Saturday, January 22, 2011

Open Thread for 1st Reading (Wit & Donne)

You can check the syllabus if you want for instructions, but what you need to do is very simple:  just write a coherent paragraph (even a short one) which articulates an idea or asks a questions about one of the assigned readings; generally you should refer to a specific, cited page number, although there are times when you might want to relate multiple sections in the reading(s).

Remember, your post on the first reading is due on Sunday night, by 10 p.m.


  1. Throughout my close reading of Wit and the some of the Selected Poems of John Donne, I was able to recognize one overarching principle in their connection. I think to a certain extent, it is possible to consider Jason, one of Vivian’s doctors, as a reflection on Donne’s poetry, especially Holy Sonnet 9 when Donne questions why he can be damned and others are not. John Donne is described as a difficult man and his poetry is hard to understand. Jason comments about his study of cancer in his exchange with Vivian. Vivian asked him why he decided to specialize in oncology instead of heart surgery. Jason responds that cancer is awesome and insinuates that it is more worth his time and then something monotonous like heart surgery. He goes on to describe his fascination,
    How does it do it? The intercellular regulatory mechanisms- especially for proliferation and differentiation- the malignant neoplasia just doesn’t get it…they divide twenty times, or fifty times, but eventually they conk out. You grow cancer cells, and they never stop. No contact inhibition whatsoever. They just pile up, just keep replicating forever. (Edson 56)
    Jason is fascinated with the mechanism behind cancer put does not seem to connect his fascination to the human suffering that occurs because of those never stopping cancer cells. He is observant and aloof. He questions what it is, what quality makes some people damned and others saved, especially in this part of the poem:
    If Poisonous minerals, and if that tree,
    Whose fruit threw death on else immortal us,
    If lecherous goats, if serpents envious
    Cannot be damned, alas, why should I be?
    (Donne 62)
    Jason and Donne essentially ask the same question in different subjects. Why are some cells cancerous and others not? Why are some more nefarious animals not damned? I was surprised that these two ideas worked so well. I would barter that these two quotes sum up one of the biggest ideas surrounding Donne’ poetry and Edson’s play. Why are some thing or cells chosen to be different, and why can those things makes such a difference in someone’s life and their death?

  2. I thought that the pairing of the play W;t and John Donne’s poetry was well suited. Throughout the play W;t, the viewer was constantly shown flashbacks through Vivian’s early life. Now where one might use this as a way that the main character is coming to terms with her mortality, I viewed it as an ironic device by the author. Early in the play when Vivian was still in control of her life and healthy, her flashbacks were when she was just starting out in her field and not in control or in any kind of leadership role. But when she was becoming ill, her flashbacks where when she was at her height and in control. Another use of irony in W;t is that the main doctor throughout the play is seen as the ideal doctor, always knowing his stuff, and whenever asked a question about a diagnosis or the patients symptoms, he would know the answer. Ironically, at the end of the play when it truly mattered, it was that doctor that made the ultimate mistake and tried to resuscitate Vivian after she had authorized a DNR. So in the end, it was he who made the greatest mistake and the lowly nurse was the one who tried to correct the situation that the famed doctor messed up. John Donne’s poem The Triple Fool is another example of irony. In the story, the character in the poem tries to get over the grief of his scorned or lost love by writing a poem (I thought, if I could draw my pains/Through rhyme’s vexation, I should them allay), but another person used this poem as a form of entertainment (Some man, his art and voice to show,/Doth set and sing my pain) which caused the main character even more grief because other people are now aware of his misery (And, by delighting many, frees again/Grief, which verse did restrain).

  3. I cannot even begin to assume that I have understood anything that John Donne has written, most of his work has been paradoxical actually. In his sonnets he constantly references items in opposition. For example in VI he leaves the earth and goes to heaven ("Then, as my soule, to'heaven her first seate, takes flight") but later on speaks of hell and the devil. He again has this contrast of ideals in XIV when he wants to be "imprisoned" by god but at the same time free of any imprisonment. This is how he accomplishes his wit I guess, because wit is defined at the ability to express the relationship of two seemingly incongruous ideas in a humorous way ( However, this theme of disparities is also expressed in the play through Vivian’s inner struggle with humanity. In one essence she yearns for it (“in her pathetic state as a simpering victim, wishes the young doctor would take more interest in personal contact”) but on the other, she realizes that is not the person she has ever been (“the senior scholar ruthlessly denied her simpering students the touch of human kindness she now seeks”). This clash is one of the main themes in the play I believe, because it is so broad and not just on a contrasting level, but on a humanity one.
    It is also equally surprising that the student believed Donne to be hiding in his intricate poetry and then Vivian does want to curl up and hide. It is a literal illustration, but none the less powerful to see. Was John Donne hiding through his poetry? Margaret Edson must have thought so, or at least wanted her audiences she believed so. And after reading John Donne’s poetry first hand, I believe there is an element of hiding through his confusing wording. He does not really know and instead of saying this, he writes from all perspectives as not to be wrong. In his sonnet XIII he writes (in literal terms) that wickedness is ugly (“to wicked spirits are horrid shapes assign’d”) but yet just previous to this had described the crucifixion as an ugly scene. And in his other sonnets, revels under Jesus, how can he say both that the crucifixion was ugly, wicked things are ugly, and Jesus is the savior?

  4. In the play Wit, the scene that stood out to me occurred towards the end of the play when Vivian realized her own death was approaching (Page 72). She quotes the line from Donne that had given her trouble at the beginning of the play “And Death-capital D-shall be no more-semi-colon. Death-capital D-thou shalt die-ex-cla-mation point!” It is not until she gives her last words, is she really able to live. It seems that at that instance Vivian’s life as Dr. Bearing ends. Two scenes that follow this “ending” are important. The “soporific” joke that Vivian shared with Susie (Page 73), and also the bedtime time story that is read to her by her mentor Professor Ashford (Page 78-80) both mark times in Vivian’s life where she was wholeheartedly able to show emotion and was not trapped in the role of a “senior scholar".

  5. Through out W;t, I found myself asking questions about some of Dr. Bearing’s flashbacks and subtle lines that had me thinking "why?". For starters, when she switches from being a patient to being a teacher on page (48), but more enticingly when speaking about Donne's Holy Sonnet Five in particularly, "(VIVIAN moves infront of the screen, and the projection of the poem is cast directly upon her.)" (50) At this point I had to stop and ask questions of is she unconsciously displaying how she feels and thinks inside by stepping infront of the projection or doing so in a attempt for the audience to understand how she feels with out directly telling them? Secondly, in a flashback further along in the play starting on page (59), a student begins to ask and question why Donne continuously over complicated things and uses wit so often. I think Student 2 related John Donne and Dr. Vivian Bearing best when he said, "I think its like he's hiding. I think he's really confused, I dont know, maybe he's scared, so he hides behind all this complicated stuff, hides behind this wit." (60) This parallel between Donne and Vivian's confusion can be seen in just a few short pages after when the classroom set disappears and she is left alone on stage and conveys, "I don't know. I feel so much --what is the word? I look back, I see these scenes, and I . . ." (63) With all these memories fading along with health, the audience now knows that she is being lost in her own meaning and feeling of self and life.

  6. One of the important themes I noticed in Margaret Edson’s Wit is her use of language and its effect on both Vivian and the audience’s understanding of life and death. Ashford explains to a student that a comma or a semi-colon can change the entire meaning of a poem. In much the same way Vivian feels that her doctors have come to see her as less of a person and more of a specimen to be studied. Vivian is a woman who has devoted herself entirely to the scholarly study of the literary works of John Donne. She has lived her entire life in her own mind. She is indeed an intelligent individual, who, as the title suggests, possesses much wit. When she is confronted with her own mortality she confidently explains she has no fear as, “[She is], after all, a scholar of Donne's Holy Sonnets, which explore mortality.” Throughout the play she comes to realize that she, in fact, does not know as much as she thought she did about life. In a way she was hiding from it much in the way that John Donne does in his sonnets with his wording. One of Vivian’s students comments "I think he's really confused, I don’t know, maybe he's scared, so he hides behind all this complicated stuff, hides behind this wit" (60). Vivian comes to realize that she was in fact hiding throughout her own life from exploring what it means to be human. By coming to the realization that experience is just as important as intellectual exploration she is able to truly identify with the themes in Donne’s Holy Sonnets.

  7. In the story of Wit Margaret Edson gives the reader a chance to appreciate the value of life and death. In the last scene when the code team is trying to perform CPR on Vivian I felt myself pulling for the code team. I kept wanting to read the next line seeing that Vivian was going to pulling through this and survive. In a play reading I find myself having a difficult time relating to the characters. Yet, in Wit I could feel Vivian and her intelligence's how it played a role in her personality and they way other characters treated her such as her second doctor, Dr. Jason Posner. In this first reading assignment we are reading to completely different genres. In the Selected Poems, I found myself as the reader on a search for a meaning to understand the writers emotion. In the Poem "The Flea," I found the final line in the Poem to be most influential. "Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee," I found this line to share the value of life, similarly to the play Wit. Every portion of a person is a piece to their life and I liked the way John Donne expresses that with the death of the flea, who sucked blood from him, a piece of him died along with the flea. In these readings I saw the importance of appreciating life.

  8. I found Vivian Bearing in Wit and John Donne with his Holy Sonnets to be taking almost opposite approaches to the same path. Donne fearfully accepts his end, seeming almost resigned to the fact that he has sinned and the consequence will be hell. He throws himself at God's feet, begging for forgiveness, such as in XIV, where he says, "take me to you, imprison me, for I Except you enthrall me, never shall be free." Donne offers himself up to God, believing it to be his only hope. Vivian, on the other hand, attempts to beat death by using her considerable intellectual prowess. She memorizes medical terminology to help her better understand her body, as well as the cancer that eats away at it. In the end, we do not get a definitive answer on the faith vs. reason approaches taken by Vivian and Donne, and it is left for us to judge which is of greater merit.

  9. W;t is a fantastic piece of literature that showcases the life of an independent woman. Edson opens our eyes to the life of Dr. Vivian Bearing, a strong and intellectual individual who feels as if she needs nothing else but her scholarly title, Donne poems, and students to teach in order to succeed. However, how long can one last on only intellect and strength? The reader quickly realizes that love, kindness, and humor play essential roles to the life of a person as well. Vivian is able to intake the eight strongest doses of medicine, but in the end she realizes she is alone, wants nothing but a childhood book read to her, and to indulge in a popsicle by the nurse that calls her "sweetheart" (64). We watch as Vivian thinks back to the times spent with her students. One student lost her grandmother and asks for an extension on her paper, with no remorse, Vivian tells the student that "...the paper is due when it is due". Vivian then tells the audience "I look back, I see those scenes, and I..." (63). Finally, when her thoughts of Donne's meaningful poetry is replaced with medical terminologies and thoughts of her past, Vivian finds herself with a little regret, wishing intellect and strength weren't her only two qualities.