Narratives of Post-Viral Syndromes: Thinking the Past, Present, and Future

deadline for submissions: 
October 31, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
ACLA Annual Conference
contact email: 

We would like to draw colleagues' attention to our seminar at the American Comparative Literature Association's (ACLA’s) 2023 conference, "Narratives of Post-Viral Syndromes: Thinking the Past, Present, and Future". Anyone interested in presenting a paper at this seminar is requested to formally apply through the ACLA’s website between October 1 and October 31 (

In early 2020, governments and media outlets across Europe and the US presented two possible trajectories following infection with the novel coronavirus. The first led to a ‘mild-to-moderate, but self-limiting illness’, followed by a complete recovery; the second led to hospitalisation and possible death. Those with experience of post-viral illness, however, knew all too well that there was a third possibility: the uncertain stasis of persistent and often unexplained symptoms. Indeed, whilst SARS-CoV-2 is a novel coronavirus, the phenomenon of virally-induced chronic illness is by no means new. A significant number of people across the world live with constellations of symptoms that developed after a viral infection occurring years or even decades previously. A wide variety of labels, many of them carrying significant stigma, are employed to refer to this particular constellation of symptoms, (e.g. ME, CFS, etc). For some within these communities, who have felt invisible for decades, the main novelty about Long Covid is the attention it has received from general, academic and clinical publics. As distinctions between old and new, past and present are blurred, how can we, as scholars, respect the newness of the present (a novel virus and a global pandemic), without obscuring the past (which is also, for many people, their present)? 

In this seminar we seek to bring together researchers working on narratives of post-viral syndromes across different geotemporal spheres. Some possible themes/questions are:

  • Whose narratives are we attending to? Who is permitted to speak? Who is silenced? These questions appear all the more important in these post-pandemic contexts–whose narratives were able to take part in this collective disease making? Whose were excluded? Why?

  • Since Long Covid is a patient-made term, this is an ideal opportunity to explore and conceptualise collective illness narratives. What implications might the idea of a collective illness narrative have for scholarship but also for patient activism or for engaged research?

  • We might think about the narratives that we, as academics, are creating in and through our research. What stories are we telling and what are their effects? Are our narratives always correct, beneficial, ethical; what impacts do they have, and is this impact only positive? Do the narratives we create amplify or propagate certain narratives, whilst erasing or silencing others? Do the stories we tell dictate the stories that can be heard? 

  • What kind of conception of health are we promoting? If we still place illness between death and full recovery, how are we supposed to attend to life stories that do not fall within this dichotomy? Perhaps there is an urgent need for a new turn in illness narrative research that would overcome linearity and conceptions of normative futurity, and complicate the concept of health to account for a constellation of situations that are currently not conceived as such.

Note that, as per ACLA’s guidelines, 'each seminar must include both faculty and graduate students'. Accordingly, this seminar welcomes scholars from all career stages, be they experienced members of faculty, early career researchers, independent scholars or PhD students.