pestilence – a crypto-history of the black plague

Amidst all this grant-writing that is seriously damaging my eyes – colours and objects are permanently dimmer and intangible after each successive submission – I’ve managed to fit in a great slab of research. Yay for internet, saviour of humanity, etc. The heading pretty much says it all, pestilence is the next work in the cycle following hell and extermination, in short, more of the same.

pestilence is something of a choreographed crypto-history of the Black Plague during the Age of Reason in Europe and in the late 19th Century in southern China. I mean crypto-history not in the erroneous sense of historical revisionism, rather in the sense of hidden and secret, in that the traces of a cataclysmic event remain on both the bodies of the victims and on the society long after the trail of destruction has passed

Underlying this is a historical investigation into the manifestations of disease and sickness in human bodies, the medicalisation of bodies, and treatments of illness in both European and Cantonese culture of these eras. From this follows cultural responses to disease, including the pantheon of plague gods, plague festivals and rituals in Guangdong Province, the demarcation of public space in 17th Century European urban areas, and contemporary continental philosophical analysis in the writings of Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard.

My research yesterday gave me a repeated experience of “waah! awesome!”, a bit like a sneezing attack, and started with a fairly innocuous visit to The Chinese Museum in Melbourne. I’m continuing all the Cantonese Opera study that I started in hell, and still have no idea how it’s going to be entangles in whatever I do, but … it’s like a Cantonese Gothic and has an attraction to me the way the Baroque and Grotesque does. From there I stumbled upon 大金山金龙博物馆 Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo, with a whole temple full of old dragons. So a trip to Bendigo is planned.

Staying in Canton, I was looking for the annual Cantonese Opera Festival that I thought took place in Maoming, but I discovered one in Foshan that seems of equally huge size. I came across the festival and a rather extensive English language section on the Opera on the 佛山市博物馆 Foshan Museum’s website, there’s no link to it on any of the main pages, so: Cantonese opera in Foshan, including 86 pages of 11360 operas. They also have a collection of over 300 opera movies. Yes I will be going to Foshan when I go back to Guangzhou.

A couple of other good resources I fell into include Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation and Columbia University’s Asia for Educators, and Universität Bielefeld’s BieSON, where I found a bunch of papers relating to my current favourite thing, 瘟神 Plague Gods.

From there it was back over to Europe, where I’m still searching for the equivalent. There’s plenty of gory Eastern Alps mayhem that’s hanging over from the Middle Ages, like Krampus, and other demon-resembling paganism, so I’m fairly sure what I’m looking for, a riot of berserk, plague-crazed villagers wrapping themselves in the blood of slain cows and performing ritualised obscene acts till their inflamed buboes pop, is certainly to be found in the mountains of Switzerland and Austria.