Jonathan David Katz: How AIDS Changed American Culture
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.
// Jonathan D. Katz
Associate Professor at the University at Buffalo, Department of Art