Agency, Assemblage and Care in Contemporary Life Writing by Migrants in Germany

Date: 20 July 2017
Time: 3:30pm
Venue: Room 1066, 10F, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU

Agency, Assemblage and Care in Contemporary Life Writing by Migrants in Germany by Dr. Katja Herges (Department of German, University of California, Davis)

Medical therapy largely focuses on eliminating “foreign” pathological agents such as cancer cells or infectious agents from the body with the goal of restoring health. As a result, the body is not only the victim of such agents, but also, once the treatment starts, it becomes the passive target of active, almost omnipotent (drug) therapy. Yet, long-term care of patients with chronic illness often precludes cure and restoration but requires multiple therapeutic approaches. In this presentation, I want to focus on the neglected experiences of chronically ill migrants in Germany and, more importantly, on how life writings by migrants can help us rethink embodiment and long-term care. German-Turkish journalist Mely Kiyak’s memoir of her father’s treatment for lung cancer and Evelyne Leandro’s diary of her long-term antibiotic therapy against leprosy as a Brazilian migrant establish illness and care within an assemblage of distributed agents: this includes lung and skin lesions, physicians and therapists, working conditions for migrants, language politics, neighborhoods, chemotherapeutic agents and side effects and German health insurance policies. Drawing on ecomaterialist theory, I argue that these narratives formulate a post-human theory of embodiment and care that consists of human and non-human encounters and material recompositions in assemblages of care. Beyond the goal of eliminating pathological elements, care needs to aim at increasing the body’s capacity to act through a wide range of material recompositions, for example through lung drainages and surgeries, chemotherapy, healing diets, narrative practices and improved health care policies for migrants.

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