Author: ss8460

Conclusion. Answers. More Questions.

Through the use of diction, the authors of Contagion Literature have managed to portray …

Just Kidding.

We started Contagion with King Oidipus. As baptism, we read the scene of Oidipus gauging his eyes out with talons which, it can be argued, foreshadowed the horrors we would go on to visualize in the succeeding books. For the plot of Oedipus, the plague served as a precursor, an agent that began the plot but disappeared from the book soon after, making it easy to forget to feature it in a plot summary written for the course Contagion. In the books read since then, some diseases have been more outspoken than others and all with their own consequences. Taking a look back, in what ways did disease affect class discussions even when it was not explicitly being talked about? For example, every time we examined rumors, weren’t we always looking at it with the connotation of its resemblance to disease in the way it spreads?

Among its firsts, Oedipus made us conscious about the role of rumors in an epidemic, featured the debate of fate vs free will into the contagion narrative and juxtaposed the land’s anatomy with human anatomy [“a woman’s barren labor pains” (Sophocles, 92)]. Since then, a notable time Oidipus was recalled was in drawing the comparison between son Oidipus and the son in Dream of Ding Village inheriting the judgment for the sins of their fathers.

Next, DoFoe. Although slightly tedious, DoFoe introduced important plague discourses such as death counts, quarantines, plague seen as a heaven sent judgment and large public gatherings in between an epidemic. Since, our class discussions have closely monitored the reactions of the characters (both sick and healthy) towards those around them, and the collective reaction against the plague. We have also seen numerous ways of responding depending on the manner people understood the plague. Mocking it (Pushkin), trying to infect others (Defoe) or just trying to help (Camus); each novel was less neater about the above categories. People’s mentality was affected, influence that proved, sometimes to be stronger than rationality. The reactions are both specific and universal (we often recognized very similar reactions between characters of different epidemics, time periods and geographical regions). What do we do with our current database of reactions of characters in various disease and epidemic scenarios?

As we progressed through the course and books began to be culled from more recent time periods, the need to reason out disease as God’s retribution was less present. Diseases have been represented as a mystery for people, forcing their imagination, their intelligence and maybe, most importantly, their beliefs. Unable to understand their own destiny, they tried to assign the force of plague to their divinity. With progress, the faith in gods seems to have been replaced by the faith in science. However, this debate was culled again in the fairly recent Nemesis. Is God a time period or more inherent that that to human nature?


Often times, the disease is not an isolated social entity in the book but is rather in conjunction with other social epidemics like the war or the Bhopal incident. Another book, Dream of Ding Village exposes the blood bank business and ensuing AIDs epidemic rampant in China. How is disease a social epidemic that cannot necessarily survive in isolation but requires the presence of other social epidemics in order to exist? Disease has also been exploited as an allegory for larger concepts. In Zone One, the zombie epidemic is used to explain the concept of the likeness of consumers to zombies. The “bug” in Black Hole makes tangible teenage alienation and angst. How does the social commentary in these books differ from the books that use disease in a more straightforward manner? What if sometimes yellow fever is just the yellow fever and zombification is just zomfbification? When do such allegories stop becoming relevant? Do such allegories in literary examination have a life span similar to wise words becoming clichés?

 There has also been a succession of rather interesting narrators. It was rather difficult to get a class consensus on whether or not to believe Arthur Mervyn and his misadventures with yellow fever.  Arthur Mervyn also slowly engulfed the narrative in a way similar to how disease takes hold of the body or of society. Since, we have had a dead narrator, Animal, a teenager. We have also had in total one female voice for the narrator which was in a book written by the only female writer (actually, two female narrators if you count Black Hole). Is it a more feminist concern or instead a concern about the minority of disease literature  or both?

“Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed … it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.”(Virginia Woolf 1930)

So much to think about.



Most honest narrator: Animal [Animal’s people]

Least honest narrator: DoFoe [A journal of the Plague Year]

Best coping mechanism in an epidemic:  The group of storytellers in [The Decameron]

Worst coping mechanism in an epidemic: The priest [A feast during the plague]

Best Doctor: Dr. Stevens [Arthur Mervyn], Rieux [The Plague]

Most graphic: Black Hole

Ideal book for class discussion: Nemesis (might have been a different one for everybody)

Feel free to add your own categories.


Camilla, Silviu, Simrat, Sudikchya

Inuits zombified

In Zone One, Whitehead (repeatedly) provides social commentary on the subject of consumerism prevalent in New York, something that can now also be extrapolated for many other cities on the world map. In the book, he employed two kinds of zombies – the stragglers and the skels – to make tangible the effects of consumerism. Arguably, the stragglers embody passive acts of consumerism with their repetitive brain-dead movements. The skels, meanwhile, embody the fierce and contagious nature of the disease by their penchant for biting the unaffected. 

All in all, the mental consequences of consumerism seems to be materialized in the aforementioned trails and and physically distorted bodies of the skels and the stragglers. However I came across an example where consumerism has led to a more literal zombification. The Inuits of Alaska, Canada and Greenland have enjoyed perfect set of teeth with their diet of fish and sea mammals, land mammals and birds. However, when processed food was introduced to the community, many Inuits started experiencing tooth decay for the very first time.

In the various groups in the lower Kuskokwim seventy-two individuals who were living exclusively on native foods had in their 2,138 teeth only two teeth or 0.09 per cent that had ever been attacked by tooth decay. In this district eighty-one individuals were studied who had been living in part or in considerable part on modern foods, and of their 2, 254 teeth 394 or 13 per cent had been attacked by dental caries.

A full article about it can be reached here.

This literal manifestation of zombification through consumerism, doesn’t end there. Their bodies also became subject to the health concerns – of obesity and diabetes – that are generally specific to the consumer society.

When further discussing zombification as an appropriate (or for the rebels, inappropriate) metaphor for consumerism, we can extend our vision to the health effects experienced by humans as part of being a consumerism-ridden society.

“A hundred thousand suns, burning up the sky.”

In summer, the sweltering heat worsened the episode of sickness in Ding village. A hundred thousand suns burned up the sky. 

The Ten Suns in Chinese Mythology
Chinese people once believed that there existed ten suns that appeared in turn in the sky during the Chinese ten day week. Each day the ten suns would travel with their mother, the goddess Xi He, to the Valley of the Light in the East. There, Xi He, would wash her children in the lake and put them in the branches of an enormous mulberry tree called fu-sang. From the tree only one sun would move off into the sky for a journey of one day, to reach the mount Yen-Tzu in the Far West. Tired of this routine, the ten suns decided to appear all together. The combined heat made the life on the Earth unbearable. To prevent the destruction of the Earth emperor Yao asked Di Jun, the father of the ten suns, to persuade his children to appear one at a time. They would not listen to him so Di Jun sent the archer, Yi, armed with a magic bow and ten arrows to frighten the disobedient suns. However Yi shot nine suns, only the Sun that we see today remained in the sky.

A similar plot can be traced in our story. Grandpa tried to tame his son but his son continued to test his limits. He had been responsible for the episode of sickness in the village in the first place but, like the sweltering heat of summer, he continued to aggravate their situation, seeking personal profit from coffin business and conducting extra-humous marriages. The death threats from the villagers, conveyed by his father, bothered him very little.

By marrying his dead son off to another place, the father was destroying whatever was left of their family heritage. Before this could happen, Grandpa had to kill him. The end of summer and the death of the thousand suns signals spring. The “puddle of blood” from when Grandpa’s son died “bloomed on the ground as red as a blossom in the spring”. 

Cold War, Cheeseburgers, Religion, Hallucinogen

Perestroika was a political movement for reformation within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during 1980s, which brought on the ascendancy of Western liberal democracy through the democratization of the Kremlin under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, thus marking the end of the Cold War and a solving to the conflict between capitalism and communism. These major political changes coincided, in America, with the emergence of the AIDS epidemic, which killed over one hundred thousand people during the same decade creating among the population of the USA a strong revulsion against homosexuals, who were considered to be carriers of the disease.

In the second part of his play, Tony Kushner wants to create an image of the political, historical and ideological consequences that this AIDS contagion had and the way the promised USA democracy (which should have shown its power after the falling of the Berlin’s wall) wasn’t able to stand against it. Perestroika begins with Aleksii Antedilluvanovich’s speech, who asks a series of questions which could be read as a prelude for the action of the play, anticipating the major ideologically problems USA will confront with (even if they are spoken by a Russian, they are meaningful for America as the disappearance of USSR could be viewed as a menace for USA that any “empire” could fall):

The Great Question before us is: Are we doomed? The Great Question before us is: Will the Past release us? The Great Question before us is: Can we Change? In time? And we all desire that Change will come.” [147]


Aleksii writes out a significant portion of the convener’s post for us at the very start of the play where he begins with these wide arching questions. His ruminations next land upon cheeseburgers and market incentives which he claims have replaced theory in the world. However, as understood by him, cheeseburgers and market incentives fail at replacing the purpose of theory which was (arguably) to make better sense of the world we live in. Later in the story this can be compared to placebos as replacements for medicine.

The replacement can be identified as a change and to overcome this change, requires more change. Returning to the previous conveners’ analogy, the cure for motion sickness is more motion. Thus we as readers (and perhaps even the other characters of the play) are asked,

 “Have you, my little serpents, a new skin?”

How aware are the different characters about the issues presented at the start at different occasions in the play?


The context contained in the title of Part II ‘Perestroika’ (as explained above) itself is a wide arching exposition to situate the events in the play. The train of thought that starts after reading the title ‘Perestroika’ is interrupted by reading the title of the first act ‘Spooj’. In a similar way, the serious and moderately urgent questions of Aleksii are followed by Harper ejaculating her ideas. In a sense, the play is giving us a behind-the-scenes thumbs-up on the effect of big concepts on little people’s lives, playing with the theme that perhaps the seriousness of issues have more quirks when lived at a personal level than when navigated as an overarching whole. It may not necessarily mean that the issue becomes less serious but its manifestations emerge differently.

How can this be compared to our understanding of heroism and Camus’ attempt at correcting it?


At least two people have outstanding imagination in the play – Harper and Prior. Prior’s imagination materializes in the form of an angel. Harper meanwhile can find Antartica in her backyard and metamorphose as a beaver to pull trees down.

Remembering that they were previously husband and wife, can the hallucinations be a way for them to continue to remain in sink? How do hallucinations affect them differently?


Prior: I’m not … distracted, I’m doing research.

Harper: On Mormons?

Prior: On Angels, (insert the rest of America saying “same thing!”)… I’m an angelologist.

Mormon religion began when its founder saw an angel in his dream who directed him to the Book of Mormons.  If religion is also there to make sense of things, how do plot conflicts insinuated by religious differences affect that process?

Camilla, Simrat, Silviu, Sudikchya


Grand spent the entire time of the plague writing the first sentence to his novel. This project gave him purpose and distraction at a time when it was very easy to fall prey to ruminating about his wife who ran away. Interestingly his first attempt at the sentence read “On a fine morning in the month of May, an elegant woman was riding a magnificent sorrel mare through the flowered avenues of Bois de Boulogne”. Near death, he asked for his words to be burnt. But since he ended up living, he had a chance to “start again” because strangely enough, he could “remember everything” about that one sentence.

In the case that he did start over, an alternate path for his obsession with the imagery contained in that first sentence could be to attempt to convey it in six words. It would be an interesting exercise to see which words he chose to keep and which words he chose to let go off (and which new words he chose to add), bringing us closer or farther in our speculation on whether the woman in the story is his wife trotting away from his life.

The six word story is usually traced back to Ernest Hemingway although some speculate it has more ancient origins. Ernest Hemingway accepted a challenge to convey a story in six words and a success at it won him many bucks from his friends around the table. His six word story read


For Sale

Baby Shoes

Never Worn