CFP: AIDS at 35 (ACLA 2016)

This call is for a seminar to be held as part of the American Comparative Literature Association annual meeting in Boston, MA (March 17-20, 2016).

The year 2016 marks the 35th anniversary of the New York Times article that announced a new and “rare cancer seen in 41 homosexuals.” More recent years have brought us a number of retrospective accounts of the early years of the crisis – HBO’s production of The Normal Heart (Ryan Murphy, 2014) and the documentaries We Were Here (David Weissman and Bill Weber, 2011) and Hoiw to Survive a Plague (David France, 2012), to name only a few. Despite their clear importance as cultural artifacts of a generational shift in the stories we tell about HIV/AIDS, these and other popular accounts of the epidemic seem to emphasize a “then and now” quality – people used to be denied partnership rights, but now they have access to marriage equality; AIDS was a death sentence, but HIV is treatable; people used to die, but now they live.

Without dismissing the tremendous progress that has been made in the medical and cultural responses to HIV/AIDS, this panel seeks to take on that teleological narrative. Considering the history that the epidemic has amassed, we examine some of the changes in the stories we tell about AIDS, stories which alternately become theories and political metaphors, medical narratives, personal tales, and epidemiological accounts of history. As HIV/AIDS enters a new era of treatability and undectability (for the wealthy and insured), we also look to the narratives of progress that proliferate popular cultures globally. What do these narratives leave out and how might they occlude the need for sustained dialogue on the epidemic? In other words, does HIV/AIDS represent a viral blip in history or does it (still) have something more to say to contemporary theoretical and cultural concerns?

“AIDS at 35” explores the AIDS crisis across multiple temporalities and geographies, always tracking the influence of histories of crisis and illness on the present day politics that sustain and contain the way we see the epidemic today. In short, isn’t there something to know and understand about the stories we still tell about HIV and AIDS? We are open to presentations which address the effect of HIV/AIDS on aesthetics, literature, popular media and culture, political theory, biopolitics, ethics, and philosophy, and which draw on transnational narratives of illness and contagion.

Submissions open on the ACLA website from September 1st – 20th, but feel free to email the organizers if there are any questions.

Contact Info: Dean Allbritton

Contact Email: dallbrit@colby.edu