CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


organized by CESNUR, Center for Religious Studies and Research at Vilnius University, and New Religions Research and Information Center
Vilnius, Lithuania, April 9-12 2003  

David Wojnarowicz: The "Pre-invented Existence" of Religion and the Secular "State of Grace"

by J. Edgar Bauer
A paper presented at the CESNUR 2003 conference, Vilnius, Lithuania. Preliminary version. Do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

"This perception in the universal, this power of seeing things apart from the mundane self, and independent of their relation to that self, appears to be a kind of transcendent faculty in man; which occasionally manifests itself, and which brings him -- it may perhaps be said -- into relation with another order of existence."

Edward Carpenter: Days With Walt Whitman[1]

img1. As a photographer, painter, installation artist, filmmaker, musician and writer, David Wojnarowicz became a central figure in New York's East Village art scene of the 1980s. Having lived since early childhood on the margins of American society, he sought to expose the soullessness of the American societal myths propounded by organized religion, politics and the media. At the same time, he explored with unparalleled integrity and intensity the life-styles and experiences, which the fear of diversity he denounced generally represses or silences. The following considerations focus primarily on the post-religious and non-theistic conception of reality[2] that underlies Wojnarowicz's critical views on American organized religion and eventually leads to the spirituality of human finitude he envisaged in his last years. The interpretive approach of Wojnarowicz propounded in this presentation is based on a close reading of his published oeuvre, especially the collection of essays Close to the Knives. A Memoir of Disintegration (1991) and the selection of his diaries titled In the Shadow of the American Dream. The Diaries of David Wojnarowicz (1999).[3]

2. The critical import and spiritual relevance of David Wojnarowicz's work can be better assessed against the backdrop of biographical data concerning the destitution of his formative years and the subsequent outsider existence he chose for the rest of his life.[4] Born in Redbank, New Jersey in 1954 "to a sailor from Detroit and a very young woman from Australia,"[5] Wojnarowicz spent his childhood first in an orphanage, then in the home of a violent (later suicidal) father, and finally in New York with his (mostly) disinterested mother.[6] In 1970, at the age of 16, the future writer and artist dropped out of school and lived on the streets of New York City, where he hustled suburban married men and began taking drugs. After having "[w]orked as a farmer on canadian border [and] in san francisco [...] as an egg bootlegger"[7] between 1972 and 1973, Wojnarowicz began to develop a keen interest in literature under the influence of Jean Genet's "Un Chant d'amour" and the books by William Burroughs. Although he never went to college, Wojnarowicz's extant library shows that his spectrum of intellectual concerns ranged from zoology to politics and classical music.[8] In 1979, he became a member of a post-punk band called "3 Teens Kill 4 - No Motive." The alternative name which Wojnarowicz regrets the group did not use was: "Sissies from Hell," an obvious reference to his much-admired literary hero Arthur Rimbaud. Having left the band, he concentrated on his visual work and writing. In 1983, he met the photographer Peter Hujar, who became his close friend and mentor. Besides being a renowned artist, Wojnarowicz attained prominence as an outspoken AIDS activist and anticensorship advocate. In July 1992, Wojnarowicz died of AIDS at the age of 38.[9]

3. David Wojnarowicz's life-long experience of estrangement led him to a view of reality that, on its deepest level, is articulated by the conceptual opposition between "World" and "Other World". In the seminal essay "Living Close to the Knives", Wojnarowicz points out: "First there is the World. Then there is the Other World. The Other World is where I sometimes lose my footing. In its calender turnings, in its preinvented existence."[10] Despite the religious and philosophical dimensions it evokes, the concept of Other World in the context of Wojnarowicz's work does not refer to a metaphysical dimension of positive transcendence, but, on the contrary, to an alienatory modus deficiens of the one and only existing reality. Lacking the immediacy and plenitude of the World's immanence, the Other World appears linked in Wojnarowicz's discourse with "[t]he bought-up world; the owned world. The world of coded sounds: the world of language, the world of lies."[11] These attributes notwithstanding, the Other World does not constitute a discrete, self-sustaining entity, but is dependent upon the World it perverts and denies. Since imagination itself is "encoded with the invented information of the Other World,"[12] the tools of art can at most adapt and stretch out the Other World, but not overcome it. This can only be achieved, according to Wojnarowicz, by that "distance of stepping back or slowing down," which reveals the Other World"[13] in the full extent of its misery. Thus Wojnarowicz pleads for a "sceptical" perception of the Other World as a means of grasping its alienatory contradiction to the World's immediate fullness.[14] While for Wojnarowicz the Other World is perceived as external, the actual locus of its counterpart is the realm of invisible inwardness: "There's no enlarged or glittering new view of the nature of things or existence. No god or angels brushing my eyelids with their wings. Hell is a place on earth. Heaven is a place in your head."[15] Having broken with the long history of theism and the supposedly objective mysticism it entails, Wojnarowicz does not seek to attain visio beatifica, but rather to explore the ambit of "[t]he possibility inherent in impossibility."[16] Since everything within the order of the Other World pays tribute to the self-referentiality of the given, surpassing the allegedly unquestionable factuality of the Other World seems unviable, except if the "distance of stepping back" reveals the fallacy of identifying the totality of the foreseeable with the possible. Wojnarowicz's "negative" grasp of the unmediated World as a realm of possibilities will eventually prove to be the actual raison d¨être of his libertarian protest against a life lived within the closed range of other-worldliness. Well aware that the price to be paid for attaining the comforts of insight is high, Wojnarowicz counters the pervasive might of factual reality and asserts: "There are those of us that sleep well in doorways and on benches, not for reason or choice but because of the hard edge of vision in these times."[17]

4. Wojnarowicz's life and worldview was deeply marked by the fact that, in 1963, the nine year old began to earn money as a prostitute in New York City[18] and continued to do so until the age of 20. In his initial years as a hustler, a customer attempted to murder him,[19] and later on, after having "[e]ntered the underground of man/child sexual connections,"[20] he "[w]as almost murdered twice more in ratty hotels and sidestreets of times square."[21] Far from idealizing his previous outlaw existence[22] in the way his literary model Jean Genet did, Wojnarowicz remained relentless in his rejection of the reification and alienation of the body inherent in commercial sex. Thus he writes in a diary entry from 1991: "I sold my body literally thousands of times and always thought it was sad that people paid others for the use of their mouth arms legs hands assholes chest back feet."[23] It is not by chance that Wojnarowicz relates his zeal in protecting the privacy and details of his sexual leanings "to years as a hustler and wanting never to go back to that sensation of being meat or object unless it was a mutual desire."[24] Given the way Wojnarowicz assumed his debasing experience as a male prostitute, it is all the more relevant that when articulating his criticism of Western religion, he depicts it in terms of prostitution. In the Diaries, for instance, he notes: "[...] I didn't know much about [Eastern religion] but had I ever the desire to get into such a thing [i.e. religion] it would indeed be some form of Eastern religion as Western ones were too prostituted and controlled and distorted by papal and clerical creeps [...]."[25] Although "prostitution" as metaphorical term of reproach to Christianity echoes his own sense of estrangement as having been "meat or object" in sexual intercourse, it is abundantly clear that while Wojnarowicz regarded his prostitutional past as a sequel of his own disempowerment by society, he viewed the prostitution of Christianity as an active self-estrangement for the sake of illegitimate power.

5. Wojnarowicz's writing is based on his "keen sense of awareness of the darker areas of society and its characters."[26] Since he was "not so much interested in creating literature as [he was] in trying to convey the pressure of what [he had] witnessed or experienced,"[27] the body of work he produced was eminently testimonial, offering penetrating analyses of two life domains. On the one hand, Wojnarowicz reveals his own world as a child and adolescent abandoned by family and society, and forced into destitution and criminality. On the other, he bears witness to the life-styles and aspirations of the minority groups to which he belonged once he realized, toward 1973,[28] that he was "truly queer,"[29] and decided to become a writer and artist.[30] As an adult immersed in New York's sexual subcultures, Wojnarowicz experienced first-hand the ravages caused by AIDS among the men of his generation. Peter Hujar, perhaps the most decisive influence in Wojnarowicz's life, died of complications accompanying the disease in 1987. In the same year, Wojnarowicz himself as well as his partner Tom Rauffenbart[31] were tested positive for HIV. In a telling passage he portrays his reaction to his own illness: "WHEN I WAS TOLD THAT I'D CONTRACTED THIS VIRUS IT DIDN'T TAKE ME LONG TO REALIZE THAT I'D CONTRACTED A DISEASED SOCIETY AS WELL."[32] Acknowledging from early on the social causes and implications of his predicament, Wojnarowicz soon became an outspoken AIDS activist and critic of the official policies dealing with the pandemy. His powerful diatribes show a distinctive theo-political edge corresponding to his growing awareness of the shared responsibility of politics and Christian religion for the spread of AIDS in America. Throughout his writings, Wojnarowicz targets not just the Reagan administration and New York Major Eduard Koch for their policies on AIDS information and research funding, but also the official homophobic policies of the Vatican and the deleterious role played by New York Cardinal John O'Connor concerning AIDS prevention. Wojnarowicz did not content himself with denouncing the statements issued by the Vatican and the Catholic archdiocese that "it is a more terrible thin[g] to use a condom than to contract AIDS."[33] He also exposed with unyielding pungency "those thinly disguised walking swastikas that wear religious garments over their murderous intentions"[34], as well as "the religious types outside st. patrick's cathedral shouting to the men and women in the gay parade 'You won't be here next year - you'll get AIDS and die [...].'"[35] The peremptory conclusion Wojnarowicz drew from the murderous scenario he depicted runs: "If I die it is because a handful of people in power, in organized religions and political institutions, believe that I am expendable."[36]

6. Since early childhood, Wojnarowicz developed an eager interest in plant and animal life, a realm whose order contrasted -- in his view -- with the dysfunctional surroundings in which he grew up.[37] Although several early entries in his diaries reveal a sense of nature remindful of the American transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau,[38] Wojnarowicz's rather idealizing understanding of nature will, in time, yield to a sober, and often even sombre, aperçu of the "raw state"[39] of reality. During the initial period of the Reagan administration he began to deal with "things of quiet desperation rather than universal beauty, something most people ignore or see as proof of a problematic society or existence."[40] Instead of experiencing fulfilment in nature, the mature Wojnarowicz was "consumed by the emptiness and void surrounding and lying beneath each and every action [he] witness[ed] of others and [him]self."[41] Correspondingly, his increasing concern with weltschmerz was conveyed in the title of one of his most characteristic essays: "Loosing the Form in Darkness."[42] Notwithstanding his dread of the dissolution of individual contours upon the approach of death, however, Wojnarowicz elicits from his experience of impending chaos a form of consolation that, faute de mieux, might be called a wisdom of transition. In one of the texts he wrote shortly before his passing, Wojnarowicz resumed the sapiential outlook he had at last attained as follows:

"Transition is always a relief. Destination means death to me. If I could figure a way to remain forever in transition, in the disconnected and unfamiliar, I could remain in a state of perpetual freedom. [...] Destination is an entry point for the practitioners of the fake moral screens."[43]

True to these insights, Wojnarowicz dwelt upon that peculiar transition which was his excruciating experience of dying of AIDS, rather than on his own death as destination. Not surprisingly, travelling becomes in his meditations a metaphor for describing the process of vital experience enriching itself by approaching the new and different in the face of insurmountable finitude. Since the fear of diversity Wojnarowicz castigates throughout his writings reaches its greatest intensity when the Self is confronted with its own disintegration, the overcoming of this fear is an indispensable condition for acknowledging the ultimate transition of life as a peak experience of freedom.

7. Organized religion and the state are, according to Wojnarowicz, accomplices in creating the corrupt American theo-political system, which he generally termed either "preinvented world"[44] or "preinvented existence."[45] Within that system, God and government function as "interchangeable"[46] instruments of power that demand from individuals submission and adaptation to the operative, but nonetheless illusory societal contexts they create. Thus in Wojnarowicz's critical view, the CIA director appears as the "current death god"[47] and the streets in the Reagan era turn out to be "sacrificial temples, with millions of homeless and millions more entering that status."[48] This landscape of systemic misery and devastation is maintained ideologically by the myth of the "one-tribe-nation," whose agents first propagate "a corrupted and false history as well as a corrupted and false future"[49] and then "extol[] these foul emissions as if they were virtues made of glorious sensitivities."[50] Opposing the public fata morgana of unity that quells the undeniable differences between individuals, Wojnarowicz pleads for a strategy of disruption and disintegration whose first and foremost task is to display the variety of sexually and socially dissident private lives. Seeking "to [...]release information that unties the psychic ropes that bind the ONE-TRIBE-NATION,"[51] Wojnarowicz produced a body of work centrally concerned with articulating the needs and toils of individuals he apostrophized as the "millions of separate tribes in this illusion called AMERICA."[52] Not by chance, in his polemic against the "hyenas in state or religious drag"[53] who divert from worldly concreteness, Wojnarowicz drew attention to a perplexing sentence by Sylvère Lotringer that runs: "Our society desperately needs monsters to reclaim its moral virginity."[54]

8. The recurrent apocalyptic tone and imagery of Wojnarowicz's texts and paintings have at times led interpreters to view his work and interventions as conveying only bitterness and aiming at mere destruction. Such an assessment ignores in fact that, although the critical dimensions of Wojnarowicz's œuvre are deep and radical, they by no means exhaust the breadth of his visionary intent. Indicatively, his programmatic essay "In the Shadow of the American Dream" closes with these questions: "What can these feet level? What can these feet pound and flatten? What can these hands raise?"[55] Beyond its pronounced critical gestures, Wojnarowicz's work aims at "raising" to visibility and audibility those human potentials which the pervading power structures are prone to suppress. Convinced of the transformative force inherent in the adequate articulation of perceived reality, Wojnarowicz stressed that "[d]escribing the once indescribable can dismantle the power of taboo" and that "[t]o speak the once unspeakable can make the INVISIBLE familiar if repeated often enough in clear and loud tones."[56] Consistent with these views, Wojnarowicz, early in his career, "[s]tarted developing ideas of making and preserving an authentic version of history in the form of images/writings/objects that would contest state supported forms of 'history.'"[57] The apocalyptic "record of the times"[58] Wojnarowicz produced aspires to reveal an "alternate history"[59] testifying to the "evidence of life"[60] and prompting the individuals to deploy their existence beyond the limits of foreseeable factuality. In the last resort, the dissolution of the "preinvented world" calls for the re-invention of existence in correspondence with the as yet unrealized potentialities that inhere in this-worldliness.

9. As a teenager, Wojnarowicz was not just a hustler engaged in petty criminality. The early entries of his Diaries give clear hints of his growing concern for Oriental forms of religiosity. In spite of his poor formal education, Wojnarowicz seems to have had a wide spectrum of religious references. Thus, besides invoking "dear God or Swami or Buddha or whoever is watching,"[61] he parodied nonchalantly the pronunciation of OM,[62] and eventually engaged in the reading of books by Jiddu Krishnamurti.[63] His initial interest in Eastern religions[64] undoubtedly contributed to shape his own spiritual, albeit atheistic perception of existence. This stance is suggested in a succinct passage where Wojnarowicz leaps from a question on theodicy to the quasi-Nietzschean contention regarding its impossible resolution: "[...] I wondered what it would be like if it were a perfect world. Only god knows. And he is dead."[65] The gravely ill Wojnarowicz confirmed this a-theological position when he remarked almost a year before dying: "I make a decision that I don't have anything or anyone to pray to."[66] Despite his thorough sense of immanence and his enmity of organized religions, Wojnarowicz remained deeply attracted by spirituality and rituals throughout his life. Especially in the period after the outbreak of AIDS, Wojnarowicz's search for an adequate expression of his unconventional spirituality becomes apparent. In perhaps one of the most memorable passages of his work, Wojnarowicz relates how, at the death bed of his friend Peter Hujar, he "made a simple altar or shrine on one of the photograph tables [...] with an enormous beeswax candle [...]"[67] and then decided to dance in order "to show Peter's spirit some joy, some celebration."[68] In general, Wojnarowicz acknowledged that the rituals of memorials were "the first steps in making the private grief public" and noted that they "take the absence of a human being and make them [sic!] somehow physical with the use of sound."[69] These emphatic assessments of ritual life notwithstanding, Wojnarowicz came to experience "something akin to rage" when, in view of the lack of political response to the AIDS pandemy, he realized that a memorial could have "little reverberation outside the room it was held."[70] Against this backdrop, it is no wonder that Wojnarowicz acrimoniously criticized those of his friends who were "perfecting their rituals of death rather than a relatively simple ritual of life such as screaming in the streets."[71] To memorialize those who had died of AIDS he advocated close-to-life rituals remindful of happenings, and, as for himself, he straightforwardly demanded: "DON¨T GIVE ME A MEMORIAL IF I DIE. GIVE ME A DEMONSTRATION."[72]

10. While Wojnarowicz considers the traditional religious outlook as the utmost source of other-worldliness, it is only as an "organized" social body that religion is capable of grounding and supporting that system of alienating mediations he calls the "preinvented world" or the "preinvented existence." Taking advantage of his own marginality to see through the mechanisms of society, Wojnarowicz exposed "organized religion" as the perversion of the spirituality, which results from confronting "the edge of mortality."[73] Significantly, Wojnarowicz depicts "the most important event of [his] life"[74] - the passing of Peter Hujar - in the following terms: "[...] all the thoughts and sensations this death produces in bystanders is more spirituality than any words we [...] can manufacture."[75] As other passages suggest, in Wojnarowicz's mind, spirituality is inextricably linked to a critical attitude that enables "[...] to dismantle and discard any and all kinds of [...] words or concepts designed to make sense of the external world or designed to give momentary comfort."[76] Essentially, Wojnarowicz's spirituality leads form the exposure of the subterfuges and deceptions of language to the unmediated confrontation of "raw reality" as a means to experience the need for "some sort of grace."[77] What is meant by "grace" or the "state of grace,"[78] can only be elicited from an autobiographical passage in which Wojnarowicz assumes the functions of a modern psychopompos who guides the dying Hujar into the realms of death and whispers into his ear:

"I don't know what you're seeing but if there's light move toward it; if there's warmth move toward it; if you see nothing then try to imagine that one period of calm in the midst of that sky just where it reaches the ocean. That one place I've always seen as a point of time and space where everything is possible [...] [M]ove into that, become that, merge with it."[79]

Not unlike those privileged moments of sexual experience evoked by Wojnarowicz, in which "all sense of living takes a slow quiet dive into mystery and possibilities,"[80] the act of dying unveils a space of inwardness, whose plenitude is liable to reconcile the individual with the ineradicable finitude of his mortality. Since Wojnarowicz regards death "as some final moment where all the energy of [the] body will disperse,"[81] the mind of the departing is called to realize this-worldliness as the realm of possibilities in which the body was immersed all along. In the process of this realization, there is no recursion to a sacral domain excluding profanity, far less to a "Totally Other."[82] Since spiritual experience does not grant the ontologization or hypostasis of a transcending Difference, but only the ascertainment of differences within immanence, Wojnarowicz's exposure of the Other World is ultimately designed to reveal this World and its possibilities as the sole source of redemption. There being no individual eternity beyond death, the "grace" of redemptive insight is liable to irrupt only in the time of this World - in the saeculum. Contrasting with the Christian crypto-apologetics of the Death-of-God-theologians of an earlier generation, David Wojnarowicz envisages a salvational this-worldliness hightened by the consciousness of the finitude of Time.

[1] Carpenter, Edward: Days With Walt Whitman. With some Notes on his Life and Works. New York: The Macmillan Company / London: George Allen, 1906, p. 60.

[2] Wojnarowicz's worldview can be better understood in light of the spiritual tradition described in outline by Richard Maurice Bucke, the friend of Walt Whitman, in his classic book Cosmic Consciousness. Cf.: Bucke, Richard Maurice: Cosmic Consciousness. A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind [1901]. New Introduction by George Moreby Acklom. New York: Penguin / Arkana, 1991.

[3] The other titles by David Wojnarowicz are: Sounds in the Distance (London: Aloes Books, 1982); Memories that Smell like Gasoline (San Francisco: ArtSpace Books, 1992); David Wojnarowicz: Brush Fires in the Social Landscape (Aperture, 1994); Seven Miles a Second (New York: DC Comics, 1996); Waterfront Journals (New York: Grove Press, 1996).

[4] In an interview Wojnarowicz resumed his outsider existence thus: "One of the things I realized after getting diagnosed [HIV-positive], is that my whole life I've felt like I was looking into society from a outer edge, because I embodied so many things that were supposedly reprehensible - being homosexual or having been a prostitute when I was a kid, or having a lack of education." (Barry Blinderman: The Compression of Time: An Interview with David Wojnarowicz. In: David Wojnarowicz. Tongues of Flame. Edited by Barry Blindermann. Normal, Illinois: University Galleries of Illinois State University / New York, New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 1990, p. 49.)

[5] Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline. In: David Wojnarowicz. Tongues of Flame, op. cit., p. 113.

[6] The following anecdote illustrates well the dysfunctional family atmosphere in Wojnarowicz's early childhood: "Kennedy got shot and I remember my dad making us watch the funeral on t.v. all day long. When the casket passed on the screen none of us cried appropriately so he ran around smacking us in the head until we did." (Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline, op. cit., p. 114.)

[7] Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline, op. cit., p. 117.

[8] I have consulted the David Wojnarowicz's library list at http://library.nyu.edu/

[9] For a brief account of Wojnarowicz's life cf.: Carr, C.: Portrait in Twenty-three Rounds. In: Scholder, Amy (Ed.): Fever: The Art of David Wojnarowicz. Dan Cameron, John Carlin, C. Carr, Mysoon Rizk. New York: Rizzoli, 1999, pp. 69-89.

[10] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives. A Memoir of Disintegration. New York: Vintage Books, 1991, p. 87.

[11] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., pp. 87-88.

[12] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 88.

[13] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 88.

[14] Cf. in this regard the following passage: "So although I've lived forms of movement that approach or start to come close to the scenes I desire, the life I desire, still when all is said and done, just as in the construction of these words I have still not touched the edge of it." ([Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream. The Diaries of David Wojnarowicz. Edited and with an Introduction by Amy Scholder. New York: Grove Press, 1999, p. 129.)

[15] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., pp. 28-29. Cf. also the following passage: "I came to understand that to give up one's environment was to also give up biography and all encoded daily movements: those false reassurances of the railing outside the door. This was the beginning of a definition of the World for me. A place that might be described as interior world. The place where movement was comfortable, where boundaries were stretched or obliterated: no walls, borders, language or fear." (Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 108.)

[16] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 129.

[17] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 35.

[18] Cf. Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline, op. cit., p. 114.

[19] Cf. Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline, op. cit., p. 115.

[20] Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline, op. cit., p. 116 .

[21] Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline, op. cit., p. 116.

[22] Characteristically, Wojnarowicz does not portray himself as a hero, but as a victim. In his piece "Memories That Smell Like Gasoline" he writes: "I had been drugged, tossed out a second story window, strangled, smacked in the head with a slab of marble, almost stabbed four times, punched in the face at least seventeen times, beat about my body too many times to recount, almost completely suffocated, and woken up once tied to a hotel bed with my head over the side all the blood rushed down into it making it feel like it was going to explode, all this before I turned fifteen. I chalked it up to adventure or the risks of being a kid prostitute in new york city." (Wojnarowicz, David: Memories That Smell Like Gasoline. San Francisco: Artspace Books, 1992, p. 15.)

[23] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 238.

[24] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 254.

[25] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 83.

[26] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 69.

[27] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 235.

[28] Referring to authors like Jean Genet or William Burroughs, Wojnarowicz acknowledged that "had I seen some of these people or their work as a teenager I would have been more easily able to get off the streets without the national guilt on my shoulders." (Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline, op. cit., p. 117.)

[29] Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline, op. cit., p. 117.

[30] In 1990, Wojnarowicz told Nan Goldin: "I've been writing since I got off the streets. I started out writing bad poems, and then I started with the monologues in my early twenties." ([Wojnarowicz, David:] David Wojnarowicz interviewed by Nan Goldin. In: David Wojnarowicz. Brush Fires in the Social Landscape. Introduction by Lucy R. Lippard. New York: Aperture, 1994, p. 62.)

[31] He was to become the executor of the David Wojnarowicz estate.

[32] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 114.

[33] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 160.

[34] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 161.

[35] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 161.

[36] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 230.

[37] In the 1956 entrance in the "Biographical Dateline" Wojnarowicz notes: "Vague memories of horseshoe crabs on the coastal shores at dawn. Also an infestation of the sands of different colored ladybugs. Mother and father got divorced." (Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline, op. cit., p. 113.)

[38] Cf. for example [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 10. In the 1960 entrance of the "Dateline" he writes: "An older boy once brought me to the woods and showed me a place where the whole earth was water and turtles all the way to the horizon. This haunted me all my life." (Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline, op. cit., p. 113) As late as 1970, Wojnarowicz "shoplifted animals and gave homes to." (Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline, op. cit., p. 117.)

[39] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 116.

[40] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 183.

[41] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 68.

[42] In: Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., pp. 9-23.

[43] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 62.

[44] Cf. Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 121.

[45] Cf. Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 37 and 174. In the second case the spelling of the first word is: "pre-invented". Terms like "organized world" and "world of fact" also belong to this conceptual constellation. (Wojnarowicz, David: Memories That Smell Like Gasoline, op. cit., pp. 28 and 40).

[46] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 40.

[47] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 174.

[48] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 174.

[49] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 37.

[50] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 37.

[51] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 143.

[52] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 153.

[53] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 169.

[54] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 192. Cf. Lotringer, Sylvère: Overexposed. Treating Sexual Perversions in America. London: Paladin / Grafton Books, 1990, p. 19.

[55] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 63. Cf. also the final lines of his "Song for Angels" printed in the Diaries: "WHAT CAN THESE FEET / OF MINE LEVEL? / WHAT CAN THESE HANDS OF / MINE RAISE?" ([Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 222.)

[56] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 153.

[57] Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline, op. cit., p. 117.

[58] Wojnarowicz, David: Biographical Dateline, op. cit., p. 118.

[59] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 144.

[60] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 156.

[61] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 14.

[62] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 14.

[63] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 53.

[64] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 83.

[65] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 45.

[66] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 245.

[67] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 202.

[68] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 202.

[69] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 121.

[70] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 122.

[71] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 122. The following can be taken as a concrete example of the rituals he envisages: "I imagine what it would be like if, each time a lover, friend or stranger died of this disease, their friends, lovers or neighbors would take the dead body and drive with it in a car a hundred miles an hour to washington d.c. and blast through the gates of the white house and come to a screeching halt before the entrance and dump their lifeless form on the front steps. It would be comforting to see those friends, neighbors, lovers and strangers mark time and place and history in such a public way." (Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 122.)

[72] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 206.

[73] Cf. for example Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 109.

[74] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 103.

[75] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 201. Cf. the parallel formulation in: Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 103. Emphasis added.

[76] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 116.

[77] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 103. Another wording of the same exclamation runs: "I need some sort of grace." ([Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 201.)

[78] [Wojnarowicz, David:] In the Shadow of the American Dream, op. cit., p. 158.

[79] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 82.

[80] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 72.

[81] Wojnarowicz, David: Close to the Knives, op. cit., p. 82.

[82] For a treatment of the issue concerning the dissolution of the "sacred" in a philosophical context cf.: Bauer, J. Edgar: Max Stirner: Das Ende des Heiligen. In: Max Stirner e l'individualismo moderno. A cura di Enrico Ferri, introduzione di Francesco de Sanctis. Napoli: Pubblicazioni dell'Istituto Suor Orsola Benincasa, CUEN, 1996, S. 357-391. The author has also dealt with the issue in: Bauer, J. Edgar: Marco Vassi: "Metasex" and Zen Spiritual Search. A paper presented at The CESNUR 2004 International Conference, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, U.S.A. In: Torino: Website of CESNUR / The Center for Studies on New Religions, http://www.cesnur.org/2004/waco_bauer.htm, 2004.

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