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Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration (Canons) Paperback – 2 Mar 2017
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"David Wojnarowicz has caught the age-old voice of the road, the voice of the traveller, the outcast, the thief, the whore . . . Pick up this book and listen" (William S. Burroughs)
"My book of a lifetime, my book for these dark times, an antidote to stupidity, cruelty and oppression of all kinds" (Olivia Laing Guardian)
"Wojnarowicz's writing fairly smokes with acrid ironies. It's passionate and personal" (New York Magazine)
David Wojnarowicz is brilliantly attuned to American talk and responsive to the moods and innovations of society's truants. He also has the best conscience of any writer I know. This fierce, erotic, haunting, truthful book should be given to every teenager immediately" (Dennis Cooper)
"Everyone should read Close to the Knives to understand the overall political agenda behind suffering . . . This isn't just David's story, it's our story" (Karen Finley)
"David Wojnarowicz: still fighting prejudice 24 years after his death . . . Nothing I have ever read matches the fury and grief of this writing" (Olivia Laing Guardian)
The powerful, personal and iconoclastic memoir of David Wojnarowicz, AIDS activist, author and one of the most provocative artists of his generation. With a new introduction by Olivia Laing.See all Product description
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This collection of essays starts with an account of his hustler years where he was so deprived of sleep (as he had nowhere to live) and of food that his gums would bleed from smoking a cigarette. He writes about his hallucinations in a poetic manner that I found beautiful and stomach churning at the same time. There is plenty of passion too from his first hand account of the AIDS crisis in eighties and early nineties in America where politicians were silent and the church was campaigning against the use of condoms. His account of his best friend and former lover hauling himself off his death bed to travel half way across New York to a quack doctor (who is offering typhoid shots in the belief that it will shock the immune system into working again) is one of the most chilling stories I have ever read. Especially as Wojnarowicz, like all his friends, had HIV and would go onto die shortly after this book was first published. Unfortunately, some of the essays tend to repeat themselves and I found the section on a heterosexual friend who committed suicide, which is the longest one, the least interesting - hence the four stars
Although known more as an artist, Wojnarowicz is definitely a writer to admire. His dispatch from the front-line of death, at first, seems too extreme for our kinder times - when newspaper articles are no longer written and TV programmes made as if nobody gay is reading or watching them and HIV has become a manageable condition - but when you stop and think, we are dying and everybody we know too (just not as quickly or as young as Wojnarowicz and his friends) and we too need to face our mortality. I just hope that I will do it with the same clear sight and passion as he achieved.
The chapters vary, with some giving details and political attacks and some using vague anecdote and no names. Through this, a juxtaposition of highly specific and artistically abstract emerges, which gives the book a powerful texture and a sense of an artist looking for different ways to express themselves. Metaphorical descriptions of the spread of HIV sit alongside figures and facts about the key political figures who did not help or actively discriminated against those with the virus and LGBT people in general. Anger seeps through the words of the book, making it a powerful read.
First published in 1991, Wojnarowicz’s work is still vitally important as a memoir of the AIDS crisis, of political injustice, and of the life of a provocative artist. Not only that, but the political and social implications and messages are still - and indeed very - relevant today.
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