Prof. Elizabeth Outka (University of Richmond) joins us to consider how illness and its memories ripple through language, bodies, and nations–and what last century’s catastrophic pandemic might teach us about the post-pandemic contemporary. Introduction by Dr. Lisa Coleman. Moderated by David Sugarman.

Where does the history of an illness reside, both for individuals and for communities? As with Long COVID, there’s often a bodily history, a cluster of symptoms left behind after a virus departs, etched into circulatory and nervous systems. And then there’s the diffuse mental memory of illness, which may be consciously remembered, or return as subconscious echoes of the past, brought back by sensory triggers in the present. And especially in the case of a pandemic, the history further resides as a kind of ambient communal sorrow, a sense of loss so wide and so deep as to become a kind of climate.


Part of COVID 19 & ITS AFTERLIVES, a series sponsored by NYU’s Office of Global Inclusion, NYU’s Center for the Humanities, NYU Skirball, NYU’s Special Collections, Verso Booksn+1, and Minetta Creek Collective. Organized by David Sugarman.

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Elizabeth Outka is Professor of English Literature at the University of Richmond. Her latest book, Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature (Columbia University Press 2020), investigates how one of the deadliest plagues in history—the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic—reshaped the modernist era, infusing everything from T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, to the emergence of viral zombies, to the popularity of séances. She is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and, for Viral Modernism, the Transatlantic Studies Association-Cambridge University Press Book Prize and the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Book Award.

She has written on topics ranging from consumer culture, to postcolonial representations of trauma, to disability studies. Her first book, Consuming Traditions: Modernity, Modernism, and the Commodified Authentic (Oxford University Press 2009; 2012) explored the marketing of authenticity in turn-of-the-century British literature and culture. Her essays have appeared in Modernism/modernity, NOVEL, Contemporary Literature, The Paris Review Daily, and many edited collections.

She teaches courses on modernism and twentieth- and twenty-first century literature. She received her B.A. from Yale University and her PhD from the University of Virginia.


This series of events considers the possibilities of the post-pandemic future. Bringing together writers, artists, curators, archivists, academics, and organizers, “COVID19 and its Afterlives,” examines how the structural dynamics that predated COVID19–precarity, vulnerability, inequality–have been exacerbated by this past catastrophic year. In inventorying our pre-pandemic social and political failures, from health care to housing to labor, policing to politics to prisons, this series hopes to help us learn the pandemic’s lessons, and works to illuminate the promises of the future.


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