Rhetorically (De)constructing AIDS


Framed by ideas such as Rick Lee’s “AIDS literacy,” Samuel Delany’s “street talk” and “straight talk,” and Gérard Genette’s understanding of paratext as “a zone not only of transition but also of transaction,” I question what types of rhetorical modes work well for discussing diseases, like AIDS, in fantasy texts. AIDS and literacy are intimately connected because, as Lee explains, “the emergence of AIDS involved the need to become knowledgeable with the various terms then circulating as references to ‘the AIDS virus.’” That is, disease necessitates new discourses to properly facilitate both biomedical (what Delany refers to as “straight talk”) and culturally informed (what Delany refers to as “street talk”) discussions; therefore, the rhetorical choices we make become essential to our understandings of disease. T. E. Apter declares that fantasy writers must create a new language “either because some new, unknown order prevails, or because the former order functions haphazardly or piecemeal”: the introduction of AIDS, like the fantastic, creates a new order—fragmenting previous world meanings. In this article, I determine whether Samuel R. Delany’s two modes of talking about AIDS are sufficient for discussing disease (AIDS in New York and the unnamed “plague” in Kolhari) in Flight from Nevèrÿon. I discuss why a balance between “straight talk” and “street talk” is needed to change how AIDS is both perceived and discussed and propose dialogue as the key to discussing illness and disease.