Video / Audio

Lucy Delap, University of Cambridge ‘Men, feminism and rethinking sex in late twentieth-century Britain’

Colin Barrett is the author of Young Skins, a debut collection of stories, which won the Guardian First Book Award, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Barrett will read from some of his work and converse with Colm Tóibín, whose own highly acclaimed fiction includes The Master (2004), Brooklyn (2009), Nora Webster (2014) and, most recently, House of Names (2017). Award-winning author Sam Lipsyte, Chair of The Writing Program, will introduce.

n 1872, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Science does not know its debt to imagination," words that still ring true in the worlds of health and health care today. We know a great deal about the empirical aspects of medicine, but we know far less about what the medical imagination is, what it does, how it works, or how we might train it. But it was not always so. In this lecture, Sari Altschuler will be talking about her new book on the history of the medical imagination. During the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States, doctors understood the imagination to be directly connected to health, intimately involved in healing, and central to medical discovery. Literature provided health writers important forms for crafting, testing, and implementing theories of health. Reading and writing poetry trained judgment, cultivated inventiveness, sharpened observation, and supplied evidence for medical research, while novels and short stories offered new sites for experimenting with original medical theories. Health research and practice relied on a broader complex of knowing, in which imagination often worked with observation, experience, and empirical research. In reframing the historical relationship between literature and health, The Medical Imagination provides a usable past for our own conversations about the imagination and the humanities in health research and practice today.

This talk contrasts the drug testing methods of two sixteenth-century alchemical empirics. Andreas Berthold validated his Paracelsian poison antidote (also deemed a cure-all) by letting learned physicians conduct poison trials at German courts, in which test subjects (several dogs and a convict) took poison, followed by the antidote. Georg Amwald, in contrast, scoffed at this method and instead included patient testimonial letters as evidence of the efficacy of his panacea poison antidote - a method also used by earlier alchemists such as Leonardo Fioravanti but derided by physicians. These cases elucidate the tricky problem of proof and evidence in early modern drug testing. While poison trials were used at princely courts all over Europe and appeared to give a definitive answer, they could also be dismissed as singular tricks. Testimonial letters, meanwhile, had perceived problems of trustworthiness. I argue that the boundaries of proof were contested and depended largely on the professional designation of the tester.

Highlights: The opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is one of the plants that has stood longest at the side of humans — and one of the most ambiguous. It can be deeply harmful; it can also be miraculously helpful. It is a European native that somehow became an enduring symbol of Orientalism. Today, it continues to serve as the raw material for a host of copyrighted and hugely valuable pharmaceutical compounds, while also exemplifying a bygone medical tradition. This talk sketches out three ways of looking at opium within a bounded historical context. We will look first at the deep history of Papaver somniferum, which has an ancient heritage of medical and recreational use in Europe. The second way of looking at an opium ball raises the question of why opium became so closely associated with Persia, India, and eventually China from the seventeenth century onward. I link this shift to the emergence of new theories of medicine, biology, and empire in early modern Europe, and, perhaps even more importantly, to unheralded technological changes such as the invention of the opium pipe and the hookah. The third view of an opium ball is to look not at it, but inside it: opium itself is not in high demand today, but the opiate molecules it contains are more popular than ever. The final section of the talk will consider how the isolation of morphine from opium (circa 1803) transformed not just this particular drug, but the history of drugs and pharmaceuticals as a whole. These three views of an opium ball are meant to highlight both the protean identities of the drug in different times and places, and the surprising continuities between them.

The opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is one of the plants that has stood longest at the side of humans — and one of the most ambiguous. It can be deeply harmful; it can also be miraculously helpful. It is a European native that somehow became an enduring symbol of Orientalism. Today, it continues to serve as the raw material for a host of copyrighted and hugely valuable pharmaceutical compounds, while also exemplifying a bygone medical tradition. This talk sketches out three ways of looking at opium within a bounded historical context. We will look first at the deep history of Papaver somniferum, which has an ancient heritage of medical and recreational use in Europe. The second way of looking at an opium ball raises the question of why opium became so closely associated with Persia, India, and eventually China from the seventeenth century onward. I link this shift to the emergence of new theories of medicine, biology, and empire in early modern Europe, and, perhaps even more importantly, to unheralded technological changes such as the invention of the opium pipe and the hookah. The third view of an opium ball is to look not at it, but inside it: opium itself is not in high demand today, but the opiate molecules it contains are more popular than ever. The final section of the talk will consider how the isolation of morphine from opium (circa 1803) transformed not just this particular drug, but the history of drugs and pharmaceuticals as a whole. These three views of an opium ball are meant to highlight both the protean identities of the drug in different times and places, and the surprising continuities between them.

Last Works: Lessons in Leaving by Mark Taylor. Living in the shadow of death may enhance the gift of life. In 2006, Taylor (Religion/Columbia Univ.; Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have So Little Left, 2014, etc.) developed an infection after a biopsy, resulting in septic shock that took a month to stabilize; five months later, he underwent surgery for cancer. That life-threatening experience, he reflects, was like “dying without dying,” and the last 10 years have seemed like “life after death for me,” a reprieve that made him feel unexpectedly liberated. Trying to make sense of the experience, he turned to writers whose works he has read, taught, and cherished during his long career. The result is an erudite intellectual autobiography focused on 11 writers’ insights about the end of life: several (Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, David Foster Wallace, and Freud) committed suicide; two (Nietzsche, Poe) died in delirium; and two (Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida) are likely to be unfamiliar to readers without a background in philosophy. Kierkegaard, Melville, and Thoreau round out the cast. None could be characterized as bright spirits but rather echo the abiding depression that Taylor believes he inherited from his mother. “In one way or another,” he admits, “everything I have written over the years has been an effort to overcome the melancholy of unhappy consciousness.” From his father, however, a science teacher, poet, and artist, he inherited an uplifting love of nature and artistic talent. Living in New England, Taylor senses the ghosts of Melville and Thoreau close at hand. As he watches the sun rise each morning over the Berkshires, he is struck by the moment before light appears and “reality remains virtual and all things seem possible.” As an artist, “exploring ways of writing without words,” he has created large-scale land art from steel, stone, and bone that depict letters from the signatures of Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. They stand as impressive homages to a trinity of beloved philosophers. Taylor’s personal recollections emerge as the most engaging passages, punctuating analyses of often challenging works.

Full Title: Fire, Water, Moon: Supplemental Seasons in a Time without Season, If the Anthropocene names the geological epoch defined by the radically destabilizing effects of human activity on geophysical processes, this talk asks about the continued relevance of other, relatively unchanged seasonal cycles and patterns of fluctuating intensities and regulated dearth and abundance (both cultural and geophysical). According to recent work on the Anthropocene, petro-extraction economies have messed up our relationship to the sun by liberating capital from dependence on the “yield of present photosynthesis” (Andreas Malm). At a time when climate scientists are declaring the end of “seasonality,” and when technology appears to have caught up with lyric’s power to expand and compress, accelerate and distort the diurnal rhythms determined by the earth’s relation to the sun, I turn toward the moon and the micro-seasons afforded by its monthly cycles as well as to other comparably stable, cultural modes of distributing abundance and scarcity across time. What is to be gained by opening up the concept of seasonality to these pluralizing, supplemental seasons within seasons, and what healing powers might they still afford?