Author: mis303

Yan Lianke: Censorship and Self-Censorship

Despite Yan Lianke’s self-proclaimed efforts to have heavily self-censored his own book as an attempt to evade censorship and reach out to the wider Chinese population, “Dream of Ding Village” was soon banned after it was first published in Hong Kong in 2006 by the Chinese government. As the Washington Post quotes, Lianke claims to have “crafted [Dream of Ding Village] as a fantasy and so clearly fictitious that he hopes it will escape the censor’s veto.”

In an interview with the Guardian, Lianke expresses his apprehension towards his own self-sensorship, stating that “[his] greatest worry is that self-censorship has drained [his] passion and dulled [his] sharpness.”

Lianke perceives his book to be a social commentary on the rapid development of China and its toil on the wellbeing of the Chinese people, a tradeoff the people have made in the name of progress.

“Dream of Ding Village” has caused other problems for Lianke, such a legal dispute between him and his publisher “for failing to pay a promised advance on his royalties and a donation to the village where the book was researched.”

It’s a loaded book with a history of its own, and what we’re reading may be the regrets of Lianke of his failed efforts to self-censor himself for the sake of avoiding censorship. Ultimately, he implies to have lost both the quality he could’ve offered with his detail in writing, let alone a wider reach to the public.

Perestroika: Blurred Lines

Perestroika is to restructure. The title alludes to the 1986 Law aimed to reform the Soviet government and the Communist Party brought about due to the end of the Cold War. The title foreshadows change throughout Act 2 of the play. It could suggest the blurring of lines and the breaking of borders, a step towards this so-called “cosmopolitanism” – and could also be hinting at the core irony of US’ “success” in the Cold War, as despite its political triumph, America was turmoiled with an internal revolution: a social and ideological revolution led by those excluded by the white, protestant, and heterosexual America. In Perestroika, the blurring of lines becomes startlingly apparent through the genderlessness of angels, sexual fluidity amongst characters, the distinguishment (or non-distinguishment) of dreams/hallucinations and reality. Social structures are also prone to restructurization, as seen through the pervasiveness of HIV across social structures, essentially minimizing the differences among people. Roy is wealthy, but dies. Prior, who comes from an affluent family, but owns little assets himself, survives for at least another five years. The contagion can cause a little revolution in society…

Through many identities portrayed in Perestroika, Kushner captures the polarized, yet functional cultural landscape of American society. There are many identities shown in the second part of Kushner’s book. Black and white, straight and gay, rich and poor, Jewish, Mormons, politically-connected people, and normal citizens.  When Louis finds out that Joe is a Mormon, which he describes as “some bizarre religious sect” (186), Joe becomes instantly defined by this label. Even when Joe talks about the US as the “Best place on earth. Best place to be” (203), which may appeal to Joe and Luis’s common identity as Americans, Luis cuts Joe short by saying “OY. A Mormon” (203). Kushner emphasizes the labels by capitalizing phrases, such as Prior’s description of Joe, “A Gay Mormon Republic Lawyer” (220). Belize faces constant derision from Roy for his race, and says “I am trapped in a world of white people. That’s my problem” (225). This is another instance of a character’s life deeply affected by their identity, without their ability to be able to affect it. So why is this relevant? The US is often regarded as the melting pot of nations. However, the play shows American society – as represented by NYC society – as quite polarized. Racism, anti-semitism and homophobia are very present, even in the liberal atmosphere of NYC. This can be viewed as a criticism of the American culture. On the other hand, Kushner shows an interesting paradox: even though the characters have distinct identities, they manage to get along at their gathering at Bethesda.

An interesting take on American society is depicted by the Angel who tells Prior about the detrimental effect human progress has brought to Heaven and encourages him to become a reactionary prophet. They want humanity to go back and settle down, because society’s movement has caused God to leave paradise. He changed the Angels for Men.

“Forsake the Open Road:
Neither Mix Nor Intermarry: Let Deep Roots Grow:
if you do not MINGLE you will Cease to Progress”

For centuries, America has supported its expansion policy at home (emigration to the West) and their intervention abroad to spearhead lead the road to freedom and democracy.  However, according to the Angels (and think of this in terms of the Mormon elements in the play) such progress is rather undesirable. This makes sense insofar as, for many of the characters of the play, progress has brought about great disappointment.  Harper, Joe, Prior and Belize are not all that happy in America.

“It’s a Promised land, but
what a disappointing
promise!” (196)

“I hate America, Lous. I hate this country. It’s just big ideas, and stories, and people dying, and people like you. The white cracker who wrote the national anthem knew what he was doing. He set the word ‘free’ to a note so high nobody can reach it” (228)

So the question stands: is perestroika – is change – desirable? Are the angels – the divine – stating the greater truth? Could it be that change brings about more drawbacks than benefits in society? Is freedom achievable in any society?

Who is Albert Camus? What’s his Philosophy?

We know his play is based on the events of WWII and the German occupation of France during the time of the World War. But how much do we really know about Camus?

Due to tuberculosis, Camus had to quit playing football in university, but was still successful at attaining a degree in Philosophy. Camus was highly involved with politics, having been a member of the Communist party and the Algerian People’s party during his student years. Later, alike his colleague Jean-Paul Sartre (fellow philosopher) Camus published a political commentary regarding the World War 2. Camus directed Combat, the French Resistance journal against WWII and resigned from it once it became commercial.

In 1949, when Camus experienced a relapse with his illness, tuberculosis, he lived in seclusion for 2 years, writing The Rebel, expressing his rejection of communism; but why? Wasn’t he a part of the Communist party? Camus had later been expelled from the Communist party due to his affiliation with the Algerian People’s Party and moved on to be part of the anarchist movement.

What does this suggest about Camus’ philosophy, and more specifically, his political philosophy? Many of Camus’ ideas are in line with existentialist thought, but there are significant differences in his personal philosophy such as a “benign indifference” as discussed in his work, The Stranger.

What is clear is that Camus seems to be an odd egg; he acts against the existing regime, as shown with his opposition against the German opposition, but what’s more interesting is that even amongst his fellow rebels, Camus doesn’t seem to belong. Perhaps this is why scholars often refer to him as an “absurdist.” Perhaps this reflects the level of complexity and unorthodox disposition with which we are to interpret The Plague.

Watch this quirky video analyzing Camus’ philosophy with evidence form Camus’ work previous to The Plague,The Stranger. 


Discrimination Persists in the Face of the Plague

The Gradual Abolition Act, a legislative action moving away from slavery, was passed in the state of Philadelphia in year 1790. Anti-slavery movements were well in motion and progress, and so stood strong the opposition. In year 1793, Philadelphia was the nation’s capital – and most cosmopolitan city in the United States. Internationally renowned physician, Benjamin Rush, asserted in the beginning and middle stages of the epidemic that the African American blacks were immune to the Yellow Fever. The social implications of such an assertion from a renowned scientist and figure in society was huge. Benjamin Rush had previously signed the Declaration of Independence and his studies were supported by his connections in the political and academic world.

This social phenomenon is discussed in detail in page 6 of Katherine Polak’s Perspectives on Epidemic: The Yellow Fever in 1793 Philadelphia:

Mayor Clarkson placed an advertisement in the one city paper that was still in print asking for “the people of colour to come forward and assist the distressed, perishing, and neglected sick.” Africans “were supposed not liable to the infection based on information contained in several published histories of the disease, including one by Dr. Lining of Charleston.

Rush asked members of the Free African Society to take care of the ill and dying whites, which two prominent figures of the black community, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, agreed to do. In November 1793, after the thick of the epidemic, Carey attacks the assistance of these black volunteers in A Short Account of the Malignant Fever, Lately Prevalent in Philadelphia, as discussed in Mona Kolsky’s Philadelphia 1793: Yellow Fever, Race, Medicine and Politics:

He accused them of extortion, theft of property in homes in which they serviced, and overall publicly vilified them. He condemned them for taking money for their services at such a disastrous time. He spoke nothing of white citizens who did the same.

In pg. 41 of Arthur Mervyn, Mervyn states:

I was roused from […] doubts by a summons to breakfast, obsequiously delivered by a black servant.

Evidence from the text suggests racial discrimination against blacks; the black servant is seen to “obsequiously” deliver breakfast to Arthur Mervyn, suggesting a tint of contempt towards the black servant. 

Furthermore, there exists further evidence of discrimination against blacks as discussed in The Middle Passages of Arthur Mervyn by Liam Corley:

Black Philadelphians served as nurses in the Bush Hill hospital and as attendants to Rush’s patients throughout the months of the epidemic despite the evidence that blacks were as likely to die from yellow fever as whites.

It is important to note these said injustices and examine the novel in context of the racial discrimination that plagued society; with assertions that the blacks did not contract the plague in the same manner as whites did, and blacks agreeing to take care of the diseased whites as a service, it poses a question: what is the relationship between a society’s sins and engraved notions in society and the effects of the plague to society? Does it cause tension amidst the social hierarchy; does it encourage further discrimination? Some questions to keep in mind as we move on to observe how the plague affects society…