The Power of Angels in America
"Such ethical possibility is, however, founded on and coextensive with the subject's movement toward what Foucault calls 'care of the self,' the often very fragile concern to provide the self with pleasure and nourishment in an environment that is perceived not particularly to offer them." -Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
"Demanding that life near AIDS is an inextricably other reality denies our ability to recreate a sustaining culture and social structures, even as we are daily required to devote such time to the details of the AIDS crisis." -Cindy Patton
Tony Kushner's two-part play (or, if you will, two plays) Angels In America is one of most famous and most powerful plays about AIDS and gay life to come out of the early 1990s. It not only engages with the political issues surrounding AIDS and homosexuality in Reaganite America, but also deals with deeply philosophical questions of identity and the nature of God. It's no surprise that this play has sparked comment, including the criticism of the conservative right. In this paper, I intend to examine two of the articles written on the play. The first, Gordon Rogoff's "Angels in America, Devils in the Wings," is quite problematic, and errors of fact that the author makes about the play lead me to wonder at its value for analysis. The second article, Charles McNulty's "Angels in America: Tony Kushner's Theses on the Philosophy of History" pose some difficult questions regarding the plays' relationship to the concept of history, arguing that Millennium Approaches1 deconstructs history while Perestroika moves away from this deconstruction. According to McNulty, this is a problem in the second part of the play. I intend to argue that while perhaps it is the case that Perestroika moves away from a deconstructive engagement with history, that it moves towards a politics that is reparative rather than simply progressive.
Rogoff's "Angels in America, Devils in the Wings" is an article that's decidedly critical of the Broadway production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. He begins his critique with "as one who lives a life rather than a 'lifestyle,' I'm not sure what a gay play, let alone a gay fantasia might be" (21). As one who lives a life rather than a "lifestyle" myself, I find this opening to the essay to conjure linguistic maneuvers of the conservative right used to dismiss the grievances of gay men. While I may be going out on a limb in this analysis, most often the binary "life vs. lifestyle" is code for "heterosexual vs. homosexual"-in short, gays and lesbians don't live lives but rather we live lifestyles. Ours are mockeries of "real" lives, thus requiring the supplemental "-style." Rogoff is "not sure what a gay play...might be." In truth, this is no easy question, and there are no easy answers to it. Are the plays of Tennessee Williams, such as Cat on a Hot Tin...