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Title: Retroviral writings : reassessing the postmodern in American AIDS literature
Author: Blades, Andrew Michael
ISNI:       0000 0004 2693 635X
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2010
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This thesis reassesses American AIDS literature of the 1980s and 1990s by focusing on four major writers: the poets Thom Gunn (1929-2004), James Merrill (1926-1995) and Mark Doty (1953-), and the novelist Michael Cunningham (1952-). It questions the dominant critical discourse on literature of the epidemic, contending that while competing versions of the postmodern provided useful models for reading AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, it is now necessary to adjust the critical position in line with the intellectual turn away from the cultural theories of that time. The introduction provides an overview of the most prevalent constructions of AIDS’ postmodernity through the period, arguing that critics were anxious to fit the epidemic to the theoretical models of the day, and going on to suggest that the writers under scrutiny actively question or even resist these models. Chapter One reads the later collections of Thom Gunn against his earlier work, arguing that he writes a "poetry of prophylaxis" which draws on his literary past in order to construct a defence against the uncertainties of the epidemic age. Chapter Two develops this question of self-reconstruction, examining the last two collections of James Merrill and his 1993 memoir in light of his own diagnosis with HIV. It proposes that in the renegotiation of his body, he might help the reader both remember and "re-member" him. Chapter Three turns to the work of Mark Doty, in particular the memoir Heaven’s Coast and the two collections, My Alexandria (1995) and Atlantis (1996), suggesting that Doty reclaims metaphor for palliative good at a time when AIDS theorists such as Paula Treichler registered scepticism during the "epidemic of signification". Chapter Four discusses the 1990s novels of Michael Cunningham, arguing that in order to “know” AIDS, outside of contemporaneous postmodern readings, it is necessary to "re-know" or "recognise" older literary models. The thesis ends with a brief account of post-1990s AIDS literature and theory, before concluding that each writer argues for models of literary continuity as a means of neutralising the possible creative rupture wrought by immunodeficiency.
Supervisor: Methven, James Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: American literature in English ; Literature ; Poetry ; Thom Gunn ; Mark Doty ; James Merrill ; Michael Cunningham ; Postmodernism