David Feinberg Panel Primary Source Description



Starting off with NAMES 

As an English 1102 student, it is imperative that I have an understanding of how to conduct and produce research of my own. Professor Rose has given us student the opportunity to do research of our own. Our primary sources of investigation is the NAMES Project. The NAMES Project Foundation is the biggest community art project. The NAMES project asks individuals who have lost a loved one due to AIDS to create a panel of a quilt to honor their legacy. The mission of each panel of the quilt and the project altogether is “to preserve, care for, and use the AIDS Memorial Quilt to foster healing, heighten awareness, and inspire action in the struggle against HIV and AIDS.” (aidsquilt.org). Each quilt in the gallery brings to life the memory of a loved one and illustrates the legacy of a person. From feminist activists to writers, from brothers to sisters, and from celebrities to average yet extraordinary people; the NAMES quilt is exactly that. However, each panel of quilt represents more than just a mere name, each panel represents a legacy, a life, and a story. It is up to us student to recognize the significance in each quilt but even more so; it is up to us to research a legacy, exam each quilt as a piece of art, and dig into the history of how attitudes towards AIDS shaped each individual while alive.

My primary purpose is to research my panel, look into the ethos of my panel, and draw connections to attitudes towards AIDS from literature and publications at the time. 

If you feel called to, you yourself and explore the gallery as well. Right HERE you yourself can examine the many panels of the NAMES project Atlanta through the NAMES projects interactive and visual studio, where you can see all of the panels through pictures. Type in a number and give it a try. 

An introduction to Panel 5210 

Panel number 5210 is the panel I will be researching.  The person being memorialized on the panel is David Feinberg. While in the introduction stage of my description I will attempt to give a light rundown of what his panel is about when first interacted with. Panel 5210 has a very minimalist aesthetic which is a reason why I am intrigued by it.

At first glance, the observer might see a white, pale, almost barren piece of quilt. However, this panel is anything but bare. While minimal in color it alludes to many of Mr. Feinburg’s interests. The mere essence of white alludes to literature and writing. With four lines the run right to left and left to right, two pink margins on the left side, and one big piece of white bare enter where David’s name goes; it could be inferred that the background of this panel represents a piece of bare classical notebook paper.  The background is made up of pure white cloth that is soft yet texturized to the touch. The panel is minimal but has a lot of significance. The word writer appears on the left and is written vertically. With the “w” and the “r” bring places in the top left-hand margin and the other letters dictating the other four lines, with each letter on a sperate line. The name “David Feinberg” is in grand capital black letters. His name is the centerpiece of the panel. Below his name is the phrases “eighty-sixed” and “spontaneous combustion”. Those phrases also appear in black but almost in a lesser shade of black than the name itself. Finally, we reach the red “A+” in the top right-hand margin. This is the only bold color on the panel. However, the A+ is significant because the red almost looks like a marker type print. The red is slightly smeared compared to the definite black color. The observer can start to see pieces of a puzzle. As the phrase “Writer” and “A+” appear on the quilt, one could assume that Mr. Fienburg was a writer, possibly even an author. The words “eighty-sixed” also remain a mystery. What does “eighty-sixed” allude to? A title, an age? 

As my investigation continues, I will seek to use minimal and simple clues to paint a bigger picture of David Feinberg. 

Where to Begin 

Who is David Feinberg? 

I was left with the difficulty of answering this question. As the NAMES gallery was left with little information on him as a person, it was up to me to investigate and get to know about the life of Mr. Feinberg. 

Where do I start? With little to know information and such a minimal panel, I was fearful that my research may end before it even began. However, all it took as a simple Google search of “David Feinberg” and I realized that the quilt is filled with never-ending opportunities to research the legacy of an activist. 

An Author, An Activist; A Legacy Unfolds 

Mr. Feinberg was born on November 25th, 1956 and died on November 2, 1994. In short, he lived for only 38 years. However, his legacy lives on through books. 

David Feinberg was an author and wrote books that illustrated various aspects of AIDS and HIV. As this is only a sliver of Mr. Feinberg’s life, I was very excited to find that he was an author, as my research involves attitudes towards AIDS through literature and narratives. Mr. Feinberg’s 

“This is as close to the truth as I can get, ” writes David B. Feinberg in this stunning nonfiction debut – a collection of autobiographical essays, gonzo journalism, and demented Feinbergian lists about AIDS activism and living, writing, and dying with AIDS. With the startling blend of satiric wit and pathos, black humor and heroism, found in his widely acclaimed and iconoclastic novels, he charts a harrowing personal journey down that “HIV highway to hell.” (goodreads.com) 

From only a tiny excerpt of his book preface, we can see Feinberg’s own personal attitudes towards living with HIV/AIDS. Feinberg does not sugar coat the realities of HIV/AIDS which is part of the reason his writing is such impactful. While many at the time were denied the severity of HIV/AIDS through denying funding for research, Feinberg used his voice to speak up and speak out against the narrative. 

“I would probably literally go mad if I tried to deal with AIDS at face value, without the filter of humor.” -David Feinberg 

Translating the Clues 

Now that I knew more about Mr. Feinberg, I was ready to take clues from the quilt and try to tie them to them to a piece of Mr. Feinberg’s life. What did “SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION” mean? What other books did he write? Might the words “WRITER” placed on the left top hand side of the quilt have more relevance than originally thought to have? 

It was time took like at the clues and tie them into the legacy of David.


Through literature, many writers and authors are able to take a stance on issues and AIDS is no exception. From fiction to nonfiction, authors can bring fictional characters to life through realistic narratives or can share their own stories of pain and triumph through writing. 

By David Feinberg

The book “EIGHTY-SIXED” is no exception. 

“This is the story of two years in the life of B.J. Rosenthal: pre-AIDS 1980 when his only mission is to find himself a boyfriend; and in 1986, when a deadly virus pervades his world and attacks his friends and ex-tricks. Combing high-wire wit with genuine emotional resonance, “Eighty-Sixed” explores the pressing matters of life in contemporary America: maintaining a long-term relationship with a person of suitable gender and appropriate species; staying cool in the face of bad haircuts, appalling sex, and mortal illness; and other issues like life, death, truth, despair, therapy, sex, God, more sex, Jewish guilt, abstinence, phone calls in the middle of the night, safe sex, alcoholics, the meaning of life, and AIDS. Shockingly frank, bitingly satirical, and ultimately moving, “Eighty-Sixed” is a classic in the literature of AIDS.” (google books)

While this is not a research project on each book (that might very well be my next step) we can see how the quilt is directly alluding to the importance of writing in David Feinberg’s life. His writing was not without purpose. He wrote with clear intention. “Eight-Sixed”  was one of his biggest publications. Through fiction, Feinberg was able to bring the struggle of normal individuals with AIDS to live. He made a distant concept to many at the time a reality through fictional characters. 


From only looking at two books we can see how the quilt is a symbol of not only writing but writing through activism. I think the BOLD black letters on the quilt that spell out the phrases are intentionally that way. David never held back with his writing. According to a New York Times article  “Mr. Feinberg’s two fictional works, “Eighty-Sixed” and “Spontaneous Combustion,” traced the devastation of gay life in New York by the AIDS epidemic.” (Dunlap, New York Times). It is no secret that David did not run from reality. His attitudes through writing were big and bold, just like the print on the quilt. 


What does the phrase above represent? Well, it is now no surprise that Spontaneous Combustion is a novel by Feinberg. Below I have attached video fo David reading an excerpt from his book. 




While the quilt has minimal features, I would argue that there is no mistake in that. David Feinberg did not need distraction and thrill through bold colors to memorialize him because his writing itself was bold and colorful enough itself. He did not need the distraction of vivid color.  The makers of this quilt wanted that observer of the quilt to ask “What is Eighty-Sixed” or “What is Spontaneous Combustion” and that is exactly what I did with my research. I will not use the words minimal any longer to describe this panel. I will use the words BOLD. David’s writing was bold, it was brave, and it was anything but minimal. His books themselves are a greater testament to the NAMES mission. His legacy lives on through bold literature.    


Works Cited 

Dunlap, David W. “David Feinberg, 37, an Author Who Wrote of Life With AIDS.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Nov. 1994, www.nytimes.com/1994/11/04/obituaries/david-feinberg-37-an-author-who-wrote-of-life-with-aids.html.

“Eighty-Sixed.” Google Books, books.google.com/books/about/Eighty_sixed.html?id=Kk8rAQAAIAAJ.

David B. Feinberg, Tony Kushner (Introduction), et al. “Queer and Loathing.” By David B. Feinberg, www.goodreads.com/book/show/426711.Queer_and_Loathing.

Quilt , NAMES. “Exploring the Quilt .” AIDS Quilt Touch, aidsquilttouch.org/experience-quilt.

Wentzy, James. “David Feinberg Reading.” Vimeo, 7 Feb. 2018, vimeo.com/200391668.