On Death, November 3 2010 (Our Annual Halloween edition!)

Wednesday, November 3, 4:00-6:00 pm, Gradroom at Grad House, 66 Harbord St, Toronto. All are welcome. No advance registration is required.


Why hasn’t natural selection made us immortal?

Arvid Ågren (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology)

Only around 100 years ago, the Western world had a life expectancy 25 years lower than today. This was the result of many children and young adults dying pre-mature deaths: children from infections, mothers from birth complications, or workers from blood poising from simple scratches. Thanks to advancements in medicine, we now pass away much later. The main cause of death is now aging itself and the diseases it generates, from cancer to Alzheimer’s. But why do our bodies age? Why can’t they go on forever? If evolution is the survival of the fittest, why hasn’t natural selection made us immortal? In this talk I will outline the current biological understanding of these questions.

Queer Melancholia: Or, How Sick Queers Can Live Forever

Brianna Hersey (Women & Gender Studies)

Mobilizing Freud’s concept of melancholia, this presentation explores the ontological relationship between the living and the deceased in the context of Western queer relationships, wherein one or both lovers is chronically or critically ill. Theorizing the divergent temporalities of illness and queerness, alongside theories of relationality from critical disability and queer scholars, I re-conceive melancholia as a relational sick queer orientation towards death. This short-circuits Freud’s signification of death as final, establishing life and death as co-constitutive and coeval entities. Ultimately, this re-signification of death in melancholia stages the living lover’s consumption of the lost lover as an optimistic embrace of the future, wherein sick queers can live forever.

Death in the Time of Cancer

Alyson Stone (Anthropology)

Despite incredible progress in cancer care and research in recent years, many patients still face the harsh reality and profound paradox of being diagnosed with advanced cancer, where they are told on one hand, to “hope for the best” and on the other hand, to “prepare for the worst.” The purpose of this research is to explore how patients and practitioners navigate the contradictions of advanced disease, here both curative and palliative options may be pursued concurrently, and to situate their experiences within the broader context of hospital life. The research will focus on the social behaviours, actions and beliefs of both patients and clinical staff, as well as institutional features of the hospital system that contribute to creating a particular culture of advanced disease within the hospital. Field observations and semi-structured interviews will be used to explore individual and institutitional capacity to face death within a cancer hospital.

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