© 2020
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Culture

New UTSA Course Finds What's Old Is New Again In COVID-19 World

Steven Kellman is a professor at the University of Texas-San Antonio.
Calvin Hoovestol
Steven Kellman is a professor at the University of Texas-San Antonio.

Some students at the University of Texas-San Antonio have a new English literature class this fall that should resonate in their modern lives, although the course’s title doesn’t sound too inviting. Steven Kellman will teach it.

"I'm calling it the Literature of Pestilence," he said. “What we're doing is examining representations of plagues throughout history. I thought this would be an interesting challenge for me and for my students, particularly at this moment in history."

This moment in history has its own plague, of sorts: COVID-19.

"Literature about plagues is really doing what the greatest literature of all sorts is doing, which is simply to remind us that we as human beings are mortal and to raise the question of, ‘What do you do with the few years that we have to live?’" Kellman said.

One famous writer who wrote during the plague put it most succinctly.

"’To be or not to be,’ of course, is the great theme of Hamlet. But you can find it in Sophocles, in Dante, in Goethe, in Proust,” he said. “And I think in all of the major writers, whether they're explicitly writing about plague or not. "

Samuel Johnson noted that reminders of our short time on earth are incredible motivators.

“He said when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully," Kellman said.

The fall course is mainly on written works, but there is also film.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4yXBIigZbg

"We're starting out with Ingmar Bergman classic film, The Seventh Seal set during the medieval bubonic plague," he said. 

While the course description may sound all doom-n-gloom, Kellman said it has a different upshot.

"You shouldn't spend your life weeping over the brevity of life, but rather embracing it and making the most of it," he said. 

Jack Morgan can be reached at Jack@TPR.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.