Civilization After The End

I am posting my final paper for my Violence and Metaphor class because I think it is some really good shit. Enjoy.

It’s below the fold to not annoy people too much and to not take up my whole front page. (Edit: 10-8-09: It’s now split up into multiple parts -hopefully- to make it easier to read)
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A U.S. Death and the Morals of Epidemic

As I’m sure most of you have heard by now, the U.S. has had its first Swine Flu related death. A 23 month old toddler. It’s terrifying and sad, and now we have to wait and see if it gets much worse than this.

In other news, I’m giving a very brief presentation today in Art and Catastrophe about Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year and his concern with human behavior in epidemic. Quite and interesting time to be writing this paper, let me tell you.

Here are a few of the things Defoe worries about….and I wonder if we will have to worry about them too:

–if there is a higher being responsible, punishing us for our wicked, immoral behavior. I think you all know by now my thoughts on this, but it is worth mentioning. it was a much more popular belief in Defoe’s time (that the plague was a punishment for sin <and sin itself is a disease…but I digress>) — but I wonder if there are still those out there that hold with this. Why not? If the gays caused 9/11…why not the plague?

–self-preservation and abandonment. the two go hand in hand and can not be separated. at what point does self-preservation take over? take over to the point of leaving loved ones in order to save oneself? as Defoe says, “the best physic against the plague is to run away from it”

–the dilemma (a dilemma which does not really occur in non-plague related catastrophe literature) of what I have lovingly termed (hijacked from Major Henry West in 28 Days Later) “people killing people” — what Defoe calls “in the nature of the disease that it impresses everyone the is seized upon by it with a kind of rage, and a hatred against their own kind” — a desire to spread the illness.

BUT whether the desire to spread is there or not, we have to remind ourselves that due to the nature of disease it is all just “people killing people”—right? One person becomes infected, they spread it to five people, those five people spread it to five more people each…..they all die from it. Yes, it is the contagion that kills, but we CAN NOT over look the physical act of one human passing the disease to another. Our need for society and physical closeness with other humans is what ultimately brings our downfall.

For more thoughts on this I recommend the “People Killing People” chapter of The Contagious Narrative PDF.

YOUR THOUGHTS??!?

[now…off to present this thing that i just pulled out of my butt this morning! thank you…thank you…….]

My proposal and teacher comments

Okay, so my proposal for my final paper needs a lot of work. My teacher e-mailed it back to me with some comments and asking me to re-frame the concept to be more about the aesthetic response. She’s right; I’m trying to hard to craft this paper around things I already know. But I am having a little trouble “re-framing” so I am tossing the whole damn thing up here in the hopes that not all of my lovely readers have run away.

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Bold = Professor Comments

Katie Mitchell
8 April 2009
Paper Proposal
Self-preservation and Abandonment
First of all, I am interested in exploring a sub-genre of catastrophic art that we haven’t yet examined. My area of interest and expertise lies in literature and films dealing with epidemic (actual and metaphorical) and often post-apocalyptic literature. In general, I am interested in the representation of human reaction in epidemic/apocalypse, and specifically for this paper I would like to examine abandonment, parentless children, and other various extremes of achieving self-preservation in the face of epidemic. The main texts I will be examining for this paper are Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, the film 28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later.
Defoe’s novel is a historical recount of the spread of plague in London in 1665. It deals with an actual catastrophic event, and describes in much detail an epidemic of an actual disease. The two films I would like to examine are tales of survival in a post-apocalyptic, post-pandemic world in which a fictional disease (Rage) has resulted in the destruction of most human life on the planet. In relation to these films (which?) and Defoe’s novel I am particularly interested in exploring the following questions:
1.    What lengths will people go to in order to survive in the midst of catastrophe?
Your focus is on the art work – remember that.  You may have sociological and historical questions but the primary concern here is how Defoe does so.  What is the structure of his piece?
a.    What various methods of self-preservation are there in epidemic?
i.    Abandonment – abandoning infected family members and friends. Priests abandoning congregations. Individuals abandoning destroyed cities.
ii.    Forming communities that work to avoid/quarantine infection. (Versus the powerlessness of individuals)
iii.    “People killing people” – murder as a means of survival. And also how infection kills humans in its own design of self-preservation.
2.    Do these methods of survival differ if the catastrophe is an epidemic or apocalyptic in nature (as opposed to genocide, slavery, war, and terrorism that have been the focus of our class – these are non apocalyptic?))?
3.    What does the focus of self over others say about humans in general? (too general a question)
Through more research, reading, and analysis of the films I believe I will uncover further points of exploration.
Texts:
A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later
The Living and the Undead by Gregory A. Waller
Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative by Patricia Wald

You must distinguish epidemic from apocalyptic.  Not all art related to AIDS, plague etc are necessarily apocalyptic in tone, although they could be.  You might look at David Arnold, Colonizing the Body  — for a colonial perspective on the plague.

Katie, your questions here are about the plague/epidemics not about the aesthetic response.  You must re-frame your questions focused on the text.

“What goes on in a body?”

Okay, friends. As blog authors go I am wretchedly inconsistent. And while this might not be my longest entry or even the most relevant…I thought I should write something. And I wanted that something to incorporate anything I have picked up in one of my classes…

Am I learning anything? I have no idea….

My class on Art and Catastrophe surprisingly doesn’t touch on epidemic at all…but I am still pulling out quite a few useful threads. I intend to document them and write about them in more detail here eventually…but it will have to wait.

For now:
We recently read Yvette Christianse’s novel Unconfessed about slavery in South Africa in the 18th century. The tale follows a portion of the slave woman Sila, who narrates. The narrative begins somewhat chronologically and then quickly begins to distentigrate into a disjointed mess. Sila begins talking nonsense to her dead son, and the audience is forced to very carefully piece together the threads of Sila’s history.

Sila gives birth to eight children over the course of her enslavement. At one point she says that, “life is a disease women get from men” and she asks “do I want my body to become my enemy? Because that is all that can happen.”

I’m reminded a bit of the Volkswagen commericials, and our debates over what is an epidemic…

[Volkswagen Part I] and this one [Volkswagen Part II]

While I can sort of see Sila’s statement…I try to remember that it takes two people to create life. However, in this context…in Sila’s life of slavery…it is not a choice. Sila is continuously raped, almost nightly–pregnancy isn’t her choice. So to her…life is a disease that she gets from men. The child inside of her is an infection…she can’t spread it to anyone…but men can.

So where does this get us?

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Later in the novel Sila discusses her owners and masters. She is discussing names…and how her owners have never named her properly, never used her real name…and the importance of what a name is…and how the owners try to make the slaves’ lives read like a book, only including the facts, histories, names, and parts that they want. Sila says that they forget about the other parts of their lives…and “forgetting is their contagion”–so if forgetting is a contagion, and the act of enslaving people is what causes one to forget or is anyway related to that forgetting, then the ability to enslave, hurt, and kill people is a disease, a contagion, an epidemic.

In Vokswagen Part II I ponder what qualifies as an epidemic, and if the popularity of something at a given time could qualify it as an epidemic…then the condoning and acceptance of slavery throughout the world over varying periods of time could indeed qualify as an epidemic.

The epidemic of slavery, the contagion of forgetting–forgetting the importance of human life, forgetting that the color of one’s skin is not a viable judgement of their humanity.

These are the kinds of catastrophe we discuss in my class. Slavery, genocide, terrorism. And I am constantly surprised that while we never go near the subject of epidemic (something I consider to be massively catastrophic, specifically in works such as “The Plague” “Journal of the Plague Year” or “28 Days Later”/”I Am Legend”)–while we never go near it, we are constantly talking about it.

Can’t escape it. It’s all interrelated. All catastrophe is not just easily grouped into a specific “sub-genre” of catastrophe. I recently read an article that broke down Albert Camus’s “The Plague” as a retelling of The Holocaust. It’s never just one thing…slavery and epidemic…epidemic and genocide…genocide is people killing people which is the rage epidemic and so much more.

Some food for thought. I am gonna try, try, try to do this more often. 😛 Keep reading and keep discussing!

“Diseases desperate”

“———–diseases desperate grown

By desperate appliance are relieved,

Or not at all.”

Hamlet, Act IV, Scene III

Thanks to Pamela for sending this along and keeping me in line. I have good intentions with this silly thing, but of course we all know where that road leads. I’m going to take a bit of advice from my Violence and Metaphor professor and just start writing and see if any ideas actually come out….because right now I must admit I am a bit stumped. 😦

The proverb is found in many variant forms. Cf. L. extremis malis extrema remedia, extreme remedies for extreme ills.

“A stronge disease requyreth a stronge medicine.
[1539 R. Taverner tr. Erasmus’ Adages 4]

Diseases desperate grown By desperate appliance are reliev’d, Or not at all.
[1600-1 Shakespeare Hamlet iv. iii. 9]

Desperate cuts must have desperate cures.
[1639 J. Clarke Parœmiologia Anglo-Latina 200]

According to the usual Proverb, A desperate disease must have a desperate remedy.
[1659 J. Rushworth Hist. Collections I. 120]

I must‥have an interview with the charmer of my Soul: For desperate diseases must have desperate remedies.
[1748 Richardson Clarissa VI. 292]

These circumstances are wholly exceptional. Desperate diseases, they say, call for desperate remedies.
[1935 ‘A. Wynne’ Toll House Murder ix.]

She’d have sold the roof over her head sooner than have you know. Desperate situations require desperate remedies.
[1961 ‘A. Gilbert’ She shall Die xi.]

Desperate times call for desperate measures, which are often sensible when you consider the bleak alternative.
[2001 W. Northcutt Darwin Awards II 2]”

http://www.answers.com

Just a little list of the variations of this proverb. For fun.

Let me break this down a little bit, and see if that helps.

“diseases” I probably don’t need to get into too much here. We can quibble all day about this one, whether within the context of Hamlet or without… (is he crazy? is he not crazy? are WE crazy? are we a blight upon the earth? are we a plague to nature?)

Yes. All of that. So let’s skip over that for the time being and move onto desperate. The OED lists its numero uno definition as “having lost or abandoned hope” — which in Act IV is where we find our “hero” — it is the King who speaks these lines and is speaking to his attendants telling them that he’s sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find Hamlet and Polonius’ body. Later in this scene is the famous line (and maybe my favorite part) about Polonius being at a supper “not where he eats, but where he is eaten”….(which calls to my mind that idea of blood and flesh being consumed, though here in death, the only life Polonius provides is to the worms….not to an infected human–though Hamlet as a zombie tale should totally happen…) I’m getting side-tracked…

Though now, if we want to pull this out and apply it to our disease ridden humanity…one might call us desperate. Despairing, hopeless, in an impossible situation. But really, “desperate” is not meant to describe us, or Hamlet…it’s meant to describe the disease. Our diseases are hopeless….or possibly incurable. Now I would go as far to say that WE are the incurable disease to the earth….but I really think an apocalypse would take care of us…(“What is amiss, plague and infection mend” Timon of Athens, Act V, Scene I)

–so let’s say that it is OUR diseases, the ones we carry with us every day that are incurable. Rage, people killing people, this drive for self-preservation, insanity….perhaps an individual could overcome one of these afflictions, but as a global society…?? I don’t know…I’d like to think so….but–thinking back over history…has there ever not been rageful, bloody war and murder? If I really need to go biblical here…wasn’t one of the first acts of humanity one brother murdering another?

“This is in thee a nature but infected.”

Timon of Athens, Act IV, Scene III

But I digress… we can’t look at either of those words without the context of the word “grown” — (increased in size, arrived at maturity) — “grown” to me implies a certain amount of self-inflicted, self-perpetuated “despair” and “disease” — our incurable afflictions are created, perpetuated, and spread by our own bodies. (“breath infect breath” Timon of Athens, Act IV, Scene I).

In the following line, “By desperate appliance are relieved” — “appliance” is a word which should have some consideration. It calls to mind more than just a mode or a plan of action in relieving disease. It represents a physical tool. What appliance would we use to physically remove disease from our bodies? –there is also “medicines applied to a disease” –but what medicine cures our contagion? And in Hamlet’s case, what kind of medicine is the act of sending him away? It’s more of a type of quarantine…in the hope that his insanity does not spread?

And then of course there is the bleak final line…”Or not at all” –which in true apocalyptic, gloom and doom style, leaves us with that warm, fuzzy feeling that we might destroy the earth before it destroys us. Or that no amount of medicine, counseling, working, lobbying, yelling, murdering, or action in general will cure what we have.

Is that dark enough, Jettboy?

Okay Pamela…your turn! I bet you will spin this thing around and bust it wide open. 🙂

Rob, I’d love your thoughts as well.

“In the end, it’s never what you worry about that gets you.”

Thank you to Jettboy for the friendly prodding. Sometimes I need a little harrassment to get off my butt and do this damn thing.

So here goes…probably nothing. (I’m still shaking the dust off my writing skills…so bear with me).

A few quotes from my most recent read (Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk):

“‘In a city with a limited police budget,’ Sister Vigilante says, ‘a high-profile serial killer is an effective means of behavior modification.'”

“All day long, she says, our biggest enemy is other people. It’s people packed around us in traffic. People ahead of us in line at the supermarket. It’s the supermarket checkers who hate us for keeping them so busy. No, people didn’t want this killer to be another human being. But they wanted people to die.”

“And Miss America says she doesn’t mean just here, in the Museum of Us. She means life. Is the whole world just people eating up other people? People attacking and destroying each other?”

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Some thoughts:

Murder as a form of behavior modification. Huh. Now that’s a thinker. Now what I have to say here goes along with this ever-present theme of “People Killing People”–like Major Henry West says in 28 Days Later–“there is not infection. Just  people killing people.” — Now if we follow this in the way I’ve laid it out in my thesis, it means anything from rage infected people murdering each other to the literal transmission of disease. One human infects another, whether pruposefully or not.

But Palahniuk (who, by the way, is one of my favorite authors because of his absolutely bleak outlook of human nature) takes this idea of people killing people a step farther in that he outlines the human yearning for bad, for less people, for tragedy, for catharsis, for the apocalypse.

Why do we want these things to happen?

As humans, we hate each other so much that we want there to be less of us.

We crave death for others, and an epidemic is the perfect vehicle to lead us to that. The apocalypse is even better.

Whew, okay that last statement is a little heavy. Someone help me back off of it a bit?

And with the last quote, about eating people…destroying and attacking. Miss America is speaking in a more literal sense than vampires drinking blood or zombies devouring flesh. She means straight cannibalism. They have already eaten Comrade Snarky, and as Miss America  gives birth, knowing that her child is going straight into a pot of boiling water to be supper, she wonders if this cannibalism, and mutual hate and destruction happens in the outside world as well. And I think that is one of Palahniuk’s key points, and Major Henry West’s as well–people hate and kill each other. Call it rage, call it insanity, call it AIDS, call it Ebola….people kill each other. People eat each other. The infected spread their disease by devouring the living.

A little more about Haunted:

Haunted is a novel made up of short stories written by 24 “writers” trapped in a house together. They each take measures to sabatoge their time there…to make everything harder…to make everything a story worth selling. They imagine that once they are “rescued” there story will make them millions. And the one who is worst off will have the most pity in the eyes of the world. This is why they starve themselves, hack their own limbs off, purposefully destroy the furnace, the washer/dryer, etc.

The plot is heavily influenced by “The Masque of the Red Death”–all of the characters are self-serving, but it is Mr. Whittier who has arranged the “retreat” who takes on Prospero’s role. In the Poe tale, Prospero seals himself up in a fortress with others. It is to protect himself from the infection raging in the outside world. During a lavish party in his garrishly decorated fortress, in infection enters anyway and “holds illimitable dominion over all.”

There are a lot of really nifty allusions to Poe’s story in Palahniuk’s novel…but I’ll let you figure them out on your own if you want to read it. I highly recommend it.

What I want to point out though, is that while Poe’s story is about both a literal physical contagion, it is also a story about the infection of the human soul and morality. Palahniuk’s primary concern is the latter. There is no physical contagion which decimates his 24 writers, unless you count the insanity which spreads, multiplies, and demolishes the entire group one by one. Each one of the characters dies due to an initial selfish act.

Less and less does epidemic seem to be about physical illness. More and more it is about something unpalpable. Rage, insanity…

but then…

while disease presents physical symptoms, it’s spread is just as unseen as the spread of rage. And rage has physicalities that can be seen.

So where can we go from there? Okay my faithful few…your thoughts?

That time of year…

Yes, that’s right. As I write this in the part of September that is edgeing into “late” we can already see the Halloween costumes lining the walls of shops, bags of candy corn piled high, stacks of pumpkins outside of the market.

I enjoy Halloween, I do. I see no reason in beginning festivities a month and a half early, but I digress.

When Halloween comes about, all the shops do SOMETHING. So this is when all of the book/video shops lay out in plain sight on a big table the material I usually have to go hunting for. This is why I got all giddy in Barnes and Noble yesterday when I ran across these two books:

[Read full post below the fold]

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