Pestilence, plague, epidemic: outbreaks of contagious disease have punctuated human history for as long as humans have gathered in communities and told one another stories about how they got there. Given how much human labour has been devoted to the matter of simply not dying, spectacles of mass death arrest our attention. Whether its cause be natural disasters such as fires, floods, earthquakes or storms, the human folly of war or the deeper shock of invisible agents that unpick the body’s integrity from within, we are both horrified and fascinated by the theatre of extinction.
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