CFP: Cluster on Contagion and Conflagration

Deadline: February 1, 2021

Narratives of contagion and sickness offer an effective prism for the exploration and analysis of mechanisms through which our fears of contamination are turned into practices of othering, so familiar from our current daily lives. Literary encounters with deadly pathogens also offer us a chance to ponder posthumanist and environmental concerns: as the virus challenges anthropocentrism (i.e., human supremacy, exceptionalism, and control), humans are forced to renegotiate their relationships with their nonhuman others as well as to consider the role of chance and contingency in human life. The cluster of articles will make a sustained scholarly effort to examine outbreak narratives and metaphors of infection and understand the cultural politics of contagion in Russia and Eastern Europe. Comparativist perspectives are welcome.

Abstract length: 300 words

“During the war people avidly read Tolstoy’s War and Peace as a means of testing their reactions.” So begins Lydia Ginzburg’s The Siege of Leningrad: Notes of a Survivor.  Now that the very fiber of our social life has been upended by the pandemic, whose reverberations will be undoubtedly with us for many years to come, the journal Russian Literature proposes to again turn to books for insights on our common predicament.  In the Petersburg of Osip Mandelstam’s The Egyptian Stamp, library books “are inhabited by measles, scarlatina, and chicken pox.” Indeed, classics of Russian and East European literature are swarming with infection and more often than not contagion mixes with political conflagration in their fevered collective consciousness.  And, even before the era of Covid-19, contemporary literature and film became infested with scenarios in which viruses, both biological and digital, are unleashed, either intentionally or accidentally, by either the West or the East upon the world with catastrophic consequences. 

Themes we propose to explore are:

–historical outbreaks and their literary representation
–imaginary outbreaks, catastrophic visions of the future, and dystopian imaginaries
–expression of contemporary anxieties and traumas through metaphors of infection and contamination
–aesthetic categories involved in our thinking about infection: communication, transmission, circulation, contact, distance
–relationship between protagonists’ diseases and their political affiliations
–potency of pathogens and the critique of reason
–discourses of infection and the role of chance and contingency in human life
–infectious outbreaks, cross-species transmission, and ecological catastrophes
–literary and cinematic reflections on the regimes of biopolitics and bioethics
–metaphors of infection, rhetoric of invasive species and viral mutation, and fears of foreign adulteration
–art as infection: viral circulation of ideas and feelings
–cross-contamination between the viral spread of information and the transmission of the disease
–affective intensities associated with epidemics, separation, contamination, social rupture, and death
–relationship between physical health and morals, ideas, emotions

Please send your abstracts to the cluster’s editor, Julia Vaingurt at

Abstract deadline: February 1, 2021; Article deadline:  August 1, 2021