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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  ·  Rating details ·  1,245 Ratings  ·  103 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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mark monday
Jul 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
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
Callum McAllister
Apr 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Less of a memoir, more of an essay collection, with each piece hanging somewhere on the spectrum between personal and political. Most of which were pretty sprawling and adventurous, without too much stringing them together - in a good way. You end up just sinking straight into the prose. It had all the things I liked about the beat gen without all the stuff I really don't.
Peter Landau
Mar 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 12, 2014 rated it liked it
This memoir was published in 1991 by the artist David Wojnarowicz, 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
Dec 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Riotaccordion loeffler
Sep 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Maybe the best book i've ever read.
fucking and magic
and nihilism.

It's dark.
and so good.
Jan 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This hurt a lot.
Ralowe Ampu
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
now i know why the difficult-looking-to-pronounce name rolls sotto and breathless through the alt fag underworld; i’m putting david wojnarowicz up there with the urgent ethical desperation of assata shakur. dead cops and orgasms: i’m very familiar with this particular queer mode combining counterhegemonic criminality and proximity to death: genet, wilde, etc. wojnarowicz’ experience, of faggotry and aids, is the fracture from which the collapse of the entire bloodthirsty state establishment appa ...more
Jan 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
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
Jul 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
“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
Andrew Marshall
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If an author had made up the life of the artist David Wojnarowicz, his editor would claim the story was unbelievable. His alcoholic father kidnapped him when he was a small boy and subjected him to regular beatings. He ran away from home and became a teenage rent boy. Despite this unpromising start, he managed to get himself off the street and created some iconic art. If you put his name into google pictures, you'll recognise the self portrait with his mouth stitched closed and the picture of bu ...more
Connor Murphy
Apr 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading this felt like bleeding. The raw fury, desperation and, most importantly, the love that radiates from this memoir is overwhelmingly beautiful. It bruises, it shatters, it roars with an intensity that I have experienced in only a handful of books. As I am writing this I am on the verge of tears. I will always remember this book - more than that, it will make itself apparent every day; on transport, in friendships, in romance, as I get up in the morning... in all of these quiet moments, I ...more
Phil Sun
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: re-read
As an undergrad in Berkeley at the tail-end of the 90s, I was enthralled by this memoir, a collection of essays describing artist David Wojnarowicz's tumultuous life and impending death from AIDS. The stigma of AIDS still lingered, the cultural battles over representation and pornography were fresh in memory, and the homophobia of mainstream society was a close spectre, as attested by the brutal murder of 20-year-old Matthew Shepard in 1998, so Wojnarowicz’s writing was very visceral and relevan ...more
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
Apr 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
"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
Dec 18, 2016 rated it did not like it
Artist and AIDS activist, David Wojnarowicz has written a powerful, angry polemic and memoir, often a graphic one, and I can see from the many reviews that it is a much loved and admired volume. I accept that I am perhaps not the intended reader, but I found little to engage me here and little to relate to. I learnt a lot from it, especially about how the growing AIDS crisis was dealt with at the time and I can understand Wojnarowicz’s anger, but that doesn’t make it good literature. It’s a chal ...more
Aug 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of those books where I didn't exactly know where it was taking me, but then all of a sudden I was in the middle of everything.

"A group of street kids no older than twelve sat on the stone curb and searched each others' scalps for lice. Seeing a few shreds of humanity in a person causes me to immediately love them, deeply."

Exhausting. Ethereal. Angry. Important. Violent. Beautiful.

I will never get over the beautiful, artistic, loving souls AIDS stole from us. They still have so much to say.
Mary Shanley
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Powerful and poetic indictment of government and society by the artist/activist.
Richard Jespers
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
David Wojnarowicz (voyna-ROW-vich) was born in 1954. His father beat him, and he was sexually abused by older boys. He barely finished high school and did not attend college, yet in the 1980s he became, for a short time, an art sensation in New York. He didn’t care about success, often living hand to mouth, and refused to take the next step that would ensure stability. That would have been selling out.

“David’s work was full of sex and violence—politics expressed at the level of the body. He pai
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Era artista de infancia difícil. Madre perdida, padre brutal. Se crió en la calle, se prostituyó en la calle y descubrió su homosexualidad en la calle. Antes de que limpiaran Nueva York, claro. El SIDA mató al amor de su vida, Peter Hujar. David fotografió su cara y sus pies en su lecho de muerte. Estaba exhausto, verdaderamente indignado, enrabietado. Sus amigos caían como moscas mientras el gobierno de EE.UU. negaba dinero a la investigación, negaba evidencias y negaba asistencia. Los curas ne ...more
I'm struggling to find a way to put into words what this book meant to me, how much it stirred up. It's not fluid in the way many memoirs I've read recently are, and yet every piece fits together so perfectly. Disintegration is the perfect word - the book itself is fragmentary, and it's so concerned with the AIDS crisis that the disintegration of people, relationships, and communities is ever present. And to read over a quarter of a century later, the disintegration of history is impossible not ...more
Wow! This was a really great book! Much of it (sadly) suddenly pertinent to right now! I could quote something off every page. Parts of this brought back some tough memories and was very hard to read. This author does not try to sugar coat anything, so this is not for the faint of heart. Great writing! Loved it! 5 stars and one of my best reads of 2016. (Probably THE best read of 2016)
Jay Jadick
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Must-read: poetics, rants, euphoria, disintegration. A wake-up call to arms.
fucking devastating
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Close To The Knives is a beautifully written memoir about the artist’s turbulent life, politics and the AIDS crisis, and about art, life, and humanity. It is written in a series of sections which are in different styles and take broadly different focuses, but overall emerges a picture of not only Wojnarowicz, but of life in America in the 70s and 80s and the harsh realities of a world torn apart by AIDS and victimised by the government.

The chapters vary, with some giving details and political at
Frank Terry
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
God-damnit...this book was just fucking incredible. I'm wrecked right now.

This book means the world to me. It was ultra, super healing in so many ways. I mean, reading about the AIDS crisis, that's kind of what convinced me that I had to become an atheist.

David really calls out individual after individual both within the Church and American government in this book, quoting some of the shit different priests said about not using condoms and how hard they fought to keep people away from sexual f
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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
More about David Wojnarowicz...

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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.” 44 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.” 33 likes
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