Viral forgetting, or how to have ignorance in an syndemic

Hegarty, Peter and Rollins, Joe (2021). Viral forgetting, or how to have ignorance in an syndemic. Culture, Health and Sexuality, 23(11) pp. 1545–1558.



This paper argues for the concept of viral forgetting to understand how and why the lessons of HIV are not easy to remember in the context of COVID. Building on recently drawn analogies between the two epidemics, we argue that new normative injunctions to ‘flatten the curve’ and ‘stay at home’ individualise responses to COVID that make memory of the first decade of HIV vital in recent viral times. Individualistic responses, including those that bind individuals to social identity groups, obscure the ways in which effective care for others and the self requires a recognition of the partiality of community, the inevitability of vulnerability, and a complex interpretation of scientific evidence and human ontology. We draw on Eve Sedgwick’s thinking about ignorance and power to critique how political leadership, particularly in the United States, in 2020 created chaos that suggested that an individualist masculine response to the epidemic was the only thing that could save us.

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