English 3361

Narrative & Medicine

Prof. Jared Gardner

Autumn 2017


WeFr 11:10-12:30 • Denney Hall 238


office hours (DE 565): by appt. @ https://jaredgardner.youcanbook.me

This course is built on the principle that narrative competence increases medical competence and communication for both caregivers and patients. In other words, it assumes that medical practitioners and patients who become aware of the importance of stories and storytelling and knowledgeable about how stories work will become more arrive at better outcomes. We will explore this principle by taking up the following questions: How does narrative give us greater insight into illness, medical treatment, doctor-patient relationships, and other aspects of health and medicine? How do illness and other experiences within the realm of medicine influence ways of telling stories? How do doctors’ perspectives and patients’ perspectives differ, and what, if anything, can be done to close those differences? In order to increase our own narrative competence, we will look at narrative in different media and forms--including drama, print (fiction and nonfiction), comics, film--and consider core concepts of narrative (plot, character, space, time, perspective, dialogue, ethics, and aesthetics). We will also consider a range of medical conditions and issues from mortality to ethics, including both “physical” and “mental” illness. Since the course is populated by students majoring in a great variety of disciplines, we will also consider how our different disciplinary perspectives relate to each other: to what extent do they overlap, complement, or occasionally conflict with each other as we think about the nexus between narrative and medicine?  


Required books (other texts will be provided via Carmen/Canvas (marked [C] on the schedule), or by following the link on the schedule)


  1. Margaret Edson, Wit
  2. David Small, Stitches
  3. Paul Kalanathi, When Breath Becomes Air
  4. Sarah Manguso, Two Kinds of Decay

Week 1

Wed 8/23


Fri 8/25

Rita Charon, “Preface” and “The Sources of Narrative Medicine” [C]; John Vaughan, “The Difference Between Pity and Empathy

Week 2

Wed 8/30

Emily Dickinson pain sampler [C]; David Biro, “When Language Runs Dry: Pain, the Imagination, and Metaphor”; Lisa Folkmarson Käll, “Intercorporeality and the Sharability of Pain”

Fri 9/1

Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill” (1926) [C]; Gawande, “The Case of the Red Leg” [C]

Week 3

Mon 9/4

BLOG POST 1 due by end of day (11:59:59 PM ;))

Wed 9/6

Karen Brennan, “Dream, Memory, Story, and the Recovery of Narrative” [C]

Fri 9/8

Brennan (cont.); Leslie Jamison, “The Empathy Exams

QUIZ 1 (up through Sunday)

Week 4

Wed 9/13

“Empathy Exams” (cont.)

Fri 9/15

 Margaret Edson, Wit (1995)

Week 5

Mon 9/18

BLOG POST 2 due by end of day

Wed 9/20

Wit (continued)

Fr 9/22

Wit (film) [link takes you to copy of film in OSU streaming library; higher resolution copy available via link in Carmen announcements]

QUIZ 2 (up through Sunday)

Week 6

Wed 9/27

Paul Kalanathi, When Breath Becomes Air

Fri 9/29

When Breath Becomes Air (continued)

Week 7

Wed 10/4

Catch-up and comment on classmates’ blog posts thus far [NO CLASS]

Fri 10/6

Kate Clanchy, “The Not-Dead and the Saved” [C]; Lorrie Moore, “People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk” [C]; William Carlos Williams, “The Use of Force” [C]; Richard Selzer, “Brute” [C]  [ONLINE PROJECT: NO CLASS]

Week 8

Wed 10/11

William Carlos Williams, “The Use of Force” [C]; Richard Selzer, “Brute” [C]

QUIZ 3 (up through Sunday)


Fall Break

Week 9

Wed 10/18

Clanchy, “The Not-Dead and the Saved”; Moore, “People Like That Are the Only People Here” (continued)

Fri 10/20

David Small, Stitches 

Week 10

Mon 10/23

BLOG POST 3 due by end of the day

Wed 10/25

Stitches (continued)

Fri 10/27

Allie Brosch, “Depression” Part 1 & Part 2

QUIZ 4 (up through Sunday)

Week 11

Wed 11/1

Standup comedy and illness playlist part 1

Fri 11/3

Standup comedy and illness playlist part 2 (continued)

Week 12

Wed 11/8

Sherman Alexie, “War Dances

Fri 11/10


Week 13

Wed 11/15

Sarah Manguso, The Two Kinds of Decay

Fri 11/17

The Two Kinds of Decay (continued)

QUIZ 5 (up through Sunday)


Week 14/15

Mon 11/27


Wed 11/29

Never Let Me Go (2010; dir. Mark Romanek, based on novel by Kazuo Ishiguro) [link takes you to copy of film in OSU streaming library; alternate copy available via link in Carmen email & announcement]

Fri 12/1

Never Let Me Go (continued); from Rachel Pearson, No Apparent Distress [C]

Mon 12/4


Wed 12/6

The Big Sick (2017; dir. Michael Showalter, screenplay by Emily Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani)

QUIZ 6 (up through Saturday)

Wed 12/13

Final paper due



This is a course on intense, often personal, and always challenging questions of life and death, suffering and compassion, illness and healing. The heart of the class will be your ideas, questions, opinions, and discoveries, so come prepared every day with things you want to talk about and be prepared to be called on to share them or to discuss your latest blog post. In addition to discussion in class, we can take advantage of threaded discussion forums on Carmen and comments on the class blog. Active participation in discussions, commenting on your classmates’ blog posts, and on Carmen forums will all have a positive impact on your final grade.

More than 3 absences will negatively affect your attendance/participation grade, and your final grade will be lowered by a half-letter grade for each absence over 5. (Except in blood-curdling cases I make no distinction between “excused” and “un-excused” absences; no need for  “excuse” notes).


You are to have completed readings for the day on which it is assigned. In the case of books we will be discussing over two days, you should have completed at least half of the text by the first class and all of it by the second.

You are expted to bring books to class on the days they are being discussed. Many of our readings will be available in pdf’s via Carmen (or on the web). You are to bring copies of these to class on the days they are being discussed, either in paper print out (which you can and should markup with questions and ideas for discussion) or electronically on a tablet or laptop. If you are not printing out, be sure to note questions and ideas about the readings on a separate page or file so you can keep track of them and have them at hand for discussion.

Electronic devices

While you may utilize laptops or tablets to access course readings or take notes during class, the use of

cellphones, headphones, or off-task use of laptops and tablets will result in an absence for the day. (I won’t call you out; I’ll just mark you absent… as a teacher and parent for more than 20 years, I can tell the different between when folks are on social media or Steam and when they are using their laptops to engage with the class and material).


In lieu of exams, we will have 6 quizzes spread out throughout the semester (roughly every two weeks), sometimes in class and sometimes on Carmen.  They will cover material from our reading, discussions and lectures. The lowest grade will be dropped. No make-ups allowed for missed quizzes.


One 5-8 page final research paper focusing on an aspect of narrative and medicine of particular importance to your own personal and/or professional goals. Primary and secondary research will be required for this project. Suggestions and starting places will be distributed along with the paper prompt several weeks before the paper is due.


This class has a Carmen component.  This will be the space where announcements, links, resources, and discussion forums will be found. Participation in the informal discussion forum on Carmen will count toward your participation grade. Discussion on Carmen will be governed by the same rules of respect that would apply to our in-class discussions. I reserve the right to censor any posts that I deem insulting, demeaning, or abusive.

Class Blog

Instead of mid-semester papers, we will each be contributing to a blog for the class with our insights and discoveries. The blog will be accessible only to people in the class. For your first blog entry, introduce yourself  by sharing a brief narrative about illness, injury and/or pain that you are comfortable sharing with the class. Instructions on the first post and how to access the class blog will be shared on the Friday of the first week of classes.


The rough grading formula for this class is 25%=quizzes; 30%=blog posts; 30% final paper; 15%=participation/attendance



This course is part of the General Education Curriculum in Category 2.C. Arts and Humanities, subarea Literature:


General Goals:  Students evaluate significant writing and works of art. Such studies develop capacities for aesthetic and historical response and judgment; interpretation and evaluation; critical listening, reading, seeing, thinking, and writing; and experiencing the arts and reflecting on that experience.

We will achieve those goals through both the conduct of our class sessions and the assignments you do in connection with them.  Thus, by the end of the course, you should have enhanced your abilities as readers, writers, and thinkers about the art of narrative, the theory and practice of medicine, and the interrelations between them.  More generally, the course should help you to analyze information and apply it to new contexts, to reflect on what you know, identify what you still need to learn, and sort through competing arguments.

Academic honesty

Plagiarism is the representation of another's works or ideas as one's own:  it includes the unacknowledged word for word use and/or paraphrasing of another person's work, and/or the inappropriate unacknowledged use of another person's ideas.  All cases of suspected plagiarism, in accordance with university rules, will be reported to the Committee on Academic Misconduct (Faculty Rule 3335-5-487). For additional information, see the Code of Student Conduct at http://studentconduct.osu.edu.

Students with disabilities

Students with documented disabilities who have registered with the Office of Student Life Disability Services will be appropriately accommodated and should inform the instructor as soon as possible of their needs. SLDS is located in 098 Baker Hall, 113 W. 12th Ave; Tel.: 614-292-3307; VRS: 614-429-1334; Email: slds@osu.edu; Web: slds.osu.edu