Shaywitz explains that in brain imaging studies, fluent readers show activation in the back of the brain and very little in the front, while dyslexic...moreShaywitz explains that in brain imaging studies, fluent readers show activation in the back of the brain and very little in the front, while dyslexic people show underactivation in the back and more up front. She asserts that these images reveal "exactly where and how dyslexia manifests itself in the brain." I say they mostly just show us that dyslexic people don't read fluently. Um, duh.
So what's the difference between dyslexic and illiterate? Shaywitz offers the "sea of strengths" (i.e. disparity) model, according to which dyslexia is recognizable when it is surrounded by a "sea of strengths" like problem solving, comprehension, vocabulary, and general knowledge.
I stopped about halfway through this book because its prescription for overcoming dyslexia seemed to be don't be a poor kid who goes to a shitty public school in the ghetto. For struggling readers who have had neither good phonics instruction nor the opportunity to develop enough strengths to make a sea, Shaywitz's model is not useful.
I do not have any doubt that the ability to develop phonemic awareness varies tremendously, and that many very intelligent people have phonologic deficits. People with such deficits need more high quality instruction and practice in order to become fluent readers. But in fact, most people—dyslexic or not—need explicit instruction and everyone needs a lot of practice in order to master reading.
Dr. Kleinman makes a distinction between illness and disease, and explains that the job of the physician is to reconfigure patients’ culturally-shaped...moreDr. Kleinman makes a distinction between illness and disease, and explains that the job of the physician is to reconfigure patients’ culturally-shaped “illness problems” (experiences of symptoms and suffering) as narrow, technical “disease problems” (anatomical or physiological changes). He claims that “the way of the the specialist diagnostician, which is not to credit the patient’s subjective account until it can be quantified and therefore rendered more ‘objective,’ can make a shambles of the care of the chronically ill.” And so he says that in order to provide good care, doctors must learn to listen to and understand patients’ interpretations of their own illnesses. A big part of caring for the chronically ill should be “empathetic witnessing,” which helps people make sense of and give value to the illness experience. That is mostly what this book is about.
I love the part near the beginning where Kleinman goes, “Both cancer and heart disease intensify our awareness of the dangers of our times and of the man-made sources of much misery. But the government response is meant to obfuscate this vision of sickness as meaning something is wrong with the social order and to replace (medicalize) it with narrowly technical questions.” I got all excited at this point because I thought he was starting to say something really cool about the arbitrariness of the illness/disease distinction—but then he didn’t really do it. In Kleinman's analysis, the brute material physiological processes that constitute disease become meaningful experiences of illness through a kind of cultural mediation. I myself am dubious of this distinction between illness and disease because I am obsessed with Georges Canguilhem and his idea that social values are expressed in physiological norms.
So okay, from my perspective, there’s nothing really radical here. And the main point seems fairly obvious to me because this is something I have thought about a great deal. But I don't think it's obvious to everyone. And Kleinman is a total mensch—he writes with such extraordinary clarity, sensitivity and intelligence—I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares for the chronically ill. I also recommend it to anyone who suffers from any kind of chronic illness—i.e., everyone.(less)
Initially I was a bit disappointed to find that this book is very different from The Age of Innocence. Rather than subtle and carefully crafted, The C...moreInitially I was a bit disappointed to find that this book is very different from The Age of Innocence. Rather than subtle and carefully crafted, The Custom of the Country is satirical, uneven, and a bit over-the-top. I'm a Jane Eyre kind of person; perhaps those who prefer Wuthering Heights would appreciate Custom more that I did. In the first half, I found the heroine just too unsympathetic. Parts III, IV and V redeemed the book for me. Undine Spragg does not really become less vain, spoiled or dishonest, but she does develop into something rather interesting. I think I'd give this three and a half stars if I could, but I'll round up since the second is the better half. I believe Edith Wharton has a rare knack for endings.
* * * * *
A year later I still think about this book quite a lot, which I suppose must mean that it is really very good. In particular I think of this:
She stretched herself out moodily on one of the pink and gold sofas, and lay there brooding, an unread novel on her knee. Mrs. Spragg timidly slipped a cushion under her daughter's head, and then dissembled herself behind the lace window-curtains and sat watching the lights spring out down the long street and spread their glittering net across the Park. It was one of Mrs. Spragg's chief occupations to watch the nightly lighting of New York.(less)
The first hundred or so pages of this book put me into such hysteria, I have to give it all the stars. The latter bits not quite as stimulating— but s...moreThe first hundred or so pages of this book put me into such hysteria, I have to give it all the stars. The latter bits not quite as stimulating— but still!
I'm lazy and hopeless Peggy but honestly I do have a rum time.(less)
I liked the first part (It’s Ideology, Stupid) about as much as I like the book’s title, which is to say, rather a lot. It is difficult to determine t...moreI liked the first part (It’s Ideology, Stupid) about as much as I like the book’s title, which is to say, rather a lot. It is difficult to determine the extent to which my amusement derived from imagining all the prose being said in Žižek’s hilarious Slovenian accent, punctuated by the projectiles of saliva which (I am told by my brother, who once saw him talk at a conference) characterize the man’s orations. But certainly some of it came from the content itself. For example, I think this is funny:
Kung Fu Panda, the 2008 cartoon film hit, provides the basic coordinates of the functioning of contemporary ideology. The fat panda bear dreams of becoming a sacred Kung Fu warrior, and when, through blind chance (beneath which, of course, lurks the hand of Destiny), he is chosen to be the hero to save his city, he succeeds . . . However, throughout the film, this pseudo-oriental spiritualism is constantly being undermined by a vulgar-cynical sense of humor. The surprise is how this continuous self-mockery in no way impedes on the efficiency of the oriental spiritualism—the film ultimately takes the butt of its endless jokes seriously. Similarly with one of my favorite anecdotes regarding Niels Bohr: surprised at seeing a horseshoe above the door of Bohr’s country house, the fellow scientist visiting him exclaimed that he did not share the superstitious belief regarding horseshoes keeping evil spirits out of the house, to which Bohr snapped back: “I don’t believe in it either. I have it there because I was told that it works even when one doesn’t believe in it.” This is indeed how ideology functions today: nobody takes democracy or justice seriously, we are all aware of their corrupted nature, but we participate in them, we display our belief in them, because we assume that they work even if we do not believe in them.
So if your sense of humor is of the “funny because it’s true” variety, and you don’t mind a lot of abstract talk about “coordinates” and “dimensions,” or references to Lacan, then you might very well enjoy the first half of this book as I did.
Compared to the stuff in the first part, the second part (The Communist Hypothesis) is not very funny. Also the line of argument is a little difficult to follow, and thusly, to my mind, not entirely convincing. I guess it’s hard to be funny (or convincing) about Communism at this point. Which is not to say that there are not some lucid little gems here and there. Like this one:
We have to accept that, at the level of possibilities, our future is doomed, that the catastrophe will take place, that it is our destiny—and then, against the background of this acceptance, mobilize ourselves to perform the act which will change destiny itself and thereby insert a new possibility into the past. Paradoxically, the only way to prevent disaster is to accept it as inevitable.
Actually, now that I’m rereading that passage, I am finding it kind of funny. (I can’t tell anymore!) I do tend to get cranky over apocalyptic talk, and it’s possible that my initial humorless reaction was due to the fact that the above prescription is disturbingly close to the approach I tried recently to employ in my love-life—an approach that did not, as far as I can tell, prevent disaster.... Okay, okay, it’s funny. Funny because it’s true. Four stars!(less)
I had to stop reading this because the type is too small and it was hurting my eyeballs. Anyway it wasn't nearly as good as the first two in the serie...moreI had to stop reading this because the type is too small and it was hurting my eyeballs. Anyway it wasn't nearly as good as the first two in the series. Maybe I'll take up Phineas Redux when I have time for novels again.(less)
This book is about how we're all just an empirico-transcendental doublet strapped to the back of a tiger. Now that I've read it the only thing I know...moreThis book is about how we're all just an empirico-transcendental doublet strapped to the back of a tiger. Now that I've read it the only thing I know is that Foucault is totally gay for Nietzsche—"he was so wise, he knew so much, he wrote such good books." Nietzsche!(less)
I read this because I am obsessed with the idea that pathological conditions cannot be located within an individual. This book, though not without it...more I read this because I am obsessed with the idea that pathological conditions cannot be located within an individual. This book, though not without its problems, did not disappoint. Highly recommended to those interested in the history of madness.(less)