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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Altogether Immune: Modernism and Immunology

28th June 2018, 16:00 to 17:30, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House, Dr Maebh Long

A staff and postgraduate research seminar, introducing a new research project that is pressing the boundaries of Modernist Studies and the Medical Humanities.

About this Talk

'Novels’, writes Virginia Woolf, should be ‘devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia; lyrics to tooth-ache’. For too long, she argues, literature has rooted itself in the mind, and a ‘new language’ is needed to enable an aesthetic of the physical and the debilitated, a language ‘more primitive, more sensual, more obscene’. Woolf’s call came in a time when understandings of the relations between pathogens and immune defences were becoming popularised, and the body was increasingly understood not merely as a form susceptible to illness, but as a complex structure responding to invisible wars. New medical technologies led to new conceptualisations and anxieties about the vulnerability of the individual and the body politic to contamination. The rise of inoculation created a body protected from disease by the incorporation of disease, and thus a self whose victories depended on assimilation and the attenuation of the self. This paper explores the modernist subject as a medicalised one, bound by a system of vulnerable, porous, defensive structures, and located in this space between defence and exposure, between the immune system and germs, between technology, politics, and medicine.

About the Speaker

Maebh Long is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Her areas of interest include research on modernist and contemporary literature in Ireland, Britain, and Oceania, and research on literary theory and continental philosophy. She has published widely on Jacques Derrida and Brian O’Nolan/Flann O’Brien, and is the author of Assembling Flann O'Brien (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). Her edited edition of The Collected Letters of Flann O'Brien has just been published by Dalkey Archive Press. She is co-investigator of the Oceanic Modernism project, which reads post-1960s independence and indigenous rights literature from the Pacific as a form of modernism. She is also in the early stages of a new monograph, entitled The Poetics of Immunology.

Contact m.j.botha@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.


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