"A word in earnest is as good as a speech"
~Charles Dickens: Bleak House

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Literature Tuesday ..... What is literature?

I have been writing a literature Tuesday blog for awhile. It started with Shel Silverstein and has included: Tennyson, Maya and some work by yours truly (which honestly probably should not be considered literature).

Not really answering my question so I decided to search further.

What I found was Jean-Paul Satre: "What is writing? Why does one write? For whom?" Questions about literature. Poets, Satre tells us "But if he dwells upon words, as does the painter with colors and the musician with sounds, that does not mean that they have lost all signification in his eyes. Indeed, it is signification alone which can give words their verbal unity. Without it they are frittered away into sounds and strokes of the pen." Wow - that was deep. Not sure I truly understand it, but it is deep. Having only researched this briefly I think he is trying to say that with painting and music and poetry you can only create replications of the world - but with prose, with literature, you can use language to create a reality instead of just a copy of it. You can describe a situation in such a way that it brings about emotion.

I am not sure I agree with Mr. Satre, but that is what I got from what I read of his great definition of literature. Obviously his words did not create much emotion for me - because I was bored by page 50. So, I continue my search.

Dictionary.com gives me a clearer picture I suppose: "writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays."

This intrigued me ... ideas of permanent and universal interest. Does this mean that Hitler's political manifesto Mein Kampf should be considered literature? It is still widely read, by some so that history does not repeat itself ... by some to make sure that it does.  In twenty years will people still read Twilight and think wow - that was a great story? If one of the requirements of literature is that it be permanent, how long must we wait for a piece of writing to be considered literature. My father read "Carrie" by Stephen King in 1974 and loved it. I read it an loved it. My son has read it and loves it. Does this make it literature. On the other hand Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte was apparently not very popular when it was written but now it is considered literature which many college students are required to read (I hated it). So who decided it was literature that we must all read.

I like a story - one that I can read and fall into. One that paints pictures in my head (which is why I am not a big fan of the new practice of making movies out of "modern literature" before people have had a chance to actually read), the movie of course is never as good as the book (or at least it shouldn't ever be). My search is brief and inadequate I fear. I still have not created a clear definition in my head of the criteria by which I should judge what I read. I hate to make the connection but I think my definition of literature is akin to the Supreme Court definition of pornography in 1964 "I know it when I see it."

For future "Literature Tuesdays" I think I will stick with sharing examples of what I like to read. You can determine whether or not you agree that it is literature. I would love to hear your opinion!

Addendum to Literature Tuesday:
I was searching for quotes from the Bible, specifically from the Book of Ruth to prove a point to a friend on Facebook. I was too lazy to go downstairs and get my Bible so ..... you guessed it ..... I googled it. I found this page which ironically is about the Bible as literature:

"We might say that literature does not tell about characters and actions and concepts but presents characters in action. Literature not only presents experience but interprets it. The writer of literature selects and molds his material according to discernible viewpoints. Human experience is presented in such a way as to express, whether explicitly or by implication, a world view. Finally, literature is an interpretive presentation of experience in an artistic form. That is, the content of a work of literature is presented in the form of a novel, play, short story, poem, and so forth…A working definition of literature, then, is that it is an interpretive presentation of experience in an artistic form."


Monday, March 12, 2012

Medical Monday ..... "This is what takes us down. This is our extinction event."

I have to admit - my only experience with schizophrenia comes from watching episodes of "Law & Order." I have been very fortunate that this disease has not permeated its way into my family or my home. We have also not had to deal with Bipolar Disorder or any other serious mental illness.
My original idea for today's blog was to briefly research some mental health issues, the treatments and medications because of last night's episode of The Walking Dead. I know, sounds really weird but bear with me.

 The underlying idea behind the show is the zombie apocalypse. With me so far?
For the 1st season the indication was that in order to become a zombie, you needed to get bitten or scratched by a zombie .... still following me?
The last two episodes indicate that this may not be the case ..... 4 people have died and become zombies without being either bitten or scratched .... and this is where things stand.

In season I, our illustrious crew had visited the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia to try and find out what was causing all of our dead to begin walking and feeding on us .... they found no answers "It could be microbial, viral, parasitic, fungal {or the wrath of God?} There is that." 

And yet you are probably still wondering what in my brain has connected this somehow to mental illness. Well it didn't, not exactly. I started thinking about the move to pharmacology in the treatment of mental illness. Which as always leads me to think about the dangers of modern medicine: are the cures worth treating the disease? It made me think about pharmacology in relation to mental health because I had just heard a report about a Tony Award Winning Play "Next to Normal." which deals precisely with this issue.

I want to make it very clear that I am in no way saying that I think people with mental illness in anyway resemble zombies from horror movies. My question is, what kind of damage do we do to our bodies by trying to find cures for everything .... including our mood.

 The National Institute of Mental Health lists the following as treatments for Schizophrenia:

I began to start looking up side effects and came up with things similar to this (which are the listed side effects of Aripiprazole):
Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); abnormal thinking; chest pain; confusion; fainting; fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat; fever, chills, sore throat; increased sweating; involuntary movements of the tongue, face, mouth, jaw, arms, legs, or back (eg, chewing movements, puckering of mouth, puffing of cheeks); loss of control over urination; loss of coordination; muscle tremor, jerking, or stiffness; new or worsening mental or mood problems (eg, anxiety, depression, agitation, panic attacks, aggressiveness, impulsiveness, irritability, hostility, exaggerated feeling of well-being, inability to sit still); one-sided weakness; seizures; severe or persistent restlessness; shortness of breath; suicidal thoughts or attempts; swelling of the hands, ankles, or feet; symptoms of high blood sugar (eg, increased thirst, urination, or appetite; unusual weakness); trouble swallowing; trouble walking; unusual bruising; unusual tiredness or weakness; vision or speech changes.
And I have to wonder what medications like this are doing to us as a whole. How many people are misdiagnosed and take medications they do not need? How many people take medications the wrong way? How many people don't tell their doctor about the side effects they experience? How much does this alter our natural course of evolution?

That last question is really the one that gets to me. By finding treatments for everything under the sun, from lupus to cancer to heart disease to thin eye lashes to erectile dysfunction ..... are we creating a situation where natural selection can no longer occur? Are we creating a race that can't defend itself against disease because we have medications that do it for us? And what happens if we can no longer have access to those medication? I know it sounds cruel and mean and heartless - but are there things we are not supposed to cure? Are there diseases and birth defects and disorders that we are supposed to just let be so that our species can create defenses for them naturally - either through natural selection or adaptation?

Are we creating our own extinction event?

For this blog I seem to have more questions than answers, because for this one I am asking the big questions. I seem to be doing that a lot lately. I pondered these questions all the way to work and when my computer finally turned on and I clicked on the Internet to check my calender and e-mail my newsfeed had this headline glaring at me: 10 Overhyped Health Products. According to US News & World Report, these things include: antibacterial soap, toothbrush sanitizers and multivitamins. All things that have been heavily marketed as absolutely necessary (I have always been against antibacterial anything - we need to get sick every once and awhile in order to build our immune system). This of course led to another article about herbal medicine: 4 Herbal Supplements Your Doctor Hates (needless to say I did not get a lunch break because I took it when I got to the office and read all this stuff).

None of these articles got rid of my morbid fascination that we are creating a race of humans that can't adapt.
None of this research made me feel any better about the treatments we use for mental illness.
None of my pondering convinced me that a zombie apocalypse is completely impossible (improbable yes - completely impossible I'm not so sure).
None of this ultimately made me feel any better.

I think good television is when it makes you stop and think. Makes you want to go out and learn something new. Creates conversations people would not otherwise have. Makes you look in the mirror and say what kind of person would I be. I think "The Walking Dead" can do all these things (once people get past the fact that it is about zombies). It reminds me of "Lord of the Flies" in a way ..... but I think that is a topic for Literature Tuesday.