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Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration
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Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration

4.38 of 5 stars 4.38  ·  rating details  ·  897 ratings  ·  74 reviews
In Close to the Knives, David Wojnarowicz gives us an important and timely document: a collection of creative essays -- a scathing, sexy, sublimely humorous and honest personal testimony to the "Fear of Diversity in America." From the author's violent childhood in suburbia to eventual homelessness on the streets and piers of New York City, to recognition as one of the most ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 7th 1991 by Vintage
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,508)
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mark monday
this abrasive, masterfully written, self-eviscerating, entirely unsentimental memoir is one that is practically boiling over with anger and lust and menace. it was an influential book in its own place and time... much like wojnarowicz's equally visceral yet haunting art. the free-flowing, stream of conscious writing recounts the author's life, his dreams, ambitions, failures, life on the streets, life with men, and - quite memorably - his dark and vindictive fantasies of vengeance on those who w ...more
Essential reading for anyone (and that should be all of you) remotely interested in the early days of the AIDS crisis and in some excellent, angry, powerfully erotic prose. I have read a lot of LGBT literature over the years, and have no idea how I managed to miss this one.
This memoir was published in 1991 by the artist DavidWojnarowicz, and is a pretty difficult read. It's a very angry book made up of chapters about different aspects of life and society at that time, and given the author's personal circumstances (a gay man who has contracted AIDS) one can understand why.

He is scathing about the US federal government's, NYC administration's and Catholic church's lack of action in tackling the virus, both through education and treatment programmes. He details the l
Peter Landau
How come so few people know who David Wojnarowicz is today? People who should know. I didn't know much about him other than a name I saw around that I couldn't pronounce. I still can't pronounce it, but I'm going to learn how. It's voy-nah-ROH-vitch, according to his NYT obit. That's important.

His memoir is impressionistic, wandering, grammatically loose, but drew me in slowly and then so tight I couldn't escape. Now I want to read everything by him and about him. At first, I was, Ugh, another c
I really didn't know what to expect with this book, but found it unsettling for many reasons. It is primarily a memoir of Wojnarowicz's life in the 80s during the height of the onset of the AIDS crisis. It is set in NYC and mostly in the East Village. I lived there too then and Wojnarowicz and I ran in the same circles. I recognized some of the people that he was talking about even though he had changed the names. It is powerfully written for the most part and there is no question that it brough ...more
This book is so important to my understanding of the queer 80's and 90's, in a way I am not even sure is entirely fair. His prose poetry, brilliant conspiracy cum political philosophy, and precious/violent take on sexuality and the body relating to other bodies is a vibrant echo of what was, an what is still vibrating through the haunted house of modern gay history in the US. I love the way he speaks about the Queer who was the bane of the assimilationist gay America that all but won the 90's, b ...more
I read this book in a completely scattered order. It seems like it's a collection of different essays he wrote for different audiences, so reading it that way worked well for me.

At times Wojnarowicz seems completely damning everything - the family, the state, civilization, police, doctors, etc etc - but at other times says we need to legislate this or that change - perhaps a reflection of writing for different audiences.

Something about his writing that I can't quite put into words really spoke t
Joseph Nicolello
'didn't like it.' Eh, have it for another month and a half. I have far more on mind than homelessness, heroin, the Hudson, and getting fucked up the ass. Or do I?
My thoughts on it from February 2009:
Stunning, soul breaking and thought reforming writing, that I decided to read again, because I wanted to get authentic views on gay prostitution as survival in earlier decades for my punk novel. In a way I felt a profound disconnection from the material when I started it, despite the beautiful writing-as a middle class white gay guy who's never been denied the essentials of life, I felt my sometimes naive eyes almost widening at the blunt truth of a white gay
"Of course, those in power count on the fact that we are stuck inside these gravity vehicles called bodies. The pressure that gravity sustains on our bodies keeps us crawling around in this preinvented existence with the neighbors split-rail fencing preventing us from crawling out. The pressure for escape has led us from our tadpole ancestors through time till now to develop an appetite for speed. Speed of consumption, speed of physical movement, speed of transmitting and receiving information. ...more
Michael Dipietro
I am almost without words for this book. It was incredibly dark and painful to read, and yet extremely seductive. Drilling the same points home over and over about evil people in state and religious drag, effecting a quiet holocaust with their mishandling of AIDS and with constant efforts to make queer people, queer lives and identities invisible.... I began to feel the same desolation and ennui that Wojnarowicz describes in his own experience, so eloquently. The ending is extremely visceral; I ...more
This book altered me forever---my politics, my sentences, my sensibility, my sense of what I wanted from life and from existence, from my country, from what it could mean to 'have politics', or to 'have sex'---everything. Afterward everything was different. And I was glad.

Relieved, even.

Also, I have a signed copy I got when I was a store clerk at A Different Light Books in San Francisco in the late 80s.
“I want to throw up because we're supposed to quietly and politely make house in this killing machine called America and pay taxes to support our own slow murder and I'm amazed we're not running amok in the streets, and that we can still be capable of gestures of loving after lifetimes of all this.”
― David Wojnarowicz, Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration
Riotaccordion loeffler
Maybe the best book i've ever read.
fucking and magic
and nihilism.

It's dark.
and so good.
Mary Shanley
Powerful and poetic indictment of government and society by the artist/activist.
I'm actually at loss of words. While the book is obviously a very important document on AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, it is also raw and heartbreaking personal account of sex, love, death, art and everything inbetween (is there anything else besides those four?) that happened to David Wojnarowicz during his life. It is also a call against white heterosexist society that kills, either actively or through neglect, everything that doesn't belong to it. In that regard, the book is as actual as it can ...more
Wojnarowicz's writing is insistent, accusatory, full of power and breadth and rage - and rightfully so. A preeminent voice of the era of AIDS in a struggling, silly, frightened America, Wojnarowicz sharpens his tongue and slices political figures to bits. He is real; he is present; he is on the streets and seeing the faces of HIV and AIDS up close and personal. He throws us into the grit and forces us to be face to face with these people, too - the hungry hustler, the hideous cross-dresser, the ...more
Scott Munden
I found the memoir a little uneven, but when Wojnarowicz's writing is on it's beautiful and deeply moving. So many memories came back to me while reading "Close to the Knives" and I recall feeling the visceral anger that Wojnarowicz communicates so effectively. My anger has faded over the years but my friends are still dead and Wojnarowicz reminds me that the atrocities of those decades should not be forgotten and anger still has its place.
Ivy Jeanne

Wojnarowicz's story is a story we all need to read. A friend of mine put it succinctly "his book is about love and rage". The way he writes is really visceral, taking you back in time to cruising at the New York piers in the 70's and early 80's and what it was like to lose those you love to AIDS in a time when society completely turned their backs.

His essays about living as a gay man and an artist with HIV in the 80's is heartwrenching and inspiring. I appreciated the way he called out the li
Close to the Knives is not a typical memoir. Wojnarowicz's stream-of-conscious style is reminiscent of Burroughs (whose blurb graces the cover of this book). His writing transports you to the gay scene of the 70s and 80s; a time filled with rage, lust and a feeling of invisibility. The AIDs epidemic was tearing the community apart and the outside world was doing nothing to help, and in fact often viewed the disease as their due. Wojnarowicz writes about watching his friends die of AIDs and his o ...more
May 08, 2008 Skidmarquez rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Skidmarquez by: five
Wojnarowicz, for being a self taught writer and artist has rich, thick descriptions of the encounters with men in bathrooms, the incursion of the illness of the american landscape into his psyche, the political determinations of his moment, strung-out drug episodes, the AIDS crisis where he witnesses friend after friend succumb to the disease. Written about a really repressive and oft forgotten moment in American history where queers were not only being blamed for the AIDS crisis but also being ...more
Dec 21, 2014 Ashley added it
Shelves: again
I could not get into this book the way I wanted to. I like the lack of punctuation which adds a different structure for reading a story. His ideas are pertinent. However, I didn't feel what he had to say in his essays was still important today. I will have to read this book again.
Andrew Stone
I read selected essays from this book for school. And although we didn't read all of it, I loved everything I read. Giving it four stars as opposed to five because at times it was difficult to follow. Felt a lot like Burroughs "Naked Lunch," too, in regards to style and mood and shit.
cras culture

A breathless examination of the ruthless cruelty of American power structures in the 80s (then as now). Wojnariowicz's prose is so brutally elegant and his anecdotes and life experiences of death and sadness so heartfelt. Yet behind the horror of early AIDS and tales of suicide there smacks of something like redemption. Excellent.
Jan Cooper
This book has consistently moved students more deeply than any other book I've ever taught. And moves me anew every time I read it.
Matty B
This book is a fucking saga! The young David W must have seemed near autistic being so intelligent in such an unsympathetic America. Close to the Knives reveals how he made his own world through an emergent sexuality predicated on casual encounters and a group of artists operating in the Lower East Side as if they are exploring the moon or something, the destitution seems that desperate. Makes me wanna tell all my friends to take care of themselves: half of this book contains the hearbreaking en ...more
Alfredo Ruiz
Anything by or about David Wojnarowicz takes me forever to read. But I attribute that to taking my time with the densely rich life and knowledge of a great artist. Close to the Knives is a haunting memoir of a powerful voice during a time that seemed to affect a niche community, but has had larger social implications. Wojnarowicz goes from sensual, enticing imagery of gay sex to hurtful tellings of the damage of the AIDS epidemic and those who looked away. It's a must read for anyone and everyon ...more
Gillian Neimark
Vivid lyrical writing that owes its self conscious literary style to the times it was written in; however I'm not too interested in the degradations he seeks out.
Jul 06, 2009 Joe rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Rising number of unemployed citizens.
Recommended to Joe by: Cardinal John O'Connor & Edward Koch
Shelves: poetry
Precision and excess; the excess of precision, precisely abundant.

AIDS as politics: an issue which helps to define the ideologies still with us today, the political machine which specifically suppresses significant issues in an effort to propel itself and its limited perspectives indefinitely into the future.

How the voice of the outsider continues to be necessary and all the more identifiable. Once we're all outsiders, what exactly are we outside of?
Powerful and creative memoir with memorable metaphors and a strong moral viewpoint.
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David Wojnarowicz was a gay painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, and activist who was prominent in the New York City art world of the 1980s.

He was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, and later lived with his mother in New York City, where he attended the High School of Performing Arts for a brief period. From 1970 until 1973, after dropping out of school, he for a time lived on
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“I want to throw up because we're supposed to quietly and politely make house in this killing machine called America and pay taxes to support our own slow murder and I'm amazed we're not running amok in the streets, and that we can still be capable of gestures of loving after lifetimes of all this.” 34 likes
“Transition is always a relief. Destination means death to me. If I could figure out a way to remain forever in transition, in the disconnected and unfamiliar, I could remain in a state of perpetual freedom.” 24 likes
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