EVENT: The Abstract, PhD research seminar series

As well as my role as administrator for Centre for Humanities and Health, I am also a PhD student based in King’s College, London’s English department. This year, I am co-organising a student work-in-progress research seminar series known as The Abstractwith my colleagues Bryony White and Erin Cunningham.

Last week The Abstract held an event which – I think you will see – had a distinctly medical humanities theme (how illness and the contemporary novel intertwine). Charlotte Wu presented a paper on South African AIDS narratives whilst Rafael Lubner presented a conceptualisation of the prosthetic mode in Tom McCarthy’s Remainder.

You can read the abstracts below:

Charlotte Wu, “Against Negative Interpretation: HIV/AIDS, memory and the colonial archive in post-apartheid South African literature.”
Narrative plays a vital part in the production of knowledge around epidemics. The global outbreak of HIV/AIDS coincided with an increase in critical reflexivity around language and public health in the academy, and scholars agree that HIV/AIDS has been profoundly integrated into the popular and sociological imagination. In South Africa, however, analyses of the AIDS discourse have been governed by descriptions of ‘silence’, which reflects a residual ‘memory’ of colonial tropes. In this epistemic environment texts must continually work to counter “negative interpretations” (Mbembe 2001) that seek to mediate their legitimacy.In this paper, I open with an evaluation of what I term the discursive production of silence around HIV/AIDS in post-apartheid South Africa, laying the ground for a discussion of two contemporary novels: Imraan Coovadia’s Tales of the Metric System (2014) and Masande Ntshanga’s The Reactive (2014).

Rafael Lubner, “The prosthetic mode: Capacity and humanness in Tom McCarthy’s Remainder.”
This paper uses Tom McCarthy’s 2005 novel Remainder to elucidate a crucial valence of what I call the prosthetic mode: capacity. After a strange accident, Remainder’s protagonist is left feeling inauthentic and artificial, disconnected from the rest of the world. By way of recompense for the damage caused, he is given a large amount of money, which he uses to recreate moments in which he felt “real”. By tracing the ways in which the protagonist attempts to reattain this sense of “realness”, and to reconnect with his humanity and the world, I argue that he comes to be framed by a series of apparatuses, discourses and affects which shape the modes of being and feeling made available to him. In particular, I examine how the protagonist understands himself as bearing a capacity to become human that is intricately tied with a control of money, space and people. I use an analysis of this capacity in order to explore how the form of humanity made available to subjects of the prosthetic mode is one shaped by the conjoining of capital and digital technology, and consequently marked by a set of norms concerning ability, productivity and connectivity.

Keep your ears tuned for future sessions with an illness and/or medical theme.


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