ABSTRACT

Wideman's stunning story, "Fever;' is about an eighteenthcentury epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia, carried through the "vector" of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Wideman recounts the epidemiological rumor circulating at the time, that the fever had come from Frenchmen fleeing the Haitian revolution with their infectious African slaves, as well as another seemingly contradictory yet useful rumor, that blacks were immune and so obliged to nurse the sick. Epidemia in the story provokes spreadings of other kinds: "Membranes that preserved the integrity of substances and shapes, kept each in its proper place, were worn thin .... What should be separated was running together."2 This includes narrative voice and historical time. But a coherent epidemiological counter-narrative does emerge from the seemingly inchoate city of infection: "To explain the fever we need no boatloads of refugees, ragged and wracked with killing fevers, bringing death to our shores .... Each solitary heart contains all the world's

Wideman's figuring of the Aedes aegypti mosquito as a woman penetrating a man sexually through a needle-like proboscis (it is, in fact, the female insect who draws blood) will become increasingly significant in subsequent chapters of this book. For my purposes here, I am less interested in how the Aedes aegypti inverts the model of sexual penetration, than how it diverts political and epidemic crises (contemporary police violence against African Americans and AIDS) through another vector, and another disease.