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Hardcover | Out of Print | ISBN: 9780262032957 | 336 pp. | 5.75 x 8.75 in | 38 illus. | July 2002
Paperback | $28.95 Trade | £21.95 | ISBN: 9780262532648 | 336 pp. | 5.75 x 8.75 in | 38 illus. | February 2004

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Melancholia and Moralism

Essays on AIDS and Queer Politics


In Melancholia and Moralism, Douglas Crimp confronts the conservative gay politics that replaced the radical AIDS activism of the late 1980s and early 1990s. He shows that the cumulative losses from AIDS, including the waning of militant response, have resulted in melancholia as Freud defined it: gay men's dangerous identification with the moralistic repudiation of homosexuality by the wider society.

With the 1993 march on Washington for lesbian and gay rights, it became clear that AIDS no longer determined the agenda of gay politics; it had been displaced by traditional rights issues such as gay marriage and the right to serve in the military. Journalist Andrew Sullivan, notorious for pronouncing the AIDS epidemic over, even claimed that once those few rights had been won, the gay rights movement would no longer have a reason to exist.

Crimp challenges such complacency, arguing that not only is the AIDS epidemic far from over, but that its determining role in queer politics has never been greater. AIDS, he demonstrates, is the repressed, unconscious force that drives the destructive moralism of the new, anti-liberation gay politics expounded by such mainstream gay writers as Larry Kramer, Gabriel Rotello, and Michelangelo Signorile, as well as Sullivan. Crimp examines various cultural phenomena, including Randy Shilts's bestseller And the Band Played On, the Hollywood films "Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia," and Magic Johnson's HIV infection and retirement from the Los Angeles Lakers. He also analyzes Robert Mapplethorpe's and Nicholas Nixon's photography, John Greyson's AIDS musical "Zero Patience," Gregg Bordowitz's video "Fast Trip, Long Drop," the Names Project Quilt, and the annual "Day without Art."

About the Author

Douglas Crimp is Fanny Knapp Allen Professor of Art History at the University of Rochester. He is the author of On the Museum’s Ruins and Melancholia and Moralism: Essays on AIDS and Queer Politics, both published by the MIT Press.


“[A] history of recent activism written with critical intelligence...”—Lambda Book Report
“...Crimp is one of our greatest voices and Melancholia and Moralism demonstrates importance of his role in the AIDS crisis.”—Afterimage
“[F]or all its fiercely and finely argued points, Melancholia and Moralism is a deeply sympathetic book.”—The Nation


“Readers of these classic essays will surely conclude that Douglas Crimp is the paragon of an intellectual activist. His personality, his physique, and his conscience are all part and parcel of the lucid motion of his mind.”
Andrew Ross, New York University
“Crimp's essays document the struggle of the AIDS decades with an intelligence, courage, and poignancy that is rare during these times. His insights are relentlessly political, but not predictable, and he brings people together across all kinds of barriers. This is queer scholarship at its best: urgent, brilliant, and unrelenting.”
Judith Butler, Maxine Eliot Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley , author of Undoing Gender and Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence
“Douglas Crimp's writings about the politics of HIV/AIDS have taught several generations how to combine cultural analysis and cultural activism. Eloquent, incisive, compassionate, uncompromising, rigorous, and humane, Crimp continues to provide us with sure intellectual and political guidance through the mazes of our weakness, perplexity, and fear. In an era of moral retrenchment and erotic impoverishment, when we need more than ever the courage, the wisdom, and the ethical imagination that a vibrant sexual culture has to offer, Crimp's writings, collected here, acquire a new urgency.”
David M. Halperin, W. H. Auden Collegiate Professor of English Language and Literature, University of Michigan, author of One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Saint Foucault
“The critical insight with which Douglas Crimp pierces through the public fantasies surrounding AIDS reveals, in this collection, an emotional intelligence whose calm and lucid humanity is simply unparalleled in contemporary writing.”
Kobena Mercer, Middlesex University, London
“When Douglas Crimp first presented 'Mourning and Militancy' at Harvard in '89, it pierced the hearts of everyone in the room. Not unlike Vito Russo ten years before him, Crimp urged us as activists to look at our succumbings and fight for our pleasure. Clearly, this vital collection of Crimp's essays outranks any chronicle of AIDS activism in its rigorous breadth and intelligence. But what is astonishing is how, sadly, even a decade following that ensuing sense of catastrophe, his unflinching critique of gay complacency and conservatism, his search for common ground between theory and action, and his tireless dissection of systemic dissent and denial seems more prescient—if not more piercingly radical—than ever before.”
Todd Haynes, Director of Velvet Goldmine, Safe, and Poison


Winner, Trade Illustrated Category, 2003 Association of American University Presses (AAUP) Book, Jacket, and Journal Show.

Winner in the 2003 AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Competition in the Trade Illustrated category.