In 1978, the cultural critic Susan Sontag wrote that “everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” Her words take on renewed resonance in the era of COVID-19, when fears of contagion have calcified national borders. Not only does our freedom of movement depend on documentation of our “citizenship of the well,” but we have also seen certain national, regional, ethnic or racial identifiers become conflated with a “citizenship of the sick.” With a special focus on case studies from Africa, this class aims to deepen our understanding of how various elements of rhetoric – metaphors, analogies, myths, misinformation, conspiracy theories, memes, (in)convenient truths, taboos, prejudices, and urban legends – take root in the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that pandemics create. How do emerging infectious diseases come to fit existing belief systems, and how does language shape the course of infection? We will delve into depictions of a range of epidemics, both historical (influenza; tuberculosis; cancer; syphilis; malaria; HIV/AIDS; COVID-19), and fictional: Karel Čapek’s “white plague,” a form of leprosy that kills people over 45; Steven Soderbergh’s viral pandemic in Contagion (2012), inspired by the SARS outbreak of 2002-2004; Ilze Hugo’s “The Joke,” a laughter epidemic based on a mass psychogenic illness that took hold of Tanganyika in the 1960s – and which, in Hugo’s version, morphs into mass hallucination. We will consider the various channels by which metaphors and myths about these plagues are transmitted: radio, television, newspapers, magazines, tabloids, “truther” websites, social media, and word of mouth, and study archival materials to better understand their characteristics. Texts may include fiction by Phaswane Mpe, Namwali Serpell, Yaa Gyasi and Ilze Hugo; journalism by Nikole Hannah-Brown and Rian Malan, and films by Amr Salama and David France. With the aid of critical theoretical texts– by Friedrich Nietszche, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag, Michel Foucault, Achille Mbembe and others – we will ask: What are the metaphors that animate our understanding of disease? How is disease used – by fiction writers, among others – as a metaphor? How do we understand human bodies as a battleground in the interactions of structures of power and control? What makes emerging epidemics vulnerable to misinformation? How are facts established in an atmosphere of paranoia and flux, and what is the role of the writer or artist in this situation? What are some of the entrenched belief systems that inform vaccine hesitancy and “medical apartheid” – itself a metaphor? Can we separate illness from metaphor, contagion from rhetoric?