Muñoz, José Esteban. “Feeling Brown: Ethnicity and Affect in Ricardo Bracho’s The Sweetest Hangover (and Other STDs).” Theatre Journal 52.1 (March 2000): 67-79. Project Muse. Web. 18 June 2013.

Ethnicity, Affect, and Performance:

The term Latino fails to capture the embodied experience of the different cultural/social subjects the term supposedly names. While certain names, Chicano or Nuyorican have worked in naming a Political group, the umbrella term Latino has failed. The term “Latino” fails to account for different countries, religions, races, classes, sexual orientations, so is there any commonality with the term?

Muñoz wants to differentiate between self-identified Latino/as and the US census designation of “Hispanic.” By rejecting the label “Hispanic,” Latinos are not constituting a political movement, but the “linguistic maneuver is the germ of a self-imaging of Latino as, following the path-breaking work of Chicana feminist Norma Alacrón, an ‘identity-in-difference’” (67)—identity-in-difference structures subjectivity from the point of view other than the anglo-feminist one; an oppositional consciousness in response to the ethnocentric, mono-identity provided by feminism. Muñoz states that “To be cognizant of one’s status as an identity-in-difference is to know that one falls of majoritarian maps of the public sphere, that one is exiled from paradigms of communicative reason and a larger culture of consent” (68). The Latino subject is in exile/displaced, which causes the Latino subject form political ontology.

The essay’s thesis states normativity “is assessed in the majoritarian public sphere through the affective performance of ethnic and racial normativity” (68). Minorities face problems attempting to perform whiteness (this thesis is much too general and sweeping); the essay states that “acting white has everything to do with the performance of a particular affect” in order to perform normativity. The wording is confusing, but I understand Munoz as saying that minorities must act/perform in a certain manner for whites in order to be considered normative, but by acting white, Latinos (minorities) lose their own political ontology).

Muñoz wants to use Raymond Williams’ idea of “structure of feeling” that connects working class groups and combine it with Alacrón’s “identity-in-difference” to think about affect as a way to group together Latino experience: “What unites and consolidates oppositional groups is not simply the fact of identity but the way in which they perform affect, especially in realtion to an official ‘national affect’ that is aligned with the hegemonic class” (68). Identity built around feeling instead of being (but feeling is a state of being). Muñoz goes on to clarify, “I am interested in plotting the way in which Latina/o performance theatricalizes a certain mode of ‘feeling brown’ in a world painted white, organized by cultural mandates to ‘feel white’” (68). This idea is interesting, expecially for Junot Diaz, as Oscar is brown but immersed in white culture—as he says, what is more sc-fi than the DR. Sc-fi captures that “brown” feeling by telling stories of diaspora and exile, about attempting to fit in even in a strange land.

Muñoz wants to examine how immigrants struggle with performing the “national affect.” He suggests that Latina/o works symbolically act on difference and insist on ethnic affect within the dominant national affect. He states “. . . this ‘official’ national affect, a mode of being in the world primarily associated with white middle-class subjectivity, reads ethnic affect as inappropriate” (69). Whiteness positions itself as Law; therefore, minorities must conform and perform whiteness, “or at least mimic certain affective rhythms that have been preordained as acceptable” (69). The national affect (white-ness) deems Latina/o affects as over the top, spicy, and exotic. Hegemonic society stereotypes Latina/o affects in order to simplify and contain these ethnic differences. This idea of marginalizing ethnic performances reflects Maximo’s position. However, I disagree that white, middle-class culture reads ethnic portrayals as inappropriate (not always), rather that Anglos posit a stereotype for ethnic groups to inhabit. Hence the popularity of Desi Arnez, of Maximo playing domino in Miami.

Popular media (hegemonic protocols of North American affective comportment) categorize Latina/o affect as over the top: “affective excess” (70). Muñoz argues that Latina/o affect is not excessive, rather that Anglo affect is minimalist, “to the point of emotional impoverishment” (70). Muñoz suggest positioning white affect as lack. Also, he believes Latinos should embrace the stereotype of ethnic affect as excess “. . . and redirect it in the service of liberationist politics” (70). The essay suggests that Latina/o affect challenges white affect as impoverished.

Muñoz wants to move beyond a fixed definition of ethnicity and look at it as performance—Heidegger already suggest looking at identity as performance in his own way. For Heidegger, identity is not a fixed “being” rather an in-the-world-towards-death Dasien who always-already is thrown in the world and takes up its possibilities and is affected by its environment, culture, history, and furture possibilities.

Munoz suggest looking at ethnicity as historical formation, beyond merely cultural differences, he attempts to look at ethnicity as “affective difference” –that is, how groups “feel” differently and are “in-the-world” in different emotional registers. (70).

Looking at Sartre who says consciousness is knowing what one thinks, and emotion, an extension of consciousness is, what Muñoz calls “performed manifestation of consciousness”—but can we really control emotion in such a manner? We can react to the way we are feeling in certain ways, but we can’t help from feeling those feelings. Satre, borrowing much from Heidegger, views life as this existentially, phenomenological world where we set up goals for our lives, but many obstacles get in the way of those goals; when we get overwhelmed by obstacles and barriers, we have emotions. For Sartre, and what Muñoz takes from Sartre, emotions are the way humans negotiate within their social and cultural and historical world—emotions are emotions, separate from humans. Rather emotions are something humans encounter when dealing with the world.

Satre is second hand Heidegger—Munoz has reservations about using Sartre because Sartre thinks of two different ways of being in the world. One way is the same as Heidegger’s ready-at-hand (you pick up a hammer and use it without thinking about using it; you walk out the door without thinking about the door)—the second way of being is Heidegger’s present-at-hand: when the hammer breaks and suddenly, to use Muñoz’s reading of Sartre (reading of Heidegger) “the organized matrix of utensils is no longer perceivable as such and one becomes overwhelmed” (71)—for Heidegger, one doesn’t become “overwhelmed” rather one steps back and begins to theorize the hammer; it becomes an object of contemplation rather than a lived thing in the world. —For Sartre, emotions are the second, present-at-hand way of being; “something we regress into when under duress” (71). This thinking falls into men as better (stronger) suited for the world of tools and women—as well as feminine men—as weaker and not well suited for tools. Women and weak men regress into the magical relation with the world (for Sartre, emotions are equated as magical state of being)—and the discussion of magical resonates with minority cultures who are viewed as primitive.

Muñoz thinks Sartre’s ideas of emotion because emotions surface during moments of distress when one loses the distance/relation to the world of objects and people. For Muñoz “Because stigmatized people are presented with significantly more obstacles and blockages than privileged citizen-subjects, minoritarian subject often have difficulty maintaining distance from the very material and felt obstacles that suddenly surface in their own affective mapping of the world” (72). Munoz believes that this thinking of emotion, in a world that is not ideologically neutral, that organizes material reality around capitalist interest, can help minority subjects gain critical distance and help explain emotions. As he puts it, “The phenomenological aspect of Sartre’s inquiry demystifies the magic of emotion and this in and of itself is an important contribution to a theory of the affective nature of ethnicity” (72).

Muñoz then turn to Walter Benjamin, who sees technology as alienating affect. He wants to amend Sartre’s ideas with Benjamin who sees certain technologies, like cinema, as returning or utopia for affect. Muñoz sees Latino’a drama as having the potential for political intervention. While the term Latino/a has problems, the term has helped organize people under the generic label. The practice of performing “Latino/a-ness” undermines the normative “national affect” by asserting ontological difference and affective difference (72). Muñoz uses the plays of Maria Irene Fornes to state that her plays use “ethnic feeling within a hegemonic order”—her plays stand out because her characters’ motivation are hard to decipher; the narrative arcs, also, defy normative modes of being, which Muñoz argues reflect a Latina/o “manera de ser”—not avant garde (only), but also reflective of a different culture.

Muñoz then turns to The Sweetest Hangover to argue that the play’s affect differs from mainstream/ national affect: a Latino affect. The play creates an affective performance that “rejects the protocols of (white) normativity” (74). The play presents an other way of being in the world, an other way of “feeling” the world. (74)—The play groups people together by political affect or affective belonging and not by culture or race. The play groups together different people, and this grouping illustrates a different way to reach utopian ideas of unity through affective identity rather than racial ones. –basically, the play connects people through an affective belonging. Even in the drug use and homosexual relationships: “The major conflict in the play between Octavio and his lover Samson is not Octavio’s drug problem, but Ocatavio’s refusal to conform to a drug-free monogamous ideal that Samson desires” (77). This ideal is an affective normative one. However, then Muñoz suggest that this homosexuality and drug use are “modes of being in the world [that] are folded into the rich affective archive of latinidad” (77)-but being gay and using drugs is not a white normative affect; every race and culture has drug users and gay people, so I fail to see the point here?Yet the bigger point of community under affective belonging can be used positively to think about ethnicity and community and belonging. Taking Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein (as being-in-the-world), then a Latino/a’s way of being in the world is different than an Anglos. Both groups, to begin, have different worlds to be in. If we take Heidegger’s idea that all consciousness happens within Language, then the language differences of both groups create a different “way” to be in the world. As the minority group, Brown people will always know their identity as the other to White/majority group, just as Anglos will view Browns as the other. In this manner, Oscar Wao is a different person, just as Maximo Gomez in In Cuba I was—since they both “feel” about the world differently by way of their place in the world.

The essay ends by summarizing: “This analysis has posited ethnicity as “a structure of feeling,” as a way of being in the world, a path that does not conform to the conventions of a majoritarian public sphere and the national affect it sponsors” (79).