Course Description

In How to Have Theory in An Epidemic, Paula Treichler wrote that “in multiple, fragmentary, and often contradictory ways, we struggle to achieve some sort of understanding of AIDS, a reality that is frightening, widely publicized, yet finally neither directly or fully knowable.  AIDS is no different in this respect from other linguistic constructions that, in the commonplace view of language, are thought to transmit pre-existing ideas and represent real-world entities yet in fact do neither” (11).  By studying a mixture of fiction, first person accounts, critical essays, and other texts, we will explore what Treichler meant when she claimed that we construct images of HIV/AIDS through language instead of conveying the unadulterated reality of HIV/AIDS.  Acknowledging how the stories we tell about HIV and AIDS create a certain “reality” in our minds will strengthen our awareness of how our own writing functions in the public sphere.

We will use the readings and our responses as a chance to question our ideas about HIV, question how other people think about HIV, and to remember the current and historical presence of HIV/AIDS in our city.  This class seeks to reveal the work writers do to characterize political, social, and medical issues and to use that understanding to write thoughtful analysis of the depictions of HIV/AIDS that we will study in class.

Course Objectives

Through the readings, class discussions, and written work, students will

1) learn to recognize some common narratives told about HIV/AIDS

2) understand the role of HIV/AIDS narratives in shaping society’s beliefs about HIV and AIDS in a way local to New York

3) demonstrate an ability to create written arguments that show a thoughtful engagement with the texts and subjects under consideration

4) improve their understanding of how to write research papers and conduct close readings

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