New term: new texts: new normal?

The Covid-19 pandemic is so ubiquitous it would be perverse not to focus on it in this year’s Literature & Medicine module, so we are. (Having said that, I’m planning be perverse in the second term and escape from the pandemic, metaphorically, into Elaine Feeney’s As You Were.)

The low-hanging, extremely appealing option (though problematic in a number of respects) would be Camus’ deep-dive novel, The Plague, of course. But as I’m determined to play my part in overturning the patriarchy, I cannot ignore the almost complete absence of female characters in that novel (not to mention native Algerians); and anyhow I want to put female authors first. (I will, however, be quoting from Camus where it sheds additional light on the theme.)

So, without any reservations, I’m opting for Emma Donoghue’s just-published The Pull of the Stars. It is set in Dublin in 1918, with a focus on the suffering caused by the Spanish Flu as reflected in one small hospital ward. Another plus is that is narrated by a woman. And another is that she is a nurse. Another is that it is a maternity ward. All fitting in perfectly with the underlying (occasionally explicit) principles of my courses.

Additional reading:

Fergus Shanahan’s new study The Language of Illness, especially the last chapter, ‘The Language of Plagues and Pandemics’ > https://libertiespress.com/product/the-language-of-illness/ (Here’s a link to the recent launch of that book > https://youtu.be/6UilktxKLVc and I’d particularly draw your attention in our context to the contribution of Professor Mary Horgan of UCC, consultant in infectious diseases.)

Michael D Higgin’s speech from last year on remembering the Spanish Flu > https://president.ie/en/diary/details/president-hosts-a-reception-commemorating-the-great-flu-epidemic-of-1918-1919/speeches

Surprisingly, at least to me, we are running the classes, at least for now, face-to-face, in a classroom. So, I’ll be feeling a bit anxious, and I imagine some or all of the students will be too. While reading and talking about a deadly virus that spread rapidly through communities across the globe 100 years ago, specifically in Dublin city centre, we’ll be doing our best to avoid contributing to the spread of another deadly virus, specifically in Dublin city centre. If we’re not careful, we could end up creating the perfect setting for a new work of existential fiction.

From ‘Dream Song 366’ by John Berryman

Chilled in this Irish pub I wish my loves
well, well to strangers, well to all his friends,
seven or so in number,
I forgive my enemies, especially two,
races his heart, as so much magnanimity,
can it all be true?

Mr Bones, you on a trip outside yourself.
Has you seen a medicine man? You sound will-like,
a testament & such.
Is you going? …