Bioethics Discussion Blog: Loss of Normal Human Anatomy , Human Enhancement: Two Poems

REMINDER: I AM POSTING A NEW TOPIC ABOUT ONCE A WEEK OR PERHAPS TWICE A WEEK. HOWEVER, IF YOU DON'T FIND A NEW TOPIC POSTED, THERE ARE AS OF MARCH 2013 OVER 900 TOPIC THREADS TO WHICH YOU CAN READ AND WRITE COMMENTS. I WILL BE AWARE OF EACH COMMENTARY AND MAY COME BACK WITH A REPLY.

TO FIND A TOPIC OF INTEREST TO YOU ON THIS BLOG, SIMPLY TYPE IN THE NAME OR WORDS RELATED TO THE TOPIC IN THE FIELD IN THE LEFT HAND SIDE AT TOP OF THE PAGE AND THEN CLICK ON “SEARCH BLOG”. WITH WELL OVER 900 TOPICS, MOST ABOUT GENERAL OR SPECIFIC ETHICAL ISSUES BUT NOT NECESSARILY RELATED TO ANY SPECIFIC DATE OR EVENT, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO FIND WHAT YOU WANT. IF YOU DON’T PLEASE WRITE TO ME ON THE FEEDBACK THREAD OR BY E-MAIL DoktorMo@aol.com

IMPORTANT REQUEST TO ALL WHO COMMENT ON THIS BLOG: ALL COMMENTERS WHO WISH TO SIGN ON AS ANONYMOUS NEVERTHELESS PLEASE SIGN OFF AT THE END OF YOUR COMMENTS WITH A CONSISTENT PSEUDONYM NAME OR SOME INITIALS TO HELP MAINTAIN CONTINUITY AND NOT REQUIRE RESPONDERS TO LOOK UP THE DATE AND TIME OF THE POSTING TO DEFINE WHICH ANONYMOUS SAID WHAT. Thanks. ..Maurice

FEEDBACK,FEEDBACK,FEEDBACK! WRITE YOUR FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS BLOG, WHAT IS GOOD, POOR AND CONSTRUCTIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT TO THIS FEEDBACK THREAD

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Loss of Normal Human Anatomy , Human Enhancement: Two Poems

Visiting Ojai California today (recognized as an art colony and because of its hidden lush mountain valley geography, a "Shangri-La"), I visited the Ojai Center for the Arts and picked up a copy of *Rivertalk 2003". The booklet contains a number of poems by local folks who enjoy to write poetry. The booklet is published each year and is supported by the Ojai Center for the Arts and Edward C. Raymund. Opening "Rivertalk" I found two poems which say something special about the context of two recent threads on this blog: loss of normal human anatomy and human enhancement. I am reproducing them below for the consideration of my visitors. I would like to read how you interpret these two poems and what the poet's words mean to you in those contexts. This thread is going to be about these poems. (Please go to the appropriate threads elsewhere to write any comments about the subjects in general. Comments on this thread are only to be related to the poems themselves and their meaning to you.)

By the way, there is a developing interest in art and literature courses in medical schools thoughout the U.S. Students practicing interpretation of works of art and literature is felt to build skills useful in discernment of critical features of disease which can lead to more accurate diagnostic conclusions. ..Maurice.

And now to the poems:

A GREAT SORROW

Wild Woman is missing
her belly button today


maybe she lost it last night
when she had that dream
wondering how she was to dress
what costume she was supposed to wear
for the parade< >both the parade
and the missing belly button a puzzle

or maybe it fell off in the afternoon
when another part of her body
was disconnected
and her belly bore no visible mark
of its beginning

how could she find it?
could she put it back where it belonged
make it feel at home again?

not having a belly button
made her feel like a drum
without its beat< >the silence
inside her so empty
not even an echo whispered


---Bettina T. Barrett



AGE SEVENTY-FIVE

comes with a
third arm.
This is for comfort
and convenience,
a little extra
something tucked away,
so that when it rains
one can use it as a sort of
windshield wiper,
to sparkle and alert
possible lacklusterness -
quite definitely not
au fait -

I am thinking about
having mine
in the middle of my forehead
sort of a third eye
with an extension,
and a compass at the end
this way I will always
know where I am going
where the sea is and
what direction
that very large elephant
on the horizon is taking.
I can also direct traffic
in an emergency.

My third arm
will be great
for shaking hands, waving
while walking dogs on leads,
will bestow on me
status, focus, insight.
It will also be
a great conversation piece.
People will always be asking me
where I got my hat.

---Audrey Hargraves

10 Comments:

At Sunday, August 13, 2006 10:09:00 PM, Anonymous Moof said...

Dr. Bernstein, I've thought about these poems for a day, and I believe that I'm not really any closer to understanding the undercurrent ... or even the basic premise.

There are certain types of free verse that I'm afraid I've never really been able to relate to. I'm sure that it's a lack of some dimension within myself.

Perhaps you could give me some insight into what you see when you read these? I feel as if I must be missing something obvious ...

 
At Sunday, August 13, 2006 10:47:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Moof, I am not a literature teacher nor a poet and maybe I am looking forward toward some visitors who have had experience in presenting interpretations of poetry to contribute here. When I first read the poems, it definitely hit me that one poem was dealing with a loss of a common human body part and the other represented the addition of a new body part which was, by the words of the poem, an enhancement. Both poems fit the general threads on my blog with which you are familiar. So now what? Well, as the professor of literature would ask the students: what are the writers attempting to express? Often there is some personal reason or concern that leads to the expression. Is it vanity in the first poem or fear of ageing in the second? I don't know. I think, though, if I speculate more at this point, I will discourage some others from putting in their two cents. The reason I decided to use these poems and the occasional poems scattered through my blog is that poems can because of their free release of thoughts give us the opportunity to look at issues in some ways we wouldn't have immediately thought about. By the way, might anyone else want to speculate about the value of poems when considering ethical issues? ..Maurice.

 
At Monday, August 14, 2006 9:11:00 AM, Anonymous Jaine said...

Maurice…My interpretation of the first poem is that this woman lost a parent or perhaps…is talking about a stillbirth. The parade and costume…superficial things in life… or a funeral…or, if going with the stillbirth thought, the anticipated celebration… the belly button the symbol of deeper connections. With this deeper connection lost there is silence and the questioning… if anything will ever fill the silence/void that now consumes the space where a deeper connection used to be. “Another part of her body was disconnected” could be referring to an emotional attachment being cut. I have heard people say they feel orphaned when a parent dies. The connection to where they came from is gone.

The second poem…to me suggests that with old age a person needs something extra. There is mention of the third arm providing ‘status, focus and insight’. I sometimes wonder if elderly people in our society feel invisible/left out of the loop. The author mentions the third arm being ‘to sparkle and alert possible lacklusterness’…’people will always ask me where I got my hat.’ Is there a need to have something to alert people to the fact that an elderly person has value despite perhaps needing a bit of extra help with the physical world?

Wanting input, on this poem, from someone who would know such things…I asked my 91 year old neighbour what he thought of the poem. He said simply:“I want a third arm to carry my walking stick.” He saw the poem as offering a very practical idea. Oddly enough he then started talking about the food his departed wife used to make for him. “Oh, she made the best oyster stew…” Was she his third arm, or was he suddenly just hungry, or was he thinking how hard it is to cook his meals without a third arm to hold the walking stick? Is the ‘very large elephant on the horizon’ the end of life and what that means? My neighbour talks to me about death now and then. He told me I’d find him curled up by the fire, dead, with his arms wrapped around his dog. We chatted about how peaceful that would be and what good company he’d be in with his dog beside him. It was a lighthearted happy chat but is that moment ‘the very large elephant on the horizon’ that with age become larger and larger and something to keep an eye on?

The value of poems when considering ethical issues? Anything that forces a person to try and look at an issue from a different perspective is of value. Moof mentions feeling as if missing something obvious. I could be completely off with my reading of these poems and missing the obvious too. There is nothing I enjoy more than being proven wrong. It’s like having blinders removed and instantly seeing a whole new perspective. I don’t like having my face rubbed in it, and appreciate kindness when being shown the error of my ways… Another elderly chap I spoke to, who was visiting my neighbour when I took the poem over for expert insight, stated that the poem meant at age 75 you finally get a brain. Isn’t that an interesting perspective? I hadn’t consider that at all.

 
At Monday, August 14, 2006 11:59:00 AM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Jaine, I like your evaluation of the meaning of the first poem. I think my suggestion of vanity is too obvious and superficial. A loss of an important family attachment seems a better conclusion. On the second poem, I guess I came closer to your interpretation but not as detailed. I appreciate that you performed some research on the poem in your neighborhood. I think that we all become dependent on the value of a third arm as we age, whether it is to carry a stick, prepare one's meals or brighten up one's social,physical or mental appearance. Wow! There is more to this thread than what I thought when I started it! ..Maurice.

 
At Wednesday, August 16, 2006 3:33:00 PM, Blogger Bardiac said...

I found the second poem more interesting.

I tend to approach poems by reading them aloud several times; here, that made me really aware of the short lines, which tend to feel light and amusing to me, and of the alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds, especially at the beginning of words). (Short lines in English poems get used more in fun or light texts than in heavier or tragic texts; it's not written in stone, but it's an expectation I have from reading lots of poems.)

Then I think about images, intertextuality (the ways texts refer to other texts), and so forth.

I think the second poem's playing against the "four legs at dawn, two legs at noon, and three legs at dusk" riddle from the Oedipus story, along with the image of the third eye, which is supposed to lend insight or wisdom. The poem uses an arm instead of a leg, though the third leg in the riddle is a cane held by an arm.

In the first stanza think the speaker's rejecting that image, and that the "comfort and convenience" are undermined by the "quite definitely not / au fait" bit. There's a positive to the third arm, and nice alliteration on comfort and convenience, but it's also in tension with the idea of saving for a rainy day. But the third arm here only sort of works as a windshield wiper, but it's not quite up to the task. But it is fun, and rejects the common image of someone needing a cane.

The second stanza places the arm in the forehead, and connects it as a third eye, that's supposed to give a sense of direction (the compass). I'm interested that the speaker gets to choose where to have this arm; we don't think of aging as involving many choices usually, do we?

I think the very large elephant is a common metaphor for something that's huge but we don't want to talk about (the elephant in the room), in this case, perhaps, aging or death. So somehow the compass held by the arm is supposed to indicate the direction of that elephant, maybe so the speaker can avoid going that way or head that way on purpose?

I like the humor of being able to direct traffic in an emergency. It's interesting because the person direction traffic isn't going anywhere, but is enabling others to go on their way. So maybe directing traffic gives the speaker a sense of momentarily escaping time or aging? Directing traffic also marks the move in the poem to a focus on social activities. (That is, the first part is sort of individual focused, while the second focuses a lot on social interactions.)

The third stanza seems to see the third arm in a really positive light. Instead of being something to hold the cane or lean on, the third arm is all about social interaction here: shaking hands, waving, conversation. (And again with the great alliteration!)

I like the lines that say it will "bestow on me / status, focus, insight." The common perception is that age IS supposed to bestow on people status, focus, and perhaps wisdom. But here it's the third arm as a visible reminder of difference that does it. Does that mean that the standard signs of aging (grey hair, etc) don't bestow these features, or they aren't recognized?

The final line cracks me up because it seems like the people questioning really don't understand the third arm at all; they see it as a hat rather than as a third arm or special feature somehow. But even so, it's a source of social engagement and conversation, rather than the isolation one might fear. It's also a great line because it warns of mis-interpretation of the whole poem.

So, in short, I see the third arm stuff as a rejection of traditional images of aging, cane-use, increasing helplessness and isolation in favor of choice, direction, and social interaction.

That said, I found your question on using poetry to consider ethical issues really provocative. As someone who teaches literature, I'd argue that because poetry (and art in general) defamiliarizes us and challenges us to think along different patterns, and to think about our thinking, working with poetry should help us work through complex issues better.

If my reading of the second poem works at all, it helps me understand aging in a way that isn't fearful but amused and social, and that rejects traditional images of older people. I think rethinking what aging means should help me think better about ethical issues, especially those involving aging people.

Sorry to blather on so long... just be glad you didn't put up a sonnet!

 
At Wednesday, August 16, 2006 6:06:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Bardiac, many thanks for contributing a wonderful teaching analysis of the second poem. What I appreciate much, as a medical school teacher myself, is that you explain the rationale for your impressions rather than presenting simply the impressions themselves. With your insight into poetry, I am very curious what was it about the first poem that made it less interesting for you. Was the underlying message the writer was trying to provide us more ambiguous? If so, was it because of deficiencies in the presentation or the more obscure meanings of the words of the poem?
Also what do you have to say about what I now feel was a misconception by me of the underlying meanings of these two poems. I initially selected them as conforming to one of two threads, loss of a normal human body part (the circumcision issue) and human enhancement (e.g. cosmetic surgery for non-pathologic reasons, steroid use for strength building or the futuristic nano-technology enhancements)? Obviously, based on what Jaine wrote regarding the first poem and your comments on the second, there was much more to those poems. Finally, I am pleased that you agree with my view of the use of poetry to widen one's thoughts when dealing with ethical dilemmas. Again, thanks. ..Maurice.

 
At Wednesday, August 16, 2006 9:39:00 PM, Blogger Bardiac said...

Hi Again, Maurice,

Perhaps less/more interesting isn't quite how I should have put it. I was writing under a time constraint, and didn't want to go on forever, and thought I had a better initial grasp on the second poem.

I found the first poem more difficult, so I had to spend some time thinking about it and my difficulty. I'm still thinking, but here go some rough thoughts, since you asked:

First, "Wild Woman" evokes several connections for me: lesbian, Native American, feminist, maternal, etc. None of these is mutually exclusive of the others (that is, it can be a poem about lesbian maternity).

When I see the parade and drum stuff, and the importance of the beat, then I get a stronger sense of a Native American influence. (Since a parade is important in Pow Wows I've attended. But I'm not a scholar of Native American lit or culture, and am woefully ignorant.)

But the idea that one has to wear a costume, implying some level of make-believe or falseness, is troubling, like Eliot's putting on a face to meet the faces that you meet. I get a feeling that things are out of place somehow, both the belly button and Wild Woman's sense of belonging in the parade.

The belly button is an important image both in Western classical literature and in feminist and Native American literatures. Does it mean a connection with one's mother? with one's child? with one's sense of being a woman? Human? With one's place on earth? (Again, these aren't mutually exclusive.)

What does it mean that it might have fallen off when "another part of her body / was disconnected / and her belly bore no visible mark / of its beginning"? Is that an image of heterosexual sex leading to conception of a child? (and thus, perhaps, implying the loss of one's childhood at impending motherhood?) Or does the passive tense of "was disconnected" imply rape, something done to her, but not by her? That would make sense of the feeling of loss. And could also connect with a sense of there being a loss of childhood when a woman becomes a mother.

The final stanza makes the loss of the belly button, whenever it happens, pretty devastating, especially if there's an underlying Native American setting because of the importance of drumming in so many ceremonies.

So, I'm still thinking about the first poem, mulling in my mind. Part of me wants to think it's about birthing and feeling empty and disconnected, and part of me isn't going there. I'm a slow reader of poetry; it takes me thinking and rethinking to really get the pleasures of a poem. (But there's work to be done! Research! Teaching!)

About your misconception: there's an argument that each generation of poets (especially) sort of purposefully misreads the work of the previous generation so that they can find ways to create and validate their own work.

Which is to say that misreading isn't always a bad way to start, but can sometimes help you get at what you want to say yourself. (It can be a bad way to end, though.)

And there really aren't answers in the backs of books of poetry. The meaning is all there, in the words and in the interaction between the reader (with all his/her textual experience) and the words.

In trying to explain how the poem and I create meaning together, I may help someone get something different out of the poem, but I certainly don't reproduce the effect of the poem aurally, visually, or intellectually. I'm always missing so much, and that's why we read poems rather than explications. The important thing is to think about why the poem means what you think it does, and how it works to get there.

Ethically, it's also important to question one's desire and self-interest. Why did you want these poems to be "about" body loss or enhancement? What do you desire in art?

Moof's comment, for example, says something about what she doesn't desire. (I'm not trying to pick on Moof; I'm just trying to point to a visible expression of desire on the thread. I act on my own desires, too, if not quite so visibly.)

To change the subject slightly, back to your original thinking about human enhancement: do you know Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto"? If not, I think you'd find the argument really interesting. If so, do you think that her argument makes sense given the way the world's changed in the last 15 years or so?

 
At Wednesday, August 16, 2006 10:45:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Bardiac, to answer your questions about my intent when selecting these poems out of the booklet, their relationship to my threads just seemed obvious and I thought "Golly, this would be a great example of how a concept, view or feeling on controversial ethical issues can be expressed but not in the form of civil or uncivil, documented or undocumented, rational or irrational discourse which is often the way the comments seem to appear to threads on my blog but in the form of poetry which challenges the reader to sort out what the writer is saying."

I meant that the results of the reading does not lead to "She's all wet! He didn't prove anything. That's a crazy conclusion." ... Or does not lead to "That meets my understanding of the issue. She is on the right course. His explanation in terms of proof was excellent." ... But leads to "Gee, if I understand what she wrote then I never thought of that. This opens a new idea for me but is that what he really implied? I would disagree with her if that is what she meant but then what if she didn't mean that?" and so on. Instead of a written comment leading to one conclusion which may be unsatisfying to the reader and perhaps tossed into the wastebasket or leading to an immediate acceptance by the reader and a gobbling up as true, the poem can keep one in a beneficial intellectual suspense which then may lead to some productive thinking. ..Maurice.

 
At Thursday, August 17, 2006 8:53:00 AM, Blogger Bardiac said...

Are intent and desire the same thing? Intent seems more conscious, while desire isn't necessarily articulated so easily. Yet articulating desires helps get at the ethical roots of behavior more fully, perhaps?

I think that your initial misreadings were productive, inasmuch as you opened up room for discussion, and several people thought about words and how meanings are created and not necessarily obvious. The key is that you were open to other readings that challenged your own. You bring out your openness really well in your final sentence about intellectual suspense: one of the great things about art is that it enables and acknowledges out multiple possibilities of meaning. Science tends to want to reduce things to one cause, one meaning, but art resists that.

And that can also make art really uncomfortable; my students often want a kind of "key" rather than having to work at meanings. It's uncomfortable to stand up in front of people and say, I don't KNOW what this means, but here are some possibilities and why I think they're appropriate. (It's easier to say, "I don't get cubism," for example, than to take it seriously.)

Your desires, I'd guess, had to do with seeking response and interaction, trying to make connections between the seemingly logical discourses of ethics and medicine and the less obviously logical discourses of poetry. Probably more, but you have to speak to those.

 
At Thursday, August 17, 2006 9:12:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Bardiac, I tried to figure out how to answer your question "Are intent and desire the same thng?" Although I am not a poet by profession, I thought it might be appropriate to answer a question by a teacher of literature with a poem I wrote for the occasion. After all, it may be that I can best explain the differences of the terms and the origin of my starting this thread with a poem. ..Maurice.

DIFFERENTIATION BETWEEN INTENT AND DESIRE

My intent is my will
To fulfill my desire

My desire is to freshen
And not to tire

To tire is to repeat
And not to make new

To make new is to awaken
Some unthought of view

The view can lead to controversy
And perhaps some discontent

But then my desire will be fulfilled
Born out of my intent.

... Maurice Bernstein, M.D.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home