Transformations and Conversions across the Arts and Sciences

Image by Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852 –1934). Cajal was a neurologist who made many beautiful pictures of neurons and other aspects of his scientific work on the brain and nervous system. This image is from the book Butterflies of the Soul.

The 2012 Arts & Humanities festival is all about metamorphoses. My own research concerns the way in which knowledge and human understanding gets transformed and converted in the process of travelling across disciplinary boundaries, as well as within disciplines themselves. I am doing a PhD which investigates the connections between the neurological revolution of the late nineteenth century, psychological medicine and self-representation within modernist literature. The transformation involved in modernism is well known and documented; inner experience became the chief vehicle of narrative rather than the external world. The neurological revolution was transformative for different but related reasons. The key figure in this revolution is perhaps John Hughlings Jackson. Jackson traced the origins of mental experience to the interaction of more primitive neurological, proto-mental operations. “Dissociation”, “repression”, “suppression” and dreamy states were credited with new importance, and the intellectual legacy of Jackson underpins much better known areas of innovation within psychology, for example Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis.

This involves thinking not only across disciplines within the arts and humanities but also in relation to the sciences and medicine. My work is part of a research centre at King’s called The Centre for the Humanities and Health which contains many researchers thinking about similar connections and conversions.

I also run the London Interdisciplinary Discussion Group which often meets here at King’s. This group brings together speakers across the arts, humanities, sciences and medicine to discuss a shared topic. Our most recent discussion has been about transplantation. We had four speakers – an artist, a historian, a philosopher and a doctor – and then had a discussion with the audience who were from mixed backgrounds. Such an interdisciplinary discussion inevitably involves thinking about the ways in which ideas and concepts metamorphose as they travel between various disciplines. To find out more about the discussion group and to watch a film of the most recent discussion please see our website.

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About Susie Christensen

Susie Christensen is a PhD student in the English Department and Centre for the Humanities and Health at King's College London. Her research concerns modernist literature and late nineteeth/early twentieth century neurology and psychological medicine.

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