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The Previous Incarnation and This Life of Frankenstein: The Philosophical Evolution of Life and Death in Occidental Medicine

Published in 1818, Frankenstein has been recognized as the earliest vanguard of science fiction. This novel depicted Victor Frankenstein, a medical student who engaged in penetrating the intriguing mystery of life, fortuitously learned to create life from inorganic substances, and produced a humanoid monster with a corpse, hence a series of catastrophes. Frankenstein was written at the time when occidental medical thoughts underwent dramatic change in the understanding of life and death.

Its author Mary Shelley (1797-1851) was inextricably tied with the iconic figures who introduced such change. Treating the medical and scientific concepts in Frankenstein as the point of departure, this lecture will review several turning points of the philosophy of life and death in the occidental medicine history, from the ideas of soul and body in ancient Greece to the Mechanistic, Vitalistic and Materialist views of life and death. This lecture will also address their roles in the historic breakthroughs of modern occidental medicine and their incarnations in art and culture.

 About the Lecturer/ Respondent

LI Shang-JenLi Shang-Jen earned his Ph.D. from the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Imperial College, University of London, and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. He is now a research fellow at the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica.

CHEN Chung-JenChen Chung-Jen is an associate professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Taiwan University, Taiwan. He holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from National Taiwan Normal University (2009). He was a visiting scholar in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations (EALC) at Harvard University (2017-18). He was the recipient of the Award for Innovative Research for Young Scholars from the Foundation for the Advancement of Outstanding Scholarship (2015) and the Golden Tripod Award of Taiwan (2014) for his book in Mandarin, Empire, Medicine and 19th-Century English Literature. His research interests include nineteenth-century British novels, contemporary British fiction, and interdisciplinary studies in medicine and literature.

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