A Crisis of Meaning

A Crisis of Meaning : How Gay Men Are Making Sense of AIDS

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For gay men, the demands of the AIDS epidemic are enormous and unrelenting. Regardless of HIV status, all are called on to maintain vigilant safety with sex, to face down a cultural stigma greater even than homophobia, and somehow to find a way to go forward in a world heavy with loss. As exhaustion and grief threaten to overwhelm the activism and optimism of earlier years, and with new infections on the rise among young gay men, the challenge of finding meaning in a world turned upside down is more than an idle philosophical exercise. It is a matter of psychological and perhaps even physical survival. In this poignant and uncompromising new book, Dr. Steven Schwartzberg offers a ground-breaking perspective on how gay men (and particularly HIV-positive gay men) find ways to rebuild a world of meaning amid the trauma and uncertainty of the AIDS crisis. Eschewing both glib prescriptions for turning tragedy into triumph, and theoretical abstractions, Schwartzberg grounds his insights in his own experiences as a gay man and as a practicing psychotherapist, and in in-depth interviews with nineteen men living with HIV. Ranging in age from twenty-seven to fifty, the men include a construction foreman, a physician, an art historian, a waiter, a librarian, and a licensed massage therapist. With candor, insight, eagerness, and a remarkable ability to share of themselves, they speak eloquently about how HIV has affected their views of the world, their senses of themselves, and how they live their lives. Interweaving the men's stories with observations from his research and clinical practice, Schwartzberg bears witness to the remarkable transformations some men have accomplished, and the anguish of meaninglessness that weighs others down. He strives to uncover why some view HIV as a catalyst for change or growth, while others see it only as punishment. And though he passes no judgment on the coping strategies he describes, Schwartzberg does insist on the vital necessity of balancing somber reality with healing, life-sustaining hope. He argues that men who opt for too much illusion and too little reality risk shoddy self-care and inadequate preparation for the future, while those who find no escape from reality may teeter into rage or suicidal despair. Beautifully written, with piercing awareness of the enormity of the challenges confronting individuals with HIV, this book celebrates the resilience of the human spirit. It is both a keen psychological guide and an elegiac chronicle of what life for many has become. Gently pointing the way to an oasis of growth, strength, and love that exists amid the epidemic's bleak terrain of loss, it is essential reading for people living with HIV, for their friends, families, and the mental health professionals who care for them, and for all gay men grappling with the enormous changes AIDS has brought to a community under siege.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 282 pages
  • 161.8 x 241.8 x 27.7mm | 646.94g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • New.
  • 0195096274
  • 9780195096279

About Steven Schwartzberg

Steven Schwartzberg is a psychologist at McLean Hospital and Instructor in Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He has a private psychotherapy practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts.show more

Back cover copy

For gay men, the demands of the AIDS epidemic are enormous and unrelenting. Regardless of HIV status, all are called on to maintain vigilant safety with sex, to face down a cultural stigma greater even than homophobia, and to somehow find a way to go forward in a world heavy with loss. At long last, current medical breakthroughs offer the hope of changing the face of the epidemic, but the psychological crisis continues. New infections are on the rise among young gay men. Exhaustion and grief threaten to overwhelm the activism and optimism of earlier years. In a world turned upside down, the challenge of finding meaning is more than an idle philosophical exercise. It is a matter of psychological and perhaps even physical survival. Dr. Steven Schwartzberg grounds his insights in his own experiences as a gay man and as a practicing psychotherapist, and in in-depth interviews with nineteen men living with HIV. Ranging in age from twenty-seven to fifty, the men include a construction foreman, a physician, an art historian, a waiter, a librarian, and a licensed massage therapist. With candor, insight, eagerness, and a remarkable ability to share of themselves, they speak eloquently about how HIV has affected their views of the world, their senses of themselves, and how they live their lives. Interweaving the men's stories with observations from his research and clinical practice, Schwartzberg bears witness to the remarkable transformations some men have accomplished, and the anguish of meaninglessness that weighs others down. He strives to uncover why some view HIV as a catalyst for change or growth, while others see it only as punishment. And though he passes no judgment on the copingstrategies he describes, Schwartzberg does insist on the vital necessity of balancing somber reality with healing, life-sustaining hope. He argues that men who opt for too much illusion and too little reality risk shoddy self-care and inadequate preparation for the future, while those who find no escape from reality may teeter into rage or suicidal despair.show more

Review quote

[A Crisis of Meaning] is an important addition to the ever expanding list of writings about this modern-day holocaust. It illuminates the physiological and emotional ramifications faced by those who live with AIDS and HIV.... For those who are HIV-positive or the primary caretakers or families or friends of people with AIDS, the book offers a powerful insight into the numerous options for coping in this crisis."-he Los Angeles Times "This is a book that had to be written, and Steve Schwartzberg has done a wonderful job of it. Schwartzberg skillfully blends psychological research and theory with the poignant, thoughtful accounts provided by men living with AIDS. A Crisis of Meaning sensitively probes the complex and often surprising effects that AIDS has had. The work will be an invaluable resource to researchers and clinicians, as well as a highly readable, sometimes disturbing, but always enlightening account of the impact of the AIDS crisis."-Shelley E. Taylor, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles "In elucidating more broadly the response of the gay community to the AIDS epidemic, Schwartzberg, who is gay, brings a proud, concerned personal perspective to bear. He defines the response as a three-phased, disbelief followed first by action and then by grief overload, and ends by making a strong case for managing the cumulative grief communally."-Kirkus Reviews "A Crisis in Meaning is precisely the book for which gay men have been eagerly waiting: a passionate yet balanced articulation of our struggles to make sense of a senseless epidemic and reconfigure meaning amid a culture of decimation. Steven Schwartzberg catalogues and astutely frames varied adaptations to HIV infection in insightful and lyrical prose, but allows the voices of men with HIV to claim center stage. In the tradition of Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, Schwartzberg's compelling book breaks new ground in forcing the reader to confront the complex, surprising, and often heroic ways the human spirit responds to catastrophe."-Eric Rofes, author of Reviving the Tribe: Regenerating Gay Men's Sexuality and Culture in the Ongoing Epidemic "Basing his work on interviews with 19 men living with AIDS, gay psychotherapist Schwartzberg discusses how HIV-positive gay men have been able to continue living meaningful lives."-Booklistshow more

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