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Research conversation and guest lecture

(5 December 2018)

The conversation entitled ‘Reconceiving the Relationship between Medicine, Philosophy and Literature’, with Peter Garrett and Michael Mack, Department of English Studies and Sambudha Sen, Shiv Nadar University, India will take place on Monday, 10 December 2018 at 4.30pm in The Old Shop, Josephine Butler College. Sambudha Sen will also give the next Institute for Advanced Study lecture entitled 'The Strange and Prophetic Observations of Hootum the Owl : colonial modernity and the making of the post modern novel in India' on Monday, 10 December 2018 at 5.30pm in the Sports Hall, Josephine Butler College. All are welcome. For more information visit the website.

Research conversation abstract

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?


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.

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