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Title: Wound cultures : explorations of embodiment in visual culture in the age of HIV/AIDS
Author: Macdonald, Neil
ISNI:       0000 0004 6056 7762
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2017
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This thesis employs the bodily wound as a metaphor for exploring HIV/AIDS in visual culture. In particular it connects issues of bodily penetration, sexuality and mortality with pre-existing anxieties around the integrity of the male body and identity. The thesis is structured around four case studies, none of which can be said to be ‘about’ HIV/AIDS in any straightforward way, and a theoretical and historical overview in the introduction. In doing so it demonstrates that our understanding of HIV/AIDS is always connected to highly entrenched ways of thinking, particularly around gender and embodiment. The introduction sets out the issues around HIV/AIDS particularly as they relate to visual culture and promotes the work of Georges Bataille and Jacques Derrida as philosophical antecedents of queer theory, a body of ideas that emerges alongside HIV/AIDS and is intimately connected with it. Chapter one continues to engage with Bataille through the work of Ron Athey. Athey’s work uses religious and sacrificial imagery, wounding and bodily penetration to explore living in the world as an HIV-positive man. The work of Mary Douglas, who argued that the individual body could stand in for the social body, along with Leo Bersani, who argues that male penetration is tantamount to subjective dissolution are instructive in this regard. The second chapter examines how Bataille’s work has been incorporated into the discourse of art history but subject to strategic exclusions that masked its engagement with sexuality, corporeality and politics at the height of the AIDS crisis in the western world. It argues that the work of David Wojnarowicz addresses similar concerns but in an embodied, activist form. The third chapter looks at a film by François Ozon from 2005 and argues that, through photography and trauma discourse, it returns viewers to a time when HIV infection was invariably terminal and fatal. The film, therefore, is an engagement with mortality on the part of a young man. The final chapter looks at the films of Pedro Almodóvar to argue that his films simultaneously undercut our expectations around gender and sexuality while promoting an understanding of sexual difference as the originary experience of loss in our lives. The work of Judith Butler is instructive in this regard and also draws out its connections and implications to HIV/AIDS. In conclusion the thesis argues that HIV/AIDS, understood as a wound to the idea of an integral, stable and sacrosanct body, has made such an understanding of the body untenable and that this has enabling and productive consequences for our understanding of gender and sexuality.
Supervisor: Lomas, David ; Pearl, Monica Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: HIV/AIDS ; Visual Culture ; Art History ; Gender ; Sexuality