Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Critical and artistic responses to the AIDS epidemic emerged simultaneously in the mid 1980s, and informed each other over the contested ground of "official" AIDS discourses. As these responses were initially defined, two positions emerged: aestheticism and activism. This study focuses on aestheticism but does so in the context of activism and suggests similarities between the two positions. In my analysis of the literary representations, I focus my attention on the works of Edmund White, Armistead Maupin, Robert Ferro, and Paul Monette, writers who first came to prominence in the 1970s before the epidemic and who have written on the topic of AIDS. In the works of these writers I examine the construction of a gay interpretation of late-nineteenth-century aestheticism that emerged in the 1970s in the wake of Gay Liberation. The novelists that I examine adopt certain features from their tradition, most notably the cult of beauty, the effects of the closet, and the pastoral motif. These features are present in their works before the epidemic and after the appearance of AIDS an apocalyptic vision is present in their continued use of gay traditions.;The activist position as articulated by Douglas Crimp derives primarily from the visual arts. I examine that position in the context of visual representation and also explore the aesthetic response in the visual arts by examining the work of Stephen Andrews. As Crimp articulates the AIDS activist position, it is the direct heir of the Gay Liberation movement; I also examine the impact of the liberation theories of the late 1960s and early 1970s on Crimp's theory of AIDS activism. I suggest similarities between liberation theories and the construction of a gay aesthetic tradition. I also examine Andrews's highly aestheticized work Facsimile in the context of an emerging tradition of gay responses to photography and suggest similarities between this highly aestheticized response and the activist critique of AIDS representations.



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