Severance round-up

Below you’ll find a few links that might be useful as you think toward our discussion of Severance. We’ll have a lot to do in a short amount of time. If you’d like to put some general questions in the queue — the kinds of questions you want to ask about this novel and how it works — please leave comments here or in the linked posts.

Here’s a convener’s post, centering on the question of memory and nostalgia. What do these topics, as they play out in the novel, have to do with zombies/contagion? You may find it useful to look at the kinds of questions my last batch of students put into the comments there.

Here’s a post that covers a previous cohort’s take on YouTube reviews of the book. How are these reviews different from the kind of analysis you might expect to do in this class?

In earlier iterations of this course we read Colson Whitehead’s zombie novel Zone One or viewed Yeon Sang-ho’s film Train to Busan. Thinking about the zombie figure in those texts, I wrote this brief post, which may raise useful questions for Severance, too.

In the fall of 2020 the online journal Post45 published a cluster of brief essays on Severance, approaching many of the novel’s key topics — gender, immigration, Asianness, global labor, publishing — in and beyond the context of Covid-19. The editors ask: “How did Ma predict the COVID-19 apocalypse? How did she document it before it happened?” The essays, which in many ways resemble the longer final essay you might write for this course, answer these questions in various ways. “Together,” the editors write, “our essays explore Severance as reflecting aesthetic, historical, and political economic conditions that long preceded and will outlast the height of the pandemic reordering of the world.”

Authors are not always the best readers of interpreters of their own work, but certainly their opinions about it are interesting. Here’s Ling Ma answering readers’ questions about the book, also from the perspective of the Covid-19 pandemic. Are these the same kinds of questions you have as readers? Again, feel free to help steer our discussion by putting your own questions in the comments section here. (Remember that your first question will go into moderation; I’ll approve it, and then you’ll be free to comment at will in the future.)

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  1. I’m interested in tracing the contrasting portrayals of routine in the novel — as Ling Ma mentions in the interview linked here, “there’s no way to inhabit freedom without establishing routines,” and within the text routines are shown at different times as either comforting or oppressive (sometimes both at once.) Can we see routines as both a sustaining and a destroying force? Are there certain qualities that make some routines “better” for us than others (does it have to do with who is imposing them on us, whether we choose them out of “free will” or not?) The pandemic in Severance causes a kind of extreme adherence to routine, and in response to this, at the “beginning of the end,” cities shift in a dramatic fashion — we see companies shutting down, managers dropping off the face of the earth, people abandoning their homes/jobs to go be with their loved ones (side note, but isn’t it odd that in the world of the novel, everybody’s loved ones seem to outside of NYC? maybe part of Candace’s warped perspective?) This launches an all-out apocalyptic scenario which makes sense when we’re dealing with a zombie situation. I guess what I’m getting at is that this novel made me wonder: are routines the only thing standing between us and “the apocalypse” when there is a shock to the system like an epidemic disease? Or is this question even worth asking — can we even separate living as people from living in routine?

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