Category: General

What’s with the Metamorphosis?

Needless to say, the plot of this graphic novel is extremely chaotic– we are presented with two distinct narrators whose lives seem to merge but who follow different trains of thought, the narrative of the story is messy and difficult to follow, there’s way too much nudity, and the characters within the story–being teenagers–are acting very hormonal. Amidst all the chaos, the audience is left having to tease out the moral of the story.

Since this is the first time being exposed to this text, I am stuck in a whirlwind of confusion. I can’t seem to figure out the multiple layers of isolation being presented in this text, and I sadly, can’t identify with the issues facing the teenagers because I had a whole different set of teenage problems outside the ones depicted in this novel.

However, I was particularly struck by the Burn’s need to depict changing character traits as a form of metamorphosis. Looking up the term “metamorphosis” in the dictionary, I came across the following definition:-
“(in an insect or amphibian) the process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form in two or more distinct stages.”
“A change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one.”

Burns’ choice to depict the characters as teenagers offers some clarification as to why the characters change form. Teenage years, marking the stage of puberty, and a move from childhood to adulthood, offers group for some of “metamorphosis” within the context of the novel.

But there are also a number of flaws within this definition that are almost aggravating to me as a reader. Here are some of them.
1.) Metamorphosis based on my understanding requires a linear progression or series of stages. So an adult frog starts of as an egg, then moves to being a tadpole and then moves to being a tadpole with legs before emerging as an adult frog. There’s a clear starting point and a clear end point. This text, however, is contextualized in the middle of this progression. We are unsure of how the characters took form as children, and based on the end of the novel, we are also unsure of their end form. The idea of the “Black hole” as a metaphor stands not only for isolation, but for genuine confusion from a reader’s perspective. Added to this frustration is the fact that the experience of “teenage-hood” is also strictly contextual. These depictions are of American teenagers within a set time period so the experiences might greatly differ from other teenage perspectives across time periods and geography.

2.) There’s still no resolution as to why the concept of adolescence is depicted as an embodiment of some animal form. What is the rationale behind switching the face of a human boy to the face of a cat? Is there a reason for Eliza’s tail? Or Chris’ need to periodically shed skin like a snake? Granted the change of forms might just be temporary. But remember that metamorphosis is a linear progression–eggs–>tadpole–>tadpole (with legs)–> adult frog. You have a clear destination and every stage within the development entails some adding on of form or body part to reach that final stage of development. You can’t go from being a tadpole to being a butterfly. It just doesn’t work. There has to be some linear progression from one form to another.

I’m interested to see what you guys think.

Chiamaka Odera Ebeze (coe209).

Some comments on Nemesis

Hi, all —

I’m not sure why the comments function isn’t working for this week’s conveners’ post, so I’m pasting some comments here. If you’re responsible for commenting and haven’t yet done so, you can try to comment on this post or, if it still doesn’t work, send them to me and I’ll add them here.


From Nada:

It is always funny seeing how during the time of contagion, “God” is believed to be causing the disease in a dual way: it can be a blessing, it can be a curse. In chapter 2, we can see Bucky struggling with endless questions concerning God’s reasons for creating polio in the first place (p. 170). For religious communities (including the Jewish one), it is hard to believe that God would create something that would bring affliction and suffering to his own creation. Now, some may explain that disease and affliction exist because mankind have sinned and as a result, contagion is perceived as God’s “nemesis” or vengeance, but then again, why did/do good people had/have to suffer? And why is God (or the heavens) being randomly selective? What role does fear play when it comes to believing in God?

And from Odera:

Greetings Everyone,

I personally find this book to be a very interesting read. Unlike some of the texts we’ve looked out so far, Philip Roth is able to provide the readers with a clear and simple lens to reading the passage while still grappling with larger societal issues. At this point in the semester, we are slowly beginning to draw similarities amongst texts. With this one, a see relations to Ibsen’s Ghosts, Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People, and even Oedipus. 

Outside of its similarities to other texts, this one stands out to me for two reasons:

1.) The idea of the ‘plague’ as portrayed  is other texts is most weirdly described as a means to punish a society for its misdeeds. But with this society, there’s no apparent evidence for any form of misdeed. The plague, however, comes as some sort of test for the level of human frailty. To what extent can a society, which holds so steadfast to its Jewish identity and heritage, withstand the moral tests of WWII and the polio outbreak?  

2.) Secondly, the scapegoat role differs greatly from the traditional idea of the scapegoat. Based on my previous experiences with the concept of a scapegoat, when a society is hit with a plague or epidemic, the most ‘irrationally rational’ approach is for the indigenes of the society to lay the blame on an outsider- a societal outlier. With this text though, the scapegoat voluntarily and willingly declares himself the cause of the society’s downfall. This difference from other texts is further heightened as Bucky, the protagonist, is by no means an outsider to this society. Yes, he deals with issues like his poor eyesight, and inability to be conscripted into the American Army, but he is very much central to the workings of the society. He is the playground director, characterized as being of good physical build, and most—if not all—of the parents and children seem to hold him in high regard. So why does he willingly confer on himself the title of ‘scapegoat’ even when he doesn’t ideally fit into that role?

Kushner resources

Consider this an augmenter’s post of my own: I wanted to organize some links to material I’ve used and written over many years of teaching Kushner’s play. For a decade before we both moved to Abu Dhabi, Cyrus Patell and I taught a course on the Square called Writing New York, for which we amassed a pretty substantial number of blog posts about Kushner and Angels. I’ve written a little about it elsewhere too. I hope some of this proves useful as you continue to wrap your heads around the play in a short amount of time this week. Here are a few of the highlights; if you have limited time, please pay closest attention to the first two items linked in the next paragraph.

For WNY I would deliver two lectures on the play, one situating it in a discussion of time/history/imagination (and thoughts on the play as a period piece set in the Reagan era) and one that highlights some of the cultural building blocks Kushner recycles in the play (Mormonism, Judaism, Marxism) by way of a discussion of the play’s several angels and angelic precedents. We’ll touch on some of that as we wrap up our discussion of the play. On the WNY course site, which is slightly inactive now that we’re no longer teaching our course, I’ve offered my thoughts about the play’s conclusion, in which Prior breaks the fourth wall and blesses his audience, and earlier I’d written about the ways in which the play recycles a number of stories and symbols, Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain among them. (Because that post has some links that are now dead, I had to post again on the prior use of Bethesda in Godspell.) Several years ago, a highlight of our course was a guided tour of Central Park at sunset (or a tour of the sunset with Central Park as a backdrop) with our favorite ex-NYC tour guide, Speed Levitch. I provided a more detailed account of that afternoon elsewhere. It’s only indirectly related to Kushner’s play, but still important if you want to think about the ways in which Central Park has long been contested public space, something Kushner’s certainly aware of when he selects Bethesda as the setting for his final scene. Here are a few links re: his use of Roy Cohn as a character. And here are some thoughts on the play’s place in the history of Broadway theater.

Cyrus has also offered thoughts on the play, which he has taught at NYUAD in his Cosmopolitan Imagination course. One year he supplemented my lectures with a few additional thoughts on Kushner’s use of New York City as a setting. But he’s written most extensively on the play’s engagement with cosmopolitanism (see this one, too, and this one).

Remember that you can always search “Angels in America” on this site and see what past Contagion courses have come up with: there’s a lot of great material from conveners and augmenters. And If you really want to get hardcore, here’s a live-tweet from the last time I lectured on this play at NYUNY in 2011:

If you’re really interested, here’s the archive of a live-tweet one of our TAs ran as I lectured in 2011, the last time we taught this course together.

Part 1:

  • Getting ready for today’s #wny11 part I of Kushner’s ANGELS IN AMERICA. Thinking abt community, identity, history, legacies of immigration. #
  • A guide to some of the Kushner-related material from our blog: #wny11 #
  • @_waterman lecturing on Angels in America today #wny11 #
  • @lwarr because @cpatell is in Abu Dhabi today; @pwhny in good hands. #wny11 #
  • Transitioning from 70s to the 80s via Patti Smith–>Grace Jones for our lecture prelude #wny11#
  • Prior: Not a conventional woman. Belize: Grace Jones? #angels #wny11 #
  • This a pretty good history of gays in New York for anyone who’s interested #
  • Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On is also a pretty good history of AIDS in New York and SF #wny11 #
  • Theatricality of everyday life: How do we understand performance? #wny11 #
  • Performance is also interesting when you think about tension between out and closeted gay characters. What is Roy Cohn performing? #wny11 #
  • AIDS epidemic is perfect dystopian moment for Kushner’s play. Confluence of personal and political choices and consequences #wny11 #
  • Play is also conscious of the rise political correctness and its relationship to identity #wny11 #
  • Ginsberg as a prophet figure for “Angels.” He needs to be the crazy poet yet wants to participate #wny11 #
  • What is the role of theater in mediating themes like history, identity, and community? #wny11 #
  • Watching HBO ‘Angels’ “Drag is a drag” dream sequence #wny11 #
  • Pay attention to the way Prior is always “performing:” drag, prophet, lines from movies. #wny11#
  • “Imagination can’t create anything new, can it?” Can it? #wny11 #
  • Think about how “contamination” works in ‘Angels’ as something toxic, inexorable, and revelatory #wny11 #
  • @ultramaricon True #wny11 #
  • Feather floating represents possibility in writing for creation of new stories #wny11 #
  • New York pre-dates San Francisco as a “gay city.” See previous tweet about “Gay Metropolis” #wny11 #
  • Appiah on Contamination: “conversations that occur across cultural boundaries” #wny11 #
  • ‘Angels’ as an Early 90s period piece that reflects a post-Reagan-Bush I anxiety #wny11 #
  • Reagan’s silence on AIDS lead to people referring to the epidemic as “Reagan’s Disease” in some circles #wny11 #
  • What would Olmsted have thought of Central Park as a site for anti-nuclear bomb activism? #wny11 #
  • Reagan’s “Star Wars” looks like the cheesiest video game ever #wny11 #
  • It’s easy to laugh at Reagan’s conflation of fantasy and reality, but Kushner does some interesting things by blurring that line #wny11 #
  • Reagan as performing masculinity in ‘Angels’ in the eyes of Joe and Roy Cohn #wny11 #
  • Relationship between gay activism and gay theater in the 1960s-1970s #wny11 #
  • Think about ‘Angels’ and the history of political theater (O’Neill) and meta-theatricality (Tyler and Doctorow) #wny11 #
  • RT @lwarr: @pwhny Mondale won my kindergarten class’s mock election in 1984. I cried when Reagan won the real election #wny11 #babynerd #
  • From the Reagan doc I used in #wny11 today: NYC as a set of symbols to be mobilized by all sides: #
  • @ultramaricon Which is one reason I found the @NYTOpinionator piece on “Am Fam” to be puzzling. cc @epicharmus #wny11 #
  • RT @lwarr: @pwhny Part 1 of this Frontline series on AIDS documents the 80s and Reagan’s role in the disease #wny11 #
  • @FlyingHubcap We certainly still live with its effects. #
  • @ThirteenNY @PBS Weds 10 pm RT @cityroom Documentary Celebrates Olmsted, a Creator of Central Park #wny11 #
  • #wny07 #wny11 RT @CitySnapshots ANGELS IN AMERICA. SEE IT. #
  • Just a NY conversation rattling round my head. RT @cire_e New York Style #
  • The full American Experience doc on Reagan: #wny11 #

Part 2:

  • Wrapping up ANGELS IN AMERICA in #wny11 today. #
  • @_waterman on Kushner’s ANGELS IN AMERICA: PERESTROIKA today. #wny11 #
  • Opening music: Talking Heads, 1978-79 “Thank you for Sending Me an Angel,” “Cities,” and “Heaven.” #wny11 #
  • @_waterman starting off with Linda Hutcheon’s idea of “historiographic metafiction.” #wny11 #
  • Kushner’s play asking: “Do we make history or are we made by it”? How are we conditioned by the stories we tell about the past? #wny11 #
  • Hutcheon’s book: A POETICS OF POSTMODERNISM #wny11 #
  • Showing clip from Mike Nichols’s adaptation: Roy, Joe, and Ethel. MILLENNIUM APPROACHES, Act 3, Scene 5. #wny11 #
  • @_waterman on pre- (building Zion) and post-millennialism (apocalypse). Play’s Harper is caught between the two. #wny11 #
  • Interesting account of post-millennialism by Stephanie Hendricks: #
  • @waterman on 4 differrent angels invoked by play. 1st: Angel of History from Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” #wny11 #
  • See W. Benjamin, ILLUMINATIONS. Kushner has acknowledged his indebtedness to Benjamin. #wny11 #
  • 2nd Angel: Paul Klee, “Angelus Novus” – #wny11 #
  • Benjamin on Klee: “The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned …. ” #wny11 #
  • “… while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.” Benjamin’s idea of “messianic time.” #wny11 #
  • @_waterman Stonewall and AIDS in light of Benjamin: catastrophic moments, one liberating, the other …? #wny11 #
  • Kushner’s play struggles with Marxist teleology, because it wants (like its character Belize) liberal progress. #wny11 #
  • Actually Benjamin and Klee’s angels are counting as 1. Second is angel who wrestles with Jacob, who then receives new name. #wny11 #
  • Jacob’s wrestling: renaming, rebirth. For Joe, also a sign of painful progress, plus he finds it erotic. #wny11 #
  • @_waterman showing this version of the picture: #wny11 #
  • Motif of shedding skin throughout ANGELS. #wny11 #
  • Question of Joe’s fate. Why is he excluded from cosmopolitan redemption at end? Has he committed some kind of “sin”? #wny11 #
  • NY Mag interview with Kushner from 2008: #wny11 #
  • Play’s Third Angel: Kushner stitching together bits and pieces form America’s past – Angel Moroni from Mormonism. #wny11 #
  • @_waterman show this image of Angel Moroni appearing to Joseph Smith : #wny11 #
  • Mormon story as a rewriting of Christianity and also Judaism: a new Exodus. #wny11 #
  • @_waterman showing clip from HBO Angels of Harper in Mormon Center with diorama coming alive. Harper: “The magic of theater.” #wny11 #
  • Kushner and fallibilism: in what ways is ANGELS trying to learn from American traditions with which it disagrees? #wny11 #
  • 4th Angel: Bethesda Fountain. #wny11 #
  • @_waterman showing the final scene from the HBO version. Lucky, the film exists, because now he doesn’t have to read the scene … #wny11 #
  • @_waterman Because the last time he read it in class, he broke into tears, remembering his reaction to seeing the scene on stage. #wny11 #
  • @_waterman Exit Music: Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, “Cheek to Cheek.” Over and out. #wny11 #

Whew! That should keep even the most ardent Kushner fan busy for a while. See you soon.

What is a Black Hole?

A Black Hole

At the beginning of our last class, we tried to summarise what a black hole is and how it is formed. Much to the astronomers’ and physicists’ frustration, we could not fully comprehend the phenomenon of the black hole. It is necessary to understand how a black hole works and therefore, it is only right that I share what I have discovered about black holes.

A Black hole is a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape. On Nasa’s Website, they go into further detail about how a black hole is formed and whether or not the Earth will be destroyed by a black hole. They write:

Stellar black holes are made when the center of a very big star falls in upon itself, or collapses. When this happens, it causes a supernova. A supernova is an exploding star that blasts part of the star into space.

The video below also lends us a visual on the formation of a black hole is formed. (here is the link because for some reason it will not let me add the video)

Now that we understand what a black is, what do you think the black hole is in the story? Do black holes kill us or transports us to another universe? 

So when you think you can escape the gravitational pull of adolescence, just remember, nothing or no one can escape the black hole.

– Rhoshenda Ellis

Take a break and enjoy these different book covers :)

Personally, I am a big fan of book covers. When I was young and went to the bookstore, I would only pick up those books whose covers interested me (so this is why I end up reading more magazines than books… ). After I finish Animal’s People with a strong feeling of depression, I really don’t want to augment any serious information on the cruel background. Let’s take a break and analyze the different covers of this book published in various languages! The comparison of these book covers also raise the question: what is the identity of Animal? Is he an animal? A human? A half-half? Or, does this question really matter?

English                         This is the cover of our edition and also my favorite cover because it greatly depicts the crippled figure of Animal though I  don’t understand why he only has one arm. Also, he seems to be running. Running for his hope? Life? Love? The rays of light that diverge from him is also interesting and remind me of the painting of saints. 

Polish                           This is the only cover with a background of a few Indian people and the physical setting of a street.

Chinese                        The boy in this cover looks innocent and young. He even has his finger in his mouth. Is Animal really a childish figure who will look at his readers (listeners) to raise their sympathy? 

Thai                            This cover is also quite different from the other covers. The fierce eyes remind me of a wolf instead of a boy. Clearly, these eyes reveal Animal’s tough characteristics. A sense of hatred is also provoked. The imprints of claws further animalize Animal.

Camus in xtranormal!

As Evgenija mentioned in her post,  Professor mentioned in class about the nazism theory behind the novel, and it relation to the world wars but we never had the chance to talk about it. I attached a video made in xtranormal, that aims to describe the philosophies of Albert Camus. There is also some comparison between his other novel Stranger and the Plague. It brings up some interesting ideas about Albert Camus not believing in God and blaming the religion. Do watch it!

Watch the video here.

Welcome to Contagion fall ’14

I’m looking forward to meeting a new round of students for this class on Sunday. I hope you’re all enjoying the opening sequence of King Oidipous, which you should be reading for our first meeting. Think about how the plague is invoked there — what purpose it serves Sophocles’ drama and how it may offer us a set of ideas to consider about the relationship between disease, language, and narrative, or the use of disease as a metaphor for personal or social disorder.

The other morning I led a discussion of Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell, which you’ve all also read and discussed. Someone in that discussion actually raised Ebola as an example of a kind of natural disaster that might defy Solnit’s description of people coming together altruistically in order to rebuild new societies. It was a useful connection to the material from this class, much of which represents strangers fearing one another or fleeing the sick rather than offering assistance. “Communication” becomes a loaded metaphor in an epidemic situation because people fear — and sometimes it is, in fact the case — that conversation can be deadly, if the disease is communicated person-to-person. I acknowledged that Ebola would, indeed, pose quite a challenge to Solnit’s theory of utopian responses to disaster. Shortly after the discussion, though, a colleague showed me this video, which I thought might serve as a useful touchstone for our discussions this semester. I have a feeling Ebola might very well be the disease that haunts any number of our discussions this semester. I’ll be eager to hear what you think about this when we meet. See the link to the related article for more on these “burial boys.”

The Yes Men – Dow Chemicals Give Additonal Compensation to Bhopal Victims SCAM

This video is about a duo of activists, who describe their mission as ‘Identity Correction:’ Impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them, and otherwise giving journalists excuses to cover important issues. Among other things, they impersonated Dow Chemical (the owner of Union Carbide, which ran the factory in Bhopal) spokespeople on BBC. You can see how it turned out at this link.

Morrissey narrates.

Considering how much Bryan mentions The Smiths in class, I figure they might as well be another source to consider in our class. And I didn’t feel like people appreciated my comparison between Morrissey and Animal enough today in class… (created by yours truly)


hehe, okay, sorry for all the references — by uploading these quotes, I would like all of us to think about Animal’s character, not just as a question of his struggles but in the context of his personality. For me, personally, I think the fact that I find him sympathetic means something, more about me than really about him. And I think this novel has a way of making you choose a side and then making you think about your place as a reader. When you read the tapes, you think about whether it is genuine, whether it is believable. When you read the conflicts of misunderstanding between Elli and Somraj, you think and consider each side’s points and weigh them. You are implicated in the story, and you are not allowed to be passive. When Animal says these Morrissey-like quotes, I see him as an honest-to-self expression of alienation and human struggle, not just isolated in the incident of the Bhopal disaster, but as a participant in a universal dialogue that we find in 1980s England (The Smiths), 1880s Switzerland (Friedrich Nietzsche), 1950s US (Catcher in the Rye), and other times and places that have not the fortune of such widespread attention (or simply my knowledge) but carry likewise in themselves the same sentiment.

EDIT/NOTE: Afterwards, I thought about this comparison between Animal and Morrissey/Holden Caulfield/etc and I don’t want to ignore one big fact. Animal has suffered from a man-made disaster, is disabled, and lives in poverty. His hope for the rest of his life was mostly stripped from him since the incident. I think there is merit in comparing the sentiments, but I don’t want to put them on the same level too simply.


A Ghostly Disease

With all the talk on ghosts and the supernatural, I thought it would be interesting to look into some of the more mundane aspects of the play. More specifically, what role does syphilis itself play in Ibsen’s Ghosts?

In the various works we have read for the class so far, it is clear that disease often represents or signifies a certain level of moral corruption. In Oedipus, it represented the corruption in Oedipus’ life and kingdom. In Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year, it brought out the worst in people, making the community fall prey to an immoral way of life.

I believe that Ghosts may take the relationship between disease and corruption a little further.

Oswald’s doctor did say that he had inherited the disease from his father in the quote, “He said: The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children” (Ibsen 138).

However, we do know that this couldn’t have been more than an indirect relationship, as Oswald couldn’t have gotten syphilis if his mother hadn’t been infected as well (whether Oswald was infected from fooling around in Paris is debatable, since his symptoms are consistent with those of congenital syphilis). That means that Mrs. Alving must have been an asymptomatic carrier. Following the path of the disease, we can conclude that Johanna and Regine have a decent chance of being carriers as well; even Jacob Engstand could be infected from Johanna if she had been infected with the disease from Captain Alving. Finally, if Pastor Manders had consented to being in a relationship with Mrs. Alving, he too would have come in contact with syphilis. It would seem that the disease is just as prevalent in the live of the characters as the corruption and misfortune.

We have definitely established that the ghost metaphor has several dimensions, but perhaps there is yet another layer to Ibsen’s “ghost”. Perhaps the syphilis itself is the ghost. Think about it: They have all come in contact with, if not afflicted with, the disease. For some, it was the result of corruption. For others, it was an unlucky inheritance. Either way, it plays a role in the lives of each of the characters, in the same way Mrs. Alving describes its presence in each of them. Talking about the supernatural could have in some ways been as publicly unacceptable as the mention of syphilis was. The parallel is also there when we consider that ghosts are the remnants of a troubled past; in many ways, syphilis is too. The syphilis, or the “sin of the father”, haunts the family from beyond the grave.

Actually, syphilis is sort of the ghost of the play as well. Though the word “syphilis” isn’t mentioned in Ghosts at all, it still plagues the play with the affliction it hauls along – a sort of “ghost sickness”, if you will (on a slightly unrelated note, “ghost sickness” was actually a thing among Native American tribes). It is neither seen nor mentioned, but always lingers behind the shadows of their actions.

Much like a real ghost, no?

– Sarah