August 14, 2018



October 26-27, 2018 | Duke University

A CHCI Medical Humanities Network / Duke Health Humanities Lab@FHI Symposium


The term “neurodiversity,” first popularized by the autism community, challenges the pathologization of neurological deviation from socially constructed notions of “neurotypicality.” Another branch of “neurodiversity” discourse challenges the abstraction of the ideas of “mind” and “mental” states, using tools of empirical neuroscience to dismantle binary divides between “brainhood” and “embodiment.” Psychiatry now grapples with the implicit Western cultural “typicality” embedded in medical frameworks. In the humanities, the study and teaching of literature and the arts is experiencing revitalization through interrogation of traditional conceptions of cognition and consciousness, along with humanistic exploration of questions raised by neuroscientific experimentation. Through Friday keynotes, panels, an evening film screening and Saturday interactive workshops, we invite participants to engage with five central areas of concern.


DATES: October 26-27, 2018

LOCATION: Franklin Humanities Institute, Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall, Bay 4, Smith Warehouse, Duke University


Friday, October 26, 2018 

9:00-9:30   Breakfast by Monuts and Welcome: Ranjana Khanna, Deborah Jenson

9:30-11:00   Panel: Brainhood, Self-Concepts, and the Perils of Neuroconformity with Catherine Reilly, Nima Bassiri and Deborah Jenson. Moderated by Rey Chow.

Nima Bassiri, “Disordered Conduct and the Moral Economy of Mental Illness in the Nineteenth Century”

This paper discusses some of the ways in which nineteenth-century psychiatrists and neurologists became increasingly concerned with forensically arbitrating the normalcy of a patient’s conduct, rather than attending to her soundness of mind alone. The reason for this, the paper will suggest, is that it was through conduct that a patient could exhibit that indispensable measure of responsibility and capacity to govern herself and her affairs that would ultimately satisfy the conditions not only of moral but also economic liberty — defined through contract freedom and the capacity to manage property — that was so characteristic of nineteenth-century economic liberalism. The paper will offer a brief discussion, then, on the moral economy that informed medical norms for proper behavior in the nineteenth century.

Catherine Reilly, “Cruel Translation: Psychoanalysis and Worlding”

Is it possible to think the global dissemination of psychoanalysis in the twentieth century on the basis of a “cruelty” (Grausamkeit) imagined by Freud himself and structurally connected to the diverse and asynchronous translation project by which psychoanalysis was made legible on the international stage? This paper interrogates how psychoanalysis and its institutional concretizations (for example: the IPA, Berlin Psychoanalytic Association, Asociación Psicoanalítica Argentina) not only engaged with practical considerations of language in localized contexts, but also produced a picture of the world in turn – a psychoanalytic cartography of sovereign territories and regional networks alike. The legacy of psychoanalytic “worlding” (modalisation, Derrida) is an instructive prelude, warning, and provocation to how a multi-national neurodiversity and its attendant lexicon of difference might be understood.

Deborah Jenson, “Flaubert’s Brain: Epilepsy, Mimesis, and Injured Self-Narrative”

“Each seizure is like a sort of hemorrhage of innervation,” wrote Flaubert to a friend. “The center of image formation in my brain suffers a seminal leak, a hundred thousand images erupt at once, in visual fireworks.” His conviction that “something fairly tragic must previously have taken place in my brain box” did not prevent him from trying to squeeze out every drop of his “brain juice” (“cerveau pressé”) onto paper. In recent decades, epileptologists have rushed to diagnose the epilepsy from which they are sure he suffered, but how is this relevant to reading his texts? This paper, tracing epileptic imagery in Flaubert’s fiction, argues that the apparent realism of the “useless detail” as described by Barthes and others in his work disguises the surprising intrusion of autobiographical memory into Flaubert’s work. This autobiographical memory, in turn, anchors a counter-fiction of injured self-narrative: content that is present because incomplete, unexpected, disavowed, fragmented, eruptive, and feared.

11:00-11:15  15-minute break

11:15-12:45   Richard C. Keller, “Mind, Race, Brain, Place: Guises of a Psychiatric Universal.” Moderated by Catherine Reilly.

From its Rousseauist origins, psychiatry has depended on a universal construct of human mentality. In that sense it has always been a global endeavor, with race at its very foundation. This talk explores how the constancy of universalism has shifted its ontological ground over the past two hundred years, with notions of civilization, race, mind, brain, and place serving as critical modifiers of the universal, from the late eighteenth century through the expansion of empire, the advent of psychoanalysis, the postcolonial emergence of ethnopsychiatry, and the neurotransmitter era.

12:45-1:45  Lunch by Parker & Otis

1:30-3:00   Nick Sousanis, “Unflattening Thought and Embodiment.” Moderated by Eileen Chow.

Nick Sousanis will present on his experiences writing and drawing his doctoral dissertation entirely in comics form. Published by Harvard University Press as Unflattening, the work argues for the importance of visual thinking for teaching and learning in both its subject and its form and challenges the forms of learning traditionally found in academic settings. In his talk, which will draw on extensive visual examples from his own work and other comics authors, Sousanis will call attention to the dominance of the written word, encouraging instead an interconnected production of knowledge created from both verbal and visual forms. He will further delve into the way his approach veers away from the illustrational and toward embodying ideas and concepts in the very space of the page, the organization of the various elements, and the way the reader encounters them.

3:00-3:15   15-minute break

3:15-4:45   Ralph Savarese, “’The Body Is A Big Sagacity’: Reading Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony with Autist Jamie Burke.” Moderated by Deborah Jenson.

Jamie Burke learned to speak through innovative occupational therapy at age thirteen. At Syracuse University, he minored in Native American Studies, studying the tribes of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Jamie and the author spent several months discussing Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony, in which a mixed-race veteran returns from combat to the Laguna Pueblo reservation in a state of traumatized dysfunction. Jamie’s familiarity with Native American culture and his talents as a “spatial visualizer” helped to illuminate the novel’s spiritual geography, which has often perplexed readers. Exploring a new emphasis in the scientific literature on motor impairments in autism—both their wide-ranging repercussions and potential amelioration—the chapter juxtaposes Jamie’s improbable journey to speech with the protagonist’s improbable journey to wholeness through ceremonial movement. A Native understanding of health as relation (to land, community, past and one’s own body) is foregrounded.

4:45-5:45   Reception by Comfort Cuisine

Book Table: Ralph Savarese, See It Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor (Duke UP, October 2018)

6:30-7:45   Documentary Neurodiversities Screening of the Peabody Award-winning documentary Deej

7:50-8:20   Audience Q & A with filmmaker DJ Savarese


Saturday, October 27, 2018

9:45-10:00   Light Breakfast by Foster’s Market

10:00-11:30   DJ Savarese, Perspectives, Poetry, and Personhood

In this interactive workshop, DJ Savarese facilitates a discussion of a poem from his ekphrastic series A Doorknob for the Eye (Unrestricted Interests Press, 2017) before inviting participants to examine multiple perspectives of their own lived experience.

11:30-11:45   15-minute break

11:45-1:15   Roundtable: For a Pedagogy of Resiliency with Marion Quirici, Danielle Oakley, Jonathan Hill-Rorie and Thomas Szigethy

Campus health, disability scholars/advocates, and neurodiversity leaders guide faculty, students, and community members on how to work proactively with structures and initiatives to assess and shore up student resiliency, forestall or manage crises, and make a home in universities for neurodiversities. The interactive guidance provided here on Duke infrastructure including CAPS, DukeReach, the Student Wellness Center, the Duke Disability Alliance, and Narrative Medicine Mondays will provide insights on how to locate similar resources on other campuses, or to ally and advocate for needed initiatives. Student stress and vulnerability to crisis is rising nationally. How can we develop a pedagogy of resiliency to complement Freire’s “education as the practice of freedom”?

1:15-1:45   Lunch by Guasaca

1:45-3:00   Nick Sousanis, Thinking in Comics

Join Nick Sousanis, comics creator and professor, for an interactive workshop that explores how comics can enrich your own critical practice through visual thinking and be used as teaching tools in your classroom. Learn how to make comics and explore your own creativity! (No prior drawing experience required.)


Co-Sponsors: FHI Humanities Futures; DIBS/FHI Neurohumanities Research Group; UNC Institute for Arts & Humanities & HHIVE

Faculty, students and community members are welcome. Events will include refreshments. For queries about access, contact Health Humanities Lab Manager Katherine Berko (