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Restless Bodies, Unquiet Minds: Poetry, Performance, and Power in the Andean Avant-Gardes


In my project "Restless Bodies, Unquiet Minds: Poetry, Performance, and Power in the Andean Avant-Gardes" I argue that the avant-garde is not a discrete historical moment that has passed but rather a rhizomatic response to colonial legacies that have turned complex human beings into legible political subjects. Said transformation is part of an exclusionary method that privileges an enlightened, male criollo subject while depriving indigenous, poor, female, or queer persons of discursive agency. I examine how marginalized artists transgress normative conventions by incorporating embodied sentiments into their work, considering both the performative interruptions of avant-garde poetry and the linguistic disruptions of public stagings and installation art. Situating myself theoretically between a vitalist school that might conceive of the body as a source of limitless agency and Foucault's constructivist reading of it as a passive inscriptive surface, I first look at the 1930s work of Peruvian poet César Vallejo, who uses neologisms to make visible the vulnerability of indigenous and working class bodies in Peru and Spain. I then engage José María Arguedas's work from the 1960s in Peru to explore how his confrontation with the abject aspects to being human calls for a new community through oral tradition and literature. Turning to Bolivia, my latter two chapters consider the performance art, television programs, and poetry of Bolivian feminist Julieta Paredes and the multimedia work of artist Alejandra Dorado. I analyze the way that their anagrams, parody, and laughter reconfigure structures that limit the conditions of gendered and sexual intersubjectivity in the Andes.

The work I undertake in the project makes four principal contributions to the study of Latin American literatures and cultures. First, I theorize the avant-gardes as rhizomatic phenomena that continuously engage the theme of community across space, time, and bodies. While the term "avant-garde" is most commonly associated with the 1920s and 1930s in Europe and Latin America and the 1960s and 70s in the Americas, I revise such a linear genealogy to consider rhizo-gardes as part of an underground left that is in a perpetual state of becoming. Second, within my analysis of the rhizo-gardes, I demonstrate the way that the space of art enables the production of a desiring community outside of the "operability" of capitalism. This goal entails undertaking an analysis of how art produces and communicates desires that are aberrant to those of the ideal capitalist sovereign individual. Third, I come to understand the "common" as stemming from a subject's confrontation with the abject, objective, and finite aspects to being human. I consider the transformative implications of such an encounter on the current emphasis on visuality as it fuels biopolitical distinctions between subjects based on class, race, gender, and sexuality. How might the other senses - touch, taste, smell, and hearing - catalyze community in a different way? Lastly, particularly through my work in Bolivia, I aim to expand the archival corpus of the Andean avant-gardes by looking at understudied female artists as working in alliance with other historical avant-garde artists. Drawing on the Deleuzian concept of repetition, whereby repetition is not mimetic but is a mode of production characterized by difference and transformation, I open up the avant-gardes to a new temporal and spatial configuration.

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