"I circle questions of blood": The politics and poetics of representing AIDS by writers of African descent

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Lindsey Tucker - Committee Chair


This thesis explores the literary response to the American AIDS epidemic by writers of African descent, mining that response for insights yet undiscovered or unarticulated by the mainstream literature of AIDS. The aesthetic and political strategies of these texts have been overlooked for the very quality that might constitute their contribution: they offer alternative---but disruptive---constructions of identity, risk, desire, and the body. The theoretical agenda of mainstream AIDS literature is grounded in a troubling preoccupation with sexual identity and desire as the principal determiners of Otherness, and thus in a questionable overdetermination of analogues taken from feminist identity politics. "Race," however, might legitimately take a place alongside "gender" as a third term in an analogy by which we can understand how the personal has become the political with regards to HIV disease and the body of an objectified gay Other. The black literary response to AIDS has successfully capitalized on the overlappings and interactions among "race," "orientation," and "AIDS" as constructors of identity, and has done so by means of the imagery of the toxic body---especially the imagery of tainted blood. These texts are concerned with the threats posed by the imagined toxic body and with the various precautions taken by people to keep themselves "pure" of HIV, gayness, or blackness. These threats of infection and penetration consistently work on a presumably literal level ("the body") as well as on a figurative level ("identity") and infer implicitly to America's historical dread of miscegenation.


Black Studies; Literature, American

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