talking bodies

I’ve been looking forward to this conference since the Call for Papers went out. Submit. Wait (bite nails). Acceptance (dance a jig). And then it was finally time to indulge. And indulge is absolutely the right word for the first day of presentations. Lots of stuff to keep me thinking about my own research; lots more that I can share with my students. Yum.

The day started with Myron Avila’s talk about the body politics and political body in Arias de Don Giovanni, a novel by a Guatemalan author. This body, as Avila pointed out, trans – gresses in many ways: transsexual, transgender, transmigration, transnational….this book is about bodies, migrations, diasporas, transitions…. and all of it links back to Guatemala’s troubled political history. The text itself, constructed out of a series of emails meant to function as a sort of diary that the protagonist is required to send to her psychologist, is similarly transgressive, a genre-bending format that mixes together novel, diary, correspondence. Oh how I wish the book was available in an English translation! (I have been working on Myron since meeting him on Monday evening…. we’ll have to see…)

Rene Kaiser, a Dutch queer activist, meanwhile, considered the relationship between identity politics and plasticity (following on the work of Catherine Malabou) as ways of articulating queer politics. He looked at the idea of ‘coming out’, a mainstay of LGBT identity politics, arguing that it was a normalizing gesture that created boundaries of exclusion and inclusion, leading to what one of his participants referred to as “compulsory homonormativity.” Plasticity, he suggested, enabled an articulation of the active role of the individual in developing themselves. Plasticity is not just fluidity, but rather, an active molding and remolding of the self that moves beyond the stasis of identity politics.

And then, Karina Quinn. In a lyrical, Cixous-inspired paper, she offered a ficto-critical reading of reading, writing, living the body…flesh made of paper, the body that speaks to theory even as theory speaks to the body. This beautiful piece moved seamlessly between autobiography and criticism, operating from the premise that, in Quinn’s words (paraphrased, because I can’t quite remember them): “Am I writing my body or is my body writing me?” A tantalizing morsel to hang onto, to turn around in my hand, my head, my soul. A bit of wonder.

And all of this before the first lunch; in fact, before the first coffee break. more later. I promise.

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