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Touching Impenetrable Bodies: Material Ecologies in Cuban Literary and Visual Works

  • Author(s): García, Christina María
  • Advisor(s): Hernández-Torres, Ivette N
  • et al.
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Touching Impenetrable Bodies: Material Ecologies in Cuban Literary and Visual Work departs from available binaries of criticism on 20th and 21st century Cuban literary and visual productions by attending to materiality, the body, and the environment in such works. Drawing from the perspectives and methodology of Caribbean studies, poststructuralist aesthetics, ecocriticism, critical animal studies, and the new materialisms, “Touching Impenetrable Bodies” stages an encounter between these fields in order to bypass the polarizing rhetoric epitomized in Cold War politics, and to question the limits of nation-building narratives. Doing so, I argue, illuminates how writers and artists on the island have undermined the presumptions of both human and national sovereignty, while generating an alternative political ontology of material and territorial interdependency.

Chapter one engages Afro-Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén’s collection of poetry Motivos de son (1930) alongside Severo Sarduy’s first novel Gestos (1963). Whereas scholars have tended to read these works as expressions of Cuban identity, I trace each text’s formal experimentations in order to argue that both authors developed literary techniques that, in instead, worked against identity formation. As such, both texts can be read as shifting the coordinates of dominant modes of perception so that race, class, gender, and species differences are sustained as irreducible to a politics of representation. Chapter Two continues this line of argumentation by exploring the depiction of hybrid, metamorphic anatomies and the disarticulation of taxonomic classification in Sarduy’s novel Cobra (1972) as well as the work of contemporary artist Roberto Fabelo. Importantly, I look at how Sarduy and Fabelo subvert representational techniques that would naturalize either the Human or the Nation. In so doing, I argue, these literary and visual works unsettle post-1959 Cuban national identity and its attendant, normative figure of el hombre nuevo (the “New Man”).

Building on this analysis, my third chapter focuses on the link between writing and becoming-nonhuman in Ena Lucía Portela’s El pájaro: pincel y tinta china (1999) and Antonio José Ponte’s La fiesta vigilada (2007). In both novels we find characters deemed futureless and abandoned; their means of surviving abject conditions are at once the source of nonhuman becomings and a practice of writing. These novels recall the use of animalization as a figurative device in Latin American literature to address a series of social and political issues, most significantly the dehumanization of the dispossessed. However, in my treatment of these texts, I complicate the possibility of an allegorical interpretation—or, better, of simply reading animals as metaphoric stand-ins—and, thus, undermine attempts to establish an equivalence between the nonhuman and the abject. Finally, for my fourth chapter, I interrogate the politics of incorporation through an analysis of a queer friendship in Gutierrez Alea’s seminal film, Fresa y chocolate (1993). Adopting the biological and political trope of immunity, this chapter considers friendship and hospitality in relation to the dynamic exchanges between a host-organism and its environment. By demonstrating how the tensions between history, nation, and identity can be illuminated by literary and visual form, “Touching Impenetrable Bodies” argues that the above works offer alternative ways of thinking community ecologically, rather than by the rubrics of human and national exceptionalism.

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This item is under embargo until July 18, 2024.