Author: am6277

If fiction is not horrifying enough take a look at reality: ebola

The Hot Zone explores a world of the highly infectious diseases that fall under the classification of filoviruses. The three viruses that fall under this category are Ebola Zaire, Ebola Sudan, and Marburg. Being nonfiction, the book seeks to be informative and accurate. It begins with the story of Charles Monet, a Frenchman that worked in a sugar factory in Kenya. Through the character of Charles Monet, we are introduced to the disease, and the way it spreads, as seen on page 16

“A hot virus from the rain forest lives within a twenty-four-hour plane flight from every city on earth. All of the earth’s cities are connected by a web of airline routes. The web is a network. Once a virus hits the net, it can shoot anywhere in a day – Paris, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, wherever planes fly. Charles Monet and the life form inside him had entered the net”

Throughout the book Preston compares the instances in Africa to the discoveries occurring in the America and Europe. He alternates between the stories of hospitals that become infected in regions such as Congo to the vials of blood serum that are sent off to the CDC in Atlanta. This allows us to see the disease in a broader sense, rather than a simply isolated issue taking place in one country. A large part of the book is devoted to exploring the origin of the disease. A few portions of the book look at the possibility that Ebola could be the cause of the end of humanity. How does Preston’s description of the contractibility of AIDS allow readers to perceive the disease? Does the notion that Ebola being an airborne disease evoke a sense of urgency in Preston’s descriptions of transmission?

The disease is spoken about in excruciatingly gruesome terms. We are made aware of the red and black substance excreted from the mouth, the skin peeling off the skin and genitals, the liquefaction of the liver and many other effects the disease causes. The way in which the disease is spoken about varies from explicit details written to horrify us to biological explanations of the disease as a strand of RNA possessing the strain of the virus. Alternating between scenes of people’s deaths as a result of blood splattering from their bodies to the zone 4 area in which Nancy worked in displays separate approaches to disease, allowing us to recognize the way regular people versus medical professionals view it. How do these distinct accounts allow us, as readers, to reflect on our own response to disease? Also, in various parts of the novel, the disease is described by military biohazard specialists as a metaphor for a plane.

Like in many other works we have already taken a look at, the disease is euphemized. Rather than being called its true name, it is referred to as “the epidemic” in French. This was seen in Black Hole when the STD was referred to as ‘the bug’. Similarly, to other novels, the disease is assigned its own agency in The Hot Zone. This can be seen on page 24.

 “Having destroyed its host, the hot agent is now coming out of every orifice, and is ‘trying’ to find a new host.” 

Not only does it act as an independent body, but also, it acts as a transformative disease. Once it infects people, they change into a new person.

“His personality is being wiped away by which the liveliness and details of character seem to vanish. He is becoming an automaton. Tiny spots in his brain stem are liquefying. The higher functions of consciousness are winking out first, leaving the deeper parts of the brain stem (the primitive rat brain, the lizard brain) still alive and functioning. It could be said that the who of Charles Monet has already died while the what of Charles Monet continues to live” 

The way the book is narrated is different from the previous works we have studied, for example there are constant references to the sources of information in order to maintain the work’s credibility. Preston often states who told him the information, and whether he interviewed the person, or he is simply speculating. The book sometimes asks questions, “Did Monet put his hand in the ooze?” (page 16) What effect do the questions have on the readers? Do the questions allow readers to engage in the story? Does the self-reflection of the book causes it to be more credible? 

On page 81, we are made to reflect on our relation with the disease and other creatures around us.

“They were two human primates carrying another primate. One was the master of the earth, or at least believed himself to be, and the other was a nimble dweller in trees, a cousin of the master of the earth. Both species, the human and the monkey, were in the presence of another life form, which was older and more powerful than either of them, and was a dweller in blood”.

How do we, as humans, place in the biological process of the world? Are we really the ‘masters of the earth’? Is Preston satirizing humanity?


Take care guys,

Azmyra, Maisie, Sharon and Laura

Androgyny in the 70s

Our discussion in class today lead to the topic of gender and sexuality in Black Hole. From the very beginning, in ‘Biology 101’, we are exposed to the gender roles in society. Being called ‘pussy’ and other female derogatory terms reminds us of the common notion of females being inferior. Furthermore, Keith feels as though he should be tough during the dissection simply because he is a man. In our discussion today, we established that many characters look alike. The genders of the characters are often indistinguishable simply through their physical appearance. Names are also used interchangeably between males and females (such as Chris). Due to the time period in which it took place, the 70s, it is clear that the surrounding society greatly impacted the mixed gender outcome. The following article discusses androgyny and its relationship with characteristics of an individual

“Research studies have shown associations between androgyny and a wide range of positive outcomes such as self-esteem, satisfaction with life, marital satisfaction, subjective feelings of well-being, ego identity, parental effectiveness, perceived competence, achievement motivation, cognitive complexity when evaluating careers, cognitive flexibility, and behavioral flexibility.”

It is interesting to think about this in terms of the characters in Black Hole. The theme of individuality and conformity plays a role in what the article states. The positive outcomes of ‘self-esteem’, ‘subjective feelings of well-being’ and other features can be seen as enforcing individualism. Chris displays this behavior by going for a swim despite the fact that no other girls are going. On the other hand, however, most characters that are infected with “the bug” do not seem to be “satisfied with life” at all, thus they indulge in bad habits. Even though the article does not reflect the characters behavior very accurately, it is interesting because it gives some context to the time period.

Censorship & Identity – Post Apartheid South Africa

Welcome to Our Hilbrow describes itself as “a novel of Post apartheid South Africa”. Throughout the novel, we are able to observe the effect of the Apartheid on society, and the remnants with regards to the political situation. During the post apartheid time period, the issue of censorship remains predominant in the daily lives of the people. We find that publishers did not permit writing in the ‘African language’, and rather, texts should be written in English or Afrikaans. The novel describes how taboo subjects can be spoken about in Afrikaans, however it is banned in the native language. This is reflected in the following passage (pg. 56)

 “She did not know that writing in an African language in South Africa could be such a curse… Calling shit and genitalia by their correct names in Sepedi was apparently regarded as vulgar by these reviewers, who had for a long time been reviewing works of fiction for educational publishers and who were determined to ensure that such works did not offend the systems that they served. These systems were very inconsistent in their attitudes to education. They considered it fine, for instance, to call genitalia by their correct names in English and Afrikaans biology books – even gave these names graphic pictures and escorts – yet in all other languages, they criminalised such linguistic honesty…Now, for nearly fifty years, the system of Apartheid had been confusing writers in this way. Trying to make them believe that euphemism equals good morals.”

 It is important to remember the context of post Apartheid South Africa. In the book The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and Its Cultural Consequences, the author

“reveals that apartheid’s censors saw literature as central to creating a white and largely Afrikaans national identity… the banning of books, the listing of authors, the use of state oppression, and the constrictions of self-censorship were aimed at erasing the very idea of a nonracial South Africa …black writers were always treated more harshly, and this undermined the possibility of cross-racial alliances. Es’kia Mphahlele warned against “sink[ing] to the degenerate level of Afrikaans writers in South Africa who have always censored themselves and not dared to challenge the government” (176).”

This is clearly reflected in Welcome to our Hilbrow where censorship played a role.



War – romanticism vs reality?

Pale Horse, Pale Rider is set during the time of world war 1, playing a prominent role throughout the novel. Typically, war is romanticized; people see war as an opportunity to prove their worth, and to display their patriotism. The notion of fighting for one’s country is an ideal that is greatly upheld by young men in the country. The concept of war is glorified, and everyone unites in the effort to win. Distinct gender roles are defined during the period of war: women are said to nurse the wounded, whilst men are out fighting.

In Pale Hose, Pale Rider, we encounter varying perspectives on war. Miranda, the protagonist, displays her distaste for war ideals. She does not agree with the propaganda that is put forth, and calls the men “liars”, she further concludes that the “…skulking about, and the lying” are results of “what the war does to the mind and the heart”. Ironically, on the other hand, Adam feels the duty to go to war. This strong contrast in the mindsets displays the division of what people believed.

This presence of war throughout Pale Horse, Pale Rider is explored in the following book (page 218)


Embracing Etiology in Arthur Mervyn

Etiology, defined as the ‘the causation of diseases and disorders as a subject of investigation’, is a predominant feature throughout Arthur Mervyn. From the very beginning of the memoir, we learn that Stevens does not believe in the conventional superstitious remedies of ‘gun-powder, vinegar or tar’, but rather, he believed in the need for ‘cleanliness, reasonable exercise, and wholesome diet’. In other sections of the book however, the other side of the coin is demonstrated: streets are deserted, families abandon one another, workers are not cared for (as shown in the case of Wallace), and interaction between people is avoided.

The conceptions on the origin of the disease stem from two main sources: the first being contagion, and the other being environmentalists. Stevens and Medlicote, the two physicians introduced in Volume 1 argued against contagion. The thoughts and theories regarding the origin of the disease greatly affect the population: as soon as Medlicote comforts Mervyn against the contagionist theory, Mervyn describes a physical well being. This goes to show how the mental conception of the disease affects the physical body; it parallels the view we discussed in class regarding a ‘social disease’ whose root is rumor. The rumor of contagion caused the sick to ‘die of negligence’ rather than disease itself; and the description of the disease is repeatedly mentioned as a ‘tale’. The situation is described:


“the disease created a psychic environment of heightened anxiety and nagging uncertainty, presenting Philadelphia’s denizens with a particularly horrific set of phenomena for which no satisfactory explanation could be given. This sense of uncertainty, of anxiety over the causes of appearances, pervades the first half of Arthur Mervyn”