Looking back, I have wanted to make connections between the outbreak narrative and the Tsing reading on “Friction”.
Wald bangs into our heads the idea that disease travels in a way that betrays globalization, xenophobia, and nativism. The paths of pathogens show us how we traverse boundaries and interact outside of our own sphere.
The stranger narrative in “Contagious” brought to mind the idea of friction. When a newcomer breaks imagined or created barriers, what is carried with them? Either with or without cognizance? Wald writes, “Travelers indeed introduce new microbes into a community. A population that is too self-enclosed suffers from inbreeding and is therefore more susceptible to outbreaks (and stagnation) with serious consequences for the population… strangers are ‘generators of diversity’; they help promote human genetic variation, which is beneficial to the survival of the population” (p. 56). The symbol of a stranger or visitor exemplifies the idea of friction. Tsing defines a form of friction as the attempt to create a global connection. This relationship is only facilitated by direct overtures. Stepping beyond boundaries creates cross-cultural and cross-geographic relationships. This constructs a global community or village that is defined by diversity and is inclusive of other-ness: “But strangers are also essential to the health and growth of a community, both culturally and biologically” (p. 56). How does the outbreak narrative fit into the desire for healthy and capitalistically-advantageous cross-discourse?
Can the two battles be maintained or balanced? Is there nationalism in the fractured as Tsing supposes? These are the major questions of the course—which does not make them unanswerable but all the more intriguing. In the literal sense, disease is imaginary. We do not perceive germs: their travel or destination. In that fear, we construct a Typhoid Mary. Not every stranger carries a virus (or, does every stranger carry a type of virus—it just matters if it has the power to inflict who it comes in contact with?). So there is the constructed “enemy” within every stranger. Both the bacteria and possible intent is, in fact, camouflaged or imagined. Maybe there is an inherent dichotomy in cross-boundary manipulation. With two boundaries, there will always be two sides and thus, two answers, two manifestations, and two angles.