Academic journal article Journal of Narrative Theory

'Conquering Immortality': Gothic AIDS Literature as Queer Futurity in Gil Cuadros's City of God

Academic journal article Journal of Narrative Theory

'Conquering Immortality': Gothic AIDS Literature as Queer Futurity in Gil Cuadros's City of God

Article excerpt

At the October 2013 opening of Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism at the New York Public Library, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) staged a "die-in." Activists scattered their bodies on the floor of the exhibition space, many holding signs proclaiming "AIDS IS NOT HISTORY." The protesters expressed their concern that the archival exhibit entombed the HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) crisis in the historic past, a serious concern for those still engaged in battling a virus with no known cure and decreasing public awareness. As the crisis seems to be fading from our collective memory, it is important to look back at the 1980s and 90s, not to memorialize these decades as the distant past, but instead to reanimate and inform contemporary concerns about HIV/AIDS and its continuing legacy. ACT UP New York's 2013 die-in featured the activist strategy made famous during the height of the AIDS crisis in order to acknowledge the past while focusing attention on the present and the future of HIV and AIDS.

Out of the trauma of the AIDS crisis arose a body of writing that, too, deserves attention, not only for what it tells us about the past but for what it can offer today and looking forward. What exactly marks a work as AIDS literature is still up for debate; however, the specter of death-and the grief and anger that accompany such physical and communal suffering-uniquely pervades texts that arise out of the AIDS crisis.1 City of God, Gil Cuadros's collection of short stories and poems, certainly belongs in this emerging canon. Cuadros was a Chicano man with, and writing about, AIDS during the 1990s-a decade when so many people were battling what seemed an insurmountable disease linking the queer community with a culture of death in the minds of the mainstream. He lived in Los Angeles, a city that itself takes a prominent role in his work, which he often infuses with the nostalgia, pride, and melancholy accompanying an affective connection to place. The public only became aware of the depth and quality of his work towards the end of his life, and now his writing is nearly lost, with City of God the only published piece readily available. As a Chicano writer, as a Los Angeles writer, as a queer writer, as an AIDS writer, and as a writer who exceeds all of these categories, Cuadros is an important figure for those interested in multifaceted literary depictions of the AIDS crisis. Cuadros allowed the frightening reality of mortality to enter his work while he entertained the vague and often evanescent possibility of immortality, resulting in a nuanced and complicated body of writing that certainly deserves further consideration.2

City of God begins with a death. In the opening short story, "Indulgences," the narrator's grandfather has just died, and the narrator and his family are traveling to Merced, California for the funeral. The last item in the book is the poem "Conquering Immortality"-a reflection on the imminence of death and decay for a man whose body is ravaged by AIDS. Arguably, one could view Cuadros's body of work as the production of a man who has a fatalistic obsession with death in a culture where being gay and HIV positive promises only limits and endings, and indeed, readers of City of God cannot escape the overwhelming presence of death that pervades the text. Yet somehow, despite the heart-wrenching depictions of loss, illness, and impending death, Cuadros, like so many other authors of AIDS literature, unintentionally crafts a work that offers contemporary readers the promise of a different and more hopeful future amidst the horrors of its present.3 Because the threat of HIV and AIDS is now more muted in our minds, many have difficulty remembering the severity of the crisis. Queer culture has moved from being a marginalized and fearsome entity to one largely assimilated into the neoliberal social and economic machinery. While its entombment within the cultural imagination as always already dying once limited the visibility of the queer community, it has now solidified as simply another consumer demographic, perhaps a subject position just as constrictive as the earlier marginalization due to its insistence on the adoption of normative bourgeois values and practices. …

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