Infectious Entanglements: Literary and Medical Representations of Disease in the Post/Colonial Caribbean
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This study engages with select disease narratives of the Anglophone Caribbean through the lens of post/colonial theory, cultural criticism and the social history of medicine. Focusing on the biological image and metaphor of infection, as opposed to its more popular associations with hybridity and creolization in post/colonial theory, I argue that disease discourses facilitate more complex iterations of identity than the less dynamic, more static categories of ‘race’ (black versus white), cultural affiliation (British, Indian, African or West Indian) or political identity (coloniser versus colonised) and propose a theory of infectious entanglements, by which I demonstrate and interrogate complex and transphenomenal representations of West Indian identity across ‘racial’, cultural and political boundaries. Primary texts include eighteenth- and nineteenth-century medical tracts on leprosy and tropical fevers; contemporary medical and cultural texts on HIV/AIDS; and works of fiction by writers such as Harold Sonny Ladoo (Trinidad/Canada), Frieda Cassin (Britain/Antigua) Lawrence Scott (Trinidad/Britain) and Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua/United States). My literary, cultural and historical analyses of biological representations of leprosy, tropical fever and HIV/AIDS suggest that each disease facilitated the construction of multiple cordons sanitaires, whose conceptual boundaries intersected and overlapped in different ways. These points of entanglement, I demonstrate, are useful sites for interrogating post/colonial constructions of identity in light of the relative fluidity of some boundaries (such as changing ideas about who is infectious and who can become infected, as with HIV/AIDS and leprosy) and the hardening lines of others (such as intersecting ideas about tropical fever, pathogenic environments and the emergence of medical cartography). More importantly, such intersections sometimes revealed the entanglement of medicine and other organs of post/colonial authority in past and ongoing othering projects and their legitimising roles in the articulation of essential difference. This dissertation is divided into three parts, each focusing on a particular disease that is iconic in post/colonial narratives about the Caribbean. Part 1 focuses on leprosy, Part 2 on tropical fever and Part 3, framed as a conclusion to this study, focuses on contemporary narratives of HIV/AIDS in the context of earlier narratives of leprosy and tropical fevers.