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Witnessing AIDS

Witnessing AIDS: Writing, Testimony, and the Work of Mourning

Sarah Brophy
Series: Cultural Spaces
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 256
  • Book Info
    Witnessing AIDS
    Book Description:

    Witnessing AIDSaddresses testimonial literature produced in response to the AIDS pandemic, focusing on texts by four individuals: filmmaker, painter, activist, and writer Derek Jarman; writer Jamaica Kincaid; anthropologist and media theorist Eric Michaels; and journalist Amy Hoffman. Sarah Brophy outlines the critical framework for interpreting the emphasis on unresolved grief in the emerging body of work.

    Brophy challenges the tendency to treat AIDS testimonial literature as a genre particular to gay men. By examining Kincaid's and Hoffman's memoirs, in conjunction with the diaries of Michaels and Jarman, Brophy expands the territory of mourning beyond one group of people, an exercise that Brophy feels is important -- as well as fundamental -- to understanding the depth of personal grief and the ways we respond to grief in literature.

    In a clear and accessible style,Witnessing AIDSillustrates how memoirs and diaries are used as self-theorizing documents that approach personal testimony as an intervention in cultural memory. The aim of Brophy's work is to develop a framework for reading, one that begins to grasp the significance of unresolved grief in AIDS, its effect upon testimonial writing, and to engage rather than deflect. Visceral investment in the mundane intimacies of illness, death, and grief resituates a number of critical debates at new and provocative intersections as the strategy for understanding continues.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8352-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION: AIDS Testimonial Writing and Unresolved Grief
    (pp. 3-28)

    Far from being a phenomenon that we can grasp simply as a set of biomedical facts, the AIDS epidemic is fundamentally cultural, its meanings created through language and visual representation. Over the two decades since it was named and entered public discourse, AIDS has been defined, in scientific and popular interpretations alike, by a series of dichotomies that attempt to reassure a notional ‘general public’ that there exists a fixed barrier between what is proper to the self and what threatens the self’s boundaries.¹ Seemingly natural oppositions between, for example, ‘homosexual and heterosexual,’ ‘active and passive,’ ‘guilty and innocent,’ ‘First...

  5. CHAPTER ONE ‘Flowers, Boys, and Childhood Memories’: Derek Jarmanʼs Pedagogy
    (pp. 29-78)

    The evolution of Derek Jarman’s garden at Prospect Cottage, planted defiantly on Dungeness’s shingle beach, exposed to incessant winds and harsh sunlight, and in full view of a decrepit, looming nuclear power development, is chronicled over the course of several published autobiographical texts.¹ As Jamaica Kincaid observes, speaking of Prospect Cottage in herNew Yorkergardening column, its collection of ‘worn-down objects’ and of plants and pebbles indigenous to the local seashore makes it seem ‘as if they were the remains of a long-ago shipwreck, just found.’ A massively mediated combination of the indigenous and the exotic, of the natural...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Queering the Kaddish: Amy Hoffmanʼs Hospital Time and the Practice of Critical Memory
    (pp. 79-120)

    Amy Hoffman divides her memoirHospital Time, which testifies to her friendship with Mike Riegle, into four sections that appear to move readers through a linear pattern, from an initial section entitledLiving with AIDS, to Mike’s decline inMemphis Stories, to his death inMike Dies and Is Laid to Rest, and, finally, toThe Afterlife.¹ But although its narrative architecture corresponds to the working through of grief,Hospital Timeis thoughtfully and painfully confused about what it means to write ‘to the memory of’ her friend and colleague, Mike Riegle, in the wake of his death. This confusion...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Resisting Redemption: Strategies of Defamiliarization in Eric Michaelsʼs Unbecoming
    (pp. 121-166)

    The published volumeUnbecoming(1990) represents the AIDS diaries composed and revised from September 1987 to August 1988 by Eric Michaels, an American citizen who worked in Australia as an anthropologist under the auspices of the Institute for Aboriginal Studies and Griffith University, studying what he provocatively labelled ‘the Aboriginal invention of television.’ The mandate of his anthropological studies was to ‘assess the impact of television on remote Aboriginal communities’ by examining particular communities ‘before and after’ its introduction.¹ As Jay Ruby observes, Michaels departed from his initial assignment to document the reception of television by the Warlpiri at Yuendumu,...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. CHAPTER FOUR Angels in Antigua: The Diasporic of Melancholy in Jamaica Kincaid’s My Brother
    (pp. 167-204)

    Adopting a strategy of seeming frankness in her accounting for facts, Jamaica Kincaid, in her 1997 memoir of the life and the AIDS-related death of her half-brother Devon Drew, foregrounds the intersection of grief with postcolonial and racial concerns, emphasizing her conflicted feelings about death and loss and about the ‘privilege and power’ she holds as a now-celebrated writer living in the United States.¹ Faced with the emergency of the AIDS epidemic, and with the ways in which it locates Devon’s dispossession, Kincaid finds that she must address her estranged brother and the particularities of his world in the context...

  10. CONCLUSION: Melancholic Reparations
    (pp. 205-212)

    Images of the natural world’s beauty and decay – and of its cultivation by people in the form of gardens and memorials – are a crucial recurring element in testimonial writing about the AIDS epidemic, and it is by meditating on one specific example, Derek Jarman’s garden at Prospect Cottage, the physical, visual analogue toModern Nature, that I wish to bring together, by way of conclusion, my thoughts on AIDS testimonial writing, mourning, and kinship. Casting himself as a latter-day Kentish ‘saint’ – and indeed canonized as Derek of Dungeness by the gay group Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 213-246)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 247-260)
  13. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 261-262)
  14. Index
    (pp. 263-272)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)