Courses: Medical Narratives (WRPRH110B01)

Spring 2013

In "To Build A Case" Rita Charon asserts a polarity between the patient's oral tale and the doctor's written case history: "They are opposing entities. They are examples of language being used in fundamentally different ways. Their goals conflict." We'll test this pronouncement as we read across a spectrum of fiction and nonfiction texts. How does medical language illuminate, and how does it obfuscate, the patient's individual experience? Do the doctor's practices of "history-taking" and "case reporting" wrest narrative control from the patient-and, if so, what are the benefits and costs of a usurping authority? Can we detect the patient's subjective dilemmas finding expression in the doctor's own struggle for solutions? This course will attempt to place the two supposed narrative opponents into a larger context: a rich assortment of medical story-tellers. What types of medical narrative exist outside the consulting room and the "chart," and do they effectively reconcile the alleged conflict between patient- and physician-narrator? We'll look at illness through a variety of lenses, taking our readings not only from standard case reports but from patient memoirs, physician memoirs, medical journalism, essays in philosophy of mind, and (last but hardly least!) literary fiction. We will seek to understand the efficacy of each genre (even, one might say, its therapeutic implications) while training a clear eye on its inevitable evasions and oversights.

Prerequisites: Open only to members of the first-year class as assigned by the Director of College Writing.

Fulfills: HU FW Limit:15


Writing Program (Web site)

Taught By

Sue Benston (Profile)


Haverford, Stokes 119

Meeting Times

TTh 10:00-11:30