Monday, September 29, 2008

Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited

It's almost fitting that I would discover Andrew Holleran's re-release of old short stories in a new anthology entitled Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited on a gloomy Saturday in late September.

It was an aimless day, not one plan scheduled and I found myself walking around the city, turning corners on a whim and shrugging at North and South. Therefore it was no surprise, nor plan, that I arrived at Barnes and Noble on 6th Avenue, running my fingers along the titles and authors in the Gay and Lesbian Fiction section.

My fingers traced upon the bindings of smooth paperbacks until it fell upon a Holleran title I did not recognize. I have every book of his and haven't heard of any new release so I jumped into the cover like a treasure hunter discovering an accidental chest. There it was - Copyright: 2008.

Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited is a re-release of Holleran's old short stories from his 1988 publication Ground Zero, repackaged with a newly written introduction, now twenty-plus years after the fact.

I bought the book without thinking twice and looked forward to, once again, being held in Holleran's poetically relentless grip, like a rib cage being crushed by the delicate fineness of a pair of silk white gloves.

Once outside I leaned against the brick and began reading this new introduction. By the time I turned the first page my soul had already drained itself of color and was left with nothing more than the gray of the pavement reflecting off the sky.

An excerpt:

"Learning a book is out of print is a blow to an author. It's not that copies in print have been destroyed, but that demand for the book is so low the publisher cannot justify printing any more. When I went looking for a copy of Ground Zero last winter, I was lucky to find one in a college library in Washington, D.C., on a shelf of other books about AIDS. The "Date Due" slip told me the book had been checked out only twelve times in twenty-four years; and not at all from 1992 to 1998 or 1998 to 2006. This had to do with a professor teaching, then dropping, a course that required the text, I thought- what else keeps these books alive? The volumes on the shelf around mine looked equally untouched, as if they all been put to sleep, like the awful time itself...

...Yet it seems incredible that people still get infected with HIV. They say it's because people think AIDS is now a "manageable" disease; and few young gay men have seen anyone die of AIDS. But I think it's the same old story: the irrational power of sex, of people's search for a physical, emotional connection. So I suppose it should be no surprise that people go on getting infected, while books about AIDS sit mostly undisturbed on the shelf of the college library where I found Ground Zero. Even now I'm not sure what one should compare the disease that swept gay New York in the eighties to- the Spanish influenza of 1918?

...Still, say what you will, we have lost a whole generation of gay men, who might otherwise have been valuable mentors to their successors. Of course, gay life has evolved without those who died. One can even argue that the very assimilation that AIDS brought about seems to have caused the disintegration of the gay community, though surely that would have resulted anyway from the inevitable change in generations, not to mention new technology like the computer. Part of Survivor's Syndrome is to live in another era, when AIDS is simply part of the past, and for many young gay men, not even that. Yet something was lost..."
Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited.


Ryan Charisma said...

You're a good person for caring so very much, that must be said.

But again, I wonder. It's not that people (and I mean right here, right now - not in desolate African cities/towns)KNOW about HIV, they KNOW how it spreads, and they KNOW how to try to prevent it.

But here's the big $1,000 question: Why don't they practice safe sex?

We've all been in places where guys will say "I only bareback," as blase as if they were telling you they only drank Pepsi never Coke.

That is the demon. That is where rational & "it feels good" clash. I am so put off by that attitude, that I want nothing to do sexually with anyone who says that.

I know you support education, but honestly, do you believe that there are people over the age of 15 that aren't aware? I have to say, I believe that most unsafe sex choices are made knowingly. And in that case, no amount of education will help.

What is the answer to a disbelief that this can happen to you? Or worse, HIV beeing seen as some sort of "right of passage" for young gay men? I can't subscribe to it, but still I believe these same guys know what their choosing, they know the chances they're taking and they know that they're also gambling with other people's health.

That's all, I'm not saying I'm against education btw, I'm just asking "are we merely spinning wheels teaching people what they already dismissed?"

Knucklecrack said...

Hey Ryan,
This isn't a post about safe sex this is a post about Andrew Holleran's writing.

But to answer your question: Yes I think there are 15 and up year olds who aren't aware and those who are aware could always be more aware.

Are we merely spinning wheels teaching people what they already dismissed?

Maybe for some.
Maybe for a lot.

But as Holleran states: his books weren't checked out, for years, and has a feeling that "something was lost." (Hence, the re-release.)

So maybe there's a kid, guy or man in there somewhere that needs to know more about what happened to gay men during "those times" which will make him respect himself more and retain a greater sense of pride about who he is and the decisions he plans to make.

I retain pride in being a Jew because I know my people went through a holocaust. I didn't live through it, but I know it happened.

I retain pride in being gay because we too suffered a holocaust. I didn't live through it, but I know it happened.

If we rely on ONLY safe sex education as the answer, we will lose.

If we use education and history as a reason to have safe sex- we might have a shot at this.

Literature like this is some of the only "history" we as gay men actually have. I choose to wear condoms and choose to have safe sex because of this history not because I read the instructions on the back of a box of condoms.

Mark said...

I still have my old copy of Ground Zero.

I re-read it a couple of years ago, sadly realizing that it was a portrayal of a lost civilization. The old architecture and many of the artifacts described are long gone; the brutal pain and anger has subsided somewhat, and I can almost reminisce about the old East Village, dancing all night or talk about people like Charles Ludlam and Peter Hujar without bursting into tears.

I didn't feel that way in 1988. I just felt defeated and raw. And this collection is a pretty good mirror of that, and the times.

I can see the book from where I'm sitting. I think I'll pull it off the shelf.

David said...

I respect Holleran for the particular voice he brings to gay writing, but I honestly must say that while I was kind of OK with "Dancer from the Dance," "The Beauty of Men" completely turned me off to his fiction writing. He does not resonate with me.

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