Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Dennis Allen

Committee Co-Chair

Ryan Claycomb

Committee Member

Michael Germana

Committee Member

Melissa Latimer

Committee Member

Kathleen Ryan


This project considers the social movements, historical memory, and politics of health to trace the way the literature of the AIDS epidemic both documents and discloses the lived experiences of a community struggling in the midst of an epidemic. It focuses on the literature of AIDS, analyzing the underlying ideologies of AIDS and articulating a phenomenology of AIDS that goes beyond the feminist or queer ones already considered in current scholarship. I argue that the literature of AIDS reflects various ideological fantasies about AIDS that, depending on political preconceptions and ontologies of identity, must, out of necessity, exclude certain ideas in order for the fantasy to work. Through both Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart and Tony Kushner's Angels in America, I analyze how the ideological forces at work within the gay community are represented in the literature of the 1980s and 90s. My focus is on how, in the early days of the epidemic, these plays presented a specific ideological fantasy about AIDS, and my analysis identifies what things must be excluded or overlooked in order for the fantasies to properly function. Despite the extensive critical work focusing on the AIDS epidemic, there has not been a scholarly work that constructs a phenomenology of AIDS. And so, I move beyond current feminist and queer approaches to phenomenology to use Andrew Holleran's novel The Beauty of Men and collection of essays Ground Zero to develop a phenomenology of AIDS. I argue that Holleran's texts are less concerned with the political, historical, and ideological structures that brought about the AIDS epidemic and more concerned with how gay men lived within the disease---how they formed social/physical attachments to both people and places, and how their sensory experiences of the epidemic created their individual and collective subjectivities. The shared experience of AIDS becomes the foundation for the reemerging/restructuring gay subculture; in a phenomenological sense, the community gains an awareness/consciousness of who it is by examining more carefully what it no longer is. I conclude with an examination of 21 st century young adult gay fiction---specifically Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan and Hero by Perry Moore---and how they paint rosy portraitures of gay life beyond the coming out stage to the neglect of a complex sexuality that continuously redefines a queer individual's place within the greater social, political, and cultural structure. Yet the presence---the memory---of AIDS looms over these texts, and the novels still contain the trace of what AIDS was/did to the gay community that came before them. By creating worlds without AIDS, these novels attempt to create a new version of a "gay fantasia," one that counters the stark realities and oppressive ideological structures of the gay fantasia presented by Kushner in Angels in America..