Goldsmiths Literature Seminar
Chris Clarke (BA, Goldsmiths)
This paper seeks to examine how the cultural effect of HIV and the AIDS crisis is represented in contemporary American literature. Texts such as Sonia Sanchez’s poetry collection Does Your House Have Lions? and Tony Kushner’s two-part play Angels in America deal with HIV/AIDS particularly in relation to the shift in societal perceptions of otherness and threats to hetronormativity. Specifically, the disease is aligned with groups considered to be dangerous or oppositional to the values of middle-class, white and masculine ideals.
In her text, Sanchez deals with HIV through the fragmented narratives of a family dealing with the loss of a son to the disease. Through this lens, we can examine the distorted language that surrounds bodies with the disease and the circumstances by which they come to be infected. Reading the text through a familial and African-American lens, we can examine how a break in the typical American concept of the family can lead to a physical rupturing through the manifestation of the virus. Otherwise put, a group considered to be other can be re-categorised as a more deadly kind of other.
Tony Kushner’s play deals very specifically with the political impact of the late 80s and the struggles of power that took place, in particular to sufferers of AIDS. The way in which the disease penetrated the American homeland and caused those to fall victim not just to the disease itself but also to the corruption and oppression directed at AIDS sufferers will be analysed. We will focus on those who are left without power or voice and those who fight to maintain a hold within the greater body politic.
When considered as part of the wider canon of AIDS literature, we can look at the way that the language and dynamics of the disease are portrayed in literature and the way that texts function as artefacts of cultural memory, both serving as works of fiction but also considerations of memory processes and cultural attitudes towards AIDS.
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