Disability Studies Quarterly Blog
Review by Anson Koch-Rein, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Email: email@example.com
Marty Fink’s Forget Burial: HIV Kinship, Disability, and Queer/Trans Narratives of Care was one of the timeliest publications of 2020. Despite being focused on “early HIV” (a term Fink uses to mean discourses of the 1980s and early 1990s), the book echoes with the deadly viral crisis of Covid-19, an echo that is – because of the timely publication –explicitly discussed in the introduction. While it has all the best qualities of a sedimented scholarly project, one that matured from a dissertation into a book, this publication came out at a crucial moment when mutual aid and care work were both making front page news and creating change across communities in response to shifting and emerging needs during the evolving Covid-19 pandemic. It also arrives at a moment of flourishing conversation between queer, trans, and disability studies, resonating deeply with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s thinking on care work and joy (2018), Hil Malatino’s book on trans care (2020), Aren Aizura’s discussion of communizing care (2017), and Dean Spade’s work on mutual aid (2020).
Fink’s contribution to this discussion is particularly interested in cultural imaginaries of care and explores these through a focus on literary and archival materials: Forget Burial’s “central argument is that literary and archival narratives of HIV caregiving offer a model of disability kinship that supports ongoing sexual and gender self-determination into the present” (2). The book is both timely in its publication and methodologically deeply concerned with time. It uses its close reading of literary and archival materials ranging from a(utobiographies) to z(ines) to “move the past into the present” (133) — by bringing together past and present narratives and concerns. Fink explains this rich, generative methodological approach that reads texts together across time and beyond the literal mention of HIV: “While some of the contemporary texts I analyze address HIV directly, I argue how even those works that do not engage with HIV overtly can be placed in conversation with caregiving archives to challenge body norms” (20). Fink’s resulting argument includes the following three examples, chosen here to spotlight its range:
1) a reading of Octavia Butler’s 2005 novel Fledgling that interprets the vampire metaphor as one of HIV to discuss consent, decriminalization, prison abolition, and histories of safer sex and harm reduction.
2) a discussion of chosen families and archives of care in fictional and autobiographical sources by Iris De La Cruz, Sarah Schulman, Bryn Kelly, Casey Plett, and the Visual AIDS archive as an example of caregiving activism.
3) a reading of Jamaica Kincaid’s 1997 My Brother together with a discussion of the work of the prison activist collective ACE (AIDS Counseling and Education).
Fink’s insightful interpretation of the unreliable narrator in My Brother stands out as some of the finest and most extended literary analysis work in this interdisciplinary book. The breadth of materials and their highly original combination bring out how these trans and queer HIV kinship practices both historically inform the present and how we can learn to bring them into our thought and action in the present: “Forget Burial revisits the caregiving kinships formed in prisons, at hospitals, in doing dishes, by vampires, and on bedside tables to value disability for expanding our interdependence” (162). In theorizing care from these materials and archives, Fink makes a compelling case for understanding (and politicizing) caregiving itself as activism as well as for considering archiving as an element of care. Rather than weaving a romanticized story of care and interdependence, Fink’s research presents a nuanced consideration that does not shy away from “the failures and disappointments of becoming vulnerable with and to others” (12). Like Malatino, Fink thus pays careful attention in their reading of the literature and the archive to what “constrains care” (Malatino 70) institutionally, economically, and culturally.
Forget Burial itself takes great care of the reader in ways that recommend individual chapters for classroom use, even on the undergraduate level. The author guides readers through the text with clear transitions between sections and summaries of argumentative steps. With the emphasis on looking toward the example of early HIV narratives of care, since they inform and can be used in the present, this meets student concerns. Fink also points this out in mentioning their own generational location and the generational perspectives of many students and instructors in the 2020s.
For a disability studies audience, the connections Fink makes between care, activism, and chosen kinship in narratives of early HIV will resonate way beyond its immediate focus. Forget Burial is highly relevant to narratives about moments in disability movement history. For instance, another coincidence that makes this book so timely is its appearance right in time for its conceptual work to be applied to the many examples of disability kinship, care, and politics in the documentary Crip Camp (2020). This would highlight the interrelation of these histories and bring concerns of queer sexuality and gender diversity to the front, rather than narratively sideline or exploit queer cultures, as Marrok Sedgwick’s review of the film for DSQ noted.
For queer and trans studies, Fink’s work demonstrates how central a disability studies perspective is to understanding late 20th/early 21st-century queer/trans kinship and care practices, early HIV history, and activism. As such, it is an ideal companion piece to the political history of ACT UP New York told in Sarah Schulman’s Let the Record Show (2021). Forget Burial is a remarkable example of the overlap and synergy between these fields that should find a board readership.
Aizura, Aren. “Communizing Care in Left Hand Of Darkness.” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, No. 12, 2017. https://doi.org/10.13016/M2RB6W385
Butler, Octavia E. Fledgling: a Novel. Seven Stories Press, 2005.
Crip Camp (dir. James LeBrecht, Nicole Newnham, 2020).
Malatino, Hil. Trans Care. University of Minnesota Press, 2020. https://doi.org/10.5749/9781452965574
Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah Lakshmi. Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018.
Schulman, Sarah. Let the Record Show: a Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021.
Sedgwick, Marrok. “Review of Crip Camp co-directed by James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham” DSQ, Vol. 41, No. 1, 2021. http://dx.doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v41i1.7843
Spade, Dean. Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity during This Crisis (and the next). Verso, 2020.
This review was published as part of Disability Studies Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2022.
Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated.
Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.