- School: UCD School of English, Drama and Film
- Supervisor: Dr Treasa De Loughry
Reading Immunofiction: Caring Communities and the Immunitary Unconscious in Contemporary Scottish Writing
Mathieu Bokestael’s research, funded by the Irish Research Council, explores the manners in which theories of immunity and care can help us understand how communities are imagined in contemporary writing from and about Scotland. The project is interested in developing a theory of ‘immunofiction’ in order to understand how the biopolitical layering of biomedical and legal-political notions of immunity constitute an as yet unexamined unconscious in literary fiction. The dissertation develops a critical method for studying how this unconscious is mediated through literary form and metaphor, and for exploring how it is deployed in order to sustain fantasies of an ‘immunised’ ontology of the human. This ontology disavows our constitutive interdependence with human and nonhuman others, and instead emphasises the person’s cellular, sterilised, uncontaminated, or uninfected self-containment. Such immunisation of the human and its layering of discourses of medicine and politics, the thesis argues, has accelerated in the neoliberal era and generates unique challenges to cultural and popular representations of ‘community’. This is particularly the case in the context of a contemporary, devolved, and forward-looking Scotland that continues to suffer enduring economic, representational, health, and resource inequalities. Finally, the thesis explores how a politics of care offers a competing hermeneutic to immunity that remains situated in the same biopolitical paradigm but allows for the analysis of texts that challenge the immunitary unconscious and open up relational ontologies of the human.
Mathieu holds degrees in Literature and Linguistics (BA, 2013), Western Literature (MA, 2014) and Cultural Studies (MA, 2015), all from the Catholic University of Leuven. Prior to embarking on his PhD, he held various guest lectureships in Dutch Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (Delhi, 2016), the Latvian Academy of Culture (Riga, 2016-2019), and the University of Strasbourg (2019-2021). Alongside his academic work, Mathieu has also written for the Flemish magazine MO* and coordinated multiple cultural events, such as lectures, readings and film festivals.