Author: vab279

Why Nemesis?

Personally, I had no idea what the word “nemesis” meant, before I started reading the novel Nemesis by Philip Roth.

Google gives us the following definitions:

– the inescapable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall.
– a long-standing rival; an arch-enemy.
– a downfall caused by an inescapable agent.
– retributive justice.
Digging a little deeper, one can find that the term “Nemesis” is directly tied to mythology.
 In Greek mythology, Nemesis (Greek, Νέμεσις), also called Rhamnousia/Rhamnusia (“the goddess of Rhamnous“) at her sanctuary at Rhamnous, north of Marathon, was the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris(arrogance before the deities). Another name was Adrasteia, meaning “the inescapable.” The Greeks personified vengeful fate as a remorseless goddess: the goddess of revenge. (Wikipedia)

All in all, if Nemesis is the goddess of revenge or a spirit of retribution, does P. Roth try to initially portray the events of Newark as a a direct consequence of the actions of people living there? By naming his book Nemesis, did the author mean to portray its characters as victims of the polio outbreak or people who met their retribution?


Uncovered Wires and Fake Beard

While reading Angels in America by Kushner, I couldn’t help but relate to my experience when acting in the play inspired by Moby Dick, written by H. Melville.
Although that experience was very unique, I realised that both Kushner and the director of Moby Dick (Dan Safer) had somewhat similar staging directions.

“The play benefits from a pared-down style of presentation, with minimal scenery and scene shifts done rapidly (no blackouts!), employing the cast as well as stagehands — which makes for an actor-driven event, as this must be. The moments of magic […] are to be fully realised, as bits of wonderful theatrical illusion — which means it’s OK if the wires show, and maybe it’s good that they do…” 

These “Playwright’s Notes” definitely aren’t like any stage directions that would exist in a regular play, where the magic happens behind the scenes, the stage hands are never seen and blackouts are one of the most popular tools to transit from scene to scene.
In this play, the author wanted everything to be seen, to be natural. The magic is there, but it’s real life magic, with uncovered wires and all the other imperfections that come with it.
This reminds me of myself acting in Moby Dick
“Stop trying hard. Don’t straighten your back like that. Walk like you usually walk. Don’t make this very important, because when you don’t make it important, that’s when it looks good, real”, the director would tell us.
And it did look more real, when we didn’t “try hard”. When we were fully ourselves, with our ways of walking, our own ways of speaking.
The uncovered wires of Angels in America remind me of the fake beard in the Moby Dick play. Right in front of the audience, a person would put on a fake beard and, all of a sudden, turn into Captain Ahab. The magic was there, but just like in Angels in America, it was real life magic with its’ imperfections.

Why would Tony Kushner and Dan Safer have these kind of stage directions?
We can only guess.

What I can say from my experience is that, thanks to exactly these stage directions, the action on stage was more real, more genuine than it could ever have been. The fact that the magic wasn’t hidden destroyed the wall between the audience and the actors. There were no secrets, there were only our real selves driving an event called Moby Dick.

Here is a scene from Moby Dick where, hopefully, you will recognise what I was talking about.

Set Sail Scene, Moby Dick


Your crazy actor Victoria 


Casper, Syphillis or Strigoi?

Ghosts. When I heard Regine and Oswald in there, it was just like seeing ghosts. But then I’m inclined to think that we are all ghosts, Pastor Manders, every one of us. It’s not just what we inherit from our mothers and fathers that haunts us. It’s all kinds of old defunct theories, all sorts of old defunct beliefs, and things like that. It’s not that they actually live on in us; they are simply lodged there, and we cannot get rid of them. (Ibsen 126)

I don’t how it all happened with you guys…But when I read these words in Ghosts by Ibsen, I was somewhat confused. What on earth did Mrs. Alving mean by “ghosts”? And, more importantly, what is that to do with the play?
It didn’t seem that Mrs. Alving was actually haunted by supernatural things she saw. It wasn’t like in the Ghost Busters movie, it wasn’t anything like Casper.

So how was it? Why was the play named Ghosts, after all?

Trying to answer this question, I familiarized myself with one of, what seems, the funkiest Romanian beliefs. Belief in the Strigoi.

What is Strigoi?

 In Romanian mythology,[citation needed] strigoi (English: striga, poltergeist)[1] are the troubled souls of the dead rising from the grave.” (

As far as I understood, nowadays, the not so well-known “Strigoi” is the famous “Vampire”.
According to Wikipedia, “strigoi date back to the Dacians. The strigoi are creatures of Dacian mythology, evil spirits, the spirits of the dead whose actions made them unworthy of entering the kingdom of Zalmoxis.
In short, “Strigoi” is a lost soul that wasn’t able to enter neither Heaven, nor Hell and hangs somewhere between those spaces on Earth i.e. troubled.

Considering this information, I started wondering whether Oswald himself is a… Strigoi?
What if his sinful father’s soul, after death, didn’t find peace and settled in his son’s body? Can Oswald be considered a Strigoi? Can this actually explain and acquit Oswald’s behavior? Furthermore, maybe the soul perishing him is his sickness? Not syphilis — but a Ghost who killed the poor young man?

If we look deeper into the last scenes of the play, we would see an echo of Regine’s mother in Regine herself. Did her mother’s soul settle into her body too? Would this soul perish Regine’s future? We don’t know.

Furthermore, we don’t really know what Mrs. Alving wanted to say by mentioning “ghosts”.
However, we can guess. And my guess is that she has seen Strigoies.


Thank you for your unghostly (or maybe ghostly?) attention,





Love me, I’m not Contagious

Back in 2012, the previous Contagion group was chilling on the beach and reading Arthur Mervyn by Charles B. Brown… Today in February 2014, as the weather wasn’t too beachy, our group ended up eating strawberry cake, drinking pink smoothies indoors in an environment of red balloons, lovey-dovy roses and valentine cards, trying to find a quiet place to talk about sickness, death and contagion. However, we weren’t able to escape the contamination from the celebration. Infected by, most probably, the love in the air, we ended up talking about, well, love, and the role of compassion in environments hit by disease, just as in the novel Arthur Mervyn.

Having previously read A Journal of the Plague Year by D. Defoe and The Plague of Athens by Thucydides, plague seemed to be a phenomenon that impacted human relationships greatly, for people avoided risking their lives to help another person who is already infected.

For example, In The Plague of Athens, some parents abandoned their sick children, believing that is was best to save their own lives than perish with their infected loved ones. In A Journal of The Plague Year, it was evident that people reset themselves to a new level of communication, resulting in the creation of an intangible barrier to escape the contagion.
In Defoe’s novel, a dialogue between H.F. and a poor man is a great illustration of the barrier that existed between people.

Here I saw a poor man walking on the bank, or “sea wall”, as they call it, by himself. At last, I fell into some talk, at a distance, with this poor man…”Why,” says I, “what do you here all alone?” – – “Why,” says he, “I am a poor desolate man: it hath pleased  God I am not yet visited, though my family is and one of my children dead. “– “How do you mean, then,” said I “that you are not visited?”– “Why,” says he, “that is my house,” pointing to a very little low boarded house, “and there my poor wife and two children live,” said he, “if they may be said to live; for my wife and one of the children are visited; but I do not come at them.” And with that word I saw the tears run plentifully down his face; and so they did down mine too, I assure you.

As seen from the dialogue, the author didn’t dare come close to the man he greatly pitied, and the poor man didn’t interact with his infected children in fear of catching the infection himself. Were those the right actions?

Having this material in mind, the aspect that surprised us was people’s relationships in Arthur Mervyn. We found the contrasting relationship dynamics between Arthur Mervyn and the other pieces we have studied to be particularly interesting.

(Credit to:

In Chapter I, a doctor saw a very sick man on the streets and ended up taking him into his own house, where he and his healthy family lived.
The most perplexing part was the logic of such an action.

Let us take the poor unfortunate wretch into our protection and care and leave the consequences to Heaven” (Brown 6), said the doctor’s wife, revealing the fact that she was aware of the frightening consequences she might face, letting in a sick stranger into the house.

Why is this relationship so different from the one shown in Defoe’s novel? What drives people to help others, to show compassion and love, risking their own lives, just like Saint Valentine once did for his family? Philosophy? Faith? Just like the previous Contagion group, we find the reasoning of doctor’s actions very interesting:

I had more confidence than others in the vincibility of this disease, and in the success of those measure which we had used for our defence against it. But, whatever were the evils to accrue to us, we were sure of one thing; namely, that the consciousness of having neglected this unfortunate person, would be a source of more unhappiness than could possibly redound from the attendance and care that he would claim. (Brown 8)

However, is it only the belief in altruism that drove the doctor, or is religion a factor?

“The stranger was characterized by an aspect full of composure and benignity, a face in which the serious lines of age were blended with the ruddiness and the smoothness of youth, and a garb that bespoke that religious profession, with whose benevolent doctrines the example Hadwin had me rendered familiar.” (Brown 114)

From this quote, we see that Arthur perceived Dr. Stevens as a religious person. Our interpretation is that the doctor’s actions were influenced by religion, and by extension, Quakerism. Quaker folk held compassion and acceptance in high regard. Thus, many of their values and social movements, such as advocating for women’s rights and abolishing slavery, conflicted with the social norms at that time. Though Quakerism – or religion in general – was not as central in Arthur Mervyn as it was in A Journal of a Plague Year, it would seem that the compassion and altruism shown by Dr. Stevens could be consistent with religious values, such as opening up his home to nurse Arthur back to health, despite the risk of him and his family being infected with Yellow Fever. This notion is amplified by the fact that Charles Brockden Brown, author of Arthur Mervyn, was of Quaker background; perhaps this has influenced the creation of his characters.

How might we contrast ideas of altruism and relationships presented in Arthur Mervyn with A Journal of a Plague Year, or even The Plague of Athens?

All in all, as interesting as these ideas may be, we hope your Valentine’s Day wasn’t spoiled by the dark ideas of contagion.


Batu, Sarah, Victoria.