- Tecnologías del cuerpo. Exhibicionismo y visualidad en América Latina by Javier Guerrero
Javier Guerrero’s book is about Latin American bodies that have been deemed suspect because of their anomalous sexuality. Through a corpus that details the lives and works of Reinaldo Arenas (Cuba), Salvador Novo (Mexico), Armando Reverón (Venezuela), Fernando Vallejo (Colombia) and Mario Bellatin (Peru, Mexico), he explores the transformative technologies at work in and through certain dissident bodies, focusing on how materiality intervenes to destabilize and put into question hegemonic definitions of sexuality. Since the nineteenth century, the body in Latin America has tended to be read allegorically, a process that remains profoundly intertwined with the construction and representation of national communities. Guerrero distances himself from this tradition by questioning national allegories, as well as bodies that appear natural and intelligible. He prefers to highlight how materiality, plasticity and exhibitionism—the primary driving concepts behind this study—produce opaque, complex and often contradictory signifiers that dislocate and unsettle the norm without reinforcing binary oppositions. [End Page 201]
In his lengthy introduction, which carries much of the theoretical weight of the book, Guerrero places the strategic confusion between the author’s bodies and their representations in conversation with thinkers such as Foucault, Butler, Malabou and Nancy. From the latter, Guerrero takes his cue to think queer bodies beyond the notion of abjection, proposing an ontology of the body that moves between its own materiality and that of the images that represent it. Guerrero steps away from well-worn academic terms such as “I argue,” or “I contend,” choosing instead to eloquently declare: “I suspect.” Rather than being directed against bodies considered anomalous or queer, suspicion is here resignified as a starting point for a critical reading of both the scrutiny that dissident bodies have been subjected to, and the creative agency at work through their reinventions and transformations. This reformulation of suspicion performs one of the most important critical objectives of the book, that is, to expose that both the body and art are anchored in materiality, and are thus subject to continuous change.
One of the greatest strengths of Tecnologías del cuerpo is the ease with which Guerrero moves between literary and visual texts, analyzing written work alongside an artist’s performative public persona, his visual representations, and in the cases of Arenas and Novo, the construction of an archive. Conceiving of writing itself as matter, and of performance as a process anchored in the body, grounds Guerrero’s analysis of an astoundingly diverse corpus of materials, ranging from fiction, autobiography, and private letters, to photography, painting, and the curatorial decisions embedded in the construction of an archive. In a dual critical exercise, Guerrero conceptualizes movement both through its theoretical implications, such as those evidenced in notions of plasticity and sexualization, and through a detailed historical investigation that unravels the intricate international networks of friendships and collaborations that sustain “a genealogy of dissident artists” (33).
In chapter one, Guerrero studies Reinaldo Arenas in the light of his exile to the United States as part of the 1980 Mariel exodus. He addresses the repeated process of rewriting that characterizes the production of many of the Cuban writer’s works, such as Otra vez el mar and Antes que anochezca, and shows how this process is extended to the body of the artist himself. He explores how Arenas rewrites himself—and is rewritten by his fellow writers and artists—along three narrative arcs: the depiction of a persecuted body, the celebration of freedom, and the deterioration of a body marked by disease. Guerrero argues that Arenas’ obsessive rewriting questions the legitimacy of an original text or body, exhibiting instead the destabilizing potential of a changing, sexualized body. This analysis extends to the creation of Arenas’ archive, that Guerrero convincingly reads as a manifestation of the plasticity of the artist’s body.
The notion of the archive as a malleable entity provides an apt bridge into chapter two on Salvador Novo. As with Arenas, Novo’s travels were a starting point for reinvention...