parallels can be drawn between the social understanding and stigmatization
of tuberculosis in Japan in the nineteenth century and AIDS in America
in the 1980s and 1990s: in both cases, disease was associated with "sinful
behavior", and victims – and by extension, their families-were often
marginalized. Both diseases represented a medical mystery, and more
importantly, both were regarded as a "death sentence," as there was
(and in the case of AIDS, there is) no known cure.
this historically comparative context, I propose to examine Hirotsu
Ryûrô's 1889 short story "Zangiku," acknowledged as the
first Japanese story to include a tuberculosis patient as its protagonist,
and Tony Kushner's epic 1992-1994 play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia
on National Themes. Beyond the surface comparisons that can be drawn
as texts dealing with illnesses, I hope to explore ways in which both
characters and illnesses are performatively constructed, using a model
based on Judith Butler's ideas of performativity and gender: that is,
the concept that gender is continually and actively constructed through
performance, but "exists not only by virtue of being recognized, but,
in a prior sense, by being recognizable." (Excitable Speech,
a similar manner, I propose that "ill performances" define the nature
and existence of illness in texts, but are bound by the extradiegetic
limit of what is socially recognizable as that illness. I am particularly
interested in the tension encountered in a text that tries to perform
an "authentic" illness while also trying to subvert prescribed social
narratives and metaphors that accompany any performance of an illness.
More specifically, I will examine the ways in which "Zangiku" and Angels
in America attempt to counter the master narrative of "certain death"
expected of tuberculosis in nineteenth century Japan and AIDS in twentieth
century America. This paper compares the performative methods used in
each text to create sympathetic "characters with believable fatal illnesses"
and then investigates the imaginative leaps that the texts make into
realms of romanticism in the case of "Zangiku" and postmodern chaos
in Angels in America in order to allow their "characters with
believable fatal illnesses" to survive. Through these investigations,
I hope to explore how the concept of agency itself in these texts is
contingent upon the characters' "ill performances" and is ultimately
bound by the aestheticized and performed constructions of love and history
within the texts.