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Jungle Fever

Exploring Madness and Medicine in Twentieth-Century Tropical Narratives

Charlotte Rogers

Publication Year: 2012

The sinister "jungle"that illdefined and amorphous place where civilization has no foothold and survival is always in doubtis the terrifying setting for countless works of the imagination. Films like Apocalypse Now, television shows like Lost, and of course stories like Heart of Darkness all pursue the essential question of why the unknown world terrifies adventurer and spectator alike. In Jungle Fever, Charlotte Rogers goes deep into five books that first defined the jungle as a violent and maddening place. The reader finds urban explorers venturing into the wilderness, encountering and living among the "native" inhabitants, and eventually losing their minds.

The canonical works of authors such as Joseph Conrad, Andre Malraux, Jose Eustasio Rivera, and others present jungles and wildernesses as fundamentally corrupting and dangerous. Rogers explores how the methods these authors use to communicate the physical and psychological maladies that afflict their characters evolved symbiotically with modern medicine. While the wilderness challenges Conrad's and Malraux's European travelers to question their civility and mental stability, Latin American authors such as Alejo Carpentier deftly turn pseudoscientific theories into their greatest asset, as their characters transform madness into an essential creative spark.

Ultimately, Jungle Fever suggests that the greatest horror of the jungle is the unknown regions of the character's own mind.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. v

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pp. vii

This book has come to be my own adventure in the literary jungles of novels, manuscripts, historical treatises, and medical texts—writings in three languages about tropical lands on three continents. Most of my research...

A Note on Translations

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pp. ix

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pp. 1-28

Tales of men going mad in the wilderness have been popular in novels and films for over a century, from the initial appearance of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) to its reinvention in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979). The popular...

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1. Medical Discourse and Modernist Prose in Heart of Darkness

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pp. 29-62

Incidents of madness among European citizens in the tropics were common enough in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that the Dutch language contains a word for it: tropenkollered (maddened by the tropics). 1 Like the term...

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2. Pathological Philosophies of Decay in The Way of the Kings

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pp. 63-89

Written before he turned thirty, and before he became a French cultural icon, André Malraux’s second novel, The Way of the Kings (La voie royale), stands in stark contrast to his overtly political novels. This philosophical work, published...

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3. Writing in The Vortex: Madness, Medicine, and the Lost Notebooks of Arturo Cova

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pp. 91-117

José Eustasio Rivera’s La vorágine, known in English as The Vortex, is a narrative of a failed adventure, but it is not a failed narration, as John Brushwood characterized it in 1975 (43).1 Like many tropical adventure tales, The Vortex is narrated in the first...

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4. "No era para narrado": Narrating Madness in Canaima

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pp. 119-142

The Venezuelan author Rómulo Gallegos is often venerated as the Latin American embodiment of the triumph of civilization over barbarism. This secular canonization is based largely on two factors: his great novel of 1929...

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5. Surrealism, Science, and Sanity in The Lost Steps

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pp. 143-170

I have selected Alejo Carpentier’s The Lost Steps to conclude this exploration of madness in tropical quest novels because it marks the total reversal of the conventional opposition between “sane Europeans” and “irrational savages.” This subversion begins implicitly...

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pp. 171-184

Madness has long been a hallmark of great literature, from Cervantes to Poe to the Brontës. The tropical narratives discussed in this book form part of that tradition by exploring the act of going mad in the wilderness. This common thread implies that the forest...


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pp. 185-204


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pp. 205-220


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pp. 221-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780826518330
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826518316

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2012