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If Memory Serves

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

2011
Authors:

Christopher Castiglia and Christopher Reed

If Memory Serves

How gay memory suppressed after AIDS returns in visions of sexual identity and social idealism

An exploration of the struggle over gay memory in the decades following the onset of AIDS, If Memory Serves argues that without memory there can be no future. Challenging many of the assumptions behind first-wave queer theory, Christopher Castiglia and Christopher Reed offer a new perspective on the emergence of contemporary queer culture from the suppression and repression of gay memory.

If Memory Serves is a carefully argued case for the deep, albeit repressed, kinship between the rise of queer theory and the horrors of AIDS. This is a book that boldly seeks to prod sleeping collective memories of old school faggotry—that pre-AIDS sensibility which harnessed promiscuous sex to an unabashed declaration of queer identity—toward a new historical narrative that refuses to enlist our past only to reinforce the claims of our present.

Jonathan David Katz, State University of New York at Buffalo

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.

If Memory Serves

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 and Interior States: Institutional Consciousness and the Inner Life of Democracy and coeditor with Glenn Hendler of Walt Whitman’s temperance novel, Franklin Evans; or, The Inebriate.


Christopher Reed is professor of English and visual culture at the Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of Bloomsbury Rooms: Modernism, Subculture, and Domesticity and Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas, the editor of Not at Home: The Suppression of Domesticity in Modern Art and Architecture, and A Roger Fry Reader, editor and translator of The Chrysanthemum Papers: “The Pink Notebook of Madame Chrysanthemum” and Other Documents of French Japonisme, and coeditor with Nancy Green of the exhibition catalog A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections.

If Memory Serves

If Memory Serves is a carefully argued case for the deep, albeit repressed, kinship between the rise of queer theory and the horrors of AIDS. This is a book that boldly seeks to prod sleeping collective memories of old school faggotry—that pre-AIDS sensibility which harnessed promiscuous sex to an unabashed declaration of queer identity—toward a new historical narrative that refuses to enlist our past only to reinforce the claims of our present.

Jonathan David Katz, State University of New York at Buffalo

If Memory Serves is a brilliant and powerful argument for memory as an activist act, a refusal to live in the present as is, and a vital tool for reinvigorating queer theory.

Elizabeth Freeman, author of Time Binds

If Memory Serves

Contents

Introduction: In the Interest of Time

1. Battles over the Gay Past: De-generation and the Queerness of Memory
2. For Time Immemorial: Marking Time in the Built Environment
3. The Revolution Might Be Televised: The Mass Mediation of Gay Memories
4. Queer Theory Is Burning: Sexual Revolution and Traumatic Unremembering
5. Remembering a New Queer Politics: Ideals in the Aftermath of Identity

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index