Archive for August, 2014

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.”