Aesthetics of the Surface: Post-1960s Latin American Queer Rewritings of the Baroque
In this dissertation, I examine the ways in which four contemporary Latin American authors have rewritten seventeenth-century Baroque aesthetics, histories, and texts by focusing on the queer body. Rather than following the usual trajectory from the Hispanic Baroque to the Cuban Neobaroque, I trace an alternative path in which I analyze the works of a seemingly disparate group of poets and artists: Néstor Perlongher, Alejandra Pizarnik, Luis Felipe Fabre, and Jesusa Rodríguez. Their texts and performances appropriate not only the structures and themes of the Baroque, but also the minutiae of their source texts. Each writer establishes a practice that draws from Baroque aesthetics and Neobaroque intertextuality—namely its parody, artifice, and proliferation of citations—while more extensively and critically reworking a specific text or group of texts. Rooted in a queer sexuality that is mapped onto the page and materialized as textual play, their rewritings, I argue, structure an aesthetics of the sensuous, material surface. Their rewritings thus constitute a critique of heteropatriarchal cultural legacies and present us with alternative modes of understanding our relationship to literature and history. By weaving together close readings of the source texts and their rewritten versions, I explore how these rewritings carve out a space for non-normative histories, interpretations, and literary practices.
Chapter One focuses on the work of Néstor Perlongher, particularly on his first two books of poetry, Austria-Hungría (1980) and Alambres (1988). In this chapter, I argue that the queer body serves as the structuring mechanism of Perlongher’s neobarroso poetics. Through the queer body, Perlongher disrupts and perverts the semblance of realism and normativity. This disruption drives the queering of History through the violent corrosion of language and reimagining of historical figures that results in a queer carnival of pleasure and wordplay in place of linearity and communicative language. This chapter also serves to outline and structure what is meant by queer rewriting throughout this dissertation and serves as a starting point for the construction of an aesthetics of the surface.
Chapter Two studies Alejandra Pizarnik’s 1965/1971 short prose text, La condesa sangrienta. This chapter explores the connections between Pizarnik’s La condesa sangrienta and the Baroque; the chapter’s aim is to find new affinities in Alejandra Pizarnik’s work and to read La condesa as a precursor to the neobarroso. Chapter Three turns to the work of Mexican poet Luis Felipe Fabre’s La sodomía en la Nueva España (2010), a poetic text that rewrites the seventeenth-century history of a group of men who were tried and burnt at the stake for their sodomitic acts in New Spain. My analysis centers on how Fabre’s rewriting of these particular texts counter the poetic model that had been at the center of Mexican poetry since José Gorostiza and Octavio Paz. Chapter Four takes up the 1995 performance Sor Juana en Almoloya (Pastorela virtual), written and directed by Jesusa Rodríguez. In Sor Juana en Almoloya, Rodríguez imagines the seventeenth-century nun imprisoned in Almoloya in the twenty-first century. The performance structures a critique of the Catholic church and the Mexican state, as well as a critique of the way we have come to understand and historicize the past. Beyond simply appropriating baroque structures and aesthetics, these four authors return to specific historical moments and figures to reread them from the perspective of the body and queer pleasure. Their textual engagement with the surface, both as an act of rendering the hidden visible and as language play that reveals but never resolves paradoxes, thus opens up countless possibilities for non-normative literary and historical genealogies and practices.