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Narratives of Immunity, Writings of Resistance

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Organizer: Maebh Long

Co-Organizer: Martin Willis

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From the late nineteenth century, as the public adjusted to a world of germs and microbes, a discourse of immunity gave the reassurance of bodily defences. Outside of medical journals, representations of these defences were frequently expansive and evoked a protection far beyond bacteria and viruses, as this 1910 advertisement for tonic wine exemplifies: “Let the wind blow, let the air be charged with microbes, let infection surround you as it will, you will be immune to all dangers if you have fortified yourself with Hall’s Wine”.

Scholarship has devoted much attention to narratives of medical threat: here we devote ourselves to accounts of risk prevention and mitigation, medical, of course, but medicine firmly at the intersection of politics and culture. This seminar will bring together scholars to study a collection of different historical and contemporary instances of “resistance” to ill health, allowing the word “immunity” and its less overtly medico-political synonyms to play out across their multiple meanings and varied linguistic and geographical contexts.

Analyses could include, but are not limited to, questions such as:

What does the rhetoric of protection in medical and general advertising tell us? What stories do the products sold, and the places that sold them, tell us about ideas of infection and immunity?
In what ways and to what ends are material objects imbued with a sense of exemption and deterrence? How do these objects circulate through literary fiction or wider writing?
What might thinking with and through immunity or resistance tell us about concepts of self-help and self-care, from the mid-nineteenth century to today?
How do novels or reportage or popular writing experiment with poetics or narrative forms of medicalised defence?
What visual imagery underpins the creation of an immune body and body politic?
How do discourses of prevention and protection traverse – or find themselves bound by – languages and cultures and nation-states?
In what ways do discourses of impunity and security change over time, as risks and harm adapt and shift?
What symbolism and ideologies are conjured up when we think of absolute protection, complete resistance, full immunity?

We invite abstracts (max 300 words) on these or related topics, with source material in any language and from any part of the world, from faculty, independent scholars, and graduate students from literary studies, comparative literature, history, medical humanities, critical theory and associated areas.

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