Jerome Rothenberg spoke as part of the 2017 seminar program on Writing Through: Translation and Othering as Forms of Composition.

Our Next Seminar

Simulating Contagion - with Peta Mitchell (QUT) & James Gorley (WSU)  

Friday 30 November
1pm – 3pm
Female Orphan School, conference room 1, EZ.G.23, Parramatta South campus, Western Sydney University

Peta Mitchell (QUT)

In 2017, the World Bank ran a series of four pandemic simulations—involving high-level government officials from a dozen countries and major health organisations—to highlight and, as it were, make manifest the looming threat of infectious disease outbreaks in a hyperconnected world. Around the same time as the last of these World Bank simulations, the BBC launched its Contagion! The BBC Four Pandemic project, which used user-contributed mobile app data to simulate the spread of an influenza pandemic across the UK. Finally, and again in late 2017, Ndemic Creations, the makers of the wildly popular pandemic simulation app Plague Inc., announced that the game's player base had reached 100 million worldwide. To date the Plague Inc. app, which was launched in 2012, remains at #2 in Apple’s App Store Simulation category, behind Minecraft.

Contagion and simulation have had a long and complex history, one that feeds into this highly contemporary fascination with simulating contagion and that, in some instances, verges on an imperative. In this talk, and through a range of cultural texts, I explore the ways in which these entanglements between contagion and simulation enact a form of speculative parasite (or microbial) logic that works to recast the human in a more-than-human world.

James Gourley (WSU)

An emerging consensus in climate change futurology calls for greater analysis of past incidences of epidemic, as these historical events offer simulations of social and environmental (dis)organisation in the face of anthropogenic climate change. In this seminar, I will consider two historical models of the plague in their relation to climate change.

The first, close to home, considers the outbreak of bubonic plague in Sydney and the New South Wales east coast between 1900 and 1908. Using digital mapping I will provide an account of the plague and consider the panic and despair it prompted. The second, a literary simulation, examines Albert Camus’s 1947 The Plague. Discussing the novel’s often overlooked premonitory character and effects, I will link these elements to the concept of the enlightened doomsayer, French philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s prophet-hero who stands in the face of impending and destructive climate change.

These simulations are historical, speculative and metaphorical. In considering narrative – and especially literary – simulations of contagion, it may be possible to harness epidemiological thinking in addressing the theoretical and practical questions posed by climate change in the present day.


PETA MITCHELL is a Chief Investigator, Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow, and Research Training Coordinator in QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC). Her research focuses on digital geographies, location awareness and mobile media, algorithmic culture, and network contagion. Peta is author of Cartographic Strategies of Postmodernity (Routledge, 2008) and Contagious Metaphor (Bloomsbury Academic, 2012) and co-author of Imagined Landscapes: Geovisualizing Australian Spatial Narratives (Indiana UP, 2016). She is also co-founder of the Cultural Atlas of Australia, an ARC-funded digital mapping project that explores Australian locations as they are represented in and through films, novels, and plays.

JAMES GOURLEY is a senior lecturer in English at the School of Humanities and Communication Arts, Western Sydney University. He completed his doctorate with the university’s Writing and Society Research Centre, graduating in 2011. He is the author of Terrorism and Temporality in the Works of Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo (Bloomsbury, 2013).

Our seminars are free and open to visitors from outside the university. If you want to come along to one of our seminars simply RSVP by sending an email to indicating which seminar you wish to attend.

The Parramatta South campus is accessible by public transport including University shuttle bus. See the Getting to uni page for more details.

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