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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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.


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.
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.

“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]”

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?”


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?

It’s the season!

It seems to me that far more zombie/disease related films come out during the fall/winter than do in the spring/summer. I’m not exactly sure why, but I would speculate it has something to do with zombie films not being able to stand up to huge summer blockbusters like “The Dark Knight” or other superhero movies or action films that inevitably pour into theaters each summer.

So it’s the season for zombie/vampire/disease films. And there is a gem circulating in theaters now that anyone with an interest in disease would be a fool to miss.

This is not because it is a terribly well made movie, or even with good acting or writing. But the film successfully nails EVERY major theme I highlighted in my thesis as the main components of a disease film.

The film is Quarantine. It has no one recognizable, with the exception of “The Vet” who is played by that guy who was on Ally McBeal and some other shit. *Shrugs* The characters are mostly forgettable, some of the dialogue is right down terrible and acting is enough to make you cringe.

And while some viewers get irritated/headaches/motion sickness from the handheld Blair Witch style camera movement (which is having a hell of a comeback) — I think it highlights the most important theme of the film (the tight close ups and personal interviews highlight the claustrophobia the characters feel from the…ahem…Quarantine…)

But the concept is brilliant.


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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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Abandoning the Work

The author of the A Pandemic Chronicle wrote a post last night about the demand for 100% accuracy in any crisis. She points out that it is improbable for all workers and aide required to be there in a crisis could provide 100% of anything if they are concerned about their own family and friends, etc.

This is where I imagine the countless films, books, etc that I watched and read for my thesis come in to play. What huge percentage of people if faced against an actual pandemic (something they have yet to be tested against) would walk out, abandon those people they were required to be there to help, to provide with vaccinations, injections, food, blankets, to transport to quarantine —

And I think SZ (the author of Pandemic Chronicle) has a little more faith in society than I do, because she mentions their concern with family and friends rather than the strangers they are there to help.

Maybe I’ve just seen to many movies, but I think when put face to face with a potentially life ending crisis, humans will almost always choose SELF PRESERVATION.

It’s Don in “28 Weeks Later” leaving his wife to be killed by the infected, it’s Robert Neville in “I Am Legend” killing vampires/humans (he doesn’t bother to stop and check) to keep himself out of harm’s way, it’s families written about in Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year who when locked into a quarantine house with their infected wife, son, father, daughter, uncle, grandmother, house servant, always, ALWAYS found a way to get out….leaving their loved one behind.

So perhaps our intial repsonse is to go home to our families and our loved ones. But what do we do when it happens to them? What if there is no cure we can provide and we know that they WILL die, and by staying we also have the potential to become infected? Do we stay and provide them comfort to the end? Or do we preserve our own life?

I’m not saying it’s pretty. And I’m not saying we would all react the same way. And I’m not talking about a minor crisis, or a containable outbreak, here either. I am talking about all out, global decimation from a potentially uncurable disease.

I think it’s hard to reconcile the love we right now feel for our friends and family, with the terror we would feel in a crisis like that. The fact remains that we’ve never had to face an apocalypse before. And maybe we will be able to live our whole lives without ever having to face it, but some generation in the near future will. All the signs point to it. The earth can’t sustain us, we can’t even stand each other half the time — I have this uncomfortable feeling that it’s inevitable. And that it’s soon.

Okay, wow. That was quite a tangent to follow some realtively mild posts recently. I want to hear everyone’s thoughts, as usual. I have a few people I’ve talked to that I hope will add their voices to the conversation.

Back either tonight, or soon with something to say about the Pandemic Conference.