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Representations of disease and illness in World Literature and Cultures

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Organizer: Dr Pravin K Patel

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Disease and illness – being an intrinsic part of the human experience across geographical borders, cultural boundaries and historical epochs – are rich and multifaceted themes in world literature shedding light on societal structure, cultural norms and historical disparities toward health, mortality, and the human condition. Their exploration requires the unravelling of literary and cultural landscape to navigate metaphors, symbols, beliefs, practices, and stigmas that they embody. Some of the classical works representing illness and disease are traced back to Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron (1353), Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), and Albert Camus’ The Plague (1947). Similarly, the works in Indian literature are Bhagwan Das’ Plague ki Chudail [The Witch of Plague] (1902), Suryakant Tripathi Nirala’s Kulli Bhaat (1938), George Verghese Kakkananan’s Vasoori (1968), etc. Contemporary writers like Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Emmanuel Babatunde Omobowale, Tabish Khair, Zadie Smith, and others have dealt with different aspects of disease and illness. The seminar aims to explore the diverse and complex ways in which disease and illness are depicted, interpreted and contextualized in literary works across different cultures and historical periods. The historical narratives of epidemics and pandemics and autobiographical narratives of personal experiences provide insights into the collective and intimate experiences of illness. It aims to foster a critical and interdisciplinary dialogue through medicine, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and related fields into global literary traditions to understand the representation of disease and illness. Scholars are invited to submit a 150-word paper proposal for presentation in the area of literary representations of disease and illness and their enduring impact on our cultures and societies.

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