Author: Nancy

An Immuno-virological Approach to Angels in America

In class, we discussed how inseparable Angels of America is with history and politics. Set in the 1980s, the play not only reveals the destructive effects of Reagan government’s passive attitude towards AIDS, but also draws parallel between the marginalization experienced by the gay community then and the disempowerment of communists under McCarthyism during the post-Cold War era. This reckless prosecution of minorities, justified under national security and social morals, ultimately led to more harm than benefits to the country (government chaos and public health disasters respectively) as suggested in the video.

Additionally, I found an interesting article, Cold War Science and the Body Politic: An Immuno/Virological Approach to Angels in America, in which Daryl Ogden discusses Reaganism and McCarthyism embedded in the play using the immuno-virological discourse we read in Metaphors of Contagion and the Autoimmune Body early in the semester. Here is a paragraph in which Ogden draws the connections with a series of questions: “Angels in America uses the physical phenomenon of HIV, a virus that attacks the immune system, as a trope to investigate the degree to which homosexuals qualify as the Self or the Other in the United States. That is, Kushner asks a medical question that may just as usefully be paraphrased in the register of politics: do homosexuals strengthen or weaken the body politic? To recast the question more directly in terms of U.S. history: are homosexuals of the 1980s, particularly HIV-positive homosexuals, analogous to the communist sympathizers (and homosexual federal employees) of the 1950s, as Roy Cohn and his protégé, Joe Pitt (closeted homosexuals both), suggest they are? Are homosexuals themselves effete cells in an otherwise vigorous body politic, expendable for the health of the nation or are they, quite differently, a powerful national antibody capable of regenerating and making whole the body politic? More generally, is Kushner seeking to depathologize homosexuality to such a degree that gay identity is seen as inextricably linked to a healthy national identity?”

Moral Issues in Dream of Ding Village

Yan Lianke was interviewed by Laura Dombernowski in connection to the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in August 2015

From 10:35 to 14:06, Yan talks about the composition background, the theme of love and his understandings of Dream of Ding Village

The Dream of Ding Village is based on the government encouraged blood-selling tragedies in Yan’s hometown, Henan, China in the early 2000s. Through the medium of the grandson’s ghost narrative and the dreams of Grandpa, Yan narrates the demise of the AIDS-stricken Ding village while raising a series of moral questions in a detached and surreal tone.

The novel opens with the sudden realizations of Grandpa, who pinpointed the origin of AIDS to the blood-selling campaign he acquiesced in ten years ago. Pressured to meet development metrics, the local officials aggressively allured the skeptical villagers with monetary benefits, yet failed to inform them the danger of excessive blood sales or unhygienic practices. Consequently, as limited official blood stations in rotation and inadequate regulations of black market gave rise to the explosive growth of private blood collectors, under-informed villagers became the prey of ruthless blood sellers, who prioritized commercial gains at the expense of citizens’ health. The novel thus brings our attention to the devastating implications of a public policy that lacks of a proper set of supporting regulations. It also prompts us with the question of how should a government balance between overall capitalist progress and individual human well-beings. Is it righteous to boost the overall economic growth of the country while inflicting some “unintended” regional sufferings?

On the community level, moral issues centered around the paradoxical theme of justice. In an attempt to revenge on Hui, who exploited them by extracting blood unhygienically and selling coffins they were entitled to, villagers poisoned Hui’s innocent, defenseless child to death. Without the slightest regrets, the villagers believed the sufferings Hui inflicted upon them justified for such acts and that it was only fair for Hui to suffer like them. This similar mindset resurfaced again when the community destroyed their living environment under the excuse of justice. Upon the approval of the new leaders, Jia Genzhu and Ding Yuejin, who were trying to reinforce their popularity, the villagers looted all the property from their communal shelter, the school, and stripped bare of all the trees in the Ding village in a revelry. Again, they were unapologetic, believing that these acts were “righteous” compensations for their coffins taken away by Hui. Are they becoming better off defending their rights to coffins or are they digging their own graves by tearing down their own shelter and environment? Here, Yan also brings into question the role of a leader in crisis.  Should leaders conform to popular opinions to maintain popularity, like Jia Genzhu and Ding Yuejin? Or should they prioritize the overall sustenance of their people even if such acts would incur discontent, as in the case of Grandpa and former village head Li Sanren?

Moral questions are also manifested in the degeneration of core relationships between individuals. Hui continued with blood selling, despite the consequential death of his son and Grandpa’s threats to sever relationship with him. Married couples turned their back to their diseased partners, as in the case of Tingting and Xiaoming, while the sick sought to vengefully infect their partners. And to help Genbao get married and be a real man (Yan, 160), the whole village was willing to lie to a girl from another village, while judgement was passed on to Grandpa, the only person who found such act troublesome. One may then ask, did the crisis lead to such degenerations or did it only bring out the dark sides of people?

In summary, the Dream of Ding Village is a sad story ridden with moral issues spread across the government, the community and the individual levels.

Biblical Reference in “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an 1887 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov: Depicted from right to left are Conquest, War, Famine, and Death

I find the title of the book quite interesting and after some quick research discovered its Biblical reference to the four horsemen of the apocalypse from Revelation 6:8: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” The ashen, yellowish green color is commonly associated with cadaver and bones, vividly depicting the concept of death. In the Bible, the Four Horsemen are to set a divine apocalypse upon the world as harbingers of the Last Judgment. This destined ordeal resonates with the looming, imminent death that hangs over protagonists Miranda and Adam throughout Pale Horse, Pale Rider. It might also suggest a fatalist post war views of Porter, having lived through two hardships, the World War I and the deadly 1918 influenza.

Public Crisis in the Modern Sense

One thing that stood out to me while reading the frame story of Decameron the backdrop of societal disintegration as well as public apathy to the sick and the dead that came along with the plague. As people abandoned their families, neglected corpses lying on the streets and fled the city or locked themselves up, Boccaccio made it clear that self-preservation ruled over collectivism in that era. And it seems to me that to live through the plague and accept the indifference, selfishness and indulgence of man kind revealed in such disasters, was equally, if not more, torturous than enduring the physical pain and dying of the disease. Using the words from Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year: “A plague is always a moral as well as biological crisis for a community. It allows no individuals; it makes all people a community and emphasizes human relationships.” (Preface)

Indeed, it seems that all artistic works involving catastrophic events end up portraying the people’s retreat to animal instincts and struggles with upholding moral principles, in front of uncontrollable disasters. It was then interesting when I ran across How to Survive a Disaster, which argued that during catastrophes, “groups of people are more likely to help each other than hinder.” Using examples such as the sinking of the cruise ship Oceanos off South Africa in 1991, the  suicide bombings on London’s transport system on 7 July 2005 and the 2001 Ghana football stadium crush, the article showed that in each incident, collective solidarity and group cooperation prevailed over selfishness. Admittedly, these incidents differ from the plague in Decameron in ways such as they were not disease outbreaks and probably more appropriately classified as unfortunate emergencies. However, I cannot ignore the common themes of imminent, indiscriminate death, lack of hope and effective solutions, and the recourse to human instincts, shared by these settings. Additionally, while absent of deadly germs, fear and anxiety are arguably more contagious and lethal, possibly leading to riots and group destructions under these scenarios. Without an apparent leader or authoritative figure, I wonder what underlying forces helped rein in them? What kept people together in these scenarios and alienated them in others? And as modern medicine and public health advance, we are arguably less likely to be exposed to such unchecked, raging plagues depicted in Decameron. Managing public expectations and stabilizing public emotions become more important and remain a relevant question that governors and public administrators grapple with.