Pandemic Meets Fiction

This project explores cultural engagements with the COVID-19 outbreak.
When COVID-19 hit the world in the early months of 2020, the scale and effects of the pandemic were unknown. However, traditional science communication and scientific institutions soon found ways to represent and means to communicate the unfolding pandemic, such as dashboards, exponential growth charts, and visualizations of the virus. At the same time, older cultural narratives and stereotypes entered the media discourse: scientists went viral in the shape of superheroes and saints, literature classics such as Albert Camus’s The Plague and Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron were reread and cited, and Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 movie Contagion saw a massive increase in streaming sales as early as January 2020.

The module “Pandemic Meets Fiction” explores cultural engagements with the COVID-19 outbreak and maintains that cultural forms of expression not only react to, but also (co-)produce the current crisis. Along these lines, this module conceives of the ongoing pandemic as a nascent event shaped through various forms of cultural representation and performance across different media. In particular, “Pandemic Meets Fiction” will focus on three forms of cultural engagement: 1) the (re-)reception of earlier pandemic narratives (e.g. Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider, and outbreak films such as Outbreak) in 2020 and 2021, 2) the iconization of scientists (in particular virologists, immunologists, and epidemiologists) during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 3) the memeification of both pandemic fictions and representations of scientists during the current crisis.