- The Body as Capital: Masculinities in Contemporary Latin American Fiction by Vinodh Venkatesh
Recent shifts toward austerity and isolationism, the renegotiation of global hierarchies, and ongoing conflicts over territories, markets, and ideologies make the neoliberal era one of material and symbolic uncertainty. In The Body as Capital, Venkatesh interrogates neoliberalism's pervasive (and often pernicious) influence on Latin American cultural production, focusing on literary works that reimagine the gendered dynamics of labor and desire since the 1990s. In particular, Venkatesh theorizes the male body as capitalize-able within a neoliberal episteme that encompasses not just market-based economic policies, but also regimes of sexuality, gender, and aesthetics. Eleven chapters divided into three parts provide a comprehensive overview of the ideological, discursive, and corporal reconfigurations that characterize the work of authors Venkatesh refers to as Generation Alfaguara. A far-reaching monograph, The Body as Capital serves as a prime example of how Latin American Studies is producing work that grapples with the cultural and political shifts of contemporary life and which pushes humanistic scholarship to respond to calcified methods of critical inquiry. [End Page 213]
Moving beyond the framework of the nation, yet responsive to the local pressures of (and resistances to) neoliberalism, Venkatesh takes as his point of departure two interrelated suppositions. First, the masculine is not a monolithic subject position, but rather culturally and historically contingent. Second, the neoliberal age inaugurates a restructuring of family and gender dynamics in which masculinity is no longer representable through an aesthetics focused on individual rationality, phallic symbolism, and virile gender performance. This approach draws on literary and cultural studies, feminism, and queer studies in order to locate a range of critiques of the masculine emerging from Latin America. In doing so, Venkatesh pushes masculinity studies – typically housed in Anglophone academic institutions – to confront its lacunae, the product of a propensity to situate middle-class whiteness at the center of its analytic framework. Likewise, by situating Latin American masculinities as responsive to market forces in today's globalized economic theater, the author also manages to challenge queer scholarship anchored in Butlerian performativity by demonstrating the categorical flexibility of material bodies in new Latin American fiction. As Venkatesh points out, while neoliberalism is often viewed as a totalizing epistemic regime, recent Latin American cultural production sheds light on how the site of the masculine body provides a tangible counterpoint to global narratives of gender and its representational possibilities. This book is a welcome corrective to both the universalizing tendencies of masculinity studies and the uncertainty with which critiques of neoliberalism have portrayed market-based phenomena such as the circulation of art, bodies, and knowledge.
Venkatesh puts this methodology to use in Part One by interrogating a Latin American archetype, the dictator, in new historical fiction. This section demonstrates how authors have reimagined Latin American masculinities as responsive to relations of power and proximity to power, rather than as conforming to the stereo-type/countertype model frequently applied to the dictator. Venkatesh moves beyond this dichotomy and toward the more fertile terrain of assemblage, plurality, and dialectics. In this way he links the neoliberal symbolic economy to corporal manifestations of gendered bodies such that masculinity is no longer understood as upholding or failing to live up to a specific set of tropes, but rather fluctuates as part of a dynamic matrix of interpersonal relations. A second contribution of this section is that it questions the distinction between symbolic and ontological meanings of the masculine. Identifying key bodily sites such as the anus, penis, and testes, Venkatesh proposes that since the masculine body has become necessarily commoditized in the neoliberal age, it circulates as a site of material inscription rather than a series of performative gestures and is thus better described as dialogical and diachronic, transhistorical and transterritorial. Part Two expands on this theorization by analyzing the intertextual resonances between literature and popular music. The forces of globalization, in this case heard as well as seen, provide a soundtrack that links the geopolitics of...