Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Paper Proposal: ACT UP

Lauren Berlant writes, “The aesthetic of reticent immediacy derives from a long transnational tradition not only of radical art but also of popular religious and secular non violence, especially around trauma and mourning" (229) I am interested in understanding what Berlant refers to as an aesthetic of reticent immediacy drawn from trauma. To what extent can this aesthetic be productive? To what extent can mourning/death/loss be used to mobilize action and to what extent is it unable to move beyond “wound culture”? (Ahmed, 32)
This paper will focus on ACT UP, an international direct action advocacy group working to impact the lives of people with AIDS by bringing about legislation, medical research and treatment, and policies to bring an end to the disease. I am especially interested in understanding ACT UP’s use of performance: For example, many of their public protests include Public Funerals/Ashes Actions which embody exactly what Berlant speaks of—protests displaying trauma and public mourning. 
I hope to examine the performative nature of ACT UP in order to understand: 
  • Collective action focused on mourning—how does this performative movement rely on/develop affect?
  • The role of the individual versus (or inside of) the collective—who is the “collective” of ACT UP? How does act up mobilize individual stories? 
  • Performance of the body specifically: In what way does HIV/AIDS as "marking" the body (disease) influence the protests/the physical nature of the protests? 

ACT UP rhetoric which I will draw on:
  • “I want the public to bear witness”--The idea of a public bearing of witness, witnessing for whom?
  • “I have loved the way memorials take the absence of a human being and make them somehow physical with the use of sound.” --Here, I would like to think about Berlant’s notion of silence and noise
  • Invoking of a Collective: “During his last days he said, ‘All right. Do something formal and aesthetic in front of the White House. I won't be there anyway. It'll be for you.’
This procession, then, is for us. Not just those of us who knew and cared for Tim. For all of us; for everybody. Because we're all living with AIDS. Every man, woman, and child.Because when President Clinton fails to keep his promises, he murders all of us. --Invoking of a Collective, “I” and “you,” –I/You (moving between an individual death and a collective death
I plan to use Lauren Berlant and Sara Ahmed: I’d like to use Berlant’s Chapter 7 to think through the role of performance, affect, and an “intimate public.” She writes, “The new crisis ordinary is engendering peculiar forms of something like ‘ambient citizenship’—politics as a scene in which the drama of the distribution of affect/noise meets up with scenarios of movement.” I am interested in the idea of politics as a scene—what does this do?

I’d like to think through Sara Ahmed’s discussion of the performativity of disgust. For example, she writes: “A performative utterance can only ‘succeed’ if it repeats a coded or iterable utterance: it works precisely by citing norms and conventions that already exist. Importantly, the historicity of the performative and its role in the generation of effects cannot be separated. If the performative opens up the future, it does no precisely in the process of repeating past conventions, as to repeat something is always to open up the structural possibility that one will repeat something with a difference.” (93) I want to focus on the way ACT UP uproots norms and conventions to build a political movement.
I think that Ahmed will be particularly useful because of her attention to the body/thinking about “the wound.”  This will be especially important to my paper because AIDS is enacted on the body.  Thus is is both an abstracted wound and a very physical one.
Lastly,  I want to explore the question of how this performance brings attention to AIDS but also how this performance builds a queer culture. Does the individual GLBTQ person come into being through an alignment with the collective? (71, Ahmed)

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