Big Pharma, Wellness Inc still can’t cut the mustard, supplying us with a fix for the variety of medical conditions relating to people being sensitive to chemicals. Maybe one day, the sick will rule the world and then we will get it right? Do you ever feel like a trendsetter, totally on fleek with your plucked eyebrows, mask and/or scarf?
Well in this dystopian world, you would be… Over at Review 31, in a review titled ‘Mortality Will Be Sexy’, written by Jean-Thomas Tremblay about Dodie Bellamy ‘s book, When the Sick Rule the World, Tremblay, a PhD researcher in the department of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago, writes: .
“Bellamy’s lengthy paragraphs formalise a proposition: that being in the world entails living in the midst of social relations, and that pondering these relations constitutes an occasion for speculating patterns of interaction and forms of community. The collection’s title essay, ‘When the Sick Rule the World,’ tackles multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), a chronic condition whose manifestation, though volatile, often involves an acute allergic reaction following a low-level exposure to common chemicals. The essay’s massive, three-page opening paragraph imitates a self-diagnosis questionnaire. Unevenly recognised by medical practitioners, MCS relies on self-diagnoses that are legitimised almost strictly within MCS circles. These are the last few lines of the opening paragraph:
“… have you ever had root canal implants or bridgework done on your teeth if so when have you ever had implants stainless steel Teflon silicone put into your body if so when and what kind of implants have you ever been given vaccinations if so when have you ever had reactions to any vaccinations have you ever smoked if so for how long have you ever lived with others that smoked if so for how long and how old were you how often do you eat fish what types of fish do you eat?”
Is Bellamy mocking Environmental Medicine, or has her research let her astray? It is fiction, so it’s probably a case of an exaggeration of the facts.
The question mark that brings this excerpt to an end is the paragraph’s only punctuation. In this excerpt, potential causes melt into one another. Devoid of both clear categories and a hierarchy, the symptomatology of MCS is a pastiche of potential causes whose accretion, more than any one cause, indicates sickness. The term ‘pastiche’ seems especially apt, here. In her 2006 monograph Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty: Environmental Politics, Technoscience, and Women’s Workers, the historian Michelle Murphy argues that sick building syndrome, a derivative of MCS prevalent in 1980s workplaces, is a problem that is postmodern in form, in so far as it lacks an essence. I would suggest, instead, that MCS has an essence that is distributed, elusive; the causes of MCS are ‘in the air,’ ‘in the water,’ ‘out there.’ In the face of such distributed causes, pastiche, postmodernism’s preferred stylistic device, is mobilised to marshal the different particles of an essence.
Bellamy’s punctuation-free questionnaire conveys a sense of the hazy, disorganised context in which people vulnerable to ordinary chemicals struggle to build communities. She takes interest in current infrastructures for MCS information-sharing and community-building, including what she calls ‘a listserve for the sick.’ The Internet has been an important locus of gathering for members of MCS communities, many of whom are women who come from North American urban and suburban areas. Bellamy doesn’t only survey existing community forms; she also speculates on a future social configuration dominated by ‘the sick.’ Her speculation is utopian and dystopian at once… ”
“… Gas masks will be sexy, the envy of every Paris runway;’ ‘When the sick rule the world mortality will be sexy.”
The normalisation of people wearing masks to protect their health. Sad but true. Makes it easier for those of us who have no choice. I’d like someone to design organic cotton masks in colours created with MCS safe dye. Actually, I’ll take one in every colour, thanks😷 #mcs safe fashion #mask #nuisance odours #solvent protection #mould protection #living with multiple chemical sensitivity #thriving with multiple chemical sensitivity
“When the sick rule the world roses, gardenias, freesias, and other fragrant flowers will no longer be grown. On Valentine’s Day the sick will give one another dahlias and daisies to say I Love You. The sick should have sex as often as possible because it’s good for the immune system;’ ‘When the sick rule the world there will be no restaurants.
And my favourite line so far: “When the sick rule the world Calvin Klein will design aluminium foil dressings and our porcelain walls will be decorated by Limoges.”
I actually agree with the sex part and being good for the immune system. Lol, there’s the ‘cure’ right there!
Bellamy’s flirtation with both utopia and dystopia (e.g. abundant sex, but no more fragrant flowers; a fashion avant-garde that evokes militarism) is worth dwelling on. While Bellamy puts things in relation, she doesn’t resolve their tensions. Many elements suggest that Bellamy draws a connection between MCS and HIV/AIDS: the sex-death matrix of her utopian/dystopian speculation; a reference to Todd Haynes’ film Safe (1995), in which MCS serves as a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic; the use of ‘sick’ to mean both a category of marginalisation and an affirmative identity to be claimed; and a discussion, in the essay that follows ‘When the Sick Rule the World,’ of a cult guru who lived with AIDS and had unprotected sex with students who ignored his status. Yet, Bellamy never absolutely conflates these diagnoses, or proffers that one clarifies the other.”
I haven’t read it yet, but you’d think Belamy would at least touch on climate change and environmental issues such as Veganism. I understand the connection between MCS and HIV/AIDS, especially on a social level and I look forward to reading more about other social justice issues touched on in this book as soon as I get my hands on a copy.
Let’s finish this review of a review on this paragraph from the book, When the Sick Rule the World:
“When the sick rule the world the well will be servants, and all the well will try to become sick so they too can have servants. Pretending to be sick will be a capital offense. When the sick rule the world the limbs of the well will be chopped off in the middle of the night, the well one still alive, flailing and screaming. The limbs of the well will fetch exorbitant fees on the black market, sold to sorcerers who will dry the limbs and grind them into magic powders to be placed into amulets to ward off blindness and toxins. These amulets will bring prosperity to their owners.”
The Labyrinth will let you know more about this book as soon as someone here gets to read it.
You can buy the book here in the UK.
I will update this page later with more links to this book. (At a guess, I’m sure this book falls into the genre of Creative nonfiction, most definitely literature.)
Have you read this book? What do you think of it?