Archive for October, 2016

“Reader, be assured this narrative is no fiction.”

Hillbrow is an inner-city residential neighborhood in Johannesburg, South Africa, that used to be a whites-only zone during Apartheid in the 1970s. Post-Apartheid, it became a melting pot for people from diverse ethnic backgrounds and became home to one of the first prominent LBGT communities in South Africa. The neighborhood, however, slowly decayed into an urban slum due to a massive influx of poor migrants and the exodus of middle class communities. Mpe dedicates the first chapter of his novel to explore Hillbrow in the second person perspective through the life of Refentse, a writer who committed suicide.  He explores the social issues of xenophobia, AIDS, racism, crime and poverty through what would have been Refentse’s typical routine through the city. He describes the people, street corners, and city rhythms of the “menacing monster” that is Hillbrow as if you were walking through its streets like a local. This brings up the question: What language does Mpe use to construct Hillbrow and why does he use it? The neighborhood takes on a life of its own for Mpe: “You discovered on arriving in Hillbrow, that to be drawn away from Tiragalong also went hand-in-hand with a loss of interest in Hillbrow. Because Tiragalong was in Hillbrow. You always took Tiragalong with you in your consciousness whenever you came to Hillbrow or any other place. In the same way, you carried Hillbrow with you always” (49).  This makes one ask: What is a place? How does one’s environment shape their identity? What is the relationship between place and identity? What does it mean to have ownership of place?  At first, there seems to be a clear distinction between the Hillbrowan and foreigner aka Mackwerekwere identity, but this gets confused as we learn that most of the so called locals were actually migrants. Refentse points out “There are very few Hillbrowans, if you think about it, who were not originally wanderers from Tiragalong and other rural villages, who have come here, as we have in search of education and work. Many of the Makwerewere you accuse of this and that are no different to us sojourners, here in search of green pastures.” How does place fit into our identities? How does it fit into the identity by descent or the identity by consent categories we discussed in Angels in America? Mpe repeats the title of the novel “Welcome to Our Hillbrow”. Notice the use of “Our”. Our Hillbrow suggests a sense of ownership of the place. Hillbrow isn’t just a geographical location, it is the sum of experiences, relationships and connections that its citizens create together.

He repeats this phrase multiple times:

“All these things that you have heard seen heard about felt smelt believed disbelieved shirked embraced brewing in your consciousness would find chilling haunting echoes in the simple words… Welcome to our Hillbrow….” (27)

And again at the end of the second chapter:

“If you were still alive, now Refentse child of Hillbrow and Tiragalong, if you were still alive, all of this that you have heard seen heard about felt smelt believed disbelieved shirked embraced brewing in your consciousness would still find chilling haunting echoes in the simple words… Welcome to our Hillbrow…” (62)

What does this repetition signify? The phrase seems to take on a new tone, becoming more ironic as Mpe repeats it.

The repetition of the phrase “Welcome to our Hillbrow” tells the readers that the narrator is from Hillbrow due to his/her reference to it as “ours” — something that belongs to him/her, too. In its irony, we can also tell that the narrator is unhappy with the way things are in Hillbrow — with the explicitly aforementioned issues of xenophobia, AIDS, and racism.

This novel addresses contagion, not only in regards to AIDS but also the spread of ideas, rumors, and generalizations. The dissemination of information, and the problem of separating truth from rumor, has been discussed in nearly every book we have read thus far. From the start of the novel, in discussing the presence of the “strange illness” that “could only translate into AIDS” the narrator suggests that the disease “according to popular understanding [and] certain newspaper articles, was caused by foreign germs” (3-4). The people of South Africa were constructing their preliminary understanding of the source of AIDS from “such media reports”. The narrator continues on to explain different “scandalous stories” about the bizarre sexual behavior of men who slept with other men. These stories “did the rounds on the informal migrant grapevine” (4). It is through word of mouth that ideas about AIDS, intertwined with xenophobia, generalizations, and preconceived notions, are spread and in a sense, infect the minds of those who listen.

Not only do rumors of disease plague the people of South Africa, rumors about the characters’ own tragedies circulate as well. The devastating consequences of gossip are most strongly witnessed in the stories that “moved with ease to and from Tiragalong and Hillbrow” by car, landline, and cellphone service providers about Refentse’s suicide. The story of his death was embellished and changed by many, but most significantly by Refilwe, Refentse’s past lover. Refilwe blemished his name and sent him “hurtling towards [his] second death” by the stories and rumors she told. Refentse’s mother was set on fire and killed by the people of Tiragalong based on rumors that she had bewitched her son, causing him to commit suicide. Refilwe rewrote the story of Refentse’s suicide and convinced others that is was instead “a loose-thighed Hillbrowan called Lerato” who bewitched him, not his mother (43-44). The spread of misinformation continued on and on, reputations were destroyed, and very little regard was paid to hard facts. The constructed story of his suicide only helped to perpetuate the generalization that the women of Hillbrow were dangerous. These rumors also created a ripple effect, starting with Refentse’s suicide, leading to other characters loss of sanity or violent deaths. Was it Refentse’s suicide that set off the chain of tragedies that affected the other characters of the novel, or were the rumors and constructed stories to blame?

The novel is from the point of view of an omniscient narrator who seems unrelated to any of the  characters, yet is still included in their life stories. The first part of the novel is told from the second person point of view, addressing the life of Refentse, the protagonist, and the lives of those connected to him. The narrator is aware of every last detail within the events occurring throughout the characters’ lives, despite the fact that the narration is not at all chronological.

Judging by the way the story is told, the narrator seems to know and expect all these terrible events to happen — and is merely watching them unfold without interfering. It’s almost as if the narrator is familiar with the characters on a personal level — based on the amount of details known about them — but never once makes remarks that insinuate any sort of personal feelings towards them, instead simply telling the events as they occur.

The language that the narrator uses also changes throughout the novel. For example, at some point in the first part, it seems as if we are inside of Refentse’s head; when he is shocked, the narrator’s language changes to accommodate that sense of shock. In other instances, however, the narrator takes the role of a storyteller and is simply there to inform the reader of the events taking place in these characters’ lives.

So, what is the narrator’s relationship to Refentse? Since he/she dedicates such a large portion of the story with Refentse being the protagonist, the reader can assume that the two must be connected in some way. Also, what is the significance of the second person point of view? Does the author succeed in using this technique, or would it have worked better if the narration took on a more distant perspective?

One additional resource: Al Jazeera Documentary about Hillbrow
Sara, Mira, Shaikha

Fantasia V.S Real-Life Events

As we look at the title of Kushner’s masterpiece: Angels in America: A Gay “Fantasia” on National Themes, the idea of “this is just another fiction” probably flashes through all of our minds. As a matter of fact, the fantasia is based on several real-life events that makes this play look more related to our lives. Since not all of us are that familiar with US history and politics, below are the links that provide some relevant information that can make the course of the reading less confusing and more interesting.

Roy Cohn

Lavender scare

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Ronald Reagan



Democrat V.S Republican

Happy Reading!!


There is a little bit of devil in her angel eyes

Kushner’s Angels in America is a thought-provoking play,that encourages the reader to confront the challenges of living in a broken society.

Throughout the play, we are introduced to several Angels with various intent and personas. The Angels of Heaven are meant to be guardians of those on earth. They possess powers that are superior to those of human beings, however, they are in a situation where they must lower themselves and seek help from lowly human beings. They appear to be jealous, that the earth is what it is when Heaven is a wreck without God.

The two Angels that stand out, in my opinion, are Angel Bethesda and Angel IIII. The latter visits Prior and places on him the responsibility of spreading the message of being stationary to human beings. She appears to care less about providing a solution or healing Prior. It is unusual for an Angel to be self-absorbed. The Angel Bethesda ,on the other hand, creates a fountain of healing where she touched the earth. Both are Angels of Heaven , but each with a uniquely different motive.

Here is the Epilogue where Prior discusses his interest in the Angel Bethesda.

The world continues to move forward, despite the wishes of the Angel IIII. It continues to change and progress. The hope that the Bethesda fountain brought, would once again be restored in the world. In a crumbling world of ailing souls.

Happy reading!


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.

In the Words of Kushner

Hey everyone,

In order to gain more insight into the creation of the play and Tony Kushner’s personal experiences that influenced it, I’ve included different sections from multiple interviews with him over the years.

The Seattle Times sat down with Kushner and asked about where the image of the angel came from (2014).

“There was a dancer I had a crush on in college, who got AIDS and died early in the epidemic. The night I found out he died, I dreamt he was in bed in pajamas and this angel crashed through the ceiling, and he was terrified. I decided to write a poem, which I almost never do, and titled it ‘Angels in America.’”

Apparently he has never looked at the poem, or shared it with anyone else, since the day he wrote it. I found the fact that the figure of the angel, arguably the most prominent figure of the play, came from Kushner’s dream very interesting. Dreams, visions, and escape from reality are concepts that Kushner explores deeply throughout the play. Many of the characters, including Harper and Prior seem to constantly be straddling both the real world and that of fantasy, even entering into one another’s hallucinations/dreams. I can imagine that the fact that this image came to him in a dream influenced his decision to include such elements of fantasy, visions, and dream-states in the play.

Kushner goes on to explain that as a medieval studies major, he has “always been fascinated by the angels’ intersessional role between the human and the divine”. They act as a liaison, as messengers between god and people. In Angels in America the angel comes to Prior as just that. She delivers the message that change must be stopped, as the progress made by mankind thus far has forced God to abandon heaven.

In an interview with Yale Literary Magazine (2013) he discusses why each time the angel refers to herself it begins with “ I I I I”.

“Because she’s actually four beings in one. She’s not a single entity, she’s an aggregate entity. That’s been part of the angelological lore for a very long time, that you can’t really think of them as being singular beings. In the Holy Scriptures, and also in Revelations, they frequently appear as weird things: wheels of fire, and myriads of eyes, multiple wings, multiple heads. They’re not human beings with wings, they’re something else”.

The angel image is far more complex than one would first expect. When reading the play, I didn’t pay much attention to this repetition of “I”. This repetition subtly allows for the character of the angel to become more dynamic, complicated, and fantastical. It enforces the understanding that they are certainly not “human beings with wings, they’re something else”.

In anticipation of our conversation of the role of Mormonism on Sunday, here is Kushner’s, rather unexpected and simplistic, response to how Mormonism entered the play during a New York Magazine interview (2008).

“There were these Mormon missionaries that I used to see at my subway stop, in Carroll Gardens, around 1983. One of them was, I thought, kind of hot. They were always there in the morning, in front of a bunch of people who could have cared less about the Book of Mormon. And I was kind of touched by that.”

Relating to religion, in a 1993 interview with Bomb Magazine, Tony Kushner explains that he is “an honest to god agnostic”.

“I’m in a position of constant confusion about it. I don’t understand how to incorporate the existence of evil into any theological system, I just don’t… and justice is something that I do believe in. Louis says in Angels that justice is God.”

In the play we see Kushner challenging and questioning religion, pitting religions against one another, and exploring ideas of evil, justice, and God. We have characters who are Mormon, Jewish, politically and morally corrupt, amongst other labels. What is Kushner suggesting about religion, especially in the face of an epidemic? Or in the face of a politically and socially evolving America?



“The world only spins forward”

The second part of Angels in America, titled Perestroika, deals with the aftereffects of the occurrences in Millennium Approaches and the conclusion of the play as a whole. In this part we gain insight into the Angels, Heaven, and God. Kushner describes them in a human way, very unlike the way they are normally discussed both in normal life and inside the play, where Mormon ideals run strong through some of the characters. God decides to leave, the Angels create through sex, and Heaven is a rundown town. These are all characterizations that would be expected to be found in Greek deities, not the Christian faith.

Perestroika shows new sides of each character. Roy, now in his deathbed, has moments in which he changes his normally brutish behavior for something completely different. There are flashes of compassion in his treatment of Belize during his feverish hallucinations, his normally kind treatment of Joe changes suddenly once Joe declares his homosexuality. Joe himself shows new things, under Louis’ harsh questioning he keeps trying to find excuses and attempts to escape culpability to the point of beating Louis when the wouldn’t stop his questioning. This is a huge break from the normally passive Joe. Finally, Perestroika also deals with the conclusion of the obstacles the characters had during Millennium Approaches: Louis and Prior get back together, Prior renounces his prophetic assignment, Harper moves out, Roy dies, and Hannah finds a new home in New York.

There was one more theme present in Perestroika that had big implications for the meaning of the play. The relation between dream and reality is very strong, many of the character’s hallucinations have very real effects on the world, from Ethel prompting Louis to sing to Prior and Harper almost recognizing each other from their shared experience in Millennium Approaches. Kushner plays fast and loose with what is real and what is not. There are moments in which the Angel arrives to Earth and all hell breaks loose, Prior fights the Angel, Hannah is flabbergasted over the entire situation, but in the end the event is remembered as dream rather than an actual event.

How should God be represented, and by extensions, what it means to be holy? Is following the Angels will faith or servitude? Is not following it heresy or independence?
Seeing the Angels’ behavior compared to people like Belize, who are the real Angels in the play?
Forgiveness is a heavy theme in the play, used by the characters to move forward; is being forgiven, and forgiving, a right or a privilege?
Is Joe deserving of hate? Is his behavior is fault or is that he can’t extricate himself from his conflicting convictions?
In the end Hannah is found to be in the group, what does that mean for her? Is she accepting, or has she become a member of the LGBT community?
Here is the video of the Epilogue, Bethesda, as portrayed in the movie Angels in America:

Romney vs. Obama… Now Trump vs. Clinton

Kushner wrote the introduction the day before those U.S. Elections!

For all who skipped the introduction, here’s the most interesting thing: when Kushner wrote the introduction to his new edition of Angels in America, it was just the day before the Mitt Romney vs. Barrack Obama elections. I’m curious: if at the time Kushner thought, “today the edge is sharper than it’s ever been, and the two worlds it divides, one of light, one of darkness, seem respectively more brilliant and more abysmal…” what would he write today with Trump or Clinton being elected in less than a month?

“I’m not in your hallucination. You’re in my dream.”

Set during the AIDS crisis in the U.S. in 1985, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches conveys two paralleled stories of a gay couple, Louis Ironson and his lover Prior Walter, and a married couple, Joe Pitt and his wife Harper, as they all go through a troubling period to deal with issues surrounding homosexuality and AIDS. Through this play, Kushner poses question on the concepts of identity and social division. In the face of a political idealism that restrains homosexuals from being open about their sexuality, the characters are struggling to find a common ground where their identity and their social expectations are not at odds with each other. This struggle becomes particularly visible in Joe’s Pitt case, where he has to hide behind the facade of his marriage and lie to his wife. In Act 2 scene 2, he tells his wife a biblical story of Jacob wrestling with an angel. He does this because he so desperately wants to say that he has had homosexual feelings since he was a child, and yet his faith in his religion prevents him from admitting it. His sexuality and faith are intrinsically connected, and it is interesting to note this as it poses an important question: Is it possible for someone to be religious and gay at the same time? Are the paths to God and self-acceptance always diverge from each other in this context? The ‘issue’ of being religious and gay also connects seamlessly with the ‘issue’ of being a gay republican: Joe Pitt. I personally don’t know too much about American politics but republicans are described as having strong traditional, conservative and religious values. The terms ‘gay’ and ‘Republican’ are almost antithetical to each other as being gay stands against the very basic and core Republican beliefs. How exactly does Joe Pitt embody the contrasting ideals of a gay Mormon Republican lawyer? Has he also created a fantasy space for himself where these competing ideals seem to coexist?

In this play, the characters are categorized by their religious beliefs and their sexuality: Jewish, Mormon, straight, and gay. Even AIDS is served as an identity type written on the skin. An example is Roy Cohn, who says: “I don’t have AIDS I am not a homosexual man. I am a heterosexual man… That’s what homosexuals have. I have liver cancer.” What are the grounds for identity in this play? Why do religion and sexuality seem to play a stronger role than race, for instance?

The most fascinating part of the play is perhaps the merged worlds of fantasy and reality that Kushner introduces. The two worlds intertwine in a way that they sometimes can hardly be distinguished from each other. In Act 1 scene 7, both Prior and Harper meet in a strange hallucination. Kushner uses this scene in order to show how reality does not only cut people off from each other, but it also summons them together in an interesting way. Kushner also introduces the idea that fantasy is vain in a sense that it also roots from whatever happens in reality. This makes us wonder: if fantasy is so attached to reality, does this mean that there is no true escape from life’s realities? This reminds us of a line from Harry Potter’s wise headmaster Albus Dumbledore: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” Harper dreams up Mr. Lies who whisks her away to Antarctica, and Prior and Roy receive visitations from the dead. Are these hallucinations or are they “real” ghosts in the play?

Speaking of Harper’s hallucination/Prior’s dream, in Scene 7 of Act 1, Harper’s statement about imagination in Scene 7 of Act I is a statement worth noting. In the discussion, she takes a moment to discuss the unoriginal and recycled nature of imagination, that it is “really only the same old ordinariness and falseness re-arranged into the appearance of novelty and truth.”

This is a point of realization for both Harper and Prior, as they realize what they believe is fictitious is rooted in the reality of their situation. For Harper, the daydreams and hallucinations revolve mostly around leaving, and hence convey her desire to escape, and that it may have happened before.

However, there is a note of contradiction between Harper’s desires and the reality; particularly when Roy offers her to leave for Washington, DC, and she offers a defensive response. It is evident that there is a psychological barrier or restraint that constrains her from pursuing what she wants, a barrier of uncertainty that deprives her from her sense of freedom. Yet this is due to the contradictory nature of her approach in dealing with this escape. Moreso, the theme of travel or movement is preeminent in this Act. Sarah Ironson, a Jewish woman of Russian and Lithuanian descent, was said to have moved to America in search of something better. Joe wants to move to Washington because “I’m tired of being a clerk. I want to go where something good is happening” (Kushner 23). There’s even mention of a travel agent. These characters chose to move in and around America in search of something better. How truly different can things be? Have things really changed for the good in America? Has the country truly attained “its sacred position among nations”? (Kushner 26)

For Harper, the escape of a psychological barrier is not as much of an escape as it is a holiday, a break from everything. The reality of escape is coated with the notion of travel and exploration which will allow her to heal and gain insight. From here one can see Harper’s need to discover herself, an element of postmodernism which was present throughout the second half the 20th century, including the play Angels in America.
The postmodernist traits are once again present in the illusions that Harper has created without any confrontation of the issue itself: only she is capable of healing herself, and there is not a place or person that could that for her.

 Prior’s dream:

There are many betrayals throughout Angels in America. Louis betrays his lover, Prior, with the excuse that he needs some time alone. Also, Roy feels betrayed when Joe refuses to take a job he’s arranged for him in Washington, DC. Of course Joe might very well feel betrayed when he learns that Roy wants him to take the job for his own selfish reasons. And then there’s Harper who feels betrayed because her husband admitted that he is gay. Can you betray someone and still love the person? Is it worse to betray someone else or to betray yourself?



Noora, Nada, Odera, and Dayin

Priests in every Plague

I once commented in one of the classes about how priests are always present in every novel we have read about plagues so far. So I recall a Kuwaiti series called  “Alhadama,” (video linked) which talks about Smallpox that impacted Kuwait city in 1932. More than four thousand victims died because of it in just the first 10 days. This year was considered a disastrous year because not only people died from smallpox but also heavy rain hit the country and destroyed 500 houses.

The person who took the priest’s position in this series is the religious female who teaches kids Quran in her house. It is interesting that she didn’t refer to the disease as a punishment from God but a test from God. All our readings looked at the plague from one religious perspective. This leaves me with a question:

“Do all religions respond to plagues in the same way?”

Noora Almarri