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Topics in Contemporary Literature: Reading COVID in the Anthropocene

image of covid

Quarantines, vaccine mandates, R numbers, gain-of-function research, wet markets: COVID-19 has plunged us into a new biopolitical regime, the shape of which seems to change by the hour. This course will attempt to make sense of this world that is gradually coming into being around us. Beginning with some historical precedents (texts from past pandemics, from the plague to the Spanish flu), we will explore the questions of the present. What is the role of governments today? Does COVID spell the end of the global regime and the return to national sovereignty? What is “the great reset”? Is the COVID crisis an environmental crisis? How is it related to the concept of the Anthropocene? How have origin stories about the pandemic been shaped and circulated and what differences do origins make? And to what extent do earlier theorists like Michel Foucault (biopolitics; surveillance) or Ulrich Beck (risk society) provide still useful guides? Throughout, we will track what role representations—literary, filmic, mass media—have in what kinds of questions are being or could be asked. Requirements will include short response papers, a presentation, participation, and a final seminar paper, which can be on any text(s) relevant to course themes (i.e. it would not need to be on COVID per se).

Department of English, Queen's University

Watson Hall
49 Bader Lane
Kingston ON K7L 3N6

Telephone (613) 533-2153



Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.