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).

Perera, Jennifer Allantine. ““Only In Miami Is Cuba So Far Away”: The Politics Of Exile In Ana Menendez’s In Cuba I Was A German Shepherd.” Journal Of Postcolonial Writing 39.2 (2002): 8. Supplemental Index. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

This essay starts with the observation that Miami is close to Cuba and acts as a border town (that is also far away). Immigrants cross borders as do cultures (similar to Andeluza’s idea of border-crossing). Perera begins by relating an anecdote about touring Miami and Domino Park, the “quintessentially” Cuban Culture; she feels that the park and the Cuban domino players attempting to recreate their culture in Miami are contrived (which means forced, unnatural, artificial, etc). The men playing are just men playing—why does one assume the players are Cuban enacting their Cuban culture? She feels the players “perform” their culture. She returns with a camera and becomes more a part of the performance.

The park, on the corner of 8th street and 15th Ave., would be missed until 1976 when Miami’s government set aside money to revamp the park (in 1986, merchants complained about drug deals and crime in the area and commissioned to shut the park down; then in 1987, the park was redone—the park was closed for over a year from 1987 until 1988 when renovations finished and the park reopened).

The essay claims that the park’s name brings to mind layers of meaning: a space where Cubans play and provide tourist with cultural spectacle. This playing and providing spectacle raises questions, and the park’s name brings to mind questions of translation of experience.

The essay goes into Ana Menendez’s biography as a 1.5er (Gustavo Perez-Firmat’s term). The 1.5 gen’s relationship to Cuban culture gets mediated by familial memory: “with every retelling [memory/stories] create a greater distance” so that stories become more “imaginary than real” (10). Menendez tells stories of exiles who are trying to figure out, through memory and re-definition, the meaning of exiled Cubans (11). The stories represent fractured exiles relying on memory; the stories have themes of displacement, loneliness, and alienation: “An overriding theme is that of return, and the belief, at least for first generation exiles, that their stay in Miami is on transitional” (11). –A note on some of these claims—while there were some exiles who thought they would return, by the time of this story, I doubt very much that anyone still lingered to the idea of return. The essay also claims a tension between conservative Cubans and “disillusioned Castro Supporters”—which is just wrong. I don’t know if she means the Cubans—many of them—who initially supported Castro, who swore he would kick imperial forces out of Cuba (read: America) and bring back the constitution that Batista had left behind. Immediately after taking power, many people realized how Castro was communist and began to flee. And any Castro supports are still in Cuba fighting the “revolution” –the wording (of the essay) is sloppy and inaccurate.

Culture is based on the past in relation to a future yet to come; Cuban exiles feel as if they are in transition (with eye on going back to Cuba) so that their cultural investment is fragile. Cubans at the park know the original (cultural practices) that the park is based on, but they perform a “cultural translation” for those (tourist) who don’t know the original.

–The essay then quotes and summarizes the story extensively— Maximo thinks of return but only returns in his memories. Domino Park becomes a no man’s land so that Maximo’s identity “is constructed, (re)constructed, and lost in memory” (12). His memories are an act of “cultural recovery” and while this recovery happens in his (internalized) memories, the recovery “plays out”—happens through play and jokes both of which require an audience. The characters are aware of being watched; Maximo’s jokes about Cuba, his articulations of Cuban culture, experience, and his connection to the past becomes a double performance for his friends at the Domino table and for the tourist listening.

The joke represents a present and a constructed past. Jaunito (the mutt) reinvents his past and reimagines his identity (14). The joke undermines itself, however, because Jaunito is not a german shepherd, so the joke recalls Maximo’s “harsher reality” as a professor turned a server. The joke reveals the friends as (ARE) Cuban culture by allowing a performance for the tourist.

The essay then looks at the last story of the collection—but I am not writing on that, so I don’t “care.”

Maximo’s joke “demonstrates how painful the process of transplanting and translating oneself into another society and asserting a cultural identity can be” (16).

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Zizek, Slavoj. “Melancholy and the Act.” Critical Inquiry 26.4 (2000): 657-81.

Zizek begins by stating that the Lacanian Big Other designates explicit symbolic rules and unwritten rules as well. Example of Robert Ebert’s movie rules—in a foreign land, in a car chase, a fruit stand will get run over, the grocery bag rule, etc—the Big other regulates our speech and actions. While not stated outright, disobeying them can be very bad.

One of those rules is mourning and melancholia. The dominant opinion is: “Freud opposed normal mourning (the successful acceptance of a loss) to pathological melancholy (the subject persist in his or her narcissistic identification with the lost object). Against Freud, one should assert the conceptual and ethical primacy of melancholy” (658). In mourning, a remainder occurs that fails integration through mourning, “and the ultimate fidelity is the fidelity to this remainder” (658). Mourning kills the lost object (again), while melancholy stays faithful to the lost object. The melancholic refuses to renounce the attachment to the lost object. (((This point is elaborated on by Derrida—we carry the world of the other; the dialogue continues)). This idea of maintaining attachments to the lost object can be used in multiple ways: from the queer one—gays should maintain attached to the repressed same-sex libidinal economy to the ethnic one: where the ethnic  group might lose their culture as it is subsumed by the capitalist tradition.

“The melancholic link to the lost ethnic Object allows us to claim that we remain faithful to our ethnic roots while fully participating in the global capitalist game” (659).

Anamorphosis- distorted projection or perspective, requiring a specific vantage point. Zizek says ideology works off of anamorphosis, where if we look at the ideology from a certain standpoint, then it makes sense; example, anti-semitism—the Jewish plot is the cause of all our problems. Anamorphosis distorts the idea of subjective and objective reality, since “the subjective distortion is reflected back into the perceived object itself, and, in this precise sense, the gaze itself requires a supposedly objective existence” (659).

This paradox does not hold in the melancholic, who mistakenly asserts that something “resist the symbolic sublation”, and “locate[s] this resistance in a positively existing, although lost, object. ” The melancholic interprets his/her desire as a loss, when it is merely lacking. The melancholic thinks that he/she possessed the object and has now lost it when in reality, he/she never possessed it at all. The melancholic confuses the object as missing, but in reality, it is lacking. That lack causes the object to emerge in the first place. The paradox comes when the melancholic thinks the object loss when in reality it lacks. “The melancholic subject thus elevates the object of his longing into an inconsistent composite of a corporeal absolute; however, since this object is subject to decay, one can possess it unconditionally only insofar as it is lost, in its loss” (660).

Zizek looks to Giorgio Amamben who “emphasized how, in contrast to mourning, melancholy is not only the failure of the work of mourning, the persistence of the attachment to the real object, but also its very opposite: ‘melancholia offers the paradox of an intention to mourn that precedes and anticipates the loss of the object’” (661). The problem is that the melancholic thinks what he possesses is lost—he mourns the object before the object is lost. ((((This problem happens with Maximo, who always wonders while all the stories that begin with Cuban being pure and great turn into something dark—he is suffering from melancholy, and even in Miami, where he possess a Cuban identity, through his food, his wife, and his community—he feels his Cubanness lost; later, he maintains connection to his identity through playing with the Cubans, through old stories, and through his jokes, but feels this abstract object loss, so he suffers the attachment to it—Also, his sadness comes from knowing that his homeland has forgotten him; he is no longer the German Shepherd of Cuba, he is the mutt of America. Having suffered one loss (losing his home), he suffers the loss of his Miami identity, he suffers the loss of his children, his friends—all before any of them are actually lost))))

As Zizek further explains “the mourner mourns the lost object and kills it a second time through symbolizing its loss, while the melancholic is not simply the one who is unable to remounce the object but rather the one who kills the object a second time (treats it as lost) before the object is actually lost” (662).

The manner to explore this paradox comes in the Lacanian distinction between the object and the (object) cause of desire, the feature that has us desiring the desired object. Something that we are usually unaware, “even misperceived as an obstacle.” The melancholic posseses the object but has lost his desire for the object: “. . . the cause that made him desire the object has withdrawn, lost its efficiency” (662). Lacan’s object petit a, is the void in reality around which reality is displaced and centralized. “This object is the sublime object (of ideology), the object elevated to the dignity of a Thing, and simultaneously the anamorphic object (in order to perceive its sublime quality, we have to look at it awry—if looked at straight on, it appears as just another object in a series)” (662).

The void-lack- only works when when it is embodied in an object. The object keeps the gap open. The void of desire embodies itself in an object that serves as a stand in. This void is best embodied in post-sctructuralist, Derridian, deconstructionist ethics: an ethics that calls for the always-already withdrawn negative trace of its own absence. We can never be fully present, accountable, ethical enough in the face of the other. The other is a void around which to build this ethics. Another example happens in Derria’s view on Marxism: we must keep true to the spirit of Marx, not the letter. Derrida’s radicalization means only the theoretical Marx, any actualization of Marx betrays the “spirit.”  As Zizek explains “on account of its very radicalism, the messianic promise forever remains a promise, cannot ever be translated into a set of determinate economic and political measures” (665). We can never be responsible enough to the other, our answer to the other will always lack. This gap between ethical responsibility and action betrays the problem of totalitarianism because the party attempts to fulfill this ethical gap with actions that betray and go against the people.

Democracy works as a perpetual working-ING, a “to-come”: “The to-come (a venir) is thus not simply an additional qualification of democracy but its innermost kernel, what makes democracy democracy. The moment democracy is no longer to come but pretends to be actual—fully actualized—we enter totalitarianism” (665). This democracy to come refers to when one is urgently called to answer the call of the other in the face of injustice. Derrida addresses the gap between ethics and politics, where ethics is the impossible response to the call of the other and politics is the need to act/respond. Ethics is always to-come; politics is a “here/ now”—in politics, in having to make a choice, we risk doing the wrong thing: “The ethical is thus the (back)ground of undecidability, while the political is the domain of the decision(s), of taking the full risk of crossing the hiatus and translating this impossible ethical request for messianic justice into a particular intervention that never lives up to this request, that is always unjust towards (some of the) others” (666). Ethics, then, opens up the condition of possibility for politics, while closing it. When I have to act in politics because of the ethical call, my action my hurt (some) others—will be unethical. The decision to act works on two levels:

First, we open up the gap between the ethical call of the other, and the decision to decide. Zizek elaborates, “the first decision is identified with/as the injunction of the Thing in me to decide [the other’s call/ the other’s decision in me]; it is a decision to decide, and it still remains my (the subject’s) responsibility to translate this decision to decide into a concrete, actual intervention, to invent a new rule out of a singular situation, wehre this intervention has to obey pragmatic and/or strategic considerations and is never at the level of the decision” (668-9).  Zizek wants to say that the Lacanian act is not along the lines of this deconstructionist ethic, where the “other’s decision in me” is not some structuralist view of a decentered subject of abyss of otherness I can never reach; rather, the Lacanian act refers to the subject’s direct identification with the other’s Thing/ injunction to action. The subject becomes the Other-Thing for “a brief, passing moment of, precisely, decision—directly is the Thing” (669).

An ethical act changes the very nature of what we think about ethical acts, the very idea of what is good.