Author: ew1049

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.


Welcome to Our Hellbrow

This AIDS, according to popular understanding, was caused by foreign germs that travelled down from the central and western parts of Africa. More specifically, certain newspaper articles attributed the source of the virus that caused AIDS to a species called the Green Monkey, which people in some parts of West Africa were said to eat as meat, thereby contracting the disease.

There were others who went even further, saying that AIDS was caused by the bizarre sexual behavior of the Hillbrowans.

How could any man have sex with another man? they demanded to know.

Those who claim to be informed – although none could admit to having seen or practised it personally – said such sex was done anally. They also explained how it was done – dog style – to the disgust of most of the people of Tiragalong, who insisted that filth and sex should be two separate things.

Surely, this large group argued, it was the shit that the greedy and careless penises sucked out of the equally eager anuses, that could only lead to such dreadful illnesses? (3-4)

In Welcome to Our Hillbrow, people speculate about the origin of AIDS. As seen in the passage above, people of Tiragalong believe that AIDS came from different regions of Africa or from aberrant sexual behavior, anything differing from the norm.  Mostly, AIDS was linked to bad behavior, as seen when the migrants discuss the story of the a young man who died of AIDS and ask, “after all, was he not often seen roaming the whorehouses and dinghy pubs of Hillbrow?” (3). But this bad behavior is automatically linked with one’s national or cultural identity. Refilwe, for example, reasons against Refentse’s relationship with Lerato and says, “We know what Jo’burg women can do to a man … !” (90). Simply because of her identity as a Johannesburg citizen, Lerato is judged as a loose and dangerous woman, even though her father Piet came from Tiragalong. Refentse’s mother also highly disapproved of Lerato’s relationship with Refentse, simply because of prejudices against Lerato’s identity, as a girl of the city.

Refilwe who makes the same accusations, finds herself at the other side of the coin. When she goes to Oxford, she has to deal the xenophobia of the English. “She learnt there, at our Heathrow, that there was another word for foreigners that was not very different from Makwerekwere or Mapolantane. Except that it was a much more widely used term: Africans” (102). For Refilwe who sees the distinction between different tribes and cultures in Africa, the discriminatory term of “Africans” is absurd. And yet, here the analogy works to show Refilwe how her own discrimination has been unfair. In addition, just like how the Tiragalong and villagers have their ideas about the inhabitants of Johannesburg, Refilwe’s classmates have their own set views about the city of Johannesburg. “For [other people], the cities were all white, while Soweto was black. Black in human skin color, but also black in morals” (103). As she nears her death, she realizes she is “a Hillbrowan … An Alexandran. A Johannesburger. An Oxfordian” (122). Through her difficulties and her different experience in Oxford, coming into conversation with people from Greece, India, Nigeria, and others, Refilwe engages in cosmopolitanism, and thus, upon her arrival back, realizes that she is no longer just a girl from Tiragalong. 

For Refilwe, she realizes at the end (or perhaps the narrator just tells us) that “no one in particular can be blamed for the spread of AIDS” (123). She (or the narrator with his judgey voice) tells us that really, Tiragalong is not much better than the other cities, with its witch trials and family betrayals. The deaths of Refentse, his mother, Lerato, Bohlale, Piet, in addition to all the members of the society who were not lucky enough to be mentioned by name in the book, are proof to this. As cheesy as it would be to tell us the moral of the story at the end of the novel, the narrator sort-of does do that, but to an extent, it can be justified as he has been doing that the entire novel, sending Refentse on a guilt-trip for his suicide and making him realize the consequences of his actions. And at the end, Refilwe realizes how her xenophobia kept her from realizing the own faults of Tiragalong, and her existence can now only serve as a warning. When she dies, she enters with Refentse into heaven, “the world of [their] continuing existence, located in the memory and consciousness of those who live with [them] and after [them]” (124).

AIDS in Teen Subculture

In looking at the theme of Contagion in Angels in America, perhaps we can be aided by also looking at this same theme in pop culture. The first movie that came to mind for me when I thought about the AIDS epidemic was Kids by Larry Clark (1995). In its day, this movie rose to infamy due to its graphic nature and the age of its cast/subjects, most of whom were young skaters hanging around Washington Square Park. The movie was also Harmony Korine’s screenwriting debut, an opportunity created after Clark asked Korine, a 19-year-old skater, to capture the crazy haphazard modern life of teens in New York City.

The story of the movie revolves a few 16 and 17-year-old characters, namely Telly, Caspar, Jennie, and Ruby. Telly, obsessed with having sex with virginal girls sometimes as young as 12 and 13, is infected with HIV but doesn’t know it. The summer before, he had sex with Jennie, and Jennie finds out she is also infected (by Telly) after she goes into the clinic for STD testing. Throughout the movie, Jennie tries to stop Telly from infecting his next victim, who is, in this case, Darcy, a 13- year-old virgin and younger sister of a friend.


Darcy and Telly at the swimming pool.

(points to lesion) “What’s that?”

“That’s my triple nipple.”

They giggle.

Earlier in the movie, the attitude towards the disease can be seen in a speech from a boy in Telly’s gang. In this scene, they’re all sitting around, getting high, and bragging about their sexual conquests and proving their superior knowledge about women. When they get onto the topic of condoms, the boy starts ranting,

“That’s the whole thing though, you know what I’m saying?  All you hear about is disease this and disease that. Fucking everyone’s dying and shit. Yo, fucking, that shit is made up. I don’t know no kids with AIDS. Y’no what I’m saying. Ain’t no one I know that died from that shit. It’s like some weird make-believe story that the whole world believes.

Very ironic. He’s going to have a lot of dead friends soon. After the speech, the boys at the roundtable yell out in delight that they don’t care about condoms, they just want to “fuck.” The attitude towards AIDS is drastically different from Angels in America in one aspect. No human in AIA dares to laugh in the face of the disease. Some deny it, some run away from it, some fight it with all their might, but no one tries to provoke it.

This film is placed and was shot in the 90s, a decade or so after Angels in America. America is far gone from Reagan and at this time under President Bill Clinton from the Democratic Party. In New York City, a group of teenagers are unruly and ruling this turf, where we may have, a decade ago, seen Joe and Louis talking together on a bench and Harper camping out with her insanity as company. Kids, like Angels in America, also brings under scrutiny the moral situation and degradation of the United States, the theme of contagion and how one deals with death, and the life and struggles of a subculture. When it comes down to how they all deal with the disease, the film does not give much insight into their lives. Throughout the entire movie, Telly never realizes he has AIDS and continues to have sex with other people.  Jennie’s identity as a HIV-infected individual is never really shared with many people other than the audience and the doctor. Caspar unknowingly infects himself. Perhaps the entire film can be encapsulated in the last four words of the film.

“Jesus Christ, what happened?”

The Plague is Feminist

Katherine Anne Porter’s collection of three short novels Pale Horse, Pale Rider was published in 1939. The short novel in focus for us is entitled Pale Horse, Pale Rider and we accompany the main character Miranda in 1918 through American civilian life during WWI, the influenza epidemic, and love and life, lost and found.

The permeating patriotism in the novel seems to be linked to the subjugation of women. When the two men come into Miranda’s office at the newspaper and threaten her to buy liberty bonds, they are anonymous, hostile, and similar to gang members, holding enormous power over civilians through politically illegitimate sources. They threaten Townsey and Miranda, the two women in the office who barely earn any money. When Miranda and her colleague Townsey refused to report on the ugly details of an abusive affair due to respect for the female victim, the rival newspaper published it instead and Miranda and Townsey were demoted into writing in “routine female” sectors, “one to the theaters, the other to society” (149). Men throughout the novel constantly pick on women and point out their lack of worth. Chuck Rouncivale, Miranda’s colleague says that “women should just keep out of [the war]. They just add skirts to the horrors of war” (165). Miranda additionally notices that all the rejected men had “a guarded resentment which said, ‘Don’t pin a white feather on me, you bloodthirsty female. I’ve offered my meat to the crows and they won’t have it'” (171). The story points out the overwhelmingly threatening patriotism that pervades the community and the resulting degradation of women in society during this time period.  Perhaps all this war is a big testosterone party, and those who weren’t invited feel emasculated and those who are women… too bad. America is just a man’s club, and patriotism seems to be the best way to participate.

Happy International Women’s Day, guys.

Patriotism in this novel is certainly not glorified but rather eerie-fied, with the accompaniment of apocalyptic Biblical references. The title of the book comes from one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, namely the fourth Horseman, Death. Each of the four horsemen are allegorized in the novel. There is War, obviously, embodied by the Red Horse armed with a bow. Bow and Arrows, as you may remember, make an appearance in Miranda’s dream in which “the arrows struck her cleanly through the heart and through his body and he lay dead, and she still lived” (191). Ah, a premonition of the things to come. Famine, embodied by the Black Horse, strikes home, while the soldiers are off in foreign lands. In the hospitals during the influenza epidemic, there are a lack of resources, simply because the country needs the people to “buy Liberty bonds and do without sugar and wool socks” (175) to devote more resources for the soldiers at war. The White Horse, understood as Conquest, appears at the end of the novel when the Americans win the war. But some argue that the white horse, in an alternative translation, is actually pestilence. The pestilence in this novel is influenza, “this funny new disease” because of which “[t]he men are dying like flies out there” (158) and which gets political connotations when people speculate that “it is really caused by germs brought by a German ship to Boston” (162). The last horse to come is the Pale Horse, who lends his name to the novel’s title. It is Death, the sum of all that came before.

[image source]

Religious imagery is also evoked in one of Miranda’s trance-like and prophetic dream states: she describes seeing everyone she had ever known, recognizing them as pure identities without distinguishing their names. An idea of the afterworld not unlike Christian heaven, especially accompanied by idyllic nature scenes, Christian prayers, and spiritual songs. “Death always leaves one singer to mourn” (190) is how one of them ends – and it did, death left Miranda while taking her lover. Perhaps it’s meaningful that the flushed, sickly Miranda with “one foot in either world” (207) survived whereas her lover Adam, a fresh, manly soldier with a large appetite who “had never had a pain in his life” (160) succumbed to the plague (not war!). Perhaps the plague is feminist.

Rousseauism in Pushkin’s Plague

While reading Survival and Memory by Anderson, you may have read over a part where she mentions the “Rousseauism” in Walsingham’s response to the song. She actually says the following:

Walsingham’s mixture of admiration and condescension toward [Mary’s] song is worthy of an aristocrat in a Paris salon in 1770 toying with fashionable Rousseauism: it’s very sweet, of course, and unquestionably touching, but sophisticated people like ourselves really can’t be expected to regard it as anything more than a brief diversion.

But what did Rousseau actually have to say about death? In Émile, Rousseau states that the fear of death is unnatural.

Do you want to find men of a true courage? Look for them in the places where there are no doctors, where they are ignorant of the consequences of illnesses, where they hardly think of death. Naturally man knows how to suffer with constancy and dies in peace. It is doctors with their prescriptions, philosophers with their precepts, priests with their exhortations, who debase his heart and make him unlearn how to die. (Emile, Book I, 182)

Rousseau’s argument that men have only learned their fear of death from threatening doctors, philosophers, and priests plays out interestingly enough in A Feast During the Plague.  The priest serves as a reminder of society and its norms in a community where such norms are on the backburner and the numbing of feelings is first on the list. To make a Rousseauist reading of Pushkin’s play is to say that the priest is attempting to instill an unnatural fear of death in the revelers. And the action of the revelers? Contrary to Anderson’s argument of their true isolation behind the façade of a community, Rousseau could argue that they are simply living the natural way of life, before society came in and messed everything up. In a disoriented society in the eye of a plague, perhaps the state of nature comes back with full force and no one cares about your opinions, Priest.

Below is a picture of Rousseau so you all can appreciate his fur hat.