Cultural crossings of care – an appeal to the medical humanities (Conference, Oslo, 12-13 October 2018)

Marie Rose Moro and Julia Kristeva

Cultural crossings of care’ is a 2-day conference organised by the University of Oslo’s Knowledge in Translation (KNOWIT) and Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages. Honorary guest and speaker: Holberg Prize Winner and Professor Julia Kristeva, Université Paris Diderot. Key note speaker: Professor Marie Rose Moro, Université Paris Descartes.

Modern medicine is confronted with cultural crossings in various forms. In facing these challenges, it is not enough to simply increase our insight into the cultural dimensions of health and well-being. We must, more radically, question the conventional distinction between the ‘objectivity of science’ and the ‘subjectivity of culture’. This obligation creates an urgent call for the medical humanities but also for a fundamental rethinking of their grounding assumptions.

Julia Kristeva has problematised the biomedical concept of health through her reading of the anthropogony of Cura (Care), who according to the Roman myth created man out of a piece of clay. Cura’s creative act resulted in a quarrel with Jupiter and Terra about the name and the possession of the creation that was ultimately settled by Saturn. Through Saturn’s introduction of the name, man as a creation, as a state of being, was separated from the creativity, care and state of becoming represented by Cura.

Kristeva uses this myth as an allegory for the cultural distinction between health construed as a ‘definitive state’, which belongs to biological life (bios), and healing as a durative ‘process with twists and turns in time’ that characterises human living (zoe). A consequence of this demarcation is that biomedicine is in constant need of ‘repairing’ and bridging the gap between bios and zoe, nature and culture. Even in radical versions, the medical humanities are mostly reduced to such an instrument of repairment, seeing them as what we refer to as a soft, ‘subjective’ and cultural supplement to a stable body of ‘objective’, biomedical and scientific knowledge.

This conference represents a prolegomenon to a more radical program for the medical humanities, which calls the conventional distinctions between the humanities and the natural sciences into question, acknowledges the pathological and healing powers of culture, and sees the body as a complex biocultural fact.

The conference builds on a position paper published in the BMJ Medical Humanities.

The conference also launches our new research project “Body in Translation – Historicising and Reinventing Medical Humanities and Knowledge Translation” financed by the Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (2019-2020).

The call for papers will be announced in February 2018.

For any further information, please contact Eivind EngebretsJohn Ødemar, or Gina Fraas Henrichsen.

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