American Literary History 17.3 (2005) 550-552
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New Avenues for the Politics of the Abject
Alberto Sandoval-Sánchez openly, creatively, and, in what I see as a kind and generous way, explains in his paper his fascination with the abject body because, as he tells us, he has to. His writing, he says, is his way of keeping alive and of negotiating a body that houses abjection. I use words like "kind" and "generous" to describe what he's decided to present in such a dynamic and remarkably articulate way to a room of relative strangers because, unfortunately, I think that I can safely assume that the loss of friends and loved ones to AIDS is something many of us here have learned to live with, to negotiate, and to try to explain to ourselves in an ongoing process of mourning. So I want to thank him for his work here, which proposes new ways of doing this.
The body is the foundation of this theoretical project; and writing, as a critical cultural practice, facilitates a politics of survival immersed in what Sandoval-Sánchez calls "the deep and troubled muddy waters of abjection," with the possibility of writing as a lifeline or umbilical cord to abjection. But what we've experienced here today is not just the presentation of a theory or a politics of survival through abjection but an example of abjection as a performative act in the disruption of the typically dry academic conference or symposium paper, with the inclusion of autobiographical information and a short performance in Spanglish, a language that always seems to remind me that identity is constantly in the process of being made.
Judith Butler has been instrumental in the transformation of North American queer theory into a viable critical and theoretical position. At the same time, she has expressed some reservations about the potentially essentialist politics of this approach. She's emphasized the importance of the queer position as what she calls a "specific reworking of abjection." In Bodies That Matter, she points out that the
exclusionary matrix by which subjects are formed requires the simultaneous production of a domain of abject beings, those [End Page 550] who are not yet "subjects," but who form the constitutive outside to the domain of the subject. The abject here designates precisely those "unlivable" and "uninhabitable" zones of social life which are nevertheless densely populated by those who do not enjoy the status of the subject. His zone of uninhabitability will constitute the defining limit of the subject's domain; it will constitute that site of dreaded identification against which—and by virtue of which—the domain of the subject will circumscribe its own claim to autonomy and life.
But the Latino queer identity that Sandoval-Sánchez describes here is differentóit is comprised of abject entities that define and limit the realm of the subject. What's fascinating here is what results from this tension. The abject, when repudiated and expelled by the subject, becomes a ghostly figure that threatens to dissolve the assumptions that the subject has regarding its seemingly solid identity. It's from this position that Sandoval-Sánchez offers his preliminary theory, since it intensifies this threat and consciously dedicates itself to undermining the static subject. It's a position that I believe informs the subject in a productive, progressive wayómuch more so than is possible within the domain theorized by Butler.
It's evident in this articulation of a Latino AIDS queer identity that a theory not just of sexuality but of creativity is being developed, in a playful third language, a mix of English and Spanish capable of expressing much more than any one language. This proposal for politicizing abjection responds to a creative paradox, creative in the sense that it becomes a dramatic means of supplementing the text. Also evident is a constant denunciation of the abuses of power brought on by institutionalized racism and other forms of political and social control that limit and attempt to annihilate creativity and sexuality...