Proliferation of Disease in Iberoamerican Fiction


Proliferation of Disease in Iberoamerican Fiction explores how “disease” becomes an emergent metaphor in describing, policing, and in regimenting sexual, racial, and political difference.  In this regard, Proliferation of Disease reveals how dissident, sometimes queer, bodies come to be regarded as viral and vital threats to the state, and how such an internalization of illness comes to be resisted in AIDS narratives.  Travel narratives, Enlightenment natural histories, taxidermy, writing workshop literary anthologies, religious iconography (both heretical and dogmatic), and contemporary AIDS novels form the constellation for the study of viral narratives.  Proliferation of Disease explores moments of epidemiological crisis when the state enacts states of emergency to counteract disease.  Instead of a history of disease, Proliferation of Disease is concerned with the regimens of biopower that construct aberrant bodies as diseased and therefore as subject to state inspection, isolation, medical quarantines, and at times, criminalization.

The dissertation initially examines the colonial construction of an enervated New World, along with the historical background and etymologies surrounding the Isthmus of Panama.  The eventual construction of the Panama Canal (1870-1914) used disease and fear of aberrant bodies in order to guarantee its completion.  The advance of technology in the canal was closely linked to eradicating disease as a function of policing racial, sexual, and class differences.  José Ricardo Chaves’ Paisaje con tumbas pintadas en rosa (1998, Costa Rica) illustrates how AIDS, especially as the pandemic gradually begins to find expression in the literatures of the Americas, echoes colonial accounts of disease, race, and sexuality present in the history of the isthmus.  With the emergence of AIDS in the Americas, the dissertation examines the states of emergency enacted by the Cuban government to contain its HIV-positive citizens.  The dissertation contests the incarceration of AIDS bodies in Cuba and in the literary manifestation of such wards in works by Severo Sarduy (Pájaros de la playa, 1993, Cuba), and by Juan Goytisolo (Las virtudes del pájaro solitario, 1988, Spain).

            In addition to resisting statist medical treatments and quarantines, the dissertation argues how Reinaldo Arenas (El color del verano o Nuevo jardín de las delicias, 1990, Cuba) and Silviano Santiago (Stella Manhattan, 1985, Brazil) use plagued religious iconography, especially located in homoerotic reincarnations of saints, such as Saint Sebastian, to challenge the mechanisms that create, maintain, and police the nation state.  The dissertation ends by evoking mystical adumbrations in Sarduy and Goytisolo.  This chapter analyzes how these authors construct biomedical policing, approach medical protocols, and lastly, re-write invocations of the hereafter.  The end of the dissertation aims to reify the sacred component of all life, but especially life that has been interpreted to be aberrant or diseased.  Contemporary history continues to show that before bodies are excluded, quarantined, or exterminated, they are naturalized as diseased, heretical, criminal, and dangerous to the state.