In conversation with Todd Shepard, JHU scholar of imperialism and sexuality.
The Amphitheater of the Dead is a lightly science-fictionalized memoir by the French thinker Guy Hocquenghem, written in the last months of his life with the intention of prolonging it. “Writing saves,” he writes. “Each time that I started work on a book, I knew I would get to the end. That’s the challenge that I launch with this one, one more time.” From May to the end of June 1988, Hocquenghem worked on this last book, writing in pen from his bed until complications from AIDS developed into paralysis and “his hand no longer responded to commands from his brain,” as his comrade Roland Surzur writes in the preface. He did not get to the end.
Set in 2018, the novel dramatizes the task of living with death, imagining a future of chronic deferral remarkable for depictions of AIDS at the time. The mild futurism (in thirty years, not much has visibly changed beyond bioluminescent houseplants) primarily functions as a way for Hocquenghem to reflect on his midcentury life, though reading it in the actual 2018 brings out surprising juxtapositions and resonances with the present. Hocquenghem’s personal trajectory was singular at the time: he forged a new way of relating to homosexuality in France through his thought, writing and political activity, but in retrospect he feels shockingly familiar. We can see now how the course of his life formed the template for many contemporary queer lives.
Guy Hocquenghem's first book Le Désir homosexuel appeared in 1972, and he produced journalism, films, magazines, and novels until his death in August of 1988. He is considered one of the forebears of queer theory.
Max Fox is a writer and translator, an editor of the New Inquiry, and a founding editor of Pinko Magazine. He lives in Philadelphia.