HC421H - Inside-Out Prison Exchange: The Ethics of Ambiguity, Studies in Fiction and Narrative Medicine (Fall/2023)

Professor: Dawn Marlan

4.00 credits

CRN 12286: Tuesday, 6:00-8:30pm @ LIB 322

This course is open only to CHC students. An an application and instructor approval are required to register for this course. If you are not familiar with the Inside-Out Program, please check out the information on the Prison Education Program website here: https://prisoned.uoregon.edu/classes/. You can learn more about the broader activities of the Prison Education Program here: https://prisoned.uoregon.edu/Students may only take one Inside-Out class in a given term. However, given the limited spaces available, students are encouraged to apply to multiple sections if their schedule allows.

An Information Session will be held on May 11, 3:00-4:00pm, in the CHC’s Shephard Library, located on the third floor of Chapman Hall.

The Application is due by 11:59pm, Wednesday May 17th, 2023. See the application document for details on how to submit your application.

This class will be held on Tuesday evenings at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem; transportation will be provided.  We will leave campus between 3:30 to 4:00 p.m. and return by 10:30 p.m., with class being held from 6:00-8:30 p.m.  

Institutions manage and process people. Medicine, like many institutions, tends to define people in terms of their problems – disease, drugs, mental illness. Fiction inverts this structure, seeing character as something that transcends problems. Fiction tends not to diagnose, pathologize, or moralize. And while medicine leans toward closure (a cure, death), narrative’s drive toward resolution is most satisfying, I would argue, when the questions that drive the narrative remain, to some degree, unanswered, retaining mystery. The new field of Narrative Medicine, inaugurated at Columbia University by a team of doctors, scientists, literature and film scholars, and fiction writers, begins with the premise that medicine centrally involves a nuanced human exchange mediated by language, specifically narrative. A patient tells a story, and a practitioner interprets, retells, alters, and “concludes” it, often without doing justice to the complexity of such an exchange, the power relationships that animate it, and without recognizing the ways in which “closure” eludes us. Institutions are designed to solve problems, not multiple them. Yet by imposing closure prematurely, science “ignores the ethical demand out of which it arises,” namely, its commitment to doubt, uncertainty and ignorance, hallmarks of scientific inquiry. The promise of narrative medicine is that literary values and techniques of interpretation can answer this ethical demand in multiple ways: by restoring attention to the ambiguity and nuance, which fruitful narrative exchanges require; increasing tolerance for uncertainty; sharpening powers of observation and reflection; developing awareness of our affect and its interference in interpretation; building cooperation and trust in relationships that are traditionally hierarchical; respecting different forms of knowledge and experience; adopting a practice of radical listening, and fostering creativity. In this course, we will study some of the most striking and innovative short stories in various linguistic traditions and periods alongside theoretical materials that will help us to better understand the elements of narrative and the principles of Narrative Medicine. By focusing on moments of ambiguity and problems of closure, we will accept the Jamesian challenge laid out in The Art of Fiction: “Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost.” Assignments will be both interpretative and creative. 

Please note that the Inside-Out format of this class is dependent on the prisons allowing the course to take place.