Online Lecture on Pandemic Storytelling: Molly Andrews and Mark Freeman
Thursday, February 11, 2021, 7:00pm
Molly Andrews (University of East London): Reimagining Our Lives in Pandemic Times
Living through a pandemic has occasioned for many an altered sense of time, which troubles our very sense of who we are, who we have been, and who we are becoming. The days are empty, movements curtailed, and yet the sheer lack of structure alters one’s sense of the passage of time itself. Was it yesterday, last week, or last month that we took a walk, watched a film, had that meeting on zoom? It is hard to tell if the days are passing slowly, quickly, or perhaps both?. Meanwhile, our memories bring us back to a known, identifiable past; things one did and didn’t do, enjoyments taken and forestalled, gatherings with others, trips, celebrations, bike rides, concerts, basically anything that involves interaction with other people outside the home. Had we known then what we know now about the future that was awaiting us, might we have made different choices? The past is littered with crossroads pregnant with questions of ‘what if’?
The pandemic has caused us not only to revisit the past, but also to apply a new lens to our present lives. What had once seemed extraordinary has become everyday, while once-habitual practices have been suspended indefinitely. An already constricted economy has gone into freefall, and the vulnerability of the millions of precariously employed (or unemployed) has become magnified. The current moment demands that we re-imagine our lives from the most intimate to the most public spaces.
Just as perceptions of the past and understandings of the present are affected by the pandemic, visions of the future are recast. If we are not living the future life we thought in the past we were moving towards, it is now demanded of us that we rethink our futures. The uncertainty produced by the pandemic and the rupture of our everyday lives have altered not only the assumptions which guide our movements in the world, but have created new fears and possibilities for our futures. We must find “another version of who we are…” (Solnit 2020).
Throughout this, we time travel, back and forth and back again, interweaving different temporalities, thinking of worlds that at one time might have been, but whose possibility is no longer, the crises averted or accentuated by actions taken irretrievably, the new possible futures which might save or destroy us. All the while our narrative imaginations are working overtime, storying different scenarios in light of our dramatically altered circumstances of living in these pandemic times.
Molly Andrews is Professor of Political Psychology, and Co-director of the Centre for Narrative Research at the University of East London and was the Jane and Aatos Professor at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies 2019-2020. Her research interests include political narratives, the psychological basis of political commitment, political identity, patriotism, and aging. Her books include Lifetimes of Commitment: Aging, Politics, Psychology and Shaping History: Narratives of Political Change (both Cambridge University Press), and Narrative Imagination and Everyday Life (Oxford University Press). She serves on the Editorial Board of five journals which are published in four countries, and her publications have appeared in Chinese, German, Swedish, Spanish, Czech, and German.
Mark Freeman (Holycross College): A Pandemic of Pain: The Dead End of Delusional Storytelling.
At this moment, it is January 14, 2021, and there have been 23,616,345 Coronavirus cases in the United States and 393,928 deaths. Vaccine rollout has been extremely slow and disorganized, and there is no well-conceived federal plan in place for addressing the horror and the pain currently being witnessed. Whatever Donald Trump and his pathetic sycophants might have done to address and alleviate the problems at hand, there would have still been a pandemic, and there would have still been many cases and many deaths. But it would have been nowhere near the magnitude of what we are still witnessing. It didn’t have to happen this way.
Also at this moment, it is approximately one week since an angry army of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, desecrated what had once seemed to be an inviolable, even sacred, space, and brought additional horror and pain—and death—to our country. In the wake of this horrific event, some members of Congress have contracted COVID, most likely as a function of the unmasked colleagues, who continue to find it abhorrent that their so-called rights are so infringed upon by wearing a mask. Now that metal detector entryways have been set up in the Capitol, some of these same fools, these proud American Individuals, are refusing to walk through these entryways. What happened to the second amendment, they exclaim, the right to bear arms? Meanwhile, the nation is bracing for another onslaught of violence and stupidity. And all the while, the pandemic death toll climbs.
Storytelling—delusional storytelling—has been a major contributor to this confluence of events and continues to be, the awful mixture of information, misinformation, disinformation, and bald-faced lies being folded into truly deadly storylines. For a frightening number of Americans, these storylines appear utterly and completely impermeable and immoveable, and there is no vaccine of reality, no dose of truth, able to break the narrative spell. Or so it seems. And all the while, the death toll climbs. What would it take to break this spell and to disarm this pandemic of pain? I doubt I will be able to offer a clean answer to this question in this presentation, but I will certainly try.
Mark Freeman is Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Society and Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. His writings include Rewriting the Self: History, Memory, Narrative (Routledge, 1993); Finding the Muse: A Sociopsychological Inquiry into the Conditions of Artistic Creativity (Cambridge, 1994); Hindsight:The Promise and Peril of Looking Backward (Oxford, 2010); The Priority of the Other: Thinking and Living Beyond the Self (Oxford, 2014); and numerous articles and chapters on issues ranging from memory and identity to the psychology of art and religion. Winner of the 2010 Theodore R. Sarbin Award in the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, he also serves as editor for the Oxford University Press series “Explorations in Narrative Psychology.”