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Durham University

The Centre for Nineteenth Century Studies

Research Conversation and Guest Lecture

Monday 10 December 2018, from 4.30–6.30 pm, Josephine Butler College

Research conversation: ‘Reconceiving the Relationship between Medicine, Philosophy and Literature’, with Peter Garrett, Michael Mack and Sambudha Sen, 4.30–5.30 pm, The Old Shop, Josephine Butler College

Research conversation abstract

This research conversation is entitled ‘Reconceiving the Relationship between Medicine, Philosophy and Literature. Peter Garratt (Durham, English) and Sambudha Sen (IAS Durham and Shiv Nadar University, India) and Michael Mack (Durham, English) will present short 10-minute papers on how to reconceive the relationship between literature and medicine. There will be a focus on George Eliot and the Victorian novel in both Peter Garratt’s and Sambudha Sen’s presentation: the focal topic of discussion will be the discovery of the heart valve and how a literary text such as George Eliot’s Middlemarch does not only represent this discovery—as Rothstein’ Vital Signs discusses it—but how it also opens up the social significance of such discovery for a new conception of what it means to have a call or vocation in life. MM will provide the historical background for the social need for such a modern, medical call or vocation and discuss how literature and philosophy have played a destructive role fragmenting and deflating grand notions of humanity’s calling and the potential risk of an associated anthropocentricism and anthropomorphism. Does Victorian literature’s concern with medicine’s modern promise of a calling have rather troubling connotations that inflate our sense of our standing the universe, which Spinoza and some romantic and modernist writers have done their best to render fragmentary, incomplete and deflated (if not disappointed)? Or is this a new version of a more humble calling that is grounded not in a metaphysical or quasi-theological notion of a vocation, but in the pragmatic and empirical need to be of help in an increasingly secularized community, such as George Eliot’s?

Research conversationalistsPeter Garratt

Peter Garratt is Lecturer in Victorian Literature at Durham University and has specialist interests in nineteenth-century fiction, intellectual history and Victorian science, particularly in relation to the work of George Eliot and John Ruskin. He is the author of Victorian Empiricism (Associated University Presses, 2010). Current research projects include work on the literary moment 1820-40, assisted by funding by the British Academy, and a project on realist fiction and the sciences of the mind. Peter is also PI on the collaborative AHRC-funded project Cognitive Futures in the Humanities (2012-14), which opens dialogue between cognitive science and the arts and humanities, and an executive committee member of the British Society for Literature and Science and on the advisory board of the Gaskell Journal. He is also an associate member of the research team on the major Wellcome Trust-funded project Hearing the Voice at Durham. He is a member of British Association of Victorian Studies, North American Victorian Studies Association, and British Society for Literature and Science.

Michael Mack

Michael Mack is Reader in English Studies and Medical Humanities at Durham University. Mack’s research focuses on the mind-body divide, questions of stereotyping and exclusion (and integrative diversity) in literature, philosophy and medicine. He has published "Anthropology as Memory. Elias Canetti and Franz Baermann Steiner's Responses to the Shoah" (2001); "German Idealism and the Jew. The Inner Anti-Semitism of Philosophy and German Jewish Responses" (2003), which was shortlisted for the prestigious Koret Jewish Book Award 2004 and has been produced as an audio book (2009); "Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity: the hidden Enlightenment of Diversity from Spinoza to Freud" (2010) and “How Literature Changes the Way we Think”, (2012).

Sambudha Sen

Sambudha Sen is currently an IAS Fellow at Josephine Butler College, Durham University (October - December 2018). He isProfessor and Chair, Department of English at the Shiv Nadar University, Dadri, India. Before he took up this position, Professor Sen was head of the English Department at the University of Delhi and he has held research and teaching positions at the Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, the Huntington Library, Anglia Ruskin University and Jadavpur University. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Rockefeller residency at Bellagio. Professor Sen’s current research is concerned with the ways in which the body was grasped and deployed in Victorian culture: on the one hand, in all its materiality, as something that laboured, consumed and needed to be protected from diseases but could, at the same time, be made to yield medical knowledge and, on the other, as something that could work with posture, gesture, accessories to project a de-materialised, but powerful force field, that unfolded outside its physical boundaries.

Professor Sen will conduct part of this research with colleagues in Durham. Specifically he will focus on a set of anxieties related to the making and crossing of borders that developed around infectious disease in nineteenth century England. Professor Sen has also worked and published widely on topics related to print and visual culture in 19th century England, the novels of Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, visual representations of nineteenth century Calcutta and London, and the cinema of Ritwick Ghatak. His essays have been published in journals such as English Literary History, Nineteenth Century Literature, Representations, and Victorian Studies and Literature Compass. He is the author of two books on Charles Dickens and co author with four others of Khakhi Shorts and Saffron Flags (Sangam Books, 1993) – a widely cited and best selling book on the rise of the Hindu right which was also translated into several Indian languages. His second book London, Radical Culture and the Making of the Dickensian Aesthetic (Ohio University Press, 2012) was reviewed in several major journals. Professor Sen’s latest work Novel Formations, a collection of essays on the early Indian novel for which he was a contributing editor, will be published by Permanent Black later this year.

Sambudha Sen IAS Lecture

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - The Strange and Prophetic Observations of Hootum the Owl : colonial modernity and the making of the post modern novel in India

10th December 2018, 17:30 to 18:30, Sports Hall, Josephine Butler College, Professor Sambudha Sen (Shiv Nadar University)


This talk makes a counterintuitive argument: that in negotiating the unprecedented transformations of colonial modernity Hootum Pyanchar Naksha (1861) – a popular, low-brow prose work by the Bengali writer Kaliprasanna Sinha – produced far reaching expressive strategies whose relevance for the future development of the novel form become evident only when we read it in relation to a late-twentieth-century post modern novels like work like Midnight’s Children (1981).

Specifically Professor Sambudha Sen argues that in the very process of drawing on the politics culture and language of England, Hootum showed the limitations of “realism” – the literary form thought in England and in Europe to be sign of the modern. As it set about destabilizing the basic assumption that undelay literary realism- that time was a continuous , linear sequence -- Hootum produced the basic expressive strategies that would sustain some of the most characteristic features of the post modern novel – its mixture of the real and the magical , its linguistic hybridity and a mode of characterization that unfolded across social space rather than inwards in time.

Directions to Josephine Butler College

Map – Josephine Butler is denoted as building No. 55