Author: aam861

AIDS: A Political Plague

Vanity Fair: ‘When AIDS was Funny’- Scott Calonico

Tony Kushner’s Angels in America plays a crucial role in expanding the conversation on AIDS and political partisanship. This is not to argue that Angels in America can only be explained as a political commentary on AIDS because the play is far more than that. However, the production does force the readers to acknowledge the complexities of political partisanship, in light of our own definitions. What does it mean to be conservative? Conversely, how progressive must one be to be considered liberal? Kushner demonstrates the idea of the spectrum in his fantasia-esque masterpiece. More importantly, the play allows us to feel the level of political salience attached to issues like HIV/AIDS, particularly during the 1990s. Thus, the politics in this piece are not a mere opportunity for Kushner to add to the diversity of his characters, rather political affiliations illustrate how much politics can affect national and individual identity. This dynamic has become the status quo even in modern politics (particularly during the Trump Presidency). After looking at Angels in America, one can begin to draw contrasts between the political environment then and now. In doing so, it becomes evident that one leader, or one administration, can deeply affect an entire generation, and such effects are irreversible.

The idea of having a national identity that determines how a ‘silent majority’ is treated has never been clearer than in the Regan Administration. In an ironic documentary titled When AIDS was Funny, Scott Calonico reveals recordings from press meetings, in which Regan responds to the AIDS epidemic. Even with decent knowledge of partisan politics at the time, the response is truly “chilling” and worth comparing with today’s politics. Much of the rhetoric that Regan uses could be utilized by the Trump White House currently- that is the most shocking revelation. President Regan does not only appear to disregard the AIDS epidemic, but explicitly calls it the “gay plague”, and refers to it as a fantasy of the imagination. This response is ironic considering the way in which Angels in America is written. Although today AIDS is addressed publically, and medically, the rhetoric around it remains unchanged. This pushes us to ponder on how far we have actually come, not in a technical sense, but perhaps ideologically? One can only move forward, even when all the odds are actively being stacked against them, and that is one message Angels in America yields form its political instances.  

Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider: An Autobiography About Everyone Else?

Kathrine Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider opens with a lucid stream of consciousness. Throughout the dream sequence, the reader experiences intimate contact with Porter’s immediate thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Interestingly enough, upon waking up, Porter is not free from her morbid dreams of fear and death. As Porter enters a daunting reality, the readers are plunged into an inconsistent stream of consciousness, much like the one in the dream sequence. This experience can be largely attributed to porter’s use of ‘free association’. Originally coined as a Freudian method for psychoanalysis, free association is the act of allowing one’s thoughts to run freely. This technique eliminates the need for consistency in thoughts, thus, allowing the patient (and in this case, the reader) to come to their final conclusions. In many ways, Porter’s use of Free association has the same functionality. Although the reader might sense a lack of structure, they are able to gain the general sentiment, allowing them to feel the stresses of wartime and influenza in the same way.

Conversely, Porter’s use of free association can almost be viewed as out-of-place. In a story that is autobiographical in nature, the reader expects a detailed, linear description of the life and times of Kathrine Porter. Instead, the introspective novella provides an account of Porter’s life through those around her. A few examples of this become apparent the author’s description of the “envious” young couple, and her own interpretations of the characters followed by their dialogue (Porter, 180). This poses some questions to the original motive of Porter’s work; what is the purpose of an autobiography that associates more with the personas of others? How does this perspective give us a different take on disease, and how it is experienced/viewed by others? By manipulating the consciousness of the characters and subsequently, the readers, Porter alludes to a larger purpose, one in which reality is distorted and dysfunctional.

Psychoanalytic Theory- Free Association (Sullivan 2015)

Some Topics to Consider in Johnson’s Ghost Map

In his Ted Talk, Johnson quickly recaps the events of the cholera outbreak in 1854 London and suggests that the outbreak “helped create the world and kind of city that we live in today,” which he also argues in The Ghost Map. After describing all the atrocities of the cholera outbreaks, Johnson suggests that the positive outcome of these outbreaks is that they restructured life in the metropolitan cities making living in them sustainable.

In The Ghost Map, Johnson takes us back to 1854 London, when urban population growth outpaced sanitary infrastructure development. Dumping human waste in water, which came as a result of the ‘Nuisance Act’, led to the deadly cholera outbreak. Overall, Johnson is questioning and historicizing the 1854 cholera outbreak narrative while providing scientific and biological explanations of how things occurred. Johnson touches upon topics including the emergence of sustainable, modern metropolitan living, the tortuous nature of scientific inquiry and the high cost of societal progressions. The book is a mixture of scientific popularization, historical, and novel writing. A major discussion that comes about is that of the different scientific responses to cholera at the time, and contagion theory was the miasma model’s biggest opponent. However, for many reasons, no one but a leading medic (Doctor John Snow) was publicly denouncing miasma and suggesting that cholera is a waterborne disease.

The Ghost Map illustrates how miasmatists such as Edwin Chadwick ignored evidence such as scientific evidence, anecdotes, and statistics in order to argue that the putrid smells in the environment were the roots of the countless deaths. His belief that miasma was the reason behind the spread of cholera was shared by many others because of factors such as tradition, religious practices, and biological explanations of the human brain’s alert system where extreme smells trigger disgust. Along with the lack of scientific advancements where because viewing the microbes was usually inaccessible, the mere act of smelling constituted as believing, and social prejudices, allowed rationalizing and justifying the miasma theory. Identifying the air of London as responsible for the large number of deaths, Chadwick pointed that the removal of noxious smells, sometimes characterized as economic waste, would stimulate this route to public health. It is particularly interesting that as Johnson points out, Chadwick founded many of the basics of our current societal life for example: centralizing bureaucracy, expecting the government to take responsibility for its people’s wellbeing when the free market would dismiss such events, and the need for state investment (113). The great irony of Chadwick’s good intentions is articulated by how his “elaborate scheme would deliver the cholera bacteria directly to the mouth of Londoners” (120).


Johnson reveals the devastating and ironic effects of public policies such as “the Nuisance Act” during a time of scientific confusion. This begs the question: “Who should the public trust in midst of crises?”

Considering that they both share many topics in what they are writing about, from archiving and scientific writing to documenting the narratives of different people and their involvement in the epidemic, how can we compare this book with Defoe’s?

Immunity (As Boccaccio Describes It)

Today’s class discussion on The Decameron touched on a range of topics including fate, fortune, religion, and social hierarchy. However, one topic that could potentially diversify the conversation is that of “immunity.”

As discussed last class, immunity can take on several different forms, and The Decameron proposes an entirely new, and rather contemporary view on the subject matter. Pampinea’s idea to escape to the countryside was an attempt to be rid of the plague and all of its collateral damage, but it was also a mechanism for immunity. After their arrival to the estate, and their role distribution, Pampinea insists that her servants are not to bring “tidings of the world outside these walls unless they are tidings of happiness” (Boccaccio, 21). In the subsequent quote, it is evident that being physically far from the plague is not enough to be immune to it. In broader terms, the effects of the plague are more far-reaching than illness, they bring a type of misery to the body that can consume one’s thoughts, and that too can be all-consuming. Therefore, the idea of immunity in the first introductory story of The Decameron is one that encompasses thoughts, and not just physicality. Furthermore, this illusion of immunity seems to completely isolate sick thoughts, people and behavior from ideas, people, and behavior that is well.

Nevertheless, If the sick are victim to their bodily troubles, then the well are burdened by their guilt and fear-often perpetuated by their immediate surroundings. There is no option for an external force of immunization, but rather the conscious decision to be immune by separation and choice. Such a realization begs to ask certain questions about our modern understanding of immunity. What does it mean to be fully immune? On a more meta level; if one practices positive thoughts, actions, and is separated from extraneous circumstances, can they truly be “sick”?

In this regard, Boccaccio’s description of the plague is far from mystical, yet his remedy for it is quite far-fetched. Hope this expands the conversation we had in class today and poses a new lens for future readings. Thanks!