on plagues and skin disorders

Reading Jean Baudrillard‘s Symbolic Exchange and Death in 2003 was one of those pivotal moments in consumption of text that ranks up with Deleuze and Guattari’s 1000 Plateaus and Judith Butler‘s Gender Trouble as having induced the philosophical equivalent of the rapture in me, imagining a far more transcendental eschatological future than a philistine and barbaric religion could even comprehend. The idea that the works resulting from these texts are part of a cycle I owe completely to Neal Stephenson whose Baroque Cycle is doomed to be named a trilogy.

Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle also directly closes a ten-year loop, returning me to when I first read 1000 Plateaus and some time later, Deleuze’s monograph on Leibniz, The Fold.

When I was last in Melbourne, I was doing some research at the State Library and stumbled across Bubonic Plague in Nineteenth-Century China. Perhaps I’m forcing the results to fit the hypothesis, but since first traveling to Guangzhou and through my subsequent half-arsed research, the city and province has for me attained the importance of other great trading and cultural cities of the past couple of millennia, and had it been on the shores of the Mediterranean instead of the South China Sea, would certainly have a level of prestige commensurate with other cities of antiquity. There is a completely irrational and emotional attachment to the place that has served as a fount of inspiration for me since I first arrived, so it’s completely understandable that once again I’m trying to drag something of it into my next performance.

So, the history of medicine and surgery, its dark roots in alchemy and superstition, plagues, insanity and other maladies, whores, lechery and enslavement, and lots of Cantonese demonology. Just the usual really.

Although many scholars (including Graham Twigg, Susan Scott, and Christopher Duncan) now question whether the Black Death was actually a case of bubonic plague, or any bacterial disease, or was even necessarily any single disease at all, it is nevertheless acknowledged that the last world-wide pandemic of bubonic plague (known as the “third pandemic”) did in fact have its origins in central China before eventually spreading to Hong Kong in 1894, and then (like the SARS outbreak threatened to do a century later) on to trading ports around the world. While the worst of the 1894 Hong Kong epidemic was controlled relatively quickly, the global pandemic which it precipitated dragged on for decades, and was not officially conquered (according to the WHO) until 1959.

— the naked gaze 肉眼

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