Comparing Henrik Ibsen’s (1828-1906) An Enemy of the People (1882) and Larry Kramer’s (b.1935) The Normal Heart (1985), the paper draws on Roberto Esposito’s ideas of communitas and immunitas to explore notions of “community” in modern (late nineteenth century) and postmodern (late twentieth century) senses in light of medical and social responses to two diseases depicted in these respective works: Syphilis and AIDS. The striking resemblance between the plot lines and the specific diseases each story speaks to foregrounds the dialogism not only of the correlation between self (communal/biological collectives) and the other (pollution, disease), but that of disparate epistemological spheres.
What validates degrading Enemy as an example of badly didactic bigotry is Ibsen’s erroneous medical knowledge (on syphilis) and, on top of all, the idea that the illness-enemy association is only a metaphor. In other words, it is not modern to fuse medicine and morality; human behaviors would not in any way change its biological entity. Such an epistemological stance yet becomes questionable one hundred years later: the AIDS epidemic brings to the fore the degree to which an outbreak may present moral issues. In light of this, the paper discusses the role morality play in human’s endless pursuit of (medical) knowledge (truth).