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A Browner Shade of Buffalo: Music, Color, and Perception in Oscar Zeta Acosta's New Chicano Identity


This essay reconsiders Acosta’s relationship to the 1960’s counterculture by demonstrating the central role of psychedelic rock music in The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo and in its vision of Chicano identity. While scholars have long debated this question, nearly all of this criticism sets up the counterculture and the emerging Chicano movement in opposition and then seeks to determine to how successfully Acosta’s novels break from the former in order to join the latter. I will argue instead that the moments of rock music in the text, and the transformative visions that accompany them, are the most dramatic moments of what Ranciere calls "the redistribution of the sensible." The novel’s general interest in making hyper-visible the importance of color and by extension the existence of the Chicano body, furthermore, follow directly from Acosta legal strategy in defending the East LA Thirteen to establish that the Chicano was incorrectly classifed in official discourse as white.

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