AIDS as Metaphor:Body Politic and Culture of Surveillance By DesiWimberly and John Wilkinson
Susan Sontag (1933-2004)• Born in New York, raised in Tuscon, AZ and Los Angeles, CA• Celebrated writer and academic• Taught Freshman English at Uconn, 1951-1952• Identified as bisexual• Wrote extensively about cancer, HIV/AIDS, and illness• Died from complications of cancer
HIV/AIDS• What do you know about HIV/AIDS?• What is your perception of people who have HIV/AIDS?• How can someone contract HIV/AIDS and when you think of someone contracting HIV and developing AIDS, what do you think of?
HIV/AIDS Definition• HIVis an acronym for Human ImmunodeficiencyVirus. The virus destroys important cells that fight disease and infection. Can stay hidden for prolonged periods of time (approx. 6 months). Attacks “T-Cells,” key part of the immune system used in fighting infections and disease. The virus invades “T-Cells,” using them to make copies of itself before destroying them.
HIV/AIDS Definition (Cont.)• AIDSis an acronym for AcquiredImmunodeficiency Syndrome. Once the virus has killed enough “T-Cells,” so that the immune system can no longer fight infections and disease, and the body is attacked by “Opportunistic Infections” that it cannot fight off.• AIDS is the final stage of HIV
Current HIV/AIDS Trends• Lower Transmission Rates• More Awareness• Cause of Death• Late Diagnosis• Disproportionate Impact – CDC
Body Politic and Language• Rudolf Virchow (1850): Founder of cellular pathology; referred to the body as being like a society (Sontag 94f.)• Body Politic: a nation regarded as a corporate entity; a state – OED – Also utilized to describe the representation of a body in terms typically associated with a state• Emphasizes the relationship between a condition and the language used to describe the condition and the perception of those with the condition. – Militaristic diction and metaphor (Sontag 99) – Disease and Foreigness (Sontag 136)
Body Politic (Cont.)• John Donne – “describes illness as an enemy that invades, that lays siege to the body-fortress” (Sontag 195)• “Disease is seen as an invasion of alien organisms, to which the body responds by its own military operations” (Sontag 156)• Does the militaristic metaphor of “invading” illnesses gender the language and perception of people with medical conditions?
Myths and Misconceptions• What do you know about the early contraction of HIV/AIDS?
Myths and Misconceptions (Cont.)• Comes from sex with monkeys and bestiality• Only homosexuals/minorities can contract it• Spread by homosexuals• Government conspiracy and form of eugenics• Devine retribution for hedonism
Myths and Misconceptions (Cont.)• Hunters in West Africa killed and ate infected chimpanzees• May have been spread from infected chimpanzees as far back as the late-1800s – AIDS.gov
Myths and Misconceptions (Cont.)• AIDS is an acquired medical condition, not an illness in and of itself.• Diagnosed in Temporal Stages• Has a “dual metaphoric geneology” (Sontag 105): micro-process is equated with invasion and transmission is equated with pollution.
Perception of HIV/AIDS Diagnosis• “Fictions of Responsibility” (Sontag 100) – Tuberculosis, Syphilis, Cancer, HIV/AIDS – AIDS is perceived as a violation and invasion of the body, being contracted from outside (without) rather than coming from the body itself (within) – HIV kills cells, Cancer mutates and proliferates
Body Politic and Literary Representation• “All these and security were within. Without was the ‘Red Death’”• “*T]here came yet another chiming of the clock, and then there were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.” – Edgar Allen Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death”
Causality and Perception• “Member of a certain ‘risk group’• “Flushes out an identity”• “Confirms an identity”• Associated with hedonism, indulgence, and delinquancy – Sontag 112f.
Causality and Perception (Cont.)• Does the language of invasion and weakness of the body serve as a contradiction to ideas of control and masculinity?• Does the perception of HIV/AIDS serve to actively exclude an “other” or “without” despite the universality of the conditon? – Sexualities, Minorites
Culture of Surveillance• “Surveillance based on a system of permanent registration”• “The relation of each individual to his disease and to his death passes through representatives of power, the registrations they make of it, the decisions they take on it” – Michel Foucault, “Panopticism” 196f.
Culture of Surveillance (Cont.)• Do you think that there is a correlation between ideas of surveillance and people who are HIV/AIDS positive? – Categorization• How does this possible surveillance disrupt notions of masculinity?
Pedro Zamora• 1972-1994• Declared HIV/AIDS positive at 17 and died of related complications at 22• One of the first openly gay, HIV/AIDS positive individuals in media• Garnered attention through MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco• Pedro Zamora Documentary
Sources• AIDS.gov. “What is HIV/AIDS?”• "body politic, n.". OED Online. Oxford University Press. 26 March 2013.• CDC, “HIV/AIDS Today”• Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1979. Print.• MTV. “A Tribute to Pedro Zamora.”• Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Masque of the Red Death”• Sontag, Susan. Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors. New York: Picador, 1989. Print.
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