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Responding to “COVID-19 and Cultural Studies: Articulating the Pandemic”

Banner image featuring the series title and a graffiti face mask.


Throughout the 2020 Fall Semester our undergraduate seminar ENGL-4110: Critical Theory has made a survey of academic and theory-focused responses to the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. We have paid particular attention to online collections that offer interdisciplinary reflections on the pandemic, including CRiCS's series COVID-19 and Cultural Studies, as well as essay collections from Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, Critical Inquiry, Boston Review, and The Conversation. One question the class has considered is whether there are recurring formal patterns within this new subgenre of critical reflection, which Topia guest editors Greg Bird and Penelope Ironstone have called the “rapid response” essay. As a class, we remain sceptical of at least one key feature of the genre—namely, the presumed need for speed that has convinced some editors to impose impossibly tight submission deadlines that have led to the exclusion of “important [missing] voices” (Bird & Ironstone). Collections with flexible timelines and rolling publication schedules are definitely more inclusive and, in our opinion, better suit the genre’s openness to diverse expressions of subjective experience and formal experimentation. These are elements of the rapid response essay that we feel are best exemplified in UW’s CRiCS series. Responses in the series do not, in any way, feel hastily produced, nor do they read like essays in a traditional sense. To be sure, we have come to appreciate their inventive informality and array of personal viewpoints, their courage and blunt honesty, and perhaps most of all, their invitations to commiserate with their authors even as they ask us to challenge our own understandings of the pandemic and life under quarantine. What follows are a series of individual responses to the CRiCS series from some of the remarkable students of ENGL-4110.

—Peter Melville


Student Responses

I really enjoyed all of the pieces in the CRiCS collection, but one that really stuck out to me was Chigbo Arthur Anyaduba’s “Becoming Pandemic: Dwelling in a Lockdown.” The second-person point of view makes me as a reader feel directly implicated in the story that Anyaduba is telling. This piece also reminds me that writing is not an isolated occurrence, and oftentimes other things are going on while someone is writing. I love Anyaduba’s ability to tie the loud, distracting noises of the drilling outside of his apartment building to the loud thoughts that he is experiencing at the time of his “Zoomference.”

—Gillian Kolody

Pieces of writing on COVID-19 seem to rapidly feel obsolete, but these pieces still feel relevant all these months later. I think these are so effective because of their challenge to traditional forms of academic writing. I was especially interested in reading the more personal or experimental pieces, which widened my interpretation of what an academic response to a crisis could look like.

—Alannah Zeebeck

Above all else, I appreciate the breadth of the series. As Dr. Angela Failler and Dr. Jane Barter write, the interdisciplinary nature of the series “offers a forum for interventions that challenge traditional forms of academic writing.” Tamika Reid’s painting “un-Contained” is one of such interventions. Rendered in an abstract expressionistic style, Reid’s painting is a visual meditation on juxtaposed themes such as containment and freedom, strength and weakness, disease and hope, and isolation and community. Fingerprint-like splotches of pastel colour cut across black and white barriers, indicating the integral porousness and interdependence of the above themes.

—Sophie Moulaison

I enjoy that the series contains a variety of styles & forms presented by academics from different walks of life. I appreciate how many of the contributors did not shy away from a subjective approach, and it was wonderful to be able to access audio recordings to some of these pieces. In his contribution to the series titled “COVID-19 and the Deadly Seriousness of Cultural Studies”, Bruno Cornellier discusses the role Cultural Studies has in uncertain times like these. Dr. Cornellier emphasizes the relevance of Stuart Hall’s 1992 essay “Cultural Studies and Its Theoretical Legacies” and the concept of humility, that is, “Humility about what scholars can and cannot achieve in their attempts to organically entangle their practice to a political conjuncture that has always already started to shift at that belated moment when we think we’ve successfully analytically seized it.” After reading this series, it seems that everyone who contributed to this series did so with this humility in mind.

—Dominique Chudd

These last eight months I've developed a habit of doomscrolling news articles and social media. I recently deleted the top offenders from my phone, and rather than finding myself craving bite-sized content, I am engaging more with podcasts which take firm stances on social and racial issues. Listening to the Soundcloud files while following along with the written texts in COVID-19 and Cultural Studies: Articulating the Pandemic enhanced my reading experience. Each piece is more personable. Honest. Vulnerable. I relate to the texts more intimately as opposed to if I simply read the writing instead of hearing how the writers intended it to sound.

—Taylor Boucher

Once university was back in session, the quartz-filled granite shield that decorates the road home from the lake started to shrink into my rear-view mirror. As the sun capsized and sank; and, as the mausoleums of summer crumbled to the ground, I drove back to Winnipeg from the cottage. I was in the company of several voices, of people who sought to articulate their relationships with the current pandemic by contributing to an interdisciplinary and multi-media collection of academic commentary titled, COVID-19 and Cultural Studies: Articulating the Pandemic. In their own rights, these scholars invited me to witness their accounts of the pandemic; from which, my own routine still comfortably diverges. The contributors to the collection respond to COVID-19 with passion and remarkable presence and they insist that we are not ‘in the same boat,’ now, or anytime. In fact, I learned from them that my picturesque, safe, and interesting drive home from the cottage had always been set to unobtrusively exist in my recollection of the days of COVID-19. Along with our thoughtful and critically creative class discussions every Thursday, the exercise of listening to the University of Winnipeg community’s rapid response to COVID-19 let me slow my interaction with the perpetual chatter of the pandemic, defining my fall term learning in ENGL-4110.

—Rachel Beazley

The banner image was designed by Lauren Bosc, adapted from an image by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash.

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