“In 1998, Li became the governor of Henan, one of the most populous provinces in China, which was also one of the areas most devastated by HIV/AIDS. During his stint, there were criticisms related to an HIV/AIDS outbreak linked to local blood banks. State-run media attributed the disease’s spread to“illegal blood sales and contaminated blood transfusions.” The central government began tightening controls over the business in the mid-1990s once more was known about HIV and how the virus is spread.”
The firewalking ritual occurs on the Day of Ashura, a Sh’ia celebration. The Sh’ia population in India is a minority group, with approximately 50 million followers and is a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Hussain Ibn Ali (credits to Wikipedia).
Here are some images of Sh’ia Muslims marking the occasion around the world, the images are quite graphic but each ties back to the notion of trying to inflicting pain on oneself in order to get a sense of the pain and grief that Hussain suffered.
The tradition of fire-walking can be seen in a number of religious practices, including orthodox Christianity, Hinduism and Sh’ia Islam. This ritual draws attention to the role of religion in the novel – Ma Franci as a Christian missionary, Hindu teachings are pervasive and also Sh’ia Islam which plays a role.
Animal is quite adamant that his participation is not for religious reasons (215), but I don’t think it is entirely for the sake of preserving his honour. I think it also the notion of promises, which Elli introduces to him and he is fixated over, constantly trying to find how music (the meaning of life to Somraj) and promise (the meaning of life to Elli) intersect. At one point, as he is preparing to make the trip across, he says, “nothing is going to stop me keeping my word” (214).
In other traditions, walking on fire is considered to be a ‘rite of passage’ and so considering the positioning of this passage, just before Animal’s disappointment at being labelled “unique” by Nisha (223) this element of proving oneself is certainly at play. Does fact that he falls and does not himself complete the ritual mean that he has failed in ‘becoming human’?
This essay draws connections from Blindness to a number of contemporary thinkers, trends and of course, works of literature. Including a small section that looks at both the Plague and Lord of the Flies comparisons that we made also in class.
“The novel can also be interpreted and taught from a philosophical and existential standpoint. Some may want to compare this novel to Camus’, The Plague (1947/ 1991), particularly regarding the insistence upon absurd logic in the face of an epidemic. From this perspective, Blindness is an allegory about the human condition. In the absence of social or cultural norms, we understand more clearly the core of humanity. Saramago’s harsh depiction of violence, rape, and loss of dignity reinforces pessimistic accounts about the cruelty of humankind.
The novel also alludes to Social Darwinist notions of the survival of the fittest. In this instance, one could compare Blindness to Lord of the Flies (1954) to discuss the implications of such an evolutionary (and eugenic) vision of society. In the novel, when all are equally blinded, power is exerted by means of force. Men with weapons rape women. Stronger men control the food supply. Yet, others with scarce resources share them with others. Thus, the novel can be construed as a reactionary moral tale of good and evil, but also reflects the humanity and kindness people can embody.”
The analysis is very shallow however and I think the remainder of the essay is more fruitful for discussion.
Also, the title in Portugese is “Ensaio sobre a cegueira” which means ‘an Essay on Blindness’.
Thomas Mann’s protagonist, Aschenbach, is a complex character with an obsessive, artistic nature. Aschenbach has a clearly defined view of beauty and his concept is fully represented by the beauty of the boy, Tadzio:
“It was the face of Eros, with the yellow gaze of Parian marble, with delicate and serious brows, the temples and ears richly and rectangularly framed by soft, dusky curls.” (25)
There is an infatuation with Tadzio, with his appearance comparable to flawless marble and the Greek god of love. Initially, the descriptions of Tadzio looks seem to be as an art critic assessing a masterpiece; however it quickly develops into an obsession for Aschenbach. This obsession is highlighted when he claims he was glad to return to Venice, after nearly moving on, because he could watch the boy more. As well as in the quote, when talking about Tadzio, the narrator/thoughts of Aschenbach’s mind cite Greek gods to shed light on emotions “the smile of Narcissus” (43), a beautiful youth condemned by the Greek gods for falling in love with his own reflection.
Aschenbach’s lengthy ruminations on beauty and its relation to how it relates to art, age, spirituality and sexuality frames, particularly, the second half of Death in Venice. He is aroused from his critical and disinterested characterisations of fellow tourists by a sighting of Tadzio, a “beautiful” young Polish boy on whom he soon becomes transfixed. Tadzio is young, feminine looking (“beautiful”) and saliently, free in action and in dress, especially when compared with his well-groomed and constantly monitored sisters. Aschenbach sees a path to divine writing in the boy’s beautiful aesthetic,
“He wanted to work here in the presence of Tadzio, to use the boy’s physical frame as the model for his writing, to let his style follow the lines of that body that seemed to him divine, to carry his beauty into the realm of intellect as once the eagle carried the Trojan shepherd into the ethereal heavens.” (39)
Aschenbach’s transformation comes from his feeling of “a need to restore and revive his body” (58). The language regarding his old appearance is very negative: “he confronted the tortured gaze of his image in the mirror” (58). Seeing such beauty in youth, Aschenbach now feels he must emulate youthfulness and has his hair and complexion altered; as mentioned, this is similar to the man he criticised before who he considered a “bizarre distortion” (15, aka a Beast). Interestingly, the barber says, “Will you allow me to give you back what is rightfully yours?” (58) This directly relates to Aschenbach’s previous questioning of the impersonators right to dress and socialise in a ‘youthful’ manner.
Aschenbach’s attraction to the boy turns out to be fatal however. The trajectory of his sickness begins as he arrives in Venice and thus sees the boy, then immediately following his profession of love for the boy, the notion of a plague-like disease is first mentioned and then finally as the boy seems to officially invite Aschenbach’s affection, the “lonely traveller” dies.
I felt there was a neat connection between some of the poems found here and the Second Part to Arthur Mervyn, (shades of Arthur Mervyn and his being shot)
“Doctors raving and disputing, death’s pale army still recruiting–
What a pother
One with t’other!
Some a-writing, some a-shooting.”
– Philip Freneau Philadelphia, 1793
however what is more revealing are the discrepancies between Arthur Mervyn and some of these works that illustrate a more intense scene of chaos and despair than in Arthur Mervyn where often plague takes a back seat to character conflict.
Hot, dry winds forever blowing,
Dead men to the grave-yards going:
Oh! what plagues—there is no knowing!
– Philip Freneau Philadelphia, 1793
Also, with an eye to the medical aspect of the plague and the passage where Arthur journeys to Baltimore, it is interesting to note the actual symptoms of yellow fever which include “brain dysfunction, including delirium, seizures and coma” but also that there are two distinct stages of the disease in between which there is a brief respite where all the symptoms all but disappear, a bizarre ‘eye of the storm’, if you like.