Confessions of the Letter Closet: Epistolary Fiction and Queer Desire in Modern Spain


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But identity politics as it is understood in the United States, and then exported to other geographical and social locales, is not something that I seek to bash without understanding the very concrete gains it has produced as political practice. My understanding of social processes at this stage in time does not include rehashing the slogans that were used before: I do not want to create a literary and artistic genealogy of queer sexualities, nor do I intend to scold or exalt my precursors because they were open or not as to their gender choices.

That messy intervention where boundaries are blurred is part of the spirit of this book.


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My interest is less in theorizing on the present state of gay studies than in moving about, creating a book that is a sort of traveling and movable object, one that shows and tells at the same time. I think this is the queer praxis that should animate gay and lesbian studies—the space where theory and practice meet in order to open new possibilities.

I also seek to intervene within the arenas of queer U. That the same river can be indexed with different names illustrates the overlapping structures that this book desires to engage in. In this book, North and South do not enact the space, nor the distance, between theory and praxis. To refer back to the march in Buenos Aires, if outing has been part of the cultural discourse of U.

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All politics is, or should be, queer politics, just as all forms of artistic expression should aim to queer the public sphere. I see no contradiction in appropriation as long as one factors in positionality and direction. The picture that caught my attention was of two shirtless men looking at the camera from a balcony in Havana. One of them has his arms crossed; the other has propped one leg up on the balcony and rests his hands on his ankles as if he does not know what to do with his hands, or as if to signal the fact that he is about to run.

But the bodies in the picture were only part of what attracted and fascinated me; the other was that it was one of the few pictures taken outdoors, and this gives the photograph a sense of dynamism and also a sense of secret. This seems to me emblematic of difference in terms of a cultural space that can be perceived only by means of this distance. But also the outdoor balcony allows us to feel like voyeurs who suffer a degree of vertigo.

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Balconies are normally spaces where the subject looks out onto a street, but here the balcony is a space where one looks out at another balcony. Thoma wants to underscore the fact that these balconies are in Havana by letting the viewer pay attention to their worn-out architectural details. Credit: Benno Thomas, Somos Cubanos.


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Havana may not be present as a city in these photographs, but it is present in the peeling walls of the exterior, or in the bare interiors at other points in the sequence. This is architecture as decay, as a mask that shows the passage of time. The bodies themselves could only be placed within this architecture in order to reference the histories of revolutionary desire. But it is also pertinent for the local and transnational links of Latino American homosexualities. In Cuba in particular, the postrevolutionary homosexual was always outside the national body, rejected by the nationalist construct.

He was the essence of discharge itself, what is not wanted, what is not accepted. In his book Homosexual Desire Guy Hocquenghem—following Deleuze and Guattari, and from the point of view of a liberatory politics—argues for the transnationalization of the body without organs, the body that has no limits and no boundaries. Gays and lesbians are not simply beings who engage in a series of sexual practices.

Unpacking the Archive In Latin America, as well as in Europe, male homosexuality in particular is historically bound to very concrete processes of social engineering and modernization. In a context that repressively and predominantly indexed men, lesbians were consigned to an effacement that in itself belied the male-centered concerns of institutions of power.

Visible homosexuality was meant to be expelled from a national fabric that could only see itself as tenuously constructed, in view of its immense social, racial, and ethnic inequities. These models were part of broader circuits of power operating in Western societies at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, although the political contexts in which these are deployed needs to be seen more clearly. The homosexual citizen may be marked in one state but relatively unmarked in another—and thus the very notion of an essential homosexual is subject to dispute.

Carrier, in any event, renders otherness from within the context of his own assumptions, viewed as universalist. Gay and lesbian lives take place in bars and on the streets, on the docks and at the opera, at political meetings and rallies and in private parties—strategically open or under cover of secrecy, threatened by the police and by institutions of power, or in gay bars and discos that may be threatened by those same institutions of power or may live within and even collaborate with them.

These lives are also defined by issues of race, class, and access, as these are also marked by gender in a masculinist context. The same situation obtains, with differences analyzed in chapter 8 of this book, in terms of Latinos in the United States. Famous singers like Chabela Vargas, as Yvonne Yarbro Bejarano has recently studied, have made no secret of the fact that they are either lesbian or have had lesbian experiences.

This leads to the question of identities. Would we homosexuals not be falling into a trap that emphasizes our own self-esteem? This makes sense in a book dedicated to, among others, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who also knew how to render their silent presence as one of the more effective tools of resistance against the state. This is important when we consider that in order to claim civil rights, the Comunidad Homosexual Argentina Argentinean Homosexual Community also had to claim legal status, and in order to achieve this, it had to count on the support of transnational members of the lesbian and gay communities, as well as all members of a civil society re-created after the collapse of the military regime.

At other times as in reference to the polemical issues of gays in the military the transnational links were rejected. As a praxis that responds to a repressively modernizing state power, these strategic forms of intervention deserve to be validated for the social gains they have produced.

How is music read from the point of view of a queer intervention? There is a queerness of methodology at the foundation of Tropics of Desire, as well as a queer form of organizing the book. The essays as a whole explore what a Latino queer presence is all about.

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What are we supposed to read, and how are we supposed to decode information that has been coded in order to resist the dominant structures of power? At the same time, the book poses the question of what we gain or lose by decoding that information. Because the structures of coded and decoded information are present within the circuit of Latino American homosexualities, Tropics of Desire goes back to an archive in order to trace the bloodlines—the generational continuum—of the coded information.

They traveled and came into contact with others like them; they published in some of the more important magazines and periodicals of their time; they had as mentors and friends the most illustrious closeted? It is clear that my understanding of the strategic silences about their homosexuality entails noticing how silence is part of a political and aesthetic praxis. This could take place only from within the space that is later signaled by the strategic use of the mask in the Buenos Aires gay and lesbian march, the deployment of sexuality as an image, a play on identity, not an identity per se.

Tropics of Desire is less interested in the subject who proclaims his or her own sexuality than the melancholic subject who refuses the confession, the subject who chooses to mask it, while at the same time showing us the mask. The two positions are not absolute or commensurate, and should not be simply understood as a result of open or closeted notions of identity.

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As a visible subject, the homosexual Diego in Strawberry and Chocolate is ineffective in a way that Arenas in Improper Conduct was not. Arenas related to different publics; he played with many identity categories all at once.

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A more outrageous gesture in recent Cuban discourse I have yet to see. Tracing the Network Culture bears the mark of the social shame produced by homosexualities, and this shame places gays and lesbians always in the realm of exile. This foreignness is but symptomatic of other forms of foreignness felt by the subject, and is in itself a coded reference to the sense of secret that can be uncovered only under the aegis of cultural exoticism as another kind of cover.

Exotic locales may be a way of covering up sexual content, as a decoy that allows critics to notice the atmosphere of the novel and not its erotics. Literature positioned itself out of a closet after the twenties. These figures are studied in chapter 4 of this book.

But we did not talk about literature. The question of the homosexual voice here is not necessarily a question of the closet. The public that knows and can read the code will know exactly what to read, while the writers go on with their social affairs.

Aside from a couple of trips back to Cuba, she lived in Europe until , when, as she says, she discovered the world of Afro-Cuban culture. The roster of artists, writers, and essayists who were published in the journal yields a list of the most impressive names of the moment. Auden, T. Cubans lived in a relatively unexamined cultural space until the revolution inaugurated a new debate on Cuban culture. Within a culture that at the same time values and dislikes poets and writers, and that totally rejects homosexual ones who in turn feel isolated because of issues of class, culture becomes a kind of lingua franca, to the extent that everything is expressed through and by means of it.

I did not intend to divide the book in such a clear-cut fashion, and this is not a book that profits from a reading that distinguishes literature from other questions of cultural studies. Like other books and cultural practices examined within it, Tropics of Desire engages in a queer methodology and works in a queer fashion. From the outset, identity, desire, and revolution allow me to explore the dialectics of visibilities, geography, and politics. It speaks to the imaginary constructions that allow many citizens of the United States to unanimize the world south of the border.

Literature and art here form a constellation of signs, a kind of ideogrammatic archipelago completed by the one who gazes. The different publics recognize each other as part of a community bounded by affect. Tropics of Desire wants to be within that border, where the nightclub yields the usual roster of stars that invite you to go past the ballroom to the dressing rooms, where nostalgia breeds affect with a self-conscious, melancholic gaze. Bishop was protected from neighbors by miles of land, as she confessed in a letter. On a space separated from the house and above a boulder, a running stream was transformed into a swimming pool.

There Bishop had her own studio, with a wall that prevented her from being distracted by the spectacular view of the mountains. The isolation, the sheer exoticism for Bishop of the space, and the protection from the prying eyes of neighbors allowed the poet to compare herself indirectly to those clouds that came into the bedroom only to disappear. Because this intimacy with clouds takes place in that modernist dream palace, no reader should gloss over the perfect metaphor that this entails. Two women, one of them dreaming, while the other oversees the construction of a house where nature and culture coalesce in the form of a running stream turned into a swimming pool.

Nature is transformed into a habitable place by elegant tampering that sometimes wants to pass as natural itself. If nature is the essence, it is always there as a construction, as a stream that calls for transformation into a swimming pool. Nature is not going to be radically altered by these subjects, but its meaning is going to be teased out as something that is always constructed.

Confessions of the Letter Closet: Epistolary Fiction and Queer Desire in Modern Spain Confessions of the Letter Closet: Epistolary Fiction and Queer Desire in Modern Spain
Confessions of the Letter Closet: Epistolary Fiction and Queer Desire in Modern Spain Confessions of the Letter Closet: Epistolary Fiction and Queer Desire in Modern Spain
Confessions of the Letter Closet: Epistolary Fiction and Queer Desire in Modern Spain Confessions of the Letter Closet: Epistolary Fiction and Queer Desire in Modern Spain
Confessions of the Letter Closet: Epistolary Fiction and Queer Desire in Modern Spain Confessions of the Letter Closet: Epistolary Fiction and Queer Desire in Modern Spain
Confessions of the Letter Closet: Epistolary Fiction and Queer Desire in Modern Spain Confessions of the Letter Closet: Epistolary Fiction and Queer Desire in Modern Spain

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