SARS-CoV-2 is the name of a pathogen – a disease-causing microbe – that began its global journey in late 2019, giving rise to Covid-19. But if Covid-19 is a “newly emerging infection,” it is also a newly emerging, though familiar, story: the latest version of “the outbreak narrative.” Accounts of newly surfacing diseases appeared in scientific publications and the mainstream media in the Global North with increasing frequency following the introduction of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the mid-1980s. They put the vocabulary of disease outbreaks into circulation, and they introduced the concept of “emerging infections.” The repetition of particular phrases, images and storylines produced a formula that quickly became conventional as it formed the plot of the popular novels and films in the mid-1990s. These stories have consequences. As they disseminate information, they affect survival rates and contagion routes. They promote or mitigate the stigmatizing of individuals, groups, populations, spaces and locales (regional and global), behaviors and lifestyles, and they change economies. They also influence how both scientists and the lay public understand the nature and consequences of infection; how we imagine the threat, and why we react so fearfully; and which problems merit our attention and resources. Stories, like microbes, evolve, and this one is no exception.
Priscilla Wald is the R. Florence Brinkley Chair of English at Duke University, where she co-edits American Literature with Matthew Taylor. She is the author of “Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative” (Duke, 2008) and “Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form (Duke, 1995).” Wald is currently working on a monograph entitled “Human Being After Genocide,” which considers how scientific and technological developments and political thought in the wake of two world wars challenged conventional notions of life and the human.
This event is open to the public.
Link to register: https://duke.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUod-2rrjwuGtWDBd34fHq0wIL2zIFWeCXz
Zoom meeting ID: 915 0430 7401
Zoom password: 1029