My talk draws on my current book project, The Virus Touch: Theorizing Epidemic Media, which eschews a “global history of AIDS” (a timeline that is organized around the medical triumph of 1995) for a global archaeology. In resource-rich settings, HIV infection is now a privately lived medical condition; but this is hardly the case in resource-constrained settings of the global South in which neither optimal resource allocation or management of care is assured. In distinction from a global pandemic, then, I argue for the heterogeneous space-times that constitute HIV/AIDS epidemics all over the world. My specific emphases fall on post-1996 U.S., post-1992 India, and post-1998 South Africa as three major economies of survival (as Marc Abélès characterizes them, in The Politics of Survival, 2010). At stake is an archaeological approach that assembles “epidemic media”—blood samples and drugs to art installations and media campaigns—within a comparative framework that refuses equivalencies between these epidemic space-times.
For this seminar, I’ll focus on the “medical file” as media technology that classifies and sequences HIV/AIDS blood pictures. With reference to Cornelia Visemann’s critically acclaimed Files: Laws and Media Technology (2008), I examine the sequencing of chronic infection in medical files: specifically, files stored at the Humsafar Trust offices in Mumbai (serving socially vulnerable Transgender and MSM communities). The “blood pictures” stored and transmitted in those files articulate biological (of patients), clinical (of lab technician, nurse, doctor, health counselor) and social labors (of health workers, activists, caregivers) together; in other words, they illuminate the scientific-technological and collective-popular labors of survival. In the larger scheme, what stories do the blood pictures convey? Zooming out from this particular instance, I characterize these medical file repositories as provisional “living archives” that create new orders of affective association, orders that finally mobilize hitherto under-theorized blood archives of the HIV/AIDS epidemics.
With a doctorate from Northwestern University, Bishnupriya Ghosh teaches global media studies, postcolonial theory, and 21st literatures at UC Santa Barbara’s Department of English. She has published two books: a first monograph on the market for world literatures, When Borne Across: Literary Cosmopolitics in the Contemporary Indian Novel (Rutgers UP, 2004), and a second, on the global traffic in iconic images of famous figures, entitled Global Icons: Apertures to the Popular (Duke UP, 2011). She is currently working on a third monograph, The Virus Touch: Theorizing Epidemic Media, and a co-edited collection, The Routledge Companion to Media and Risk (with Bhaskar Sarkar). Both projects emerge from research/programming initiatives on risk and media (at UCHRI, Cornell University, UC Santa Barbara).