- Queering Black Atlantic Religions: Transcorporeality in Candomblé, Santería, and Vodou by Roberto Strongman
In the field of performance studies, one finds foundational texts by Michael Taussig, Barbara Browning, Diana Taylor, and Joseph Roach, for example, that raised a variety of issues pertaining to the multilayered interplay between colonialism, mimesis, religion, and subversion; as well as the dialectics between political resistance and domination, the sacred and the profane, and the embodied transgressions of gender and sexuality taking place all around the Americas. This scholarship gave shape to a performance studies critique of modernity's [End Page 176] constrictive category of the sovereign and self-determined subject, as well as its attendant concepts and regimes of knowledge, identity, and representation. Queering Black Atlantic Religions attempts to add to this impetus by arguing that the three most notable religious systems of black diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean share a distinct model of embodiment and cultural representation of the psyche as both multiple and interchangeable, which Roberto Strongman calls "transcorporeality."
While the concept of the multiplicity of the self in black diasporic cultural production—and its epistemological consequences for a feminist and queer critique of modern embodiment—is anything but new to performance studies,1 Queering Black Atlantic Religions brings further light to the genealogy of this phenomenon as the author traces it back to Akan and other West African philosophical (i.e., religious and mythic) discourses on personhood. The introduction, therefore, has the virtue of reviewing multiple sources in the field of African and Afro-Caribbean philosophy in order to detail how the immaterial and spiritual dimensions of a person are thought to be composed of external, multiple, and removable parts, which rest upon the person's material corporeal surface, represented by a concave vessel, an open calabash, or a saddle (17). This body schema composed of fragmented and removable parts of the spirit not only has implications for varied funeral rites but also for practices associated with spirit possession. In Vodou spirit possession, it is said that the tibonanj (the part of the psyche that allows for self-reflection and self-criticism) authorizes the gwobonanj (the individual source of memory, intelligence, and personhood) to exit the head in order to accommodate the lwa spirit, who then rides the "horse" (person) during a ceremony, disregarding of course any fixed reference to the "horse's" gender or sexual identification, which for Strongman—as for other scholars of trance possession before him—presents a unique opportunity to critique Western heteropatriarchal models of subjectivity.
The rest of the book is divided into three main parts with a similar methodological structure, which identify and investigate how transcorporeality—this Afro-diasporic representation of the self as multiple, removable, and commingling with divine energies—enables a collection of ethnographies, novels, paintings, and films to enforce critiques of gender and sexuality throughout the American hemisphere, particularly in the Caribbean and Brazil. Each of these three sections (Vodou, Lucumí/Santería, and Candomblé) consists of a chapter that revises the queer potential in the canonical scholarship dedicated to each religion, and another chapter that offers various artistic counterpoints to the scholarly approach. The underlying assumption here is that films, novels, and visual artworks that articulate (and are articulated by) transcorporeality oftentimes complement, contradict, and reorganize the ethnographic and academic discourse on these religious systems.
The first part offers insightful close readings of feminine/feminist ethnography on Vodou (Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Deren, Katherine Dunham, Karen McCarthy Brown, and Mimerose Beaubrun), while also unveiling the sometimes coded and sometimes openly queer (though always fetishistic) male ethnography on Vodou and Candomblé by Pierre Verger and Hubert Fichte. This section ends with a diligent queering of Haitian artist Hector Hyppolite's pictorial self-portraiture, along with biographical information on the artist. [End Page 177]
Part two features a comparative approach between the often-prejudicial scholarship on Lucumí (both in Cuba and elsewhere) and the more "transcorporeal" representation of Santería in...