The aporia of AIDS and/as Holocaust.
It's not too early to see AIDS as the homosexuals' holocaust. --Larry Kramer (1)
I. The Genealogy of AIDS and/as Holocaust
In the mid-1980s the advocacy group Gay Men's Health Crisis reached an impasse regarding the role it was to perform for people suffering from AIDS. Torn between seeing its mission in the pursuit of the limited resources and treatments available or in a more overtly activist role of agitation for broader political, social, and economic attention, GMHC split when co-founder Larry Kramer left the group to form AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). ACT UP's inaugural motto would emphasize the group's insistence on challenging normative modes of perception, to force people to take notice of and act upon the growing crisis. ACT UP T-shirts and handbills, with their slogan "Silence=Death" emblazoned over a pink triangle, saturated the gay communities which were suffering the most, and the most publicly, from the disease. (2) The symbolic resonance of the motto--particularly the pink triangle, which is, historically speaking, the lesser-known poor relation of the yellow Mogen David that marked European Jews for incarceration and extermination--was especially significant to Kramer, who had been linking the cultural conditions which had allowed various extermination projects to flourish in 1930s Europe and those which were facilitating the spread of AIDS in the United States in the 1980s. In this paper, I focus on the ways in which traces of the Nazi holocaust inform not only Kramer's and ACT UP's analyses of the numerous facets of the epidemic, but also the ways in which experiences of AIDS and the Holocaust continue to resonate with each other in the oeuvre of novelist and AIDS activist Sarah Schulman. (3)
The AIDS-Holocaust connection places Kramer and Schulman on dangerous ground. Too often, indiscriminate comparisons of contemporary events with the Nazi holocaust are made in order to claim for postwar victims a level of suffering and historical significance equal to, or even greater than, that of Jews who were persecuted during the Third Reich. As Deborah Lipstadt argues in Denying the Holocaust, (4) such forays into historical relativism (a broad term, under which "deconstructionism" fares especially poorly [p. 29],) serve as harbingers of Holocaust denial. Perhaps even more effectively than outright denial, relativism exploits the "fragility of memory, truth, reason, and history" (p. 216), and, ultimately, "threatens to 'kill' those who already died at the hands of the Nazis for a second time by destroying the world's memory of them" (p. xvii). Moreover, R. Amy Elman speaks specifically to citations of the pink triangle in both Stonewall-era gay liberation movements and more recently in ACT UP's AIDS consciousness materials. Both liberatory and critical uses, she writes, "demonstrate [an] ... impoverishment of political understanding. Not only is appropriating the pink triangle a problem, but so too are references to AIDS as a Holocaust." (5) Reflecting Lipstadt's defense of the inviolable uniqueness of the Nazi persecution of Jews, Elman's notions of lesbian identity and political concerns are fundamentally separate from those of gay men and queer people; the idealism of such "hetero-alliances" (p. 42), she concludes, diminishes the integrity of lesbian political achievement. Certain strengths of their work notwithstanding, (6) both Lipstadt and Elman see only the occlusion or enervation of historical reality in linking the Nazi holocaust with later events, and both reject the possibility that such links--and indeed, even their apparent perversity--might be motivated by a critical understanding of the narratives documenting the experiences of multiple disasters.
Challenging such historical paradigms, Jason Tougaw argues that recent philosophical treatments of trauma are instrumental in developing strategies for reading the emergent genre of AIDS narratives. The testimonial narrative of the Nazi holocaust, especially, ruptures the limits of historical discourses by developing "conventions all its own to organize and explain what defies social conventions, what twentieth-century 'enlightened,' Humanist subjects ... still cannot imagine." (7) As Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub argue in Testimony, survivor narratives are marked by a departure from normative functions of causality and temporality to the extent that the survivor's testimony is thrust "outside the range of associatively linked experiences, outside the range of comprehension, of recounting and mastery." (8) The AIDS narrative often works dissociatively as well, rendering experiences of disease in complex terms that do not lend themselves to stable interpretation. Thus, as Paula Treichler observes, medical, pharmacological, political, and personal discourses surrounding AIDS are irreparably complicated by a crisis of signification, an inability to clearly render the disease or its effects knowable. (9) Moreover, when so much of the experience of the disease takes place in secret, or among stigmatized and marginalized groups, the narratives they produce, likewise, often emerge without recourse to stable or normative systems: from problematic relationships with representational language, with identity, and with a dominant culture that mapped the "deficiency" of gay people, the homeless, drug users, and the poor, long before the advent of AIDS.
Tougaw rightly notes that, unlike the experiences of Jews and other stigmatized populations in the 1930s and 1940s (including, to be sure, wartime experiences of Japanese and Japanese Americans in the United States), "AIDS does not 'transport' most of its 'victims' to literal concentration camps" (p. 240); however, it is also true that incarceration and extermination have constantly been used as threats, held over not only people with AIDS but also sundry "high risk" populations since the belated public acknowledgement of the disease in the United States. Even more insidious than the threats of physical internment, the appearance of AIDS in the early 1980s provided dominant American culture with an alibi for new forms of discrimination against gay people. We can--and probably should--acknowledge the fact that the present juridical treatment of people with AIDS (and particularly of gay people) differs from that of Jews and other minority populations in 1930s Europe; that fact, however, should not preclude recognizing the striking similarities with which the experiences and representations of devastation by the marginal and marginalized of both eras resonate with each other. I find those resonances surfacing both explicitly and implicitly in AIDS narratives by American Jews, who stand at the nexus of disease and genocide and reflect critically on the ways in which their inheritance of ethnic, cultural, or religious Jewishness connects with and differs from their contemporary experience of cultural otherness, which has been radically exacerbated by the experience of AIDS.
Since he began documenting AIDS in 1981, (10) Larry Kramer has compared the cultural milieu into which the disease emerged in the United States with the conditions that preceded and attended the Nazi holocaust. Kramer critiques the complicity he finds throughout both the gay population immediately affected by AIDS and the government health and human services departments charged with addressing the disease--not to mention Reagan-era federal and state governments at large, whose collective inaction contributed to its spread. Kramer cites an historical precedent for the journalistic failure to take note of the disease in its nascence: "we must not forget the shameful silence of the [Village] Voice, as we must not forget the shameful silence of The New York Times for not writing about the Final Solution when it happened" (p. 97). He continues in 1987, with an appeal to the responsibility of artists:
With the exception of Hitler's Nazi Germany, I have never perceived so much wrongdoing in my life. Because of this, I can't understand--and have less tolerance for--why every so-called artist in the world is not dealing with the horrors of contemporary life. But most contemporary art has little relevance to the lives we lead. Perhaps that is why I'm not interested in calling myself an artist. I just wish that those who do call themselves artists, or those who traffic in art ... would call themselves artists less and become message queens more. (pp. 146-47)
For Kramer, concerns over the aesthetic representation of AIDS claim as much importance as do other discursive regimes of medicine, politics, and economics; for, each field proffers narratives that shape and define both dominant and minor perceptions of the disease. Since "AIDS" refers to an ever-shifting and transforming field of symptoms, the discourses of the disease are continually in flux as well; thus, the duty of the activist AIDS artist is not to sustain a single, unchanging note of alarm, but instead to shock and surprise readers into new modes of perception. The artist documents and testifies to experiences of the event not to reach a fixed point of containment, but rather, to use Felman and Laub's terms, "to pursue its path and direction through obscurity, through darkness, and through fragmentation, without quite grasping the full scope and meaning of its implications, without entirely foreseeing where the journey leads and what is the precise nature of its final destination" (p. 24). The polemics of Kramer's work, and especially his challenge to activists and artists, set the stage for later, highly nuanced treatments of the AIDS-Holocaust relationship: not of the events themselves, but rather of the narratives produced by the tenuous linking of experiences.
Sarah Schulman's first assay into the emerging genre of AIDS fiction, People In Trouble (1990), (11) reflects Kramer's cautionary notes about AIDS art by engaging with, rather than prematurely foreclosing, the network of concerns which map the crisis. Schulman explains that her participation in ACT UP during its formative years prompted her realization "that personal homophobia becomes societal neglect," and in People, she "tried increasingly to close the gap between politics and art." (12) However, through Kate, one of the novel's three protagonists, Schulman just as forcefully exposes the futility of attempts to identify the efficacious aesthetic strategies to adequately address the political, social, and economic effects of the disease, either individually or in concert. Most importantly, while avant-garde painter Kate flirts with the intersection of politics and art when she becomes involved in an AIDS activist group through her lover, Molly, her ostensibly subversive act of killing a rapacious Trump-like developer by burning her paintings around him is quickly flattened, aestheticized as a new genre and stripped of any significance. Furthermore, the conflict between Kate's aesthetic politics and Molly's grassroots activism remains central yet unresolved at the close of the novel, emphasizing not only the abyss between art and political action, but perhaps too, Schulman's own inability to bridge it. (13)
Schulman's resistance to providing resolution for her characters, especially in an avowed social realist novel, is critical in the context of the reception of contemporary lesbian fiction, for it places her on the periphery of an already marginal group of writers. Working to connect concerns of sexuality and gender with those of culture and ethnicity, Ludger Brinker claims that American Jewish lesbian authors in the 1980s and 1990s created a "new Haggadah present[ing] their readers with tales of deliverance from heterosexual norms and patriarchal control." (14) Brinker suggests that the exodus narratives of these authors are marked specifically by a celebratory, healing account of a (primarily religious) Jewish heritage and sexuality; or, as she claims following Jyl Lynn Felman, the goal is "to make the forbidden kosher ... to integrate as fully as possible Jewish and lesbian identity" (p. 80). (15) Given the integrative trajectory of Brinker's exemplary narratives, it is not surprising that the four novels then constituting Schulman's oeuvre do not merit more than glosses, and Brinker concludes that Schulman is among lesbian writers who "choose not to be publicly identified as Jews," and that her work is "not very specifically Jewish in content" (p. 81). Recalling Lipstadt and Elman, the small body of Jewish American lesbian criticism reflects ossified notions of identity more than it does a critical impetus to sound the complexity of identity--Jewish, lesbian, or otherwise. Thus, as E.J. Levy writes: "In place of artistic standards has been the expectation that lesbian fiction reflect positive images of lesbian lives, address itself to 'lesbian themes,' and eschew attitudes considered inappropriate or distasteful to the 'lesbian community.'" (16) Levy's critique, especially her emphasis on an otherwise disdained literary lesbian fiction, is significant in a reading of Schulman, for broad reception appears to be premised upon the occlusion of formal and thematic experimentation. (17)
Schulman recognizes the limits of representational writing in People that will compel her toward increasingly experimental forms; as she writes in 1990, not only "can there be no conclusiveness since the crisis and our responses to it change daily," additionally, there is "no existing vocabulary for discussing AIDS. To expect one would be unreasonable." (18) Perhaps it is because AIDS has a way of eclipsing concerns of culture/ethnicity and of gender/sexuality, but for whatever reason, Brinker's gloss of Schulman's relationship with various forms or manifestations of being Jewish is, if not disingenuous, at least surprising; (19) for, from the preface of her 1994 collection of essays, My American History, Schulman not only identifies as a Jew, but also carefully illustrates the many ways in which ethnic, cultural, and religious Jewishness has informed her work. She recalls receiving her first "real book," The Diary of Anne Frank, at age six: "It was intended, I think, to remind me of my historical burden, my place as a Jew. But, simultaneously, it taught me that Jewish girls can be writers" (p. xiv). Schulman thus renders as her earliest literary/historical inheritance the experiences of ethnicity and devastation that would come to the forefront of her later novels and essays.
People in Trouble opened by marking the "beginning of the end of the world" (p. 1), and at the novel's close a critical tension is established between, on the one hand, the impending devastation from AIDS that threatens to overwhelm Molly's Lower East Side community and, on the other hand, the AIDS activists who are attempting to stay its tide. Within the next few years, however, the waves of AIDS dead had begun breaking in earnest, and yet, outside of AIDS activist groups themselves, those deaths were accompanied by a waning of both government attention and public interest. (20) Although many of Schulman's characters are burdened by historical and contemporary events, the demand for witnessing dominates her 1996 novel, Rat Bohemia, (21) which opens with the apocalyptic scenes that threatened to erupt in People's conclusion: not only the spread of AIDS, but also global agricultural blight, and locally exploding rates of homelessness and unemployment in New York. The immediacy of devastation seems to spark the emergence of Jewish historical and cultural inheritance more forcefully for Schulman and her characters. That inheritance plays an especially important role in protagonist Rita Mae Weems' desire to document the impact of AIDS on her Lower East Side community; moreover, her childhood experiences also mirror Schulman's own, and provoke in Rita a similar sense of her role in the face of crisis. (22)
II. Historical Noise and Family Ritual
Loosely connected around narrating a gay man's final months as he dies of AIDS, Rat Bohemia is told in four parts through the perspectives of three narrators: two lesbians, Rita and Killer, and the dying man himself, David. Although the three narratives converge around David's death, the novel is multifaceted, reflecting Schulman's many concerns and commitments; thus, it is also a meditation on coming out stories, lesbian fiction, urban gentrification, and the relationship of gay people with their families. Rita's observations frame the novel, and from the outset she develops provocative links between her witnessing of AIDS and her relationship with the Nazi holocaust as the child of a camp survivor.
Significantly, while recalling her first lesbian sexual encounter Rita describes a jarring experiential collapse that follows her failure to please the "rough, knowing, leathery" older woman in front of her (p. 15). Unable to act on her desire--perhaps even unable to recognize her desire--Rita turns to a moment saturated with historical significance; filling the void of desire and inaction with speech, her choice of childhood experiences initiates both Maria and the reader to the contact of sexuality and ethnicity. "I told her," Rita recalls,
about the time, when my mother was sick, that some strange accented distant relative I'd never seen before or since, took me to a store in Brooklyn to buy clothes for the first day of school.... I didn't understand why we had to go all the way to Brooklyn until we climbed up these shaky wooden stairs to the shop. The place was run by a group of friends who had all been in the same concentration camp. The clerks had numbers on their arms and screamed at each other like they were home in their kitchens. I was so small, their numbers were eye level and kept swinging past my face. (p. 16)
Woven into a coming out story, Rita's recognition of her ethnic history--which itself becomes the point of departure for her testimony of David's death--provides the irresolvably complex source of a narrative that is about both the Holocaust and AIDS, and about the overwhelming scope of the numbers of dead from both. As she faces the incalculability of death in both contemporary and historical contexts, Rita's testimony raises precisely the fraught relationship with time and finitude suggested by Felman and Laub, that testifying to trauma does not necessarily render the experience of trauma knowable; on the contrary, the testimonies can only begin to sketch out "what we do not yet know of our lived historical relation to events of our times" (p. xx). Accordingly, Rita is initiated into the inheritance of experiences that cannot cohere, for the signs of knowledge--here of history and ethnicity--are the disembodied (but nonetheless serialized) arms and the screaming voices that testify to experiences which exceed comprehension.
While, on the one hand, Rita's coming out story documents her participation in the obligatory narrative ritual through which a gay person publicly confirms sexuality, on the other hand, it also signals a haunting reminder of her initiation into secrecy. It is not inconsequential that the relative arrives mysteriously out of the ethnic/religious past and disappears just as mysteriously, ushering Rita to a place that is shrouded in secrecy and a silence that is paradoxically augmented by the screaming of these people as though they were in a private space: the borders of the ostensibly public, commercial milieu of the store are compromised by the intrusion of domestic signs, the screaming of its denizens "like they were home in their kitchens." Within the private confines of this public space, Rita realizes that the experience of the Nazi holocaust is available only to initiates, and is furthermore, only available to Rita (who speaks neither Yiddish nor German) as an untranslatable noise or as a semaphoric communication through the image of serial numbers. The survivor relative recedes as rapidly as she had appeared, for she exists only to initiate Rita into the scene of this hidden shop, which stands far from the quotidian world of 1960s Queens. (23)
Despite her inability to adequately translate the primal experience, Rita inherits this secret world for herself: certainly as a Jew, yet also as a gay person. Rita continues her testimony, pursuing the untranslatability of her childhood encounter into her adolescent experiences of the 1970s, a decade in which she appears as either an imposter or a cipher. From her first encounter with Maria, Rita's early sexual experiences are provocatively tied to signs of the Holocaust and to the memory of her mother, who, Rita recalls, came to New York "via Thereisenstadt and then a displaced persons' camp" (p. 11), importing with her a hereditary Judaism which was passed to Rita. As she claims of this inheritance: "I'm not saying that I think this way of looking at things is the only way or the best way. But, it is my burden and my gift because I inherited it from my mother. I don't care to know what the reason is that I am gay. But when it comes to being a Jew who has only one God, I know for sure I was born that way" (p. 12). This formative intersection of sexuality and genocide continues to haunt Rita as she describes her second partner. Claudia Haas is also a child of camp survivors, and what Rita remembers most significantly of their relationship is the impossibility of recounting the "real truth" of their experiences, that "Claudia Haas fell in love with me and I fell in love with her, even though it wasn't possible on a warm Queens night in 1975 because neither of us knew what a homosexual was. It wasn't a word that was bandied about in the newspapers then as it is today. Even I, who had already experienced it, had never uttered the word. I had never conceptualized myself that way" (p. 20). Rita's memories, oscillating between her childhood initiation into an untranslatable Jewish history and her adolescent experience of an unmentionable sexuality, map out a crisis of signification which is only magnified as she later comes to see herself as the historian of the AIDS epidemic.
Although Rita is--by all available indications--safe from the corporeal effects of AIDS, she is nonetheless called upon to bear witness to the hidden masses of dead and dying in her community. She finds herself surrounded by men who, dying too quickly, become consumed primarily with anxieties about their own future memorialization and ill-equipped to engage with the broader contours of the disease. Rita considers the singularity of her position: "I want to see everything I can. Everything. I want to be a witness to my own time because I've had a sneaking suspicion lately that I'm going to live a lot longer than most of the people I meet. If I'm gonna be the only one still around to say what happened, I'd better pay close attention now" (pp. 6-7). As she faces the devastation--by drugs, abuse, homelessness, gentrification, and parental/national neglect, as well as AIDS--threatening her Lower East Side neighborhood, Rita begins to explore the abyss between the immediacy of the act of witnessing and the possibility of testifying to that experience for those who are uninitiated to the trauma of widespread social decline.
The historical responsibility to memorialize the epidemic marks a double reference to the immediate, contemporary testimony of AIDS and to a past inadequacy of representational narrative conceits whose remnants continue to haunt the present, especially for gay Jews. Accordingly, AIDS fails to rise to the status of dominant subject in Rat Bohemia: typical of Schulman's novels, devastation is so pervasive in contemporary America that Rita notes on the memory of her mother's death, "These days everybody is dying. Not just my mother. There's no illusion left to let a person feel immune. Invincible is over" (p. 14). Especially as the death of Rita's mother is rendered not as a past event, but as an experience that conditions her present sexual and ethnic identity, devastation does not recede to cement into a coherent memory. Thus, Rita suggests that the ethnic/historical inheritance with which she had framed her coming out story resonates in the present, where trauma and loss become normative experiences for her and for the various communities with which she is aligned.
Among the novel's ethical challenges is the difficulty of identifying a central or transcendent problem from which others emanate, which leaves Rita's project of witnessing complicated from its inception: the question of what, specifically, she is bearing witness to is raised repeatedly in the novel. Additionally, the ability to communicate adequately the experience of AIDS is compromised, rendered partial and incomplete. Rita observes that David, like every person with AIDS before him, has become increasingly concerned with the ways in which he will be memorialized. While David's death is, of course, absolutely immediate to him, Rita considers the number of times she has repeated the experience of conducting a gay man toward his death. The deaths claimed by AIDS leave the act of remembering these men, as individuals, impossible: "People we know die all the time," Rita states, "and there is really no way to react. What can you do? Freak out every day?" (p. 44). AIDS has not only devastated the population of Rita's gay community, but the daily repetition of the various experiences of living and dying with AIDS has devastated the community's ability to adequately remember the dead. Regardless of their living individuality, people with AIDS become anonymous elements of a class, and are effaced in the now-inevitable trajectory of decline and death that accompanies the disease. (24) As Rita concludes, these men "get sick and die in very predictable patterns. Let's face it, this death, itself, is no longer extraordinary, emotionally, to me" (p. 51).
Despite her desire to do so, Rita's responsibility to bear witness to the decline of her community is complicated both by numbers and by geographical difference, for David returns from a brief trip to San Francisco with a new ability to recognize the secrecy surrounding the experience of AIDS in New York. In San Francisco, David explains for Rita, the
word AIDS is everywhere--on signs, in newspapers. There is no pretense that it does not exist. That's what I noticed most, the lack of denial.... Everything I know to be true in my secret homosexual world is acknowledged publicly there. It's frightening, disorienting. Freedom is so unfamiliar. Here in New York AIDS is still a secret. When people get really sick they're embarrassed and so crawl into their apartments and die.... The formerly beautiful homos just lie in bed waiting for God's Love--We Deliver to bring a hot meal and then spend the rest of the evening throwing it up. (p. 45)
Public acknowledgement of disease and death in San Francisco keeps the experience immediate and vital. To David, who occupies the witness position here, people with AIDS in the Bay Area are released from the injunction to denial that saturates the East Coast experience. Through Rita, however, Schulman provides an analogue to David's observations of San Francisco AIDS politics, suggesting that publicity does not in itself provide a line of escape from the social dismissal of AIDS; even the most public events may take place in the presence of numerous witnesses, and yet remain without a legacy or record of witnessing. David and Rita arrive at Peter Cooper Triangle, where Rita delivers a barrel to a field crew of Pest Control workers "trying out this new technique" for killing rats (p. 46). Surrounded by students from the Cooper Union Art School, the workers had been beating rats to death after poisoning them: "It was so primitive. Like Fred Flintstone and Bam-Bam go hunting" (p. 46). As Rita scans the scene before her she finds that the "funniest thing was that all the art students were standing around staring but none of them took a picture. Not a movie, not a sketch. Too busy being surprised, I guess" (p. 46).
Schulman certainly suggests--and, to be sure, she obliquely cites the Holocaust in doing so--that AIDS is an extension, or another phase, of this extermination process. Linking the imposed secrecy surrounding AIDS with the failure of bearing witness to even the most brutal public acts, she also speaks to the new, but no less problematic, visibility that gay men achieved as a result of AIDS and the continuing public refusal to acknowledge their condition over the past two decades. As both David and Rita realize, the visibility of AIDS was (and, it should be said, continues to be) typically associated with gay men, but visibility did not provide any new legitimacy for people with AIDS or gay people; on the contrary, Kaposi's sarcoma, wasting syndrome, and other visible manifestations of AIDS provided the grounds for renewed commitments by families, cities, and nations to the marginalization of their gay constituents. Likewise, as Rita knows from her intensely brutal work in Pest Control, New York's rising and increasingly visible rat population results not in a committed effort from the city's bureaucracy to address the problem, but rather the opposite. As the rats, "the symbol of [her] condition" (p. 196), become increasingly common, the city's commitment to addressing the problem decreases proportionally. Rita reflects, "Sometime in the 1980s I started to see them scampering regularly in the playgrounds of Central Park. Reagan had just become president and I held him directly responsible. Rat infestation felt like something the U.S. government should have been able to handle" (p. 5). As an index to the apocalyptic backdrop of Rita's contemporary American life, the rats are simultaneously horrifying and attractive, and speak to her irresolvably complex relationship to each group with which she identifies.
Schulman's recurring references to pest control and witnessing resonate with Kramer's documentation of the rise of AIDS and public responses to it. In his collected essays, Reports from the Holocaust, Kramer too is concerned primarily with the lack of critical, public attention given to two experiences of devastation when he writes: "I make a lot of comparisons between gays now and the Jewish community before the war. The Jews thought of themselves as good Germans first and good Jews second. When the horrors started, they couldn't believe what their own fellow Germans were doing to them" (p. 188). The family becomes for both Kramer and Schulman the locus of distinction between the two events, in that the absence of family support intensifies the isolation experienced by people with AIDS. Kramer poses the critical question: "This is a horrible singularity of the gay situation: Can Jews imagine being hated by their parents for their Jewishness?" (p. 232, Kramer's emphasis). Likewise, when David assumes the narration of Rat Bohemia he observes the ways in which familial and national disdain for people with AIDS become each other's alibis for continued neglect. Following a lifetime of rejection and belittling by his parents, which culminates in his mother's inability to acknowledge the significance of AIDS, David concludes: "these reactions are so typical.... This is how America treats us. It's not AIDS that makes them hate us. They hated us before because they could not control us. They could not make us be just like them. Now they're glad we're dying. They're uncomfortable about how they feel but really they're relieved. There's nothing on earth that could kill us quicker than parental indifference" (p. 87). Resisting the possibility of substantial distinctions between the two, David here links passive and active production of mass death to intention; thus, the family sets the scene for a national drift toward genocide.
Responses to AIDS and to homosexuality by parents throughout Schulman's work are especially significant as many of her characters' parents are themselves Jews who are either survivors of the Nazi holocaust or are immigrants who had barely missed being drawn (at least bodily) into its swath across Europe. While it would appear that the Judaism of parents and their immersion within one experience of genocide makes them the group that is best equipped to empathize with the threatened devastation of another marginal population, they constantly exhibit their inability to accept that other, ongoing projects of genocide exist. Such "insistence on primogeniture" of the Nazi holocaust results, Kramer claims, in a "growing inability to view any other similar tragedies as awful," and "to arouse equal public concern" (p. 263). Particularly for Kramer and Schulman, then, this shift from the mass cultural disdain for dealing with people with AIDS to the intimate realm of the Jewish American family adds historical significance to the immediacy of the crisis. Indeed, Schulman continually points to the readiness of these once-marginal people to identify with dominance at the expense of their gay children.
When Rita regains the novel's narration during David's funeral, Schulman links the historical concerns between people with AIDS and victims of earlier projects of extermination, and the centrality in both experiences of neglect by dominant or privileged people. David's father appears unexpectedly and makes a brief speech that illustrates to David's gathered friends his lack of understanding and empathy for his son's homosexuality. However," most of us were not surprised," Rita notes; "We're so used to it. We're so used to parents who show up at the last minute and never took the time to know their child. Who have no idea of who they are talking about" (p. 163). Intimate familial experiences of rejection notwithstanding, Rita, who is among other Jews attending David's funeral, continues to connect herself to an ethnic and cultural inheritance from her parents. After David's father speaks, "a gay guy, a real queen, who had gone to Columbia with Dave" reads the Kaddish (p. 163), and presents an image that stages a provocative collision of homosexuality and Judaism: "What a switch from Dad to hear this quiet, gay Jew in hot pants and a tallis, whine our friend's dark death in a five-thousand-year-old tongue. We are old. We do exist. We can mourn. We do have language. We still have that. Finally, I was able to be afraid" (p. 165). (25) Fear links Rita to her heritage and to her own mortality, and thus increases her proximity to the disease, implicating her as a participant in the devastation rather than an observer to it. In broader terms, Schulman here continues her drift from dominant celebratory treatments of sexuality-ethnicity linkages by connecting ethnicity and sexuality with genocide, rending the more attractive pairing of terms.
Impelled by her fleeting connection to the language and history of Jews, Rita begins to seek either redemption from or compensation for her devastating experiences of loss. Rita's fear during David's funeral drives her to recall the ways in which she too has been abandoned by her family because of her homosexuality. Her accompanying desire to close the traumatic cycle of death and abandonment in which she finds herself causes her to impose a normative, heroic narrative on her loss, which depends on betrayal identical to that which she has observed throughout her chronicle. Although David was earlier criticized by Rita for "going by a very outdated definition of what history is" (p. 50), as he continues to believe that AIDS may yet revitalize an enervated power of heroism and of memorialization, she is not able to abandon her own need for acceptance and public legibility.
Shortly after David's funeral Rita sees David's father and immediately shifts the ground of her allegiance away from her memory of David, which links her to a gay community, and toward the private, nostalgic desire for the family whose absence she has been mourning. David's father becomes the locus of this shift as Rita attempts to engage him as a proxy for salvaging her own devastated familial relationships. "Right away," Rita notes,
the mechanism of betrayal started up in my brain. Immediately I was burying David, finishing him off, dismissing him, discrediting him. I was blaming him for his family's abandonment.... I had outlived him after all. This was my reward. ... Was this the hidden purpose of AIDS--to give the rest of us a chance to have parents? That was the first explanation I'd come across that could make sense. Maybe these hateful parents would regret the way they abandoned their gay children and love us instead. That way, at least one of us would have love. (pp. 198-99)
Already immersed in nostalgia as she wanders through the decaying German-Jewish neighborhood of her youth, Rita sees David's father in Carl Schurz Park. She recognizes in this chance encounter her ability to transcend her history with her own family in a "Post-David Era," the new epoch in which she would transform David's father and recoup her own lost childhood and, "finally, because of David's death, get a family. His disappearance had made room for me" (p. 199).
Predictably, Rita's attempted substitution neither salvages David's failed relationship with his father nor makes the loss of acceptance from her own father more palatable. While Rita's movement from anticipation to devastation is consistent with her narrative, the behavior of David's father adds significant depth to that devastation. David's father transforms the encounter with Rita into a trigger for his own memories of being the child of working-class Jewish immigrants in the 1930s and for his own failed dreams of normalcy, which would "never be realized because my son took it all away from me the day he decided to be a homosexual" (p. 202). In the conversation, David's father notes his son's habit of calling him "David Greenglass," after the brother of Ethel Rosenberg. Recalling the way in which Greenglass had turned his sister over to the FBI for execution, David's father concludes: "Actually you have to pity the man. How he must have paid" (p. 204). The conversation thus serves a double function, both as an indication of the inability of people who represent normative sexuality, ethnicity, or citizenship to recognize the suffering of others, and as an object lesson to Rita about the stakes of betrayal. When David's father appropriates the victim position in the conversation, Rita too is implicated in the network of responsibility, for she faces simultaneously the possibility of being both the agent of abandonment of the people with AIDS and the recipient of rejection by the legitimating cultural structure of the family. (26)
The encounter between Rita and David's father is a signal event that sets up the novel's conclusion, for Rita's plan to re-enter the family from which she has been rejected leads her into an examination of a deeper loss that is triggered by that primary separation. Returning to the stalled coming-out story with which she begins her narrative, Rita describes the ways her experience of first love took place in the absence of any ritual context in which "[d]aughters and sons were permitted a kind of preening and exhibition as they measured their desirability in the mirror before Mom and Dad" (p. 184). Continuing, Rita recalls: "For me there was no ritual. There was only secrecy. An institutionalized hiding and deception from the earliest age" (p. 184). Beginning at the moment when Rita and Claudia Haas are discovered by Rita's father, "what followed was a murderously humiliating scenario in which my dignity as a human being was erased, permanently, from the family lexicon" (p. 185). Through her adolescent experience with her father and her adult encounter with David's father, the family rejection cites, and continues to reinforce, Rita's erasure from the national cultural archive.
One of the most important links between the experiences of AIDS and of the Holocaust reemerges here in Schulman's narrative, through Rita's radical dislocation from various possible realms of sexual, familial, national, and other affiliations. Rita returns to her adolescent experience on the streets of New York in the 1970s, from a post-Claudia, post-David, post-familial position:
And, I have to say, that although it is a blasphemy, I thought of my mother and compared myself to her. We had both been punished and neither of us had done anything wrong. Is it really bad of me to compare myself to a Jew? Evil is so logical. It is so inventive. The problem is how to keep us out, and the answer is a logical system of solutions. (p. 196)
Posing the fraught intersection of gay sexuality with Jewish history, Schulman makes a provocative departure from the celebratory Jewish lesbian literature described by Brinker. For Schulman, the contact of AIDS and the Holocaust sparks a crisis of signification as it signals breakdowns in discursive realms of health, politics, economics, gender, and sexuality. She argues through her various connections of ethnic history with her contemporary experience the impossibility of celebratory or otherwise redemptive responses to her inheritance and experience of devastation. Indeed, the many experiences recalled by Rita of being thrust outside of any possible identificatory foundations indicate the extent to which she questions her most closely held beliefs, including the matrilineal inheritance of Judaism of which she had been so certain in the novel's introductory chapters.
III. Invincible Is Over
When Rita cites her mother's earlier experiences of exile and genocide, it is through her recognition of a radical break with history faced by gay people of her generation. Rita begins to recognize the nostalgic desire for normalcy that permeates contemporary American culture and is at the base of the various cultural, political, and familial spheres from which she has been rejected; moreover, that nostalgia also points to the desire to make her testimony--the narrative class into which coming out stories also fit--map the contours of a stable identity. Discarding her need to be accepted into dominant cultural systems, the novel closes with Rita surrounded by her friends and "feeling lethargic and slightly ludicrous" as they leave Manhattan for Delaware, where they will spy on a now-married Claudia Haas (p. 211). Rita observes:
Everyone around us was complaining that things were hearkening back to the fifties with great rapidity, but from my point of view the nineties looked worse than the fifties had ever been. The main difference having to do with the total absence of enthusiasm, excitement, and hope. False hope is better than none at all. So, whether you had an analysis of why or just went for it--anything seemed like a viable out. We were desperate. Desperadoes waiting in line for an opportunity--and the line went on forever with no one at the other end. (p. 211)
Rita and her cohort of lesbians thus reject not only the lure of nostalgia but also the temptation of an oversimplified revolutionary future, both of which exclude possibilities other than the limited range of choices that define normative American identity. (27) Although their desperation renders them incapable of recuperation in whatever cultural or historical context, it also provides the impetus for them to explore other possible identities, other possible means of survival. Rita suggests the ongoing need for inventing lines of escape from the lure of normalcy that opened the novel, when she recalls, "I moved far away from my destiny. No husband. No night school. No screaming kids in snowsuits and strollers. No trappings. Not trapped" (p. 15). Rita's AIDS testimony responds to the call of a different scream, which reaches her from childhood and speaks simultaneously to her need to respond to her dying community and to the impossibility of forming an adequate response to an experience that continues to produce a surplus of anxiety.
Through Rita's experiences of devastation and desperation Schulman does not posit a safe or stable space of a lesbian polis to which the redemptive novel would point: namely the lesbian and/or Jewish homecomings that are lauded by Brinker and Newman. Moreover, the linkage of AIDS and/as Holocaust fails to form an adequate analogy through which current suffering could be rendered knowable. On the contrary, Rat Bohemia's challenges to the dominant critical frames of lesbian fiction magnify rather than resolve the historical and contemporary desperation that haunts its narrators. Yet, when responses to People in Trouble are directed by normative critical gestures, respondents may claim that Kate's burning installations represent Schulman's savoring of "sweet, envisioned revenge," (28) a celebratory utopian vision of activist art. Not only might Schulman's concerns about the intersection of aesthetics and politics be glossed; additionally, her indictment of people like Kate, who, on the one hand, are willing to act on homosexual desire, yet on the other hand, refuse to come out or to otherwise self-identify as gay, are themselves elided. Although there are certainly significant moments in which sexuality, gender, and ethnicity are treated in a celebratory manner by Schulman, she continually returns to the need to provoke a sense of desperation from which new forms of thought and action would proceed.
I suggest, against the grain, that People in Trouble concludes with Kate's revolutionary artwork having, at best, a fleeting impact on anti-gentrification and AIDS activism. In fact, Schulman widens the rift between protagonists Kate and Molly, for Molly is left alone, working for the AIDS activist group Justice, while Kate successfully markets the spectacle of "burning installations and quickly got commissions from a number of Northern European countries to come start fires there" (p. 225). Although Robert McRuer identifies "chaos and contradiction" both in Kate's artwork and in the guerilla-theatric demonstrations of Justice, and claims that both "flaunt [the] dictum" that "urban space is contested space," (29) Schulman elicits very different responses from their performances. Kate's work is dissociated from that of Justice, for her painting, despite its initial power to challenge normative perceptions of public space, is stabilized, individuated as a formal trademark that earns her a "high profile ... in the Village Voice and ArtForum" (p. 225). Rather than forging such links, then, Schulman carefully dislodges any preconceptions readers may have about organically forming communities or the bonds assumed to exist among people due to their ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. Schulman's characters come together or separate from each other based not on any of these identificatory components, but rather on their willingness to remain actively, desperately involved in each other's concerns. As Molly concludes, referring at least in part to Kate's commercial success and Peter's ongoing indifference to the devastation that surrounds them all: "So many people are so self-satisfied.... They sit around, they don't do anything" (p. 228). Such passivity, especially in terms of Kate's refusal to identify with homosexuality, becomes the guarantor of the continuation of modes of oppression which lead not only to the poor treatment of gay people, but also to the disavowal of any need to care for people with AIDS.
Schulman continues to disrupt conceits of organic aesthetic responses to AIDS (and sexuality, ethnicity, poverty, parental/national abandonment) in Rat Bohemia. Rita recalls her numerous friends and acquaintances who suffer from AIDS, and she notes the frequency with which people with AIDS come to see their deaths as normative experiences, and the ways in which their friends, their families, and their nation also form normative expectations from their experiences. Although sufferers and witnesses alike expect the disease to provide some sort of catharsis, (30) Rita claims:
One thing I know for sure is that AIDS is not a transforming experience. I know that we tend to romanticize things like death based on some kind of religious model of conversion and redemption. We expect that once people stare down their mortality in the mirror they will understand something profound about death and life that the rest of us have to wait until old age to discover. But that's not what happens.... There is nothing to be learned by staring death in the face every day of your life. AIDS is just fucking sad. (p. 52)
Schulman contends with the relationship between the increasing numbers of dead and the proportional inability to adequately account for or address the absolute devastation of the experience of AIDS, and the need for continued activism. Her critique of the American demand for redemptive experiences in the face of genocide is intimately related to her broader project of disrupting conceits of passivity that allow that genocide to continue unchecked. Activism remains necessary, she writes, "because small victories are meaningful in individual lives.... I don't want to be complicit in a future in which people in need will die and everyone else will be condemned to a vicious banality." (31)
Schulman's shuttling between different discursive registers--the social realist project of People in Trouble, the avant-garde testimonies of Rat Bohemia, and the essays in My American History and Stagestruck--reflects the fraught narrative bind of bearing witness to devastation. As Dori Laub argues in Testimony: "The horror of the historical experience is maintained in the testimony only as an elusive memory that feels as if it no longer resembles reality. The horror is, indeed, compelling not only in its reality, but even more so, in its flagrant distortion and subversion of reality" (p. 76). ACT UP's "Silence=Death" slogan, unarguably a citation of Nazi iconography, is perhaps an intentionally dangerous, provocative mixing of metaphors that is, simultaneously, absolutely perverse and, even in that perversion, critically relevant. Activist strategies for the witnessing of AIDS, especially those suggested by Kramer and Schulman, are directed not by concerns of safety, good taste, propriety, or the like. Rather, to be active in the face of a disease that is itself radically active and shifting--and is lodged within a social milieu that is, at best, passive when faced with the dangers to gay people and other minority populations--demands constant strategic intervention, constant engagement with the risks of impropriety.
It is through her resistance to the calls for proper staging of historical, cultural, and sexual narratives that Schulman resists the celebratory aestheticization of testimony, and thus of the incalculable death and trauma which cannot be rendered legible. Positioned at the nexus of AIDS and the Holocaust, Schulman, like Kramer, does not allow one event or experience to provide the formula for translating the other. On the contrary, the intersection of events indicates the traumatic knowledge that devastation is now the condition of life for too many: that, in the face of demands that devastation never again take place, "it is clear that 'that' is, by now, everywhere." (32) My aim here has been in examining one vector of AIDS testimony and pursuing one of the ways in which the memories of the Nazi holocaust simultaneously inform and irreparably complicate the witnessing and testimony of the crisis of representation that has traveled alongside the emergence of AIDS. While developing provocative and problematic linkages of AIDS and/as Holocaust, Schulman's work has also increasingly focused on AIDS since the late 1980s, to the point at which one of the most compelling trajectories in her work has come from her exploration of the relationships between what we might suggest are two of many disasters which mark the twentieth century.
(1) Larry Kramer, Reports from the Holocaust, 2nd ed. (New York: St. Martin's, 1994), p. 263. The essay "Report from the Holocaust" bridges the first edition of Kramer's collected essays and opinion pieces, in which he documents the emergence of AIDS and his responses to the political, medical, and discursive crises which attended it, with the second edition, in which he reflects on the continued failure of the United States government and mainstream culture to adequately address the ongoing crisis.
(2) Historical use of the pink triangle in gay liberation movements precedes and differs from that of ACT UP, as it emerges in both Germany and the United States in the early 1970s. For an overview of uses of the symbol, see Erik N. Jensen, "The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution," Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 11, No. 1-2 (2002).
(3) Here, I follow Norman Finkelstein's distinction of the two terms in The Holocaust Industry (New York: Verso, 2000): "The Holocaust' is an ideological representation of the Nazi holocaust [the actual historical event]. Like most ideologies, it bears a connection, if tenuous, with reality" (p. 3). Although Finkelstein's concern is with the more visible exploitation of The Holocaust as an alibi for the claims of victim status by dominant social and political groups, I suggest that both event and ideological representation may also generate intensely charged, productive resonances with contemporary concerns of marginal people. Indeed, Finkelstein concludes his introductory remarks with a recollection of his mother, a survivor: "The time is long past to open our hearts to the rest of humanity's sufferings. This was the main lesson my mother imparted. I never once heard her say: Do not compare. My mother always compared. No doubt historical distinctions must be made. But to make out moral distinctions between 'our' suffering and 'theirs' is itself a moral travesty" (p. 8).
(4) Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust, 2nd ed. (New York: Plume, 1994).
(5) R. Amy Elman, "Lesbian (In) Visibility: A Feminist Critique of Gay Historiography," Sinister Wisdom, Vol. 55 (1995): 40-41. See also Elman, "Triangles and Tribulations: The Politics of Nazi Symbols," Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 30, No. 3 (1996): 1-11.
(6) This may be an overstatement. Lipstadt's repeated claims to the inviolability of the truth of the Holocaust turn out to be less than sacrosanct when appeals to fiction support her theses. For example, to counter her fear that American interest in the Holocaust is waning, she argues that not only the United States Holocaust Museum, but also the 1993 film, Schindler's List, thwart the pernicious "bacillus" of denial (p. xvii). I wonder whether Lipstadt is unaware of, or unconcerned with, the abyss between Spielberg's depiction and historical fact as summarized by Alan Gross ("A Disorder of Being: Heroes, Martyrs, and the Holocaust," Postmodern Culture, Vol. 5, No. 2 ): "In the film the ending is managed so as to give the impression that the Jews freed by the allies were in fact free.... In reasonably good health, and reasonably well fed, they are poised on the threshold of their new lives" (par. 3). Citing the childhood experiences of Menachem S., whose case plays a central role in Testimony, Gross counters: "The reality of the Schindler Jews is another matter altogether" (par. 4). Although Menachem is reunited with his parents, themselves Schindler Jews, "their reunion defeats all of our expectations of a happy ending" (par. 4). As Gross concludes, the "contrast between Hollywood and reality reveals just how Spielberg has betrayed the memory of Holocaust survivors" (par. 7).
(7) Jason Tougaw, "Testimony and the Subject of AIDS Memoirs," a/b: Auto/Biography Studies 13.2 (1998): 241.
(8) Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, Testimony (New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 69. Among Laub's key examples, a woman interned at Auschwitz recalls--albeit mistakenly--an attempted overthrow of the camp by resisters both inside and outside the camp. This testimony is the point of departure for Laub, through which he illustrates the contending ways in which the testimony is either valued or devalued by certain audiences (pp. 59-63). Most importantly, this primary impasse is not resolved by accessing at some point the "real truth" of what took place in the camp; rather, and to mark the surprising similarity with Schulman's own AIDS narratives, Laub argues: "The testimony aspires to recapture the lost truth of that reality, but the realization of the testimony is not the fulfillment of this promise. The testimony in its commitment to truth is a passage through, and an exploration of, differences, rather than an exploration of identity, just as the experience it testifies to--the Holocaust--is unassimilable, because it is a passage through the ultimate difference--the otherness of death" (p. 91).
(9) Paula Treichler, How To Have Theory in an Epidemic (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999). The crisis of signification is central to Treichler's work documenting and theorizing AIDS. Her first chapter traces a comprehensive genealogy of the development of the AIDS crisis, which was due to various political, social, economic conceits that resisted comprehension, or encouraged only partial comprehension, of the disease; thus, she argues, it has never been possible to develop even remotely adequate discourses about it. Likewise, Avital Ronell reflects on the anxieties produced by AIDS and the "uninterrogated metaphysical assumptions concerning its constitution. The first of the assumptions understood AIDS to derive from one cause, and this cause was reduced to a virus; secondly the methodologies used to interpret the syndrome involved codes of research that depended upon the old news of a hidden matrix of signification and an absent center of meaning from which the truth was assumed to be pulsing in secrecy" (Avital Ronell, Finitude's Score [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994], p. 42).
(10) Kramer, "A Personal Appeal," New York Native, Issue 19, August 24-September 6, 1981, rpt. in Reports, 8-9.
(11) Sarah Schulman, People In Trouble (New York: Plume, 1991).
(12) Schulman, My American History (New York: Routledge, 1994), p. xviii.
(13) People in Trouble's plot is largely autobiographical. In Stagestruck (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998), Schulman offers an autobiographical context for her charge that the Broadway musical Rent was largely a plagiarism of People: "I was twenty-eight years old in 1987, the year I joined ACT UP ... and full throttle into a love affair with a married woman. An artist, she was very conflicted about her sexuality with women and had contempt for the gay community in general. She practiced an art ideology that equated formal invention with radical content, something I contested passionately. My fantasy was that by exposing her to the realities of the AIDS crisis, she would drop her blinders about the functions of homophobia and simultaneously develop an understanding of the value of artwork rooted in experience. Needless to say, older now, I understand that my project was doomed from the start" (p. 7).
(14) Ludger Brinker, "The Bat Mitzvah of American-Jewish Lesbian Fiction: Newman, Katz, and Felman," Studies in American Jewish Literature, Vol. 13 (1994): 72.
(15) It could be said that "coming out Jewish" is not a point of departure, but an arrival at stability, figured as a binding together of ethnicity and sexuality. Rather than an engagement with complexity, Leslea Newman, for instance, claims that "For many of us, coming home to our sexuality was accompanied by a longing to come home to being all of ourselves, and a big part of that was being Jewish" ("Reflections of a Jewish Lesbian Author," Judaica Librarianship, Vol. 8, No. 1-2 [1993-1994]: 121). Although the body of criticism that deals with specifically Jewish lesbian literature remains small, Schulman is (when treated at all) invariably placed on the margins of that marginal field, even in its nascent state. Indeed, in a brief biography, Victoria Stagg Elliott ironically explains of People in Trouble: "Critically, the book was well received. Politically, however, because the novel encourages lesbians and gays to work together to fight the AIDS crisis, Schulman has been accused of sexism, homophobia, and 'lesbian incorrectness'" ("Sarah Schulman," Contemporary Lesbian Writers of the United States, ed. Sandra Pollack and Denise D. Night [Westport: Greenwood, 1993], pp. 516-17).
(16) E. J. Levy, "Why Is Lesbian Fiction So Bad?" Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review, Vol. 3, No. 3 (1996): 13.
(17) For an extended examination of Schulman's novels in relation to the reception of Jewish American lesbian fiction, see Goshert, "'Is it really bad of me to compare myself to a Jew?': Intervention and Invention in Sarah Schulman's AIDS Narratives," Pacific Coast Philology, Vol. 37 (2004).
(18) My American, p. 194.
(19) I suggest disingenuous, for as the remainder of this essay demonstrates, Schulman is quite concerned with her Jewish historical inheritance and her contemporary experiences as a Jew. The challenge facing Brinker is that Schulman cannot--or cannot solely--occupy a position in the new Haggadah she maps. Through both social realist and postmodernist/avant-garde modes Schulman consistently problematizes these Jewish experiences rather than seeing them as a place of potential return from the exodus.
(20) Schulman wryly observes that, by the mid-1990s, "recent medical advances in protease inhibitors and combination therapies are beginning to cast an artificial cast of resolution over the surface of the AIDS crisis. But, as others have repeatedly pointed out, if a glass of clean water was the cure for AIDS, most infected people in the world would be unable to access it" (Stagestruck, pp. 136-37).
(21) Sarah Schulman, Rat Bohemia (New York: Plume, 1996).
(22) As with the basic plotline of People (see n. 13 above), the relationship between Schulman's own recollections and the experiences of her character is clear. Her description of childhood clothes shopping (in the coming out story below) is included, albeit with less detail, in Schulman's Preface to My American History as an autobiographical rather than literary vignette (p. xiv).
(23) Indeed, as Finkelstein explains, "it was only after [the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war] that The Holocaust became a fixture in American Jewish life" (p. 17).
(24) In AIDS Narratives: Gender and Sexuality, Fiction and Science (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), Steven Kruger identifies the two master narratives of AIDS thus: the "microscopic" narrative "tells the story of an individual, charting the 'course' of his or her HIV illness.... Passivity is imputed at all stages in this narrative, except the initial stage, where, too often, a certain 'culpable' activity is associated with the exposure to HIV. The vocabulary of 'progress,' of travel,... of 'decline,' of 'inexorable suffering and death,' characterizes versions of this narrative" (p. 73). The macrocosmic form, Kruger continues, "--which might be called an epidemiological or population narrative--involves not the individual person living with HIV or AIDS but the historical trajectory of the epidemic. Here ... an 'origin' for AIDS is posited.... [T]he 'progress' of the epidemic ... is then traced in particular populations until it reaches ... an unmanageable 'caseload'" (p. 76).
(25) Likewise, in People in Trouble, after the overtly gay part of a funeral ceremony "the family moved to the front and brought in a rabbi who got to stand up and the end and say, 'Yiskadol veh yiskadosh shemay rabah,' which seemed to be the only part of the event that they could understand. That was when they cried" (p. 94). For the purposes of this essay, the relevant difference between the two scenes is in the shifting location of identification with Judaism; while Molly simply observes each group of mourners identifying with separate elements of the ceremony, Rita becomes a relay for both the "gay" and "Jewish" parts of David's funeral.
(26) This encounter ironically cites an earlier observation by Rita on the parasitic behavior of rats. As she recalls her friend Joanie, who was killed during a drug deal, Rita claims, "Killer says I'm nagging her but she's got to understand what can be taken away from you if you're not realistic. Pretending is too contagious. I already lost one friend that way over the summer and I'm not gonna lose another" (p. 25). As an aside during her description of Joanie's neighborhood, Rita notes the "smell of rotting rat carcasses, rat flesh. The other rats feast off of it for days. That's what makes them different from us. They sponge off each other's bodies even after they're dead" (p. 25).
(27) Schulman argues in My American History: "In our time ... we comprise the first generation who does not think that the future will be better. We fear the future. We live in a profound state of nostalgia. Concepts like revolution become reminders of the impossibility of change. Revolution has come to represent everything we can't have and can't achieve. We know we won't make a revolution and so now we have to ask ourselves if there is anything else we can do" (p. 258).
(28) Jacqueline Foertsch, Enemies Within (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), p. 125.
(29) Robert McRuer, Queer Renaissance (New York: NYU Press, 1997), p. 202.
(30) Rita considers earlier: "There is no cure. There are just certain strange combinations of beliefs, acts, and events that help some people feel better under some circumstances for some certain length of time. But there is no way to know why. Even when something comes along that helps some people feel better for some length of time, everyone poo-poos it because it is not THE CURE" (p. 53).
(31) My American, p. 222.
(32) Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books, 1999), p. 20.
John Charles Goshert
Utah Valley State College
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|Author:||Goshert, John Charles|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2005|
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