By Christine Kohler
Aren't all published contemporary novels now obsolete in light of COVID-19? Aren't published contemporary novels (or those in writers' files) now "period pieces" or historical? Isn't it like reading about Superman changing in a phone booth and teens say, "What's a phone booth?" Or, if the guy borrows a quarter for a pay phone the novel dates itself as bad as him saying, "Groovy, Man."
In graduate school we studied Post-Modernism. The term referred to experimentation with form. However, the term seems to fit these unprecedented pandemic times more than ever, post-COVID-19. I predict new terms will be coined to describe the before and after of this dystopian-turned-contemporary situation. (Will William Gibson lead us by inventing these new terms like he did with the internet in NEUROROMANCER?)
Consider the ways in which our society has changed drastically in 2020. Then mirror that against contemporary literature and what in each book is now obsolete. And, back to my first question, if it's out-of-date, then it is no longer contemporary. That makes the work a period piece or historical. Think of pre-COVID and post-COVID as The Great Divide. Even though the '19 stands for when the virus came into existence in 2019, I would argue that the awareness and societal changes came about in 2020. So, literature set in 2019 would be pre-COVID in details. And anything published post-COVID in 2020 would need to include the changes in society.
I propose, as a writer, that we made lists of ways that society has changed. What makes it a contemporary setting in post-pandemic time? The most obvious is how we greet one another. No handshakes. No hugs. No check-to-cheek air kisses. All obsolete gestures now. I noticed that the dishwasher installer gave me a low hand-wave. It was subtle, friendly, kind of cute in a shy way. I wonder if this will catch on. Personally, I like the small bow by slightly bobbing the head and shoulders that we did when I lived in Japan (and traveled to Korea). But, will the Western countries adopt the Asian bow? Or the Asian Indian palms pressed together, a waist-bow, followed by, "Namaste"? Maybe not. Keep your eyes peeled for what the American society settles into for greetings once we stop self-isolating.
Another obvious outward change is wearing masks. (In Japan many people, especially young mothers, wore surgical masks in Tokyo when I lived there in the late 1980s.) I posted on a writers' site that perhaps masks might start being sold with clothing items in matching fabrics. The next day I clipped an article about how Louis Vuitton is now making face masks. You could have fun with face masks by adding dark humor with the prints, such as how John Green added humor in PAPER TOWNS with t-shirts that contained incongruent messages for the characters.
Language is another area to expect change. I belong to a company photography chat room and love hearing the Brits talk slang. They've used the term "hamstering" and "iso-time" for what Alvin Toffler called "cocooning" in THE THIRD WAVE. Pay attention to new terminology that will surely enter our post-pandemic vocabulary.
This only scratches the surfaces of what we will experience in the nouvelle Post-Post Modernism, Post-COVID-19, Post-Contemporary society. (Gibson, can you help me out here?)
As always, I would to hear your comments on this topic. Yes, I love hearing from you introverts even by email. But if post in comments below, we can get a dialogue going. What are your thoughts. How will you be updating in revisions your next contemporary novel to truly make it reflect our contemporary society?