Online Lecture on Pandemic Storytelling: Christoph Singer and Birgit Neumann

Donnerstag, 11.03.2021, 19.00 Uhr


Christoph Singer (University of Innsbruck): No Sense of an Ending: Narrating Pandemic Temporalities


The pandemic mode of living is one of animated suspension, of constant delays and often existential waiting. Whole societies are waiting for the end of lockdowns and of quarantines. People wait for test-results to be sent, for vaccines to be administered and for economic subsidies to be paid out. And they wait to finally meet again their family-members and friends.

For the fortunate, pandemic waiting entails mostly a suspension of pre-pandemic routines and rituals. For the less fortunate, this unpredictable situation and its economic, psychological and physical impact can prove to be an existential threat. Craig Jeffrey suggests the term ‘chronic waiting’ for enduring such unsettling temporalities. Jeffrey explains: “when people are catapulted out of their everyday lives […] the present can come to weigh on the minds of the individual subject as a type of ‘curse’ or ‘burden.’ (Jeffrey 2008: 955)

By discussing a German public service announcement – called #besondere Helden – a PSA that urges people to stay at home, this paper will shed light on three aspects concerning pandemic waiting: firstly, the relationship of waiting to power; secondly, the paradoxical notion of waiting in largely neo-liberal societies; and thirdly, and most importantly, the limits of narrating such a state of chronic waiting and suspension.

Jeffrey, Craig (2008). “Waiting.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26: 954-58.


Christoph Singer is Professor for British and Anglophone Cultural Studies in the Department of British Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. He has published anthologies on intersections of Middlebrow & Modernism, the iconography of Dante & Milton and on spaces of Well-Being. His PhD-thesis explored shorelines as liminal spaces, and he has published on the legacies of the Partition of India.

His second book discusses the temporality of narratives in times of crisis, particularly the experience of existential waiting. Christoph Singer is also one of the series editors of the recently established book-series Narratives and Mental Health (Brill).


Birgit Neumann (Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf): “Time moved faster than humans could bear” - Temporalities in/of Crises in Postcolonial Corona Narratives


According to Arundhati Roy, the Coronavirus has "brought the world to a halt like nothing else could", "forcing humans to break with their past and imagine their future anew". (Roy 2020) The current COVID-19 pandemic is only one crisis amongst many which have put conventional notions of time as a more or less linear and smooth succession under considerable pressure. Against taxonomic understandings that suggest the possibility of controlling, sequencing or synchronizing time, crises challenge us to rethink time as non-integral, multidirectional, discontinuous, and in Dipesh Chakrabarty's words, "out of joint with itself" (2000, 16). In moments of crisis, past, present and future appear to collapse into each other and give way to a sense of rupture and discontinuity: While the past extends into the present and exerts an ongoing disruptive force, the future appears unavailable and turns into a constant source of anxiety that jeopardizes any sense of continuity. Crises, that is to say, open individuals and collectivities up to the unpredictable and contingent nature of history, yielding temporalities that undo the borders between subjective and public time and that in their spiraling simultaneity appear divided and contradictory.

My talk seeks to examine the temporalities of crises in postcolonial Corona narratives, focusing on the sense of acceleration and unpredictability that is characteristic of pandemic temporalities. I am particularly interested in the politics of time, i.e., in the relation between temporal regimes and socio-political inequalities. But interestingly, the postcolonial narratives frequently do more than simply articulate a sense of temporal disorientation and unevenness. Time and again, they also work as a counter-force to the experience of temporal acceleration and make available alternative ways of approaching the present and the future.


Birgit Neumann (MA, University of Cologne; PhD, University of Giessen) is Chair of Anglophone Literatures and Translation Studies at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. She previously held positions at the universities of Giessen, Münster and Passau and was Visiting Professor at the Universities of Cornell (USA), Madison-Wisconsin (USA) and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge (UK). In March 2021, she will serve as Visiting Professor at KU Leuven. Birgit Neumann is a member of a number of international research networks and an elected member of the Academy of Europe, of the Coordinating Committee for the Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages (CHLEL) as well as of the Advisory Board of the "Centre for Comparative Studies", University of Lisbon. She is co-editor of book series on cultural memory (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht), on literary and cultural translation (Narr) and on English and American literatures (Brill). Her research engages with the poetics and politics of postcolonial literatures, intermediality, postcolonial ecocriticism, memory studies and cultural translation. She is the author of books on Canadian fictions of memory (2005), on nationalism in 18th-century British literature (2009) as well as on verbal-visual configurations in postcolonial literatures (2020; with Gabriele Rippl). She has edited and co-edited a range of volumes and special issues, including collections on The Presence of Things in the 18th-century (2015), A History of British Poetry (2015), British TV Comedies – Cultural Concepts, Contexts and Controversies (2015), Cultures of Emotion in 18th-century Britain (2015; Special Issue of Das 18. Jahrhundert), Anglophone World Literatures (2017; Special Issue of Anglia), Postcolonial Ecocriticism and Anglophone Literatures (2017; Special Issue of A&E), Global Literary Histories (2018; Special Issue of Arcadia), New Approaches to the Twenty-First-Century Anglophone Novel (2019) and Handbook of Anglophone World Literatures(2020).