22 January 2011

"Imaginative Worlds: Medical Humanities and ‘the uses of literature’"

Please join us for the first "The Uses of Literature" seminar of Epiphany Term, where we'll be joined by members of the Centre for Medical Humanities here at Durham University.


The Medical Humanities is an emerging interdisciplinary field of enquiry in which humanities and social sciences perspectives are brought to bear upon an exploration of the human side of medicine, broadly conceived. Literary studies has been a key contributing discipline to the development of this field; however, driven as it has been by the imperatives of medical education, the Medical Humanities has tended to value literature mainly as a form of training (in how to be empathetic, to tolerate ambiguity, to develop 'narrative competence' in the context of clinical practice). The central argument of this paper is that a more sophisticated account of the ‘uses of literature’ in the Medical Humanities is needed if the field is to continue to flourish. To that end, our paper, which is very much a work in progress, takes some first steps in the attempt to rethink the role of literature in understanding medicine and, indeed, human experience. Beginning with an overview uses of literature dominant in the Medical Humanities, we then explore alternative approaches by looking at the imaginative worlds of pre-modern literature and the Zuckerman novels of Philip Roth.

Corinne Saunders is Professor in the Department of English Studies, Associate Director of the Centre for Medical Humanities, and Director of the Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies. A key focus of her current work is the study of pre-Cartesian models of mind-body-affect and their links with contemporary neuroscience. Michael Mack is a Reader in the Department of English Studies and the Centre for Medical Humanities. He is currently completing a book about how literature changes the way we think. Angela Woods is a Lecturer in Medical Humanities whose first book "The Sublime Object of Psychiatry: Schizophrenia in Clinical and Cultural Theory" is forthcoming in 2011.

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