Archaeologies of Gossip: AIDS in Contemporary Gay Fiction
Queer criticism is now in its third decade and, as critical orthodoxy, running up against its own limitations. What, for example, is a discipline preoccupied with the unspoken, the marginal and the blurring of gender boundaries to do with Edmund White’s unambiguously gay, masculine “red unsheathed fury of the third penis of the afternoon”? The Western AIDS novel is, overwhelmingly, a product of a historically precise, explicitly gay, male experience. This thesis seeks unapologetically to engage with this writing on its own terms, eschewing the queer critical lens as insufficient, and, rather, reading for a specifically gay aesthetic. Grounded in a broader overview of both AIDS novels and existing criticism, this thesis consists of extended close readings of two exemplary AIDS novels: Edmund White’s The Farewell Symphony and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. Firstly, I articulate the centrality of the gay sexual body to the representation of AIDS in The Farewell Symphony, tracing its representation of the disease through the epidemiological mapping of the virus itself, within the highly specific culture of gay New York in the 1970s. Secondly, I examine the way in which the re-imagination of a selective tradition of gay literary predecessors in The Line of Beauty, specifically Henry James and Oscar Wilde, provides an aesthetic solution to articulating AIDS.