12 May 2022 | Story Nonkululeko Nxumalo | Photo Sonia Small
Prof I Manase
Prof Irikidzayi Manase, Head of the Department of English.

Prof Irikidzayi Manase from  the Department of English, together with Prof Thabisani Ndlovu from the Department of English at Walter Sisulu University, co-edited the recently published Journal of Literary Studies special issue,  titled Pandemic Literatures and Being Human in Times of Mass Infection and Catastrophe: Some African Perspectives’

This special issue, in which Prof Manase examines a fictional South African society’s experiences during a hidden drug pandemic, stems from a bigger project titled, ‘Text, Human Rights and Pandemics: Being Human in Times of Contagion’ that Prof Manase, together with academics from other institutions, worked on as visiting fellows at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) in November 2020.

The issue consists of articles that analyse literary texts of which the theme is of a pandemic nature.

“There was a rising body of texts, theoretical and creative, and in new and non-traditional literary forms that focused on the COVID pandemic as it unfolded in a context where a huge body of existing literature on other pandemics and crises already existed, all needing a framework of thought on how to analyse the literary and cultural productions. The project ran in a condition of continuous pandemic flux, with some of the authors affected directly and indirectly by the COVID infection,” he said.

Significance of literature born from a pandemic

Texts analysed in this issue include pandemic novels, essays, poetry, diaries, and short stories. The authors not only witnessed these pandemics in the various African countries that they hail from, but also illustrated what it means to be human under contagion or mass infection, resulting in the reader understanding the significance of these texts born under such a context.

“Its importance lies in the representation and documentation of human experiences in the face of contagions and other crises, which forces readers to take stock of what it means to be human, with the crises also compelling us to think about who we are, what we value, how to relate with others, especially the vulnerable, and how to navigate crises and create a better world in the future,” Prof Manase highlighted.

Human reactions under a pandemic

“The literature examined in this issue shows the complex human reactions arising from the unfolding pandemics. Human rights become an issue – as some, especially the vulnerable, are victimised by the powerful and harsh government intervention systems seeking to eradicate the pandemic, and new divisions are created that reintroduce past historical brutalities, e.g., the demand for permits resonating with old apartheid curtailment of movement in South Africa during the hard lockdown.”

The purpose of this special issue is to develop intellect on the use of literary studies to try and understand the nature of humans in times of contagion and catastrophe.

“For me, this project presented a moment to think anew about health pandemics from an arts and humanities perspective,” he concluded.

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