Imagine Hope: AIDS and Gay Identity. By SIMON WATNEY. London: Routledge, 2000. Pp. xii + 282. $85.00 (cloth); $25.99 (paper).
Most American gay men know more about the comings and goings of the British royal family than about the lives of ordinary British queers. That we know anything at all about gay life in Britain can be credited, in large part, to Simon Watney. A longtime cultural and art critic, art historian, and director of the Red Hot AIDS Charitable Trust, Watney is the author of dozens of influential books and articles, many of which have been published in the United States, about gay life and AIDS on both sides of the Atlantic. Imagine Hope is Watney's second collection of essays about AIDS and a welcome addition for readers who may have had difficulty keeping track of his many writings. His first collection, Practices of Freedom: Selected Writings on HIV/AIDS, included pieces written between 1986 and 1992. Imagine Hope ostensibly takes us through the 1990s, although only four of the thirty essays, including an introduction and conclusion written specifically for this volume, appeared after 1996.
Much transpired in the lives of British and American queers between 1992 and 2000, as Watney's volume makes clear, and his collection focuses on several recurring themes, not the least of which is the role AIDS has played in the transformation of gay identity, especially among young people. Watney pays particular attention to the successful effort by gay activists to "regay" AIDS, a move necessitated by poorly designed educational programs that targeted an imagined "general population" instead of the especially hard-hit gay male community, and he critiques the tendency among some activists to reduce years of thinking about the "politics of representation" into the belief that AIDS activism might begin and end with eliminating offensive expressions such as "AIDS victim." Other essays decry the disproportionate media attention afforded to "cranks" (112)...
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