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Jonathan David Katz

How AIDS Changed American Culture (06.06.2017)

What happens to Barthes' celebrated notion of "the death of the author" when it ceases as metaphor and turns horrifyingly literal? AIDS first emerged into public consciousness at roughly the same time that the death of the author became a critical mantra in American cultural studies.  In this talk, Katz investigates the ugly convergence of  postmodernism's denigration of authoriality and expressivity with the advent of the 20th century's deadliest plague. He will illustrate how and why a new AIDS art learned to camouflage its critical investments, performing a fidelity to postmodernist precepts of anti-expressivity even as it worked to seed complex social,  political and even autobiographical meanings. That these works  have rarely if ever been understood as socially engaged is in fact precisely the point, proof  positive of their critical success. Ironically, a critical theory that was centered on the proliferation of readerly meanings was called upon to both police and contain individual expression. More than simply decoding the social resonance of works never previously understood in an AIDS context, Katz will  underscore how and why the rapid ascendance of postmodernist thought in America was in fact keyed to the most noxious forms of homophobia and AIDSphobia.


Main Research Interests

  • The arts of the Cold War era
  • The question of why the American avant-garde came to be dominated and defined by queer artists during what was perhaps the single most homophobic decade (the Cold War era) in this nation’s history

Publications (selected)

  • Performative Silence and the Politics of Passivity. In: Making a Scene, ed. Henry Rogers. London: Birmingham University Press, 1999. John Cage's Queer Silence or How to Avoid Making Matters Worse. In: GLQ, Duke University Press, 1999. Reprinted in Here Comes Everybody: The Music Poetry and Art of John Cage, ed. David Bernstein, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
  • Lovers and Divers: Picturing a Partnership in Rauschenberg and Johns. In: Frauen/Kunst/Wissenschaft, 1998


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