David Wojnarowicz - Close To The Knives (1991)
Serpent à Plumes (France). 2004.
"A number of months ago I read in the newspaper that there was a supreme court ruling which states that homosexuals in america have no constitutional rights against the government's invasion of their privacy. The paper states that homosexuality is traditionally condemned in america & only people who are heterosexual or married or who have families can expect those constitutional rights. There were no editorials. Nothing. Just flat cold type in the morning paper informing people of this. In most areas of the u.s.a it is possible to murder a man & when one is brought to trial, one has only to say that the victim was a queer & that he tried to touch you & the courts will set you free. When I read the newspaper article I felt something stirring in my hands; I felt a sensation like seeing oneself from miles above the earth or looking at one's reflection in a mirror through the wrong end of a telescope. Realizing that I have nothing left to lose in my actions I let my hands become weapons, my teeth become weapons, every bone & muscle & fiber & ounce of blood become weapons, & I feel prepared for the rest of my life."
I was happy to see a french publisher getting interested in this icon of the New York underground, so thanks SERPENT A PLUMES! Born in 1954 in New Jersey, David Wojnarowicz dropped out of school at 16 and left to NYC, where he became a hustler. This book is a testament of a complete outsider, but alos a militant homo, a writer, performer, video maker, sculptor, artist, painter, and the list could goes on.. This book “Close To The Knives : A Memoir Of Disintegration” is a poignant immersion into the sick brain of the author. Sharing his experiences in the streets of New York, Lower East Side, the prostitution, child abuses, and we can see through his eyes filled with hate and despise towards America, the government, and everything representing authority, everything that prevent a man to live. We can see through his glaze towards America, far from the spangles, a homophobic America, advocating the omnipresence of the heterosexual model, acquitals of a lot of criminals charged for beating or murdering homosexuals.
"This guy I know was walking with a friend of his around West Street. They had gone into one of the bars and had a beer and after they left they were walking down the street when this car from Jersey cruised by ... kids came around all the time throwin' bottles and screamin' 'QUEER!' and then taking off--so this car cruised by them real slow and some kid leans out the window sayin', 'Suck my dick!' and my friend flipped him the finger and said something; all of a sudden the car slams on the brakes and give kids come piling outta the doors and start kicking the shit out of my friend ... for the next ten minutes about a hundred guys came outta the bars and from around the corner and surrounded these five kids beating the shit outta my friend--his friend took off right away and later my friend found out that he'd just run home, didn't other calling the cops or nothing ... and all these guys crowding around watching five guys beat up one guy and none of them said or did a fuckin' thing ... my friend said the five kids stomped on his head and chest and broke a lot of his ribs and stomped on his legs ... at one point he could hardly feel them hitting him--they were jumping up and down on his head and arms and legs and finally he said he remembers jumping up and plowing through the crowd and running ... his face was just a puddle of blood ... the kids chased after him but he ran faster and faster and through the streets and outta the neighborhood and he kept running till he collapsed somewhere on some side street ... later he woke up in the hospital and found out that he had been unconscious for about six days ... the doctors told him that he was found y the cops unconscious on West Street surrounded by a bunch of guys who didn't do nothing; apparently he had hallucinated the whole thing of getting up and running away ... he had never gotten up ... the kids from Jersey got away before the cops even got there...".
I felt this intense rage, almost self destructive, in the frenzy writing style, aggressive and hysterical, sometimes reminding me of Hubert Selby's books. Sick from AIDS, sick of society, sick of life, we follow David Wojnarowicz in his nervous breakdown in a kind of road trip through few short stories, “Being A Queer In America”, “Postcards From America : X Rays From Hell”, “In The Shadow Of The American Dream”, or “Close To The Knives” which tells the death of a close friends suffering from AIDS. A situation he unfortunately known well, “when I was told that I'd contracted this virus it didn't take me long to realize I'd contracted a diseased society as well”. Here, words are like punches in the face. A bitter spit on a fucked up world rotten to the core. Fucking sincere and moving read. I already knew some works by Wojnarowicz like his collages “Rimbaud In New York”, or his features in Richard Kern films, but Close To The Knives really blew my mind. I can only strongly recommend this book to you, and a thought to David, who died from AIDS in 1992... (RG)