Over many decades, "contagion" has been a metaphor of choice for everything from global terrorism, suicide bombings, poverty, immigration, global financial crises, human rights, fast food, obesity, divorce, and homosexuality. Essays examine the language of epidemiology used in the war on terror, the repressive effects of global disease surveillance, and films and novels that enact the perplexities of contagion in a global context. Fear of microbial disaster becomes a framework for larger questions about the nature and location of sovereignty and the related questions of contact and hygienic isolation, fear and invisibility, the hazards of sociability, the security of surveillance, and what a healthy security might mean. Utilizing the cross-disciplinary approach of global studies, contagion emerges as a vexed trope for globalization itself.
Bruce Magnusson is associate professor of politics and the director of global studies and Zahi Zalloua is associate professor of French and general studies, both at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.
Alberto S. Galindo, assistant professor of Spanish, Whitman College
Andrew Lakoff, associate professor of anthropology, communications, and sociology at the University of Southern California
Christian Moraru, professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro
Paul B. Stares, General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations
Priscilla Wald, professor of English and women's studies at Duke University
Geoffrey Whitehall, associate professor of political science at Acadia University, Nova Scotia
Mona Yacoubian, special adviser to the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the U.S. Institute of Peace
All kinds of dimensions of "contagion" are here, and it emerges as a central metaphor of how we organize our world nowadays, subjectively and collectively. But the journey to this point is quirky. The introduction was somewhat misleading, as I thought, crestfallen, "oh no, a politicized hectoring on leftish-academic themes in trendy abstract terms by spoiled effete impudent snobs with the usual too-obvious 'bad guys' and no sense of ironic self-awareness but instead a sort of righteousness ...." But straightaway, the book's first essays offered up some straight-faced tutorials on epidemiological and military trends in managing contagion issues in today's world, as in, microbial diseases and ideologies with the terrorism label. Then it veered back toward the sort of post-structuralist, deconstructionist, modern French lit-crit stuff that, frankly, is a guilty pleasure I can find stimulating and imaginative (particularly when it escapes the Marxist rhetorical baggage some academics endlessly schlep around). There was some discussion of modern popular culture from zombie fiction to DeLillo's novels (including Cosmopolis, available here). At some point, it was working: I got this great eerie feeling of being transported to spooky new ways of mapping my emerging world, much as I got listening recently to Hyperobjects (another audio available here, in that same vein). I like thinkers who turn my comfortable world inside out and leave me a little (or a lot) disturbed. But yet, I thought, this yet has the lingering tone of an effete academic un-ironically biting the hand that feeds him/her, criticising as a sort of monstrous horror movie the system (s)he self-sustains on. Finally, at the end, an essay on the novel The Believers served notice that nobody would escape the self-aware post-modern deconstruction, including imperious liberal-intellectual snobs. So, how to summarize? We go from organizational responses to contagions most citizens recognize, to an exploration of how the contagion metaphor is colonizing all kinds of thought and reasoning in today's world. Worthwhile, by my lights.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful