8. Transformations of hope:
queer artists and AIDS activism

Still, Jones’ specific demand for “safe love” speaks to his experience of living with HIV or AIDS. If one of his objects was criticism of the national health industries, lack of treatment for HIV-related illness was a primary motivator for his protest. But even HIV/AIDS activists were taken aback by Jones’ performance. Shared identity within the various sectors of AIDS demographics did not guarantee comprehension of Jones’ death. AIDS activist and critics tended to see the voluntary death of an HIV+ man as a tragic suicide, an unnecessary death by a person unable to overcome his social marginalization. Two responses were representative.

“Anyone who needs drugs in this state can get them,” stated James Loyce of AIDS Project Los Angeles, changing the subject of Jones’ claim, then blunting it by re-stating it as a policy query which could not be immediately answered:

“The HMOs have specialists. The question is, do they have the numbers to accommodate the number of patients?”

Priscilla Munro, executive director of the AIDS Services Foundation in Irvine, stated,

“Managed care companies are very reluctant to be involved in any kind of experimental medications. It’s very shocking to think this man reached that level of despair. There are organizations like ours that are willing to go to the wall for people like that. Hopefully, we’ll never see anything like this again.”[24]

Jones knew that treatments exist for HIV. As I’ve explained above, while HIV motivated his actions, the object of his critique was for-profit health care, not access. In addition, Munro’s implication that the emergency health care organizations established to handle the large numbers of uninsured persons and underserved HMO clients have succeeded in bringing the pandemic under control is disturbing. Most fundamentally, the medical failure to produce a cure is re-cast here as adequate management. Yet there is also in Munro’s comment a tacit indication that her knowledge that all patients who need care can get it is rather a “hope,” although any hesitancy on her part is framed in terms of a preference not to “see” violence.

Perhaps Loyce and Munro responded in muted denial of the fact that while AIDS drugs have increased in efficacy, the high cost of their patented formulas continues to ensure that most AIDS patients in highly populated but less wealthy countries worldwide will never receive them. But even today, five years later, the economic determination of patented treatments for HIV/AIDS within world markets continues to be itself subsumed within a larger set of legal determinations made at the level of the nation-state. U.S. trade representatives to the WTO held up agreements allowing trade in generic versions of patented formulas through two years of delays (and deaths), only in August 2003 finally allowing generic versions of HIV/AIDS drugs to be manufactured and traded among poorer nations as long as the visual appearance of the medications can be distinguished from domestic versions, thus preventing generics produced in India or Brazil from entering the U.S. market and driving down the costs of treating American HIV/AIDS patients.[25]

Some activist commentators on Jones’ suicide had a perhaps more insightful, if in certain ways more trivializing, understanding. In a wrap-up of the year’s events entitled “The Best, Worst, and Weirdest 1998,” POZ magazine gave Jones another brief mention:

“Out with a bang! Off the LA freeway, under circling news choppers broadcasting live, in front of a banner reading ‘Live Free, Love Safe or Die,’ PWA Daniel Jones blew his head off. Why? To avenge an HMO mix-up of his records and because he feared an ugly AIDS death. ‘He wanted his death to mean something,’ his sister said. We read it as flipping the bird to the post-AIDS chorus.”

The cynicism dripping from this interpretation points to a queer set of camp, if mean-spirited, strategies marked by an arch use of the ridiculous. Jones’ death here appears as grande guignol, performing abjection through live horror with comic overtones. Kafkaesque bureaucratic malfeasance is archly characterized as a mere “mix-up” that is outweighed by a righteously excessive “avenging” while the vanity of narcissism is celebrated even as it is mocked, with Jones’ motive ascribed to a desire to forestall an “ugly” death—rather than one marked by the enduring pain and the loss of self-recognition that his past medical history had led him to expect.

Here, Jones is seen as signifying horror through camp to reject a false sense of security given in a refrain by a mocking, tragic “choir.” Jones is taken for a kindred spirit by writers attempting to blunt dangerous new illusions through a brand of subversive humor. Rather than Jones’ death specifying a political valence for a televisual and Internetworked public, the POZ writers appear to be aiming at “post-AIDS” administrators like Loyce and Munro who believe the growing global crisis has become somehow manageable. This deployment of a darker camp sensibility is by no means unique to POZ, and in fact has long been deployed in HIV/AIDS zines, theatre, and activist video.

Video artist and activist Gregg Bordowitz, characterizing his work as an attempt to make the AIDS crisis “visible” in the face of official neglect and lack of attention or accuracy from mainstream media (Bordowitz 1993), writes:

“There are historical, material conditions that create a situation of crisis, but there is no reason why some people die, why some people get sick, why I am infected. There is no reason, but there is meaning. My experiences are filled with meaning. They’re filled with pain, irony, and hope” (211).

Bordowitz writes of his appreciation of Charles Ludlam’s “Theatre of the Ridiculous.” Ludlam’s theatre articulates what Bordowitz calls “queer structures of feeling” through which countercultural communities of resistance are forged. Surveying a number of activist video projects and his own work, Bordowitz notes that while topics addressed in these videos ranging from HIV/AIDS, safer sex, homophobia, women’s health and reproductive rights, political action or the work of remembrance, they share a demythifying rhetoric of the ridiculous by engaging mockery of self and antagonist alike. Noting that Ludlam’s theatre developed over years and positioned itself within the broader history of theatre, Bordowitz explains that HIV/AIDS activist videos have faced a very different temporality. Participants were often sick or would become ill, or might die. With no time to lose, goals had to be pragmatic and well-defined (217). In Bordowitz’ video activism, as in his critical writing, crisis may be tempered by humor with no loss in urgency. Theatricality may be tested against the exigencies of medical politics.

The irony and cynicism of POZ’s review of Jones’ death can be read in relation to transformations in “queer structures of feeling”—against abandonment, then, an effort to articulate, sometimes ironically, both hope and defiance. Similarly, Roman’s 1998 book Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS claims an association between the “social processes of theatre, AIDS, and hope,” demonstrating the same urgency in gay theatre and performance activism that Bordowitz described in queer video activism. Where for Bordowitz forwards a hopeful mockery of the ridiculous senselessness of AIDS, Roman sees hope as a “social process” (271) that may be circulated through gay theatre communities. Performance works may provide grounds for acts of protest or mourning. And like the writing and video work of Bordowitz within HIV/AIDS coalition politics, Roman’s account of gay performance emphasizes autobiographical identification with a larger collective subject demanding the visual inscription of excluded bodies into the social.

Roman writes of a man who kills himself in 1982, apparently feeling isolated and stigmatized as one of the first victims of AIDS, and choosing voluntary death instead of further alienation (22). Roman’s account of AIDS performance responds to this threat of suicide as affective abandonment by emphasizing a communitarian ethic for performance that might counter such personal desolation. Through Roman’s account of performance and community, runs insistently a thread of personal witnessing and remembrance, even as he emphasizes the presence of the HIV positive body in performance.

Recalling a 1993 performance by Ron Vawter, he writes of noticing Vawter cut his leg mid-performance, and cued by the small stream of blood released, of Vawter’s own body appearing in spite of the character he was playing. Despite the performer’s intent, Roman sees the spectacle of HIV expose Vawter’s physical condition, “HIV’s belligerent tendency to ham it up and take over the stage” (117). This silent thought on the part of Roman in response to Vawter’s performance is not terribly far removed from the spectacular logics of Jones’ death. And like Jones, albeit in an academic vein, Roman evinces an aim shared with Bordowitz as well as many artists and activists grappling with the pandemic share: to make HIV/AIDS visible.

By 1996, Roman suggests cautiously that the conditions of hope for people living with AIDS had changed, as the co-chair of the 11th Annual AIDS Conference in Vancouver, Canada that year announced “glimmers of hope” (268). But the hope brought by new treatments, concludes Roman, must be tempered by the issue of access. To recover the past and secure the future of gay communities, he says, HIV/AIDS interventions must continue to be created and performed (284).

The articulations of affect seen in response to Jones’ death as a form of self-deliverance (Janet’s hope, POZ’ defiance) or as suicide (Munro’s despair) do not only indicate distinct receptions predicated on Jones’ acts but in experiential ways clarify the extended crisis of a pandemic undergoing historical transformation. Jones’ death occurred as activists were struggling with a newly complex set of realities and attitudes resulting from the hopes gained in the middle 1990s by increasingly efficacious advances in medicine. In the “post-AIDS” era procedures for HIV/AIDS treatment were institutionalized through a patchwork administration of care ranging from HMOs to an emergency health care system largely bearing the imprint of successful activist efforts. But contrary to the implications embedded in the assertions made to the press by Loyce and Munro at Jones’ death, or even in Roman’s thoughtful critical study, access was not the only issue.

Treatments centered (and continue to center) around a problematic set of often public-funded but privately patented therapies which, while mitigating the effects of immuno-suppression for longer periods of time, do not cure the syndrome nor kill the virus. Combination therapies do not work for all patients, lose efficacy over time even for those whom they help, and while are offered only as a long-term option, the potency and make-up of even the least taxing regimens produce an array of serious long- and short-term side effects. More than an epidemiological periodization or a historicization of the development of pharmaceutical treatments, “post-AIDS” refers to a false sense of security enabled by temporary and flawed remedies, newly institutionalized health care organs and HMO policies, and a preference, yet again, to believe that the pandemic is tractable. The violence of this notion reposes in the way that it allows concern about AIDS or care for those affected to be, effectively, abandoned.

How had an understanding of social identity, voluntary death, and hopefulness transformed with the advent of this “post-AIDS” era? In this context, suicide by gay victims of HIV/AIDS was understood in the immediate after-effects of a gay and lesbian liberation movement which had successfully worked to de-medicalize homosexuality. Suicide had been accurately identified (although in the terms of an essentialization that will later become problematic, as I will show) as one of the effects of oppression of sexual minorities.

Critics and activists of the post-Stonewall period of gay and lesbian liberation movements historicized, within a new problematic of de-medicalization and public sexual identity, Durkheim’s (1897) classic sociological account of suicide. Durkheim had moved beyond earlier theorizations of voluntary death to locate suicide not as pathological, racial, geographical, or imitative but rather specifically in relation to social dynamics (52). He offered three categories of suicide, noting that particular cases may share amongst these three general causes (258—259). Each of these causes might describe to Jones in one way or another.

First, the cause of “egoistic suicide” was collective social distress internalized by the individual ego:

“He effects communion with sadness when he no longer has anything else with which to achieve it. […] The individual yields to the slightest shock of circumstance because the state of society has made him a ready prey to suicide” ((214- 215).

Second, altruistic suicide describes the voluntary death prescribed for those subservient to a superior: the death of the satisfied old woman in Montaigne, who dies according to cultural custom to make way for the unity and peace of her daughters, or the death by a follower for a leader, or one who dies for a cause. Here, said Durkheim, individuation is too weak, where it was too strong in the former category. These two categories may describe archaic deaths as well, but a third category is specifically modern: anomic suicide. Modernity upsets traditional social bonds, and can fail to provide sufficient “regulation” for individuals. This problem is seen most specifically in economic fluctuations. Third, anomic suicide is primarily a problem of a loss of social status, understood with a materialist inflection. The constant suicide rate in the industries of trade and industry, emphasizes the particular modernity of anomic suicide, but it also describes that of a widow impoverished at her husband’s death. (While Durkheim suggested that anomic suicide tended to be a symptom of modernity, we might see Montaigne’s examples of the senators or the Hebrew father who chose death over slavery as anomic self-destruction—the threat of the dependency of slavery would surely qualify as a sudden shift in status.)

But activist critics such as Rofes (1983) suggested that Durkheim’s framework worked together with the psychiatric account of “the homosexual as invert” to rationalize gay suicide (3). The weak individuation whose “communion with sadness” Durkheim saw resulting in egoistic suicide found a prime model in the myth of the “suicidal homosexual” (7—8). For Rofes, Durkheim’s analysis must be preceded by the public availability of a viable gay or lesbian identity. The work of Rofes and others demonstrated that a logic of exclusion must be identified to show that “the status which lesbian and gay men are granted as societal outcast is directly related to increased suicide rates” (118).

Suicide here is the effect of a prior “casting out” of the homosexual body from the social body, an exclusion anterior to the social individuation which fails in “egoistic suicide.” Coming out of the closet, affirming gay or lesbian identity, against this logic of exclusion, affirmed the homosexual body in an act of social affiliation against a broadly sanctioned violence understood to precede, in fact to prompt, voluntary death. The visible enactment of public identity achieved a political voice against medicalization, against exclusion, against death.

The strategies of an earlier period of HIV/AIDS activism in visual art followed on this understanding. They are established definitively, and perhaps most succinctly, in graphics production by ACT-UP-affiliated artists such as Dan Keith Williams and artist collectives such as Gran Fury (see AIDS Demo Graphics, Crimp and Rolston, 1990). The graphics collected by Crimp and Rolston as well as the accompanying text emphasize a positioning of activism against neglect and abandonment. Crimp’s preface reads,

“This book is dedicated to the memory of thousands who have died because of government inaction in the AIDS crisis, and to the survival of the millions who are fighting to stay alive.”

A strategic essentialism must be noted here—by identifying “inaction” on the part of government, art institutions, media , or health organizations, activists sought to articulate the urgent necessity, intent and effects of their own actions. For even the graphics collected here mention actions on the part of the government and health authorities that were anything but “inactive.” Graphics against AIDS made a consistent “characterization” of (and against) symbolic and physical violences as neglect or abandonment, to communicate what a collective subject, speaking autobiographically although often anonymously, knew to be more appropriate, relevant, and timely responses to HIV/AIDS.

Urgency speaks through concise textual messages, sometimes paired with appropriated graphics which countered official texts and images. In a 1988 graphic by Williams, words in emphatic black typeface on white background proclaim “We Die—They Do Nothing.” Small bracketed text next to these words clarify the characterization of “inaction.” Next to “We,” Williams lists “people of color, gays, lesbians, prisoners,” and other sectors of the population suffering. Next to “Die,” Williams places text indicating the 16,534 victims so far, “42% of all deaths,” next to “They,” he lists Reagan, Bush, Dukakis, the FDA, the US Congress, the national media, and national minority leaders, and next to “Do,” he merely emphasizes “absolutely,” as the textual protest ends in “nothing.” A textual border around the edge of the poster clarifies that action is to be oriented through recognition against violence:

“We recognize that every AIDS death is an act of racist, sexist, and homophobic violence” (Crimp and Rolston, 82)

While Williams specifically points to a “we” who “recognizes” violence in inaction, Gran Fury’s 1988 “The Government Has Blood on Its Hands” (80) makes much the same point. That phrase is printed above a graphic red hand print, while below, the phrase “One AIDS death every half hour” times official statistics closely against the life of those at risk. Numerical refiguring identifies the urgency of the crisis as measurable only in terms of the lived experience of collective subjects rather than administrative priorities.

By the middle 1980s, as HIV/AIDS deaths mounted, the insights from this experience were mobilized in ACT-UP’s signal graphic: “Silence = Death,” often printed over the pink triangle. In questioning the historical appropriateness of the symbol, Marshall (1991) points out that the pink triangle could not possibly have summed up symbolically the contradictory if no less exterminatory attitudes of German Fascists against homosexuals, since the Fascists jailed and killed far fewer gay men and lesbian women than their own arrest records indicated existed (84).

But what Marshall fails to emphasize is that the tactical power of a voluntary and counter-association with mass extermination was more likely marshaled in the 1970s as a community-based sanction against the need for the kind of hiding which, apparently, saved some homosexuals from extermination under Fascism. Further, the pink triangle worn in political appearance in the 1970s was similarly tactically renewed and differentiated all over again by ACT-UP in the 1980s under conditions that had changed yet again.

Public appearance through the pink triangle by ACT-UP was not so much an indulgence in the “victimology” which Marshall criticizes, as much as it was a collectively-invested symbol marking a refusal of symbolic effacement. In this light, of course the symbol was renewable. A symbol which had marked an overturning of various logics of exclusion in the 1970s was extended in the 1980s in a refusal of “death-by-abandonment” on the occasion of an even more virulent, if that is possible, penalization of the homosexual body. And this time this penalization was complicated by the emergent transdemographic epidemiology of the HIV virus, all the more powerfully necessitating the public marking of a militant and factional self-articulation.

In this way, too, ACT-UP’s pink triangle signs an autobiographical record of the larger collective gay or lesbian subject within a larger and newly urgent politics of health, this time not of psychology but of immunology. Here, “Silence=Death” means that hope is found in collective forms of speech that can force change in medical knowledge production as well as politic administration. For queer communities, hope is now no longer associated with de-medicalization or anti-psychologies, but is rather implicated in a newer biopolitical medicalization—a necessary and still evolving set of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures—attending a specifically viral immunological collapse.

Correlatively, within the histories of “death-by-abandonment” and given the specific context of the AIDS pandemic, individual suicide appears as the very embodiment of hopelessness. Given the circumstances, suicide cannot easily be dissociated either from an earlier history of homophobic exclusion or from contemporary immunological threat. As a result, what separates Jones’ actions against his HMO from political acts against AIDS is the difficulty of identifying suicide as self-deliverance instead of abandonment. Activists tend to associate such “self-deliverance” with an abandonment of the queer body—not revelation or empathy. Given the responses of “Bernie,” “Ed,” and MSNBC described above, this attitude is understandable, if incomplete.

Watney’s 1996 discussion of grief, mourning, and hope is a useful case in point. Here, Watney discusses lists the affective costs of a “disorder” newly identified as the crisis continued. Called “Multiple Loss Syndrome,” the symptoms included: numbness, anger, isolation, guilt, abandonment, disbelief, depression, inability to emote, feelings of loss, socially irresponsible and self-destructive behavior, preoccupation with one’s own mortality, panic, self-doubt, loss of control, resentment of never-ending memorial services. Among the suggestions for coping given, he notes, are taking care of one’s self, volunteering, getting emotional support, and finding “a new place in life for the deceased,” options that Watney (although I disagree with his position on this point to a considerable extent) finds insufficient and apolitical (160, 166). Watney notes that with suicide reported in 1992 as one of the leading causes of death among gay men in San Francisco and unsafe sex as one possible manifestation of self-destructive behavior resulting from the experience of multiple loss, a “secondary” syndrome such as that of Multiple Loss must be re-conceived as existing proper to the pandemic itself (159—160).

For Watney, as misrepresentations of homosexuality continue from without, compounded by the more recent linkage of AIDS-phobia to homophobia, mounting effective discussions of either safer sex or the multiple loss that can undermine it meant grappling directly with the pain of loss. AIDS, within the context of the gay community, produced a double pandemic: one proceeding through viral infection, the other proceeding through a newly observable incapacitation caused by the pain of loss to AIDS.[26] In 1993, with reliable (such as it may be) combination therapy still on the horizon, Watney seeks ways the community might articulate the pain of multiple loss as a primary manifestation of AIDS itself.

Watney’s treatment of suicide situates the understanding of gay suicide as the outcome of a logic of violent exclusion, much as the work of such activists as Rofes’ did before the pandemic. And Watney’s counsel that we keep in mind the “slow-motion” of HIV/AIDS as an pandemic is important. The temporally extended epidemiology of the illness is precisely counter to the urgency which those experiencing and responding to the illness know. The various histories of homophobic exclusion only contribute to the complexity of the interplay between the urgency for care and the violence of exclusion.

Since Watney sees gay liberation as a legacy that enables the continuing vibrancy of queer affiliation—a birthday gift of sorts to a younger generation (165), his grief, it seems to me, is doubly felt, and rightly so. “Making sense” of loss for Watney means addressing those coping mechanisms for pain which may include unsafe sexual behavior that finally equates to suicidal behavior (168). Yet here again, now within the context of mourning AIDS and preventing infection, suicide is understood in terms of flawed individual agency that works against the very political viability of a mass for whom an important means of political articulation has been the maneuvering of its experience of sexual desire, of passions, and of hope away from marginality, away from loss, and towards a collected self-presence.

And while he doesn’t intend to, Watney risks an unfortunate recapitulation of the same punitive logic which he himself identified as being projected against gay “promiscuity” nearly a decade earlier (Watney 1987). The problem his discussion poses is two-fold. On the one hand, Watney treats suicide as a collective failure taking form in the flawed agency of the bereaved but, nonetheless, irresponsible individual. This treatment means that he sees little value in the discourses either of spiritualized mourning or of “self-deliverance” that HIV/AIDS and gay communities had learned to articulate, clearly without much recourse and not in isolation from political action, in the earlier years of the pandemic.

For example, Watney describes as “appalling” a poem, delivered at a number of memorial services he attended, which invokes the proximity of the deceased loved one (166). Watney sees the sequential repetition of this poem at memorials as a regression away from a more direct political articulation. I see no reason why the faithful need refrain from keeping the deceased “nearby” in favor of a political action distinct from mourning. It seems to me that precisely for those who have died and for those who will die, political action must be waged.

But in addition, Watney suggests what he sees as more specifically queer structures of mourning: Barbra Streisand songs at funerals, or shop window displays, for example, honoring beloved figures such as Derek Jarman. But how could any of these possibly relieve the physical symptoms that Daniel Jones suffered? How would such displays retract Jones’ accumulated experience of abandonment—especially in a suburban megalopolis where shop windows may not much be seen? Mourning and activism themselves are articulations of the queer experience of law and medicine during AIDS—they are not exterior to law and medicine. Further, mourning and activism are motivated along with changes in law or medicine on the basis of an earlier event: the body’s falling to violence instead of to care. Here, hope cannot be a singular gesture against this violence and towards care. Hope for care can not be resolutely separated from either mourning or violence given the fallen body which calls for hope.

If the collective articulations of queer hope that Watney, Crimp and Rolston, Roman, or Bordowitz document in relation to mourning, activist graphics, performance, or video do provide resources for fighting AIDS, these instances underplay or reject the enactment of willful and voluntary death precisely because of the problems such death poses for a community whose struggle against marginalization required an understanding of suicide that would strenuously reject it. Historically, historiographically, suicide was a symptom of the very marginalization against which community formation struggles. For this reason, Jones’ death was difficult for gay activists against AIDS to grasp.

However, POZ magazine attributed just such a “queer structure of feeling” to Jones. For in claiming his 1998 death as a defiant gesture against any false sense of security (“the post-AIDS chorus”) provided by the new combination therapies, POZ aligns Janet Jones’ sense of Daniel’s hope that his death would mean something larger with the experience of those like Bordowitz who deployed irony, sarcasm, or mockery to maintain and extend hope against the draining away of the very meanings of personhood. Jones’ death, then, also demonstrates a queer structure of feeling, albeit of a kind that struggles to resist being overcome by a traumatics of loss.

There is no futurity in the tragic gay suicide; self-deliverance implies some such futurity. To the degree that some meaning is found in voluntary death, the self that undertakes that death can is delivered from the abandonments by which its body had been violated, and the social may perhaps become subject to transformation. The social ceases to be an eschatology for the marginal subject. Yet this futurity is also an impossible one. It is not a future that can be seen exemplified in a body, now gone, that would warrant the intents of the person, now silent. This futurity can not be securely grasped or taken as evidence, a model. If abandonment is ended by voluntary death, history as impossibility, as disappearance or as exclusion, opens to its reverse: futurity without a secured history. This futurity can not be linked to a body constrained or supported, violated or cared for, within the social.

In just this way, Jones’ release from the social which he condemned engages a larger problematic of, simultaneously, an impossible futurity and an impossible historicity—like every other HIV/AIDS death in the so-called “post-AIDS” era, he dramatizes the transformation of the impossible itself, as a long-hoped for future care in a history-destroying pandemic arrives but comes up short.

Watney’s crucial reminder of the slow-motion nature of AIDS along with Crimp and Rolston, Roman, and Bordowitz’ sense of the fast-motion urgency of artist and activist response to it suggest a crucial problematization of any claim to televisual liveness as adequate to historical depiction. Jones’ death made the impossibility of narrating liveness during HIV/AIDS palpable even as the pandemic continued its biopolitical transformations.

Television uses technologically advanced but not dissimilar means to those developed by cinematic newsreel some 70 years ago to represent history: visual quotation, montage, mise-en-scene, voice-over, direct address. Add to these essentially cinematic rhetorics those of electronic picture-in-picture, tickertape and captions, live compositing, or convergent web-television models, and television’s historicity as a medium is synthetic at best, even when broadcasting “live.”[27] As for the Internet, Daniel Jones lives on in the orders of digital mediation. Reportage and images of the event remain available. The historicity of the Internet as a medium is just beginning to be revealed as a partial, and problematic, “archive” in distinction to broadcast television’s fleeting synthesis of “liveness.”

Yet the synthetic and partial capacities for narrating or recording history on television or the Internet is further breached by the historicity of HIV/AIDS. The ongoing pandemic as an event of biopolitical exclusion from the living remains to be reconciled with the futurity of the pandemic’s corporeal subject. This interruption for the HIV positive body, an interruption between this body’s historicity and its futurity, give the measure of the crisis to which Jones called by playing abandonment against hope. His death can not have expected to re-order a historical depiction of sexual marginalization as a social death, or as suicide. But it is just as important to notice that with his epigrammatic demand for a personal responsibility that was demonstratively off-limits for himself, his own self-deliverance from the biopolitics of HIV/AIDS was also framed as a politicization of the responsibility of the subject.

But the considerations I have presented so far speak only to his statement against HMO’s, and the first two terms of his triple command: “Live free, love safe, or die.” What about the disjunctive imperative through which these terms are joined? And the finality of their co-articulation, demonstrated and confirmed by Jones’ own death? His act exceeded a protest against HMOs, was more than a demanding hope for love as passional care of the positive body. And beyond any specific intents articulated in word or act, Jones’ interruption of television’s mimetic claim to historical “liveness” resulted in the broadcast of something else: another life, a life exposed in its very physicality, a life no less physical for its mediatic dissemination.

I do not mean this last as a formal question. We need to ask: how far in time does Jones’ body stream, to make the pandemic visible? Further, what does his interruption of a synthetic televisual historicity mean in terms of the possible demonstration of, and for, an other life? What does it mean that a man dies, and so marks, through this cleaving of the varying historicities of the electronic media, undeniable affect and presence, event and entity? How is this declamation of the difference of a dying body at odds with television’s moment-to-moment projection of the same in a violent regulatory game? If liveness is finally a device of fiction dependent on all manner of mediatory conditioning weighed against a history of care that so far goes unannounced, what body was it that fell with such immediate force?

Section 9, full text:
Articulating the impossible: discourses of self-deliverance

Section 9, abstract

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