Este ensayo considera el potencial demostrativo de la afinidad, un modo descentralizado anti-autoritario y electivo de afiliación colectiva política y afectiva, como una practica ética del cuidar del otro. Examina como el grupo The Marys se constituyó como una coalición del saludable, del enfermo, y del muerto para crear funerales políticos donde el cuerpo muerto habla de las condiciones políticas de su muerte. The Marys invalidaron la muerte como límite del activismo y otorgaron importancia al cuerpo muerto. Argumento que esta implicación imaginativa con el cuerpo muerto activista destroza las fronteras disciplinarias de la afiliación, y exceda las maneras con las cuales aceptamos nuestra subjetivación. Con el uso de la manifestación, la muerte se convirtió en incapacidad a la cual los activistas pueden remediar parcialmente a través de su capacidad animada de sobrevivencia.
The soul is the effect and instrument of political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body.
—Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish
In an advertisement placed in the August 1992 PWA Coalition Newsline, The Marys—an affinity group of the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP)—proclaimed in bold capital letters, "LEAVE YOUR BODY TO POLITICS" (Stumpf/Kane). This text followed that offer:
Figure 1: Stumpf/Kane solicitation placed by ACT UP affinity group The Marys. collection of Joy Episalla.
While explicitly calling on HIV-positive individuals to engage in political protest even—or especially—after their demise, the ad succinctly played with another implicit notion of the body's usefulness after death. In the U.S., the anticipated recipient of ones "left" remains is not politics, but science. The scientific and medical professions need to possess and use corporeal matter to advance their respective fields. The Marys shifted the labor a post-mortem body could perform to a different realm, circumventing the late twentieth century tradition regulated by the 1968 U.S. Anatomical Gift Act which enabled middle class citizens to donate their organs for use in transplant procedures and their corpses for scientific research (see Dalley, Driscoll and Settles 1993).
The caustic joke embedded in The Marys' advertisement acknowledged that even though universal precautions regarding the safe handling of HIV-infected biological materials had been in place for over a decade, organ and tissue donation (especially blood) was not a possibility for people diagnosed with HIV infection. Bodies felled by HIV-related illnesses were deemed unworthy for charitable donation under the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984.2 To date, HIV-positive corpses are still considered abject material for many teaching hospitals. In 1998 however, a National NeuroAIDS Tissue Consortium for banking HIV-infected brain and nervous system tissue and fluids was established (see Morgello et al. 2001) and in 2002, John James, writing in AIDS Treatment News, issued a call to physicians and patients urging them to donate discarded HIV infected tissue from biopsies or surgeries, and their organs after death, to the National Disease Research Interchange (NDRI) which, on behalf of National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), would distribute matter to investigators and research institutions (James 2002).
Science, medicine, and the law showed scant interest and little respect for the PWA body at the end of life. As of 2009, the question and answer page on MedCure's (the corporation which serves as the liaison between donors and medical research institutions) current website explains,
Q: Who cannot donate?
A: Anyone known to have any infectious disease such as Hepatitis B or C, HIV/AIDS, active tuberculosis, severe obesity, history of illegal IV drug use, or incarceration. These conditions could prohibit the donation. (MedCure)
The syntactical construction of the instructional "Q and A." is but one demonstration of how AIDS, hepatitis and TB have become the named diseases that index shifting social constructs of contagion. It infers that histories like imprisonment, poor nutrition and drug use are analogous to those illnesses. This conflation of "conditions," "histories" and specific infections exposes the operative logics of AIDS-related stigma.3 As Erving Goffman explains, stigma was first a visual cue read by the ancient Greeks as bodily evidence of a disgrace which has evolved into arbitrary discrediting attributes or behaviors understood through a culturally specific discourse of social relationships (1986, 1–3). Intravenous drugs may certainly transmit the HIV virus, yet if a user practices safe injection techniques the risk is minimal. Conversely, if a subject is a recreational drug user but has never injected, it is more likely that the person's control and judgment could be impaired, increasing the possibility of engaging in unsafe sex. Eschewing these arguments, Medcure reserves the ability to act as an arbiter of charitability, legitimating only the bodies whose social status, class and public histories are upheld by the absence of visible attributes correlating to the effects of poverty, racism, and sexism and social oppression of sexual minorities.
Of course a virus does not recognize these distinctions. It has long been known that one could be unaware that she is HIV-positive, even after becoming symptomatic. So why shouldn't there be the presumption that all who donate may be HIV-positive? Yet stigma, as Goffman has shown, is not based on objective logic. Its function is to exclude subjects from a social collectivity in ways that produce and reveal the norms of inclusion itself. In Infectious Rhythm: metaphors of contagion and the spread of African culture, Barbara Browning reminds us that the fear which contagion incites conflates all modes of exchange—"economic, spiritual and sexual"—even if there is no objective logic to the response. The threat of contagion is rarely confronted in a rational manner because it is experienced as a "chaotic or uncontrolled force" (1998, 7). So is it possible that an HIV-positive corpse may be feared not for its ability to transmit the virus but instead for its queer performative power? How can the government's investment in its containment, which undermines both scientific progress and profit, be explained otherwise? Or, could it be that the corpse in question might yield knowledge that would require an investment in public health resources that exceeds the value that society places on the donor body?
Medcure's conditions regarding the ability of "out" PWAs to allow their corpses to be taken up by biopower relegates them to an exemplary category of humanity in which they are allowed to die but they cannot be sacrificed for public good. Corpse and post-mortem organ donation is considered a selfless act because it is a unilateral exchange; it is the highest order of giving to another because there is no presumed return. In this case, stigma prevents the execution of that act and its reception; it is the functional framework that allows a community to detach the idea of humanity from the subject in question. Stigma prohibits bodies, live and dead, from contributing to political life, precluding a full recognition of their humanity. At the same time, their existence is discursively essential in order to establish the legitimacy and soul of the "non-contaminated" group designated as such by their ability to act charitably.
It was precisely this situation that The Marys addressed through the August 1992 PWA Newsline advertisement and further elaborated by the public performance of three political funerals starting in November 1992. These public rituals challenged the morally inflected actions and narratives that sustained the exclusion of the PWA "remains" from economies of the social gift. For a gift, as Marcel Mauss reminds, is a mutual contract of social obligation (see Mauss 2002). Stigmatized as carrion, PWA corpses were proscribed of the privilege accorded to other citizens to bequeath themselves as material to advance social knowledge of human ecology and biology. "Progress," as an expanded knowledge of human anatomy and pathogenesis, had historically been made at the expense of and extracted from the bodies of the poor, abject and ostracized for the benefit of privileged national subjects. But beginning in the later half of the twentieth century, donating one's body has been an affective function affirming solidarity through citizenship. Donation is a gift that does not promise an equal return, but one's ability to participate as a donor or recipient of the donation acknowledges inclusion in the social contract.
Unsuitable for medical research and often rejected by kin during the first decade of the AIDS crisis, the PWA corpse was of minor significance even for the living subjects who volitionally forged or reaffirmed social relationships after an acquaintance, relative, friend or lover disclosed her/his HIV-status (revealing oneself to others as HIV positive was often described as a second "coming out" but for those closeted about their sexual or drug injection practices because of social stigma, HIV disclosure forced the question of mode of transmission, in which case, coming out around those stigmatizing practices became a forced event). The press reportage on corpses was limited to instances of disrespectful handling of PWA corpses by hospital personnel, coroners and funeral home employees (Gross 1987). These narratives focused on the living; they described either disrespectful behaviors of handlers toward corpses, focused on the exemplary subjects who abstained from discrimination, or told the story of the loved one as the survivor of a humiliating experience as it related to treatment of the body of a deceased friend or lover.
The dead body was never the protagonist of these dramas, for death marked the limit of how a body could be valued. This corresponds with Anglo-American common law, which does not confer any rights of personhood to the dead. Upon pronouncement of death, the body becomes the "quasi-property" of kin, which theoretically obligates the closest blood relation to assume responsibility for the body's burial (Rentein 2001, 1006). No legal claim of possession or disposal of the body can be made by lovers and friends recently bereft unless specified ante-mortem by the decedent. And even those wishes were not sacrosanct since they were still subject to challenge by kin and/or the state. For non-state-legitimated loved ones, the corpse as an object could only offer commemorative value. And for the living that attended to its materiality, for those who remained at the death-bed monitoring the attending hospital staff to insure they provided the highest standard of care and who dedicated themselves to alleviating the dying PWA's physical pain, the body's lifeless presence signaled an end to their ministrations. Each successive dead body also confirmed how death, before the 1996 introduction of highly active antiretroviral triple combination therapy, had been naturalized as the accepted endpoint of an AIDS diagnosis.
Also, the framework of an AIDS-related death event's temporality was never decided solely between witnesses to the death and the dead subject. An "acceptable" timetable for the corpse to remain with the living depended on the location of the death and the institutional authority that regulated that space. Common law also confers rights to the institution in possession of the body in regards to its disposal (Rentein). For the urban hospitals that handled most AIDS patients, space was a prime commodity needed to facilitate the profits that can be extracted only from the care of the many successive AIDS cases waiting to fill its rooms. Corpses were thus quickly removed from close proximity to survivors following what the institution's policies determined to be a "decent interval." Upon that separation, the deceased's pre-death image became the dominant placeholder that symbolized the sentimental and historical value of the subject's lost presence among friends and lovers. The state's interest in the management of death necessitated the corpse's release of that function. Abstracted traces of the dead, such as mediated images and names, increased in value. Mediated images functioned as indices of the relationships the dead had formed with the living. In the AIDS activist community, affinity groups, political actions, institutions and policy initiatives were often named in honor of the dead.4 Yet until the appearance of the advertisement cited at the beginning of this article, the PWA corpse had not possessed any use value. The call to donate one's body to politics was submitted to the PWA Newsline anonymously by The Marys under a codename—Stumpf/Kane—and printed in a number of the AIDS and gay community publications. The Stumpf/Kane ad offered to extend the PWA's value past her or his death and raised the radical potential for a political afterlife by opening the possibility for that corpse's presence to perform itself as mode of political speech.
Either ethics makes no sense at all or or this is what is means and has nothing else to say: not to be unworthy of what happens to us.
—Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense
One of the first steps in making the private grief public is the ritual of memorials. I have loved the way memorials take the absence of a human being and make them somehow physical with the use of sound.
—David Wojnarowicz, Postcards from America: X-Rays from Hell
People joined ACT UP for many personal and political reasons, but once a member of the group, their actions were guided by the tenet that the PWAs in the organization were its heart and soul—that they must retain the right to speak as embodied experts and witnesses to the crisis. This ethical stance was drawn from the 1983 Denver Principles, written by the first activists with AIDS. These principles asserted that PWAs must be recognized as full partners with the physicians and scientists involved in their treatment, and that the expertise gained by people working day to day on the front lines in their communities must be acknowledged and valued (Denver Principles). The Marys' activist practice emerged from that affective and intellectual engagement with the PWA's material value, and it was this very engagement which served as the as the anchor for their understanding of affinity as a decentralized anti-authoritarian and elective mode of collective political and affective affiliation. Regardless of what any particular action demanded—whether it was to release an experimental drug, allocate more funds for research, or expand the definition of the syndrome to include infections that only affected women—the Marys' demonstrative scenarios were designed to make their affinity with all PWAs visible and comprehensible.
By enacting their care and love for PWAs during the course of their activism, the Marys performatively transformed the ways in which the bodies of PWAs—devalued through the discourses of law, medicine and science—could matter politically. If stigma served to disenfranchise and undermine the support from one's government, fellow citizens, and kin, the collectivity performed by The Marys imaginatively disrupted the social and cultural formulations of PWAs as singular, stigmatized and disabled bodies that could be excluded from publicly speaking of and to their experience. Most importantly the Marys created a collective body that supported how PWAs could be publicly heard and witnessed.
ACT UP showed that political silence and inaction were hostile, not neutral acts. The group collectively made the ill and dying's struggle to reverse the conditions that made AIDS a social and political crisis, visible and audible. The Marys extended this work of support for the ill and dying, taking on the condition of death, which had previously conceptualized as activism's limit. They made the dead PWA body matter, and through the formation of political affinity, infused the corpse with the power to speak.
In How to Make Dances in an Epidemic: Tracking Choreography in the Age of AIDS, David Gere, writes of Jon Greenberg's political funeral, one of the three open casket political funerals organized by The Marys which evolved out of Stumpf/Kane. Gere describes the event as a display of Jon's corpse in an informal procession around the vicinity of Tompkins Square Park in the East Village of New York City and states that "the tactical efficacy of the dead body does not derive from giving voice and action to the dead body itself-which is, after all, beyond stating any claim of its own-but rather from empowering those who bear the body in public, who arrange for its display" (Gere 2004, 160). Gere negates the corpse's activist performativity and the possibility of a mutual exchange between dead and living. Yet his perception of a unitary directionality is problematic if the funerals are understood in the context of ACT UP's formulation of affinity as a matrix of political care based on mutual support.
To understand the corpse's performativity, I employ the ACT UP Oral History Project and the archives of ACT UP alumni to suggest a different set of narratives and to expose the power relationships embedded in normative figurations of the corpse as a an object and possession. I extend the temporal, demonstrative and relational framework of how political funerals were conceived and rehearsed in order to show how the bonds of political affinity imbued dead bodies with the capacity to carry out volitional speech acts that surpassed the state's pronouncement of their death.
Gere's denial of the possibility that dead bodies might speak may be understood through Michel Foucault's observation that rituals, such as funerals, intensify regulatory power in the same vein as historical discourse (Foucault 2003). Power is doubly displayed in Gere's analysis. He writes of the political funeral as an activist-initiated tactical insurrection, understood as choreographic transgression of public space achieved throught the production a "quotidian" dead body in a setting unequipped for that manner of encounter. He compares this event to its doppelganger, the monumental state funeral in which bodies synonymous with state power are processed in public streets or lie in and among buildings that are symbols of state authority. Both events make state power visible by defying and enacting its regulatory capacity over the appearance and disappearance of corpses. Thinking of these events either as performances of tactical resistance or the monumental normative undergirds how even empathetic interpreters self-discipline against an imaginative engagement with the formulation of the event itself.
Gere demonstrates how tactical insurgency as the exception is a pedagogical method of governmentality, a term employed by Foucault to connote how individuals and social groups self-discipline without the direct intervention of state force. The transgressive nature of the exception makes the rule visible. The public display of a corpse is an "offense" to public decency and there is a state-prescribed hierarchy of survivors based on modes of relationality who acknowledge the corpse as "remains," as an object that cannot speak its own claim once its death is registered by the state. This formulation depends on a construction of the corpse as an atomized body that, after death, is both offensive to the living and severed from volitional participation in activism. While Gere accepts this logic, the Marys did not.
I propose another way to perceive the agency of Jon's dead body. To hear Jon, Mark Lowe Fisher and Tim Bailey's corpses, all subjects of The Mary's political funerals, as political speech acts, it is imperative to experience how each thought himself a partial actor of The Mary's affinity group. Mary member Jon Greenberg was reported to have uttered a pronouncement for months before he died. He said, "I don't want an angry political funeral. I just want you to burn me in the street and eat my flesh" (quoted in The Marys 1993). This demand, repeatedly articulated in the last year of his life and understood in conjunction with his corpse's performance at his funeral, offers a different formulation of how an ensemble body can be made and heard through the call and response of activism. To hear the claim of Jon's body, I attend to the "you" of his address. I start with present testimonies of Marys members from the ACT UP Oral History Project and employ the activist archives—the papers, newsletters, photos and flyers, audio, videotapes and other precious ephemera tucked away in home offices, basements and attics. This retained and preserved corpus of materials tells a different story—that of a demonstrative group who supported one another through activism. My story begins much earlier, years before the public display of Jon's corpse on East 7th Street and Tomkins Square Park in New York City, and ends rather vaguely following the disposal of his remains on Fire Island.
My temporal and corporeal reframing broadens the understanding of the agency afforded dead bodies at that particular moment of AIDS activism. Not relying on notions of charity, AIDS activists created a way to reinstate dead bodies into politics, imbuing them with social value. Jon's funeral was not a mere inversion of or resistance to state power. His funeral imbued his body with the agency to speak the conditions of its death through a collaboration with activist survivors. I argue that to hear it as such, one must consider Jon's writings and his relationship to ACT UP and The Marys. This perspectival shift allows a different narrative to emerge, one that considers Jon's political funeral as a proposition for looking at how collectivity "acts" over time. I will show how demonstrations of affinity enabled a political location for the dead to speak the conditions of their own finitude by creating an ensemble composed of the materiality of corpses and the animative capacity of the living.
When I put my hands on your body on your flesh I feel the history of that body. Not just the beginning of its forming in that distant lake but all the way beyond its ending...
- David Wojnarowicz, elegy for Peter Hujar read at the Drawing Center in New York City as a benefit for Needle Exchange. Videotape by James Wentzy.
The splendor and misery of bodies, of cities.
- Samuel Delaney, title for unfinished manuscript
A small envelope drops as I sift through Barbara Hughes' "Marys" archives, sub-divided into folders labeled "Mark Fisher," "Tim" "Jon." I think it came loose from Jon's folder. On the front of the wrinkled and worn three-inch square, written in ochre ink, is a story about a 1993 sacred fire ceremony in Ganeshpuri dedicated to Lord Vishna. There are ashes inside; ostensibly from that 1993 fire and circulated so that whoever now possessed them could partake in the blessings of the ritual. I couldn't help but wonder whether those ashes may have been what Barbara had retained of Jon or maybe Mark. I emailed her and she wasn't sure. I choose to believe that it might just be Jon in the packet sitting beside me as I write, and that contact with these ashes, along with the photos and other documents will allow me to touch upon how the Marys became a body. These include the Xeroxed photo of Tim Bailey that Joy Episalla lent me, which she wore secured to her chest by an "The AIDS Crisis Is Not Over" sticker at Tim's political funeral in Washington D.C. There is also the typed and overwritten draft of "Bury Me Furiously" written by Mark Lowe Fisher and sent by James Baggett, and the flyer from Jon Greenberg's funeral in the East Village of Manhattan sent by James. I am awed and moved by these talismans' aura, but they are not unique. On the contrary-they are multiples, for it is remarkable how similar objects recur in the personal collections of surviving Marys members.
Joy Episalla, Barbara Hughes and James Baggett all lent me their group picture of the Marys taken in lower Manhattan during the 1991 demonstration, Day of Desperation (fig. 5).5 This shared, fragmented and multiple possession of images and ephemera disputes any claim of singular, intimate possession that kinship confers. It shatters the wounding and obfuscating privilege claimed by Barthes using the punctum, a detail in the image that leads to a personalized interpretation, in order to solely possess a family history. In contrast, this multiple possession of historical ephemera from duplicated archives connects bodies of the past and present through what survivors felt responsible to preserve. These images' replication and circulation interrogate the dominance of one sovereign ego that could "own" a memory or relationship. In this case, possession realigns the individual in relationship to an unstable ensemble that oscillates between past and present, dead and surviving. The ensemble, as Fred Moten explains, is always physically situated and socially embedded. It is improvisatory and appears as a phenomenon (Moten 1993, 92). It is contagious if one becomes susceptible to its affective connections. Its assemblage, in this case via multiple archives of testimonies and ephemera, acknowledges space and historicity to open itself toward those who might attach themselves to the past in order to revise the future. I believe it is that latter proposition that Wojnarowicz had in mind when he wrote with such affection and literality about touching a body beyond its ending as I now try to do with the Marys.
Although I knew of the political funerals and was present at Jon Greenberg's, I was unaware of the rich history of The Marys until I listened to Joy Episalla's extraordinary ACT UP Oral History Project (AUOHP) testimony. The Marys coalesced into an affinity group at a period when ACT UP as a whole was becoming fractured. This was the beginning of a period when many activists were frustrated and despondent; there was little confidence that new treatments for HIV were going to be efficacious. A number of people, calling themselves some derivation of the term "Mary," had been arrested at the "Stop the Church" demonstration at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in 1989 for sitting down in the street and blocking traffic on 48th Street and Fifth Avenue after they had distributed condoms to the passers-by to rectify the Church's position against distributing effective HIV-prevention education. Mary member Ken Bing, in his AUOHP testimony, remembers attending a civil disobedience (CD) training specifically for the Church action and joining others that called themselves the "anti-Marys" or the "hail Marys," (Ken Bing 2007, 11–12). The use of "Mary" was a punning reference to Catholic iconography and a campy slang term used as "diss" to puncture the ego of any queer who acted as if they were equal to the mother of the son of god (Scott 1997). Of course the correct response to that behavior naturally would be "get over yourself Mary!" "Stop The Church" was Ken's first arrest and an intensification of his commitment to direct action, which as he noted, raised the potential of stigmatizing legal and familial recriminations he feared could be traumatic. In his interview Ken recalls, "Of course I was kind of petrified that I'd have a record now, and I wouldn't be able to get a job, or that my family would disown me; besides from being gay, from being a gay guy who gets arrested" (Ken Bing 2007, 13). Ken credits his affinity group as the force that intervened in that formulation. "But it was okay. I think I got through that whole thing very well. And again, I have to thank my affinity group and other people who were also arrested, because they put a lot of people in those cells, so I think we all supported each other" (13).
Movement scholar Susan Leigh Foster describes affinity groups such as the Marys as "small clusters of like-minded protestors" who "charged themselves with being responsible for one another, sharing information that would assist them in maintaining contact in case of arrest or during crises" (Foster 2003, 406). But the term "like-minded" was not a given in the impromptu organization of a fledgling affinity group. ACT UP member and civil disobedience (CD) trainer Amy Bauer explains in her AUOHP testimony that affinity groups were often coalitions of some friends and more often strangers, whose "like-mindedness" was limited to the desire to protest and entertain the possibility of being arrested at a demonstration (Bauer 2007, 30). All expectations and decisions regarding risk were articulated and negotiated before the event specifically because there was no assumed understanding between members of processes or goals other than a desire to engage in direct action to affect the AIDS crisis. Trust and a sense of mutual purpose were forged in the planning and execution of the action and when affective relationships were "felt" in praxis, those attachments intervened against formulations of psychic trauma.
Some affinity groups, like the Marys, consequently became more "likeminded" as they reaffirmed their decision to care for one another through subsequent protests (some affinity groups remained together for years, others dissolved after one or several demonstrations). In Ken's case, the care he experienced in the course of activism allowed him to overcome perceived rejection or expulsion from his African-American family of origin whose limits had already been strained by their struggle with his sexual preference, and whom he feared would not be able to accept his desire to engage in non-violent direct action. The comfort which Ken drew from The Marys support highlights one of their primary goals. From the beginning, the group cared about all types of bodies. Heterogeneous, open and eclectic, The Marys were conscious of composing themselves as a mix of race, gender, sexuality and HIV-status with little regard to any member's perceived social stature within the whole of ACT UP.
James Baggett noted that the presence of PWAs as active participants in the Marys demonstrative scenarios was also critical, for the affected body was the sympathetic lynchpin whose experience concretized the relationship of the group to the crisis. John Stumpf, a PWA who was James's GMHC "buddy" prior to joining ACT UP, "took a bust" with the Marys at the church action, as did "out" HIV positive members Mark Lowe Fisher and Tim Bailey (Baggett 2009). When Sue Simmons, the local New York news anchor turned to Joy Episalla to comment during the large demonstration at Grand Central Station, Joy deferred to Tim Bailey beside her, for it was The Marys ethic (and a key ethical consideration of ACT UP in general) that the PWA/activist articulate the experience of the crisis filtered through the materiality of her or his own body (Episalla 2008).
As the crisis continued and existing treatments failed to staunch the progression of the disease, the PWAs in the group, John Stumpf and Dennis Kane, and subsequently Tim, Mark and Jon became too ill to engage in confrontational situations of direct action that able bodies could perform. Therefore, over time, The Marys devoted themselves to developing creative methods that could maintain the PWA's activist presence. That imperative was incorporated as an ethic of The Marys' collective practice. An early solution was to delegate the task of surveillance and archiving media to members too sick for street protest and potential arrest (Episalla 2008, Baggett 2009). Redistributing responsibility became an instinctive process, but that instinct was produced in the structure of support taught in civil disobedience training and the concomitant practice of affinity during direct action. As Ken described, CD training was a rehearsal for negotiating a means of participation that acknowledged the specificities of the individual's comfort level in order to intervene in the trauma of stigma. This became even more important even as AIDS incapacitated members' physical capabilities. The support offered by acting through affinity sensitized the collective to how the afflicted body was not just something to maintain out of compassion or obligation. As these bodies became more affected by the opportunistic infections brought on by HIV, they increasingly became the gravitational center of affinity and the locus of speech to address the crisis.
It was in solidarity with that ethic that The Marys heeded the urging of Mark Lowe Fisher when he initiated an extended group discussion of David Wojnarowicz's text Close to the Knives (1991) (Episalla 2008, Hughes 2008, Baggett 2009). In "Bury Me Furiously," Mark identified his AIDS diagnosis as the impetus for reflecting on Wojnarowicz's understanding of funerals and memorials as rituals that worked to enable the affected community to accept the crisis as the normative state of exception. Without rethinking those rituals as another component of biopolitics, each successive death relegated the corpse back to the position as an atomistic subject accepting death as a natural endpoint. The media supported that framework; its widespread and appreciative coverage of memorials was denounced by AIDS activists as substituting sympathy for journalistic responsibility. The human interest stories that were published were inadequate and condescending attempts to mollify activists' criticism of the New York Times' poor political coverage of the crisis. AIDS might not get coverage in the national section, but its cultural consequences, sans politics, could be discussed and appreciated in the arts and leisure section. Roger McFarlane, founder of GMHC and executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, voiced his anxiety concerning the political effects of the aestheticization of mourning as that what "ennobles" the gay community, remarking, "I'm real ambivalent about this. There's some great art, but I'm sick to death of 'Look how beautifully we grieve'" (Span 1994).
Wojnarowicz expressed outrage at the realization that "the memorial had little reverberation outside of the room it was held in. A TV commercial for handiwipes unfortunately had a higher impact on the society at large" (Wojnarowicz 1989). After an involved discussion of Wojnarowicz's demand for funerals to resound as a series of visceral public shocks, The Marys extensively researched and discussed of the politics of death rituals in relation to the disposal of their own bodies. At one meeting, all members, regardless of HIV status, revealed how they viewed their imminent death and their desires regarding the disposition of their corpses (Episalla 2008). Stumpf/Kane emerged from that frank engagement with finitude. At the time, however, The Marys did not understand the parameters of the act they had set in motion. They conceived of themselves as a prosthetic body that could support the will of PWAs who would donate their corpse as a catalytic agent of protest. In an August 1992 fax to AIDS Treatment News, The Marys asked editor John James to disseminate this message about Stumpf-Kane,
"We wish to remain anonymous at this stage because much of what we envision may or may not be within the boundaries of the law. We are not funeral directors or estate executors; this assistance is beyond our work. However we have tapped into those resources and can assist in the preparation of legal documents in order to ensure a political funeral can occur ... critical to all scenarios is the public display of the deceased. We want the public to witness a body in order to understand that people with AIDS are real and we are dying unnecessarily. The logistics and details involved (how the body is displayed, where the demonstration or procession takes place, what is eventually done with the body, etc.) are ultimately issues we will need to discuss with you individually." (The Marys 1992)
Months into this work, however, The Marys realized the difficulties of staging political funerals for participants outside of the affinity group, since it required a deep sense of the intimacy and trust. As Mark, Tim and Jon became progressively sicker, the group came to realize that all the research they had done on how to obtain and preserve bodies in order to mount a political funeral would actually be directed towards their own circumstances, specifically to support the PWA members who had articulated this political direction. Affinity as a manner of like-mindedness that formulated and executed these actions could only be constructed over a long course of praxis, reflection and affection.
Testimonies in the AUOHP give great nuance and depth to the narratives of Mark, Tim and Jon's political funerals. There is also an extensive discussion of the Mary's public memorial for David Wojnarowicz, the event that became the political funeral prototype. For David, The Marys organized a processional of activists that "took" the streets (marching without a legal permit) of his East Village neighborhood and displayed copies of his expressive works that had touched so many in the community. They halted at Astor Place and finished with speeches and readings that celebrated just how he had been loved. At the end of the event, overcome with emotion, they ignited a bonfire (Episalla 2008). This story is offered by Joy in her AUOHP testimony, and again to me in my interview with her, but each Oral History participant relates a different temporal and affective perspective of similar events, so my own narrative is not seamless and events may not have the causality I read into them. Because only fragments are offered, it is the responsibility of the interlocutor to reassemble the connections. This is how I demonstrate my own affinity to The Marys, as another who holds and transmits their story.
I assemble fragments from the AUOHP testimony of Russell Prichard who describes Mark Lowe Fisher's mid-air death on a return flight from a vacation in Italy. Russell ends the story with the flight's arrival at JFK (Russell Prichard 2003, 34). Joy Episalla's AUOHP testimony picks up the moment Russell's affectless voice leaves off. Russell communicates the memory's lingering trauma, however Joy is more animated; she takes up the narrative from the arrival of Marks body at JFK airport and tells of the Marys' realization that this was indeed the moment in which the revised plan of Stumpf-Kane would be put into action. There is a marked difference between the passivity of Prichard's narrative and Joy's rendering of the tale as an action narrative. The comparison and the tales' forced connections show how collective preparation and anticipation of acting against trauma ensured emotional survival. Even though Mark's death was unanticipated—he had planned to have The Marys videotape his consent to a political funeral immediately after his return from Italy—the Marys' had thoroughly prepared for the moment. When Barbara called with the news of Marks death, Joy recalled swiftly leaving Tim Bailey's sickbed at Saint Luke's Roosevelt Hospital and meeting The Marys at Mark's apartment to set his political funeral in motion (Joy Episalla 2003, 37–38).
Mark Lowe Fisher's funeral on the evening of November 2, 1992, was the first AIDS political funeral to utilize a corpse displayed in an open casket, as the centerpiece of the outdoor processional. Mark did not specify how the logistics of his funeral would be undertaken, for no one could anticipate the circumstances of his death. But The Marys had thoroughly researched what was permissible to do with a body and were therefore prepared to respond. After he was embalmed at Reddens Funeral Home, the group could legitimately transport his body to the Judson Memorial Church in Washington Square Park for a memorial service with the implicit understanding that at the end of the ceremony, they would shoulder Mark in his coffin and break New York City's public decency code which deemed the display of a dead body on the street a moral offense. They were determined to respond to his injunction to "Bury Me Furiously," knowing that The Marys were the implied "you" of the text and that he had obligated them to interpret that command. An earlier draft of the text distributed during the funeral shows that what had been edited out of the earlier version were references to the plurality and personal alliances that accompanied his decision. Terms like "my friends and I" were eliminated in favor of the singular "I" and initially he wrote "we" which he later changed to "I" in reference to his death (Fisher 1991). These changes were most likely made in relation to legal concerns, but his impulse was to speak as a body joined with others through the bonds of affinity.
That affinity is still manifested in the careful preservation of his text by Barbara Hughes. For it was the affinity group who had to decide how his will would be best served at that contingent historical moment. The decision of how to act seemed quite clear at the time. As Joy Episalla recalls, "there was a way in which we all thought together. There was that kind of closeness in a sense about how serious we were about what we were doing and how much we cared for each other—that if I died the night before the election, you would take me to the RNC (Republican National Committee headquarters)" (Episalla 2008). And so it happened. The Marys showed their care and devotion to Mark by carrying his corpse uptown, along 6th Avenue, in an open casket over fifty blocks, shielding his face from the rain with large black umbrellas for the length of the march so that he could be displayed in front of the Bush/Quayle re-election headquarters on the eve of the 1992 presidential election.
What they didn't anticipate was the physical experience of the corpse's weight, and the unstable relationship they felt to these bodies as Mark and not Mark, Tim and not Tim, Jon and not Jon. James, Barbara, Joy all emphasize the experience of rehearsing how they would bear Mark in his coffin for the upcoming processional and their surprise at the paradox of his weight. At the time of his death Mark, was frail and light, but the corpse and the coffin were surprisingly heavy. Who and what they were bearing was never a stable entity. Each spoke of knowing the body was a corpse, but other times they referred to him as they would a living subject (Episalla 2008, Hughes 2008, Baggett 2008). With Tim Bailey, whose body The Marys drove down to Washington D.C., the group became embroiled in a grand struggle with federal, state and local authorities as they tried to remove the corpse from the van to begin a processional to place him on the White House lawn. Joy, who attended to Tim's body throughout the day wearing his image taped to her chest, recalled that as much as the authorities tried to wrest Tim away from the activists, she would not allow his body to be delivered into their hands or dropped to the ground because "it was Tim" (Episalla 2008).
The activists who had assembled to support the Marys' action understood too. Amy Bauer, in charge of marshals for the event, gave the command to "surround the van" and supporters joined together and inserted themselves between the police and Tim's body (Episalla 2008, Baggett 2009). Their concern was for the respectful treatment of Tim's corpse. At that moment, death became just another mode of incapacity that could be partially overcome through the animation of collective affinity.
At Jon's open-casket funeral in the East Village less than a year later, Barbara Hughes read the eulogy Jon had written for Mark's funeral (Hughes 2008). She spoke words meant for Mark, but they also indexed Jon's anticipation of his own death. Through Barbara's breath and the groups's respect of his wish not to have an "angry" political funeral, Jon was able to speak of his belonging to The Marys and the specifics of the body they had formed through the practice of affinity. The flyer for Jon's funeral not only repeated his words regarding his desires for a public ritual; on the handout's right hand corner, a statement read, "announced to all of his friends on many occasions, especially in crowded elevators and in the presence of small children" (The Marys 1993; see fig. 4). The handout indicated a long-term plan, repeatedly pronounced in public and deeply connected to the conversations generated within Jon's affinity group. As a member of the Marys, Jon conceived of the utilization of his corpse as a gesture to dissolve the temporal and physical borders between his atomized body and a body composed by those interpellated in his "you." The Marys, as a singularity, answered that call and became the prosthetic body that realized his desire.
Jon also insisted that anger be eliminated from the execution of the event. At the political moment of his death, this was an extraordinary challenge—anger was the affect that was the named bond of AIDS activism (ACT UP's subheading is "united in anger to eliminate the AIDS crisis"). It was a peculiar demand, tantamount to asking for a coalitional dissolution, if indeed anger was ACT UP's only glue. Jon's request and the Marys performative response made the other affective connections visible. Attending to his desires in such a literal fashion could not have happened had the Marys not created other emotional and spiritual bonds among themselves and with other members of ACT UP. Jon's funeral made these visible. The careful removal of anger from the event allowed for the singular display of how Jon experienced disease, activism and mortality—all topics with which Jon wrestled during his time in ACT UP's Alternative Treatments Committee and which he addressed in his essay "The Metaphysics of AIDS" (1992).
That text is a complicated polemic that argues for a positive reconsideration of AIDS both biologically and metaphorically as that which breaks down all the ways in which we have been defensively individuated. While the metaphysical acceptance of the disease and of death as its inevitable outcome were anathema to most members of ACT UP, the group's coalitional structure allowed and even embraced this kind of oppositional thinking, and respected and valued Jon as a beloved member. This ethic was at the heart of ACT UP and The Marys activist praxis. Most of that affinity group, as Mary member James Baggett explained, did not share Jon's view of the disease but respected and supported his right, as a PWA, to express and live according to those beliefs (Baggett 2009). That negotiation—a negation of identification and affirmation of a way in which belonging to an affective ensemble could exist without unity or consensus—was what shown in the performance of his funeral. This was a performance of prosthetic politics. The Marys enabled the complexity of Jon's final speech act, and his body spoke of that affinity—it spoke to the ways in which individual and collective care was negotiated in the context of AIDS activism.
Jon's eulogy for Mark described affinity's affective ramifications by referencing his experience of one of The Marys most breathtaking actions, the successful on-air invasion of the MacNeil/Lehrer Report on January 22, 1991. That evening, after months of careful planning, The Marys handcuffed themselves to Robin MacNeil's desk during the live show and forced him to articulate their demand that the government refocus its efforts on the AIDS crisis instead of concentrating the country's resources on the (first) Gulf War. Jon's retelling of the story however did not focus on the action's goal. Instead, he described the ways in which community was made in the process of preparing and executing the action. It was acting in concert that allowed fear to become illusory, and it was though an embodied commitment that each participant, one next to the other, experienced the dissipation of fear. Jon spoke of the action to assert how he and Mark touched, how they connected to the Marys and how AIDS and HIV disease forced a reckoning with the ways in which disciplinary power operates through fear, which is ultimately a fear of death.
"We were prepared for everything we could possibly be prepared for. Mark had made sure of that. As many variables as we could control we did control, largely because of Mark's extraordinarily anal organizational abilities. But for all that, as we approach that studio door with no light flashing outside, we, none of us, knew what to expect on the other side. The red light was meant to scare us into staying on our proper side, control our actions with fear. But Mark and the rest of us, in spite of our fear, knew that it was only fear and rather then let that stop us, we used it to propel ourselves further into action, to confront and push through the barrier of our fear and to be liberated even as our bodies were being arrested and jailed. There was an otherness about those moments. We all felt it. We all knew that we had, if for only a moment, an hour, a day, become larger than we had the day before. We each became a part of the other and as a unit our collective spirit crossed an illusory boundary we only knew was illusion after we crossed it. We were part of Mark that day and he was part of us and eternity. Through collective empowerment we declared who we were and how we felt and made a place in the universe." (Greenberg 1992)
Jon wrote and spoke that text for Mark upon Mark's death. Barbara spoke it at Jon's death, and it is an object of such value that she has retained it and lent it so that I could reanimate it though my act of writing. It is imperative to see and comprehend how the objects retained and re-performed still index the affective vectors that allow the present spectator to understand particular formations of community. A new paradigm of collective affinity appears when the multiple possession shows itself through performance, intervening in how we understand corporality and its limitations and how we understand our capacity to care for another. The Marys, acting through affinity, demonstrated an imaginative engagement that shattered the disciplinary boundaries of affiliation. Bound through performances of affinity and composed of a coalition of the well, the ill and the dead, The Marys' praxis challenged the ways we accept our own subjectivation, offering a method to critique the state's investment in atomization as a mode of corporeal management that precludes particular kinds of political alliances.
The reformulation of affinity conceived and practiced as performance opens a temporal and relational framework of prosthetic politics that allows bodies to speak their death even after the end of life. It also intervenes in the hegemonic narrative present in Western common law that depends on the formulation of the corpse as a singular possession of blood kin or the state whose obligation to dispose of it also allows control over the interpretation and meaning of the decedent's death and place in society.
The Marys gathered on Fire Island later that summer to throw Jon's ashes into the ocean. Risa Dennenberg, an ACT UP member who was Jon's best friend, primary caretaker and his healthcare and legal proxy was, at the time, Barbara Hughes' lover. Risa had been present for many of the Mary's actions but had not actually been a member of the affinity group. But Risa also heeded Jon's demand that he be incorporated into the living. As the Marys stood at the water's edge and each had a handful of Jon's ashes to toss into the water, Risa invited them to taste the ashes in accordance with Jon's wishes. James Baggett remembers doing so. He said that the remains were much grittier and crunchier that one would imagine. When I asked him if he felt repulsion or disgust by the feeling of Jon inside his mouth, he laughed and said that after you've had dick in your mouth, some ashes are not going to test the limits of what you can tolerate (Baggett 2009). But as Risa tells in her AUOHP testimony, some people politely rejected her offer. Risa, however, felt that her obligation to Jon was greater than the limits of their refusal and so she did what was necessary. That evening, when she cooked and served dinner, Jon was the extra ingredient that seasoned the coleslaw (Dennenberg 2008).
The generosity of surviving Marys cannot be acknowledged enough. My enduring gratitude goes to Joy Episalla, Barbara Hughes, James Baggett, Ken Bing and Anna Blume. Also to Risa Dennenberg, James Wentzy, Ron Goldberg, Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman for their time and wisdom. Many thanks to Barbara Browning (as always), and the beautiful staff of the Hemispheric Institute: Jill, Marcial and Robby.
Debra Levine es estudiante al doctorado (ABD student) en el Departamento de Estudios de Performance de la Universidad de Nueva York, donde es también instructora en el departamento de licenciatura en teatro. Tiene una maestría en Estudios de Performance de la Universidad de Nueva York y una maestría en Dirección Teatral de la Universidad de Columbia. Actualmente, Levine trabaja su disertación titulada Enduring ACT UP: The Ethics, Politics and Performance of Affinity y era miembro activo de ACT UP en Nueva York entre 1988-1993.
1 PWA - person with AIDS.
2 There has been one state that has passed an exception to this rule. In July of 2004, then Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed a bill sponsored by HIV-positive State Representative Larry McKeon allowing HIV-positive people to will their organs to others infected with HIV. This bill was passed two weeks after the popular television show ER aired an episode where the popular surgeon Elizabeth Corday performed an illegal positive to positive transplant. As of this writing, federal law overrides the Illinois legislation and criminalizes donation of HIV-infected organs and tissue (making it a class 4 felony). Positive to positive organ transplant is still prohibited with the exception of imminent death to the transplant recipient (this clause however is not clearly defined in the National Organ Transplantation Act). The first successful organ transplant between an HIV positive donor and a positive recipient was performed in Capetown South Africa in September 2008.
3 See Paula Treichler's 1999 How to Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of AIDS. Treichler argues that AIDS is produced discursively through the discourses of medicine and science; that all the elements grouped into the syndrome are not a given essence or scientific "truth." In her series of essays Treichler describes how in the early epidemic, when neither science nor medicine could offer an explanatory system adequate to describe the cause, parthenogenesis or transmission of HIV infection, scientists and public health officials integrated their own cultural impressions and ideological beliefs to produce a unified theory of the disease. This transformation of culture into science allowed for stigmatizing and discriminatory practices against people with AIDS, taken at face value because science, medicine and public health practices were assumed to be value neutral.
4 For example, in New York City, the only primary health care center for the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender community with a specialization in HIV AIDS the Callen/Lorde Center was named in part after Michael Callen, one of the leading AIDS activists in the 1980s who, with his physician, Joseph Sonnabend pioneered the idea of community physicians conducting clinical drug trials with their patient population to distribute and gather data on new AIDS treatments. The Ryan White Care Act, which provided federal funding for social services to PWAs was named after Ryan White, a hemophiliac child who was denied access to his public school after his AIDS diagnosis and endured many threats of physical violence. An ACT UP affinity group was named after beloved activist and video artist Costa Papas after his death and the title of Mary's offer to stage political funerals, Stumpf/Kane indexes two deceased Mary's members, John Stumpf and Dennis Kane.
5 Back row from left to right: Dennis Kane, Bob Henry, James A. Baggett, Stephen Machon, Tim Bailey, Jon Greenberg, Barbara Hughes, Mark Fisher, Neil Broome, John Stumpf, & Anna Blume. Front row: Joy Episalla. This photo was taken from the work desk of Barbara Hughes, as well as sent to me by James Baggett and Joy Episalla. Identifications were designated by James Baggett.
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