Epilogue
Given the complexities and historical significance of the
AIDS
epidemic
that this book has attempted to chronicle, I cannot bring myself to call
this final section a conclusion. Indeed, in the face of an epidemic that
continues to continue, the word is arrogant and untrue. "The end of
AID
s
/I
is loudly trumpeted, but statistics at home and abroad tell us otherwise.
Every revision of the bibliography of this book, for that matter, has kept
death alive for me as authors whose work has deeply affected my own
keep dying. An epidemic, like a war, marks us for decades. Even so, these
chronicles of
AIDS
offer several lessons about language and culture that
may usefully be summarized hcre.
By the end of the 1980s the
AIDS
epidemic had been invested with an
abundance of meanings and metaphors. Scientists, physicians, and public
health authorities argued repeatedly that
AIDS
represented "an epidemic
of infectious disease and nothing more." This uncompromisingly medical
argument had been developed over the course of the twentieth century as
medicine and public health wrenched themselves free of moral under-
standings of disease, and its value and power for the
AIDS
epidemic must
not be minimized. Continually eluding such containment efforts, how-
ever, the
AIDS
epidemic has produced a parallel epidemic of meanings,
definitions, and attributions. This semantic and cultural epidemic-what
I have come to call an epidemic of signification-has been the subject of
this book.
The sheer volume and wild diversity of
AIDS'S
rapidly multiplying
meanings underscore the strength of this semantic epidemic. The follow-
ing examples represent only some of the efforts in the epidemic's first
decade to articulate "what
AIDS
is":
I.
An irreversible, largely untreatable, and ultimately fatal infectious
disease.
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