The outbreak of coronavirus has become more than a deadly epidemic. It is also a canvas on to which people’s deepest fears and prejudices are being projected. But it is precisely at such times of spreading panic and paranoia, reinforced by dystopian photographs of deserted cities and beleaguered cruise ships in quarantine, that it is important not only to understand the emotional fallout, but also political economy.
Faced with popular fears of coronavirus, it is useful to return to Thomas Mann’s novel Death in Venice (1912), in which a mysterious disease (later revealed to be cholera) spreads through the tourist “paradise”. Mann’s novel was rooted in the orientalist fear of Eastern contamination – the “horror of diversity” that the main character Ashenbach mentions when he learns that the pathogen originated in India and spread throughout Asia before reaching the Mediterranean and Venice […]