“A Glamorous Nightmare: Race, HIV/AIDS, and American Literature”
Co-directed by Matthew Taylor (UNC) and Priscilla Wald (Duke), my fully-drafted dissertation traces the strange racial history of the HIV/AIDS pandemic through recent fiction and drama. Cultural theorists like Cindy Patton and Simon Watney have long insisted that nonfictional depictions of HIV/AIDS shored up white exceptionalism by figuring a racialized threat to both immunity and sovereignty emanating from Africa. From a literary archive that spans 1980s and 90s works by Tony Kushner, Bret Easton Ellis, and Neal Stephenson, among others, I extract an unlikely characterization of the disease: one that betrays a counterintuitive identification withwhiteness. By engaging narrative texts as a cultural unconscious uniquely capable of distilling otherwise inchoate discourses, I demonstrate that the plague’s devastation of this premise of racial security necessitated a reformulation of white superiority based inthe virus, which furnished a plausible substitute for many of the capacities—flexibility, mobility, and ruthless self-interest—once lodged in immunity itself. I thus diagnose how a viral threat to the hegemony of whiteness ultimately availed that hegemony’s reconstitution. This identification with virality, I contend, recapitulates a strategy of dominance operative since the 1970s when, as several scholars have argued, white exceptionalism coopted the narrative of victimhood invoked by the very movements believed to threatenwhite power: civil rights and affirmative action campaigns. My dissertation also discovers an insurgent response to this racializing discourse of virality. From the works of Octavia Butler, Hortense Spillers, Sapphire, and Gary Fisher I limn a counter discourse that accrues power and vibrancy for blackness from the plague’s morbid economy.
“The Man in Lincoln’s Nose: North by Northwest, Rear Window, and the Homoerotics of Paranoia”
This in-progress essay considers the reliance of Hitchcock’s paranoid visual epistemology upon a homoerotic thematics. While most critics have argued persuasively that Hitchcock’s films work to suppress a defiant homoerotic desire, I suggest that two of his most famous films actively solicit it as a cognitive map for their more searching aspirations toward epistemological totality. I historicize this strange conceptual cruising against the period’s broader conspiratorial relays between homosexuality and the communist menace—an imbrication that I position Hitchcock’s films as apparently sustaining, only to desublimate the affective charge their conjunction elicited in the 1950s.