Literature in the times of lockdown

Literature celebrates man’s sorrow, mourns his grief, soothes his misery, and provides solace and hope.

The human encounter with epidemics is very old; writers over centuries have frequently explored it in prose and verse, underlining not just its frightening power but also the spirit of the human resilience in confronting it. Indeed it is a deadly matter of  worry, fear and stress but there is much to be done in epidemic times to keep ones spirit up, providing solace and hope.

With the fear and anxiety going all around in the world, a good book can provide an acumen, ease and escape. From Black Death (1347-1351), cholera pandemic (1817-192), Spanish flu (1918-1920), HIV/AIDS (1981–) and to now Coronavirus (2019–). Writers have written on it from Homer, Ghalib to Thomas Gun in present times.

The Decameron (1353) by Boccaccio is in a lighter approach to the plague as its theme. Boccaccio imagines a group of ten youths fleeing the Black Death ravaging Florence and finding refuge in the Tuscan hills. It depicts Black Death which descended into Europe killing 75 million people. A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) by Daniel Defoe, is a recounting of one man’s experiences in 1665, but deploying a wealth of detail to simulate a text found rather than created. Plague (1947) by Albert Camus is one of the most interesting example in these times. The novel is a haunting tale of human resilience in the face of unrelieved horror. The novel is about a bubonic plague ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature. The book can easily resonate with the current climate. In the Times of Cholera (1985) by Marquez explores death, decay and the idea of lovesickness as disease and a lyrical escape in the times of cholera epidemic. The Year of Flood (2009) by Margret Atwood depicts the long-feared waterless flood has occurred, altering Earth as we know it and obliterating most human life. Pain Killer (2018) by Barry Meier depicts Americans who were died due to painkillers between 1999 and 2017. An estimated 250,000 Americans died from overdoses involving prescription painkillers. Pain Killer, exposes the roots of the most pressing health epidemic of the twenty-first century that has torn apart families, destroyed businesses, and pushed public officials to the brink. ‘In the Times of Plague’ a poem by Thomas Gun is an interesting read on HIV/ADIS as he writes:

My thoughts are crowded with death

and it draws so oddly on the sexual

that I am confused

confused to be attracted

by, in effect, my own annihilation

Pandemic, epidemic and infectious diseases and viruses in literature reveal and remind us that the social and cultural boundaries we use to structure society are fragile and unsecured, not stable and impermeable. Although these works of literature cannot prophesize an imminent future, they can speak to our present situation at least.

The work of literature can help you better understand and cope how the virus amplifies complex, diverse and multi-faceted fears about change the world. One important thing is still missing that the Govt. ought to do in favor of coronavirus’s awareness and eradication. A small booklet of just few pages, displaying its symptoms, signs, treatment and prevention may help in today’s epidemic making the general public aware. In responding to plagues and pandemics literature celebrates the enduring range of human response and resilience against the attack of diseases and viruses.

Reading literature is essential, as it provides food for thought. Times like this when thoughts are running wild, escaping into other experiences, or trying to understand what is happening through the lens of humanity and brotherhood and how to lessen the anxiety can only be traced in pages of a literary piece. Literature is a source of solace in an extremely challenging times.  Be safe, stay inside and rejoice reading.

Ahsan ul Haq is pursuing PhD from department of English, University of Kashmir.