The Poetics of PEPFAR

2008 estimates claim that South Africans were dying at a rate of 600-800 people a day from HIV related causes. It takes the work of the imagination to make that number meaningful. It is this work of the imagination that I somewhat riskily term “poetics” in this paper, bearing in mind throughout the famous twentieth century British poet, W.H. Auden’s reminder that “poetry makes nothing happen.” This task of imagination is obviously globally stratified; ‐ those of us living and dying in the heart of the global pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa will feel and experience it differently from those of us elsewhere. Though a powerful claim by the South African memoirist, Adam Levin, reads as follows: “AIDS is a riddle. It is invisible and yet is everywhere, all around us, in people we love, in me. It doesn’t matter if you are HIV positive or negative. The world has AIDS. And if you give a shit about the world you have it too.” But of course, we do not all have it in the same way. This essay attempts to imagine how we might take Levin’s simple sentence “the world has AIDS” seriously. (Hoad)

What kind of an archive would need to be assembled? What analytic tools, narrative strategies and disciplinary and inter-disciplinary protocols could begin to pose the overwhelming set of questions in that simple sentence? And how could a reading of that archive run interference in a global network of easy certainties about Africa, illness and aid? What I am most interested in is a particularly powerful 2003 document’s imagination of the pandemic namely The Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief commonly known as PEPFAR. (Hoad)

Neville Hoad is Associate Professor of English and Women and Gender Studies at University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of African Intimacies: Race, Homosexuality and Globalization (Minnesota 2007) and co-editor (with Karen Martin and Graeme Reid) of Sex & Politics in South Africa: Equality/Gay & Lesbian Movement/the anti-Apartheid Struggle (Double Storey 2005). He is currently working on a book project about the literary and cultural representations of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa.

Introduction: Wendy Brown, Professor of Political Science, UC Berkeley