Latin American Research Review 40.3 (2005) 230-243
[Access article in PDF]
Latin America, Sexualities, And Our Discontents
Of Discipline and Disciplines
From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, the long view of academe's discovery of 'sexuality' opens onto a vast panorama, one populated by both marvels and monsters; it is one in which, with increased fervor, sexuality and its textual representations have been encoded as privileged sites of radicalism and resistance. Whether readers have found moments of optimism or pessimism in individual studies, such as we find in the reviews of Elaine Showalter's (1990) masterful considerations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Sexual Anarchy where "myths, metaphors, and images of sexual crises and apocalypse" (3) related to things corporal come center focus, academic publications are also part and parcel of global capital. They circulate, frequently and not surprisingly even more so than the bodies addressed in their pages. The reign of the marvelous includes those utopian dreams of inclusions and crossovers, of borderless worlds and supposedly limitless individual freedoms, of appropriating the power to 'name' who [End Page 230] one is and what one wants, of the efficacy of humanistic research in the realm of the material and the 'real.' But, like the free-market economies touted as the end-all of western culture over the past two decades, those same fantasies of free-flowing goods and overtly sexualized bodies are accompanied by the darker shadows of the monstrous that constantly remind us that persistent vestiges of cultural fears still haunt our landscapes (and our psyches). Paradoxically, the very same optimistic visions of global promise carry with them the harsh realities of the international sex trade, sexual tourism, and the visible victims of "the writing of hatred on history" (Eisenstein, 21). The exacerbation of inequality in global terms and the theoretical constructs that are built around and inside it are significant factors for framing our discussion of academic books in the new millennium. Our deepest fantasies explored on paper are also our darkest nightmares on the streets of our nations.
Academia cannot and should not be immune from these fears and from the acts of violence they provoke, whether the violence is embodied discursively or materially. After all, institutions, and the individuals whose labor sustains and supports them, are the fraught vessels in which local cultures and global economics meet. What have the outcomes of these intersections been? Is there a way to negotiate the pictures of ourselves and others that we hold in our minds, the books we write about them, and the constant reformulation of the physical world that figures in both? That is to say, the question at hand is how over the past three decades the intellectual turn from sexual politics to gender performance, from the materiality of the flesh to the spectacle of the stage or page, has responded to such challenges of modernity and globalization of which academic institutions form an intrinsic part. As Román de la Campa accurately and boldly situates this query within the cultural studies debates arising at the end of the twentieth century, it is incumbent upon us to scrutinize "the unforeseen cultural anxieties that are rehearsed in the political realm with a corresponding demand for higher education to provide both meaning and resistance to those very pressures" (164). "Both meaning and resistance" is the crux of the matter; at this difficult juncture of production as positive and negative (critique), the...