Sarah Brophy

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




David L. Clark


This study investigates the significance of unresolved grief in memoirs written in the context of the AIDS pandemic during the 1990s. While many recent memoirs are characterized by guilt, anger, despair, and self-beratement, by no means should this affective inflection lead us to categorize them as incomplete or inferior works of mourning. Rather, this melancholic orientation gives rise to questions about the ethics of a rush to consolation, and, correspondingly, contests the ways in which such hasty closure may collaborate in the proliferation of voyeuristic, objectifying images and narratives of HIV/AIDS in the media. Attending closely to the rhetorical and structural dimensions of three memorializing texts in particular, this study considers how, through their melancholic embrace of the "abject" body of HIV/AIDS, they address--and intervene in--the pandemic's continuing crises of representation, ethics, and social justice. Chapter 1 ("Queering the Kaddish") explores Amy Hoffman's concern in Hospital Time about what would constitute a faithful memorial for her friend Mike Riegle; the practice of critical memory, occurring across gender and sexuality, initiates the renovation of seemingly inhospitable institutions (specifically, familial and religious traditions). Chapter 2 ("Angels in Antigua") demonstrates how the power of melancholy roughens Jamaica Kincaid's writing about her brother Devon, with the result of bringing My Brother (however ambivalently on Kincaid's part) into the realm of the political; Devon is a ghost Kincaid cannot exorcise, and his suffering persists in her memory, coming to stand, ultimately, as a metonym for Antigua's (and America's) social inequities. Finally, Chapter 3, "Flowers, Boys, and Childhood Memories," considers Derek Jarman's Modern Nature , arguing that Jarman's revised journals respond to the experience of despair and the temptation of self-hatred by modeling a stylistics of existence motivated by what we may call (following Eve Sedgwick) an ethics of reparation.

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