Theatre Journal 54.3 (2002) 507-508
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Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics.
Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. By José Esteban Muñoz. Cultural Studies of the Americas, Volume 2. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999; pp. ix + 227. $19.95.
As is becoming increasingly clear in performance theory and cultural studies, the racialized body and racial politics enable and justify difference. While the notion of difference and its relation to the racialized body requires the inscription of the minority subject, the location of agency is paramount. José Muñoz's book Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics reclaims agency as a way to authorize the specificities of race, ethnicity, desire, and the queer body. For Muñoz, the act of writing becomes a "disidentificatory" venture of the self, "whose relation to the social is not over determined by universalizing rhetoric of selfhood" (20). While examining the process of identification/disidentification in performance art, film, pop art, visual culture, porn, ethnography, mass media and literature, among other things, Muñoz insists on a dialectics that describes the relations between theory and practice. He seeks a theory that will help him trace the genealogy of marginal sites and locate an alternative space for queers of color.
Muñoz's ideological premises are drawn heavily from psychoanalysis and early theories of revisionary identification used in film theory, and gay and lesbian studies. To "disidentify" in Muñoz's terms is a political act that not only resists dominant ideology but also embodies "a disempowered politics or positionality that has been rendered unthinkable by the dominant culture" (31). Although disidentification is not necessarily a new theory, in Muñoz's frame of reference the queer-racialized body alters the grounds of the theoretical subject. By centering the performances of "queers of color," the author believes he is developing a theory of subjectivity that would mark the differences between white normativity/heteronormativity and the queer-racialized body. Muñoz begins his analysis by looking at various performances that apply to the theory of disidentification. While invoking the discourses of feminist women of color—in particular the critical ramifications of This Bridge Called My Back—Muñoz's logic of (dis)identification becomes a contestation not only to dominant ideologies, but also to white feminism. He argues that "although the advancements of white feminists in integrating multiple sites of difference in their analytic approaches have not, in many cases, been significant, the anthology [Bridge] has proved invaluable to many feminists, lesbians, and gay male writers of color" (22). For him, the discourses of women of color have helped to build up a politics of disidentification. He adopts this not only to empower the specificities of minority subjectivities, but also to suggest that the coercive body of marginality produces a new sense of reality, which articulates an uncanny truth about dominant culture. Muñoz's argument about dominant vs. marginal is full of contradictions, but nevertheless they significantly represent the condition of the performative and the twin problems of agency and subjectivity.
The book is divided into three sections: 1) The Melancholia of Race; 2) Remaking Genres: Porn, Punk and Ethnography; and 3) Critical Cubanía (Cubanness). Two chapters each are included in the first two sections and four in the last. In the first section, "Famous and Dandy like B. 'n' Andy: Race, Pop and Basquiat," Muñoz considers painter and graffitist Jean-Michel Basquiat in connection with both Andy Warhol and the practice of pop art. In "Photographies of Mourning: Melancholia and Ambivalence in Van DerZee, Mapplethorpe and Looking for Langston," Muñoz examines Isaac Julien's cinematic performance of diasporic black queer identity through the analysis of both melancholia and ambivalence. He places these two concepts as "central to a comprehension of the inner (textual) and external (social and political) work that the texts under consideration do" (58). Muñoz looks at the film Looking for Langston as both a "photocentric text and mythotext" (63). In Chapter 3 (section 2), Muñ...