COVID-19 and Literature: Challenges and Prospects

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The COVID-19 has posed very serious questions to us to think different from our conventional literature that we were and are used to write and read. This pandemic will be offering so many new themes to the writers to think on like uncertainty of the facts, weak picture of human beings before these viruses, hunger, stress, effects of modern technology, technology-oriented educational system, economic recession, self-realization, and psychological trauma etc.

By Rashid Chandio

History witnesses one of the worst ever diseases in the shape of COVID-19, which has shackled the world. It has brought educational crisis, showed political instability, created economic crisis, raised religious unrest, led psychological dilemma, fueled inequality, locked people in their homes, escalated depression among people, and posed situation of uncertainty etc.

In order to perceive how literature deals with the society and its every aspect of life, it is important to study and understand the situation prevailing at the times of world famous writers.  Take an example of Elizabethan era – Shakespeare is the creation of this era. He and his era are correlated, interrelated, and interdependent on each other. Same is the case with rest of the greatest writers of their age too like John Milton fairly shows the picture of Puritan age in his literary works.

The important part of the literature is this that it comes at its highest rank when social conditions are not OK – when wars frequently surround societal structure of the society; when people die of hunger; when inequality becomes fashion; when ordinary person is suppressed under the power of authority; when freedom of people is at stake; when murder and suppression become games of enjoyment for the upper class; when poor voices are not listened and answered; when writers are faced with state brutality; when speaking truth is considered a crime and speaking lie becomes common; when Fascist rule is only preached and practiced; when rights are violated and when goods and services are not equally distributed – then revolution becomes natural and springs out through the pens of literary writers. For instance, progressive and revolutionary literature in Sindhi and Urdu was produced at its great length during the regimes of Dictators.

Now the COVID-19 has posed very serious questions to us to think different from our conventional literature that we were and are used to write and read. Probably, post COVID-19 literature and it’s themes will be so much new and direction-less and confusing that writers will be having and dealing to practice, adapt and write their stories as it happens in modern and postmodern novels – theatre of absurdity found in the field of drama which disclosed the complex nature of characters who were victim of World War I and World War II. However, this pandemic will be offering so many new themes to the writers to think on like uncertainty of the facts, weak picture of human beings before these viruses, hunger, stress, effects of modern technology, technology-oriented educational system, economic recession, self-realization, and psychological trauma etc.

As J.R.R. Tolkien says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” So, the COVID-19 has sickened us from life perspective but at the same time it has opened the doors of opportunities to the writers to redefine the world order and show an alternate way to fight such virus through their literary writings and give some hope to people so that people may continue to survive in such hard times. As J.K, Rowlings says, “It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” Good times of life never teach us hard lessons of life, instead worst times strengthen us to be more energetic, more, realistic, more passionate towards one another, more generous, more patient, more visionary, sometimes revolutionary, more enthusiastic, more powerful, more clear in our aims etc. as Horace Walpole has rightly stated, “The world is comedy to those who think, but tragedy to those who feel”. Difficult situations always put a man in a challenge to act wisely because at that time a man feels the pain of the world; whereas in comedy, man does not do anything but just think about pain and forget it after some time. COVID-19 is a heinous tragedy that all the people across the world feel with equal intensity, so the actions are also needed to carry out together to cease it from spreading.

In the end, this can be proposed for sure that post COVID-19-impacted life would be completely different from every angle as compared to the life that we are living now and that difference can be the subject to the matter for literary writers to produce such stories, dramas, novels, poems which provide an insight to the coming generation to get ready for every such uncertain and untimely dangerous diseases. In fact, literature plays an active role to combat any sort of war and this COVID-19 is not less than the battle people are fighting around the globe. Fundamentally, literature serves two main purposes – firstly, it offers an aesthetic pleasure in the state of pain; secondly, it delivers everything in discipline manner and in embellished language. Most importantly, literature teaches the lesson of humanism and love. As G.K. Chesterton puts literature in perspective – ‘literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity”.

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Writer is Lecturer at the department of English, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto University, Shaheed Benazirabad Sindh

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