INTD: How We Die

Despite death's inevitability, we consciously and unconsciously disguise or resist its reality in dreams, fairy tales, allegories, and even jokes.  In his book, How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter, from which this course borrows its name and a good deal of its inspiration, Sherwin Nuland describes how we have turned increasingly to modern medicine as one more means of denying the reality of death.  As a surgeon with more than forty years of experience in a major metropolitan hospital, Nuland admits to actively participating in this denial.  Modern medicine, he argues, influences how we as individuals and as a culture not only view but also experience death.  "Modern dying," he contends, "takes place in the modern hospital, where it can be hidden, cleansed of its organic blight, and finally packaged for modern burial."  This course uses literature, film, and history related to death as points of reference for examining the role modern medicine has come to play in how we die.

Reading List:

  • Simone De Beauvoir, A Very Easy Death.
  • Brian Clark, Whose Life is It Anyway.
  • Margaret Edson, Wit.
  • Annie Ernaux, I Remain in Darkness.
  • Sherwin Nuland, How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter.
  • David Reiff, Swimming in a Sea of Death.
  • Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych.

Student evaluations:

"I feel as though this classed was one of the best I have taken at Hiram College. Blackie does a great job of interacting with his students and making what we are learning so interesting. He does a great job of getting everyone involved in the class. The projects that we did were good, and he really challenged me in thinking outside of the box and expanding my knowledge of the material."

"Prof. Blackie used a lot of different teaching styles and tools throughout the class, which I found very effective. He used NPR pieces, plays, short stories, and novels. He handed out a syllabus at the beginning of the semester with the schedule of reading assignments and when material was to be due, and he did not really stray from that. He was willing to meet outside of class to help with papers one on one and was not afraid to tell the truth if a paper was not up to par. This class is one of the few as Hiram that pushed me to be better than I was when I started that class."

"Michael Blackie is an amazing professor. He challenges people to think about what they truly want in life. He allows for personal exploration and encourages people to think about the stances they take and hold dear."


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