Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EST April 20th 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined in kicking off our fourth week of Narrative Medicine Virtual Group Sessions! We loved seeing regular participants and welcoming new faces from around the globe.

In previous sessions we have been close-reading poems and prose. This evening we chose to explore a text in another medium, as one of our participants put it, “to open our minds to new ways of seeing.”

We ‘slow-looked’ at the painting “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Bruegel (posted below). Participants noticed the juxtaposition of earth, water, and sky; warm climate in the foreground and colder in the background; the incongruity of calm water and wind-filled sails; the different directions in which the painting’s figures gaze. Two keen observers noted a small but important detail in the bottom right corner: two legs sticking out of the water at odd angles and the ruffling of otherwise calm water. That brought us to the title of the painting and its reference to both place and Greek myth. Together we wondered: What is the role of the farmer, the sheep, an island fortress, and everything “yonder”? What is the center of the painting? Is it the landscape? What of Icarus, who is off to one side, and has already made his descent? Why did he fall so far from the sun that melted his beeswax wings? Where is Daedalus, his father, who constructed the wings as a way to free his son and himself? We considered the painting’s composition, and how it invites us to follow the gaze of various figures in the landscape, invites us to look down at the earth, up to the sky, and into the water. Most people agreed that neither man nor beast represented in the painting concern themselves with Icarus. Do they focus solely on their work? Do they “know” Icarus and dismiss his pride and daring? Do they not see? Do they not care? The discussion allowed us not only to appreciate how much can be discovered when we take time to slow-look but also to recognize how many questions and possible understandings we were able to generate.

This evening’s prompt: “Write about an unseen splash” took people to swimming pools and other bodies of water with accidents, collisions, and rescues. Others wrote of metaphorical splashes taking place now in hospitals as patients and healthcare workers battle Covid-19 and the rippling effect into our communities.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session: Wednesday, April 22nd at 12pm EST, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Pieter Bruegel the Elder

c. 1560

oil on canvas

73.5 cm × 112 cm (28.9 in × 44 in)

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of BelgiumBrussels

Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 20, 2020

At the beginning of Part IV we get a discussion of the exhaustion that has taken over the town, and the way that without a cure for the plague, Rieux’s role has gone from that of “a healer” to that of “a diagnostician.” He has “just enough heart” to “use it to bear the 20 hours a day in which he saw men dying who were made for life.” An exhaustion has set in that numbs them all, against the suffering but also against the very precautions that are meant to protect them against the plague. An eery statement, in our moment: “It was the very struggle against the plague that made them more vulnerable to the plague.” An interesting piece about Cottard, too, whom we spoke about in our meeting on Sunday: a character who is thriving, in a way, under the Plague, because he is no longer isolated, instead united with everyone else in the condition of hardship. 

FOR TOMORROW: Next 7 pages, up to “Tarrou looked at him and smiled suddenly,” in the second section of Part IV.