AURAK Professor Gives Research Seminar on Understanding COVID-19 through Films and Literature

May 7, 2020,

American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK) Professor Steven J. Zani gave a research seminar as part of the University’s Faculty Research Colloquium on how stories from books and films can help understand the COVID-19 epidemic.

Prof. Zani is Professor of Comparative Literature and Philosophy and Dean of the Office of Academic Support Services at AURAK.

He delivered his research seminar “COVID-19 in the time of Zombies: How Literature and Film Studies Can Help You Understand a Global Pandemic” via Microsoft Teams because of the social distancing measures preventing the spread of the virus.

“I want to show that what is interesting about this new virus, COVID-19, is that it is not new. Our ways of talking about it are very old. I wanted to show people the way that our talk about COVID-19 shows up in literature and film over and over. Every zombie book, every zombie movie, is actually talking about COVID-19, or rather, every time we talk about the virus, we’re actually repeating ancient and classical plague narratives,” Prof. Zani said of his research seminar.

“My main point is that ideas spread like viruses, and how we react to these viruses, both real and in our minds, can affect our survival.  I’m trying to cure our social isolation by using zombie movies to talk about social isolation,” he added.

The thrust of Prof. Zani’s research seminar was the question of what we talk about when we talk about COVID-19. He said the presentation addressed one singular question, “What happens when a virus is born?” 

Prof. Zani said the answer is that it spreads throughout the population, mutates, and returns again and again. He said it travels along biological and material pathways, spreading in repetitive, predictable ways. He added that ideas about viruses spread because they are viruses unto themselves, and similarly travel in repetitive, predictable ways. All the things you “think” about COVID-19 are not your own thoughts, he argued, but are part of a vast literary and cinematic heritage of people who have taught you how to think about viruses and how to react to them.

He examined that long heritage of plague narratives and modern zombie stories, to share insights and to further discussion, critical thinking, and research. He added that the presentation was not about the Philosophy of the Virus; rather it was about the Virus of Philosophy.

Prof. Zani is an interdisciplinary scholar with BA degrees in English, French, and Philosophy, an MA degree in Philosophy and a PhD in Comparative Literature. He has served as a teacher and administrator for over 20 years at multiple institutions in the US and abroad.

His research interests include traditional literary themes such as British romanticism, American studies, Bible scholarship, comparative literature, and child and young adult literature, as well as detective fiction, horror, and popular culture. He has published or lectured on authors from multiple cultures and languages.