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Immortal Body – Life Sustaining Wizardry, Digital Replacement and Cyborg

As a thematic lecture/workshop series initiated by TheCube Project Space in 2016, Praxis School has been co-organized by TheCube and C-LAB since 2018, and will enter its fifth year in 2020.

Following the theme Tiangong Kaiwu II: Modern Life and the History of Technology that ran through the events in 2018 and 2019, the 2020 Praxis School advances it by treating human desire for immortality as the point of departure, focusing on how medical knowledge intervenes in and affects human experiences of life and death, so as to progressively spark insightful discussions on the imagination of future life in view of current technological development. The main theme of the 2020 Praxis School, Immortal Body, is divided into several subthemes that touch upon the concepts of life sustaining wizardrydigital replacementcyborg, and so forth, through which the 2020 Praxis School attempts to explore the views of life in different societies and knowledge systems as well as in different stages of technological development.

The scheduled lecture series will be delivered by scholars including Hung Kuang-ChiTsai Yu-YuehWu Chia-LingLi Shang-JenChuang Chun-Mei, and Lin Wei-Ping whose specializations encompass the history of science, palliative care, thanatology, reproductive technology, the history of occidental medicine, post-colonialism, and feminism. In addition, the 2020 Praxis School is going to hold two thematic lectures under the rubric of Gaia, Technology, and Extinction this October as a response to the 2020 Taipei Biennial—You and I don’t live on the same planet: New Diplomatic Encounters, for which Bruno Latour and Martin Guinard serves as the curators.


Schedule of the Lectures

#1_2020/03/14 (Sat.) 2-4pmThe So-called “Creating Successive Lives in the Universe”?Lecturer: Hung Kuang-Chi (assistant prof., Department of Geography, National Taiwan University)

#2_2020/04/25 (Sat.) 2-4pmDeath, Medicalization and The Progression of CivilizationLecturer: Tsai Yu-Yueh (assistant researcher, Department of Sociology at Academia Sinica)Discussant: Sun Hsiao-Chih (prof., Department of Philosophy at the National Taiwan University)

#3_2020/05/30 (Sat.) 2-4pmThe Republic of Multiple Births: The Expectations, Risks, and Governance of Reproductive TechnologyLecturer: Wu Chia-Ling (prof., Department of Sociology at the National Taiwan University)

#4_2020/06/21 (Sun.) 2-4pmThe Previous Incarnation and This Life of Frankenstein: The Philosophical Evolution of Life and Death in Occidental MedicineLecturer: Li Shang-Jen (research fellow, Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica)Respondent: Chen Chung-Jen (associate porf., Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Taiwan University)

#5_2020/07/25 (Sat.) 2-4pmGaia and Cyborg: Politics of TechnologyLecturer: Chuang Chun-Mei (prof., Department of Sociology, Soochow University)Respondent: Huang Chien-Hung (associate prof., Institute of Trans-disciplinary Arts at National Taipei University of Arts)

#6_2020/09/05 (Sat.) 2-4pmCrossing the LINE to the Digital Era: Chinese Popular Religion in TransitionLecturer: Lin Wei-Ping (prof., Department of Anthropology at the National Taiwan University)

#7_2020/10/31(Sat.) 2-5pmThematic Lectures on Bruno Latour: Gaia, Technology, and ExtinctionLecturer: Hung Kuang-Chi (assistant prof., Department of Geography, National Taiwan University), Chuang Chun-Mei (prof., Department of Sociology, Soochow University, Taipei)


Outlines of the Lectures

#1_2020/03/14 (Sat.) 2-4pm The So-called “Creating Successive Lives in the Universe”?Lecturer: Hung Kuang-ChiVenue: C-Lab iCenter 2F (No.177, Sec. 1, Jianguo S. Rd., Da’an Dist., Taipei City)

People born in the 1970s may be all too familiar with Chiang Kei Shek’s aphorism: “The purpose of life is to promote the well-being of humanity. The meaning of life lies in creating successive lives in the universe.” During our school days, after all, we tended to see the aphorism hung on both sides of the podium every time we had to attend formal gatherings at the auditorium.

I used to be convinced as much firmly of the meaning carried by the two sentences, as I was of the legend about Chiang who was inspired by the fish swimming upstream against the currents. However, no sooner did I have the chance to learn the history of biology later in my first class at Harvard University lectured by biological historian Everett Mendelsohn, then I began to wonder what life is, which biological unit counts as a life form, and whether life has any meaning. He cut to the chase and asked the students what on earth life is. We provided answers of all stripes, including criteria of life such as movement, metabolism, and reproduction, only to be refuted by the professor one by one. Intriguingly, we were still uncertain as to what life is after the course ended, because there has never been a textbook definition of life in the long history of biology (and its predecessor, historia naturalis). Following this spirit, my lecture will outline a genealogy of life as much as possible from the Mechanism prevailing in the Age of Enlightenment to the Vitalism under romanticist influence; from individual life, species and the so-called community of life to the individuals and lives from the relational perspective in modern times.

Back to Chiang’s aphorism and comparing it with the speeches by today’s politicians and religious figures, we may argue that life has never been an easily definable concept. Once it is ascertainable, some people or groups will try to manipulate and control others by defining what life is. French philosopher Michel Foucault clearly pointed out this issue and termed it “biopolitics.”


#2_2020/04/25 (Sat.) 2-4pm Medicalization and The Progression of CivilizationLecturer: Tsai Yu-YuehDiscussant: Sun Hsiao-ChihVenue: C-Lab, ART SPACE I Gray-Box (No.177, Sec. 1, Jianguo S. Rd., Da’an Dist., Taipei City)

In his book The Hour of Our Death (1974), French historian Philippe Aries charted the European attitude toward death shaped by social changes from the early Christianity to his days. He pointed out that the early 10th century was characterized by the tame death, in which “tame” implies having a poised attitude toward death and taking it easy as a part of life, namely a common occurrence in daily life. During this period, death was not so much a personal adventure as the superglue for the whole community that breathes new life into its members via collective rites, thereby solving the crisis of their sense of loss. It was not until the mid- and late-20th century (1950-1975) that death became shameful. Death seldom occurs at home nowadays, as medical technology advances, the family system changes, and the hospice care is institutionalized. This lecture will review the different views of death from the past centuries to the present era, and revolve around the following questions: What are the characteristics of including death in the medicalization? How do the advances in medical technology complicate the ethical choices for modern people? Can we have a peaceful, dignified death with the improvement of medical philosophy and medical system?


#3_2020/05/30 (Sat.) 2-4pm The Republic of Multiple Births: The Expectations, Risks, and Governance of Reproductive TechnologyLecturer: Wu Chia-LingVenue: C-Lab, Co-Working Space (No.177, Sec. 1, Jianguo S. Rd., Da’an Dist., Taipei City)

The first test-tube baby in the world has celebrated her 40th birthday. The British scientist who invented the method of in vitro fertilization won the Nobel Prize in 2010. Assisted reproductive technology has been regarded as a medical breakthrough and a remedy for infertility. However, it also entails new risks to health. While the use of ovulation drugs and the implantation of multiple embryos during the process are intended to increase the success rate, they also increase the likelihood of multiple births that may compromise the health of the mother and the babies. We expect to maximize the potential for success and meanwhile minimize the risks. Appropriate regulatory measures thus come under the spotlight of both the governments and the reproductive medicine scene.

According to the first global statistics on this issue in 1998, the average number of implanted embryos in Taiwan was four, which was the largest in the world. The rate of multiple births of test-tube babies in Taiwan at that time was over 40%, which made this island known as the republic of multiple births. This lecture will chronicle the risk governance of test-tube babies, analyzing the features of reproduction technology development in Taiwan from the perspectives of sociotechnical imaginary, the gender politics of reproduction technology, regulatory science, and healthcare market.


#4_2020/06/21 (Sun.) 2-4pm The Previous Incarnation and This Life of Frankenstein: The Philosophical Evolution of Life and Death in Occidental MedicineLecturer: Li Shang-JenRespondent: Chen Chung-JenVenue: C-Lab Co-Working Space (No.177, Sec. 1, Jianguo S. Rd., Da’an Dist., Taipei City)

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.


#5_2020/07/25 (Sat.) 2-4pm Gaia and Cyborg: Politics of TechnologyLecturer: Chuang Chun-MeiRespondent: Huang Chien-HungVenue: C-Lab Co-Working Space (No.177, Sec. 1, Jianguo S. Rd., Da’an Dist., Taipei City)

With the increasing awareness of the Anthropocene, the Gaia hypothesis and its associated theories have gained more attention, especially those about the interconnections between life, technology and Earth, and humanity as a geological force. Scholars in the humanities tend to ignore the fact that human beings are not the only kind of historical agents nor the only species capable of technological practices. Therefore, they fail to grasp the vital roles of other life- forms in the evolution of Gaia. Besides, it remains ambiguous what purpose human technological development plays in the post-human or anti-human predicament. The critical image of the cyborg has embodied social technology’s ethical ambiguity, with a critique of the linear patriarchal and the capitalist conception of history, as well as a potentiality for transboundary survival strategies. In this lecture, I will clarify the images of Gaia and cyborg, as well as their respective bio-political implications. Then I will discuss the role technological bodies play in the evolution of life and political actions.


#6_2020/09/05 (Sat.) 2-4pm❚ Crossing the LINE to the Digital Era: Chinese Popular Religion in TransitionLecturer: Lin Wei-PingVenue: C-Lab iCenter 2F (No.177, Sec. 1, Jianguo S. Rd., Da’an Dist., Taipei City)

This talk discusses a new direction in the ongoing development of Chinese religion and media. It takes an urban shrine as an example to explore how a web-based messaging software, LINE, characterized by the qualities of placelessness, instantaneity, and individuality, has allowed a spirit medium to transcend place and time, providing immediate support and companionship to his followers who may be scattered all over Taiwan. The deity, through its online presence, has become more approachable, considerate, and caring. “God is everywhere” and is readily accessible now. Thus, a novel kind of closeness and intimacy has emerged by which people perceive and experience this new power of deities in the digital age. Furthermore, the digitalization of religion has brought about a profound change in the religious world, including in rituals, religious organization, and material practices in web-based religion. In particular, the younger generation, agile in the use of new technology, exerts much greater influence on religion in the internet era.



#7_2020/11/29(Sat.) 2-5pm❚ Thematic Lectures on Bruno Latour: Gaia, Technology, and ExtinctionLecturer: Hung Kuang-Chi (assistant prof., Department of Geography, National Taiwan University), Chuang Chun-Mei (prof., Department of Sociology, Soochow University, Taipei)Venue: C-Lab Co-Working Space (No.177, Sec. 1, Jianguo S. Rd., Da’an Dist., Taipei City)

The Praxis School is going to hold two thematic lectures this October as a response to the 2020 Taipei Biennial—You and I don’t live on the same planet: New Diplomatic Encounters, for which Bruno Latour and Martin Guinard serve as curators. Revolving around the overarching theme Gaia, Technology and Extinction, the two lectures are to be delivered by Hung Kuang-Chi and Chuang Chun-Mei respectively.

Topic|Latour Facing GaiaLecturer: Chuang Chun-Mei (prof., Department of Sociology, Soochow University)Bruno Latour has long argued that sciences are political, and politics must include non-human agents. In response to the recent discussion about the Anthropocene, Latour revisited James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis and made a connection between the proliferation of agents in modern technoscience with the infinite non-human agents in the evolving dynamic complex named Gaia. With the notions of “politics of nature” and “parliament of things” and the recent emphasis on “re-politicizing ecology” and “redistribution of agency,” Latour has been engaged in contemporary climate politics and a project of trans-species democracy.

Topic|Latour and the Taiwan ExperienceLecturer|Hung Kuang-Chi (assistant prof., Department of Geography, National Taiwan University)Curated by Bruno Latour and Martin Guinard, the theme You and I Don’t Live on the Same Planet: New Diplomatic Encounters runs through the 2020 Taipei Biennial. When it comes to unprecedented challenges (e.g., climate change) confronting human beings, Latour argues that people habitually harbor competing agendas and have minds of their own, failing to reach a consensus on the ongoing ecologic crisis, let alone take the initiative. Consequently, he advocated that we should simply give up looking for any consensus on this matter, because, from the perspective of the so-called “ontological turn,” “looking for a consensus” implies that there is a dominating truth and reaching a consensus is just a matter of time, which is utterly unacceptable for the advocates of the ontological turn. So, how should we do? Latour seems to suggest that we firstly acknowledge the fact that the stakeholders who have failed to reach a consensus live on different planets and follow their own worlding practices, and then we try to forge an inter-planetary alliance through diplomacy. At the talk with Taiwanese scholars, Latour even invoked the plot of Avengers: Endgame in which all planets collaborated to fight against Thanos who wiped out half of all life in the universe. For the audience in Taiwan, Latour’s view may appear naïve with a touch of Eurocentrism and white supremacy. How can Latour, a Frenchman whose country was once an empire and now a stable nation state, understand the diplomatic dilemma facing Taiwan as a small country? This question makes sense. However, I think that it should be a question not so much for Latour as for Taiwanese humanities scholars. In face of the curatorial theme conceived for the Taiwanese society by a white man from the contemporary academic center, I believe that Taiwanese researchers should return to historical material and field survey, exploring the results of the “new diplomatic encounters” between Taiwan and the world, as well as their influence on this island and the people living on it.Since I’ve talked about life in my previous speech, I would like to address extinction this time, which can be exemplified by the following two stories. The first story is about the views of 19th-century occidental naturalists about the species such as giant redwood, cypress, and Formosan landlocked salmon whose survival is confined to specific areas and easily endangered by human disturbance. At the time when natural theology, theory of evolution, and romanticism were intermingled with one another, how did naturalists understand species extinction, and how did the then prevailing colonial capitalism relate to such extinction? The second story is about Taiwanese indigenous peoples in the 1920s. In this story, I broaden the concept of extinction to that of specific lifestyles, and try to include “environment” as a key factor in the discussion of the issues involved. I will explain the reason why it is far from enough to focus our discussion of the “endangered cultures and lifestyles” simply on the plundering modern states, capitalism, and mainstream society. Researchers must additionally tackle the entanglement between these aspects and the environment, insofar as to precisely decipher the meaning of “extinction” in the contemporary society. Only by doing so can we open up further and deeper discussions on extinction than the 19th-century European naturalists and the 20th-century colonial bureaucrats and scholars did in their times.



About the Lecturers

Hung Kuang-ChiHung Kuang-Chi earned his Ph.D. from the Department of the History of Science, Harvard University, with specialization in environmental history, biogeography, and evolutionary biology. He carried on his postdoctoral research at the Arnold Arboretum, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Needham Research Institute. Currently he teaches as an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, National Taiwan University.

Tsai Yu-YuehTsai Yu-Yueh is an assistant researcher in the sociology department at Academia Sinica. She began by studying nursing, but later changed her focus to sociology, and has served as the editor of the news and health section of a newspaper. Her educational experience includes serving as a researcher at Harvard University and at UC San Diego as a post-doctoral researcher, and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Fulbright as a visiting scholar.Her current research interests include the Taiwan Biobank, the genetics of Taiwanese indigenous and their political identification, and participants in Taiwanese ancestry genetic testing. She has written one book, The Spiritual Order of the Yami: The Social Roots of Modernity, Change, and Suffering, edited a book with other academics, Abnormal People?: Psychiatry and the Governance of Modernity in Taiwan, and produced the documentary films, Bing Fang 85033, and Commitment! Professor Lian Ma-ke and Taiwanese Sociology, 1955 to 1999.

Wu Chia-LingChia-Ling Wu is Professor of Sociology at the National Taiwan University. Her recent publication includes women’s risk negotiation of new reproductive technologies, the making of multiple embryo transfer regulation, and architectural design for the post-disaster reconstruction. Her current research projects examine the reproductive governance in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. She served as the editor-in-chief of East Asian Science, Technology and Society in 2013-2015, and is currently the editor-in-chief for Women’s and Gender Studies (in Chinese).

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.

Chuang Chun-MeiChuang received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the City University of New York; she is currently a sociology professor at Soochow University. Her research field includes feminist theories, sociological theories postcolonial discourse, science and technology studies, animal studies and ecology, and psychoanalysis. She also translated Donna Haraway’s Simian, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature into Chinese.

Lin Wei-PingLin Wei-Ping received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Cambridge University. She is a Professor at National Taiwan University. She was affiliated with the Harvard-Yenching Institute in 2005-6 and 2017-8, and with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University in 2012-3. Her interests include Chinese religion (including topics related to material culture, spirit mediums, and urban religious transformation), kinship, and digital technologies. She is the author of Materializing Magic Power: Chinese Popular Religion in Villages and Cities (Harvard University Asia Center, 2015), and the editor of Mediating Religion: Music, Image, Object and New Media (Taiwan University Press, 2018; in Chinese).