Introduction, Mike Hoolboom's Plague Years


How did this book come into being? It started, innocently and simply, as a collection of texts and images from Mike's films. Scripts, if you like, but without any camera directions or other script-like stuff. Mike began adding little texts to introduce some of the scripts. And scripts that did not work so well on the page — no matter how well they worked on the screen — were slowly dropped. New texts were composed, added, dropped, shuffled around, revised and over the months a book began to take shape.

What kind of a book is this? Not really a book of scripts — although it does contain lots of the texts and images from many of Hoolboom's films. And not really a guide to his prodigious and celebrated body of film work — despite the detailed filmography that acts as an appendix to the proceedings. And not really an autobiography — despite the subtitle "A Life in Underground Movies" — although the book does engage with several notions of the autobiographical.

Notions of the autobiographical? Let's say autobiography begins with self-colloquy: someone writing, not just about, but also to themselves, relating incidents of their life. There's some of that in this book, but not a lot. If we take Plague Years to be the autobiography of an artist through that artist's work, we’ll have a better idea of the play of texts that takes place within the volume. This is not a book of scripts with commentary meant to put them (the scripts, the artist's work) in an autobiographical context. Hoolboom obliterates the distinction between script (primary text) and commentary (secondary text), instead giving us a progression of texts that relate to each other on equal footing.

While editing, I was pursued by a sentence which became a kind of thinking-tool to help me with the project. Whenever I go to the hospital they don't have to take any blood, they just read me like a book. The sentence begins at the moment when diagnosis and treatment become demographics — the moment when AIDS, say, becomes not a disease but another compelling symptom of a diseased lifestyle. The sentence also (and endlessly) plays around with the metaphoric possibilities of the body as book, the book as symptom, diagnosis as reading.