States of Exile

States of Exile

Each chapter of States of Exile: Correspondences Between Art, Literature and  Nursing is a study for a classroom seminar  in a semester long course in reading, writing, and reasoning in nursing studies.  As such, in each chapter, the reader will find the précis of the work of art, film or literature to be studied and student’s meditations, conversations, and writings about that work in relation to their own practice.

The book is organized around the central theme of the psychological and spiritual state of exile portrayed in Rodin’s sculpture “The Burghers of Calais,” Kurosawa’s film  Ikiru, Sophocles’ tragedy Philoctetes, Tolstoi’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilych, Cather’s short story “Paul’s Case,” Bernanos’ novella Mouchette, and Mason’s dramatic retelling of the ancient epic Gilgmamesh. The depiction of the Burghers, Watanabe, Philoktetes, Ivan Ilych, Paul and Mouchette, and Gilgamesh through their spiritually exiled states teach the student that compassion can only be understood through action.

Also included are notes and guides to teachers and students which provide Young-Mason’s research method questions designed for this work.  Her photographs of Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais” taken in Paris and Washington are to be found in the first chapter and the cover art.  A video film based upon this research and filmed in Rodin’s last home and studio is near completion.

Cover photo by Jeanine Young-Mason.

Excerpt from Sates of Exile: Correspondences Between Art, Literature and Nursing

©  Young-Mason

In the well-known, recorded Gsell-Rodin conversations of 1911, Gsell summarized Rodin’s theory of the expressiveness of the human image: “Generally the fact alone is considered to be the mirror of the soul: the mobility of the features of the face seems to us the unique exteriorization of the spiritual life.  In reality, there is not one muscle of the body that does not express variation within.  Each speaks of  joy or sadness, enthusiasm or despair, calm or rage.  Out-stretched arms, an unrestrained torso can smile with as much sweetness as eyes or lips.  But in order to be able to interpret all aspects of the flesh, one must be trained patiently in the spelling and reading of the pages of this beautiful book” (Art: Conversations with Paul Gsell. Translated by deCaso, J Sanders PB. Berkeley, CA University of California Press, 1984, p. 10)

The question thus arises, how can we as students of the human condition undertake this necessary training: How might we develop the aesthetic senses to appreciate the legibility of the human face and form more fully?  For assistance in this undertaking we naturally turn to the artist.  For the artist “sees” the world through eyes trained to acutely appreciate color, light and shadow, surface and volume, and inner truth.  In particular, the education and training of Rodin, and the development of his artistic technique and insight, offer the health care professional rich intellectual material for this study.  A closer look at the conception and evolution of Rodin’s masterpiece, “The Burghers of Calais,” amply illustrates this vision.

(Journal of Professional Nursing 6: 289-299, 1990. © 1990 by Jeanine Young-Mason)