Plague, Pestilence, Pandemic: Keywords for a Cultural Epidemiology of the Present


The Covid 19 era presents yet another instance of the symbiosis between viral pandemic and pestilence in the political culture of the moment. Through a brief reprise of plague-riven history dating from antiquity, this article explores the symptoms of the current epidemic and offers a number of keywords that characterize the current maladies as viral plague and as political pestilence. The coupling of the viral and the political dates from the third century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius who took the measure of the plague and political corruption of Rome during his reign. The lexical compendium offered here could constitute a study in cultural epidemiology that defines the exhibited symptoms of pandemic disease in its concurrent medical and socio-cultural manifestations.


aetiology; anthropogenic; viral; catastrophe; iconoclasm; epidemic; pandemic; pandemonium; symptomatology; contagion; war; truth; prevarication; facticity; immunity; impunity; simulation; dissimulation; haptic; chronic; algorithms; implosion; syndrome; mask; masquerade

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Published : 2023-12-29

KadirD. (2023). Plague, Pestilence, Pandemic: Keywords for a Cultural Epidemiology of the Present. Review of International American Studies, 16(2), 67-88.

Djelal Kadir
Pennsylvania State University, USA  United States

Djelal Kadir is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Pennsylvania State University. He is the Founding President of the International American Studies Association and former Editor of the international quarterly World Literature Today. His authored books include: Juan Carlos Onetti (Twayne, 1977), Columbus and the Ends of the Earth: Europe's Prophetic Rhetoric as Conquering Ideology (University of California Press, 1992); The Other Writing: Postcolonial Essays in Latin America's Writing Culture (Purdue UP, 1993); Questing Fictions: Latin America's Family Romance (University of Minnesota Press, 1987) and Memos from the Besieged City: Lifelines for Cultural Sustainability (Stanford UP, 2011). He is the Co-editor of the Routledge Companion to World Literature (2012; 2023), the Co-Editor of Literary Cultures of Latin America: A Comparative History (Oxford UP, 2004), of the Longman Anthology of World Literature (2004), and Co-Editor of Literature: A World History (Wiley Blackwell, 2022). He has authored over one hundred articles and has developed and taught a number of graduate seminars ranging from classical literary theory of Greek and Latin antiquity to colonial and contemporary American literatures to comparative modernisms and postmodernism.  He is a founding Board member of Synapsis: The European School of Comparative Studies, a Senior Fellow and Executive Board member of The Stockholm Collegium of World Literary History, and a member of the founding Board and teaching faculty of the Institute for World Literature (Harvard University).

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