditional as well as academic and popular voices debate how to approach these topics. This work captures the heterogeneous and often contradictory views on the Malaysian transplant venture and the treatment option of end-stage organ failure from the Malay and Chinese population, physicians, state officials, and Muslim, Buddhist, and Daoist clergy. It also addresses vital issues as to the use of and extent to which biomedicine and medical technology in contemporary Malaysia actually benefits its people.
Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371
MK Czerwiec, PSU Press
A shining example of excellence in the treatment and care of patients, Unit 371 was a community for thousands of patients and families affected by HIV and AIDS and the people who cared for them. This graphic novel combines Czerwiec’s memories with the oral histories of patients, family members, and staff. It depicts life and death in the ward, the ways the unit affected and informed those who passed through it, and how many look back on their time there today. Czerwiec joined Unit 371 at a pivotal time in the history of AIDS: deaths from the syndrome in the Midwest peaked in 1995 and then dropped drastically in the following years, with the release of antiretroviral protease inhibitors. This positive turn of events led to a decline in patient populations and, ultimately, to the closure of Unit 371. Czerwiec’s restrained, inviting drawing style and carefully considered narrative examine individual, institutional, and community responses to the AIDS epidemic—as well as the role that art can play in the grieving process.
Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass
Dana Walrath, PSU Press
Aliceheimer’s is a series of illustrated vignettes, daily glimpses into their world with Alzheimer’s. Walrath’s time with her mother was marked by humor and clarity: “With a community of help that included pirates, good neighbors, a cast of characters from space-time travel, and my dead father hovering in the branches of the maple trees that surround our Vermont farmhouse, Aliceheimer’s let us write our own story daily—a story that, in turn, helps rewrite the dominant medical narrative of aging.”
Being Human in a Buddhist World: An Intellectual History of Medicine in Early Modern Tibet
Janet Gyatso, Columbia University Press
Through its unique focus and sophisticated reading of source materials, Being Human adds a crucial chapter in the larger historiography of science and religion. The book opens with the bold achievements in Tibetan medical illustration, commentary, and institution building during the period of the Fifth Dalai Lama and his regent, Desi Sangye Gyatso, then looks back to the work of earlier thinkers, tracing a strategically astute dialectic between scriptural and empirical authority on questions of history and the nature of human anatomy. It follows key differences between medicine and Buddhism in attitudes toward gender and sex and the moral character of the physician, who had to serve both the patient’s and the practitioner’s well-being. Being Human in a Buddhist World ultimately finds that Tibetan medical scholars absorbed ethical and epistemological categories from Buddhism yet shied away from ideal systems and absolutes, instead embracing the imperfectability of the human condition.
Hole in the Heart: Bringing Up Beth
Henny Beaumont, PSU Press
Hole in the Heart is a moving and refreshingly honest look at raising a child with special needs. Henny doesn’t shy away from the complicated emotions and challenges that affected her and her family. But her story also shows that fear can be the greatest of these challenges—and the most rewarding to overcome. Henny and Beth’s journey speaks not only to parents of children with special needs and the medical and care professionals they interact with, but to all parents who wonder whether their child is loved enough and is reaching his or her potential.
Medical Philosophy: A Philosophical Analysis of Patient Self-Perception in Diagnostics and Therapy,
David Låg Tomasi, ibidem Press
This innovative book clarifies the distinction between philosophy of medicine and medical philosophy, expanding the focus from the ‘knowing that’ of the first to the ‘knowing how’ of the latter. The idea of patient and provider self-discovery becomes the method and strategy at the basis of therapeutic treatment. It develops the concept of ‘Central Medicine’, aimed at overcoming the dichotomies of Western–Eastern medicine and Traditional–Integrative approaches. Evidence-based and patient-centered medicine are analyzed in the context of the debate on placebo and non-specific effects alongside clinical research on the patient-doctor relationship, and the interactive nature of human relationships in general, including factors such as environment, personal beliefs, and perspectives on life’s meaning and purpose. Tomasi’s research incorporates neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and medicine in a clear, readable, and detailed way, satisfying the needs of professionals, students, and anyone who enjoys the exploration of the complexity of human mind, brain, and heart.
Me Medicine vs. We Medicine: Reclaiming Biotechnology for the Common Good
Donna Dickenson, Columbia University Press
Personalized healthcare—or what the award-winning author Donna Dickenson calls “Me Medicine”—is radically transforming our longstanding “one-size-fits-all” model. Technologies such as direct-to-consumer genetic testing, pharmacogenetically developed therapies in cancer care, private umbilical cord blood banking, and neurocognitive enhancement claim to cater to an individual’s specific biological character, and, in some cases, these technologies have shown powerful potential. Yet in others they have produced negligible or even negative results. Whatever is behind the rise of Me Medicine, it isn’t just science. So why is Me Medicine rapidly edging out We Medicine, and how has our commitment to our collective health suffered as a result?
In her cogent, provocative analysis, Dickenson examines the economic and political factors fueling the Me Medicine phenomenon and explores how, over time, this paradigm shift in how we approach our health might damage our individual and collective well-being. Historically, the measures of “We Medicine,” such as vaccination and investment in public-health infrastructure, have radically extended our life spans, and Dickenson argues we’ve lost sight of that truth in our enthusiasm for “Me Medicine.”
The Walking Med: Zombies and the Medical Image
Edited by Lorenzo Servitje and Sherryl Vint, Foreword by Steven C. Schlozman, PSU Press
The Walking Med brings together scholars from across the disciplines of cultural studies, medical education, medical anthropology, and art history to explore what new meanings the zombie might convey in this context. These scholars consider a range of forms—from comics disseminated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to graphic novels and television shows such as The Walking Dead—to show how interrogations of the zombie metaphor can reveal new perspectives within the medical humanities.