interfaceing 2021

Pandemics & Plagues, Languages & Literatures 

College of Liberal Arts,
National Taiwan University


Plenary Session

Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University)

Processing the experience of pandemics and plagues in discourse in different contexts

In this talk, I will explore how our experience of plagues and pandemics are processed by individuals and communities through discourses operating in a wide range of contexts, as they try to come to terms with potentially cataclysmic processes. These contexts complement one another, enabling us to attend to very different aspects of our experience of such medical disasters while at the same time allowing us to assess them in terms of our value systems.

The contexts constitute a multifaceted collage, with discursive motifs that resonate but which may also be discordant. They cover the contradictions among different institutional sites — personal life worlds, medical monitoring, diagnosis and treatment, and socio-political debate and intervention. In terms of the fields of activity parameter of context, they include expounding new knowledge about current outbreaks, exploring different stances, instructing the general public through public health campaigns, chronicling developments but also sharing personal experiences and opinions and recreating imaginary or creatively imagined experiences as in Camus’ La Peste.

These fields of activity are all essential in the processing of our experience of plagues and pandemics; but in terms of the tenor parameter of context, they involve different groups of people in different role networks and they extend over different timeframes, ranging from potentially ephemeral tweets to discourses that become part of the cultural canon of a community and may frame our experience over many generations, as in the case of Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year — which is interesting also because for a long time opinions were divided as to whether it was a historical document (reporting: recounting in terms of field of activity) or a work of fiction (recreating: narrating).

In exploring how our experiences of plagues and pandemics are processed, I will pay attention to semantic motifs, the linguistic construal of plagues and pandemics (cf. Halliday, 1998, on how our experience of another challenge area of our experience — that of pain — is construed lexicogrammatically; see also Lascaratou, 2007, on Greek, and Hori, 2006, building on Halliday’s model), and the way our construal depends on lexicogrammatical metaphor, which includes not only the lexical (“conceptual”) metaphors long recognized in the construal of our experience of disease (e.g. the mapping of dealing with disease to the domain of warfare) but also, importantly, grammatical metaphors, often resulting in an effacement of patients and other people in communities (as in the WHO’s Weekly Epidemiological Report). Here again Defoe’s Journal is very interesting because it is framed as a personal recount (the most common personal pronoun is I; the most common lexical items are people > plague > said > house(s) > great > city > poor > infected > come > dead > infection > died > went — already suggestive of some semantic motifs). Methodologically, I will raise a number of issues relevant to the challenge of dealing with large volumes of texts appearing over different timeframes, noting the fundamental importance of the complementarity between large-scale but low-level automated analysis and small-scale but high-level manual analysis. This complementarity is central to urgently needed discursive methods of dealing with our experience of fast-developing medical disasters like plagues and pandemics.


Halliday, M.A.K. 1998. “On the grammar of pain.” Functions of Language 5.1: 1-32. Reprinted in Halliday, M.A.K. 2005. Studies in English Language. Volume 7 in the Collected Works of M.A.K. Halliday, edited by Jonathan J. Webster. London & New York: Continuum. Chapter 12: 306-337.

Hori, Motoko. 2006. “Pain expressions in Japanese.” In Geoff Thompson & Susan Hunston (eds.), System and corpus: exploring connections. London & Oakville: Equinox. 206-225.

Lascaratou, Chryssoula. 2007. The language of pain: expression or description? Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Session 1A

Literary Representation of the Epidemic. Transhistorical and Comparative Perspectives

Panel organized by Patrizia Piredda (University of Oxford)

Panel Description

The panel proposes three papers exploring the representation of the epidemic in modern and contemporary literature from a comparative point of view. The three papers analyse Storia della Colonna infame by Alessandro Manzoni, Der Tod in Venedig by Thomas Mann, A Journal of the Plague Year by Danel Defoe. These works were written by European authors between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries and provide three different representations of the pandemic, which offer us some critical insight to reflect on the current situation of Covid-19. Particular attention will be paid to the following aspects: how the authors describe the epidemic; the description of environments, atmospheres and policies concerning public health and order; the analysis of the emotions that dominate those who experience the epidemic; and the relationship between feelings and reason. The final discussion, to which half an hour will be devoted, will highlight the paradigms that link the three papers to each other and to the relationship between these works and the current pandemic.

Pedro Caldas (Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro)

Representing the Pestilence: Death in Venice as a tragedy

In an essay on the Covid-19 pandemic, the Brazilian psychoanalyst Christian Dunker wrote: “(…) the plague has a lot to teach us, especially in regard to our illusions of control and dominion over the world and our fate” (DUNKER, C., A arte da quarentena para principiantes. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2020, p. 13). As I read this passage, I reflected on how Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1912) can help us grasp the way in which death can be faced with. Two traits allow us to speak of a “fusion of horizons” (in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s sense) between Mann’s novel and the ongoing pandemic: (a) the way in which the public authorities handle the pestilence; and (b) the construction of a character such as Gustav von Aschenbach as a tragic hero.

Based on these two points, I set out first to discuss Death in Venice as a tragedy with a hero who is aware of his bourgeois condition; and, second, I will try to grasp how we may see ourselves implied in Aschenbach’s death, as both he and we are susceptible to an “illusion of control over our fate.”

Davide Crosara (Sapienza University of Rome)

“A close conversing with death”: Living with death in Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year

In his A Journal of the Plague Year, Defoe proposes a lucid analysis of how the city of London dealt with the pandemic of 1665 and its catastrophic consequences. One of the key elements of this fictionalized memoir is the overwhelming presence of death: it accompanies the new habit of reading the weekly bills of the victims, it peoples the city with pits and fires, it turns the sick into living ghosts or walking corpses. The pandemic is registered by Defoe as an event that almost erases any divide between the living and the dead. They coexist in houses often shut-up and guarded by watchmen, the share the streets, the squares, the journals; every private and public space or sphere. As is the case today, the pandemic narrative oscillates between sermon and history: Defoe’s character often interprets the catastrophe as a warning, a waking bell, a call to solidarity and renewal in the wake of the pervasive shadow of death. However, he also record that the plague has not changed humanity, the end of the pandemic does not indicate any new beginning. This skeptical note is made even more bitter through the awareness that economic necessities govern the living and the dead alike. While the latter were something to bury as soon as possible during the pandemic, dead bodies and their memory become an obstacle to the full recovery of the economy and the re-establishment of free trade after the plague. If renewal by means of a new awareness “is all a dream”, hope lies in the narrative strategy adopted by the author in the final part of the book.

Gianluca Cinelli (Fondazione Nuto Revelli, Centro Studi per la pace “Sereno Regis”)

From “Gossip” to a “Deplorable Certainty”. Reason and Emotions in Alessandro Manzoni’s Historical Account of the Plague of 1630

Alessandro Manzoni accounts for the outbreak of the plague in chapters 37 and 38 of his historical novel The Betrothed (1840), focusing on the intertwining of reason and emotions that imprinted the public and institutional response. By ironically depicting the emotional turn that quickly gained the upper hand, he describes how fear degenerated into panic, and suspicion into a rage. Eventually, the inability to tackle the contagion resulted in an irrational chase of anointers. With the Column of Infamy, which he published as a historical appendix to the novel, Manzoni recounts the trial in which Guglielmo Piazza and Giangiacomo Mora were charged with the imputation of being two anointers. My paper will examine how Manzoni focuses on the conflict between reason and emotions from two perspectives: that of the judges, who forced through torture two innocent people to confess a “chimerical attempt”; and that of the two accused, who, maddened with fear and pain, pleaded themselves guilty, accusing one another and many other people. Manzoni argues, thus, that the political institutions deliberately aimed to tame public fear by explaining the epidemic in terms of a plot designed by foreign enemies. I will conclude my paper by pointing out some similarities with our present sanitary emergency, with a particular focus on political responsibility.

Session 1B

Roman Classifications

Sven Günther (Northeast Normal University)

Contagium, morbus, pestilentia, and Co: Epidemic Language in Latin Historians

It has been frequently noted that ancient authors, and historiographers in particular, apply medical language to their narration of historical events aside from descriptions of illness, healings, and epidemics. However, a comprehensive study on how exactly the communication and agenda setting by ancient historiographers through their use of epidemic language functioned, is still lacking, especially with regard to the framing of their intended or targeted audience, and the expected “response” from their frames of experience and knowledge. The paper will address this issue by investigating some prominent examples from republican and imperial Latin authors and shall show to what extent the pictorial language used gained momentum in the respective historical context of the author constructing his framework.

James L. Zainaldin (Harvard University)

The City and Disease Now and Then: A Roman Perspective

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an especially significant impact on urban environments, radically altering almost all aspects of city life. The crisis has prompted urban planners, architects, civil engineers, and others to reconsider the spaces in which we live and work in the post-pandemic world. But the outsize toll of disease on city spaces is hardly a new phenomenon, and many early civilizations including Greece and Rome took care to construct their public spaces on hygienic principles. One outstanding example of a ‘public-health-minded’ approach to urban planning from antiquity is found in the work On Architecture by the Roman architect and engineer M. Vitruvius Pollio. Vitruvius articulates a theory of health and directs city planners to organize the city space in such a way as to maximize the physical wellness of its inhabitants. Vitruvius’ hygienic urbanism is of considerable interest in its own right—but perhaps even more extraordinary is the influence it had on the modern world. When the principles of Vitruvius’ text were adopted by Spanish colonizers in the sixteenth century, they were implemented in cities around the world from Asia to South America to North America.

Katherine D. Van Schaik (Harvard University)

Medical practitioners’ interpretation of evidence and methods of disease classification in the context of a pandemic: the Antonine plague and Covid-19

A persistent challenge in the field of medicine is the classification of diseases. Galen devoted much of his writing to the proper identification of disease (for example, On Diseases and Symptoms), and he was notable among ancient Greco-Roman medical practitioners for the precision of his classification system. In the Outline of Empiricism, he argued that a rigorous classification scheme becomes especially important upon the discovery of a new disease process, as appropriate classification facilitates effective treatment. In the last year, medical practitioners have encountered a similar dilemma with Covid-19, which, although an airborne pathogen with respiratory symptoms, has also been classified as a vasculitis and an inflammatory condition, among other entities. Such debates about the symptomatologies of Covid-19 also led to uncertainty regarding appropriate treatment. This paper will discuss Galen’s observations of the plague, his methods of classifying diseases, and the therapeutic implications of his classificatory method. The paper will conclude with a brief reflection on the challenges of modern disease classification schemata, with reference to ancient medical practitioners’ debates regarding symptomatology and nosology.

Plenary Session

Carlos Rojas (Duke University)

Power, Energy, Capital: A Meta-Epidemiological Analysis of Disease

Although we often associate pandemics with infectious pathogens, there is another type of epidemiological phenomenon that is driven not by pathogens, but rather by environmental factors. Examples might include spikes of cancer cases resulting from industrial pollutants, respiratory diseases caused (or exacerbated) by factory and vehicular emissions, and population-wide increases in obesity driven in large part by dietary changes. The pandemic-like quality of these phenomena, meanwhile, is caused not by the circulation of actual pathogens, but rather by the infectious spread of underlying society factors (such as industrial technologies, capitalist practices, governmental policies, and so forth). This essay will use this sort of meta-epidemiological approach to consider how literary and cultural texts examine medical phenomena ranging from Chinese cancer villages and Japan’s Fukushima disaster, to counterfactual scenarios such as genetic mutations following a nuclear holocaust.

Session 2A

Perspectives & Values

Patrizia Piredda (University of Oxford)

Language and surveillance practices. The metaphors of war read through Foucault and Schmitt

My paper analyses the relationship between language and surveillance practices during the first wave of Covid-19. In particular, I will investigate how war metaphors were used, what emotions they aroused, and their effects, from two perspectives: that of biopolitics and surveillance theory defined by Foucault in the Panopticon section of Surveiller et punir; and of the critique of values proposed by Schmitt in Die Tyrannei der Werte. After discussing the use of medical metaphors in ethics, paying attention to the philosophical analysis of concepts such as life, disease, cure, death, fear, health, and the right to health as defined by the WHO in 1946, I move on to analyse the relationship between metaphors, the emotion of fear, and political decision-making aimed at containing the epidemic, such as the limitation of freedom and social surveillance (e.g. tracking apps for contagion). Finally, by applying the theory of the critique of values, I will investigate whether political decisions have guaranteed the right to health and therefore whether the use of war metaphors and its practical consequences was ethical or not.

Gallous Atabongwoung (University of Pretoria)

Unpacking the Covid-19 Pandemic: A South African Perspective

The Coronavirus 2019 pandemic (Covid-19), is a severe acute respiratory syndrome of coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2)”, that was first reported in Wuhan city in China in December, 2019. In less than three months, the virus spread throughout the globe, and was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11th of March, 2020. The spread of the virus made the South African government to initiate a series of lockdown initiatives which delayed the spread of the virus. But the subsequent rise in the infection rate, required new restrictions that suggested further economic disruption. South African government increased its borrowings because of the crisis of the pandemic, which will constrain public purse for years to come. Thereby limiting the government's ability to address some basic social needs that predated the COVID-19 crisis. As lockdown and isolation policies were rolled out, they limited work activities, people’s mobility, value chains and trade. The COVID-19 pandemic ushered a new climate of uncertainty. This paper collects and summarize current literature on the vulnerability, preparedness and economic impact of COVID-19 in South Africa.

Sarah Philips (University of Oxford)

The History of Pandemics and Plagues in Early-Modern Europe

My paper will examine the prevalence of plagues in eighteenth-century Europe; it will look at practical measures taken at the time aimed at stopping the spread of disease. Several pandemics arose in eighteenth-century Europe. My research will look at the smallpox epidemics in England and France, as well as the Plague of Provence in (which took place between 1720 and 1722). My paper will investigate the practice of variolation that emerged in England. It will look at fears surrounding this practice in Europe, as well as its level of success by examining medical texts and egodocuments. Consequently, my paper will look at the invention of the vaccine by Edward Jenner who is ‘credited with saving more lives through his work than any other human in history.’1 My paper will then look at eighteenth-century French perspectives on vaccination, by examining Voltaire’s letter Sur l’insertion de la petite vérole. My paper will also analyse representations of plague and disease in literature (in Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses for example). Finally, it will examine measures such as the health certificates issued for travel in Provence and the so-called ‘plague wall’ that was built there in an attempt to halt the spread of the plague.

Session 2B

Life & Death & Values

Hannah Wen-Shan Hsieh (Shih Chien University)

Tuberculosis, Restlessness, and Katherine Mansfield’s Writing

This paper explores how Katherine Mansfield, the modernist short fiction writer who died of tuberculosis, views her TB in her personal letters and journals, and how her treatment of her illness inflects her writing.

In Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag argues that the myth and metaphor of TB as a spiritual illness “not only weaken the patient’s ability to understand the range of plausible medical treatment but also, implicitly, direct the patient away from such treatment.” She goes on to quote Katherine Mansfield’s 1922 Journal entry, in which Mansfield thinks that her lung disease can be cured if she could heal her “Self.” A close reading of Mansfield’s letters and journals, however, suggests that Mansfield’s efforts to move restlessly across Europe searching for substitutions for life in a sanatorium should be viewed more temperately and productively than Sontag could see them.

In 1918, Mansfield writes to her future husband John Middleton Murry: “I have discovered the only treatment for consumption. It is not to cut the malade off from life: neither in a sanatorium nor in a land with mild rivers… Johnny Keats’ anchovy has more nourishment than both put together.” In another letter to Mrs. Belloc-Lowndes, Mansfield shows that “Illness is more mysterious than doctors imagine,” and she “can’t afford to die with one very half-and-half little book.” Her mention of the tubercular Keats and her fears that she may cease to establish herself as a writer indicate that her life and writing are not limited by what Sontag calls “the inveterate spiritualizing of TB and the sentimentalizing of its horrors”. In other words, I argue that Mansfield’s restlessness caused by her knowledge of TB and impending death motivates her to “praise life” through writing against time. Writing and reading letters, in Mansfield’s imagination, become a treatment of TB and isolation.

Ilana Shiloh (Academic Center of Law and Business)

Survival Is Insufficient: Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven

What makes life worth living after a plague has brought an end to civilization? This is the central question asked in Emily St. John Mandel’s novel, which won the Arthur C. Clark award for science fiction in 2015. Station Eleven describes a fictional post-apocalyptic world in which a pandemic called the Georgia Flu has wiped out the majority of the population. It describes, with chilling accuracy, events which in the recent two years have been eerily projected from the realm of science fiction to our everyday reality: obsessional attention to signs and symptoms, susceptibility to misinformation, social distancing and quarantine. But unlike most works of the genre which dwell on the intermediate aftermath of the catastrophe, Mandel sets much of the action two decades after the plague and describes the altered world that begins to emerge after all things came apart.

In this altered world there is a travelling Shakespearean theater company which tours the Midwest. Surprisingly, survivors of the Georgia Flu prefer Shakespeare to their other theatrical offerings because “people want to know what was best about the world.” The survivors are also taken by less sophisticated fiction, a graphic novel entitled Station Eleven, whose text intersperses the main narrative.

Fortunately, we seem to have avoided the tragic fate of the inhabitants of Station Eleven. But Emily St. John Mandel’s insight into what makes life worth living during and after a pandemic is strikingly relevant in the aftermath of Covid 19, and this insight is the concern of the present paper.

Amalia Calinescu (University of Bucharest)

Desire for Human Nature in a Clone-Plagued World

The current paper is an integrative study on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go with the overall purpose of proving its therapeutic potential. The main characters’ desire to be human as well as be treated as humans is analysed in three parts that gravitate around the dystopian nature of the novel. On the one hand, its social distortion is compared to nature’s tendency towards the Golden Ratio; on the other, its improbable plague is argued in connection with Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan.

Several personality theories are presented in order to explain the characters’ temperament and behaviour and prove their human traits. The soul debate is linked to Mary’s room, a knowledge argument that marks the distinction between qualia and theoretical models. The characters’ interconnection is then explained with the help of Berne’s transactional analysis and the ego states of each personality. The protagonists’ lack of reaction towards genetic modification is identified as a form of the Daoist Wu wei, also called peacefully detached action.

Session 3A

“Us” and “them” – Pandemics as an Identity Marker in East Asia

Panel organized by Kristin Shi-Kupfer (Trier University)

Panel Description

Across time and spaces, plagues and pandemics have prompted communities to explain the origin of those new diseases. People often linked the disease with a specific group of people which would be marked as “others” vis a vis a redefined collective identity of “us”.

Reactions to plagues have resulted in patterns of interactions between communities and societies. One common reaction has been xenophobia (as analyzed in the paper of Manlai Nyamdorj on historical roots of Sinophobia in Mongolia).

Another pattern has been how official institutions would use a successful combat of the pandemic to reinforce identity claims (as captured by Mayya Solonina in her paper on reinforcement of Taiwanese identity during the pandemic).

Yet another response has been a societal discourse regarding a label applied by the state of the “disease bringers'' (as presented by Kristin Shi-Kupfer on how Chinese netizens have debated the definition of “imported cases” on social media).

Taking on diverse methodological approaches and different angles - from a historical perspective of the Qing dynasty frontiers (Mongolia) to contemporary politics in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan, the panel contributes to a better understanding of the complex patterns in regard to plagues and identity (re)formation.

Manlai Nyamdorj (Trier University)

Smallpox on the steppe: A historical look at disease related Sinophobia in Mongolian imagination

A historical look at disease related Sinophobia in Mongolian imagination COVID-19 once again instigated anti-Asianness, Sinophobia or echoes of yellow perilisque fears. Plagues and pandemic which were early features of the yellow peril whether seen in the Chinatowns in North America or from travel logs from European explorers are both perceived from a Western superior position of modernity. Though China today has developed its own version of modernity, association with its agrarian and backward tradition is still intact in the Western perception. It is an example how China was otherized due to its lack of modernity and how fear and phobia was built upon it. This paper will provide a case of how fear and phobia might have developed among the Mongols when smallpox had spread in the 17-18th century. Devastated by the smallpox, Mongols were on the brink of extinction and its phobia came not from superior position of the Western modernity but had triggered a less hierarchical distinct “other”. The smallpox pandemic overwhelmed the steppe population and completely changed the economic and political picture of the region which might have contributed to a long lasting impact on the collective imagination about the Chinese and China for years to come.

Mayya Solonina (Trier University)

Success in containment of COVID-19 as a reinforcement of Taiwanese identity

At the time, when the initial news about the strange flu from Wuhan started spreading, Taiwan has acted very fast. Having the past experience with the SARS infection in 2002, Taiwan implemented different virus containment strategies to successfully combat the spread of COVID-19. Among these measures were: 14-day quarantine for people coming from HK and China (which has also greatly contributed to the idea of othering China from Taiwan), mass testing, contact tracing and transparent government to citizen communication about the virus spread. The success in Taiwan’s battle with the virus has reinforced the Taiwanese identity, as evident from the content analysis of COVID-19 related YouTube videos and Facebook posts. The government has used this to distance itself from China even further: for instance, trying to secure a spot in the international organizations (WHO), 7 for representing themselves or to promote the new passport design featuring Taiwan instead of the Republic of China. This paper will examine how the Taiwanese government used the success in combating COVID-19 and thus the reinforcement of the Taiwanese identity to otherize the PRC from Taiwan both internally and internationally.

Kristin Shi-Kupfer (Trier University)

“Do Chinese or only foreigners import new cases?” A discourse analysis of Chinese social media debates on the official label “imported (from abroad)” regarding the COVID-19 pandemic

After the Chinese party-state declared victory over the first severe raging of COVID19 in summer 2020, authorities have categorized new cases either as “imported (from abroad)” 境外输入性) or “locally occurred/transmitted” 本土性) - with the former being the cast majority of occurring cases. While other countries also applied the same differentiator, the Chinese government has used these categories to reinforce their successful domestic containment of the disease amidst poor management and surging problems abroad. By doing so, Beijing not only wanted to distract domestic as well as international attention away from their initial cover-up but also to substantiate their claim of a superior Chinese model of crisis management. Chinese netizens, however, have been upset by the definition of “imported (from abroad) cases” as the category also includes Chinese (re-)entering China from abroad. Through a discourse analysis on two platforms, and during the second half of 2020, this paper analyses the contested space of pandemic narratives between the state and society as markers of identity of “us” and “them”.

Session 3B

Politics & Pandemics

Valerij Grecko (University of Tokyo)

Black on Red: Biopolitics of Plagues under the Soviet Rule

My paper begins with an overview of the most important epidemic outbreaks that occurred during the Soviet period, such as pneumonic plague in the 1930s, smallpox in the 1960s, and anthrax in the 1970s. It is shown that at each stage of Soviet history strategies of fighting epidemics and their presentation in the public space were different: silencing of the problem in the Stalin era, open information policy during the liberal Khrushchev Thaw, and disinformation in the later Soviet period. Further, the literary and artistic reflection of these epidemics is considered, in particular, the story of Alexander Milchakov “It Came a Trouble to the City” and its film adaptation (1966), as well as the recently published book by Lyudmila Ulitskaya “A Plague in the City” (2020). Finally, some common patterns that can be observed between the spread of epidemics and the mechanisms of ideological control in the USSR are discussed.

Madalitso Zililo Phiri (University of Johannesburg)

Unmaking the Political Economy of Empire and Health Inequalities through South Africa’s Covid-19 Responses

South Africa’s Covid-19 responses are marred by policy paradoxes. It boasts one of the most sophisticated healthcare systems on the African continent yet accounts for the highest number of Covid-19 fatalities. This article asks the following question: How does a country with one of the most sophisticated health systems on the African continent account for the highest number of Covid-19 fatalities? The pandemic reified existing socio-economic inequalities that are predicated on a history of racial capitalism and anti-Black racism in South Africa. To address the deleterious health and economic malaise resulting from one of the most severe national lockdowns, the country embarked on borrowing from international global financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to keep the economy afloat. Deploying a political economy perspective, the article problematizes South Africa’s Covid-19 responses through the theoretical lenses of racial capitalism. Locating South Africa’s policy choices within the ambits of a global interlocutor, racialized neoliberalism, and global political economy of empire, which, it is suggested, are avenues that explain the decoupling of social policy choices since their inception in the 1970s to the present. Covid-19 in South Africa is a pandemic of racial capitalism and white supremacy manifesting on two fronts: historical inequalities predicated on black genocide, and an unequal global governance architecture that is organized around racialized economic hierarchies and exclusion. Drawing on secondary public data on trends in health expenditure and Covid-19 trends, I argue that South Africa’s public policy architectures will do well to revisit the ideas of radical African political economy that discuss the intersection of domestic and international modes of domination and their subversion. I do this by returning to the ideas of the recently departed African Marxist intellectual, Samir Amin, who provided an alternative vision of Third World internationalism in opposition to the current liberal political economy that constitutes war, militarism, imperialist accumulation, expropriation by domination, and labour super-exploitation.

Chung-Jen Chen (National Taiwan University)

Epidemic Blindness and the Politics of Seeing in José Saramago’s Blindness

Portuguese writer José Saramago, the recipient of Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998, is known for his use of allegories for subversive perspectives. Among his repeated uses of allegories, the allegory of the cave as one of the most favored Saramago brings out the questions that challenges old belief in seeing: seeing is not believing and what you see is not what you think.

Saramago’s Blindness tells a story of epidemic blindness in an unknown cit at an unknown time. With the outbreaks of the unknown disease, his characters lose the ability of seeing and are trapped in a chaotic world. The loss of eyesight is a metaphor that represents not only a world of disability but also of the medicalized society. The development of the story focuses on the debates of visibility: for those who cannot see, the world dissolved into an anarchy with no hope of healing nor order, while for those who can see, the world is disciplined into a world of orders. The allegorical outbreak of epidemic blindness criticizes not only the social system but also the collective projection of vision. In the time of epidemic outbreaks, humanity loses the ability of seeing while they see more clearly through the murky darkness of mankind.


Plenary Session

David Butt (Macquarie University)

Our Silent ‘Topoi’ of Suffering: plague; poverty; and war as textual motivations

Plagues, poverty, and wars have all moved people to record their experiences. These 3 topoi have been propagated as themes, and through dramatic metaphors for managing crises and opposing social change (“the contagion of…”; “the poverty of…”; “a war against…”).

But a strange proportion has been involved in textual constructions around human suffering: while plagues have affected the greatest suffering - that is when measured in deaths, cross generational victims, and social dislocation – plagues have been chronicled in a muted mode of report, as background to more elaborated, dramatized themes (Hershberger 2020: Sc. American 323:5). By contrast, for instance, wars draw extravagant renewals of research and popular interest, on an annual basis.

There are highly visible exceptions to this strange proportion: in the development of the literary genres (Bocaccio 1349 and Defoe 1722); in anthropology (Diamond 1997); in historical accounts (Tuchman 1978); and from classical sources, especially with Thucydides (Kappagoda 2004). There is also a paradox in the way metaphors of disease have been an ideological weapon of symbolic violence in order to maintain a collectivist conformity – viz. in fascisms and in some religious movements.

In this paper, following the lead of a number of scholars, I explore these textual issues in the contexts of Australian experience over 250 years.

Session 4A

Refiguring the Plague: Narrative, Intervention, and Risking the Metaphor

Panel organized by Earl Jackson (Asia University)

Panel Description

This panel deals with plague across several media in Western Europe and the US: graphic novel, musical film, literary and paraliterary speculative fiction. We see pandemics first of all as literal social crises but also as crises of meaning. Both modes are engaged in the texts under consideration, but the emphasis will be on the latter as textual practice occurs within the dimension in which meaning entails both the stakes involved and the risks taken to comprehend catastrophes such as AIDS on several levels of psychosocial experience. The pandemic as metaphor is an ethical minefield that is traversed in the readings we will offer. In the group of texts examined, viewing the pandemic as generative of metaphor allows for both the classical symptomatic reading and reevaluating the social contradictions (coloniality; market culture; urban underground resistance and accommodation, etc.) thus exposed.

Christophe Thouny (Ritsumeikan University)

Pandemic as Recycled Metaphor: Topologies of Bourgeois Domesticity in Guy de Maupassant’s Le Horla.

Guy de Maupassant’s 1987 short story Le Horla is a landmark text in discussions of global pandemics and urban modernity. It tells in diary form the story of a wealthy French man who, possessed by an inhuman life form, burned his household - domestics included, to get rid of the vampiric creature trapped in his locked bedroom. The creature is named Horla, a play on the words hors and là, literally ‘outside right there’. It comes from the South, Brazil, collapsing the near and the far in a topology of the present that thrives on the psychotic bourgeois subject. As Lacan says, the psychotic is not able to create new metaphors: it can only reuse metaphors already circulated. Le Horla is as such a recycled metaphor, a virus-like disease juxtaposed emerging from the ungrounding and surface movement of global urbanity, a contagious disease that pushes the narrator from the safety of a Euclidian metric domestic space into a global topological space articulated by a series of heterotopic figures, the boat, the forest, the mirror and the bottle.

Michelle E. Bloom (University of California-Riverside)

On Pills and Needles:Visual Metaphor and HIV Stigma in Jeanne and the Perfect Guy and Blue Pills

The challenges of visually representing AIDS explains its presence in literature and near absence from film as of the late 1990s, when Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s film Jeanne and the Perfect Guy came out, according to Renaud Lagabrielle. Two French language works, Martineau and Ducastel’s musical film and Swiss cartoonist Frederik Peeters’ graphic novel, Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story, (2008) both combine words and images to portray and combat HIV stigma. By featuring a heterosexual relationship between the protagonist and an HIV positive character, these works, to varying degrees autobiographical, dismantle the stereotype of HIV targeting only homosexual men, albeit testifying to the stigma of positive status for drug users, women and children. Medical developments preventing and treating HIV since the early 1990s account for the shift from representing HIV as a death sentence to living and even thriving while positive. Jeanne... combines history and fairy tale, setting the personal (the relationship of Jeanne with Olivier, infected by a contaminated needle) in the context of the collective (the heyday of Act Up in Paris). Absent devastation and activism, Blue Pills focuses on the personal: a Geneva couple’s coming to terms with HIV and learning to live with it.

Earl Jackson (Asia University)

Handloom in the Night: Samuel R. Delany's Engagement with AIDS in "The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals"

In 1984 Samuel R. Delany added another tale to his Nevèroÿn series, “Tales of Plagues and Carnivals”, which is the first extended attempt to engage creatively with the AIDS crisis. Delany has long championed science fiction as “a way to construct worlds in clear and consistent dialogue with the world that is, alas, the case.” He distinguishes his two paraliterary genres in observing that sf “texts construct an artificial ‘future', and sword-and-sorcery an artificial "past", in order to set into motion a dialogue with the ‘present’”. The Tale juxtaposes the story of a sexually transmitted plague in the world of Nevèroÿn with two contemporary horrors: the growing AIDS crisis 1982-83 and the serial murders of homeless in NYC around the same time. This paper will focus on how these narratives interact in terms of the metadiegetic reflections included in the text on the ethical questions that arise in balancing the pressures of honesty and efficacy in facing the pandemic and its magnitude.

Session 4B

Body & Politics

Emilio Capettini (University of California -Santa Barbara)

Greek Myth and Etiologies of HIV/AIDS

The sudden onset of HIV/AIDS forced many queer writers active in the 1980s and 1990s to find ways not only to express their trauma but also to reject widespread interpretations of the crisis as a form of divine punishment. In this paper, I will examine how two of these writers – Emmanuel Dreuilhe, in the diary Mortal Embrace (1988), and Mark Merlis, in the novel An Arrow’s Flight (1988) – exploited stories from Greek myth to shape the discourse that surrounded the epidemic. Merlis reimagined the protagonist of Sophocles’ Philoctetes as the first gay man affected by the virus. Although several characters in the novel read Philoctetes’ agony as retribution for his erotic conduct, this etiology is dismissed by the narrator; destiny, we are told, "has no point to make" (p. 376). Dreuilhe, in turn, repeatedly compared the HIV/AIDS crisis to the Trojan War in order to present it as nothing other than the "result of an unfortunate chain of circumstances" (p. 115). For these authors, I will argue, Greek myth became a powerful tool to confront an epidemic that, as Paula Treichler (1999, 1) has noted, was (and still is) "cultural and linguistic as well as biological and biomedical."

Sonakshi Srivastava (Indraprastha University)

T/easing the Corpse: Delineating the Body Politic in Ananthamurthy’s ‘Samskara’

A plague and a death mark the beginning of U.R Ananthamurthy’s classic, ‘Samskara’.

The dead body of Naranappa, an outcaste Brahmin triggers the existential question, as well as the action, ‘what is to be done’? Since he is an outcaste, the regular Brahmins are forbidden to view and touch his body. However, since he was born a Brahmin, his last rites should be performed in close conformation to his natal identity. This conflict strains the head Brahmin, Praneshacharya. The resolution of the conflict is not easy – the village is soon marred by a plague, and Praneshacharya’s invalid wife dies. The series of unfortunate events arouse in Praneshacharya an intense need to find the solution, thereby causing him to embark on a life transforming journey.

As the novel proceeds, we confront several issues at hand – the conflict between the idea of lust and renunciation, of the pure and the impure. Interestingly, the corpse of Naranappa serves as the locus, the sight and site of such conflicts.

The novel complicates the relations that an emergency situation like that of a plague elicits, making it a mediation on life and death, and the living in between.

The aim of the paper is to interrogate the aforementioned questions – how is a plague "constructed", and how does a corpse in the capacity of a ‘dead being’ tease the boundaries of what seems to be normal to bring to the fore the gross inequalities that exist at a personal as well as public level. I wish to delineate how these questions con/figure relations in the text by placing the text in conversation with the philosophy of Mbembe and Foucault.

Lilith Acadia (National Taiwan University)

Pandemic Pretexts: Are Governments Exploiting the Chaos to Undermine Democracy?

While we panicked, governments worldwide responded to Covid-19 by instituting measures limiting civil liberties. Our intuitions about which new limits are reasonable and just sacrifices to make in the interest of public health depend on a range of factors from trust in government and technology to moral, economic, and political values. Democracy has faced a range of attacks, but one particularly important pandemic threat is how the unreliability of information produced epistemic uncertainty those in power exploited to unsettle trust or present fabrications as facts. Public dissolution of trust in response to incomplete knowledge and misinformation about covid is already visibly threatening democracy, with possible lasting impacts on belief in truth, on which democracy depends. In the pandemic chaos, it is even more important to have a framework for evaluating new developments. My research develops tools to assess whether new measures are trustworthy or suspect, by evaluating whether the justifications for the measure reflect valid motivations or are Machiavellian pretexts. This presentation uses my framework of pretext to interpret political response to the pandemic, because identifying pretexts can help us hold politicians accountable as the sea changes the pandemic has brought transform our societies and challenge our democratic ideals.

Session 4C

“No Mask, No Entry!": Multilingualism and Language Diversity of the Linguistic Landscape during COVID-19 Era

Panel organized by Teresa Wai See Ong (Griffith University) & Michael M. Kretzer (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)

Panel Description

In today’s globalised era, multilingualism is increasingly becoming the norm with transmobile communities around the world speaking at least two languages or more. Nevertheless, because the ideology of monolingualism still widely exists, in addition to the use of dominant languages that is promoted in most countries through a single medium of instruction for education purposes, many communities have reduced the use of their community/indigenous languages. This situation happens because these communities perceive the use of dominant languages as crucial for socioeconomic development. Consequently, language shift takes place with community/indigenous languages facing threats of endangerment/discontinuation in usage.

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has demonstrated relevance of multilingual health crisis communication through various community/indigenous languages. There is a need to use these community/indigenous languages to enable successful measures for containment of the pandemic as well as vaccination roll-out. Therefore, this situation calls for studies to investigate how multilingualism is applied in countries around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Specifically, the panel focuses on examining multilingualism and language diversity for COVID-19 health crisis communication with examples from public signage.

Laxmi Prasad OJHA (Michigan State University)

Public Service Announcement as Sites of Social and Linguistic Inequalities: Lessons from COVID-related Public Signage in Nepal

Public institutions are expected to provide information to the public in language(s) they feel comfortable with. This is particularly important when people are facing a public health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. However, due to the unequal distribution of resources to languages in multilingual societies, people belonging to indigenous and minoritized communities often lack language support necessary to combat the emergency situation putting these vulnerable groups at greater risk.

In this presentation, I discuss the ongoing debate on multilingualism and linguistic rights in Nepal in relation to the availability of key information during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, I analyze how the lack of key public health information in minoritized languages poses a challenge to fight the spread of COVID-19 in the country as the people who do not have access to health information in their home languages are deprived of the opportunity to take precautions to stop the spread of the virus. In addition, I discuss the social message conveyed through the COVID signage. A closer observation of the linguistic landscape suggests that people are ostracizing and othering fellow community members in their neighbourhood. I conclude with discussion on the importance of embracing multilingualism in crisis communication.

Teresa Wai See Ong (Griffith University)

The Invisible Multilingualism on COVID-19 Public Health Signs in Penang, Malaysia

Penang is a turtle-shaped island city that lies in the northern Peninsular Malaysia. Its pre-colonial history has resulted in the creation of a diverse population – various ethnic groups live together, speak different languages, and embrace a variety of cultures and traditions. Such background demonstrates that the present-day Penang is a multilingual, multiethnic, and multicultural society.

Using such multilingualism as backdrop, this study aims to examine the languages that appear on COVID-19 public health signs in Penang. Conceptualising the study within the framework of language planning and policy, 178 signs were collected, organised and analysed according to the different hierarchy of agency: (a) state government, (b) district government, (c) large enterprise, and (d) small enterprise. The findings show that in general, the signs were multilingual but when narrowing down the analysis, only dominant languages, such as Malay and English, were used. The only community language that existed in the data was Chinese. Such findings reflect the social inequality for the public’s access to COVID-19 related information. The study concludes that an increase use of other languages, particularly foreign languages, is needed so that vulnerable and fragile communities in Penang can be protected in this pandemic crisis.

Michael M. Kretzer (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)

COVID-19 Pandemic Outbreak, The Vaccination Procedures and Health Crisis Communication in Southern Africa

On the 7th of January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported an unknown pneumonia outbreak in China. Sub-Saharan Africa only had its first cases in mid-February, with some travellers from or returning mainly from Italy. Various governmental ministries in South Africa and Lesotho informed their population about COVID-19 and their regulations to control the outbreak of the disease. Although most of the information was in English, a substantial amount of audio and video files were available in several African Languages in South Africa, including many governmental announcements specifically in Sesotho in Lesotho. Governments were aware of the risks of fake news being spread, but they tried to inform as transparent as possible with the public. The same applied for the roll-out campaign for vaccination. English dominated again or even more the health communication on the VLL in South Africa. This paper intends to analyse how Lesotho and South Africa inform about COVID-19 and vaccination on official government websites. The quantity and quality of how African languages are used will be analysed. Most African countries are multilingual and such life-threatening topics and far reaching political interventions in all spheres of life should be communicated as inclusive as possible.

Plenary Session

Patrick Finglass (Bristol University)

Ancient Greek pandemics as a test of leadership: Homer’s Achilles, Sophocles’ Oedipus, and Thucydides’ Pericles

Homer’s Iliad and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King both begin with plagues which motivate the action of the entire works which they open; Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, too, contains a plague early on within its narrative. These plagues and their interrelations have long interested scholars, but today have a still greater import given the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the whole globe – an impact that has varied from one country to another in part because of the different leadership qualities which the leaders of different countries have exhibited. How do the leaders of the societies depicted in Homer, Sophocles, and Thucydides react to the plagues that afflict their people? What purposes do these depictions of leaders serve within their respective works? And are there lessons for our societies today in the responses of these leaders?

Session 5A

Malady and Malediction, Collective and Personal Experience of the Disease in Ancient and Medieval Accounts

Panel organized by Ecaterina Lung (University of Bucharest)

Panel Description

The ancient world has developed its own formulas for coping with the crises caused by the great epidemics. Whether it is the theories about the origins of the disease, or the political significance attributed to it, whether it is collective or personal strategies, in the life and mentality of ancient societies the disease is a strong presence, often associated with the divine will or the immanent justice. Epidemics can be a proof of (il)legitimacy for the sovereign, an opportunity for a defining personal experience, or for ideological validation. We aim to look at some of the perspectives that ancient texts from the circum-Mediterranean space offer regarding epidemics. The sources we consider differ by society and period, including diplomatic documents, military chronicles, historiographical works and literature. We investigate these sources from two perspectives: the political connotation of the disease and the solutions identified, the mechanisms of protection or healing. The panel's chronology extends from the Amoritic era of Mesopotamia (the Archives of Mari) to the early Byzantium time (Theophanes Confessor's Chronography), thus investigating some of the most influential civilizations of the ancient Near East and Southern Europe.

Daniela Zaharia (University of Bucharest)

Punishment by Plague in Diplomatic Treaties in the Ancient Near East<

The oldest alliance treaties in history, concluded between the kings of the Near-East states in the 2nd and 1st millennia B.C. already have the legal character of contracts, against which the reference court are the Gods, and the sanctions reserved for the traitors who break the contract are recorded by series of curses. Between these curses, the sanction through physical ailments, especially through devastating plagues, is one of the most common. We aim to make a typology of diseases selected as forms of divine justice, in association with the deities that throw them upon the culprits and their position in the religious, mythological and mental systems of ancient Eastern civilizations. References to epidemics in diplomatic treaties will be associated with descriptions of their various aspects according to other sources, such as letters, military chronicles or literature describing the manifestations of diseases, speculating on their causes and reporting the reaction of communities in these times of crisis. The corpus of documents includes Hittite treaties and military chronicles, Akkadian and Assyrian treaties, correspondence, literature and military chronicles correspondence, military chronicles and Egyptian literature, with a chronology extending from the archives of Mari (19th to 18th centuries B.C.) to the Neo-Assyrian treaties (8th-7th centuries B.C).

Alexandra Lițu (University of Bucharest)

Personal strategies in times of collective misfortune in Ancient Greece

Disease is a constant presence in ancient Greek texts, be they inscriptions, papyri or literary productions. Some of the plagues affecting collectivities have more visibility in literary texts since they are part of strong mythological ensembles, as the Trojan War or Oedipus’ myth, or pivotal historical events as the Peloponnesian war or the foundation of Cyrene. On the contrary, many of the individual grievances find their expression in epigraphic texts and in individual dealings with healing deities; individual disease also appears in various mythological and historical episodes. We aim to explore how the individual dimension plays into texts that highlight collective experiences and that employ shared cultural constructions of plague in order to investigate individual perceptions and actions in the midst of widespread plagues.

Florica Bohîlțea Mihuț (University of Bucharest)

Describing pestilences in T. Live’s Ab Urbe condita

Through more than thirty instances concerning the sanitary crises, attested during the monarchic and republican history of Rome, T. Live exposes first and foremost – as modern scholars have often pointed out – the political responses and religious decisions orchestrated to reinstate the harmonious relation between the mortals and the Gods, encompassed into the so-called pax deorum. At the same time, some of the depictions of these pestilences, which are more detailed, inform us about the citizens’ acting in such challenging situations and about the entire social climate within the state. The way T. Live places these events into a historical context, emphasizing the plagues’ dispersal, the loss of human lives, and the damages of the cattle, will be pursued in our paper, aiming a twofold goal. Firstly, we’ll intend to re-estate the recurring correlations of these pestilences with the natural disasters, military actions, and alimentary pressures, mirroring the Roman (and also Greek) comprehension of an infection. Secondly, analyzing the main concepts used by the author, we’ll try to define the literary image of the epidemic in his work.

Ecaterina Lung (University of Bucharest)

The many functions of plagues in Theophanes Confessor’s Chronographia (cca. 813)

Theophanes Confessor was a byzantine monk who at the beginning of the 9th century wrote a world chronicle which can be used to trace a history of the occurrence of plagues up to his time. But Theophanes is rarely interested in a neutral narration of facts, him being an ardent partisan of the cult of icons. So, the plagues which are mentioned in his writing can possibly be, sometimes, real events that actually happened, but sometimes their presence hides other significations. A bubonic plague can simply happen and can affect a certain category of population, like the one that occurred in 555/6 which particularly affected children. But a plague can also be a punishment sent by God, against the enemies of the Byzantines or against the Byzantine themselves when they abandon the Orthodoxy. The cure is the correct Christian faith or at least the use of the Christian symbol, as we can see in the curious history of a non-Christian people of Turks who in 588/9 had the cross tattooed on their foreheads in order to be protected against the plague. So, even if we can try a reconstruction of plague’s history in these early medieval times using Theophanes, we have to bear in mind that he wrote not only about a natural illness, but about a divine punishment and that his intention was not only to speak about the past but also to teach moral and theological lessons.

Session 5B

Discours Medical & la Bonne Voie

Jean-Alexandre Perras (European University Institute)

La « contagion des modes » au XVIIIe siècle : Dynamiques économiques et commerce global

Au XVIIIe siècle, la métaphore de la contagion est fréquemment employée pour décrire les effets néfastes de la circulation des modes et du goût pour le luxe et en particulier de l’exemplarité dont elle relève : depuis les grands de la cour jusqu’aux paysans des campagnes, l’attrait pour les nouveautés circule « de proche en proche », confondant ainsi les conditions sociales. Jugé responsable de la décadence des mœurs, le goût des modes se répand comme « une peste », tonnent les contempteurs du luxe. L’analogie de la contagion est également un élément clef des discours sur la circulation internationale des modes, précisément au moment où les dynamiques de renouvellement saisonnier forcent à repenser les enjeux commerciaux entre les États. Si le goût pour le luxe et la nouveauté peut être moralement néfaste, l’exportation des modes peut s’avérer profitable pour la balance commerciale des pays exportateurs qui donnent le ton des modes, c’est-à-dire, qui exportent leurs vices. Dès lors, la métaphore de la contagion permet aussi de représenter les nouvelles stratégies de concurrence commerciale qui prennent naissance au cours de l’ancien régime sous l’impulsion de la mode. Cette communication analysera ce changement de perspective en comparant la rhétorique des traités sur le commerce et sur la contagion en France et en Angleterre.

Erika Wicky (Université Lumière Lyon)

Parfums, épidémie et contagion au XIXe siècle

L’épidémie de choléra qui a décimé la France en 1832 a renforcé la conception selon laquelle les odeurs étaient responsables de la transmission des maladies (Corbin, 1982). Pendant tout le siècle, la perception olfactive a été régulièrement mise en cause pour souligner les risques sanitaires liés aux interactions sociales, ce qui a notamment encouragé l’usage hygiéniste et prophylactique de produits de parfumerie tels que les savons parfumés (Briot, 2016).

Attentive au dialogue entre le discours médical véhiculé par les traités d’hygiène destinés à un large public et la littérature de l’époque, cette communication mettra en évidence les conceptions et les prescriptions concernant le rôle des odeurs et des parfums dans la transmission de maladies qui circulaient en France, entre les années 1830 et les découvertes pasteuriennes des années 1880. On pourra ainsi observer la façon dont le lexique de la maladie et de la contagion a envahi l’ensemble du discours médical et littéraire sur les parfums, y compris lorsqu’ils étaient associés à des pathologies nerveuses (Zola, 1875; Goncourt, 1884), mais aussi la façon dont la perception des odeurs et des parfums s’est imposée comme un moyen de mesurer et de gérer la distance entre les corps des individus.

Jean-Louis Vaxelaire (Université de Namur)

Qui croire en temps de pandémie? Des médecins qui rassurent et qui inquiètent

Les querelles scientifiques ont toujours existé mais se déroulaient dans un cadre universitaire. Avec l’arrivée du covid 19, la question a pris une nouvelle dimension : nous pouvons assister dans les médias français à des luttes entre médecins. En s’affirmant comme sommité mondiale et en proposant une solution simple à la pandémie (l’utilisation de l’hydroxycloroquine), Didier Raoult est devenu une célébrité, il a été désigné la deuxième personnalité politique française préférée en mars 2020 (alors qu’il n’a jamais fait de politique).

Dans une première partie, nous analyserons la rhétorique des discours des « rassuristes », ces médecins qui ont expliqués que les masques ne servaient à rien, qu’il n’y aurait pas de seconde vague en septembre, etc.

Dans la seconde, nous traiterons un corpus de commentaires sous des vidéos Youtube de médecins. Nous verrons que les discours anti-vaccins par exemple ne sont plus des discours contre la science en général, mais contre la science « officielle » (qui regroupe l’OMS, Bill Gates, etc.), les rassuristes représentant le bon côté de la science.

Nous conclurons que les rassuristes renforcent les propos antiscientifiques classiques en donnant à leurs auteurs l'impression qu'ils suivent la bonne voie, celle d'une vérité cachée qui sera dévoilée, tout cela sans apporter de solution contre la pandémie.

Session 5C

Values in History, or History of Values

Paolo Costa (Pontifical Biblical Institute)

La peste, la malattia e il corpo politico: continuità e discontinuità di una metafora nella legislazione tardoantica

La relazione ha l’obiettivo di mostrare la continuità e la discontinuità del tópos retorico della malattia in rapporto al corpo politico e sociale secondo una prospettiva storico-giuridica. La metafora della malattia (νόσος /morbus) e della peste (λοιμός / pestis-pestilentia) è frequente nelle opere greche e latine ed è associata alle vicissitudini del corpo politico – presentato con una visione organicista – secondo due modalità prevalenti e interconnesse: 1) la στάσις e la discordia civile sono equiparate metaforicamente o analogicamente alla malattia e/o alla peste; 2) la causa di epidemie naturalisticamente verificatesi è individuata nella punizione divina (per la ὕβρις o per la violazione della pax deorum). Anche in testi altoimperiali si rinviene tale uso metaforico, soprattutto nel caso di tumulti legati a motivazioni sociali e religiose che espongano a pericoli l’ordine pubblico (e.g., Flavio Giuseppe, Plutarco, Tacito). Significativamente gruppi di giudei o di cristiani sono accusati di esserne all’origine – anche in documenti della cancelleria imperiale (e.g., Lettera di Claudio agli Alessandrini, ma ancora una costituzione di Diocleziano e Massimiano contro i Manichei) – o di rappresentare una malattia per il corpo sociale, perché possibili agenti di tumulti (e.g., Actus apostolorum; Clemente Romano). Nel tardoantico si verifica uno snodo di parziale discontinuità: la metafora della malattia persiste ma si connota in modo semanticamente nuovo. È decisamente raro l’uso per indicare gli scontri civili (e.g., Libanio; Procopio), ma trova un’espansione notevole negli scritti di autori ecclesiastici e polemisti (e.g., Ps.-Egesippo, Giovanni Crisostomo, Agostino, papa Leone). La metafora è applicata nei confronti dei giudei e degli eretici e ne configura lo statuto: la loro potenzialità di contagio consiste nel non professare il credo ortodosso giuridicamente stabilito e nel diffondere tale miscredenza. Lo statuto giuridico dell’eretico viene caratterizzato da siffatto linguaggio. Gli imperatori intervengono puntualmente per reprimere queste tipologie di pestilenze e i testi giuridici adottano tale linguaggio (cf. Codex Theodosianus). Alla fine di questo percorso di sviluppo retorico e giuridico, nella Nov. 77, Giustiniano reprime penalmente la blasfemia considerandola causa di devastanti malattie del corpo sociale. La materialità della condotta criminosa è del tutto evaporata: mentre in precedenza con l’immagine della patologia sociale si indicavano episodi e comportamenti che potessero sfociare in tumulti urbani, sedizioni e rivolte, ora essa si riferisce a un reato di opinione. L’imperatore si presenta come custode del corpo sociale, in quanto mediatore con Dio e in quanto colui che, con la sua legislazione repressiva di comportamenti irreligiosi, impedisce l’esiziale punizione divina. Gli obiettivi della relazione sono: sistematizzare alcuni dati linguistici e retorici, spesso presentati in dottrina in modo separato e non organico; tracciare l’evoluzione storica dell’impiego della metafora, chiarendo il suo valore retorico e il suo ruolo di persistente ‘struttura nascosta’; mostrare come lo studio di questo tópos rappresenti una chiave di accesso per apprezzare una traiettoria evolutiva del diritto penale tardoimperiale, che, a differenza del periodo ‘classico’, si fa decisamente intervenista in materia religiosa, non ‘rimettendo’ più agli dèi di punire il delitto religioso quando non estrinsecatosi in una minaccia per la sicurezza della res publica, ma atteggiandosi come strumento della mediazione ‘sacerdotale’ dell’imperatore cristiano.

Brian K. Reynolds (Fu Jen Catholic University)

"Mundi totius domina et aegris medicina": Some Considerations on the Virgin Mary as Physician in Medieval and Patristic Sources

The topos of Christus medicus, which is already present in the Gospels, and was further developed by Patristic writers such as St. Augustine, who was principally responsible for transmitting it to the Middle Ages and beyond, has received a modest amount of academic attention. Less studied is the popular belief that the Mother of God was also a dab hand at curing ills both spiritual and physical. Why the faithful increasingly turned to Mary for medicament is the subject of this paper.

I shall suggest that several factors are involved. In the first place, as the New Eve, Mary is the true "mother of the all the living" (Gen. 3.20), since she brought life into the world where Eve brought only the death of sin and caducity. It is in this context that the Akathistos Hymn salutes Mary as "healing of my body […] protection of my soul" (23, 16-17), a notion that is found in many Marian texts. A further element was that, as the cult of the Virgin grew, first in the Patristic East and later in the Medieval Latin Church, so did the belief that even the most putrid and pustulent of sinners could rely on the Virgin's mercy in seeking to overcome God's harsh justice. Thus, we find Andrew of Crete (†c. 740) writing in one of his hymns, "Cure, Lady, my infirm soul and heal the passions and wounds of my body, and show the pity of your mercy towards me in my wretchedness" (Paracletic Canon to the Mother of God, Odes I-II¸ Troparia), while some centuries later Anselm of Lucca († 1086) begs the Virgin to, "Deign, […] to turn your health-giving hands to my sufferings, and place upon my wounds the remedy of your conciliation" (Oratio ad sactam Mariam). At the same time, with the Christianisation of Europe, Mary not infrequently took on the role of pagan deities to whom people of all ranks had turned for protection in illness, but especially women, whether for themselves, in childbirth, or for their children. Another factor after the turn of the first millennium, was the rise of affective piety in the West, when greater emphasis came to be laid on the humanity of Christ, so that the warmth of his relationship with his Mother became a particular focus. This led to an even stronger belief in Mary's power to intercede on behalf of a fallen and fragile humanity. It is in this context that collections of Marian miracle tales begin to abound, complied and composed by the likes of William of Malmesbury (†1143), Gautier of Coinci († 1236) and Alfonso el Sabio († 1284).

Ultimately, I shall conclude, one should attribute belief in the Virgin's healing powers neither entirely to Christian theology nor to her taking on the role of pre-Christian goddesses, but to a combination of both, typical of the Church's constant balancing act between its core beliefs and the necessity to inculturate.

Nevia Dolcini & Veronica Valle (University of Macau)

Italian Heroes: the role of gender-specific images in the public discourse around the COVID-19 pandemics in Italy

In this work we provide an analysis of the public discourse around the COVID-19 pandemics in Italy, with specific reference to the period in which the country witnessed the sudden outbreak of the pandemics, and had to cope with the devastating first wave of the infection. The aim of the proposed analysis, which employes the model of textual semiotics as well as theories in pragmatics, aims at highlighting the interplay between deeply rooted gender stereotypes, the use of the metaphor of the war, and the adopted strategies in public communication. The war metaphor has been largely dominating the public discourse around the COVID-19 pandemics, in Italy as in the rest of the world. Many words have already been spent on the negative effects of such a rhetoric, but there is an aspect of the war narrative that has been overlooked: we want to argue that the war metaphor reflects the gender biases still permeating the Italian society and culture leading, in the context of the pandemic, to the exclusion of women from the corridors of power, and working as a ready-at-hand justification of such exclusion.

Since the beginning of the health emergency in Italy, newspapers, reports on TV and social media, and politicians’ speeches have been permeated with warfare terms: the virus is an invisible enemy, the doctors and the nurses are heroes fighting on the frontline, and the restrictive preventive measures are sacrifices that we are all called to make in order to win the battle. Effective leadership, in war more than in any other time, is associated with stereotypically masculine traits. Citizens too were asked to be strong and rationale, to avoid emotionality and panic. On the other hand, they were also asked to be kind, patient and generous, helping each other when needed and donating to hospitals and research foundations.

While appeals to strength and calm, as well as the rational and unemotional communication of governmental decisions where communicated by male politicians, scientists and doctors, female faces and bodies have been at the center of the more emotional appeals. Female nurses and, less often, doctors were associated with the word “hero”: pictures of female nurses exhausted and bruised by wearing mask and goggles for long shifts were accompanied by emotional reminders of the necessity to follow the guidelines, be safe and donate to support those that were sacrificing themselves for the entire community, fighting on the frontline of the war. The two pictures symbol of the heroism of the health-workers depict two women: Elena Pagliarini, nurse at the hospital in Cremona, fallen asleep on her desk still wearing PPE, and a female health-worker drawn by Franco Rivolli with angel wings, affectionately looking down at the Italian country that she holds as a baby. An analysis of these two iconic female images, at the center of the public discourse in Italy, reveals their place – hinged on stereotypical femininity - within the rhetorical narrative of the pandemic as a war: women exhausted and bruised in contrast with strong men, (super)powerful and never tired.

Session 6A

Concepts of Diseases in Ancient and Modern Arts

Panel organized by Chia-Lin Hsu (Tunghai University)

Panel Description

Diseases do not appear to be the most popular subject of art, probably because artists and artisans often seek beautiful or interesting representations of people. Diseases are not pleasant to show. However, there are graphic depictions of the Plague in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, written in ancient Greece in the fifth or early fourth century BCE, and this is very similar to a scene in his contemporary Aristophanes’ Clouds of 423 BC. The Greeks’ fear and hope to be cured from a disease may be shown in images of two gods, Apollo and Asclepius, whose power extended to the domain of disease. Likewise, people in the modern world have expressed their concern about pandemics and plagues. Monet and Cézanne’s riverscapes in the nineteenth-century environs of Paris were in relation to the municipal governance of river navigation and the control of potable water. Having suffered from diseases and pandemics such as Tuberculosis and Spanish Influenza after the First World War, the Weimar Republic and the Nazi regime promoted healthy life style by way of good diet, exercises and personal hygiene. This was propagated by certain types of body images through visual media. Usually diseases are not depicted graphically, but avert and hope to be cured from diseases do show.

Michael Vickers (University of Oxford)

An Aristophanic Source for Details of the Athenian Plague

Towards the beginning of the Peloponnesian War (between 430 and 428 BC), when Athenians dealt with destructive Spartan raids by sheltering within the walls of their city, the crowded conditions assisted the rapid spread of a pestilential disease we call the Plague. The historian Thucydides (writing perhaps as late as 396-395 BC) has graphic accounts of both the symptoms and their effects on the unfortunate inhabitants (2.47-57). The position of the list of symptoms in Thucydides’ narrative strongly suggests that they were those experienced by the prominent Athenian politician Pericles who is said by another writer to have “suffered a wide range of symptoms”. Thucydides had himself experienced (and recovered from) the Plague, but it has only recently been noticed that he had a checklist in the form of the bed-bug scene in Aristophanes’ Clouds of 423 BC (lines 694-745), where Strepsiades’ account of what the insects are doing to him closely parallel the symptoms described rather more fully by Thucydides. The truly remarkable fact is that the seven or more parallels occur in the same order in both texts. Archaeologists have a dictum concerning features they excavate: “One stone is an accident, two stones are a coincidence, but three stones are a structure”. I would maintain that the seven or more stones, the seven or more parallels between Aristophanes and Thucydides, amount to something too.

Chiao-mei Liu (National Taiwan University)

Water Resources and Hygiene in Impressionist Painting: Monet and Cézanne’s Riverscapes in the Environs of Paris

This essay investigates Monet and Cézanne’s riverscapes in the environs of Paris, with an emphasis on their pursuit of light and purity of water resources. Based on some their river scenes with flood and industrial establishments, I found their interest of luminous riverscapes came from their concern of municipal governance in relation to river navigation and to the control of potable water, within the context of frequent outbreaks of cholera and panics in Paris from the 1830s through the 1850s. This essay outlines how Monet and Cézanne chose to depicts various geographic distribution around the Seine river, and the different sense of temporality in these riverscapes. In a sense, Impressionist riverscapes provide powerful images of ecological diversity in response to Paris’s Haussmannization.

Hsiu-Ling Kuo (National Chung Cheng University)

Health, Food, and Body Images in Modern Germany

As industrialization and modern technology brought prosperity and economic growth to Germany in the latter 19th century, the life style of its people also underwent major transformations, among which, the relationship between food consumption and health became one of the major concerns of the bourgeoisies. During and in the immediate years after the First World War, Germany was not only struggling to recover from the wreckage of the War, but also experiencing large numbers of deaths resulted from diseases and pandemics, e.g. Tuberculosis and Spanish Influenza. Health of the race/population meant everything to a modern nation state. The Weimar Republic started combating the issue by promoting researches on nutrition and public health. During the Third Reich, the Nazi government encouraged exercises, good diets, and personal hygiene by propagating certain types of body images through visual media, which played an important role in health education. Nonetheless, modern German society views health and body in a variety of ways in different era. Through comparing body images of art and visual materials produced in the Weimar Republic and under the Nazi regime, this paper seeks to explore the evolvement of the concept of health and food in modern Germany. How were health education, visual media and political propaganda presented in early 20th-century Germany? Finally, this paper anticipates the research on this historical development can shed lights on how our society regards health, body images, and food today.

Chia-Lin Hsu (Tunghai University)

Iconographies of Apollo and Asclepius, and the Greeks’ Concept of Disease

Ancient Greeks rarely depicted scenes of disease, but we may partially understand the Greeks’ concept of this by studying images of Apollo and Asclepius. Apollo could bring ill-health to people, as his arrows sent death, sometimes plagues. Interestingly, he was also revered as a healer. Asclepius was Apollo’s son and could avert disease like his father or even revived the dead. In iconography, he usually appears as a mature man, with long hair and beard, wearing a himation while his chest is naked. Such an image may imply his experience, wisdom and power against disease. He dressed like a senior member of the upper class of the society, which may have reflected people’s hope for authoritative help, not from an alien but from someone people familiar with. In contrast, Apollo is usually represented as a youth, beardless and naked to show his ideal physical beauty. He was to be admired, and he was both sweet and stormily fearful, perhaps as typical teenage tantrums. His arrows pierced bodies, like plaques violently attacking people. He could however heal the sick, like spring bringing back flowers and young leaves. Apollo may have symbolized the unreliable character of plaques, while Asclepius the cure by capable authorities.

Session 6B

Teaching & Pandemic

Ronald Blankenborg (Radboud University Nijmegen)

Surfing the waves first: exploring algorithms in ancient Greek epic to improve teaching in times of health crises

In this paper I argue that a formative approach to students’ acquisition of knowledge and skills somewhat resembles the artificial boost of human cognitive abilities experienced in Homer’s Netherworld. Formative assessment as a teaching method equally requires and encourages the learner to be brave, pro-active, and critical – exactly the ‘skills’ needed to guarantee students’ success in troublesome teaching times.

At several places in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, epic heroes are confronted by artificially enhanced deceased. Like those about to die (cf. Hector in Il.22.355-360), the deceased possess profound knowledge of the world of the living, and/or the ability to predict future events. The dead either appear in a dream (like Patroclus in Il.23.65-92), or may be consulted after rowing your ship to the Netherworld (Anticleia, Tiresias, Od. 11.83-224) after careful preparation. The knowledge possessed by the dead is in demand, and generally meant to be further divulged. In many respects, the enhanced cognitive environment of the Odyssey’s Netherworld is reminiscent of today’s virtual online space.

The skills required to consult and interpret the knowledge of the deceased, resemble those needed by students being taught today, I the midst of a global health crisis: surfing the waves, careful handling of hardware, answering requests first (Elpenor), resisting the constant diversion and distraction, assessment and evaluation of algorithmic information, knowing when to go offline. As a teaching method, formative assessment, based on students’ developing ability to use feedback as a feed-forward instrument, aims to train such skills and attitude, both most useful for those furthering their studies in the current, Covid-19 circumstances.

Beware of fake news, though, given Agamemnon’s misguided view of Penelope (Od.11.441-451), and Achilles’ questions concerning his son (Od.11.492-503).

Jörg-A. Parchwitz (Soochow University University)

The Covid 19 pandemic in Taiwan and Germany –two projects in the tertiary GFL classroom

Authenticity and thus topicality are two common requirements for informed foreign language teaching. The Corona pandemic and the measures taken respectively resulted in circumstances offering especially stimulating perspectives for the teaching of GFL in Taiwan: An excellent precautionary management, relatively speaking, on the island state, which is still democratically governed at the moment, and a too late onset and rather helpless looking back and forth on the German side, which continues until the present moment, during the writing of this abstract.

The article will first present two projects, as they were designed especially for the GFL classroom. This presentation will then be followed by didactic considerations and suggestions that may be helpful for creating one's own teaching content.

Session 6C

Gender & Disease

Ioannis Mitsios (National & Kapodistrian University of Athens)

Athenian heroines during times of plague, famine and war

According to the literary tradition attested by Pausanias (1.5.2), when the city of Athens was threaded by plague and famine, the daughters of the Athenian king Leo voluntary sacrificed themselves for the salvation of the city.

There is no denial that the brave and patriotic act of the daughters of Leo — also known as the Leokorai —made them the ideal heroines and role models for every Athenian citizen. Demosthenes (60.29) attests that the self sacrifice of the daughters of Leo, served as the mythological example for the fallen men of the tribe of Leontis. The selection of these heroines to represent their tribe shows the power and extent of this mythological motif as a patriotic theme.

By employing an interdisciplinary approach — using epigraphic, iconographic and topographic data — the aim of my paper is to examine the phenomenon, the context and the impact of the voluntary sacrifice of the heroines for the salvation of the city — during times of plague, famine and war — in classical Athens and relate it to Gender and Identity Studies.

Chen-Wen Hong (National Taipei University of Business)

Gendering the Posthuman Corpse: A Feminist Reading of Demon Slayer: Kemetsu no Yaiba vis-à-vis World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

During pandemic-stricken 2020, Demon Slayer went viral. The image of its demon-slaying heroine’s corpse has proliferated at superfast pace that echoes the lightning rate of flu virus spreading globally. The mindless spread resonates with the zombie infestation in the New York Times bestseller, World War Z. Whereas zombies serve as a compelling metaphor for deadly virus, the aforementioned image of a girl slayer showing an infected yet enhanced vampiric body in kimono controlled by her remaining humanity suggests otherwise. This paper seeks to understand how “the corpse” is characterized and gendered as a symptom of Rosi Braidotti’s observation, “the persistence of becoming-corpse,” by examining the Japanese manga series vis-à-vis the American zombie apocalypse in terms of geopolitics.

Andrea Núñez Casal (University of Oxford)

Puligwans, Meigas and Microbes: A Feminist Healing Approach during the Coronavirus Pandemic

This paper argues that (1) new forms of collective subjectivities and action around profane remedies and treatments resulting from ‘lived’ experiences of infection (2) biomedical research on microbial metabolism in the West capture, mobilise and reinvent (1) the cross- cultural figure of the ‘witch’ as a multispecies and traditional/folk healer, (2) traditional non- western food cultures, and (3) women’s embodied knowledge and experiences of cooking and caring, particularly around the ‘personalised’ approach women develop in the confines of domesticity.

Drawing on my previous empirical research (Núñez Casal, 2019), this paper examines the influence of the magical figures of the Galician meiga – a type of ‘satanic’ witch – and the Taiwanese pulingaw – only-female shamans for the Taiwanese indigenous people of Puyuma and Paiwan – in the current coronavirus pandemic. They both involve caring and healing practices thought food, beverages and other traditional remedies.

The paper will show that care and caring in contemporary western societies re-emerge in the form of an ecological nostalgia for a traditional and even ‘ancestral’ past (Nunez Casal, 2019). Interestingly, such revival of (gendered) unwaged care labour in microbial science and popular science accounts alike elicits the consequential role of women and (non-western) local health traditions and belief systems. Challenging dominant discourse of the ‘traditional’ and ‘genuine’ in health care, through the figures of the meiga and the pulingaw, this paper brings the role of women along with non-Western health traditions to the forefront of the theoretical critical analysis of the current coronavirus pandemic.


Session 7A

Perspectives on Diseases

Figen Geerts (New York University)

Invisible Enemies: Epidemic Scapegoats in Antiquity

This paper examines the minority groups and individuals who were scapegoated during epidemic crises in antiquity. Scholarship has focused on the purificatory aspects of the scapegoat ritual (Parker 1983, Burkert 1985, Vernant 1988) and its role in periodic festivals of renewal (Deubner 1932, Graf 2008). Scapegoating has, moreover, been understood as a mechanism for reaffirming interpersonal bonds of belonging among the ritual’s remaining participants (Scott 2017). The scapegoat itself, however, and his position in the social fabric of the ancient community has received considerably less attention.

In its first part, I review some of the legendary accounts of plague. Drawing, then, on the anthropological theory of René Girard (1974; 1977), I argue that particularly societal outsiders became subject to scapegoating because they were considered to be of no value for the vitality of the community. The low-class scapegoat usually constituted a socially invisible subject, but under the tense conditions of a disruptive epidemic this subject was exposed and made visible as an enemy of the state. In the conclusion, I examine how anxieties about what caused a plague increased the willingness to scapegoat already suppressed minorities for the purpose of orienting blame––thus ultimately producing new outbreaks of stigmatization, marginalization and xenophobia.

Sheng-Mei Ma (Michigan State University)

From A(sian) to Z(ombie):Ling Ma’s Severance Package for the China Bug

China has gone viral in this “Chinese Century.” Beijing-directed global expansion in economic and cultural spheres arouses suspicion and jealousy in American fiction and film. China bugs America, so much so that it is the superbug that jumps species from the third world to the first, spreading global pandemics in Max Brooks’ World War Z (2006), Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011), Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards (2013, season 2, episode 18), Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea (2014), Viral (2016), and Ling Ma’s Severance (2018). Ling Ma is a 1.5-generation Chinese American who arrived on these shores from Fuzhou, China. Ma’s sense of loss would conceivably be more visceral and intense, given early childhood memories of, and familial ties to, China. In Severance, the Freudian fort/da, lost/found game repeats itself in the narrative structure of a Mobius strip, an endless loop through the protagonist Candace Chen’s life course, from A to Z and from Z back to A. In a tortu(r)ous narrative typical of immigrant and minority complex, Candace’s American present in a zombie-infested New York harks back to Asia’s Shen Fever exported along with Christian Bibles made by Shenzhen’s zombie-like workers for Candace’s publishing company Spectra, a spectral assembly line of infection.

Duncan Chesney (National Taiwan University)

Contagion and Community: Saramago's Blindness

In this talk I look back at José Saramago’s Blindness (1995/97) – and its cinematic adaptation by Fernando Meirelles (2008) – to explore his experiment in thinking, within an epidemic crisis-situation, the foundation of human community. Positing a fundamental precarity of human co-existence, Saramago subtly develops a set of basic moral values, including trust, dignity, and a sensus communis, to show what binds us together as meaningful communities in the absence of a shared ethico-religious tradition. Paying close attention to the details of Saramago’s famous and gripping thought experiment – and highlighting certain changes in the adaptation – I show how the novel, with help from some recent theoretical work in moral and political philosophy (Butler, Esposito, Nancy), can continue to teach us important lessons in community today, in our current pandemic.

Session 7B

Ecology & Pandemics

Wen-Hui Chang (Chung Yuan Christian University)

Post-Covid-19 era: Reflections on Ecology in European Fairy Tales

Faced with the sudden impact of the Covid-19 around the world, which has destroyed many of our daily certainties, we should expect major changes in the operation of our society from now on. However, both the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change follow patterns from man-made factors to the typical impacts of the human generation. With the rapid changes in the climate, the traditional literary works have been reanalyzed from the multidiscipline, European Fairy Tales is one of the best examples. Behind almost every European fairy tales, there seems to have a deep connection between nature and human being, in which has not only played a substantial role of our perception towards the environmental writing but also transferred to the modern movies, novels and children literature as well. Forest, the origin of enigma and mystery, plays a significant role in the European fairy tales. Throughout the folktales, mythology and Medieval Romance literature, the enchanted forests represent the places of unknown, cradle of uncertainty and danger. Another essential role of the natural writing in the European fairy tales is the ocean and the lake. As in many cultures, ocean is the beginning of life, the place where it brings the prosperity. As for in the literatures, ocean is often represented as human emotions, love, pity, calm, greedy, etc. Therefore, are the eecological representations related to fairy tales real or imaginary? Do the characters in these tales can be reflected from the text or images and be compared to typical figures related to ecology? This paper will first focus on the metaphors and implications of two natural elements: forest and water in European fairy tales, and then analyze the meaning and the relationship between natural environment and the human being, finally the purpose of this research is to remind people nowadays to be aware of the climate change in environmental humanities, and to protect our Earth.

Brigitte Stepanov (Grinnell College)

On Contagious Disease, Economy, and Ecology in Marie Redonnet’s Splendid Hôtel

Contagion and quarantine are the constitutive elements of Marie Redonnet’s 1986 novel Splendid Hôtel. In this paper, I will analyze the role of illness in Splendid Hôtel to then question the representation of economy and, ultimately, ecology in the text.

The text tells the story of the eponymous, paradoxically decrepit inn and its obsessive innkeeper, whose efforts at maintaining the hotel are futile. All of her attempts are undone by the guesthouse’s intruders—from the guests themselves, spreading disease, to the hordes of vermin creeping into the guest rooms.These are concepts that are both derived from the Greek oikos, or “house.” I argue that disease relates economy and ecology in Redonnet’s novel, indeed makes them interdependent, and through these derivations of oikos, I examine Splendid Hôtel’s reflections on contagion, its aftereffects, and our powerlessness when faced with it. My reading, in which the threshold between the inside and outside of the hotel becomes a metaphor for the interdependency between the inside and outside of the body, opens onto more general considerations of the liminal spatiality of economy and ecology: what it means to become our environment, what (fear of) contagion does to body andmind, and what insight Splendid Hôtel can offer on our current era’s condition.

Hiroko Masumoto (Kobe University))

The Invisible Hazard: Nuclear Accident and Pandemic in Yoko Tawada's Dystopian Novels

When the pandemic caused by COVID-19 broke out and the borders were sealed, many Japanese remembered the situation immediately after the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. The WHO declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020, coincidentally the same day that the nuclear accident occurred. Both radioactivity and viruses are invisible hazards that can cause deadly diseases. Over the past decade, a number of so-called post 3.11 literatures have been published in Japan. Yoko Tawada was one of the first writers to react to the nuclear accident and has written many works about the near-future Japan contaminated by radiation. In these works, she seems to have anticipated the striking parallels to what became real after the pandemic began. In my presentation, I will take up some of Tawada's dystopian novels and analyze them in terms of their similarity to pandemics.

Session 8A

Metaphern & Ideologien & das Inselmotiv

Shelly Ching-Yu Depner (National Cheng Kung University)

Mandarin und deutsche Wortschöpfungen in der Covid-19-Pandemie: Metaphern und die sozialen Konnotationen

In dieser Arbeit wird das Material aus dem Taiwan Newssmart Web bzw. der DWDS zusammengestellt. Ziel der Studie ist es, das im Zusammenhang mit der Epidemie auftauchende Vokabular des Coronavirus im Chinesischen und Deutschen zu analysieren und dessen Metaphern zu untersuchen, um die Veränderungen und Erkenntnisse der Epidemie auf die taiwanesische und deutsche Gesellschaft durch linguistische und kulturelle Forschung zu präsentieren.

Die Ergebnisse zeigen, dass die häufigsten Metaphern für die Epidemie in beiden Sprachen KRIEG, ALLTAG und EMOTIONEN sind. Zum Beispiel die Metonymie (Mandarin jia-ling, Deutsch Mundschutz) oder die Strukturmetapher (lie-wu, Corona-Kabinett). Es gibt auch eigene eindeutigen Quelldomänen, wie z. B. Deutsch SPORT (Geisterspiel, Neustart, Rückholaktion).

In Taiwan wurde zum ersten Mal in der Geschichte der Frühjahrsunterricht 2020 wegen der Epidemie verschoben. Das Frühjahrssemester 2021 ist wieder normal. In Deutschland sind Kita-Schließung, Kindergartenschließung, Corona-Abitur noch aktuell. Weihnachten ist in Deutschland das wichtigste Fest, leider berichtete das ZDF der Zeit mit der Schlagzeile „Weihnachten in der Corona-Pandemie: O du einsame ... Lockdown“. In den entstehenden Wortschöpfungen der Epidemie sehen wir die Interaktion zwischen Menschen und die soziale Dynamik der Metaphern von ALLTAG und KRIEG. Inmitten von Schwierigkeiten finden wir Chancen, wie im Fall einer gemeinsamen Metapher von Chinesen und Deutschen.

Chris Hein (National Taiwan University)

Fatale Apotheose des Wissenschaftlers - Gedanken zur problematischen Verschränkung von Idealismus, Forschung und Menschenrechten in Lars von Trier’s Epidemic

Lars von Trier gilt als einer der kontroversesten Regisseure des späten 20. Und frühen 21. Jahrhunderts. In seinem umfangreichen Werk hat von Trier jedoch konsequent Gespür für relevante Themen bewiesen. In seinem Film Epidemic ästhetisiert der dänische Regisseur den komplexen Zusammenhang von medizinischem Idealismus und seiner Anwendung in einer realen Epidemie.

In diesem Artikel geht es mir darum, die Figur des Forschers näher zu betrachten und die Verschränkung der Motive Hygiene, Medizin und Politik genauer zu analysieren. Der Bezug zur aktuellen Corona-Debatte steht hierbei ebenso im Mittelpunkt der Untersuchung wie der Stellenwert von Wissenschaft und Wissenschaftlichkeit an sich im abendländischen Rationalismus der Aufklärung. Die heikle Beziehung zwischen aufgeklärter Wissenschaft, Gesundheit und individueller Freiheit markiert einen weiteren Schwerpunkt der Diskussion.

Susanne Schick (Fu Jen Catholic University)

Die Notwendigkeit einer Insel: gemeinsam erfolgreich gegen das Virus in Taiwan

Das Motiv der Insel symbolisiert in der Tradition der gesellschaftspolitischen und literarischen Utopien einen idealen Ort, an dem eine glückliche Gesellschaft verwirklicht werden kann (Saage, 2017). Die Ausbreitung der COVID-19 Pandemie konnte in Taiwan bisher erfolgreich abgewehrt und kontrolliert werden (Worldometer: Platz 192/221, Stand 17. April 2021). Präventionsmaßnahmen, Erfahrungen mit dem SARS-Virus (2003), klare Kommunikation der Regierungsinstitutionen, die geografische Insellage und auch strenge Sanktionen haben den Taiwanern einen bisher relativ uneingeschränkten Alltag ermöglicht, können aber den Erfolg nicht allein begründen: Er steht und fällt mit der Bereitschaft der Bevölkerung, die Vorgaben mitzutragen - wie das Beispiel Australiens veranschaulicht (Worldometer: Platz 117/221, 17. April 2021). Der deutschen „Querdenker“-Initiative vergleichbare Reaktionen oder Demonstrationen gegen die Kontrollmaßnahmen gab es in Taiwan nicht. Der weitgehende Konsens der taiwanischen Bevölkerung über die Sinnhaftigkeit der Corona-Präventionsregelungen kann durch kulturspezifische Faktoren (Lin, 2014) beschrieben werden, die auch religiöse und sozialethische Motive umfassen. Gemeinsinn und Gemeinwohl sind Werte, die im Alltagsleben einen hohen Stellenwert einnehmen. Taiwan zeigt in einer Krisenzeit beispielhaft die Vereinbarkeit dieser Werte mit demokratischen Grundwerten, und dass am Gemeinwohl orientiertes Handeln zu einem sorgenfreien Alltag der Bevölkerung beiträgt.

Session 8B

Discourses of Disease

Yu Min Claire Chen (National Taipei University of Technology)

Autobiography, Fiction, and Pandemics: Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain

Both deriving from life experiences, though varying in theme, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain explore cholera and pneumonia not just as pandemic diseases but relates them to the aesthetic, existent, and psychological realms.

In Death in Venice, unlike the pandemic, which is significant in scale and fatal. On the other hand, no one can stop or reverse the process of aging. Aging itself is more detrimental than the spreading of cholera. Time erodes physical health in that since the beginning of life, the physical condition moves towards death. Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice initiates a debate on the obsession and pursuit of inspiration and beauty and poses questions of what existence means. The Magic Mountain, on the other hand, discusses existence from analyzing physical illness versus mental illness. Both novels have biographical references from Thomas Mann. The paper will address the relations among biography, fiction, and the theme of existence from multiple aspects.

Iris H. Tuan (National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University)

During COVID-19 Pandemics, Reflect on Plagues in Shakespeare’s Plays

Many literature works are related to pandemics and plagues, such as Gabriel García Márquez’s Spanish novel El amor en los tiempos del cólera (in English: Love in the Time of Cholera) uses plague as a metaphor for the protagonist poet Florentino Ariza’s love sickness in the love triangle. Plagues and pandemics also happened several times in Shakespeare’s time. The situation of plagues is found to be reflected in the Bard’s plays. In 1592 when the plague hit London, theatres across the city were closed down. From autumn 1592 to May 1594 due to the serious plague, no new plays were demanded in London. So Shakespeare turned to write poetry; his narrative poems “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece” were finished around that plague period. Later, his well-known play Romeo and Juliet (written around 1595) contains the famous line from the character Mercutio, “A plague o' both your houses!” (III. i) reflecting the curse of plague. Besides, Friar John could not deliver Friar Laurence’s important letter to Romeo because: “Where the infectious pestilence did reign, / Seal'd up the doors, and would not let us forth; /So that my speed to Mantua there was stay'd.” (V. ii)

There was another plague 1603-1604 crisis hit London, added by the big outbreak in the summer of 1606, forcing theatre shut down (April 1606-April 1607). During the bubonic plague which killed almost 1/3 London populations, so many deaths caused theatres to close. During the plagues in London, Shakespeare and his troupe had to go on tour performing in the provinces. During the isolation, Shakespeare still made use of time to write several good plays. For example, in mid- July of 1606, Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King Lear (written between 1605 and 1606) which were recognized the finest plays ever staged. In Macbeth and King Lear, both plays presented many multiple deaths in a short span of time, which reflected the situation of plague which made so many deaths in a short time. King Lear is mad at his two daughters Goneril and Regan to compare them as “A plague-sore” (II iv). The isolation caused by the plague shows in King Lear’s desolate outlook while he shouts in the storm, “Vengeance! plague! death! confusion!” Moreover, King Lear uses the plagues to curse and lament over his two bad daughters with no filial piety: “Now, all the plagues that in the pendulous air/Hang fated o'er men's faults light on thy daughters!” (III iv) Furthermore, Macbeth fears the repercussions if he kills Duncan may arise to “plague the inventor.” (I vii)

This presentation argues that plague and pandemic can work as metaphors to symbolize not just diseases but also lovesickness and moral decadence. We can learn from Shakespeare that even if we face the difficult pandemic situation during COVID-19, to keep social distancing in quarantine, we can still develop our talents and train our skills to keep doing our jobs well while we maintain healthy and productive. We can read and write to discover what other literature works are in connection with pandemic and plague. In so doing, we can use languages to express our feelings to write works which may become literature masterpieces in the future.

Herrad Heselhaus (University of Tsukuba)

Narratives of Pandemic and Immunity: Adalbert Stifter’s “Granite"

Granite” is a story published by the Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868) in an anthology called “Bunte Steine” in 1852. The collection presents stories about the nature, culture, and customs of Stifter’s Bohemian Forest homeland. In “Granite”, Stifter uses the device of “story within a story” to relate the adventures of a young boy surviving the medieval plague. While the embedded narrative describes the attempts made to survive the plague, the frame narrative, set before the first half of the 19th century, focuses on how this pandemic has been stored in the collective memory: in folklore and art, etymology and topography. Starting from the various narratives of pandemic offered by Stifter in both stories, the presentation aims to show how Stifter uses the story-within-a-story device to not only locate the meaning and function of “pandemic” in a complex network of economic, historical, social, ethical, and religious perspectives, but even more so, to shed light on the underlying immunitary balances at play in the various philosophical, religious, and anthropological discourses. This part of the presentation will compare Stifter’s text to Esposito’s and Sloterdijk’s critical conceptualizations of “immunity”.

Plenary Session

Dámaso López García (Complutense University of Madrid)

Literature in the Times of Cholera: Love and Death in Costaguanae

The novel by Noble Prize winner, Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Times of Cholera (El amor en tiempos del cólera), deals with the impossible love between Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza. Love and disease are intermingled in the lives of the characters of the novel. As they are intermingled in Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s La historia secreta de Costaguana, and as they were in Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo. Disease in Colombia or Panama or in Costaguana (the imaginary Conradian Central American Republic somehow resembling Panama) can be traced back from a book published in 2007, La historia secreta de Costaguana, to a book published in 1904: Nostromo. Disease is present in the three books. It is present in the form of contagious fevers. And the disease stands in the background as a metaphor of existence, love and power, thus bringing together the two meanings of choler and cholera, which in Spanish are described with the same word, cólera.

Session 9A

Shaping Shifting Realities: Social Functions of Poetry in Times of Pandemic

Panel organized by Christian Soffel (Trier University)

Panel Description

Throughout the history of mankind, pandemics and diseases have been served as topical background of literary works. By analyzing the situation in the present time from different cultural perspectives, this panel will facilitate to determine reference points for an analysis of contemporary literature and society. The panel centers on poetic forms of expression, which – due to their concise usage of language – can serve as focal lens of various phenomenona.

The first paper examines factors resulting in a change in communication patterns caused by the current pandemic in Germany, resulting in political fractions in a rather broad scope. The presenter will delve into possible ways of coping with this situation by means of of contemporary poetry.

As the second paper shall demonstrate, during the SARS crisis 2002-2003 Taiwan went through similar social and political challenges than the European societies do today, which is reflected in poetic works of their time. A significant distinction between the health of the “general society” and the condition close family members can be observed.

The paper on the Russian “Coronaverse” anthology demonstrates the multifaceted modes of reaction to the crisis by contemporary russophone poets all over the world and that recent poetry serves also as reflection of the existential questions of human life, among other strategies to deal with the complex situation people have to face.

Finally, the last paper will demonstrate the potential of poetry from Taiwanese indigenous peoples to unfold an approach towards the challenges of modern life, based on the time-honored traditional wisdom and their natural approach to the living environment.

Matthias Fechner (University of Trier)

“Liberalism is what you are sadly lacking” – The Shift of Political Attitudes in Germany during the Coronavirus Pandemicue

Executive measures against the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have caused emotional reactions worldwide, especially in western countries. In Germany, many leading media have probably even exacerbated a challenging situation that many citizens perceive as daunting, restrictive and, above all, frightening.

Perhaps one of the most striking and disconcerting phenomena during the crisis has been the blurring, even shifting of boundaries between attitudes associated with the left and the right – discernible in the general population but also in the media. Right-wing football hooligans have thus marched alongside left-leaning esoterics to protest protective measures. And no small number of (formerly) left-liberal journalists have embraced the idea of a strong executive relentlessly enforcing the law – not only against the spread of the virus but also against anybody doubting more authoritarian policies. Hence, in an open letter to left-liberal TV personality Jan Böhmermann, published in Die Zeit (02/26/21), renowned journalist Jochen Bittner felt justified to claim: “Liberalismus ist das, woran es Ihnen leider mangelt.” [Liberalism is what you are sadly lacking.]

In my contribution, I would try a) to historically explain those remarkable shifts; b) to categorize the populist techniques of exclusion employed by left-wing and right-wing protagonists alike; c) to define current tendencies against previous societal observations by, among others, Hannah Arendt, Jacob Talmon and Walter Lippmann and d) to argue for the use of poetic language which might be more suited than schematic and biased reporting to depict situations of uncertainty and opacity. In doing so, I would try to give a brief overview of literary and especially poetic responses in English and German to the coronavirus pandemic.

Christian Soffel (University of Trier)

Pandemic and Personal Health During the 2003 SARS Crisis Reflected in Contemporary Poetry from Taiwan

The current pandemic is not the first occasion a dangerous virus appeared on the globe. Already in the years 2002-2003 the outbreak of a SARS virus significantly more lethal than the current Covid-19 virus struck several countries, mainly in East Asia. At that time, not much attention has been given to this crisis by the Western public, and even less to its literary reflections. My paper will discuss selected SARSthemed poetry from Taiwan 2003, in particular by Chang Yi-jen, a conservative scholar-poet, musing in classical verse style upon current affairs of social and political significance. His pieces are of special interest, because they can be contrasted to some other of his poetic works dealing with (non SARS-related) health conditions of his family members, occurring about the same time. I shall try out the working hypothesis, that in open societies (like Taiwan) a general health crisis leads people to express a rather diffuse perception of negativity, whereas personal experience depicted in poems yields a more direct and vivid, but also more balanced mode of writing, correlated to the personal level of affection. In addition, the situation in Taiwanese poetry from 2003 can serve as contrast foil for literary works produced during the present crisis, as similar patterns are expected to occur now in literature worldwide.

Angelika Schmitt (University of Trier)

“Coronaverse” – a Digital Anthology of Transnational Russian-Language Poetry on the Pandemic 2020

In spring 2020 Gennady and Rika Katsov, owners of the New York publishing house KRiK, installed the Internet platform "Coronaverse". Until the summer they published poems by 115 Russian-language poets from all over the world, who creatively dealt with the frightening new situation caused by the threat of the new type of coronavirus. Poems were accepted by invitation only or after strict review to ensure the literary quality of the anthology. The collected texts represent a wide range of experiences – on the one hand, because the authors of the anthology are based in the most varied regions, and on the other hand, because their styles and poetics differ widely. The unifying element is the poetic reflection on the first months of quarantine measures and hygiene regulations during the recent pandemic, with which people all over the world needed to come to terms and adapt. The initiators say, that the poems “speak of the illusory, ephemeral nature of our lives, our plans, our reasoning, and give any composition a certain material significance and authenticity of existence” []. In my paper I will explore the different poetic strategies poets have used to deal with isolation and anxiety, ranging from humorous or parodistic phrases to profound existentialist or religiously tuned poetic reflection.

Juo-ping Chien (University of Trier)

“Nature is Sending us a Message” – The Relationship between Humans and Nature in Contemporary Poetry from Taiwanese Indigenous Peoples

“Nature is sending

us a message” with the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis, according to the UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen. The COVID-19 outbreak is a critical trigger for human beings to rethink how we interact with other species on Earth, and the relationship between humans and nature.

Taiwan has sixteen officially recognized indigenous peoples, each of whom have their own native language and culture. Most Taiwanese indigenous peoples live in the mountains, valleys or around coastal areas. From the day their ancestors first settled there 6500 years ago, Mother Nature has directly and severely tested them over and over again, such as the typhoon season from July to September which seriously damages their villages every year without fail. The ancient wisdom and traditions handed down by various tribes tell their descendants how to overcome danger and survive through tough times.

In this paper I will explore a selection of typical Taiwanese Indigenous Peoples’ traditional ecological knowledge which is used in the indigenous poetry works, and is represented through myths, animals, plants, medicinal materials and codes of ethics. Overall, based on my analysis and interpretation of their literary works, I aim to provide some guidance for human beings living in the urban jungle having to deal with the infinite fear and anxiety brought to mankind by natural counterattacks.

Session 9B

Events & Reactions

Constantin Canavas (Hamburg University of Applied Sciences)

Coping with plague and trading with cotton: Sanitary discourses in Catalan ports in the eighteenth century

The spreading of plague epidemics in the Mediterranean by means of ship trade was a major consideration when organising the sanitarian infrastructure of port areas in the early modern period. According to the dominant perception in southern Europe, the plague was expected from the north African coast and Near East, areas under Muslim (mainly Ottoman) rule.

The focus of the present study is directed towards Barcelona. The paper argues that organising and practicing the sanitarian (epidemiological) infrastructure in the port of Barcelona during the 18th century was embedded in several political discourses which engaged economically and politically competing actors. The official royal Spanish discourse followed the Papal bans and prohibited repeatedly the trade with the “enemies of the Christian faith” – the Muslim rulers. On the other hand, the complex network of Catalan actors engaged in the cotton cloth weaving and calico-printing stood in a conflicting relation to the central royal institutions in Madrid, which controlled the colonial cotton trade with the Americas. The Catalonian network would claim more flexibility in dealing with restrictions on Mediterranean cotton trade. Moreover, archive evidence implies that epidemiological/sanitary measures (e.g. quarantine) were often invoked as priority justification of deviating from the restrictions or prohibitions regarding incoming commodities with provenance related to Muslim states.

Hendrik Müller (Hochschule Fresenius Hamburg))

Panic, actionism and protest - recurring patterns of behaviour in dealing with pandemics

Even if the question whether history can teach us anything is answered negatively by the vast majority of people today as in the past, this does not mean that we could ignore historical examples when we are faced with previously unknown challenges. And although human behaviour has changed regularly and adapts to the circumstances of life, there are certain patterns in dealing with negative impacts we can trace back over centuries and even millennia. We might be convinced that our civilised, cultured and enlightened modern society behaves differently or better in the face of catastrophes or pandemics like COVID-19, but a look at literary sources from various historical epochs raises doubts as familiar literary patterns as an image of reality reoccur regardless of temporal differences.

This paper wants to demonstrate this fact by looking at the literary representations of the plague that infested the ancient of Athens in the 5th c BC by the historian Thucydides, Daniel Defoe`s record of London´s plague epidemic of 1665 and Albert Camus´ “The Plague” to identify certain behavioural patterns that connect these events over the centuries. At the same time this knowledge can protect us from the negative loop that we as humans tend to fall into when faced with deadly threats.

Jae Won Ahn (Seoul National University)

Thucydides' observation on Athenian Plague

The Athenian Plague, which broke out in 430 B.C., had a decisive influence on the dissolution of traditional societies and the formation of new ones. In short, the fear of death that accompanied the plague dismantled the traditional value system of Athens and the existing political hierarchy and order. In this process, the plague forced people to think about and reflect on how to respond at the community level, especially on political leadership, in order to redefine the conditions of life and way of life and, above all, to prevent the plague itself. Ironically, the Athenian Plague not only dismantled the traditional society, but also provided an opportunity to reflect on the principles and methods that could be explored for a new society. To show this concretely, I will look at Thucydides’ (545-399 B.C.E.) observation of the Athenian Plague.

Session 9C

Ways to See, Ways to Die

Chang-Min Yu (National Taiwan University)

The Diseased Ecology of Images: Behemoth (2015) and Present Perfect (2019)

What if, instead of forthrightly representing and exposing the ills of society, documentary is impelled to question its own substrate of representation and let itself become diseased? What if there are certain subjects that demand us to think through both the representation and representability of the image in order to adequately capture the extent of the malaise? Two recent Chinese documentaries, Behemoth and Present Perfect, exemplify such thinking in terms of an ecological view. The former explores the mining operations in rural China. Repeatedly throughout the film, a sudden blast causes the dust to rise up, as if the digital image itself cannot withstand the shockwaves and begins to disintegrate into tiny pixels made of dirt; particles and pixels are equated in the figural transition. The latter tackles China’s burgeoning industry of online streaming. Assembled from the abundant trove of archived online footage, the film elucidates how the video platform—and its interactive interface—transforms the banality of ordinary life into a spectacle as well as amplifies the disabled passion of the amateur performers. The image on screen, then, becomes both transmission and reception. One earthen, the other virtual, both documentaries allow us to reflect on how the image of ecology and the ecology of image are intertwined with each other.

Ana Boicu & Roxana Rogobete (West University of Timișoara)

Pandemics in English and Spanish poetry: A corpus-based study

The present study focuses on the depiction of pandemics (such as cholera, plague, COVID-19) in lyrical works written in English and Spanish, using digital instruments specific for corpus linguistics analysis. The first part of the paper aims to analyse the style of writing poetry during three outbreaks that changed or are in the process of changing the history, by identifying key terms, relevant concordances and comparing their tone and “zeitgeist”. The second part of the article will compare and contrast recent poetry (written in 2020) about COVID-19, published in English and Spanish, in order to analyse if nowadays we can talk about geo-cultural features of certain lyrical works or life amid pandemics outlines common feelings and behaviours. We will discuss how a pandemic changes language and, more specifically, changes the poetical language or rhetoric in lyrical works, tracing, through both quantitative and qualitative perspectives, the aspects towards which humanity is heading in times of crisis. Both parts are intended to create a corpus in which different types of poetry, from distinctive parts of the world, written in two languages, in different centuries, can be united in a sole unit that can highlight the power of poetry in times of instability.

Julie Hugonny (University of Stirling)

Mary Shelley’s Last Man. The Delusions of Prophecy

In Mary Shelley’s early apocalyptic novel, a plague decimates humankind, its destructive powers unabated by time, distance and humanity’s efforts to survive. After conquering the Earth and killing his family, his nation and the world, it leaves Verney, the last man alive and our narrator, to roam the Earth alone in search of a hypothetical penultimate man.

The narrative of Verney’s tale of extinction is framed as a prophecy, a text discovered in the Cave of the Cumean Sibyl in the 19th century, and painstakingly deciphered, translated and ordered for our pleasure and edification.

In keeping with the augural nature of the framing narrative, oracles, predictions, visions, and prophecies abound in the novel: curses are put on former lovers, claims that the Plague will not reach England are reiterated, insights on the Future of Man are put forward, all to be refuted by subsequent events. Correspondingly, delusion, fanaticism and wish-fulfillment overcome insight, judgement and level-headedness.

Why this mistrust for prophecies, in a text itself presented as an oracle? Is the plague a destroyer of certainties? Is humanity no longer able to read the signs and understand world that surrounds it, now its reign on Earth is coming to an end? Have words lost their meaning, their powers of evocation and invocation? Is the novel illustrating what Morton Paley has dubbed an “apocalypse without millennium” – the religious end of times without the promised Revelation?

In my communication, and in keeping with Paley’s work, Frigyes Karinthy’s research on self-fulfilling prophecies and An Young-Ok on reading the signs of the world, I intend to tackle these questions and shed light on the central challenge of the novel: its relationship with the oracular word.


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