Archive for October, 2019

A ghost but more alive than she was

Edvard Munch’s illustration of Oswald, in Ibsen’s Ghosts, slumped in his chair at play’s end, the cold sunlight finally streaming through the window. More on Munch and Ibsen here.

As we transition from Ibsen to Porter, let’s take a moment to remember poor Oswald, slipping into unconsciousness just as the cold, cold Norwegian daylight finally comes streaming through that window. The ending of Ibsen’s play resonates with the final lines of Porter’s story:

No more war, no more plague, only the dazed silence that follows the ceasing of the heavy guns; noiseless houses with the shades drawn, empty streets, the dead cold light of tomorrow. Now there would be time for everything. (208)

Porter — or maybe it’s her heroine, Miranda — leaves us in a postapocalyptic landscape. The silent houses might remind us of Defoe. And Ibsen’s cold light makes a comeback. If you lived my ’80s teenage life, you’d have no question about the music direction for this moment:

Morrissey, “Every Day Is Like Sunday,” from Viva Hate (1988)

“Come, Armageddon! Come!”

Compare the endings of Ghost and Pale Horse. When Ibsen’s play closes, Mrs. Alving still stands there, wringing her hands, paralyzed by her own agency. Whatever she chooses to do will certainly result in her being haunted. Will she lose herself or finally find freedom? When Porter’s story closes, Miranda comes “to herself as if out of sleep,” but it’s hard to tell how much of Miranda is left and how much she’s just being propped up by the same voices of duty, obligation, and propriety that continually dogged Mrs. Alving. When she addresses the dead, her newly awakened self becomes self-conscious, chiding: “Oh, no, that is not the way, I must never do that” (208). Has she pulled herself out of sleep or into the numbness of survival?

One set of past conveners used the question of survival — how does it feel to be left behind? — as their way to frame the reading. Miranda, like Mrs. Alving or Defoe’s H.F., finishes the story having to make sense of what’s just passed. But unlike H.F., who seems to have all the answers, or Mrs. Alving, whose survival is overshadowed by the choice she confronts, Miranda seems profoundly altered, at odds with the notion that she’s awake and in charge of a future in which everything is possible. Here’s how those conveners put it:

Have you heard of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic? It killed more people than the first World War did, yet it is not widely remembered. Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter is one of the few literary records of a traumatic event that killed between 20 million and 40 million people. This is Porter’s most autobiographical work as she nearly died of the plague herself when she was working for the Rocky Mountain Newspaper. According to a 1936 interview with Porter, 18 years had passed before she set down to write this fictional novella. This suggests she may have tried to forget the pandemic and was unable to repress her memories of it. Perhaps the act of writing this novella was her way of coming to terms with her personal experience of surviving the influenza pandemic of 1918, and suggesting that events like this should be remembered. In the 1936 interview, she recalls her experience as identity-shattering.

 “It simply divided my life, cut across it like that. So that everything before that was just getting ready, and after that I was in some strange way altered, really. It took me a long time to go out and live in the world again. I was really “alienated,” in the pure sense. It was, I think, the fact that I really had participated in death, that I knew what death was, and had almost experienced it. I had what the Christians call the “beatific vision,” and the Greeks called the “happy day,” the happy vision just before death. Now if you have had that, and survived it, come back from it, you are no longer like other people, and there’s no use deceiving yourself that you are.” (“Interview” 85) – The Forgotten Apocalypse

Surviving a plague or a war is a life-changing event for an individual survivor and a community. Porter draws upon her own personal experience of alienation and disorientation after a plague when she describes Miranda’s painful and bitter recovery. It raises the question of what survives in a survivor after a plague? Or after a war?

As another set of conveners explained even earlier, the figure of the survivor — charged with the work of mourning — is prefigured even by the novella’s title, a reference not only to apocalyptic imagery from the Bible but, in Porter’s story, to a song Miranda and Adam improvise based on a spiritual sung by black field workers in Texas, presumably the descendants of slaves:

The suffering of the living is explicitly mentioned when Miranda introduces the song that begins with “Pale horse, pale rider…” (189). In this song the death, represented by “pale horse, pale rider”, takes away not only lover but also the whole family, leaving “one singer to mourn” (190). And Miranda, in her nightmare, experiences this devastating pain. She sees Adam continuously struck by arrows in his heart and dies, while she cannot help but live and endure everything. Miranda believes that the pain of the living is no less than that of the dead, as we can assume from “It’s my turn now, why must you always be the one to die?” (191). She would rather die than become the lone one who has to suffer from the loss.

This isn’t the first time music mediates a crucial moment in Porter’s story. References to popular songs appear scattered throughout. The characters have their own relationships to the popular culture of the war years, the same way I, growing up in the 1980s, had my relationship to the popular culture of the Cold War West. If Miranda, at the end, seems a bit like a zombie, one of the questions the novella asks is whether, when all is said and done, we’re made up of anything more than the stories and songs and social expectations we’ve consumed. It’s another tie back to Ibsen: what is it that actually lives on in us, lodged there, that we can’t get rid of? And is that detritus the stuff that ultimately doesn’t just haunt us but shuffles us into survival?

Oscar Seagle (baritone) and the Columbia Stellar Quartette sing “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag (And Smile, Smile, Smile)” on Columbia A6028, recorded on January 25, 1918.

Ibsen and Eyre

We encountered Richard Eyre’s revival of Ibsen’s Ghosts in a clip we watched in class to start our discussion of the play. It also came up in a post from earlier this week, “Can you see my ghosts?”, which draws from an interview with Eyre. Thinking about this 2013 version, being screened over a century after the original (written in 1881, first staged in 1882), I was struck by how stories are passed inter-generationally. Eyre’s Ghosts is an adaptation, not a line for line performance of Ibsen’s text. Even the short clip we watched differs significantly from the language used in the 19th century English translation of the original. This made me think about contagion in regard to how certain stories get transmitted over time, in the form of a cultural inheritance. Ghosts was a groundbreaking play, better appreciated in retrospect. It went on to become a great work for many. It has literally lingered in the theatrical imagination. In a sense, it has infected this imagination, becoming part of a large corpus of celebrated stories told on stage.

However, what interests me is Eyre’s choice to change around the language of the piece (a full version of which is available at to better suit modern audiences. He edited and rewrote Ibsen to convey the idea at the center of the work more accessibly. Even though the core elements and themes of the play stayed fixed, and remain relevant in today’s world, the way these are expressed needed modification, in Eyre’s eyes. The argument is that the 21st century now has a version of Ghosts that appeals to it more naturally, and this is a good thing.

This raises questions and concerns. Firstly, if Ghosts is a great play, why does it need modern adaptation, especially in the same medium it was originally meant to be seen in. Classics are considered great in their particularity, isn’t changing things a disservice to the writer who created it?

Secondly, the idea of a contagious piece of literature seems like one way to understand the spread of ideas in texts over time and space, but what about the differing expectations from and responses to literary works in new settings? Eyre’s version of Ghosts is still Ibsen’s play – which is in itself complicated, given the differences in language leading us to wonder whether dialogue or story beats find prominence here – but it is also not. What happens when something spreads, such as a disease, but manifests itself differently in specific contexts? Also, since the 21st century Ghosts is different from the 19th century one, in content and response, why should they be the same play if so much has changed in between?  This is similar to the question of inheritance between Oswald and his father, where similarities exist, but questions remain to how alike they are in their ways, and who we is more redeemable, or at least more worthy of empathy?

Bound in the past, loom of the future

Ibsen’s Ghosts is a dramatic play that centers around the theme of family and inheritance. There are also other themes such as the role of women, power, and hierarchy that are present throughout the play, and all these themes are presented to the audience through the drama of the Alving family and their interactions with each other. In this play, most characters have a profound role that emphasizes their existence and their decisions are impactful that pushes the events of the play forward. Mrs Alving and Oswald have a somewhat complicated relationship – there is love, fear, protection, possession, tenderness, and confession. Mrs Alving goes through a long journey and makes decisions to protect her son and save him from inheriting anything from his father. Inheritance in this play involves what can be tangibly inherited such as a house, furniture, clothes, and money. The other type and most critical in this play is the intangible inheritance such as inheriting characteristics, personality traits, ideas, and tradition. In this review article, Hossain talks about the Hereditary Genetics and explores it through Ibsen’s play. He says “hereditary character of any kind is not an entity or unit which is handed down from generation to generation, but is rather a method of reaction of the organism to the constellation of external environmental factors under which the organism lives”. Looking at this definition through the lens of the play, Mrs Alving sent Oswald away early in age so he does not inherit or take upon the ideology that circulated their house. At the same time, while Oswald was away in another different environment, he was exposed to a lifestyle and adopted ideas that might not necessarily be accepted or appropriate at his original home. The environmental factors here are mixed up with Oswald, so where exactly does he lie within that spectrum? It is interesting, the fact that “most conventional genetic studies of human behavior are biased in which they include cultural transmission in the estimation of heritability, treating the situation as though cultural differences were genetic in origin”. This drives us to think about what exactly is going on in Oswald’s mind and where does the equilibrium between his foreign ideas and what he inherits lie?

The Sins of the Father…

Image result for ibsen ghosts

In this play, one of the most present themes throughout the novel is how the mistakes and beliefs of the parents are passed on to the children. In other words, as the Biblical saying says, “the sins of the father will be visited among the children”. Moreover, besides these abstract inheritances, Oswald’s syphilis is assumed by the context of the text to be congenital, meaning actually genetically inherited from his parents. That is why the doctor in Paris says that “the sins of the father visit the son” when providing a diagnosis to Oswald, as he believes the father’s mistakes came upon the son represented through syphilis, which ironically can also be genetically passed down. When I first read this line, the first thing that came to mind was how similar this story was to a novel I read in high school called Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. In the book, the two main characters and tragic lovers, Heathcliff and Catherine,  pass on their mistakes and misfortunes to their descendants. Specifically, Heathcliff’s despicable nature after losing Catherine leads him to raise a son, though not his biologically, in terrible conditions, making him suffer what he had gone through at the hands of this boy’s biological father. In other words, paying for the sins of his father, who made Heathcliff’s life miserable. Moreover, Heathcliff’s own biological son died young from an undisclosed disease, which shares a lot of similarities with Oswald’s situation. Even though not explicitly mentioned, Heathcliff’s son probably died of a disease given to him by God due to the mistakes of his father. In reality, this was probably not the case, but considering the circumstances and the main theme that the descendants had to pay for their ancestors, this could have been included as part of it. Thus, similar to Ibsen’s idea of Ghosts (ideas, mistakes, beliefs) being transferred to the children, Bronte’s idea of misfortunes transferring and “history repeating itself in an endless cycle”  lead to that same theme of the sins of the father visited among the children. Nonetheless, while Bronte’s book ended on a good note with the children having a happy ending, in Ibsen’s play, the child didn’t have that luck.

Can you see my ghosts?

Richard Eyre was the director of Ibsen’s Ghosts at the BAM Harvey Theater in 2015. In this interview he is asked “Why do people have to write plays which are so sad?”  He answers that “that is what art is about… perceiving pieces of the world that can’t be put together in any other way.” He is touching on the ability to put yourself in the mind of the ‘other’, and by being able to do this, you are learning how to empathize with other people. The ability to empathize is important, especially in our class conversations about the ghosts of our pasts being represented through tradition or culture. Being able to empathize with the ‘other’ also lends to more meaningful self-reflection which can help us answer questions about what it is like to be haunted by these ghosts which Ibsen is trying to call to our attention. Plays like these allow us to access worlds of tragedy, and through characters in plays, we are given many versions of the ‘other’. Particularly in Ibsen’s play, we are presented with several characters, all which are vastly different than the others, and each one playing an important role and representing a clear perspective from society. Manders and Oswald clearly represent two clashing perspectives about society, Oswald is a young, modern artist who doesn’t think twice about couples who aren’t married but are living together, while Manders represents the traditionalist and religious point of view. Both of them vying for influence over Mrs. Alving. These characters allow us to explore the sentiments of people which arise during times of hardship and controversy. These sad plays are important because, as in the words of Eyre, they “show us individuals, who are not like ourselves.” Once we are able to step into the minds of these characters, we can begin to feel as they do, and we can gain a better understanding of what it means for Mrs. Alving to be haunted by her newspaper ghosts; but then, we can begin to ask ourselves what our own ghosts are made of, and where do they come from? Are we all haunted by our cultures? And what does it mean for those who do not have one clear culture, are they haunted by their lack of cultural stability? What do your individual ghosts look like and can you see the ghosts of other people as well? 

Ghosts of Dead Ideas, Lifeless Old Beliefs

Henrik Ibsen was a well-known Norwegian playwright whose plays provide a critical view on 19th-century morality, especially as it pertains to womanhood. His other plays, Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House, both discuss the social norms at the time, which treated women like household objects, potential topics of scandal if they behaved out of the norm. Many of his plays were scandalous at the time, with some theatres refusing to perform his plays in order to not encourage social misbehavior. A Doll’s House, for example, has an alternative ending made by German theatres that implies an eventual reunion between the “dissenting” protagonist, Nora, and her husband, but Ibsen (like most modern audiences) did not consider this a useful or a valid alternative to the themes of his plays. Indeed it can be considered that the outcry against his work, the attempts to hush up taboo subjects such as venereal disease, incest, and female freedom, is precisely in line with the social norms that Ibsen wanted to dredge up and expose to light so that the audience has no choice but to face them. Ibsen’s plays have therefore gained a reputation for being “realistic,” no matter how disquieting the truths may be, and some see them as among the earliest literary case studies for the “modern woman” and “Electra complex.”

Ibsen’s Ghosts is set in late-19th-century Norway in the Alving household. The beginning of the play is set on the day before the opening of “Captain Alving Memorial,” an orphanage Helen Alving — the widow of the Captain — is determined to open in his memory. Upon her meeting with Pastor Manders, who had been helping with the plans for the memorial, she reveals to him that her marriage was far from perfect. Her husband, regarded with respect by the people of his town, had been unfaithful, yet she had stayed with him to prevent a scandal. She then reveals to him that Regine, Mrs. Alving’s maid, who at the beginning of the play was introduced as the daughter of Engstrand, a carpenter helping with the orphanage, is in fact Captain Alving’s bastard child. Captain Alving had an affair with their maid, who soon became pregnant, and Mrs. Alving paid the nurse to begin a relationship with Engstrand and raise the girl as his. Once Alving died, his widow used all his money to build the orphanage, hoping that once it was built and running her son would not inherit anything from his father and they will finally be free. 

Throughout the course of their conversation, the two witness Regine and Oswald, Mrs. Alving’s son, seemingly in a relationship. Stunned, Mrs Alving and Manders try to end the relationship, since the two are siblings, even though they do not know it. Although his mother tries to convince him to end the relationship, Oswald believes that Regine is his salvation. He confesses to his mother that he has been diagnosed with a hereditary illness, and as his father was a great man, he believes he must have contracted Syphilis due to his questionable way of life in Paris. 

As Mrs. Alving contemplates telling Oswald the truth, they suddenly learn that the orphanage had burned down. This only worsens his agony, and his mother finally decides to end his pain and tells him and Regine the truth about their father. Once the truth is revealed, Regine leaves, adding further to Oswald’s pain. Mrs. Alving, determined to care for her son afterwards is shocked when he asks her to help give him a fatal morphine overdose if his disease reaches its final stages. The play then ends in a dramatic scene in which Mrs. Alving is confronted with this decision as her son’s disease quickly progresses.

Ghosts, very likely by design, raises many questions of morality, namely what purpose it serves for the people. Is morality merely a product of society in order to preserve itself? Or is there a universal virtue of morality that seems to fail in special — but possibly common — circumstances? If morality is an important guideline that people should follow, to what extent is it valid across both circumstance and time?

In terms of our overarching theme of Contagion, these questions are undoubtedly in regards to contagion of social norms, especially through generations. The ghosts of the norm created by those that came before us create a society’s burden, which affect us far more realistically and directly than the ghosts of the dead themselves. Can we ever escape from these ghosts? Have we, as a modern society, learnt to recognize and concede to them? Or are we doomed like Oswald, bound to death by burdens that realistically should have no bearing on us? 

Ibsen presents many different aspects of his characters, particularly those of women. There is an inherent sacrificial and selfless element that is an expectation in each of the female characters. Was Mrs. Alving a devoted wife, a responsible mother? Was Regine wrong to not agree to leave with her father, knowing fully well that he was a deceitful person? This paper divides itself to spell out features of an ideal woman, as a person, a daughter, a mother and a wife. But no matter how one acts in the scenario presented, it is almost impossible to fit the “ideal” image. This is particularly evident when analyzing Mrs. Alving’s character. From a societal point of view, there is an expectation to hide the flaws of one’s husband and present the best possible image. Yet, when reading the play, there is an urge that one has to stop Mrs. Alving from presenting such a false reputation of her husband to the entire world. This paper walks us through the many ways that the women of the play try hard to fit the criteria of “perfection,” but fail to do so not because of their shortcomings, but because of the preposterous expectations of society. 

In relation to a previous post on Ghosts, the overarching theme of 19th-century immorality is what encapsulates the entire character of ghosts in the play. With inadvertent critiques on filial piety, or societal standards constantly being made such as those found within Ibsen’s work, the shackles of the past are slowly loosened. As with Regine, social standards are questioned, and within time society will soon disregard them, but as with any contagious disease, if it’s not fought it will once again prevail.

Seeing is believing

In The Ghost Map, Johnson mentions how even highly respected doctors and other intellectuals were prone to the miasma theory, rarely challenging the notion that cholera was directly caused by the polluted air in a space or the stench of sewage that consumed London. The insistence on this theory was a result of the sway that our olfactory organs have over our body, often inducing involuntary reactions, such as vomiting when smelling rotten food or human excrement; as the terrible odour omnipresent in London was so powerful,  it was difficult for inhabitants not to blame it for their sickness. In one way, they were right, as the smell alluded to the lack of waste management that had allowed cholera a comfortable and productive stay. However, what Londoners were ignoring was the purpose of our sense of smell, due to evolution, as identifying warning signs, and not as identifying the root of the problem.

Since the time of cholera, we have evolved in other ways, too. John Snow was initially deterred from his theory about Broad Street water being the source of the cholera spread as it was much clearer and had a less offensive smell than water from other wells – how could it be worse when it looked better? The average modern reader, however, would not be discouraged by the development in his research. Through education, and perhaps the internet, we have accelerated the evolution of our perception of the world around us. It is true that cholera is still invisible to the naked eye, however, we are well-informed about its existence and have such confidence in the science of today, that our belief in it makes it visible to us. In some aspects, it is similar to the faith that religious followers have, where one can believe without physical proof – although it is possible to see microbes with recent contemporary technology, most of us have not.

I would like to draw our attention to the Arabic work “thurrah” (ذَرّة ), which is used in a surah (10:61) in the Quran. “Thurrah” used to be understood as either a type of small ant, or “grain”, or “maize”; in recent translations of the Quran, it is translated as “atom”. The atom had not been discovered when the Quran was written, and the cause of the changing explanations is that it was interpreted as referring to the smallest possible entity. With technological advances, our view of this text has changed in regards to the mental image it creates. It is symbolic of a shift in consciousness.

We have become accustomed to the idea that many of the most powerful forces on Earth are invisible – gravity, the internet, holes in the Ozone layer. Because of this psychological shift in perception, it is not only hard for the reader to imagine Snow’s confusion after comparing water from different wells, but also his understanding of the world and the smallest possible particles.

Most of what we hold to be true – facts about the world we live in – we have never seen with our own eyes. I wonder how our confidence in these “facts” has really altered our psychology and philosophy. Have we become more or less likely to seek out proof for new information – especially with the rise of “fake news” and the current mistrust of media? Do we have more trust in governmental organisations, assuming they know more than us? How have ideas of God or Gods changed with our changing frameworks?

The Urban Dialectic

Johnson, in the beginning pages of the book, presents us with several different accounts of the cholera outbreak, each building on the changes the other has led to. He talks of institutional changes in London politics as prices for nightsoil-men services has gone up; he mentions how such changes led to cesspools being clogged, and to the new sewer renovations; the renovations then influence waste disposal to affect water at the Broad Street Pump, which leads to the Lewis baby getting infected…and so on and so forth.

A similar trend can be found even in the unraveling of the cholera outbreak. Snow’s findings lead to reactions from the government, which in turn pique Farr and Whitehead’s interests – they, in their efforts to disprove Snow, happen upon their own realizations of the truth, and the leading chain of actions again feeds off of one another.

In observing the narrative style that Johnson selects, the idea of the dialectic comes to mind. The idea of the Hegelian dialectic shows that when a thesis is proposed, it is met with an antithesis, and the interaction between them results in a synthesis – which then meets its own antithesis, and so forth. The idea of the dialectic ties into the what Johnson wants to deliver to us – the urban dialectic, or the idea of the city as an entity unto itself. The compilation of individual choices interacting with one another – the constant interaction between thesis and antithesis – morphs the city from a simple collection of individual decisions to a separate entity that seems to make its own decisions – the synthesis.

Johnson further extends the idea of the city as a living entity in showcasing a sort of temporal network. Decisions made by previous cities have an impact in the decisions of cities in the future, and a network is established between the past and present, between two living cities.

What other networks can we see in Johnson’s text that has been influenced by the idea of the dialectic? Do they reinforce the idea of living cities, or do they espouse different conceptions of urban life?

A Triptych of Unfortunate Events

Early on in the book, Johnson takes his time to explain the significance of toshers during the Victorian era – specifically the ‘night-soil men’. In those times, cities such as London did not have a formal system for waste management or recycling, and one of the biggest problems Victorian Londoners faced was human waste. With the help of people like the toshers who scavenged the sewers of London, waste was effectively collected and recycled. Among these toshers, were the night-soil men whose business grew with the rise of cesspools around the city, piled with human excrement. A night-soil man’s job entailed emptying cesspits and transporting all the excrement collected to the countryside where it was used as fertilizer. The more waste was managed by the night-men, the higher population density got, and so did the excrement, giving the night-men an incentive to raise their prices until no one could afford them. Thus, a cholera outbreak occurred.

Reindert Leonard Falkenburg interpreted the artwork above, The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych by the artist Hieronymus Bosch, as the fate of humanity. Although this theme is discussed in the context of religion, marriage, and sinful pleasure, this concept could if taken broadly, be applied to The Ghost Map. Think about the night-men and the cycle that led to the chaos and catastrophe that was caused by cholera.

What other aspects or narratives from The Ghost Map could this triptych further reflect? Is it also in the realm of “the fate of humanity” as Falkenburg mentioned? If yes, in what way?


Johnson’s book evolves much like the bacteria he describes within it. Every chapter brings forth new elements, incorporating a multitude of macro-level and micro-level components which seem to build off one another in a fascinating way. The author’s “bird’s-eye view” of storytelling is enthralling. One cannot get much further than the next page before being pulled into another relationship, each building on the last into a vast network. One of the many roles that Johnson tasks the reader with is the identity of an explorer. It is up to the reader/individual and the class/collective to uncover what is hidden in the shadows of Johnson’s story. 

Though the multifaceted and multidisciplinary approach to storytelling is exciting, it can often be disorienting. Am I connecting the dyads which need to be connected? Why is Johnson sharing this part of the story with me? How does his manner of storytelling affect how I understand London’s epidemic? Certainly, the plethora of questions that fall from the pages should all be addressed, but it is worth stepping back from the streets of London to analyze just why Johnson decided to tell this story in the dramatized form he does.

Radiolab’s 2011 podcast entitled “Patient Zero” demonstrates much like Johson’s The Ghost Map a multidimensional approach to addressing the origin of a disease. In this case HIV/AIDS. In many ways Johnson’s storytelling functions much like a podcast:

The reader is able to create a world in their head, in a very detective-esque manner. The reader could create detective mind maps in their head, complete with push-pins and yarns connecting the characters and places together.

(What Are We Going To Do With All This Sh*t?)

Within the medium of the podcast, the reader transforms into the listener. In what way does this distinction change the flow of information which we digest?

While the format may seem to dramatize the story of AIDS and cholera, it is in fact, the opposite. Both parties demonstrate the realistic manner in which these diseases unfolded in our world. By telling each story in a ‘hyper-focused,’ yet “bird’s-eye view,” the reader/listener pieces together the intricacies of these two mysteries. We, the reader, become part of the story. We are put on the streets of London, walking alongside Snow and Whitehead. Equally, Radiolab’s podcast positions the listener in a similar heightened state of absorption. Ultimately, both “Patient Zero” and The Ghost Map recreate an active network instead of a passive one. As much as the events described were in the past, they become to the reader, a present. As a result of this experienced dualism, the reader/listener experiencing both the past and present simultaneously, the individual is inevitably forced to make comparisons to their own societies.

Have the societies we live in today altered? Are we still victims of our own illnesses? To our own self-made contagions?