CoFi/Project Description/Description/Introduction


The global situation the world is going through since the beginning of this year has fundamentally affected all areas of life, having had a big impact on a collective and an individual level. At the outset people witnessed the spread of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, throughout the Asian continent and subsequently throughout the whole world. Corona-specific life circumstances (e.g. quarantine, closed borders) and social practices (e.g. face masks, online meetings), initially believed to be far away, had to be integrated into one’s everyday life in the shortest time possible. In order to cope with the current corona crisis, governmental crisis management all over the world strongly focuses on the development of new vaccines or new medication. Yet, the pandemic crisis also affects the general public’s mental health. As it suddenly confronts each one of us to our own mortality, it can lead to mental stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), no matter whether directly exposed to it (e.g. patients, doctors) or indirectly confronted to its repercussions (e.g. witnessing of chaotic social conditions, confinement, travel restrictions) (cf. Render Turmaud 2020).[1]

To master the potentially traumatic individual and collective experiences, crisis management also has to be accompanied by a self-conscious level of reflection on a cultural level. In fact, since the outbreak of the pandemic, we have not only seen a sudden increase of the reception of pestilence fiction, such as Albert Camus’s La Peste (1947) or Steven Soderbergh’s pandemic film Contagion (2011) (cf. Willher 2020, Mann 2020), but also an enormous increase of cultural production, particularly in the digital realm referring to the new life circumstances and social practices. By reading, watching, and listening to canonical and contemporary cultural productions many tried to understand what was going on and to find guidance for coping with the extraordinary situation (cf. Scrivner 2020). This increased turn to the consumption and creation of cultural production can be attributed to the capacity of literature and media “to impart its knowledge to its readers [and consumers] as experiential knowledge which can be reconstructed step by step, or even more, can be acquired by reliving it” (Ette 2016, 5). This capacity allows literature and media “to reach people and be effectual even over great spatial and temporal distances” (ibid.).[2]

The contribution of humanities and modern philology to dealing with novel situations is not to be underestimated.[3] The humanities contribute to a more effective management of future humanitarian crises in many different ways, starting with the fact that pandemic narratives (1) encourage our individual and “collective preparedness for the inevitable pandemics of the future” (Ostherr 2020). Additionally, pandemic narratives help (2) detect misinformation and conspiracy theories, (3) create counternarratives in order to foster tolerance and empathy, (4) avoid uncertainty and mental stress, and (5) increase individual and collective resilience to future pandemics (cf. ibid.). During the first months of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the political decision-making processes have been strongly influenced by medical data and the natural sciences. Humanities, however, enable governments and institutions to consider multiple societal and cultural aspects simultaneously, thereby enriching the existing data, making decisions more inclusive for all citizens (regardless their age, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), diminishing collateral damage, and – in the end – helping to save lives.


[1]  One has to note that not everyone is susceptible to attain or show symptoms of PTSD in the same manner or even at all given that pre-, peri- and posttraumatic factors influence a person’s resilience to a great extent (cf. APA 2013).

[2] The cultural production emerging during confinement often deploys new forms of media, literary and cultural reflections on the current situation. This form of cultural production inscribes itself into a discourse on the pandemic, at the same time attempting to steer the collective perception of the crisis.

[3]  In this regard, considering the status of philology as Life Science in the sense of Ette (2007) is essential to the project, since literature not only simulates and represents life events but also makes them experienceable on a performative level, trying to fill the gap between scholarly science and approaches of cultural studies (cf. 37). Gefen (2017) points into the same direction while accentuating the therapeutic aspects of (French) literature in the 21st century.