I am supposed to be finishing a full draft of my manuscript, The Fever Archive, a book about the West African Ebola outbreak, right now. My ambitious plan was to submit it to the press by May 1, but that is looking unlikely. It’s fine. We are living under conditions of exception. Any attempt to attend to business as usual is fraught for a number of reasons. “Business” is at the root of my own feelings of alienation and anger.
The kids are in the living room, learning from each other, playing. It’s nice and I am grateful. I am also amazed by how well they’ve been handling it, even on those days that I hear their frustrated screams, yelps, thuds, even on those days where each of them sheds a little blood. (Just a little).
Anyway… The book may veer off in a different direction altogether; I’m now contemplating integrating some thoughts about COVID-19 and sociality, as I move between basement and kitchen, trying to put words on paper and distract from feelings of despair and boredom. The original arc of the book focused on origin stories, and the theoretical orientations those origin stories reveal: from ecological, racial, political-economic, to the phylogenetic and molecular. In the book, I am inclined to explore each of these, focusing on their overlaps and tensions; I gather them in my own fever archive, following a genre of plague writing that is fragmentary, symptomatic, diagnostic.
Of course, there’s an extension of my work on the racial immunologics of humanitarian triage, which also has its resonances with the current pandemic — e.g. when Americans were demanding evacuations from ‘hot spots’, as various African nationals received little word from their governments about similar arrangements. I’ve talked elsewhere about the security paradigm undergirding US global health policies, which I think was most obvious when Ebola was compared to Isis in the UK and US. But is also an organizing principle within US public health more generally. (I’ll have to talk about the extensive martial politics of public health, which I have since connected to race and policing via the Atlanta Child Murders). Discussions with survivors (by me and an undergraduate research assistant) form the basis for talking about the political and social valences of survival and survivorship challenge ideas from my first book, and they also raise questions about how we analyze the social relations strained and illuminated by a pathogen like Sars-CoV-2. The final chapter is a challenge to think about reparations and redistributive justice, as framed by African scientists and activists, after discussions at a meeting Freetown.