- Heridas abiertas: biopolítica y representación en América Latina ed. by Mabel Moraña and Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado
We recently commemorated the first anniversary of the forced disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ School. This small, but well-known, example of the Mexican state’s action against its people in recent years, is a microcosm of the estimated 26, 000 people disappeared in Mexico since the War on Drugs was re-ignited in 2000. It reminds us that such actions have occurred in Latin America since contact. This edited collection, though written before Ayotzinapa, is now more urgent than ever. Its contributions encourage us to reflect on similar countries and the way the effects of biopower are represented in various forms of culture.
Heridas abiertas is part of the South by Midwest conference series, whose earlier topics have dealt with affect, intellectuals, culture, and change. Mabel Moraña’s introduction places Agamben, Esposito, Foucault, Hardt, and Negri’s theories of biopolitics in dialogue with Latin American history and culture. Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado’s preface complements Moraña’s thorough survey, problematizes the definition of biopolitics and questions the lack of conversation around these topics in Latin American literature and culture. The first essay in the collection, by Horacio Legrás, then explores the limits of the term, dialogues with various theoretical interventions on the topic and concludes that biopolitics can only be understood as a function of history (38).
The collection’s other chapters discuss topics that range from photography and performance to narrative fiction. Oswaldo zavala, for instance, critiques [End Page 169] the conceptualization of Mexico as a failed state. He establishes instead that by rereading narconovels, a genre typically used to justify the position that Mexico has failed, we see that through the War on Drugs Mexico has recovered state power. In this way, his approach to biopolitics and literature adds a new dimension to the sociopolitical study of literature. Another valuable contribution comes from Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott, who suggests that an approach to literature rooted in biopolitics has rich analytical potential. If we were to approach literature in this way, he posits, “la literatura ya no sería el festín de la identidad, sino el refugio para recomenzar una crítica de los procesos de valoración y de fragmentación de la existencia” (62). These two chapters, the most significant in the collection, demonstrate that bringing together biopolitics and Latin American literature leads to new understandings of statehood, subjectivity, and approaches to literary criticism.
Other contributions in this collection suggest that biopolitics can advance the identity-based study of literature and culture as they approach topics closely related to biopolitics, such as race, gender and disability. Beatriz González-Stephan, for instance, describes 19th- and early 20th- century calling cards in the Andean region. She argues that these photographs, which highlight typically racialized features, represent the devastating effects of imperial power. Jean Franco’s chapter also examines a biopolitical topic, population control in Puerto Rico, and using women there to test out the first birth control pills. She explains this context as represented by Diamela Eltit’s novel, Impuesto a la carne. She concludes that given the historical situation, and the novel, Puerto Rican women are doubly marginalized, and thus must struggle against intersecting nodes of oppression. Lawrence LaFountain-Stokes’s work also deals with a topic related to Puerto Rico, Erika López’s performances, online presence, and comics. López’s work, we learn, represents poverty in order to counter official discourse on welfare. According to LaFountain-Stokes, it demonstrates the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico as well as the effects of the welfare system in the United States. Similarly, Susan Antebi uses disability studies to consider the Mexican human genome project and the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly’s advertisements for drugs that can treat diabetes. These fascinating essays only hint at biopolitics, however, and do not bring...