As the self vanishes: Teaching at a slant

by Johanna Shapiro

In my role as instructor of a second year medical student elective, The Arts and Medicine, I try to encourage students to think expansively, critically, morally, and compassionately about various topics in medicine through the medium of medically-themed visual, performing, and literary arts. We look at paintings, hear poets read their work, and listen to music and musicians. Often, in such teaching, I adopt the advice of Emily Dickinson: “Tell all the truth/but tell it slant”; in other words, I seek out methods that provide insights into the human condition indirectly, often using media such as the arts and literature to make a point about clinical medicine. Teaching “at a slant” can plunge all of us – teacher and students alike – into a topic more deeply than we expect. Along with my students, I’ve learned that such discomfort can be a good thing. On this day, the topic is The Vanishing Self, and students have dutifully completed scholarly readings on postmodern narrative identity, relational ethics, personhood, self, and dementia.

Read the full article

Read another version published in a newsletter