For the next four classes, we will finally be discussing Kushner’s Angels in America, for which the augmenters’ posts about Wojnarowicz may come into our discussion.
In class, we’ve been talking a lot about contagion narratives and how they’re structured. More specifically, we’ve identified that, for example, the disease is never the main issue but rather is the backdrop as the narrative develops, grappling with various issues related to identity, politics, race, and more. And Angels in America is no exception. In a journal article titled “Cold War Science and the Body Politic: An Immuno/Virological Approach to Angels in America,” Daryl Ogden argues that
Kushner makes visible a Cold War political discourse that underlines the ideological similarities between the McCarthyite 1950s and the Reaganite 1980s, calling attention to the parallels between communism and homosexuality as American identities of otherness and disempowerment. (243)
So, in other words, as Kushner tackles issues of identity and politics, namely homosexuality and communism — and although Ogden does not explicitly state it — while the AIDS epidemic serves as a backdrop.
However, what is even more interesting is that some characters in the play conflate homosexuality and AIDS, much like Reaganite politics conflates the two, calling the epidemic the “gay plague.” But through this conflation, AIDS is not only a backdrop; rather, it is brought to the foreground as a key character in play — except even more pervasive, permeating the whole narrative. In this way, AIDS is both in the background and the foreground of the narrative. As a result, we nuance the role that the disease plays here. While it serves as a backdrop and creates an opportunity to bring up Reaganite politics and communism, it also allows for a more direct engagement with the perception of homosexuality and AIDS.
To question our assumptions about contagion narratives: to what extent do you think this narrative is different from others we’ve read? Is the disease as salient in other narratives such as Welcome to Our Hillbrow?
In Angels of America, some of the narration happens through dreams and imaginary conversations. The video embedded earlier depicts an interesting scene in the play where Prior is having an imaginary conversation with his ancestors on the theme of contagion. In what appears to be a nightmare, Prior is woken up by two men dressed in thirteenth and seventeenth century clothing, claiming to both be Prior Walter. They then go on to describe how their own pestilences (the plague) have led to their demise. They detail the curse “The spotty monster” that binds a couple of Walter family descendants to be carried off by the plague. This is done to try to explain why the current Prior is suffering a similar death, one by disease. This idea of mortality combined with inescapable fate makes us question the effect of one’s ancestors has on making up their own identity, and what affect that ultimately has on a person’s life. Thinking of narration in this play, the notion of dreams is a particularly interesting form of narration. In Scene 7, Harper and Prior share a dream. Although these two characters have never met before, in the previous scene, their partners meet each other for the first time. Scene 6, Joe and Louis meet in the men’s room of the Brooklyn Federal Court. The lives of Harper and Prior are connected through the lives of their partners, and their shared dream Prior informes Harper that her husband is homosexual. In the following excerpt, Harper questions imagination and her own dreams as she cannot believe that her dreams reflect reality that she is unaware of. Harper says,
“If I didn’t ever see you before and I don’t think I did, then I don’t think you should be in here, in this hallucination, because in my experience the mind, which is where hallucinations come from, shouldn’t be able to make up anything that wasn’t there to start with, that didn’t enter from experience, from the real world. Imagination cannot create anything new, can it? It only recycles bits and pieces from the world and resembles them into visions … Am I making sense right now?” (Kushner 32–33)
In the Dream of Ding Village, Grandfather’s dreams reflected real-life events and information that he was not consciously aware of. How does narration through the medium of dreams function in each piece? Are there similarities between the two?