Date of this Version
20th & 21st Century French and Francophone Studies International Colloquium, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, March 26-28, 2020.
Although Hervé Guibert’s poignant account of his life as an AIDS patient in his 1990 novel with autobiographical elements To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life (original French title: À l’ami qui n’a pas sauvé ma vie ) earned him staggering critical and commercial success in his native France, the novel’s highly personal depiction of the AIDS crisis did not please French AIDS crisis activists, who criticized that it favored the author’s individual experiences with AIDS rather than documenting the sociopolitical processes that led to its development as a public health crisis disproportionately affecting sex and gender minorities (Caron 114.) However, while it is true that Guibert’s novel follows a tradition in French literature and in Guibert’s own work to expose the individual dimension of suffering (Caron 118), the novel was still a highly subversive text that allowed the author and, by means of representation, other queer people affected by the AIDS crisis, to comment on and actively challenge the sociopolitical structures that affected them during this crisis. Guibert’s novel, in fact, eventually became part of the French AIDS literature canon, which included a diverse group of texts by people with AIDS, many of whom were gay men who boldly challenged the linking of gay sex and promiscuity to disease and social decay and humanized AIDS patients (Clum cited in Poirier 3.) In this essay, I argue that Guibert’s novel contributed to the denunciation of the oppression of queer people with AIDS in the late 1980s through its reconceptualizing of three life elements as queer: time, space, and social relationships. In his work, Guibert proposes a different interpretation of these life elements guided by the protagonist’s gay identity and AIDS; these reimaginations helped him navigate his life before, during, and after the diagnosis, confront the social and medical practices that affected his quality of life, and build a network of support composed of friends and acquaintances, several of whom were also AIDS patients. Although it is true that Guibert’s novel ultimately still presents events in the life of a white, cisgender, able-bodied and famous writer, and therefore does not represent the experiences of many less privileged AIDS patients in France in the late 1980s, the novel still presents an unsanitized, sincere account of a gay man who shapes his life and writing to resist AIDS in its multiple manifestations as a public and private health crisis (Caron 113.)