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Hervé Guibert under Bureaucratic Quarantine Lawrence R. Schehr To write in the dark? To write until the end? To end it all to avoid the fear of death?1 A IDS WILL HAVE BEEN a rare moment in the history of litera­ ture. It appeared on the horizon as the incomprehensible, mysteri­ ous catch-all term for a polymorphous medical condition known early on by the ill-fitting, fatally misleading names of “ gay cancer” and “ gay plague.” Despite these early terms in popular parlance, it was named by science in an official discourse that intoned “ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.” This supposedly neutral scientific term quickly became part of official language. Absorbed directly into the language of power, that medical terminology names at once everything and nothing. Bureaucracy seized the word, made it a part of a mortality rate, let it become a part of a scourge, tried to use it to protect the “ inno­ cent” from the “ guilty” or regular people from “ high-risk groups.” As Susan Sontag says, The first major illness known by an acronym, the condition called AIDS does not have, as it were, natural borders. It is an illness whose identity is designed for purposes of investiga­ tion and with tabulation and surveillance by medical and other bureaucracies in view.2 Perhaps because of the enormity of the death toll, perhaps because of the incomprehensibility of a disease that attacks everywhere at once, perhaps because of the galloping rate at which it has infiltrated every stratum of the human community, AIDS had no poetic dimension, no literarity with which it entered the world of writing. The only name it had was the scien­ tific one; it entered writing as a fact of life and a fact of death. In this short article, I would like to explore what happens when a con­ temporary author is faced with inscribing the word “ AIDS” in his writ­ ing in an attempt to give it a literary dimension against the dehumanized, non-subjective discourse of medicine and publishers alike. I am inter­ ested in seeing what happens, specifically, to the official bureaucratic language that for a decade has been the baggage, seemingly impossible to misplace or lose, with which each person living and dying with AIDS is constantly travelling. Vol. XXXIV, No. 1 73 L ’E sprit C réateur I do not ever remember being as struck both by the presence of the author and the difference of writing as I was with Hervé Guibert. As did many others, I discovered his writing through a book called A I’ami qui ne m ’a pas sauvé ¡a vie, the detailed exposition, in novel form, of the early stages of his AID S.3 From that point, I followed his work both backwards and forwards. Backwards, through the books I had not read; forwards through the final volumes that give what I think is the most complete literary account to date of a human being and a writer, two minds, two modes occupying the same body, grappling with this terminal disease. As I sat in the San Francisco airport on 30 December 1992 and waited for the plane, I read that morning’s New York Times, which contained an obituary for Hervé Guibert who had died on the 27th. For me, the irony was chronological: readers of this article know that the holy days for literature professors in North America are 27-30 December every year, the sacred time of the convention of the Modern Language Associ­ ation. Thousands of us had existed in a world-less space punctuated by conferences, meetings, interviews, rumors, and assignations; all of this had run its course in the exact time it took from Guibert’s real death in France to my reading of the death in the New York Times that final after­ noon. Two chronologies, two kinds of discourses: an official discourse of newspaper obituaries; a critical discourse that took place in a dys­ topian elsewhere that had no contact with the reality around it. Could this anecdote somehow point out a discursive truth about AIDS? I would maintain that, even when introduced into a critical discourse, AIDS does not exist except...


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