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Facing It

AIDS Diaries and the Death of the Author

Ross Chambers

Publication Year: 1999

For a generation or more, literary theorists have used the metaphor of "the death of the author" in considering the observation that to write is to abdicate control over the meanings one's text is capable of generating. But in the case of AIDS diaries, the metaphor can be literal. Facing It examines the genre not in classificatory terms but pragmatically, as the site of a social interaction. Through a detailed study of three such diaries, originating respectively in France, the United States, and Australia, Ross Chambers demonstrates that issues concerning the politics of AIDS writing and the ethics of reading are linked by a common concern with the problematics of survivorhood. Two of the diaries chosen for special attention in this light are video diaries: La Pudeur ou l'impudeur by Herv+ Guibert (author of To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life), and Silverlake Life, by the American videomaker Tom Joslin (aided by his lover and friends, notably Peter Friedman). The third is a defiant but anxious text, Unbecoming, by an American anthropologist, Eric Michaels, who died in Brisbane, Australia, in 1988. Other authors more briefly examined include Pascal de Duve, Bertrand Duqu+nelle, Alain Emmanuel Dreuilhe, David Wojnarowicz, Gary Fisher, and the filmmaker (not a diarist) Laurie Lynd. Finally, Facing It takes on the issue of its own relevance, asking what contributions literary criticism can make in the midst of an epidemic. "Groundbreaking in its approach and potentially wide in its appeal. . . . The rigor of the ideas, their dramatic nature, and the political drive of the rhetoric all should win Facing It a large readership that could extend far beyond students of narrative or queer theory." --David Bergman, Towson University, editor of Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality Ross Chambers is Distinguished University Professor of French and Comparative Literature, University of Michigan, and author of Room for Maneuver: Reading (the) Oppositional (in) Narrative and Story and Situation: Narrative Seduction and the Power of Fiction.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. xi

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1. Writing AIDS

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pp. 1-16

This is an essay about witnessing and the authority it borrows, in Walter Benjamin’s stately and capacious phrase, from death. Because witnessing is mediating, we cannot say, as perhaps one might wish,and certainly not in a simple and straightforward sense, that its authority derives from the truth, itself always a mediated construct....

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2. Dying as an Author

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pp. 17-33

If so, and the political context is relevant, we can now return, from another angle, to the complicity of AIDS writing in general, and the AIDS diary in particular, with the calamitous disease to which its imultaneously bears witness. Given the direness of the syndrome, such writing—the “writing of AIDS”—can only be understood as (a)...

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3. Confronting It: La pudeur ou l’impudeurand the Phantom Image

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pp. 35-60

In 1981 the ‹rst rumors of a supposed “gay cancer” began to circulate in New York. That year, in Paris, Hervé Guibert published a book about photography, his passion: the book was entitled L’image fantôme, which might translate either as “The Phantom Image” or“Phantom Imagery.”1 It is, idiosyncratically enough, a book about...

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4. An Education in Seeing: Silverlake Life

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pp. 61-80

In Silverlake Life: The View from Here (1993) the videomaker Tom Joslin—with technical assistance from a number of friends (including his lover, Mark Massi)—made a remarkable video record, in diary form, of his own dying and death from AIDS. Completed by Peter Friedman, the video is nevertheless a remarkable...

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5. Anxious Reading: Eric Michaels’s Unbecoming

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pp. 81-113

Ill people whose unaccommodating behavior earns them the reputation of being “difficult patients” are a trial to their caregivers andfriends. There is a sense, though, in which the practices of AIDS witnessing, to the extent that they represent a refusal to give up and go quietly from the scene (as so many would like AIDS “victims” to do),...

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6. RSVP, or Reading and Mourning

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pp. 115-135

If you go back to the influential essay by Barthes that launched the phrase “the death of the author,” it is immediately clear that Barthes was concerned not with a problem of survival (and continuity) but with a project of substitution...

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pp. 137-141

Having begun this essay in the summer of 1995, I am writing its afterword in the summer of 1997. During those two years the first vague rumors of the efficacy of protease inhibitors and the relative success of combination therapy began to spread and soon became real news. Problematic as this treatment is in many ways—medically,...


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pp. 143-145

E-ISBN-13: 9780472021932
E-ISBN-10: 0472021931
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472087488
Print-ISBN-10: 0472087487

Page Count: 160
Illustrations: 1 photograph
Publication Year: 1999