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Auto/thanatography, subjectivity, and sociomedical discourse in David Wojnarowicz's close to the knives: a memoir of disintegration.

I think for people to get a sense of mortality is something akin to examining the structure of society. that seems to be the most frightening thing people can do--examine the structure of society. (David Wojnarowicz, "The Compression of Time" 51).

In this article, I explore the implications of sociomedical discourse in reference to collective social identity of gay men, specifically in David Wojnarowicz's autothanatography, or memoir of dying, Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration (1991). Autothanatography as a genre has focused on writing (graph) one's own (autos) dying and death (Thanatos) and has largely neglected collective experience as a path of analysis and discussion. This essay has two interrelated aims. The first is to propose a complicating of the subject in autothanatography in order to include instances in which individual identity is bound to collective identity by way of an especially pronounced association in the text, such as it is in Close to the Knives. In other words, I aim to facilitate an expansion of single-subject autothanatographical discourse to include reference to those collective bodies appearing in the text both individually and in the form of community. It is to these bodies that Wojnarowicz feels his own body, and thus his own corporeal death, inextricably linked.

The second aim is to demonstrate the implications of overriding sociomedical interpolation in autothanatography. In short, the sociomedical model of HIV/AIDS is one that asserts the infective nature of the gay male body. This assertion provides both a lens through which to view and a mirror that reflects communal, medical, and political concerns of the gay male and his expression of experiential subjectivity engaged within collective identity. In particular, Wojnarowicz's text is concerned with the space in which social and medical knowledge merge to suggest that the homosexual male "body" (with the plural implied in the collective singular), and its social behaviors, is inherently and irreversibly a site of risk and contagion and thus a site that needs to be simultaneously contained and dismissed. Further, I argue that despite Wojnarowicz's persistent argument against the sociomedicalized objectification of the gay male body, his text relies on rhetoric that asserts the underpinning of the homosexual body as dangerous and infective.

1. Blurring Boundaries, Blending Lives: The Autos of Autothanatography

Wojnarowicz's monograph is an especially difficult book to engage as autobiography. Eric Waggoner agrees, noting that this difficulty arises "largely because of the resolutely visceral nature of its writing and the 'pastiched' construction of its narrative" (172). The difficulty that Waggoner notes in reading Close to the Knives as autobiography is located, it seems, in what Waggoner implies is the necessary framing of autobiographical writing as writing of the self-as-primary-performer in a text that follows a distinct and identifiable narrative trajectory. Close to the Knives is a nonfiction collection in which are included previously published and non-published essays and sketches, brief recollections of childhood, discussions of Wojnarowicz's living in New York, political rants, ruminations on his own and others' dying bodies, conversations about suicide, and thoughts on the HIV/AIDS crisis as it affects both Wojnarowicz and others. The postmodern collection of fragmented social and political commentary and at times stream-of-consciousness writing about not only Wojnarowicz's own person but also about others' bodies in Close to the Knives may appear out of reach, or at least a stretch, as neatly categorizeable autobiographical discourse. And yet, these aspects are precisely what make interpreting this text as autothanatography so applicable. What is central to the text in all of its parts is the recurring formation and disintegration of Wojnarowicz's body-self and the (members of his) community in which he locates affiliation and searches for voice as pieces of one and the same physical (and frequently sexual) composition. He absorbs all into his text as the same autos, each member constructed and reflected within the others. Such dialogic interaction with other subjects and their texts (whether printed or in conversation) make up the basis for Close to the Knives. The text is informed by and informs the stories of both Wojnarowicz and the community in and about which he writes. Such story threads co-create the text.

One might begin to illuminate the importance of such a dialog by way of extending a brief outline of Jacques Derrida's assertions in The Ear of the Other regarding self-creation and the pact between the authorial subject and the reader. In accordance with Paul de Man's view of the difficulties inherent in the self-creation of the authorial subject, Derrida identifies subjectivity and agency as problematic, for they are granted to the authorial subject by the reader of the text and only with her acceptance of the signature of the author as authentic. This signature becomes a bond on the cover of the autobiographical text which secures the author as the text's creator as well as the text's subject. Of the importance of this exchange, Derrida notes, "in some way the signature will take place on the addressee's side, that is, on the side of him or her whose ear will be keen enough to hear my name, for example, or to understand my signature, that with which I sign. ... the ear of the other says me to me and constitutes the autos of my autobiography" (50). This is a fundamental interpretation of the postmodern and poststructuralist view of authorial subjectivity: the authorial subject recognizes himself in the recognition of the reader, who, in anticipation, he has already created. (1) The ear of the other says me to me: this interpretation relies on a dialogic foundation that proposes that the authority of the text interacts with and is in turn shaped by interactions with those other than the authorial subject. The creation of authority in the text is cyclical, relying not only on the author's assumption of responsibility for the contents of the text, but also on the author's reliance on the participation of the reader in co-creating the authority of the author. In other words, if, in anticipation, such a reader is created by the author at the time of writing, this reader is created in order to validate the author's authority and existence as authorial subject. In consequence, the author is creating the reader in order to create himself as authorial subject (simplified, one might think of this creation in terms of how a child plays a game of "house" and designates roles: you, friend, are the "baby" so that I, the child, can be the "mommy").

Taking Derrida's interpretation of textual authority as bound to reader recognition with Arthur W. Frank's assertion in The Wounded Storyteller that stories of illness are told "both to others and to one's self; each telling is enfolded within the other" (56), I argue that the dialogic nature of autothanatography allows for extension to include experiences of others' bodies as well as one's own. Borrowing from Ronald Dworkin's attentions to the concept of the "narrative wreck" (i.e., the narrative told under conditions of bodily duress and uncertainty and the pervasive fear that accompanies illness), the "self" of which Frank speaks is "being formed in what is told" (Frank 54-55). Through this telling, "Relationships with others are reaffirmed, and the self is reaffirmed" (56). Close to the Knives locates Wojnarowicz's struggles to form his own sense of corporeal and authorial self in relation to his community affiliation (which acts in the place of the "reader") and in opposition to what lies outside of his community. If, indeed, his self is being formed in what is told as a way out of "narrative wreckage," as Roy Schafer suggests occurs in such tales, then certainly his self is formed in what is told by and about the other selves with whom he finds direct correspondence. To make this clear, the text conflates Wojnarowicz's personal bodily experiences with those of others, often mingling their representations. The text uses this conflation and community association to fill the gap Wojnarowicz perceives between subjectivity and the absence of subjectivity that is reflected in a lack of sociomedically accepted voices of individual HIV/AIDS sufferers in the United States. That is, the absence of political and cultural recognition of persons with AIDS (PWAs) as dying subjects entitled to various sociomedical protections (rather than as dying objects of sociomedical disdain) prompts Close to the Knives to rely on an inclusive definition of autobiographical subject that takes in not just the author but the reader/community, too.

In Close to the Knives, this definition applies to Wojnarowicz's interactions with others, readers and, in turn, shapers of--participants in--his autobiographical text and, by extension, his socially and medically readable body-text. That is, one may easily slip the term "reader" from Derrida and put in its place that which represents cultural affiliation, "community," by which we are all, always, being "read." in order to identify a communal reading and rereading of the body-text that pervades autothanatography. Wojnarowicz acknowledges explicitly the degree of his affiliation with the (sometimes presumed) gay men he encounters, some of whom he has no other contact with but the brief instances of mutual and momentary recognition: "Death comes in small doses. ... There are dozens of faces I hardly know but who have become familiar over time. ... Each one of them is a receptacle for some belief or projection of beliefs and each one of them carries a piece of myself" (Close 165-166). In relinquishing these pieces of himself to others, he both creates others presumed narrative trajectory--that of the gay male (a point to which I will return)--as well as allows others' control over part of his story. His text reflects this dual creation and the extent to which the autothanatographer sees or locates reflections of himself (and of his medical predicament) in others. But more than this, Wojnarowicz's comments also suggest the struggle for control over his body-as-text-as-body. The "self" that he recognizes is physically and psychically bound to the selves of others he encounters and with whom he finds membership, people whose individual actions he is powerless to control but to whose stories, bound to his own, he wants to give voice. In metaphorically relinquishing pieces of himself to those in his community of high-risk homosexual males--those to whom he relates directly--he demonstrates the communal qualities of the body as both readable text and corporeal presence. His dying body, and the narrative threads which bind it to his story, belongs as much to others as it does to him. In return, others' bodies and their body stories are tied to his through a narrative trajectory that overrides the control of the stories told. Importantly, too, is that even this brief passage reflects Wojnarowicz's purposeful conflation of physical recognition and the outward marking of risk and infection with social belief and issues of subjectivity and voice of the outcast PWA.

Theoretical discussions of autothanatography most often relate to narratives of one's own physical process of dying. Rarely do discussions of autothanatography reach out beyond the accepted autobiographical subject to include the dying or death of others whose experience is irrefutably entwined with the autothanatographer's sense of self. Two notable examples exist, however. Coining her own term--"automortography"--Deborah Lee Ames's theorization of autothanatography occurs within the frame of the Holocaust and survivors' remembrances of what she calls "their own deaths." In addition to this, though, she also extends the application of the term to those who she says have already experienced death and have moved forward in an attempt to document it. Ames's article presumes that "death" may but need not include the final expiration of the corporeal self of the author. More often, death is a process of extreme and irreversible change, be it mental, spiritual, or emotional, that also may be reflected in the physical. The texts that Ames examines acknowledge the eventual, indeed the inevitable, death of the whole person, that is, the person which includes the physical body. However, in her reading Ames emphasizes the notion that within the context of particularly harrowing trauma, one often experiences a very real death long before the body actually expires, calling to mind Eric Michaels' assertion in his own autothanatography Unbecoming, years before Ames' article, that AIDS is a disease of a thousand death rehearsals (94). (2) In fact, Ames's reading inadvertently mirrors a reading of terminal illness narratives in which while the corporeal self is still hanging onto a splinter of life, no matter how abbreviated, both the body and mind have begun their steep decline into death as a result of traumatic experience. Notably, she includes second-person narratives in which the author copes with the death of a loved one and experiences that death as a persona] event, that is, as the death of one's own sense of self and wellbeing necessary to live fully.

Likewise, in the succinctly named "Autothanatography," Linnell Secomb explores much these same ideas in her discussion of trauma survivors' internalization of death, an undertaking which Secomb suggests is the result of narrowly escaping physical extermination at the great cost of the cessation of self. Discussing the Holocaust, as does Ames, as well as Aboriginal survivors of massacres and eugenic assimilation policies in Australia, she argues that "If the past cannot be segregated from either the present or the future, then survivors may not be those who have escaped the fatal crucible of events, but those embodying or incarnating the gravity of those events. The survivor has not eluded death, the survivor lives it" (41, emphasis mine). Survivors in this case are not surviving whole, but living fragmentary lives forever under the leering shadow of death. In a case in which community affiliation is pronounced, as the New York City gay community is in Close to the Knives, the same statements may be applied regarding death from HIV/AIDS, the specter that looms over the infected or high-risk body and the resultant stories it tells of illness experience. The survivor of HIV/AIDS--however momentary that survival was in the 1980s and 90s--dies even as he or she lives, becoming a physical, political, and cultural embodiment of the destruction wreaked in his or her community. Especially in regard to HIV/AIDS, the past, to use Secomb's phrasing, cannot be segregated from either the present or the future, not when so much of the illness trajectory (that unto a grueling process of dying and death which is all but ignored or shoved aside by the "general public" and politicians) remains the same: "History--understood as the description of past events--is fractured when events cannot be banished to the past; when they continue their work, haunting the present" (Secomb 40).

This conflation of past and present is a hallmark of autothanatographical writing; the author struggles and fails to locate a future, which through the processes of temporal conflation is impossible to fathom. Among its many hallmarks of autothanatography, Wojnarowicz's text struggles, too, with issues of temporality. It is in view of these struggles and in the context of such discussions of mutual story creation, community affiliation, and the effects of dying and death on the corporeal and social body-in-plurality that I consider Close to the Knives and the tenuous subjectivity of the (often outcast) PWA. While the assertions of shared autobiographical mortality made by Ames and Secomb lend partial credence to my argument that autothanatography can and does include mortal experiences of others, both articles hinge on a metaphorical reading of death, one that does not include the disease process that tangibly, physically consumes the body of the author even while she discusses the experiences of others. Ames and Secomb call attention to an elimination of important psychic elements, to be sure, but those that are nonetheless intangible. They outline an erasure of the spiritual or cultural self without the physical counterpart that is exclusive to autothanatography. Ames' and Secomb's autobiographical subjects are the metaphorical walking dead, neither physically living nor dying faster than any others. In contrast, Wojnarowicz is dying of HIV/AIDS alongside his brethren, absolutely, marking his own text with their experiences and vice versa.

2. Expressions of Risk

Before offering a further reading of the text, I would like to turn briefly to a useful discussion of risk and contagion in order to provide a foundation for the ways such discourse is used in Wojnarowicz's monograph. Varied inclusions of others' voices in Close to the Knives suggests that Wojnarowicz textually groups gay male bodies en masse, both following the expression of community through illness and the sociomedical construction of homosexual danger (conveyed in the inevitability of contracting, and dying from, HIV/AIDS). He thus critiques the position of the outcast PWA and the forces that disallow his partaking of the subject-building discourse that surrounds him. The text and the writing subject delineate the dying body caught between both bodily and communal death and the impersonal language that Wojnarowicz suggests belongs to everyone but is made unavailable to the PWA as a language of medical and social agency. In turn, however, he also accepts a central feature of biomedicalization, the representation of everyday life in terms of medical risks. The medicalization of the homosexual "lifestyle" not only removed from the DSM-II in 1974 the classification of homosexuality as a mental disease, (3) it also offered the reinterpretation of "everyday life in the gay cultures of big cities in medical terms" (Preda 68), that is, it discursively restructured homosexuality into a lifestyle choice rather than a disease, and evaluated homosexuals' actions accordingly. Concurrently, biomedicalization posited a homosexual lifestyle association with infectious, often sexually transmitted diseases, effectively paving the way for the association of homosexuality with high-incidence HIV infection. Particular risk groups are targeted for blame often, as Preda notes of the NIH and related institutions, through the use of medical models which promote moral positions. Such moral-medical models posited the contraction of HIV as merely the long-incoming medical consequence of an immoral act. For once 'AIDS was clearly linked to sexual transmission, largely--though not exclusively--through male homosexual acts, it was inevitable that further discussion of the disease would become inextricably connected with fears, fantasies and beliefs about sexuality" (Altman 140). Linking HIV with so-called immoral behavior affected some measure of comfort to those who considered their own actions to fall well within the norms of sexual moral conduct.

Collectively, social and medical discourses often rely on the communication of danger and of the forms that danger takes, measured often and most understandably in terms of risk. The intrusion of sociomedical discourse into accounts of death and dying may be predictable given that, as Mary Douglas argues, "anomalous events may be labeled dangerous" (49), and certainly one would like to think of terminal illness as anomalous rather than routine. This anomalous quality appears as a motivating factor behind autothanatographical writing in which the irregularity of the body manifests in the story being told.

The correlations between danger and risk are salient in terms of identifying sociomedical concerns in autothanatography. The concept of "risk" is multifaceted, as is its impact upon sociomedical discourse. Risk is a classifying device that establishes limits, or categories, within which a certain disease's manifestations may be viewed as normal (e.g., Kaposi's sarcoma lesions in an HIV/AIDS patient) or unusual (e.g., a diagnosis of breast cancer in a woman under thirty-five years of age). In sociomedical discourse, risk also determines by what route--or type of person--a disease can travel or by which it can be transmitted. In other words, it defines the domains of the possible and impossible. (4) This possibility, in turn, influences all manner of social and medical decisions made about a disease, its projected course, and the persons who are infected with or carry it. One way in which risk possibility functions is by way of classifying blame, that is, by way of producing causality through agency. For example, in relation to sociomedical discourse surrounding HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, risk dictates "natural causality." or the idea that one who belongs to a particular risk group (e.g., homosexual males) is thus one who participates in socially and medically defined risk behaviors. In turn, this individual knowingly leaves open the possibility of disease contraction through behavior so that if infection occurs, the person is to blame, for his so-called "dangerous" or "risky" behaviors have prompted his contraction of the disease. Risk is thus also a method that accounts for the order it produces (its targeting and classification of particular risk groups) and for the construction of natural causality, or the idea that one may be "deserving" of a disease because of one's actions.

In sum, risk is an important link between the concept of social and medical danger and its sociomedical implications. It provides, first, categorization through difference (non-male, non-homosexual, non-aged); second, a narrative regarding how a disease may or may not be transmitted (recall the lack of study regarding female-to-female transmission of HIV); third, a construction of a past to explain the present (often by way of showing that the risk of contraction had been present long before a disease's discovery in the patient); and fourth, a reconstruction of agency, or blame through action, from relations of natural causality (routes of transmission, what or whom to avoid). Given these points, it is clear that risk plays a large role in the construction of one's social, medical, and personal sense of self in autothanatography. Sociomedical discourse regarding the ill body injects this notion of risk into the autothanatographer's perception of selfhood and sociomedical viability, structuring immediate autobiographical responses and providing context (cause and effect) where context is lacking.

Discourses of risk and contagion are implicit in much of Wojnarowicz's text, and the concepts of natural causality as well as the assumption that gay men inherently carry the risk of infection and disease underlie the narrative trajectory of the text on the whole. Turning to the "dozens of faces [Wojnarowicz] hardly Icnow[s] but who have become familiar over time "Each one he notes, "is a receptacle for some belief or projection of beliefs and each one of them [who] carries a piece of [him]self" (Close 165-166). Wojnarowicz makes connections not only between himself and others, but also between gay males' sexual behavior and a sociomedically accepted illness trajectory that begins with promiscuity and ends with death from disease. In illustration of this point, Wojnarowicz discusses "one homely queen I used to see years ago on the streets of the west village on nights when I was on the prowl," a "straggly" looking man who was "sometimes ... alone, sometimes on the arm of a tough-looking street hustler or borderline homeless type" (167). Though they never speak, this "queen" becomes a brief embodiment of both Wojnarowicz and his fears regarding the inevitability of infection with HIV, the piece of himself he cannot control but which is nonetheless tied to him by way of narrative and bodily scope: "In the last few years I have taken comfort when rounding a corner ... and suddenly coming upon this familiar stranger and seeing that he'd changed very little; he was still looking healthy in the midst of a terrible epidemic ..., and each time I'd seen him since the mid-eighties I'd think: 'Good for you--you're still around, still alive, still healthy"' (167). The mid-eighties, of course, witnessed the initial onslaught of HIV-infection information disseminated into the United States, much of it tainted by media representations detailing high-risk groups and routes of transmission only later proven incorrect and/or discriminatory. (5)

Such information provided homosexuals who cared to listen, most profoundly in New York City and large cities in California such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, a collective picture of themselves as inevitable casualties of HIV Information was much less about how to practice safer sex or about the danger of certain unprotected sex acts in particular circumstances (for instance, having sex without a condom with someone other than one's primary partner) than it was about the danger homosexuals posed to the American population. The medical-moral code was in full force, suggesting no need to discuss enhancing the safety of "immoral" sex acts.

The relationship of information availability to risk is borne in the impact of such messages on the gay community, tangibly in the rise in numbers of those infected, so it is no surprise that Wojnarowicz takes comfort in seeing that a peer is still healthy, still looking the same aside from ever-yellowing eyeglasses: "Our eyes have met for twelve years and we have never spoken a word, not even a nod, but we have had whole conversations in that brief contact" (167). Of course, the concept of "healthy" or not healthy in this context is based solely on the recognizable outward manifestations of HIV in the form of Kaposi lesions. Rhetorically, however, Wojnarowicz also ties the notion of contagion and risk to markers of filth and sociomedical judgments, as he notes the man's "long straggly hair" and his attire of "salvation army cast-offs"; and behavior, the man's association with "borderline homeless type[s]" and the connotation of probable submissive sexual activities associated with calling someone a "queen." These are the "whole conversations" to which Wojnarowicz appears to allude.

Immediately following these declarations, Wojnarowicz loses his sense of comfort as he discusses meeting the man in the street as they are walking in opposite directions. Here the passage turns, and Wojnarowicz turns with it, facing the man whose countenance he hardly recognizes until their eyes meet and he sees the man's eyes behind the glasses, wild with fear. "I saw him at the last second," he says, "just as our bodies passed among turning cars and the first thing I recognized were his eyes, only now they were wild with misery and panic and it was only then that I realized his face and neck were blurred with Kaposi lesions like a school of burgundy-colored fish upturning around the contours of his jaw" (167). These burgundy-colored fish swimming up the sides of his face, overtaking any rosy glow Wojnarowicz once saw there, belong just as much to the man as to the man's accepted narrative trajectory as established by Wojnarowicz in his continual affirmation, one of anxiety relieved, "Good for you." In short, Wojnarowicz already assumes the risk and contagion inherent in the gay male body and asserts this risk throughout his textual exploration of subjectivity and sociomedical agency in regard to the PWA.

The sexual nature of the American public's conception of HIV/AIDS can hardly be disputed; one need only refer to the FDA's attempt to curb the spread of HIV through the lifetime blood-donation ban only against men who have engaged in "homosexual acts" (not against other high-risk groups such as prostitutes and intravenous-drug users), again adhering to the rubric of the "lifestyle choice." One might refer to Leo Bersani's celebrated "Is the Rectum a Grave?" and its various accounts of public and homophobic hatred inflicted upon HIV/AIDS sufferers, even a family of hemophiliac boys too young to have contracted the virus through sexual activity. If one prefers to consult statistics, one need go only as far as Dennis Altman's lauded early text AIDS in the Mind of America that relays the early reports on HIV transmission which stressed, in numbers and context, homosexual promiscuity (144), or to Alex Preda's more recent AIDS, Rhetoric, and Medical Knowledge, which outlines these numerous statistics in plentiful detail. Wojnarowicz, in taking up the discourse of the gay male body as an enduring site of risk, reveals the authority of sociomedical narrative as well as its fragile position, one apt to be challenged by those caught in its stories, even while they succumb to the confines of its borders.

3. Polyphonic Illness

G. Thomas Couser remarks that "'individuals' are, like texts, merely fields where different cultural codes intersect" (18). It is not out of the question to suggest that an individual's autobiographical text may reflect, too, the tensions produced when these codes are in apparent support of the withholding of subject status from the author and his contemporaries. In Close to the Knives, I designate these intersections as the ever-shifting ground on which the PWA struggles, often unsuccessfully, to (re)claim agency from a social and medical system that denies him a sense of subjectivity relative to his body (except, one might note, in the case of blame for the initial contraction of HIV). Wojnarowicz foregrounds this problem explicitly: "Late yesterday afternoon; he writes, "a friend came over unexpectedly to sit at my kitchen table and try to find some measure of language for his state of mind. ... He's been on AZT for six to eight months and his T-cells have dropped from one hundred plus to thirty. His doctor says, 'What the hell do you want from me?' Now he's asking himself, 'What the hell do I want?"' (111). In a general sense, this passage speaks of one in the midst of suffering from a virus for which research through the 1980s was focused not on cure or even treatment, but on testing and immunization (to save the "general" population). (6) The voice of the PWA takes up the accepted discourse of the medical community and its call to be absolved of responsibility in both a medical and a social sense. This friend's doctor wants no accountability for the patient whom he cannot cure, one who represents a manifestation of the absence of medical control and triumph over mortality, and he implies as much: What the hell do you want from me? In this context even comfort in physician-patient dialog is not an option for the PWA, who has little or no recourse in terms of bringing about any social (or legal or medical) ramifications against a care-less doctor for lack of holistic treatment. As if to illustrate this point, the language that this friend uses is the doctor's, the rhetoric to which he must turn given his lack of viability as a speaking subject within the context of medical and social discourse. He merely echoes back the doctor's assertion of helplessness and uncertainty and blameful questioning of what, in fact, he does want.

By the combative nature of the reported interaction between this friend and his doctor, Close to the Knives, and Wojnarowicz himself, argues that this friend is in no recognized or accepted position to say that he wants cure or care, so what does he want? What else is there? As a person to whom all avenues of discursive control are closed because of the extensive social and medical bias against those with HIV/AIDS, the friend has no route to desire of any type, desire which in itself is valid in regard to recognized sociomedical subjects only, a point to which I will return shortly. In including in his memoir this friend's interaction with his doctor and the friend's subsequent lamentation of his situation, Wojnarowicz effects a form of discursive control and shares that control with his friend.

Further, Wojnarowicz's editorialization of his friend's aim--to "find some measure of language for his state of mind"--is one that posits a "state of mind" as a necessary complement to expressing a "state of body." in part so that he may project onto such a state some ability to describe the difficulties of articulating the multifaceted illness experience. This rhetorical framing suggests, in turn, that these states are linked inextricably and that describing one might assist or even stand in as proxy for describing the other, neither of which the friend is able to do in the presence of the doctor, who provides censure for even the questioning of T-cell counts and the toxicity of AZT. However, this conflation is a slippery one for Wojnarowicz given that the full discussion (or at least the parts of it that are relayed by Wojnarowicz in the text) conflates, too, the friend's dying body and mental capacity to comprehend the friend's uncharted death and Wojnarowicz's mental difficulties regarding his own failing health from HIV. Such a conflation also reflects Wojnarowicz's assertion of his friend's linguistic impotence, and thus his own impotence, regarding his disease trajectory. As the doctor's comments suggest, comfort for the PWA is not and will not be forthcoming, and neither should it be expected.

The friend's only option is to flounder openly while "unexpectedly" seeking out comfort for the mind through the process of attempting to express his fears and difficulties. Part of the tableau that Wojnarowicz provides to this interaction is knick-knacks and other accoutrements and medicines on the kitchen table where they are seated: "The table is filled with piles of papers and objects; a boom box, a bottle of AZT, a jar of Advil ... There's an old smiley mug with pens and scissors and a bottle of Xanex for when the brain goes loopy; there's a Sony tape recorder that contains a half-used cassette" (111). These items are presented as a palliative to the mind, not the body, which is, as Wojnarowicz's title suggests, disintegrating, the final throes of which process will terminate the possibility of language. There is only the attempt to reign in and express the articulable troubles of the mind, however achingly difficult, and hope that these are sufficient to encompass the state of the body. Wojnarowicz's friend tries to take the most minimal control of his situation and seek a safe place to air his grievances (even if they are not met with anything more than Wojnarowicz's distractedly sympathetic but wandering eye and ear). Wojnarowicz does not, perhaps cannot, offer any comfort to the body of his friend ("I know a hug or a pat on the shoulder won't answer the question mark in his voice" 112). Try as he might to comfort his friend, Wojnarowicz implies that there is no sincere language with which to speak on the PWA's body's behalf The language of physical pain, as Elaine Scarry's seminal text The Body in Pain, has reminded us, is beyond words. This inability to communicate to another the degree of mental and physical pain that one experiences further lessens the authority of a PWA to verbally articulate the need for relief in regard to the feeling of being generally, or even specifically, unwell. This articulation is a form of discourse whose validation is not sufficiently recognized by medical or lay people alike, especially in this early era of HIV/AIDS.

The clinical gaze of the medical profession has historically centered on the inner bodily world of the patients and does not give due consideration to the patient's abilities to articulate the disease process as he or she understands its impact on his or her holistic sense of self. This occurs, of course, at the sociomedical sacrifice of the necessary links between a patient's psychic and physical wellbeing, links which then go unnoticed by medical personnel. The ways in which patients are able to articulate their experiences with disease are at best viewed as secondary to the pathological observations of the body made by medical professionals, and at worst as wholly insignificant to the disease process and its sociomedicalization. Lars-Christer HydEn notes that when studies of what he terms the "social reality of biomedicine and illness" were first initiated in the latter decades of the twentieth century, prime time for HIV/AIDS research and treatment, the "biomedical definition and conception of illnesses constituted the natural starting point. The patient's views and actions (while ill) were linked to this conception by means of terms like 'illness-behaviour' or 'lay-perspective" (48), terms, it should be clear, that reflect an obvious hierarchic structuring of medical control over the body and experiences of the patient, a point of struggle in Close to the Knives, as in much autothanatographical memoir. The downplaying of the patient's perspective into his own sociomedical circumstances is one that opens the door to disregard, dismissal, or even medical combating of the expression of patient concerns, as in the circumstance relayed by Wojnarowicz's friend.

Hyden's remarks provide important points for identifying the discursive disconnect between PWAs and their health-professional interlocutors. They also provide a well-meaning argument for the necessary elevation in status of patient storytelling in medical encounters, along with a call for the "greater emphasis on suffering as a point of departure [for analysis] in social scientific studies of illness" (52). Yet, what I find troubling is not Hyden's statement of growing interest in considering patient storytelling, but, rather, his assertion that such an undertaking will facilitate study of "the patient's illness experience and illness world as a social reality apart from the conception and definition of illness as formulated by biomedicine" (52, emphasis mine). A patient's social reality and biomedicine's formulation of illness definitions are inextricably linked, and understanding this link and its treatment implications is vital to the understanding of illness experience, as passages in Close to the Knives demonstrate, as well as those in other autothanatographical texts including Eric Michaels' Unbecoming, the journals of Derek Jarman, Harold Brodkey's This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death, and Oscar Moore's collection of The Guardian articles in PWA. Hyden's assertion of separate study, though meant to extend some control to the patient over illness narration, mis-recognizes the shared impact of social and (bio)medical discourses on the experiences and struggles of the patient. The important difference between the doctor's reported treatment and Wojnarowicz's textual treatment of PWA experiences regarding the frightening mortal trajectory of HIV/AIDS lies in the conceptualization of the PWA as sociomedical object or subject, a difference made all the more explicit in the above passage from Close to the Knives. In sum, the PWA is viewed as either object (by the medical establishment, embodied in the depiction of the doctor) or subject (as in Wojnarowicz's treatment of PWAs in the text). This view of the patient is manifest in terms of the patient's excluded or accepted subjectivity and all that the acknowledgement of such subjectivity requires from an interlocutor.

In addition, the passage in which this discussion between Wojnarowicz and his friend takes place provides an illustration of how Wojnarowicz weaves the tensions of rhetorical control into the text. Indeed, by way of interjections to conversations and glosses to specific occurrences he calls attention to his position as narrator and author and the assumed rhetorical control such a position offers. Simultaneously, he foregrounds the lack of control experienced by his peers. This lack is an empowerment which his writing of their thoughts and experiences he purports to give back to them through textual representation even as he employs it to meet his own textual ends. The multi-voicedness of the text is necessarily mediated by Wojnarowicz's narration, his own deathly artifacts often mingling with the voices he interprets. I shall return again to the quotation provide above, this time offered more fully:
  I know what he's talking about as each tense description
  of his state of mind slips out across the table. The
  table is filled with piles of papers and objects; a
  boom box, a bottle of AZT, a jar of Advil (remember,
  you can't take aspirin or Tylenol while on AZT).
  'There's an old smiley mug with pens and scissors
  and a bottle of Xanex for when the brain goes loopy;
  there's a Sony tape recorder that contains a half-used
  cassette of late-night sex talk, fears of gradual dying,
  anger, dreams and someone speaking Cantonese. In this
  foreign language it says: 'My mind cannot contain all
  that I see, I keep experiencing this sensation that my
  skin is too tight; civilization is expanding inside
  of me. Do you have a room with a better view? I am
  experiencing the X-ray of Civilization. The minimum speed
  required to break through the earth's gravitational pull
  is seven miles a second. Since economic conditions prevent
  us from gaining access to rockets or spaceships we would
  have to learn to run awful fast to achieve escape from
  where we are all heading ...'

My friend across the table says, "There are no more people in their thirties." (111-112)

Although Wojnarowicz includes fragments of others' stories, presented in this passage by means of quotation, his is not a text that might be considered dialogic for these inclusions alone as they do not themselves destabilize the text. His control over their placement and function, his translation of the "foreign language [that] says," and the fact that they do not alter the direction of the story suggest that there is no doubt about whose consciousness is being represented overall. Many of Wojnarowicz's visual compositions are multimedia collages whose challenge to the viewer is to identify the various components that make up the whole; his writing is little different, employing several voices in order to complete the composition of his own voice and self representation. As such, I would argue that the polyphony, and thus the destabilization of the narrative, is in this sense incomplete regardless of the additional voices offered in this passage, whether it is the voice of the friend across the table or the voice of the person speaking Cantonese on cassette. Rather, destabilization, when it does appear, occurs in the continual iteration of sociomedical and scientific intrusions of information that are announced at various points in the text, even and often especially within the inclusions of others' voices over which Wojnarowicz expresses control. He makes some of these more basic intrusions obvious, suggesting a parodic view of the reliability of medical control over his condition: "remember, you can't take aspirin or Tylenol while on AZT." Other medicalized sentiments are mediated by social discourse and read almost as drug slogans: "Xanex for when the brain goes loopy"

Slightly more veiled allusions to sociomedical and scientific control over expression appear in this passage, as well, buried in the translation from Cantonese that Wojnarowicz offers, often in metaphors: "civilization is expanding inside of me. Do you have a room with a better view? I am experiencing the X-ray of Civilization." The civilization of HIV reflects the colonizing of the body via virus, the proliferation of cells responsible for the dismantling of the body's barriers. The virus colony weakens the immune system on which the body relies for protection. Or, conversely, the reference to civilization might also be a reference to the community of HIV/AIDS sufferers, their stories expanding and overlapping inside each individual PWA. This "room with a better view" expresses the body as separate from the supposed non-physical self encapsulated within its confines, the observer who peers from the room of the corporeal self out onto the scenes of the world from which he is forever held apart, as the "X-ray of Civilization," now with an authoritative capital "C." tells him he is. This disconnect of physical body from spiritual self, mental self, whatever one terms the thinking being apart from its outward physical appearance, mirrors the sentiments of the friend's doctor, indeed, of Wojnarowicz's own mental wanderings: "My eyes settle on a six-inch-tall rubber model of Frankenstein from the Universal Pictures Tour gift shop, TM 1931: his hands are enormous and my head fills up with replaceable body parts; with seeing the guy in the hospital; seeing myself and my friend across the table in line for replaceable body parts; my wandering eyes" (113). This passage thus suggests that a person experiencing protracted illness is, just as the doctor's initial iteration proposes, set apart as an object to be divided down to its individual (and thus implied separate) parts, one whose physical pieces--and the dangers those tangible elements denote--overrides a sense of holistic and complete sense of self.

Wojnarowicz offers this excerpt under multiple veils sheer enough to allow reader recognition of the superficial shape of what lies--beneath the translation of one language to another, Cantonese to English; and of one medium to another, recorded voice to printed text--without revealing or calling attention to the methods of translation. These veils are still opaque enough to secure the sociomedical messages that drive the text and to guard them from immediate comprehension. Just as Wojnarowicz's authority in offering the (hidden) translation from Cantonese into English allows the reader to understand the message of the cassette tape as easily as she does any other part of the text (yet, one takes for granted Wojnarowicz's ability to translate the Cantonese and thus to facilitate reader understanding of the actual message), the rhetorical authority of scientific "fact" is used to translate and give authority to the rhetoric of sociomedical control. For example, one accepts that "The minimum speed required to break through the earth's gravitational pull is seven miles a second." The reader relies on the weight of scientific rhetoric to provide the understanding of concepts beyond her or his grasp; more than this, the reader relies on science to produce a statement that is understandable by laypersons who are precisely without the advanced scientific knowledge required to test the validity of the statement, i.e., It must be true because I can't prove it otherwise.

The authority of such scientific rhetoric is transferred to the sociomedically driven statements that follow it directly: "Since economic conditions prevent us from gaining access to rockets or spaceships"--who could argue that's not true?--"we would have to learn to run awful fast to achieve escape from where we are all heading." Where are "we" all heading? In the context of the HIV patient and her or his projected life trajectory, echoed in the helplessness of the doctor's question, "What the hell do you want from me?" "we" are all heading toward death from AIDS-related illness. Taking into account the intended audience of the cassette in its original form, at least insofar as the text alludes to this audience (David Wojnarowicz), the immediate affiliation surrounding the "we" is gay men. Thus the authoritative thrust of the "fact" that the earth's gravitational pull has one by the arm (or another, more delicate body part) is transferred to the statement of where "we are all heading": down into inescapable death from AIDS. The Cantonese is conveyed in English by an unquestioning Wojnarowicz, thus revealing his collusion in a scientific statement of incontestable authority which one is then to apply to the following "scientific" statements about disease and death. Flavor the rhetoric of the medical establishment with a bit of literary allusion: there is no escape from this room in need of a better view. In sum, dying from HIV/AIDS is a necessary correlation to a "lifestyle choice"; the accepted sociomedical narrative common to gay men is that they--"we"--will die of HIV/AIDS, and this sociomedical assertion overrides their attempts to alter the telling of their own autothanatographical stories. This sentiment is made all the more clear by the next declarative sentence, one from Wojnarowicz's friend: "There are no more people in their thirties."

While the inclusion of others' voices and expressions seems rather effortless throughout the early chapters of the monograph, one flowing into another into Wojnarowicz's narration, there is one significant instance in which this is not the case, and it provides the impetus for the discussions that follow in the latter half of the book. In an "Author's Note" included as a preface to the last chapter of the text, Wojnarowicz writes of letters from a man he calls "Dakota," his name changed to avoid the possibility of legal action. He wanted to include these letters written by Dakota and addressed to Wojnarowicz in Close to the Knives but could not for fear of a lawsuit. Such a lawsuit would come not from the letter writer, who had died, but from his parents, gatekeepers of familial "reputation" that often in circumstances in which sons have died of AIDS-related complications refute any existence of both the texts and the writer-in-context (as opposed to the reclaiming of the writer into the family bosom which denies his homosexual existence) so as not to call attention to his illness and the way in which he ostensibly contracted it. Of this inability to publish these letters, Wojnarowicz writes, in Dart.
  They were letters pertaining to his sexuality in early morning
  dreams, his desires for a structure of his own choosing, ... I
  chose these letters because they were the only surviving pieces
  of evidence that allowed Dakota to speak on his own behalf about
  his humanity; his animal grace, his own spirituality. ...
  [In trying to get permission to print the letters], I spoke to
  his brother, who told me that Dakota's life work ... [was]
  destroyed by the parents. ... his entire identity had been
  murdered by his folks. ... it is very emotional for me to have
  to participate in the process of denying him a voice by editing
  from this manuscript his personal words to me. (163-164)

Wojnarowicz highlights several key interactions here that are integral to the topic of writing as it pertains to the disenfranchised subject and autobiographical discourse. For, as Couser recognizes, "The questions of authorship and authority ... are difficult but fundamental: to challenge the texts' authorship is to ask whether--or how--they can be read as autobiography" (26). What Dakota's parents had done, then, is to refute Dakota's self-constructed subjectivity (constructed through writing and other forms of media) because it did not fit into their idea of heterosexual social normativity. This was not the way they wanted him to be remembered or the way they wanted his life to reflect upon their family and its history.

Dakota, the then dead subject, the body without voice, is powerless to stop the destruction of his life work, of course. There is no legal letter-writing from the grave that would enforce the rights of another to publish one's work, unless that gift had been granted before the legal moment of death (for one may die a "subject's" death long before a bodily one). Dakota-as-subject has been eradicated by those who do have control within the socially sanctioned legal--and medical--term of "next of kin," which in most cases excludes quite pointedly a "friend" of the deceased. What this passage thus interrogates is the erasure of the disenfranchised person's subjectivity even and especially as a writing subject within the larger legal and social confines of American culture. Just as Wojnarowicz's friend cannot write himself a prescription, just as Wojnarowicz cannot write his own story without falling into the narrative set forth for him by sociomedical dicta that assert particular ways for gay men to suffer and die, Dakota cannot claim subjecthood within the confines of an established heteronormative family narrative that does not recognize Dakota's gay identity The inclusion of Dakota's letters in Close to the Knives would have provided Dakota a recognizable (and publically accessible) place in which to gain voice, albeit posthumously, in an ongoing debate that centers in part on gay subjectivity. Unwillingly, but necessarily in order to protect his own work, Wojnarowicz must forego the collaboration. According to law, there can be no free intertextual relationship between these two authors, for that would be a reflection of the illegal body, not a corporeal but a textual one.

4. Turning the Narrative

Despite the several story threads and many voices Wojnarowicz interjects into the text, narrative destabilization, a necessary component of dialogism in autobiographical writing, according to Frank, does not occur in Close to the Knives through these conventional means, but, rather, through sociomedical interpolation throughout the text in the form of sociomedically acceptable interpretations of risk, contagion, and moral events. The last chapter of the monograph, "The Suicide of a Guy Who Built an Elaborate Shrine over a Mouse Hole," is a multi-voiced transcription of taped interviews, anecdotes, phone calls, dreams, and journal entries about Dakota. The aim, as implied by the preface to the final chapter, is to reconstruct a life; but in fact the text reconstructs, out of friends' memories of the deceased, a process of dying a death that is sociomedically incongruent with the life that Dakota lived as a gay man, a point to which I will return momentarily. Dakota's writing, screenplays, drawings, paintings, collages, photographs, and musical recordings have all been destroyed by his parents in an attempt to suppress his sense of radical heterogeneity. Diane Chisholm suggests that the form of the chapter itself may be read as a "celebration of difference in defiance of institutions committed to cultural and sexual uniformity" (88), possibly as a criticism against the heteronormativity posthumously imposed by Dakota's parents upon his life. Wojnarowicz invites and directs the responses of multiple voices of the final chapter. One might claim, then, that in directing the content of the stories told by other voices that these are in essence multiple manifestations of his own voice and responses to the leading questions he poses, a circumstance which problematizes the notion of a dialogic foundation of the text in terms of these interactions. It is not, as one might expect, the multi-voiced-ness of the chapter that causes narrative destabilization within it; rather, it is the cause of Dakota's death, suicide, a death sociomedically incongruent with Dakota's identity as a gay man, which draws such a formidable response from Wojnarowicz. He becomes physically and textually flustered when he reads and recounts the letter from Dakota's father:
  I'm trying to get this fucking envelope open with cold fingers...
  so in impatience I bent back the top fold in the letter and read:

  '... committed suicide around January January...'

  and I stopped in shock. I'd built the armor well, I thought. I
  learned how to freeze out death and the intensity of reactions to
  it. But the death I was freezing out was the death of people who
  were fighting to live and, despite that, were killed by a
  microscopic virus and a conservative agenda. (240)

This is not the narrative trajectory Wojnarowicz or society or the medical establishment has proscribed for Dakota, a non-monogamous gay man (to compound matters, an artist, and a poor man in poor rundown New York City).

"The death [Wojnarowicz] was freezing out," the one from which he has been trying to reclaim authority even as he succumbs to it throughout the text, is that of the gay man dying of HIV infection, not of the gay man dying of suicidal ideations that come to fruition. Politics, medicine, society, all have made it impossible to claim a male homosexual identity apart from the threat of infection with HIV and the narrative arc such infection presupposes. The sociomedical narrative trajectory implores the gay male body to contract the disease, if only to prove itself a valid interpretation of homosexual desire. In this sense, HIV is a "good" use of the homosexual male body. It upholds the presupposed moral-medical model of the homosexual lifestyle. The sociomedical narrative trajectory does not, however, implore one to commit recognizable--and, importantly, non-sexual--violence on one's own corporeal self. Suicide is, first, avoidable (at least in theory) if one seeks help for the depression; second, an option that is available to anyone regardless of category (e.g., sexual orientation, age); and third, a deviance against a morally sanctioned pleasure, right, and responsibility, that of living. Death from AIDS-related illness, while ostensibly avoidable if one has foregone the "deviance" of homosexual interaction, is the supposed inevitable outcome to befall one who has engaged in sociomedically repugnant acts of sexual pleasure. It is a death that comes to homosexuals, drug users, and other sexual outliers such as prostitutes. But Is] uicide," Wojnarowicz claims, "is a form of death that contains a period of time before it to which my mind can walk back into and imagine a gesture or word that might tie an invisible rope around that person's foot to prevent them from floating free of the surface of the earth" (241). There is a moment before the narrative arc of suicide begins, and this moment is what Wojnarowicz is trying to capture in his final chapter. There is no discernible moment before the trajectory of HIV: remember that risk dictates natural causality, which in turn would suppose a moment before the trajectory of sexual desire, an impossibility. Yet Wojnarowicz locates a specific--and notably avoidable--chronological point from which the suicidal might be saved, and from which, in this case, Wojnarowicz might save that "piece of [him]self" that he has instilled in Dakota. Thus Dakota's death recreates a loss of control for Wojnarowicz, rhetorically, textually, and sociomedically. As a gay man, the text suggests through the uptake of sociomedically constructed narratives of illness, Dakota is meant to die of AIDS.

While the text on the whole reflects Wojnarowicz's attempts to unburden his autothanatography from negative and homophobic sociomedical views of gay men, at times, as this article has already shown, the text not only fails to shake off such views, but appears to embrace them. Perhaps this embrace is a testament to an inability to deny completely society's views of our identities, so ingrained are they on our everyday lives. Perhaps, too, it is a testament to the inability of the Wojnarowicz to die as the man he envisions himself to be, one not wearing the cloak of prejudice and heterosexist bias. However, even Wojnarowicz shows glimmers of homophobic labeling of gays as those destined to die from HIV/AIDS. And when Dakota dies of suicide instead of complications from AIDS, Wojnarowicz must find a way to reconcile the death he envisioned for Dakota with the reality of how Dakota has died in order to incorporate Dakota's story into his own.

In order to re-collect this lost piece of himself, to incorporate Dakota's suicide into his own autothanatography, Wojnarowicz must make sense of Dakota's death as one that might fit within the sociomedical borders established in his text. He does this, finally, through a conflation of his father's suicide with Dakota's. While first arguing that he "can't let go of Dakota's suicide" (254), he comes to an understanding: "I see the reflection of [Dakota's] face in the death of my father and realize that that was the last thought to come to me. Everything else I have written to this point was leading me into an indistinct memory of the day my father killed himself" (269). Only when Wojnarowicz textually recognizes his father's suicide and acknowledges his father's closeted homosexuality (and its own forms of digression from the bindings of heteronormativity) can he accept suicide as a viable story element for Dakota, and therefore for the piece of himself that Dakota represents. Because he has already acknowledged his father's suicide as a recognizable path for the struggling gay man thwarted in his interactions with society at large, and because that experience has already been made a part of his own experience, Wojnarowicz can absorb into himself the piece that Dakota's suicide had withheld from him. "He did what he had to do," Wojnarowicz remarks, "and I respect him for it" (271).

5. Conclusion

Many would view contraction of HIV, or, rather, the "lifestyle" behavior that facilitates the contraction of HIV, as suicidal, yet not suicide. Underlying this concept is the censure laid upon the medical system, that it should be able to provide a remedy for or relief from the patient's physical ailment, whatever that ailment happens to be. In this case the ailment is the disease, not the act of contracting it. Close to the Knives, like Wojnarowicz's other works written and visual, suggests that death from HIV-related illness is the fault of a medical and social system unconcerned with their negative impact on the homosexual community. HIV leads to death because of a faulty medical and social system, not because of the fact of its being a pathogen.

Close to the Knives is written with the intent to present the PWA as subject rather than object of sociomedical discourse, for objectification is a social marking, as if with KS lesions, that both precedes and calls ever closer the corporeal death of the body. Wojnarowicz observes, "I think for people to get a sense of mortality is something akin to examining the structure of society. That seems to be the most frightening thing people can do--examine the structure of society" (51). Yet despite Wojnarowicz's sentiment, and despite his obvious aversion to social proscriptions that govern sexuality and the definition of health, his text still falls in line with the sociomedical narrative construct of risk and illness as it regards gay male sexuality. Autothanatography is undeniably a process of self-realization that operates within the confines of a changing physical presence, one that is often marked on the body+self to which others bear witness and therefore share both knowledge and, in part, responsibility. Autothanatographers reveal themselves in moments of recognition of their physical situation, as well as in terms of the choices they make in representing illness and its effects on their own self-conceptualizations and of their conceptualizations of others. This is a complex claiming of agency, especially in terms of early HIV/AIDS autothanatography in which the search for a lineage of disease is unavailable. In Close to the Knives, this claim remains unfulfilled.


(1.) There is some partial disagreement with this view. In particular is the Philippe Lejeune (trans. 1989) On Autobiography counter argument, which contends that autobiography is, indeed, referential, cannot help but be referential, and thus entails the authority of the autobiographical subject. Lejeune relies on the "autobiographical pact" in the relationship between the writing subject and the reader, one which stabilizes the autobiographical self of the writing subject: ("The entire existence of the person we call the author is summed up by this name [on the cover of the book]" (11). Unlike Derrida, however, Lejeune does not believe that the agency of the writing subject as inscribed in his signature is reliant on the recognition of the reader. The signature speaks for the writing subject and imbues him with authority whether or not the reader takes notice.

(2.) While I do not make the contestable connection as some others have done that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is parallel in some way to the Holocaust, the comparison in terms of autothanatographical stories and the often slow processes of spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical dying is salient. For instance, Leo Bersani (1987) in "Is the Rectum a Grave?" notes that "At the very least, such things as the Justice Department's near recommendation that people with AIDS be thrown out of their jobs suggest that if Edwin Meese would not hold a gun to the head of a man with AIDS, he might not find the murder of a gay man with AIDS (or without AIDS?) intolerable or unbearable. And this is precisely what can be said of millions of fine Germans who never participated in the murder of Jews (and of homosexuals), but who failed to find the idea of the holocaust unbearable" (201). In much the same way as Holocaust survivors, HIV/AIDS sufferers are said to have experienced a social death before physical death takes its final hold. See Eric Waggoner (2000) "'This Killing Machine Called America: Narrative of the Body" and Ross Chambers (2004) Untimely Interventions. Derek Duncan notes in "Solemn Geographies," too, that "Like the autobiographical act itself, the [AIDS-stricken] body is a social site" (23).

(3.) The World Health Organization was not readily convinced and struck homosexuality from the list of mental disorders more than fifteen years later on 17 May 1991. May 17th is now celebrated as the International Day Against Homophobia.

(4.) A salient illustration of the implications of possibility is the dearth of medical study regarding lesbian contraction of HIV/AIDS, even after more than twenty-five years of HIV/AIDS scholarship. Lesbian transmission is not a "risk" and thus does not warrant significant study, according to the CDC and the NIH, and misinformation results in a lack of knowledge.

(5.) For an in-depth commentary on media representations of HIV/AIDS and the gay male community, as well as excerpts from various print media outlets, see Larry Kramer (1989) Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist.

(6.) For more information on "blame" ascribed to gay men, please see Bersani "Is the Rectum a Grave?", as well as Alex Preda (2005) AIDS, Rhetoric, and Medical Knowledge, chapter 2.

Works Cited

Altman, Dennis. AIDS in the Mind of America. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1987. American Psychiatric Association. DSM-II Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Seventh printing. 1974.

Ames, Deborah Lee. "Automortography: Holocaust Survivors Remember Their Own Deaths" a/b: Auto/Biography Studies 16.1 (Sum 2001): 24-38.

Bersani, Leo. "Is the Rectum a Grave?" October 43 (Winter 1987): 197-222. Brodkey, Harold. This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death. NY: Metropolitan Books, 1996.

Chambers, Ross. Untimely Interventions: AIDS Writing, Testimonial, and the Rhetoric of Haunting. Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P, 2004.

Chisholm, Dianne. "Outlaw Documentary: David Wojnarowicz's Queer Cinematics, Kincrotics, Autothanatographics." Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Litterature Comparee 21 (March-June 1994), 81-102.

Couser, G. Thomas. Altered Egos: Authority in American Autobiography. NY: Oxford UP, 1989.

Derrida, Jacques. The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation: Texts And Discussions With Jacques Derrida. Ed. Christie V. McDonald. Trans Peggy Kamuf. NY: Schocken Books, 1985.

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Jarman, Derek. At Your Own Risk: A Saint's Testament. London: Hutchinson, 1992.

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--. Smiling in Slow Motion. Keith Collins, ed. London: Century, 2000.

Kramer, Larry. Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist. NY: St. Martin's P, 1989.

Lejeune, Philippe. On Autobiography. Paul John Eakin, ed. Katherine M. Leary, trans. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989.

Moore, Oscar. PWA: Looking AIDS in the Face. London: Picador, 1996 Preda, Alex. AIDS, Rhetoric, and Medical Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. NY: Oxford UP, 1985.

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--. "The Compression of Time: An Interview with David Wojnarowicz." In Tongues of Flame. Ed. Barry Blinderman. Normal, IL: U Galleries of Illinois State U, 1990.

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Author:Hane-Devore, Tasia M.
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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