Archive for September, 2016

Rashomon? What is the truth?

When reading the accounts of various characters in the book Ghosts, we stand in their perspectives, immersing ourselves in their situations and displaying sympathies toward what they encountered. Nevertheless, our perception toward the character change dramatically when we receive other people’s accounts. There is only one truth. Who should we believe in? We can assume that one of the people is lying, or perhaps, none of them are not telling the truth.

The plot mentioned above reminded me of a short story “Rashōmon” written by a Japanese litterateur Ryūnosuke Akutagawa which is now adapted into a film Rashomon.

“The film is known for a plot device that involves various characters providing alternative, self-serving and contradictory versions of the same incident.” (excerpted from Wikipedia)

The film depicts the psychological strategy that helps hold one’s self-esteem in place by only talking about the certain things that are beneficial to themselves, and avoiding mentioning the misconducts which might be detrimental to their reputations. Therefore, instead of presenting the whole picture, people opt to merely show fragments of truth, or even create stories to disguise the real situation.

In Ghosts, at the beginning of the play, Pastor Manders tried to help Engstrand because the Pastor was convinced by Engstrand that he was a good and righteous man. His conception toward Engstrand shifted completely when Mrs. Alving told him the stories that she had buried for years. However, his feeling of Engstrand turned back to sympathy after hearing Engstrand’s monologue. Who is telling the truth? What is the truth? It seems that it is something that might never be able to be revealed under the self-protecting strategy everyone is taking advantage of.

It is not about casting doubts on others, but think twice before forming our own judgements. After all, none of us would like to be the second Pastor Manders, a gullible, easily tricked person that believes in whatever people say.

A Trailer of Rashomon for your reference!

Mother Knows Best

This week we read Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’. This play has several underlying messages and forces that try to compete to get the viewers and readers attention. For me, the one character that stood out the most was Mrs. Alving. I always found my sympathies shifting in her favor.

She is a strong-willed woman, who knows right and wrong. However, due to social restrictions, she is unable to use her voice. She is a strong female character who takes over her husband’s household after his death. Mrs. Alving’s most outstanding trait is her motherly love and instinct.

All through the play, she makes several decisions out of love and concern for Oswald. She displays strength as a mother.  She returns to her husband’s house where he committed adulterous deeds for the sake of her son. She sends him away to protect him. Which mother can bear to be parted from her child? But she does everything to ensure that her son is safe from the vices of his father.

Mrs. Alving has several overlapping identities in this play. She has to play the different roles in relation to herself, her husband, her son, and society.

Only a mother’s heart will know the pain of a child’s illness. She is distraught and in disbelief when Oswald reveals that he is ill. At the end of the play, he asks her to assist him with suicide to end his torture and pain. What should a mother do? Should she help her son kill himself? or should she help ease his pain?

Here is the dialogue exchange between mother and offspring as performed by the Almeida theatre.

When reading about Mrs. Alvings choices of sending her child away to protect him, I thought of mother Gothel from Rapunzel. She tries to hide Rapunzel from the dangers of the outside world by locking her up in a tower. In a way, Mrs. Alving was hiding Oswald from the reality of his father’s sins by sending him away. Both are maternal figures to the children they care for. Yet they both have varying intentions within the context of their respective stories. Maternal instinct, it seems, can be displayed by masking reality.

For your viewing pleasure , Mother knows best


Happy reading!


Let’s Talk About the S Word

While the first act of Henrik Ibsen’s play Ghosts strikes as though it were leading towards a strong social commentary on feminism and gender issues, Ibsen abruptly shows us that his play is far more complicated. Far beyond a commentary on gendered realities, Ghosts is a chaotic, perhaps even irreverent, tale of incest, excess and debauchery, adultery, lies, and ultimately, disease.

Throughout his play, it’s as though Ibsen were consciously manipulating readers’ sympathies towards his characters. Whereas in the first act, it seems that Ibsen’s gearing our sympathies towards the women of the play and towards Oswald — who escaped the conventionalism of his town in order to study the frowned upon pathway of art — as soon as the second act begins, we’re meant to lose our trust in him, since he appears to be following his father’s steps in sexually harassing Regina, the maid. At one point, Ibsen has us vouching for Mrs. Alving, but towards the end she becomes a character we can very well resent.

How does Ibsen play around with our sympathies and for what purpose? Ultimately, who does he want us to sympathize with the most? Are we meant to sympathize more with one character than another? Or is the message actually that we can’t judge people based on the sympathies we hold in one moment?

There is so much chaos in the play, that it’s easy to get lost. What is ultimately the most essential message in the play? Is it that lying always leads to chaos? Is it that living a life primarily concerned with external opinions is a one-way-ticket to misery? Is it a critique to extremely conventional religiosity/Catholicism?

For Pastor Manders, the only reason not to insure the orphanage was that if people found out, they would certainly turn against him. His obsessive concern with others views leads the orphanage to become an irreparable loss after it’s burnt. Mr. Alving’s debauchery led his marriage to be a disaster, but convinced by Pastor Manders, Mrs. Alving decided to stay with him for as long as he lived, so as to prevent gossip in town. She was willing to let go of her 7-year old Oswald just to prevent gossip! Besides Johanna and Mr. Alving, no other names are mentioned in the play. Why are Mrs. Alving and Pastor Manders so concerned with how others see them if these others are so irrelevant that they don’t even have names?

And lastly, the narrative of venereal disease. It’s only in the final pages that we discover that Oswald suffers of a venereal disease. Contrary to the other pieces we’ve read, where our narrators and main characters are merely witnesses of disease, in Ghosts, we’re exposed to disease first-hand. We’re inside one of the infected homes and we see what it means for Oswald to be sick. One by one, characters start leaving the house: first Pastor Manders and Engstrand, finally Regina. But the only characters that remain are the diseased and his mother. Such is his suffering that Oswald urges his mother to assist him in suicide/kill him.

Never in the play does Ibsen specify Syphilis, making it clear to the audience and readers that the topic is a taboo. Ibsen is bringing up STDs without specifically saying it. Regardless, when the play was first published and performed it received very negative critiques. Why do people consciously choose to shut off discussion upon pressing topics that deal with contagion and sex? Why is contagion a taboo, instead of something people can freely talk about? Isn’t this only leading towards a more diseased society, instead of one that can possibly be cured?

Listen to this song because it’s hilarious (and all the more irreverent) (and it does exactly the opposite from keeping sex and disease taboo):


Chaos Syndrome: A Systemic Reason for Madness?

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Jonathan Rauch for the Atlantic about a political ‘disease’ in America that he has dubbed the ‘chaos syndrome’. It reminded me of the chaos prevalent in Pushkin’s play that the conveners’ discussed earlier and that time we talked about the similarities between a demagogue like Trump and Oedipus the King. It’s a contemporary example of how disease can be used as a metaphor for a breakdown in sociopolitical systems and relationships.  The parallels between the dysfunction in the current American (and perhaps global) political climate and in the fictional plagued societies we have been reading about are striking. Can you spot the common threads and themes running through them? Rauch suggests chaos syndrome leads us into positive feedback loops of self-destructive behavior antithetical to our shared commitment to the greater good. Could you say Walsingham and the revelers are in a similar predicament? Have you come across a treatment or cure for ‘chaos syndrome’? Also here’s link to a PBS News Hour Interview with Rauch.

“Trump, however, didn’t cause the chaos. The chaos caused Trump. What we are seeing is not a temporary spasm of chaos but a chaos syndrome.

 Chaos syndrome is a chronic decline in the political system’s capacity for self-organization. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers—political parties, career politicians, and congressional leaders and committees—that have historically held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. As these intermediaries’ influence fades, politicians, activists, and voters all become more individualistic and unaccountable. The system atomizes. Chaos becomes the new normal—both in campaigns and in the government itself.

Our intricate, informal system of political intermediation, which took many decades to build, did not commit suicide or die of old age; we reformed it to death. For decades, well-meaning political reformers have attacked intermediaries as corrupt, undemocratic, unnecessary, or (usually) all of the above. Americans have been busy demonizing and disempowering political professionals and parties, which is like spending decades abusing and attacking your own immune system. Eventually, you will get sick.The disorder has other causes, too: developments such as ideological polarization, the rise of social media, and the radicalization of the Republican base. But chaos syndrome compounds the effects of those developments, by impeding the task of organizing to counteract them. Insurgencies in presidential races and on Capitol Hill are nothing new, and they are not necessarily bad, as long as the governing process can accommodate them. Years before the Senate had to cope with Ted Cruz, it had to cope with Jesse Helms. The difference is that Cruz shut down the government, which Helms could not have done had he even imagined trying.
 Like many disorders, chaos syndrome is self-reinforcing. It causes governmental dysfunction, which fuels public anger, which incites political disruption, which causes yet more governmental dysfunction. Reversing the spiral will require understanding it. Consider, then, the etiology of a political disease: the immune system that defended the body politic for two centuries; the gradual dismantling of that immune system; the emergence of pathogens capable of exploiting the new vulnerability; the symptoms of the disorder; and, finally, its prognosis and treatment.”

A Feast: Remixed, Recreated, and Reimagined

“The “little tragedies” contain a number of scenes that are so intensely dramatic that they demand to be seen and heard, rather than merely read” (Anderson, 6).

From our reading aloud of Pushkin’s A Feast During the Plague it became clear that the play is chock-full of emotion, ranging from love to guilt to horror. In the introduction to The Little Tragedies, Anderson puts forth the importance of experiencing the play rather than reading it in one’s own head. The words of the characters must be given a voice if we want to even begin to understand them. I did a bit of research and found some dramatic recreations of the play, old and new. I’ll highlight some of the ones that stood out:

All four of The Little Tragedies have been made into one act operas by Russian composers. A Feast During the Plague was set into opera by Cesar Cui and gives the spotlight to three characters, Mary, Walsingham, and the priest, similar to the focus given to them by Pushkin. Walsingham’s song is referred to as “confronting death with a fine bravado” while Mary sings “with gentle resignation”. Finally the priest “gravely intones his admonition” of the revelers feast. The opera is fairly long, and in Russian, but skip through it to get a sense of the different musical representations of the three main characters.

Next, in the late 1980s Yuri Lyubimov, a Russian stage actor and director, put on his own version of A Feast in Time of Plague. Among other significant changes, the play opens with A Feast and uses it as a framing device. The play is more like The Decameron whereas the revelers sit around and “tell” one another the remaining three little tragedies. The main characters from each of the little tragedies become the revelers at the feast, allowing for their own little tragedies to cumulate to the biggest tragedy of all- the plague and imminent death. Kinda cool right? For more on Lyubimov and his play check out this book by Birgit Beumers.

Back to music: Three out of the four plays have songs that are to be performed by at least one character. The two songs in A Feast are as important than the actual dialogue of the play as they serve to develop Mary and Walsingham and provide insight into how they react to death. The “Theatre Collection” acted out their own version of Mary and Walsingham’s songs, both of which prove to be very different. Mary’s is more of a melodramatic a capella lullaby, while Walsingham aggressively strums an acoustic guitar, shouts, and gets the other revelers to cheer with him.

 Lastly, a more modern, seemingly hipster, and of course Russian spin on Pushkin’s play.

Check out the trailer and more promo photos of the rendition here.


“Life is not a spectacle or a feast; it is a predicament.” -George Santayana

A Feast During the Plague is one of three of Alexander Pushkin’s plays [published?] during his lifetime. This play is particularly iconic as its origins and inspirations are very different from his other plays. As explained in The Little Tragedies, Pushkin derived some inspiration for this play from his visit to the Caucasus where he witnessed the outbreak of the plague in Erzum, Armenia. Pushkin’s tragedy, which takes place in the 19th century, is about a man who is having a feast when the entire city is dying of Cholera. Pushkin, however, writes this about the plague not merely as a means of reflecting on his personal experiences, but the idea of “plague” in this play offers a deeper metaphorical symbolism. Throughout the play, Pushkin forces his audience to grapple with the questions:


“What is the response of an individual to a catastrophe that has enveloped the community as a whole but he or she has so far escaped? Is it possible to save oneself by turning one’s back on the doomed community, or does one’s own humanity demand solidarity with other human beings even in their agony? And what bond — if any — remains between the saved and the lost? The living and the dead?

(Pushkin, 182)


The feast and the members in attendance, according to Pushkin, represent a microcosm of the larger society. Pushkin, therefore uses this small society to draw the audience’s attention to the relationship between the living and the dead. He therefore uses this setting to pose the following questions: To what extent do the revelers at the feast act as a true microcosm of the larger society? We believe that the revelers expose only a small faction of society. However, their thoughts and experiences reflected in the play demonstrate that like the victims of the plague in Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, the experience of a plague or catastrophe forces the individual to switch his/her already established convictions from the idealized belief in the glorified society, to the glorification of the individual self.


SIDE NOTE: *How is Mr. Walsingham represented at the feast? Does he truly embody the character of a chairman seated at the helm of affairs, or does he stand in a representative for the audience watching the play?


The idea of hosting a “feast” during a plague was to celebrate that most of Mr. Walsingham’s group is still alive; that’s why they shouldn’t grieve over their dead friend and they should drink to the fact that they are still alive, and for the memory of their dead friend, Jackson. The Feast symbolizes the consumption of lives, the toast itself symbolizes life though they are actually toasting for a loss of life. Their act of enjoying what is left of life overrides their emotions of grief to the loss of a friend. They were feasting in the street, while a cart that is weighted down with the bodies passes by. Were they ignoring the fact that the disease is contagious or were they just accepting that death is inevitable? The Chairman started the feast by Mary singing a sad song. Mary’s song compares the church before and during the plague by saying it was “full of folk,” and “the steeple bell would sound.” However, during plague the church became “mute and empty,” “like a burned, abandoned homestead”  (Pushkin, 96-97). This leaves us with a question: Why did people stop going to the church during the plague? Was it to avoid gathering because the disease is contagion?


In The Mask of the Red Death, by Edgar Allan Poe, Prince Prospero, the main character, decided to isolate thousands of people from higher classes in an abbey to protect them from a contagious disease called the Red Death. In A Feast During the Plague, the group was also celebrating during a plague but they weren’t trying to protect themselves from the plague. The group seems to accept the inevitability of death because they are feasting, while a cart that is weighted down with bodies passes by.


The question of “the bond” between the living and the dead does not lie with the physical or emotional bond per se, but with the choice of either acknowledging or denying those ties. The introduction of Mary’s ballad proves that there is indeed a convergence between the worlds of the living and the dead. In Mary’s ballad, there is no glorification of the isolated individual as “…there is no such thing as “we”: our church, our children, our fields. And in the disaster […], everything is we” (Pushkin 185). In fact, her ballad introduces an actual, physical example of the graveyard where the worlds of the living and the dead converge. The belief in the bond between the living and the dead is further strengthened as there is a reinstatement that that dead were once a part of the community of the living. So, even though the dead are not physically present, there still exists an emotional connection between both worlds that help to strengthen the bond. Even Mr. Walsingham acknowledges the link between the living and the dead. Mr. Walsingham beliefs that “…the nearness of death is an experience that sharpens the edge of of life, which intensifies one’s joy in living” (Pushkin 191). From this statement, we can infer that the living and the dead share similar experiences as they’ve both had to live on the edge of life. The only differences arise as the dead have crossed over that edge and the living, who haven’t, then use their experience to intensify their joy of living.


Mary’s song:

In A Feast During the Plague, one of the most touching moments is Mary’s song. The operatic account depicts the horrors and struggles of the wretched plague, whilst also following the doomed relationship between two lovers of this time. The final two lines of her hymn–

“All is still — the graves alone

Thrive and toll the bell”

–illustrate the binary contrast between the context. There was both happiness and horror. Pushkin’s purpose of the libretto was to emphasize the benefit of living in the middle rather on two binary extremes. This binary motif is illustrated from the title itself “A Feast” being held during the “Plague” a time of repulse. Although Mary’s hymn is important in its illustration, it is essential to emphasize the contrast by Walsingham, which contains a different note. Nevertheless, the binary does portray rather in appealing features after a while, allowing the reader to become comfortable with living a middle-class life. This was important during Pushkin’s time at the turn of the 20th century, as many changes were taking place in Russia, and the importance of the middle class was not as apparent with the traditional folklore or stories of royalty. To conclude, Mary’s song holds an important role in the libretto by emphasizing a binary contrast of the context, and the extremes that many should avoid.


Unlike Mary and Mr. Walsingham, Louisa refuses to acknowledge that a bond exists between the living and the dead. As expressed by the thoughts and words of Louisa, it can be inferred that for a bond to be existing between the living and the dead, there has to be a clear mode of communication. Louisa perceives the dead “were muttering in some hideous, unknown language” (Mary, stanza 1, lines 4-5). What role does communication play in establishing a link between the worlds of the living and the dead? Is verbal communication necessarily the only means of establishing a link between the two realms? The foreignness of the language, as expressed by Louisa acts as a means of alienating the world of the living from the world of the dead. So, the dead living and communicating in their own world can interact with each other and the living can do the same. But, there exists no bridged mode of communication to the link the world of the living to the dead.


How does the theme of love blur the contrasts between the glorification of the individual or the society,as established by Pushkin? (Pgs. 185-6) The theme of love as presented through the relationship between Edmund and Mary provides the audience with more food for thought outside the ones already highlighted by Pushkin on page 182. Pushkin, from the start of the play, has demonstrated a stark contrast between the living and the dead, and the glorification of the sole individual as opposed to the glorification of the society. However, the love that exists between Mary (who’s alive but is frightful of the plague) and Edmund (her lover) proves that the living individual chooses to exit, not for their own self-glorification or revelry — like the attendants of the feast, but for the glorification of another individual.


Interestingly, the translator of the play, Nancy K. Anderson, calls the young man’s proposal to toast for Jackson, a dead member of the feast, a form of “ugly egotism”, that he, as a member of a community, only displays caring for the ones closest to him and not necessarily the entire society. And Nancy points that his egotism roots from the deepest fear that the young man has of his possibly imminent death. Yet, isn’t it justified for him to put his life first ahead of others’ in such situation? This poses a question on the effect of a plague on a society: if it seems that the human egotism to preserve their own selves is natural, is the crumbling of society, as commonly found in literary works that present plague, inevitable in the face of disasters?


In The King Oidipous and Journal of a Plague Year, there are agencies — Oidipous in the former and the government of London in the latter — that seem to be responsible for efforts in putting an end to the plague and preventing the communities from falling apart. It appears that the cure for the plague comes from these agencies: Oidipous being assassinated and the government exercising the policy of shutting up houses of the infected. Yet in Pushkin’s play, these agencies are ostensibly absent, and this absence is perhaps why the people channel their frustration for a seemingly endless plague by having the feast. We may say that Mr. Walsingham holds the authority in the microcosm he creates at the feast table, yet even his proposed solution is that of ignoring the reality rather than confronting it. When he is criticized by the priest for initiating the feast, he shows his unstable stance on the approach towards the plague. The absence of scapegoat to yell at (like Oidipous) or government to turn to is what fuels the chaos rather prominent in the play. Everyone is caught up in their inner conflicts, and the audience, who may or may not have experienced a plague creeping into their cities, can feel this. Like Mr. Walsingham, who is left with his own thoughts after the priest leaves, this play, leaves us, too, in contemplation.

— Odera, Dayin, Noora and Nada.

Everyday is like Sunday

[Originally posted in Feb. 2015]

I stumbled across this “pocket history” of the plague in London, 1348-1665, produced by the Museum of London, and the line “One eyewitness said that London became so quiet that every day was like a Sunday” made me think of Morrissey’s apocalyptic anthem from the start of my Cold War college years. Enjoy.

For Defoe-related material from previous years’ courses, see this convener’s post as well as one about the novel’s medical content — especially concerning competing beliefs about the plague’s origins. Also see this one about how to situate Defoe’s work in the history of the novel as a genre. If you browse back and forth around these posts you’ll find other useful content. Here’s a round-upwith links to some of the best additional posts on Defoe assembled over the last couple years.

Talk therapy

In addition to wrapping up our discussion of Sophocles today we’ll turn the corner to a consideration of the frame narrative for Boccaccio’s Decameron: a quick leap over a thousand-plus years in time.

What remains consistent between or at least similar in the plague frameworks for these works? That’s one question we’ll ask. But I’m struck by generic differences as well, especially the shift from theater to novellaThe Decameron is about storytelling, and the effects of storytelling, to be sure, but it’s also about reading stories about storytelling. Note that Boccaccio directly addresses a female reading public at the outset. This invocation — and the predominance of female characters — will give us a good inroad to discuss the role of gender and gendered bodies in the selections you’ve read so far.

A couple quick resources that may be useful to you: The best Boccaccio site I know of is the Decameron Web, a long-standing project of Brown University’s Italian Studies Department and Virtual Humanities Lab. In particular, pages devoted to the plague and to various literary contexts, medieval to postmodern, should be relevant to our discussions. Note the page devoted specifically to the narrative frame, which will take up much of our brief consideration of this work. You’ll find more resources at Columbia University’s Core Curriculum resource page for Boccaccio’s text.

That material can be glossed at your leisure. If you’d like a more specific and intensive engagement with recent criticism on The Decameron, you might want to look at recent special “Italian Issues” of the literary journal MLN. (You can view these search results from a secure NYU connection; almost all of the Italian issues have something re: Boccaccio.) Of special interest to us: Irene Albers, of the Freie Universität Berlin, writes about the specifically medical relationship between storytelling and the body in Boccaccio’s text. A few key excerpts should suggest why this would be an important topic for our consideration. She starts by focusing on two familiar approaches to the frame narrative: parallels between plague and other disorders (here, specifically, lovesickness), and the narrator’s claim that by beginning with the descriptions of plague, the pleasures brought by the hundred stories to follow will be heightened by contrast:

The analogy between Plague and lovesickness is also based on the fact that the emotions in Boccaccio’s work, according to premodern theories of emotion, are external instances and entities which “overcome” and “seize” the subject. They are not the result of “elezione,” but of the “appetito,” which does not obey the will.31 This is reflected by the use of common metaphors from the realm of nature, like the fire metaphors that often appear in passive constructions: “essendo acceso stato d’altissimo e nobile amore” (3); “in fiero furore accesa” (189); “dello amor di lui mi s’accese un fuoco nell’anima” (893); “di subita ira acceso.”32 In other cases, the passivity of the subjects is shown by verbs like “venire” and “cadere”: “ed andando gli venne un pensier molto pauroso nell’animo”; “cadde in un crudel pensiero” (165). The analogy between lovesickness and plague corresponds to the doubling of the frame: if the narrator in the “Proemio” offers his book to the women as a medicine for lovesickness and “malinconia,”33 the [End Page 34] “therapeutic fiction”34 of the frame means that the storytelling can offer protection from the Plague. Accordingly, one cannot understand the novellas as mere diversion from the catastrophe of the disease.

The final sentences there deserve our consideration in class this week: If we’re asking what purposes the plague frameworks serve, we have to ask whether storytelling here is merely a form of diversion from the plague’s devastation or if something bigger is at work. Albers argues that the characters themselves understand storytelling to have physiological, and potentially curative, effects on their bodies:

It is not in the novellas alone that characters react bodily and emotionally to what they see and hear. Such situations are also formed in the frame narrative, in the commentary following the individual novellas, in which the reactions of the brigata are conspicuously portrayed as bodily. This first occurs among the narrators: in the introduction to the tenth novella of the first day, Pampinea says that when a person wants to use storytelling to cause others to blush, he often ends up blushing himself.83 The same applies when one tells of others’ tears, “raccontar l’altrui lagrime” (354), the words with which Fiammetta announces the Ghismonda novella. The narrator of a novella also becomes moved himself—in rhetoric, this is a well-known requisite for the successful transfer of emotion to the audience.84 The occurrence of such a transfer is demonstrated by the many references to the audience’s blushing (63, 247, 560), sighing (392, 185), crying (159, 366, 763), “compassione” (159, 392, 418, 738), and above all, their at times uncontrollable and boisterous laughter (48, 71, 100, 142, 185, 479, 556, 575, 593, 644, 674, 681, 702, 710, 763, 802, 817, 842, 843). Often, multiple reactions occur simultaneously. After the Masetto novella (III.1) some of the women blush while the others laugh: “Essendo la [End Page 50] fine venuta della novella di Filostrato, della quale erano alcuna volta un poco le donne arrossate e alcuna altra se n’avean riso, piacque alla reina che Pampinea novellando seguisse” (247). Or the women blush first, only to break into laughter: “La novella da Dioneo raccontata prima con un poco di vergogna punse i cuori delle donne ascoltanti e con onesto rossore nel loro viso apparito ne diede segno; e poi quella, l’una l’altra guardando, appena del rider potendosi abstenere, soghignando ascoltarono” (63, cf. 560). The narrator of the Decameron apparently finds it important that speaking about passion and hearing novellas have direct bodily effects, causing, according to the medical assumptions of the epoch, either the expansion (in laughter) or the contraction (in weeping or sighing) of the heart. The humors are set into a motion that “cleans” the subject, or frees him from harmful emotions and humors.85

Is The Decameron holding up an early model for a talking cure? Let’s spend some time this week talking about the bodies in and the implied audiences for the texts we’re reading.

Image: The Decameron, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1837.