Keith Haring, Heritage of Pride Logo

The Plague Years: AIDS, Art, and the Beginnings of Queer Theory

Instructor: Jamie Parra
Molasses Bookstore
770 Hart. St
Brooklyn, NY 11237

“As a twenty-three-year-old faggot, I get no affirmation from my culture,” wrote Gregg Bordowitz in 1987.  “I see issues that affect my life–the issues raised by AIDS–being considered in ways that will probably end my life.” When AIDS entered the national consciousness in the US during the early 1980s, public discussion consisted primarily of, on the one hand, misinformed reports by a homophobic news media and, on the other, the resounding silence of a government that deemed many of its citizens disposable.  Against this backdrop, writers, visual artists, and intellectuals responded with a rush of activism that effectively redefined art and scholarship’s relationship to politics.  This course will explore some of the works that, in the throes of an epidemic, took forms like the memoir, the comic book, the essay, as well as photography, painting, performance, and video and used them to protest the government’s neglect and the public’s indifference.  Intellectuals like Bordowitz, Douglas Crimp, and Leo Bersani examined the public discourse surrounding AIDS, raising questions about pathology, sexuality, and the politics of representation, and in the process they helped to inaugurate what would come to be known as “queer theory.”  The syllabus will also include writings by Paul Monette, Susan Sontag, Edmund White, and David Wojonarovicz, in addition to plays by Larry Kramer and Tony Kushner.   We will look at video from the Real World Season II, ACT UP’s DIVA-TV collective, Derek Jarman, Marlon Riggs, Isaac Julien, and John Greyson, and graphic works by Wojonarovicz, Félix Gonzaléz-Torres, and Keith Haring alongside ACT-UP’s guerrilla marketing campaigns and protest materials, which created the iconography of a population whose suffering would have otherwise remained unseen.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 7-9pm
November 18 — December 09, 2014
5 weeks

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