Category: History

The fallen woman

This post shall serve as a two in one. The first purpose of this post is to direct you guys to an awesome performance of Ghosts which although I got the chance to see bits and pieces from it I believe is magnificent.

If you have extra two hours to spare I highly encourage you to click the link below


As for the second and most important purpose of this post is to discuss a concept that may have have not been discussed thoroughly in class which is the “fallen woman.” What does it mean to be a fallen woman in 1881? Well the most straight forward answer I can get was

“The fallen woman relentlessly troubled the Victorian world. In a period obsessed with the idealisation of female virginity, the consequences of sexual experience outside wedlock often resulted in ruin”

However as I have intensified my research I figured out the answer is not as simple as it looks.Firstly the origin of fallen comes from the phrase “falling out of God’s and society’s favour” Or in another version “fallen from the grace of God.” The term fallen woman is not constrained in a woman losing her virginity or getting involved in an  extra-marital sex. Woman who have been raped or subjected to the crime of male aggression also fell under the umbrella of a fallen woman. There’s is a reason such a term disappeared from our lives and it is of the over generalization brought by it. It disappoints me to learn this conception has not changed much in our current days.

Although the labels changed a huge sum of people still categorize rape and extra-marital affairs as the same thing. In fact according to a survey carried out by Mail Online 50% of woman think that rape is the victims fault. This generalization I believe holds a higher figure in this region and I though it is worth our time to look at our readings differently and use it to explore issues that we are familiar with.

Mrs Alving has brought up a rather unfamiliar term which is “fallen man”, while this term was not used back then I challenge you my dear colleagues to come up with a the definition of a fallen man. Does it necessarily mean a man who was just involved in a pre-marital or extra-marital affair. Or does it have a larger more socially inclined meaning?

I am interested in hearing your definition, for whom of you who uses twitter can use the


(dont forget to use contagion15 hashtag too)



Ali Tarek Talaat Abdallah Hassan Hussein Abouelatta AbouIsmail,

Alexander Pushkin… A man died in a duel? (An episode of the play is also attached)

Hi Class,
While we closely examine and analyze Pushkin’s play, it will be interesting to also briefly look at his life and background! As one of the most significant poets in Russian history, Alexander Pushkin greatly affected future literature. At the same time, this big figure also has a dramatic life! Though the characters in his A Feast During the Plague Year are terribly afraid of death confronting the hopeless plague, Pushkin himself did not own much fear towards death and commit to an abrupt duel with his wife’s admirer. Check out his biography

Also, don’t forget to enjoy this dramatic play acting by authentic Russian actors… (Though we may understand no word… but their body language has explained everything)





Frenchmen, Haitian Slaves and War! Oh My!

With our talk about racism in our Mervyn discussion today I thought it would be important to establish some context in that time period.

Here you can find a history of the Haitian Revolution. I find it very interesting that America did become somewhat involved in the revolution. American leaders rushed to help the white leaders when the slave revolt broke out in St. Domingue. Also ironically, Thomas Jefferson (the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the champion of natural rights, who supported the French Revolution, the leader of the Democratic-Republican Party) was put in a political dilemma as he supported the ideals of the revolution but he also had many slaves as well. Therefore he only gave a minimum amount of aid and tried to advocate a compromise.

Also in relation to the passage we had to explicate(page 274), many refugees from the revolt went to North America, particularly Norfolk (Virgina), Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia. Many of the refugees were in fact white French families who brought their slaves with them. The influx of refugees influenced the passage of Alien and Sedition Acts(xenophobic laws). This may explain Mervyn’s attitude towards the Frenchman and the  Congolese women.

Hope you guys find this useful.




P.S. Also found this article discussing the impact of Yellow Fever Epidemic in 1793 on Africans who lived in the USA during that time period. Pretty fascinating.

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?


The Martyrdom of Animal’s People

Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People (re)presents an interplay of a variety of religions in the fictional city of Khaufpur. Tape Fourteen (pages 205-222) coincides with the ritualistic mourning of Musharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, and on the tenth day, the Day of Ashurra, the night of the fire walk happens.

Historically, it refers to “Zibh-e-Azeem,” the Great Sacrifice. The tragedy of the oft-mentioned Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was a brutal massacre on the plain of Karbala (about 60 miles soth/southwest of modern day Baghdad) in the year 680 C.E., year 61 of the Muslim calendar. It was a direct result of a struggle between the Sunni and Shia Muslims for the claim to power. After the Prophet’s death, two factions emerged from the schism that occurred regarding a dispute over succession to Muhammad as the leader of the Islamic community – the Sunnites advocated the customary tribal tradition of election while the Shiites believed the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law Ali had a divine right of succession as the first Imam. After a series of assassinations, Hussein became the head of the Shiites and had to flee Medina for Mecca because he refused to swear allegiance to Yazid, the Sunnite caliph in Damascus. His army caught up with Hussein’s company in Kufa in southern Iraq, where they were given an ultimatum to pledge loyalty to Yazid or face water deprivation amid the scorching desert. Nine days later, on Ashura, a brutal massacre took place: the men were all killed (except for Hussein’s ill son) and their heads taken as trophies to Damascus, while the women were taken hostage.

Shiites consider the battle as the ultimate example of sacrifice and dramatically reenact it every year during Musharram in a ritual performance called ta’ziyeh (the word ta’ziyeh literally means “to mourn” or “to console”). Ta’ziyeh belongs to a genre of passion play, most often associated with Christian theatrical tradition, and is the only serious drama in the Islamic world. It is performed in theatres-in-the-round where spectators are surrounded by and even participants in the plot; main drama is staged on the central platform and subplots and battles take place in a surrounding sand-covered ring. The stage and props are stark, echoing the barenness of the desert plain at Karbala. An interesting and important distinction between protagonists and antagonists is that the former sing their parts in a classical manner while the latter recite or shriek theirs. There is also a strong musical presence (the accompaniment of drums and trumpets in intervals sets a mood or advances the action) and the most complete ta’ziyeh performances even involve horseback riding. You can see a few short excerpts below.

Although originally performed by Shiite Muslims in Iran, it has spread to other Arab countries and even places in France and Italy. There, the specific religious themes resonate more with the Christian sensibility and ideas of rebellion against tyranny. A cathartic experience is one of the common denominators everywhere. How does Hussein’s martyrdom function within the contexts of Animal’s People? What effects are produced when the narrative becomes interwoven with marsiyas, elegiac poems? What do religious motifs contribute to the discussion of the novel and its characters?

Source: Peter Chelkowski’s Time Out of Memory: Ta’ziyeh, the Total Drama. You can also read one of the versions of the play, The Ta’ziyeh of the Martyrdom of Hussein.

Abused By Progress

Image from

After our reading of Dream of Ding Village, it would seem only appropriate to change the “Tibet” and “Darfur” tags in the picture for “Ding Village” or “Henan Province”.  As we’ve discussed in class, the novel alludes to the ethics of China’s rapid economic growth, posing questions about the urban-rural divide, the competence of state officials and the greed of local (and national) elites.  However, we have also come to realize that Dream of Ding Village is also trying to spark a larger conversation about the consequences the commodification of life as a consequence of the new economic forces at play in the post-Cold War era.

In light of this new conversation, I thought it was relevant to post a set of questions that might inform our reading of the novel as well as enhance future discussions.

The first one speaks to the theme of community.  David Graeber is an American anthropologist who has written extensively about direct-action and the myths surrounding capitalism.  In one of his books, Debt, he explores (among many other things) the different moral rationales behind economic activity and proposes that all societies are communist at the core because communism relies on the assumption that, in eternity, accounts will even out and therefore it is only natural that we help those in need when we are able.  This contradicts the logic of humans being self-interested and profit-seeking individuals.  However, we have constantly seen how, in many contagion narratives, communities fall apart at the face of death.  It would be interesting to think about how human beings are portrayed under pressure, do the assumptions of classical economics hold true? or does Graeber’s analysis makes more sense?

Another issue worth considering is the link existing between life, bodies and money.  Dream of Ding Village maps this interaction through the idea of the Ding Dynasty, the village’s blood-boom and the different manifestations of consumerism.  In a broader sense, it is forcing us to think about the tension between reproduction and accumulation.  From one end, there is the idea of sharing one’s resources with the community be it through feasts, employment or gifts.  On the other hand, there is the notion that one must save and try to lift oneself out of poverty.  How does one reconcile this in a world where one’s culture may favor caring for other but the economic rationale prompts us to think only of ourselves? 

Reagan’s America

We’ll watch about 10 minutes from these in class today, but I wanted to embed them here in case anyone wanted to see the whole thing. It’s the PBS American Experience documentary on Ronald Reagan, and yes, this is what I was showing in lecture one year when the vice president of the college’s Young Republicans stormed out of class. I think I was able to reassure her later that I wasn’t necessarily trying to malign Reagan — nor was the film. Rather, I was hoping to explain why Kushner’s play takes such an ominous view of the 40th American president.


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,





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.