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Untenanted by any tangible form‘: illness, minorities, and narrative masquerades in contemporary pandemic fiction

Däwes, Birgit

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URN: urn:nbn:de:hebis:26-opus-161683

Freie Schlagwörter (Englisch): American literature , Edgar Allan Poe , Lawrence Wright , Ling Ma
Universität Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen
Institut: International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture
Fachgebiet: Gießener Graduiertenzentrum Kulturwissenschaften
DDC-Sachgruppe: Literatur, Rhetorik, Literaturwissenschaft
Dokumentart: Aufsatz
Zeitschrift, Serie: On_Culture : the Open Journal for the Study of Culture ; 11
ISBN / ISSN: 2856008-5
Sprache: Englisch
Erstellungsjahr: 2021
Publikationsdatum: 30.07.2021
Kurzfassung auf Englisch: In the current Covid-19 crisis, masks have become a ubiquitous sight in social situa-tions. As visual signifiers of both protection and containment, they emblematize the very risk which they serve to prevent. Departing from the multiple functions of the mask in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” — a story published dec-ades before the emergence of modern virology — this paper reads recent fictionaliza-tions of pandemics as diagnostic tools of larger social, political, and cultural shifts. Taking Poe’s story as a programmatic blueprint, my interest is particularly in the cor-relation between (narrative) representation and political power in contexts of illness. Given that minorities are often disproportionally affected by, and blamed for, epidem-ics, my analysis targets not only the discursive and semantic strategies of “outbreak narratives” (Priscilla Wald), but the complicity of these strategies in notions of cultural difference. Through the trope of the mask, I argue, the nexus of “the visible and invis-ible” that Foucault sees at the heart of modern medicine can be reconceptualized along narratological lines. In addition to more detailed analyses of Ling Ma’s Severance (2018) and Lawrence Wright’s The End of October (2020), my reading of pandemic fiction also relies on novels by Michael Crichton, Philip Roth, Louise Erdrich, and Emma Donoghue, among others.
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