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e-flux conversations



A narrative, it seemed to me, would be less useful than an idea.

—Susan Sontag, AIDS and Its Metaphors

I want to talk about what happened to us: to a very specific “us,” and some very strange happenings. I want to tell a story, to give a history to things oblivious to history. What I’m after is a queer problem and it won’t stop moving. I like how they say, you’re just going through a phase. That’s what’s happening to us, we’re going through phases. But a phase isn’t a thing, it’s a word that comes from a way of talking about how things appear. (Originally, the moon.)

The Stonewall riots inaugurated the delayed adolescence of queer sex: a catching up on acting out. Empowered by an unprecedented sense of public agency and private experimentation, gay men established commercial sex spaces to foster an ethos of multi-partner promiscuity. Sous les paves, la plage was rewritten for Greenwich Village: beneath the stones, the sling. Fucking was happening on a wholly new scale and in new ways, as pleasures were reconceptualized to serve novel purposes. “By a curiously naïve calculus,” wrote one memoirist of the era, “it seemed to follow that more sex was more liberating.”

Something else was liberated in this upheaval, another kind of body with its own modes of experimentation: a strange bundle of molecules so elemental in composition and capable of such limited action that it confounds the very definition of what constitutes a life-form. If biologists have reached no consensus on the question of whether viruses should be classified as living organisms or not, epidemiologists, on the other hand, have clarified the conditions that enabled the long dormant and ecologically circumscribed human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to proliferate along the circuits of desire forged by an accelerating sexual culture.

Read the full article here.