Category Archives: Health and Humanities

Our Contaminated World

Dr. David Crews presents lessons from biology in HI’s Faculty Fellows Seminar on Health, Well-Being, Healing
By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley

At this week’s Faculty Fellows Seminar, Dr. David Crews (Integrative Biology) spoke about the mutual interdependence of the environment and human biology. Dr. Crews argued that the environment is permanently contaminated by the mass production of synthetic chemicals and other factors, and it is now impossible to return it to pre-Industrial Revolution conditions. Biological effects from human exposure to these chemicals can occur generations after the initial encounter (a process known as synchronicity). The impact of these chemicals can be seen beyond gene expression and, indeed, extends to human psychological and emotional responses. To illustrate these changes, Dr. Crews used the example of endocrine disrupters (EDCs)—chemicals that disrupt the collection of glands that secrete hormones into the circulatory system to be carried to target organs.

Structural formula for polychlorinated biphenyls
Structural formula for polychlorinated biphenyls

Dr. Crews specifically discussed one type of EDC, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), man-made chemicals used widely in industrial and commercial products . Even though the industrialized world ceased use of PCBs in the 1970s, PCB levels are still present in organisms today and have even been found in the Arctic Circle.

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Present/Absent Bodies

Ann Hamilton reflects on the evolution of her public art works in HI’s Faculty Fellows Seminar on Health, Well-Being, Healing
By Clare Callahan
O N E E V E R Y O N E by Ann Hamilton
O N E E V E R Y O N E by Ann Hamilton

Last week’s Humanities Institute Faculty Fellows Seminar on “Health, Well-Being, Healing” hosted internationally recognized visual artist Ann Hamilton to speak on O N E E V E R Y O N E, a public art project commissioned by Landmarks for the Dell Medical School. O N E E V E R Y O N E opened on January 27, and Hamilton was in Austin for the opening. Hamilton’s O N E E V E R Y O N E, as Landmarks describes the project, “is framed by the idea that human touch and intimacy are the most essential means of contact and the fundamental expression of physical care. More than 500 participants in several Austin locations were photographed through a semi-transparent membrane that sharply focused parts of the body that made contact with the material and softly blurred the parts that moved away from it. The optical quality of the material renders touch—something felt, more than seen—visible.”

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Health Care Economies and the Danger of Words

Dr. Phil Barrish discusses the literature of health care in HI’s Faculty Fellows Seminar on Health, Well-Being, Healing
By Clare Callahan

The Humanities Institute Spring 2017 Faculty Fellows Seminar on
“Health, Well-Being, Healing”
has begun! At our first meeting on February 21st, Phil Barrish, Professor of English, presented his work-in-progress, “Environmental Illness and the Future of Health Care,” a literary analysis of Chang-Rae Lee’s first work of speculative fiction On Such a Full Sea. Lee’s On Such a Full Sea imagines three health care scenarios that respond to the long-term effects of human-wrought environmental damage on human health, and more specifically to the uneven distribution of this environmental depredation. The three scenarios present in the novel are based on our contemporary discourse on health care, from “a left-wingers dystopian projection of the health care landscape under a supposed free market system,” as Barrish describes it, to “a right-winger’s nightmare vision of . . . a single-payer government-run system.” Dr. Barrish’s essay, whichon-such-a-full-sea-ppbk examines the representation of the political economy of health care in On Such a Full Sea, builds off of his previously published work, including his essay “Health Policy in Dystopia,” published in Literature and Medicine in 2016 and “The Sticky Web of Medical Professionalism: Robert Herrick’s The Web of Life and the Political Economy of Health Care at the Turn of the Century,” published in American Literature in 2014.

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Excerpts from O N E E V E R Y O N E: A Conversation with Ann Hamilton

The light increasing  the sun must be rising. It reveals the window as frosted over. Wood muntined, with four small panes, it resembles a house window more than a hospital window. What is it doing in this hall where he lies on a stretcher outside the fulltocapacity ward? He thinks this unfolding in time of the window growing lighter is beautiful, is beauty itself. Yet no one notices. Who can afford the patience? The doctors circulate on appointed rounds, stopping only for the sick and wounded. Is attention to something like this window the work of artists? He does not know the answer to that yet, but he thinks that only artists and sick people stop, out of inclination or necessity, to study beauty that takes so long. The hospital staff has materialized this moment for him, all its factors of time, place, and breath.

Excerpt from “Patience” by Matthew Goulish, Dramaturge. His full length essay will be delivered on January 26 at 7pm in the LBJ Auditorium at our upcoming event, co-sponsored with Landmarks, “O N E E V E R Y O N E: A Conversation with Ann Hamilton.” See our calendar on the left sidebar for more information.

Photo: Robert Westminster by Ann Hamilton from  O N E E V E R Y O N E