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If Memory Serves

Gay Men, AIDS, and the Promise of the Queer Past

Christopher Castiglia

Publication Year: 2011

The AIDS epidemic soured the memory of the sexual revolution and gay liberation of the 1970s, and prominent politicians, commentators, and academics instructed gay men to forget the sexual cultures of the 1970s in order to ensure a healthy future. But without memory there can be no future, argue Christopher Castiglia and Christopher Reed in this exploration of the struggle over gay memory that marked the decades following the onset of AIDS.

Challenging many of the assumptions behind first-wave queer theory, If Memory Serves offers a new perspective on the emergence of contemporary queer culture from the suppression and repression of gay memory. Drawing on a rich archive of videos, films, television shows, novels, monuments, paintings, and sculptures created in the wake of the epidemic, the authors reveal a resistance among critics to valuing—even recognizing—the inscription of gay memory in art, literature, popular culture, and the built environment. Castiglia and Reed explore such topics as the unacknowledged ways in which the popular sitcom Will and Grace circulated gay subcultural references to awaken a desire for belonging among young viewers; the post-traumatic (un)rememberings of queer theory; and the generation of “ideality politics” in the art of Félix González-Torres, the film Chuck & Buck, and the independent video Video Remains.

Inspired by Alasdair MacIntyre’s insight that “the possession of a historical identity and the possession of a social identity coincide,” Castiglia and Reed demonstrate that memory is crafted in response to inadequacies in the present—and therefore a constructive relation to the past is essential to the imagining of a new future.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: In the Interest of Time

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pp. 1-38

About the time we started talking about the ideas in this book, we were getting ready to move for a year to Memphis, Tennessee. Looking up gay life there, we found the most popular gay club in Memphis was called Amnesia. Despite being heralded as “the Club for the new Millennium,” by the time we arrived in Memphis, Amnesia had closed.1 ...

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1. Battles Over the Gay Past: De-generation and the Queerness of Memory

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pp. 39-72

“All profound changes in consciousness by their very nature bring with them characteristic amnesia,” Benedict Anderson claims, explaining the rise of national identity from a deep historical and historiographic dialectic of memory and forgetting. “Out of such oblivions, in specific historical circumstances, spring narratives” (204). ...

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2. For Time Immorial: Marking Time in the Built Environment

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pp. 73-112

Between 1984 and 1992—that is, while fear and grief over AIDS, the previous chapter argued, played out in proscriptions against queer memory— the French historian Pierre Nora was supervising a massive (sevenvolume) study of what he influentially termed lieux de mémoire, places of memory. ...

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3. The Revolution Might be Televised: The Mass Mediation of Gay Memories

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pp. 113-144

The preceding chapters explored manifestations of gay memory in independent film and video, in novels, and in the architectural fabric of urban monuments and neighborhoods. Although, as we argue, these manifestations of memory have gone largely overlooked critically, they are nevertheless clearly imbricated within broader dynamics of gay and queer cultures. ...

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4. Queer Theory is Burning: Sexual Revolution and Traumatic Unremembering

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pp. 145-174

The history of AIDS in the United States and the history of queer theory in the academy overlap almost exactly. Beginning with the publication of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Between Men in 1985, the academic purchase of queer theory grew in tandem with the mounting horror caused by the spread of AIDS. ...

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5. Remembering a New Queer Politics: Ideals in the Aftermath of Identity

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pp. 175-216

The previous chapter showed how appeals to the future risk unremembering the past. This chapter turns to the converse: how memories of loss sited in the past may become occasions for the invention of idealistic futures. We turn here to visual texts—art by Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Delmas Howe, ...

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pp. 217-218

“Memory,” Oscar Wilde wrote, “is the diary that chronicles things that never happened or couldn’t possibly have happened.” Throughout this book we endorse Wilde’s sense of the extravagant fancy often associated with memories, but we are also fortunate to have memories of very real acts of kindness and generosity. ...


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pp. 219-240


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pp. 241-254


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pp. 255-260

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About the Authors

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p. 270-270

Christopher Castiglia is Liberal Arts Research Professor of English at the Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of Bound and Determined: Captivity, Culture-Crossing, and White Womanhood from Mary Rowlandson to Patty Hearst ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816678686
E-ISBN-10: 0816678685
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816676118

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2011