Abstract

This essay examines the shift in fictional representations of plague and viral infection in relation to technological, medial, and economic developments. Ben Jonson's play The Alchemist and Daniel Defoe's novel A Journal of the Plague Year revolve around historical visitations of plague in London. This study takes London as its constant variable; the city governs our choice of texts. They negotiate anxieties of the early modern era as mercantilism gives way to the process of accumulation tied to the developing free market as theorized by classical political economy. Two recent motion pictures, set during fictional London outbreaks, display a similar preoccupation with transforming economic spaces. In these texts, however, the relatively young figure of the viral zombie stands in place of and performs a function similar to the more venerable plague. Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later both serve as vehicles for expression of the ever-accelerating viral nature of global capitalism. By adopting a transhistorical approach, we demonstrate the relationship between media and plague that emerges, as the fact of infection generates not only a surrounding rhetoric of plague but also a veritable plague of rhetorics. In keeping with recent plague scholarship, this approach emphasizes the close kinship between plague and textuality by treating plague as a text to be read on the individual and political body and the structure of plague writing itself as a mirror of its subject, proliferating with a serial contagiousness.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-3786
Print ISSN
1531-0485
Pages
pp. 126-147
Launched on MUSE
2011-06-19
Open Access
No
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