Article written by DPDF 2007 Visual Culture fellow Ramzi Fawaz.
This essay explores the use of viscerally charged language around digestive dysfunction in AIDS cultural productions of the late 1980s and early 1990s. I coin the phrase “the digestive politics and poetics of AIDS” to describe the use of metaphors that linked the digestive dysfunctions associated with HIV/AIDS to a political aversion, or disgust, for the state of American politics at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Specifically, I develop a close reading of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America that examines how the play’s linguistic and performative engagement with alimentary processes (ingestion, defecation, and excretion) worked to rearticulate public culture’s disgust with the bodies of people with AIDS to a disgust with government neglect. I argue that the play’s affective investment in the gut as a site for intuiting one’s response to American political life resonated with an array of contemporaneous queer artistic responses to the AIDS crisis, including works by David Wojnarowicz, Gary Fisher, and Chuck Nanney, ultimately helping forge a powerful discursive formation intended to have political results.