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literature

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AIDS Literature  
 
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Appearing in 1988 were two groundbreaking classics by Paul Monette--Love Alone: Eighteen Elegies for Rog, a book of poems, and Borrowed Time, a prose memoir--that chart the suffering and death of Monette's lover Roger Horwitz from AIDS in 1985-1986, encompassing at the same time the struggles of affected friends and of the concerned gay community nationwide. Love Alone is the supreme work of immersive AIDS writing so far. It thrusts the horrors of AIDS in the reader's face. Monette embodies his and Rog's harrowing experience in an equally harrowing style, relentlessly withdrawing secure ground from under the reader's feet by a constant shifting of reference, focus, and tone and by stripping each poem of the traditionally stabilizing markers of stanza breaks, punctuation, and end-stopped lines.

Another immersive 1988 work is the documentary-like Someone Was Here: Profiles in the AIDS Epidemic by George Whitmore (d. 1989), which reports on a middle-class white gay male PWA in New York City, a working-class Chicano gay male PWA in rural Colorado, and the AIDS service at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx, whose patients are overwhelmingly poor, African American or Hispanic, heterosexual IV-drug users. Someone Was Here remains the only detailed portrait of the latter group in AIDS literature so far.

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Counter-Immersive AIDS Literature

Three 1988 books by acclaimed gay male writers signal the force of counter-immersiveness in AIDS literature as well. Slight touches appear in Second Son by Robert Ferro (d. 1988), the most distinguished American AIDS novel to that point. Ferro occasionally deflects the reader's attention from the moving love story of two men with AIDS, Mark and Bill, with Mark's family tensions and his camp correspondence with his friend Matthew (who finally seems planning to deflect himself from earth itself, enlisting in a group of gay space travelers).

The stories in the pioneering collection The Darker Proof--four by the British writer Adam Mars-Jones and three by the American novelist Edmund White--all concern AIDS in some way, yet all seem preoccupied by a fear of getting "more-ish" about the subject. The central characters--three PWAs, four surviving lovers, friends, or caretakers--are highly "defended" and, though some are occasionally "pierced" by their experiences of AIDS, most continue to function with "clenched teeth."

Moving tributes to dead or imperiled friends dot Andrew Holleran's essay collection, Ground Zero, but most of the pieces concern Holleran's own "depression" at AIDS and his difficulty in writing about the epidemic as an author whose predominant modes have been doomed romanticism and camp wit.

The Intensity Increases: 1989

In 1989, Larry Kramer issued Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist, his historically valuable, Cassandra-like "collected diatribes" about AIDS from 1981 to 1988, plus an essay paralleling gay oppression under AIDS with the Nazi genocide against the Jews.

Another signal 1989 collection is Poets for Life: Seventy-Six Poets Respond to AIDS, edited by Michael Klein, which includes work by gay and heterosexual poets, people with AIDS, and loved ones and caretakers. Among its many notable contributions are work by groups that have been underrepresented in AIDS literature: a gay African-American writer--Melvin Dixon (d. 1992)--and several lesbian authors, including Marilyn Hacker and Adrienne Rich. The anthology includes a rare portrait of woman-to-woman AIDS, Carol Ebbecke's "Good Timing," and the moving "Memoir" by Honor Moore and "White Balloon" by Maureen Seaton.

Appearing in Italy in 1989 was Camere Separate (trans. Separate Rooms, 1992) by Pier Vittorio Tondelli (d. 1991), a novel of "deep and sacred mourning" that reviews the love affair of the young Leo and Thomas and traces the quest of the intensely self-examining and chronically "separate" Leo to "become available" to experience again after Thomas's death from AIDS.

Two celebrated 1989 novels illustrate the continuing conflicts in AIDS literature about close "touch" with the subject. David B. Feinberg's Eighty-Sixed, a problematic attempt to write AIDS comedy, chronicles the adventures of a panicked sero-negative New York gay "clone," B. J., and relegates actual AIDS to a secondary character with whom B. J. had a one-night stand and whom he is pressured into helping ("I don't want to touch Bob").

John Weir's The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket does have a person with AIDS as a main character; and in the "blank generation" Eddie, who even in his illness cannot stop living "in quotes" from movies and television, it gives a painful picture of a life wasted in reactive irony. Yet, though some breaks from flipness occur, the book often stays stuck in distancing irony itself through its cool third-person narrator and other "blocked" characters who live in their own "as if" ways.

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