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If Memory Serves
Gay Men, AIDS, and the Promise of the Queer Past
Christopher Castiglia
University of Minnesota Press, 2011

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.


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Information Activism
A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies
Cait McKinney
Duke University Press, 2020
For decades, lesbian feminists across the United States and Canada have created information to build movements and survive in a world that doesn't want them. In Information Activism Cait McKinney traces how these women developed communication networks, databases, and digital archives that formed the foundation for their work. Often learning on the fly and using everything from index cards to computers, these activists brought people and their visions of justice together to organize, store, and provide access to information. Focusing on the transition from paper to digital-based archival techniques from the 1970s to the present, McKinney shows how media technologies animate the collective and unspectacular labor that sustains social movements, including their antiracist and trans-inclusive endeavors. By bringing sexuality studies to bear on media history, McKinney demonstrates how groups with precarious access to control over information create their own innovative and resourceful techniques for generating and sharing knowledge.

front cover of Intoxicated
Race, Disability, and Chemical Intimacy across Empire
Mel Y. Chen
Duke University Press, 2023
In Intoxicated Mel Y. Chen explores the ongoing imperial relationship between race, sexuality, and disability. They focus on nineteenth-century biopolitical archives in England and Australia to show how mutual entanglements of race and disability take form through toxicity. Examining English scientist John Langdon Down’s characterization of white intellectual disability as Asian interiority and Queensland’s racialization and targeting of Aboriginal peoples through its ostensible concern with black opium, Chen explores how the colonial administration of race and disability gives rise to “intoxicated” subjects often shadowed by slowness. Chen charts the ongoing reverberations of these chemical entanglements in art and contemporary moments of political and economic conflict or agitation. Although intoxicated subjects may be affected by ongoing pollution or discredited as agents of failure, Chen affirmatively identifies queer/crip forms of unlearning and worldmaking under imperialism. Exemplifying an undisciplined thinking that resists linear or accretive methods of inquiry, Chen unsettles conventional understandings of slowness and agitation, intellectual method, and the toxic ordinary.

front cover of Is the Rectum a Grave?
Is the Rectum a Grave?
and Other Essays
Leo Bersani
University of Chicago Press, 2009

Over the course of a distinguished career, critic Leo Bersani has tackled a range of issues in his writing, and this collection gathers together some of his finest work. Beginning with one of the foundations of queer theory—his famous meditation on how sex leads to a shattering of the self, “Is the Rectum a Grave?”—this volume charts the inspired connections Bersani has made between sexuality, psychoanalysis, and aesthetics.

Over the course of these essays, Bersani grapples with thinkers ranging from Plato to Descartes to Georg Simmel. Foucault and Freud recur as key figures, and although Foucault rejected psychoanalysis, Bersani contends that by considering his ideas alongside Freud’s, one gains a clearer understanding of human identity and how we relate to one another. For Bersani, art represents a crucial guide for conceiving new ways of connecting to the world, and so, in many of these essays, he stresses the importance of aesthetics, analyzing works by Genet, Caravaggio, Proust, Almodóvar, and Godard.

Documenting over two decades in the life of one of the best minds working in the humanities today, Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays is a unique opportunity to explore the fruitful career of a formidable intellect.


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