The title, Making Record from Memory, is from the introduction to Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of The Mind (University of California Press, 2012)*. The book (in an impossible nutshell) is about questioning the consequences of the AIDS crisis in New York, the consequences of governmental neglect based on sanctioned discrimination leading to the decimation of entire neighborhoods and subcultures that have been consequently and ideologically gentrified. Re-reading it today, I am struck again by the text’s ineffable dynamism, the leaps in tone and structure from anecdotal to critical, the absolutely seamless transitions from personal to political, and the self-reflexivity matched with astute observations of the world and people around her. I am in awe of her clarity, but I am in a stupor to the flash of inquisitions embedded throughout my reading. Because throughout this text, there are burgeoning questions offered, and not rhetorically speaking.
The most pressing question that looms large on my mind is: What were the consequences of AIDS? She asks this partly in relation to the younger generation who now come knocking on her door looking for stories and for insight, a generation who did not have to fight for their lives, but are drawn to the fight regardless. As someone of my generation, discrimination of sexual difference remains present, often colloquially, and HIV/AIDS has ALWAYS been a presence surrounding sexual health. Looking back, I knew about AIDS before I knew about sex. I can remember the public safety posters warning how AIDS can and cannot be transmitted through black and white illustrations of mouths kissing, drinking fountains, and toilet seats. I was six years old and I remember thinking AIDS must be a ghost or monster, for being able to transform its appearance so widely. This is a profound relationship to a sexually-transmitted (and therefore shared and embodied) disease that has been denied, repressed, supplanted, commodified, and criminalized by society’s highest powers. Decades later, my generation’s relationship with HIV/AIDS remains clouded as a stigma looms and consensus still believes that AIDS is no longer their problem.
This year, I have seen an increase in public interest in HIV/AIDS activism, most notably in the actions of ACT UP. The Occupy Movement is a factor, but so is the coming of age of this generation who have always known about AIDS. Coming After, an exhibition at Toronto’s Powerplant earlier this year, epitomizes some of these complexities about how this generation identifies with the past in order to live in the present.
Going through her own personal lived experiences from present day back to the HIV/AIDS crisis as one of the founders of ACT UP, and back again to the revived interest from a younger generation privileged from severe oppressions, Schulman is grappling with the loss of urgency, the split between the personal and the political, and ultimately, how the ongoing fight against discrimination and negotiation of HIV/AIDS will be continued AND be remembered.
By becoming and writing her own awareness into existence, Schulman calls on her readers to become more aware, more conscious of our self agency to assert our own experiences as real, complex, and accounted records from living and from memory.
*Sarah Schulman will be giving a public talk on Saturday, November 3 c/o Cineworks, Arsenal Pulp Press, Xtra! and SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement at
Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema - Goldcorp Centre for the Arts - 149 West Hastings. 8 p.m. Free.