Numbered Days (‘To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life,’ part 3)

1.  On this twenty-sixth day of December, 1988, as I begin this book, in Rome…several months after those three months when I was truly convinced I was lost, and after the months that followed when I was able to believe myself saved by the luckiest of chances [par ce hasard extraordinaire], wavering now between doubt and lucidity, having reached the limits of both hope and despair, I don’t know what to think about any of these crucial questions, about this alternation of certain death and sudden reprieve [cette alternative de la condemnation et de sa remission]…. [E 2; F 10; emphasis added]

Attesting to the origins of “this book” – the book we are now attempting to read, the roman or work of fiction signed by Herve Guibert – the narrative here refers the reader back to its first sentence and paragraph, specifically to “those three months” when “I had AIDS,” or more precisely when the first person (whom we will henceforth, following his cue, call Herve) believed that his fate, an imminent and premature death, was sealed, and to the ensuing months inaugurated by the extraordinary chance (hasard of course also signifies risk or danger, crucial senses in this context) that brought the promise of possible salvation.  We learn that he embarks on this book in the aftermath of the three months and the several months that followed, in a time of flux precipitated by his alternation between despair and hope, between the prospect of imminent death and the promise of reprieve.  Little wonder, then, that here and throughout the narrative temporal indications abound.

Despite the imprecision of “several months” and “the months that followed,” this uncertain time is given the strict demarcation of a date that both historicizes it in the context of the unfolding of the epidemic and locates it in the narrative sequence.  History and story, dovetailing in the French histoire, are intricated in a text that can be read as a partial historiography of AIDS, as chapters from Guibert’s autobiography, and as the work of fiction it styles itself:  for example when we read that Bill, the friend of the title to whom the book is addressed and dedicated, “was the first to tell me about this famous disease, it must have been sometime in 1981.  He’d just returned from the United States, were he’d come across the first clinical reports about this strange death and its specific provenance in a professional journal” – presumably the June 1, 1981 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which included the first published clinical account of the condition known only later as AIDS  [E 13; F 21].  With “it must have been,” the self-declared literary fiction binds itself to history, to one among several indelible events that serve here as referents.  With regard to the narrative sequence, which is irreducible to a chronology, part of the reader’s task in this instance will be to reckon in light of what follows that “this twenty sixth day of December, 1988” falls four days after the tests undergone on December 22 of that year to check for the presence in Herve’s blood of the antigen P24, sign of the active, no longer latent operation of the HIV virus.  For only subsequently are the tests and their dates explicitly noted.

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Filed under Books, Culture, Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing

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