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Presentation from the social distancing project

On November 18th, 2020, members of the social distancing project presented their latest work.

More than eight months into the coronavirus pandemic, we’re all too familiar with the phrase “social distancing.” But what exactly does social distancing look like in practice? And what can literature teach us about how to live through this moment in history? This project takes the constraints the virus has placed on our own sociality as a through line, collecting scenes of isolation in novels, essays, and short stories from the eighteenth century through the present day. Our examples range from scenes of solitary confinement on deserted islands and spaceships, in nunneries and prison cells, to literary celebrations of private space. How does reading “A Room of One’s Own” alongside Robinson Crusoe inform our current experience? Where do we get by describing Snow White and the seven dwarfs as social distancing with roommates? Our project aims to identify a common language of isolation across literary genres and historical periods, while simultaneously drawing attention to a number of key differences across the corpus. For instance, are socially distanced women portrayed differently than their male counterparts? Are they more likely to be confined against their will? Does voluntary isolation look substantively different than involuntary? Does solitary confinement share a lexicon with the practice of social distancing as a family?