Just a Head: Stories in a Body

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Allen & Unwin, 1998 - Fiction - 148 pages
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This is the story of a young woman, M.R., who collapsed with sudden and total paralysis six years ago. She has struggled for many years without a diagnosis or cure. She was a scientist, steeped in the positivist tradition, with total faith in the system which guided her education, but which ultimately let her down.
Denise Fassett is a nurse academic who was with M.R. when she collapsed. She traces M.R.'s story, revealing how people may come to understand their bodies when they are ill. As M.R. struggles with her quadriplegia, she experiences being alienated from her body and eventually refers to herself in Cartesian fashion as 'just a head'.
The nurses respond to M.R. in different ways as she moves from institution to institution searching for a cure. Denise Fassett exposes how reductive language can shape illness experiences and reveals the consequences of being a medicalised body. M.R.'s moving story challenges health professionals to reconsider illness and how the body is approached theoretically in medicine and nursing.

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Last day on legs
Writing the body
Reading the body
The body as text
Being basic nursing care
Being unable to eat
Being just a head
Lungs or legs
Being a psych consult
Reinvesting in science
Home at last
Being an institutionalised body
Reflections Denise Fossett

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Page 44 - There is no need for arms, physical violence, material constraints. Just a gaze. An inspecting gaze. a gaze which each individual under its weight will end by interiorising to the point that he is his own overseer, each individual thus exercising this surveillance over, and against, himself.
Page 25 - Theorizing about this experience aesthetically, critically is an agenda for radical cultural practice. For me this space of radical openness is a margin — a profound edge. Locating oneself there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a "safe
Page 43 - Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action...
Page 47 - ... a whole set of knowledges that have been disqualified as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated: naive knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity.
Page 1 - Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship. in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom oo of the sick.
Page 25 - Yearning is the word that best describes a common psychological state shared by many of us, cutting across boundaries of race, class, gender, and sexual practice. Specifically, in relation to the postmodernist deconstruction of "master" narratives, the yearning that wells in the hearts and minds of those whom such narratives have silenced is the longing for critical voice. It is no accident that "rap...
Page 1 - Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.32 Sontag goes on to discuss the widely used "cancer metaphor.
Page 42 - What was then being formed was a policy of coercions that act upon the body, a calculated manipulation of its elements, its gestures, its behaviour. The human body was entering a machinery of power that explores it, breaks it down and rearranges it.
Page 25 - Spaces can be real and imagined. Spaces can tell stories and unfold histories. Spaces can be interrupted, appropriated, and transformed through artistic and literary practice. As Pratibha Parma notes, "The appropriation and use of space are political acts.
Page 140 - Bunting, S. (1991) Voices and Paradigms: Perspectives on critical and feminist theory in nursing.

About the author (1998)

Denise Fassett MN, BSc(Nurs), lectures at the Tasmanian School of Nursing, University of Tasmania. She was with M.R. when she suffered her first episode and followed the course of her deterioration as a nurse, a friend, and a researcher. M.R. Gallagher MSc, BSc(Hons), was a lecturer in biosciences at the School of Medicine, University of Tasmania, when she developed this chronic condition. She now campaigns actively in favour of voluntary euthanasia.

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