How Germs (or the fear of them) Spawned Modernism: A Talk by Victoria Rosner

APR 16, 2021 | 4:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue


April 16, 2021: 4:00 PM





One hundred years ago, humanity was beset by a virus far more deadly than COVID-19: the so-called "Spanish Flu," which infected a third of the planet's population and killed 675,000 Americans alone.  That pandemic coincided both with the emergence of the modernist aesthetic program and with the cultural assimilation of germ theory -- the idea that infectious disease is transmitted by microscopic agents imperceptible to the human senses.  How was modernism shaped by germ theory and the fear of deadly infection?  This talk will draw on the work of William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and other writers, and bring together modernist poetics, public health, and early twentieth century bacteriology to tell a story with implications, one hundred years later, for our own pandemic moment.
Victoria Rosner is Dean of Academic Affairs and Adjunct Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature in the School of General Studies at Columbia University. Dean Rosner specializes in modernist literature and culture, with particular interests in architecture and design, gender and sexuality studies, and life writing. With Nancy K. Miller, she edits the Gender and Culture book series for Columbia University Press.
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