Death and Survival: the existential dimension

15 Sep 2020

9:00 – 10:30 a.m. (GMT +08:00)

Prof. Srikant SARANGI

Professor in Humanities and Medicine and Director of the Danish Institute of Humanities and Medicine/Health (DIHM) at Aalborg University, Denmark

Srikant Sarangi is Professor in Humanities and Medicine and Director of the Danish Institute of Humanities and Medicine (DIHM) at Aalborg University, Denmark ( Between 1993 and 2013, he was Professor in Language and Communication and Director of the Health Communication Research Centre at Cardiff University (UK), where he continues as Emeritus Professor. Beginning 2017, he is also Adjunct Professor at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Norway, Visiting Professor at University of Jyväskylä, Finland and Visiting Professor at the College of Medicine, Qatar University. In recent years, he has been Visiting Professor under the Academic Icon scheme at University of Malay, Malaysia (2013-2015) and Visiting Research Professor, Centre for the Humanities and Medicine, The University of Hong Kong (2013-2016).

Surviving Lives and Counting Deaths: Stripping Culture of Meaning in the COVID-19 Era

Abstract: In this conceptual paper, I reflect on the dominant discourses in global circulation concerning the COVID-19 health crisis. While the health crisis is inevitably entwined with the attendant economic crisis, a rather muted discourse reigns over the latent – and potentially consequential – cultural crisis. In outlining the various interpretations of culture from a combined human and social sciences perspective, I suggest that a reductionist behavioural interpretation of culture – which aligns with the epidemiologically framed public health discourse – has been privileged during the COVID-19 era in preference to a more semiotic, meaning-centred understanding of culture. I illustrate my argument in relation to three specific domains: self-governmentality underpinning preventive practices for the containment of transmission of the virus (amounting to dispensing with death); quantification rhetoric in the portrayal of death devoid of the experiential dimension; and ‘thin’ accounts of survival/rehabilitation vis-à-vis ‘the new normal’.  I draw specific attention to how the behavioural reading of culture seems to encompass both the prevention logic and the survival narrative, with fear of death inhabiting the high middle ground.

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Prof. Michael BERRY

Professor of Asian Languages & Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles

Michael Berry is Professor of Contemporary Chinese Cultural Studies and Director of the Center for Chinese Studies at UCLA. He is the author of five books on Chinese cinema, including Speaking in Images: Interviews with Contemporary Chinese Filmmakers (2006) and A History of Pain: Trauma in Modern Chinese Literature and Film (2008). He has served as a film consultant and a juror for numerous film festivals, including the Golden Horse (Taiwan) and the Fresh Wave (Hong Kong). He is also the translator of several novels, including Wild Kids (2000), Nanjing 1937: A Love Story (2002), To Live (2004), The Song of Everlasting Sorrow (2008) and most recently Remains of Life (2017).

Translation and the Virus: COVID-19, Cyber Politics and the Power of Writing 

Abstract: Wuhan Diary by Fang Fang began as a blog which ran for sixty days from January 25 through March 25, 2020, documenting the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China. The blog quickly became an online phenomenon, attracting tens of millions of Chinese readers. Wuhan Diary also provided an important portal for Chinese around the world to understand the outbreak, the local response, and how the novel coronavirus was impacting everyday people. The diary featured a curious mixture of quotidian details from Fang Fang’s daily routine under quarantine, medical insights from the author’s doctor friends, and observations about the official response. Eventually, Fang Fang’s account would become the target of a series of online attacks, spawning debate about COVID-19, Sino-US Relations, and the nature of civil society in China. As the English translator of Wuhan Diary, this lecture will alternate between first-hand insights from the translation process and broader observations on how the diary became a lightning rod for fierce political debate in China.  

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Dr. Harry WU

Director of the Medical Ethics and Humanities Unit, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, Medical Ethics and Humanities Unit and Assistant Professor in Medical Humanities, University of Hong Kong

Harry Yi-Jui Wu is Director and Assistant Professor of Medical Ethics and Humanities Unit, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong. Before becoming a historian, he was trained as a physician in Taiwan and briefly worked in psychiatry. His current projects mainly focus on the transnational histories of mental health. His first book, Mad by the Millions: Mental Disorders and the Early Years of the World Health Organization, will be published by MIT Press in 2021.

The Logic of Care and the Chronicity of Crisis: Rethinking Medical Humanities in Time of COVID-19

Abstract: Medicine is a gigantic enterprise. Medical Humanities is a discipline developed to critique its overconfidence. Ironically, during the crisis of the newly emerged unknown disease, Medical Humanities has been sacrificed in the spiralling curricula students find themselves busy catching up with. The reality is: when empirical knowledge is not yet available, value principles, moral imagination, and the ethical consideration adapted in different cultures must step in. These are the hidden curricula one recognizes as important but tends to excuse him or herself too busy to attend to. In this presentation, I first reflect upon neglected “health problems” instead of “diseases” surfacing during the crunch time of COVID-19, predominantly on the structural factors that have become too chronic to prepare us, and the shifting identity of healthcare workers to react to the 21st century plague. Second, I call for emergent cross-disciplinary responses to critically assess our complex society, in which health should have been co-defined by all stakeholders, but unfortunately has become an uncompromising slogan. Finally, I propose the logic of care as the key approach to rethink the role and function of Medical Humanities.

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The opinions expressed by the speakers represent their own views, and do not reflect HKBU’s position.

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