On August 20, the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) announced its publication of the issue report titled “Considerations on COVID-19 from the Perspective of the Humanities” to which several professors of the SNU College of Humanities contributed. A humanist account of infectious diseases, the report provides, in two volumes, a historical and political context to and practical solutions for the recent pandemic.
A repeat of history in infectious diseases
Holding the premise containing the age-old wisdom that the present is closely interlinked with the past, in his contribution, “COVID-19 and the History of Infectious Diseases,” Professor Moon Seok Jang (Department of Western History) emphasizes a repeat of history in the social and political scene of infectious diseases. As in the past, the recent pandemic, while having emerged in part amid a period of growing inter-civilizational exchange, is bringing about social dissolution in a landscape of equally rising political tension — and in this process, is testing the knowledge of the people of the time in their ability to respond. Moon urges for a close examination of this interlinkage for a more effective response to the pandemic of our time.
Similarly, in “Infectious Diseases and Politics, and the Humanities: A Focus on the Plague of Athens,” Professor Jaewon Ahn (Department of Classical Philology) presents Sophocles’ tragedy, Oedipus Rex, to demonstrate how, like the Plague of Athens, an infectious disease occurs on two levels: natural and national. Ahn states that “the tragedy becomes a vehicle for both the purification of emotions, especially the fear that arises, and the transference of knowledge in dealing with the pandemic on a societal level in the phases of actual and post-outbreak.”
Solutions for our pandemic
Describing the pandemic as a paradox, in “The Multitact Era and the Reconstruction of Educational Setting,” Professor Weol-Hoi Kim (Department of Chinese Language and Literature) proposes in the idea of a “multitact” a versatile mentality essential to internalizing the revolutionary changes in lifestyle that have been brought about with the pandemic. In particular, the traditional educational setting, which was intact for more than a half-century, has seen radical change — Kim further calls for the need of “a decrease in scale, the use of residence, the use of science and technology, [and] a lifetime paradigm shift” to meet the novel circumstances.
Within a similar context, in “‘Slow Reading’: COVID-19, Also an ‘Infomedic,’” Professor Dongshin Yi (Department of English Language and Literature) proposes the method of “slow reading” as an antidote in a time of uncertainty, fear and rampant fake news. Likewise, in “COVID-19 and the Growth of a New Life Philosophy,” Professor Hye-Kyoung Shin (Department of Aesthetics) highlights art as a “healing medium that empowers the individual suffering from mixed emotional states through the sense of solidarity and community it lends in its being a ‘collective action’.”
In the report, the authors acknowledge the relatively successful response of the Korean government thus far, while critiquing some of the factors contributing to this success. In particular, Shin considers whether the actions of the government have sufficiently safeguarded the freedom and privacy of the citizens and the extensive contribution on the part of low-wage workers. Meanwhile, all reiterate the importance of the Humanities for securing improvement on all levels. In the preface, the role of the Humanities is compared to that of a vaccine to a virus. NRF President Jung-Hye Roe adds that “these humanist considerations are indispensable for sustaining a life of happiness in times of trouble, making it ever in the interests of the NRF to provide them, alongside scientific and technological solutions.”
Written by Jeeye Hong, SNU English Editor, email@example.com Reviewed by Professor Travis Smith, Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, firstname.lastname@example.org