Review essay: Recent Latin American Cultural Studies.
Rios, Alicia, Ana del Sarlo, and Abril Trigo, eds. Los estudios culturales latinoamericanos hacia el siglo XXI. Special issue of the Revista iberoamericana 69.203 (abril-junio 2003): 319-488.
Anderson, Danny J., and Jill S. Kuhnheim. Cultural Studies in the Curriculum: Teaching Latin America. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2003.249 pp. 0-87352-802-6; 0-87352-803-4 (paper)
Allatson, Paul. Latino Dreams: Transcultural Traffic and the U.S. National Imaginary. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 2002. 367 pp. ISBN 90-420-0804-0
Guttman, Matthew C., ed. Changing Men and Masculinities in Latin America. Durham: Duke UP, 2003. 416 pp. ISBN 0-8223-3034-2; 0-8223-3022-9 (paper)
Garza Carvajal, Federico. Butterflies Will Burn; Prosecuting Sodomites in Early Modern Spain and Mexico. Austin: U of Texas P, 2003. xx, 310 pp. ISBN 0-292-70183-7; 0-292-70221-3 (paper)
Sifuentes-Jauregui, Ben. Transvestism, Masculinity, and Latin American Literature: Genders Share Flesh. New York: Palgrave, 2002.xi, 240 pp. ISBN 0-312-29440-9; 0-312-29441-7 (paper)
Lewis, Linden, ed. The Culture of Gender and Sexuality in the Caribbean. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2003. 328 pp. ISBN 0-8130-2677-6
Ocasio, Rafael. Cuba's Political and Sexual Outlaw: Reinaldo Arenas. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2003. 212 pp. ISBN 0-8130-2672-5
Until recently, it has been rather hard to teach a graduate course on Latin American/Latino cultural studies making use of materials focusing specifically on Latin American societies and Latino/a communities. One has made do with general cultural studies materials (as one has often had to make do with general literary theory texts) and counted on classroom discussions to make the link to said societies and communities. The Poblete volume is an excellent resource for teaching the sort of course many of us wish to be able to offer. Based on a conference held at the University of California, Santa Cruz in early 1999, it offers eleven essays divided into three sections: On the History of Area and Ethnic Studies; Different Knowledges and the Knowledge of Difference: Gender, Ethnicity, Race, and Language; and The Critique of the Future and the Future of Critique--in other words, just enough material basically to do one essay per week with supplementary materials, or to easily use this collection as one text for three or four weeks of the course.
Some of the most reliable names in the field are here: Frances R. Aparicio is represented by a long interview on Latino cultural studies, while John Beverley provides a coda on "Multiculturalism and Hegemony; Walter D. Mignolo brings to the volume his superb recent work on the geopolitics of knowledge, while Angie Chabram-Demerstein discusses the contestations associated with the "megaspace," as she calls it, of Latina/o studies. I was particularly delighted to see Giorgio Perissinotto represented with a provocative on "Linguistic Constraints, Programmatic Fit, and Political Correctness: The Case of Spanish in the United States."
Two important things are going on in this collection. 1) A calculus of Latin American and Latino/a studies: too often the latter is viewed as a separate enclave (indeed, may even be a separate department), and many Latin Americanists find it convenient to ignore Latina/o studies, even in the vast Southwest from where I write these words. Either they are put off because the cultural production is now so predominantly in English, and therefore linguistically alien to Latin American studies (especially for our colleagues who have no interest in learning to speak English), or because they remain unreconstructed as to the importance of Latina/o culture. The opposite may also happen: a Latin Americanist who takes a serious interest in Latino/a studies may be viewed as an interloper by those sectors of the latter that continue to practice a fierce cultural nationalism. 2) The addition of the linguistic dimension to the parameters of race, gender, class, and ethnicity: language is a powerful element of identity--I doubt if anyone denies this--but cultural studies rarely tuna to the sort of research record Perissinotto represents, preferring to cling to vague and, therefore, academically unserviceable notions of macro- and microlinguistic phenomena.
What is absent, despite the reference to gender in the second set of papers, is any real engagement with either feminism, queer theory, or masculinity studies (see Guttman book reviewed below). This continues to be the major gap in so much of Latin American (but not, fortunately, Latino/a) cultural studies, as though gender, and especially sexuality, were not really crucial. So one will need to turn elsewhere to cover the gender triangle adequately. (1)
The Rios et al. volume will not suffice in this regard either (it too is the result of a scholarly meeting, in this case three mesas redondas at the Latin American Studies Association meeting in Washington, D.C., September 6-9, 2001). It is more of a miscellaneous collection of papers, and some of the same names are represented as in the Poblete volume, such as another view of geopolitics by Mignolo and George Yudice's reflections on the problems of cultural studies; John Beverley in this case inaugurates the collection with "La persistencia del subalterno." But the value of having the students read in Spanish, as is the case with the Revista iberoamericana special issue, is outweighed by the fact that, although this is a special issue on cultural studies, no attempt has been made to provide an organizing structure that would facilitate using it as a textbook in a graduate introductory theory course. Moreover, gender is even leas present here: reference to it appears not in a single title and RI certainly does not worry about intellectual affirmative action: of the thirteen essays, only two are by women--and curiously among the shortest pieces in the collection--although, in all fairness, I note that two of the three coordinators of the issue are women. Moreover, neither volume has a unified bibliography or any index whatever, which are serious limitations should one wish to track specific issues through either set of essays.
One of the most important contributions of the Modern Language Association of America's commitment to professional activities has been the series of publications "Teaching Languages, Literatures, and Cultures," which brings together essays around a particular genre, movement, issue, or major literary work. These essays model ways in which the topic might be taught, and provide bibliographies of pertinent references, sample syllabi, and resource listings. The Anderson and Kuhnheim volume brings together nine essays on Latin American cultural studies in three parts: "Situating Pedagogy," "Thematic Practices," and "Cultural Identities." The editors acknowledge in their introduction that there continues to be very much the belief that for many cultural studies is a "flash in the pan" and detract from the real business of literary studies, which is the teaching of the unique "literariness" of literature: concern for issues that are understood to be a part of cultural studies, whether framed in terms of the intersection with other traditional disciplines such as history, sociology, anthropology or framed in terms of the importance of postmodern issues such as gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, human geography, is viewed as inadmissible distractions from the reputedly real business of literary criticism. Not only do literary scholars working under the purview of cultural studies engage in second-hand (and, therefore, second-rate) sociology or whatever, but they reduce the literary text to second-hand (and, therefore, second-rate) sociology or whatever. Cultural studies raise the specter of the philological practice that dominated literary studies before New Criticism/estilistica/literary theory: philology seemed to advocate the study in depth of everything but the "text itself" and many colleagues see considerable danger in investing in any practice that would encourage retreating from the imperative to engage with the text on its own terms.
The arguments ought to be well known to the effect that neither New Criticism nor any of its contemporary or subsequent companions of literary practice, could ever really study only the text itself, and my experience with the acrimonious comments often made about cultural studies is that they only serve as instruments in the power struggles that are endemic in so many departments: it really isn't all about how literature should be taught, but really only about ensuring that my way of doing so prevails. But stepping aside from such a jaundiced view of internecine programmatic strife, one feels constrained to point out that there are few authors who have conceived their work not to be part of the world in the fullest sense of the word and that certain critics want literature to be studies "on its own terms," but few authors do: overwhelmingly, literature, like most art, is viewed by its creators as an intervention in the struggle for human understanding, and one way of bringing out that (certainly complex) intervention is through cultural studies, which seek to demonstrate all of the parameters in which that intervention takes place. Terry Eagleton has recently attracted considerable attention for arguing for a turn away from literary theory as a type of philosophical practice and for an insistence on literature as an intervention in the struggle for human understanding and, therefore, for the good of mankind, and I would argue that cultural studies are directly pertinent to Eagleton's plea. Moreover, I would make the obvious point that cultural studies constitute one area of theoretically grounded research that especially iterates the overall and abiding social commitment of cultural production in Latin America.
Perhaps not all of the contributors to Cultural Studies in the Curriculum would agree with what I have enunciated above, but all would agree that literature must be contextualized--or, as Fredric Jameson insists, historicized--and that the theoretically principled practices of cultural studies is a powerful way of providing that contextualization. This is a programmatic volume, and I would use it as such in an entry-level graduate course in literary/cultural theory, where one is not only preparing studies in terms of major theoretical concepts, but also providing them with an explicit model of bow to teach literature: when one actually teaches a literature of cultural course, one is certainly providing an implicit model, but there never seems to be enough time to make that model explicit and to debate it with the students. Some of the essays I particularly welcome in this volume are a chapter (by Luis Fernando Restrepo) on the Latin American city (Latin America is increasingly, vertiginously, urban); a chapter on Brazilian civilization (by Piers Armstrong: slowly Hispanic Studies is around to making the term "Latin America" meaningful by including the largest country in the region); a chapter on Business Spanish (by Anderson) as a category of cultural studies; a chapter by Robert McKee Irwin on gender and sexuality in undergraduate teaching: such a cluster may have made its way into much graduate teaching, but there is some hesitancy about raising, say, Sor Juana's lesbianism in the undergraduate survey course or Lorca's homoeroticism out of fear of discomforting the students (graduate student populations tend to be more homogenous from one institution to another, while undergraduate students may more often reflect local and regional biases); and a chapter on popular culture (by Kirwin R. Shaffer: this is a problematical topic, but it is often argued that an emphasis on cultural studies opens the floodgates for devoting time in the curriculum to texts that are only tenuous literary if they are not completely nonliterary). My only serious reservation is that, although attention is paid to the importance of film as a resource for teaching most of the areas covered by the essays, there is no specific essay on Latin American film and how it might be taught as a form of cultural production in its own right. But all in all this is, like the series as a whole to which it belongs, a superb contribution to the pedagogy of the profession.
One of the major issues in Latino cultural studies concerns their relationship to U.S. cultural studies--to U.S. culture and to U.S. society. As Latino literary production has made what is, at least for the moment, a definitive transition to writing in English, it is difficult anymore to see Latino literature as an exile production in Spanish that is either tied back to the country of the author's origin, which fragments any unity of that production and makes it an often marginalized subset of the "real" Spanish-language writing of the country of origin; or it is viewed as a extraterritorial writing (in Deleuze's sense) in a language that is not that of the country where the production takes place: Kafka wrote in German in Czechoslovakia; the comte de Lautreamont wrote in French in Uruguay; Miguel Mendez writes in Spanish in the U.S. These divergences are reflected in the problems the classification system of the U.S. Library of Congress has had in grouping Spanish-language Latino writers: even when Reinaldo Arenas continued to write in Spanish during his U.S. exile, his works stand all together under the heading of Cuban literature, and this is the case with Matias de Montes Huidobro, who has produced virtually all of his major writings as a U.S. exile for something like four decades. By contrast, Miguel Mendez, who moved back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico during his formative years as a writer, ends up in a no man's land of Spanish-language writing outside Latin America.
But with the shift toward a Latino literature in English, writers are not routinely being classed simply as U.S. authors, even when some Spanish-language title they may have written is placed in one of the two aforementioned options: this is the case of the Chicano poet Francisco X. Alarcon or the Puerto Rican novelist Rosario Ferre.
Concomitantly is the issue of the "integrity" of Latino writing or any of its subsets, such as the major one of Chicano literature. Clearly there is the sense that there is a commonality about this writing that in some ways parallels what Richard Rodriguez has called the supermarket approach to the marketing of American literature: in this aisle we have Afro-American writing, in this aisle Lesbigay writing, in this aisle Southwestern writing, and in this aisle Latino literature. In which aisle does someone like John Rechy end up? This is not an impertinent question, given the way in which neither (South) Western scholarship nor Chicano scholarship had an easy time including Rechy. Under the aegis of Chicano cultural nationalism (I believe less so in the case of other Latino categories, except for a time for Nuyorican writing as well), which still holds considerable sway in teaching and research, if not publishing, considerations of the relationship between Chicano writing (in whichever language they wrote, and underscoring how for some calo is a third language) and Anglo writing has not been a top priority. The presence of the U.S. is a problem to be thematized (I have always found the Puerto Rican Jose Luis Gonzalez's short story collection En Nueva York y otras desgracias  to have a particularly eloquent title in this regard), but there has been little in the way of comparative literary studies, either between Latino works and Anglo works or even, for that matter, between different Latino traditions (Latina feminisms and Lesbian culture might be a significant exception here).
Paul Anatson's excellent monograph is one attempt to view Latino literature in terms of the relationship of the authors to the "attendant myths" (12) of the United States. It is significant that all of the authors, drawn from four groups (Puerto Rican, Nuyorican, Cuban-American, and Chicano), write basically in English, although some reference is made to Ferre's previous work in Spanish. Allatson falls well within the practice of seeing U.S. society as a cluster of problems to be thematicized, because all of these authors experience profoundly their margination, their subalternity, their Otherness within the American dream machine. For Allatson, however, these texts are all U.S. literary texts. That is, he separates himself from the proposition that they constitute ah exile literature of, as is often the case in Latinajo studies departments, a nation within a nation. This is not difficult to do with the last three of the aforementioned groups, but it is a bit of a challenge in the case of Puerto Rico, in whose case there are compelling reasons to view that remote island as a nation separate from the U.S., as muchas its political status is "ni chicha ni limonada."
Allatson views transcultural as a major conceptual category in his analysis, because all of these writers deal in some way with the question of assimilation into the un-/under-differentiated American mainstream: the title of Achy Obejas's stories We Came All the Way Cuba from So You Could Dress Like This? is particularly meaningful in this regard. It is significant to note that Allatson is not interested in extrapolating overarching social designs from his analyses: "I do not regard authors and narratives I have selected as representative of the imagined communities to which they belong" (14). This is a statement that will unquestionably rankle a certain Latina/o cultural agenda that seeks in--and demands of--cultural production that it, indeed, be representative of imagined communities (which was always the problem that Rechy had, since "real" Chicanos were never queer). Moreover, the idea of examining authors "on their own terms" rather than primarily as symbolic spokespersons for their ethnic communities sounds rather like American bourgeois individualism and the endemic inability to think, as Fredric Jameson always insisted imperatively, historically.
Having said this, I must, however, praise Allatson for what he does. Not only, after an initial chapter on transcultural issues, does he focus five chapters on individual writers (actually the fifth is devoted to the Coco Fusco/Gomez Pena partnership), but in the main he deals with writers who have not received adequate critical due, as in the case of Abraham Rodriguez of Benjamin Alire Saenz: despite being an El Paso writer like Rechy, I confess total ignorance about his writing, and so welcome his inclusion hereas a "discovery." All in all, this is an important critical contribution to Latino studies.
One of the most exciting developments in Latin American cultural studies has been the interest in sexualities. Despite a resistant core of scholarship that one might casually identify with the prevailing Marxist position of the 1960s-70s, in which issues of gender--although, grudgingly they began in the 1980s to show some interest in feminist questions--seem to have been considered bourgeois individualism, a significant sphere of contemporary scholarship is devoted to some issues, and one of the things that we have learned is the way in which questions of sexuality are tied to larger issues of sociopolitical and sociohistorical import, such as the way in which gender played such an important role in the imaginary of patriarchal military tyrannies or the way in which conceptions of sexual hygiene are bound up with a literalization of the master trope of the body politic: heteronormativity is, indeed, one of the grounding ideologies of the masculinist bourgeoisie.
Masculinity studies complete the triangulation of sexuality research initiated by feminism and continued by queer studies: if feminism problematizes the supposed ground zero of being a man, queer studies problematizes one of the axioms of that ground zero that heteronormativity is also a ground zero. Thus if on these two fronts "being a regular [i.e., sexist, straight] man" is problematized, it becomes necessary to understand what the many ways of becoming and being a man might be. Gutmann's own anthropological research, notably his significant The Meanings of Macho; Being a Man in Mexico City, in which he demonstrated that the comic book image of the metropolitan macho cannot be sustained by in-depth field work, was important for the beginnings of Latin American masculinity studies, and it is appropriate that he have prepared this volume in which sixteen scholars, mostly from the social sciences, present casebook studies in a variety of Latin American societies. Only Daniel Balderston's analysis of the footnotes in Manuel Puig's seminal El beso de la mujer arana (one of the first Latin American literary texts to problematize masculinity on the basis of explicitly theorizing) and Miguel Diaz Barriga's discussion of changing Chicano/a attitudes, as seen in narratives, toward the figure of verguenza (one of the regulating principles of heteronormativity) deal with literature.
Some of the studies deal with broad based topics, such as Gutmarm's own introduction, in which he contextualizes masculinity studies in terms of the need to break away from stereotypes of the Latin American macho, and he discusses the principled ways in which Latin American masculinities must now be examined. Miguel Viveros Vigoya provides a superbly useful account of the various dimensions of such studies, both on the basis of the parameters feminista has taught us to look at (race, class, ethnicity), but also specific issues in Latin America such as health (including, paradigmatically, HIV/AIDS), urban realities, and the abiding Latin American phenomenon of homosociality. Necessarily, dimensions of homophobia enter in, because it is impossible to examine the construction of masculinity without seeing the queer in all of its dimensions (a term, by the way, that is not used in the volume, homosexuality appearing to serve as the master sememe) as being both a concomitant part of masculine identities and perhaps the most scandalous challenge to masculinist stereotypes. Individual essays will be valuable to literary scholars working with texts that index those realities, such as Agustin Escobar Latapi's "Men and Their Histories: Restructuring, Gender Inequality, and Life Transitions in Urban Mexico" or Donna Guy's "Rape and the Politics of Masculine Silence in Argentina." Hector Carrillo's "Neither Machos nor Maricones: Masculinity and Emerging Male Homosexual Identities in Mexico" will be a necessary reference for anyone dealing with queer Mexican writing, although it seems not to occur to him that Mexican literature might have provided such excellent index documentation for his comments. Carrillo does spend a few closing pages discussing the Television Azteca telenovela La vida en el espejo, where the topic is raised but then prompting desexualized. This is the problem in dealing with mass cultural productions, and, on the contrary, the enormous advantage with dealing with consciously crafted literature: the former is always going to pull the punches and be mediated by the circumstances of commercial culture, while self-reflective literature is always more likely to reflect the true social record and in interpretive ways that are methodologically useful. This is rather clear to any scholar in literature, but it is not always apparently so to our social science colleagues, and we can both profit for a greater research partnering in this regard.
On the whole, this is a valuable set of papers, and I particularly like the way in which the study of masculinity for these authors means also dealing with "homosexuality": there is a full column of references in the index. One would have appreciated a single list of works cited, since this an area without, as yet, a firmly established basic reading list.
There is one matter about the collection that I find troubling: the use of a "cute" ambiguous title: does this mean men and masculinities that are changing?, or does it refer hortatorially to the need to bring change to men and masculinities? I prefer to assume it means the former, since the latter smacks rather of a paternalistic (!) social agenda for Latin America: our research is about effecting change.
Josiah Blackmore and Gregory S. Hutchenson, in the collection of research papers Queer Iberia; Cultures and Crossings from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (Duke UP, 1999), argue that Spanish culture--in part because of its crossroads nature--has always been "queer," both in the sense of failing to adhere to hegemonic norms of northern European sexuality and of being as so perceived by generations of foreign tourists, writers, and artists who are drawn to the alleged exotic mysteries of Spain. The Franquista ideologeme of "Spain is different" is recontextualized by such a point of view in order to underscore how the presumed difference of Spain is its queerness. Moreover, that queerness within Spain is a matter more of the specific sites of the Peninsula's crossroads culture in the south, in Andalucia, and during the period of the construction of modernity, northern Spain (the dominant bourgeois society of Northern Spain centered in Castile) will view the difference of the south with disdain and insist on imposing the normalizing bourgeois values on the irregular life of the gypsy south. This is, in large measure, the cultural conflict in Garcia Lorca's writings and most assuredly the basis of his murder by agents of Granada society tied to the "dequeering" social hygiene sought by Madrid et al., agents and the society that supported them that will support the repressive Franco regime for the next forty years.
Concomitantly, the death of Franco brought with it the return of history, in the form of the difference and the diversity of Peninsular culture, as can today specifically be seen in the ways, whether under the socialists or under the conservatives, Spain now has in place respect and legal protection for an entire range of sexual identities and practices that can be considered nonheteronormative or queer. The consequence, in culture, has been an enormous production of lesbigay literature, film, and art and--most significantly--the scholarly enterprise of recovering a sociocultural history of sexuality that was silenced by the forty years of the Franco tyranny. Much of the recovery of this record is to be found in Spanish Writers on Gay and Lesbian Themes; A Bio-Critical Sourcebook Ed. David William Foster. (Greenwood Press, 1999). Of particular note is Daniel Eisenberg's introduction, of which my foregoing comments area summary.
Garza Carvajal's research is situated squarely within the context of the need to recover the history of sexual difference in Spain (and, concomitantly, the societies it helped construct in Latin America and elsewhere). This project is over special importance with reference to the sixteenth and seventeen centuries, because this is the period of Empire, a period in which Spain is engaging in the discovery and creation of the New World, while at the same time situating itself in terms of the forces of political and ideological power in Europe. Moreover, it is the period of the rise of the Inquisition, which in Spain is directly involved with the project of the creation of nation, the consolidation of Empire, and the contested space of subjective formations. In general terms, the values, social practices, and laws that emerged from this period exercise a very strong hold over Spanish society throughout the modern period, are reaffirmed and strengthened by the Franco tyranny, and have only begun to be revised and reformulated since the latter quarter of the twentieth century. This is the historical and intellectual context of Garza's study.
Garza's study is important in two ways. First of all, it examines the development of a discourse of antisodomy in Spain and, by extension, in its colonies (although he focuses only on Mexico) during the period of Empire. Antisodomy is, as has been well established by other research projects, not just a matter of sexual practice: indeed, as Mark Jordan has shown in his masterful The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (U of Chicago P, 1997), sodomy is a place holder--one that is fundamentally null in meaning--for a complex range of exceptions to heteronormativity specifically and any social/religious nonconformity in general. This is shown in Hispanic culture by the fact that the easiest way--the most potent shorthand--for denouncing the indigenous cultures to come under the lash of the Conquest was to accuse them of practicing sodomy, and no questions, no definitions were ever required because that accusation was in itself a sufficient confirmation of their devilish heathenism. In Foucauldian terms, sodomy was integral to an entire semiotic system of sexual hygiene, and it justified a vast regime of social control. Garza's monograph examines primary documentary sources and the texts of cultural production--literary and paraliterary--in order to chart this particular, and crucial, dynamic of Renaissance Spanish history.
The second importance of Garza's study concerns its contribution to masculine studies. As the third element of a trinary that involves first feminism, and then queer studies, masculine studies is a logical derivation of the first two. This is so in that, just as feminism demonstrates that the concept of "woman" is constructed, so is that of "man." Furthermore, a conception of the constructed nature of the concept "man" is implied by the basic premise of queer theory that sexuality is constructed and that to be "queer" is not simply a deviation from a patriarchally defined norm (i.e., the heteronormative paradigm of the masculine and its secondary corollary, the feminine). The period of the Spanish Empire is, at the time of the forging of nationhood and its social categories, the period of the construction of the modern heteronormative patriarchy, as well as the construction of congealed categories that represent exceptions and resistances to it. "Sodomy," as it was defined before the legal-medical definitions of the late nineteenth century, very much marches contemporary uses of the term "queer," in the sense that it is the site of contestation for whatever it is that cannot and refuses to abide by a violently enforced sexual and social normativity.
In these two senses, Garza's study constitutes an important and original contribution to the field. It will be useful to scholars in Hispanic and European historical studies, but it will also be ah important source for those working in literature and culture because it provides the background--as so much of the rigorous scholarship done since the death of Franco--to understand the complex issues of social conformity in the literature of the Spanish Golden Age, and the material on Mexico should stimulate research with respect to other countries in Latin America (although some very good work--by Luiz Mott, for example has already been done with reference to Brazil).
Sifuentes-Jauregui's book also belongs squarely in the area of masculinity studies, to the extent that he is interested in examining cases of queered masculinity. That is, transvestism--as opposed to transsexualism (living the other gender) and transgenderism (undergoing the necessary hormonal treatment, surgery, and subsequent sustained hormonal regimen necessary to cross the threshold into the body of the other gender--always maintaining, by the way, the gender binary)--assumes a base sex in terms of which transvestism (literally, cross-dressing, but, by extension other gender shifting actions and strategies) transgresses in significant ways the complex of manifest signs by which the base gender is marked and maintained. Transvestism is, to be sure, eminently performative: if one performs gender, transvestism is a way of being, so to speak, agrammitical about the syntax of gender. Just as an otherwise perfectly formed syntagm may be disrupted by a single failure at agreement, an otherwise perfectly formed syntagm of masculinity may be disrupted by a single incongruent detail: say the ground zero conventional masculinity performed typically by news broadcast anchors when such an anchor comes back on camera wearing a passion flower behind his ear (see the function of the detachable bigote in Sabina Berman's "El y Ella," in her dramatic tryptic "Los suplicios del placer").
It is important to note, however, that Sifuentes-Jauregui's cluster of essays on transvestism in Latin American culture is just not about gender and sexual matters, but it is, first and foremost in this scholar's inventory of axioms, "about representing the other" (3). He goes on to add, under the rubric of "what transvestism means for an outside viewer," it is "about occupying the place of the Other" and "(re)creating the figure of the (m)other (Sarduy)." While, "for the transvestitic subject" "transvestism is about representing the Self; [...] about becoming the Self [... and finally]; transvestism is about (re)ereating the Self" (3). Clearly, these principles go far beyond the gender/sexuality couplet. Rather, the author is more interested in the integral role of transvestism in the definition of the self, as part, to be sure, of the prevailing postmodern commitment to the very instabitity of this grounding concept of Western civilization:
Transvestism inaugurates an epistemological shift that locates, defines, performs, and erases the fundamental dichotomy: Self/Other. This transvestitic erasure of the boundaries between the Self and the Other precipitates and manifests an anxiety that could be called "the denaturalization of genders." Transvestism is an operating strategy that deconstructs a specific "normality" in a gender binary and hierarchy. This deconstruction is peculiar because it takes place not only on the level of negation and differance, but, seemingly, of production and sameness. (4)
It is important to stress that, while Transvestism pays particular attention to "the performance and movement from 'masculine' to 'feminine'" (4), along with the strategy of putting such concepts under erase through the use of scare quotes, gender is part of a continuum of the distinctive features in the construction of the Self/the Other, and thus Sifuentes-Jauregui's study is not principally about the construction of desire in the way in which homoerotic desire remains always central to Ocasio's study on Arenas (see below). Major chapters are devoted to texts in which desire appears, but it is not the major issue of those texts: Jose Donoso's El lugar sin limites (Arturo Ripstein's film version is not discussed); Severo Sarduy's various texts, and Manuel Puig's El beso de la mujer arana (Hector Babenco's film version is not discussed). The discussion of these literary texts is complemented by an examination of the historical event of "Los '41'," a group of prominent transvestites arrested at a private party in Mexico City in late 1901, an event that has produced a considerable amount of popular culture and contemporary interest (by Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez, Carlos Monsivais, and Roberto McKee Irwin, not to mention the wood-cut broadsides from the era by Guadalupe Posadas, which Sifuentes-Jauregui examines in detail). This is a historic event of sociosexual hygiene in Latin America, and the analysis captures all of the hysteria that accompanied the period in the understanding of transvestitic acts.
However, the most interesting chapter is one that faIls between the literary and the social text, an analysis of Alejo Carpentier's writings on fashion back in the second half of the 1920s under the pseudonym of Jacqueline. Since Carpentier is one of the masculinist mainstays of the postrevolutionary culture in Cuba (cf. below his relationship to Reinaldo Arenas), the idea of Carpentier writing women, under the assumed voice of a women is, quite simply, delightfully outrageous. Sifuentes-Jauregui works off of the asymmetry of women writing as men and men writing as women, which leads him to demonstrate the difference between the "felicitous, narrative transvestism" on the narratological level, vs., on the authorial level, his "'sadomasochistic behavior ... that is deeply sexual, the objectification of the feminine Subject" (85). This is a deeply satisfying analysis that leads in all sorts of direction for further work in Latin American culture: I can think immediately in Argentine culture of the notorious example of the Argentine Israel Zeitlin, who wrote under the pseudonym of Cesar Tiempo, who, in turn, wrote under the feminine pseudonym of Clara Beter to produce a cycle of poems presumably by a Polish prostitute, which in tuna leads to considerations about other transvestisms, such as that, long after the Inquisition, of Jews writing under non-Jewish names (the case of Zeitlin/Tiempo) or of non-Jews writing as Jews (some of Borges's texts). Linguistic transvestism is a whole other area, as well.
The Lewis collection of papers fulfills an important research gap: a set of essays that deal in broad terms with issues of gender and sexuality in the Caribbean. Without necessarily defending the Caribbean as a single socio-anthropological entity that overarches differences of language and national history, these essays nevertheless do acknowledge the widely recognized commonalities that are the consequence of a preponderant Afro-American population, the legacy of plantation imperialism, and abiding manifestations of colonialism. Culture is understood here in an anthropological sense, and thus the essays will be useful to researchers in cultural studies only in an oblique fashion as one source of corroborating evidence for the analysis of texts, since only the very slightest mention is ever made to examples of cultural producers and their production. Note, however, that Conrad James's "Queering Cuba: Male Homosexuality in the Short Fiction of Manuel Granados" does deal directly with literary texts.
There are eleven papers that follow Lewis's introductory essay, distributed into four sections: "Theoretical Meditations on Gender in the Caribbean"; "The Political Terrain of Gender and Sexuality"; "Sexual Orientation and Male Socialization in the Caribbean"; "Gender, Sexuality, and Historical Considerations." Of particular interest is the third section, since it brings to the agenda of masculinity studies information about Caribbean societies. This is where Conrad's essay is placed, along with Rafael L. Ramirez's very useful "Masculinity and Power in Puerto Rico." Barry Chevannes's "The Role of the Street in the Socialization of Caribbean Males" is also very useful, because I can immediately see bow material he presents relates to the "in-the-world" images of men in film--for example, the public (as opposed to private) interactions between David and Diego in the Cuban Tomas Gutierrez Atea's landmark Fresa y chocolate (1993) or the display of the gay (or gay-ish) male body in the fiction and theater of someone like Puerto Rico's Luis Rafael Sanchez.
Aside from the way in which all of these essays could have profited immensely from judicious references to cultural production, which is certainly one arena where the reader can see the dynamics described in these essays in action in a effectively rhetoricized ways, I would have liked to see a paper--say, particularly in the case of Puerto Rico--relating to the intersections between global Caribbean parameters and the U.S. mainland experience and its influence in Puerto Rico: one hears on the island the lament over North Americanization, but how does it affect the practices of gender and sexuality? The same question can be raised with reference to Caribbean populations in the U.S. After all, one allegedly scandalous dimension of the Elian Gonzalez case apparently dealt with very different transcultural views of children's bodies and sexuality.
Reinaldo Arenas, who died by his own hand in New York in 1990, has emerged in recent years as doubly iconic figures. On the one hand, be may now easily be recognized as the most complex of Latin America's gay writers, having displaced Manuel Puig's prior status in this regard. And, Arenas is, especially with the publication of his posthumous putobiograpby Antes que anochezca (1992), a rallying point for the analysis of the repression of artistic voices in Cuba under Castro. It is, in this regard, of little consequence that the Castro regime hardly has the resources anymore for the (re)enforcement of public morality (i.e., the persecution of lesbians, gays, and other sexual outlaws), and it is of little consequence that, while freedom of speech remains circumscribed and human rights abuses remain of concern to the international community, especially its longstanding supporters, there is now something of a contestatory culture in Cuba. The fact that Arenas produced a significant oeuvre that has been extensively read worldwide and that that oeuvre is marked by "Arenas's increasing opposition to official repression [and by his] testimonial counterrevolutionary campaign" (7) means that it is inescapably one highly recognized and unremittingly eloquent analysis of the persecution of the individual creative voice under anthoritarian/totalitarian regimes.
Arena's writing would be of interest if it dealt only with resistance, on the level of individuals leading their daily lives and on the level of the writer providing an interpretation of lived human experience, in the face of dictatorial tyranny as exercised by a political leadership and as enforced by its agents. The fact that Arenas was openly engaged in a life that foregrounded his right as a man to love other men and to engage in activities that openly flouted the government's campaigns in the name of public decency and social hygiene (such as, as recounted in his autobiography, nocturnal escapades of cruising in Parque Lenin [!] worthy of John Rechy's Numbers), meant that his principles of the freedom of artistic expression were inextricably bound up with his commitment to homoerotic libertarianism. Arenas complains bitterly, in the concluding section of Antes que anochezca, that the Cuban community, notably conservatively Catholic in its moral persuasions, was just as appalled by his sexuality as was the Castro regime, a fact that seriously mitigated his ability to stand for them as an icon of personal liberty and explains how he ended up in New York, a city be roundly detested and whose middle-class gay politics he had absolutely no investment in.
Ocasio's superb monograph is an examination of this dual iconicity of Arenas's literary personality. Although it is true that the more properly queer dimensions of Severo Sarduy's writing (and that of other Cuban writers like Lezama Lima and Virgilio Pinera) may be more complex in the examination of human desire and its role in the definition of human subjectivity, Arenas's more unmediated commitment to the explicit performance of sex between men who love men mean that sexuality is directly central to his interpretations of the performance of masculinity and the threats to that performance by his autobiographical "T" and the characters of his fiction. Thus, while his novels figure in many complex ways (because the fact that homoerotic sex is so explicit in his novels hardly means that his narrative discourse is transparent) the degradation of the individual in a society characterized first by bourgeois conventionality and then by authoritarian dictatorship, there can be no escaping the way in which the degradation of the individual comes primarily in the form of an infringement on his homoerotic impulses, whether in the grinding form of the humiliations of homophobia, in the violence of state persecution, or in the sexual abuse of the body persecuted and imprisoned for the very acts that constitute that abuse (i.e., the homosexual rape of the homosexual body by those that identify it as homosexual).
Although there is much to be learned from Manuel Puig's writings with respect to the homophobic dynamics of heterosexism, Puig did not view himself as a "gay" man, but rather as a woman, and the transsexual drama of his fictional world (where the gender binary remains as enforced by the transsexual as by heterosexism) now seems of less scope than the radical analyses of heterosexist masculinism of Arenas's, where a much wider range of social subjectivites are at play: the agent of heterosexism who engages in sex with someone perceived as "homosexual"; the man who has sex with other men with no manifest concern for the heterosexist binary; a Genetian sexual politics that challenges the vary notions of decency and morality (I would maintain that Puig's notion of sexual politics always remains very anodyne); the revindication of desire as central to the construction of personal identity. In his competent exploration of these primes (and the foregoing enunciation is mine, not his), Ocasio judicious combines standard literary biography, in its sociohistorical context, with close readings of the novels in terms of the relationship between sexuality and personal freedom. The Arenas that emerges from this study is, in many ways, the post-millennium Cuban writer, whose status challenges that of someone, say, like the officialist Alejo Carpentier (who is only mentioned twice for his mocking opposition to Arenas's writing). Ocasio feels that Arenas has not received the recognition he is due (188): at a time in which there are few new dynamic voices in Cuba, perhaps Arenas will now emerge as the most important writer of his generation.
(1) As much as I would like to review here--and recommend also as a course text--Stephen Hart and Richard Young, eds., Contemporary Latin American Cultural Studies (London: Arnold, 2003), I cannot because I am the author of one of the twenty-four essays it brings together.
David William Foster, Arizona State University
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|Author:||Foster, David William|
|Article Type:||Ensayo critico|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2004|
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