Chantal Nadeau responding to "Happily Ever After? Examining Narrative Form in the Queer Cuban Love Story" 12/7 Colloquium with Dara Goldman

Thursday, December 17, 2009

posted under , , , by Unit for Criticism
Written by Chantal Nadeau (Gender & Women's Studies)

What is the relationship between queer and the future? Between queer and its future? How do we define queer in relation to a future that would be outside of the matrix of heteronormativity and a certain vision/rendition of reproducibility? Or is it that queer always happens in an impalpable, unmarked present, yet one that clearly makes it a “no future” body by definition?

In her December 7 lecture, “Happily Ever After? Examining Narrative Form in the Queer Cuban Love Story,” Dara Goldman examines “The underlying tension between the genealogical structure of traditional narrative paradigms and the non-normative logic of the queer (Latino) love story.” Using two narrative forms of “queer cuban love,” Strawberry and Chocolate and The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda, Goldman walks the thin line between the intra- and extra-diegetic to retrace the queerness that can emanate from conventional narrative paradigms. Yet, Goldman eloquently argues that queerness can only emerge from fractures, and--following Rosemary Hennessy--Goldman reminds us that “new freedoms serve to reinforce capitalist hegemony.”

Using Goldman’s inspiring incursion into queer Latino narrative forms of queer futurity through a discussion of Strawberry and Chocolate (forgive the film scholar here for her indulgence), I wish in return to question how the apparently disruptive link between future--queer--hope carries the (post)colonial residues of various sets of narratives of progress and/or liberation coupled with that of nationalist sentiment. Interestingly, the great divide between the characters of Diego and David, which seems at first to be commanded by sexual dissonances, is intrinsically linked to class and to what I call in this instance black (market) mobility i.e. the underground national publicity that sticks to particular enactments of ethnicity and sexuality. Diego--the urbanite fag--bears liberal freedom as a national flag and is the guardian of the objects of the Cuban Revolution’s censorship. He feeds on censored commodities from the Continent--Gide, whisky--while protecting the memory of the Cuban artist non grata. Meanwhile, David as the true (and poor) child of the Cuban Revolution eats up and vomits the expected revolutionary narratives that the university feeds to its students, until he rubs knees and shoulders with Diego. Diego--the Red Queer, the Black Queen--stands outside the past and the “no future” of the Cuban Revolution, while embodying the contemporary urgency of Havana in 1979 as the end of a certain era for the revolution (the Mariel Boatlift happened in 1980, while, according to Gutierez Alea, “the period before 1979 was also the time of greatest repression or discrimination against homosexuals”). Diego exposes the ways that (queer) sexuality and nationalism are historically co-dependent even as their reproducibility is antagonistic.

In this sense, as rightly defended by the careful analysis of Lee Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Duke UP, 2004) which José E. Muñoz provides in Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (NYU Press 2009), Edelman has a point when he suggests that “Political hope fails queers because, like signification, it was not originally made for us [queers].” This, adds Muñoz, is why, for Edelman “the social is inoperable for the always already shattered queer subject. It resonates only on the level of future reproductivity” (Muñoz 91).

What then is the queer futurity that haunts the textual singularities unraveled in Strawberry and Chocolate? As a narrative without children, is it a film with no futurity or hope? While, according to Goldman, queer sexuality in The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda escapes identity and travels through various bodies--either that of the 400-pound neighbor or the married bisexual woman--the queerness of Strawberry and Chocolate’s narrative is conveniently materialized through the bodily narrative of the Red Queer: Diego. And, I would argue, it is materialized equally through the ice cream flavor of the day which is neither chocolate nor strawberry but David. A Mexican-Spanish-Cuban coproduction released and distributed in North America in 1994, thanks to Robert Redford and Miramax, coined “Delectable” by Playboy magazine, and nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Film in 1995, Strawberry and Chocolate sticks to certain bodies better than others and projects a rather conventional narrative of unfleshy desire between Diego, the überfag and heir of European culture (which in the film equates contestation and liberal disenfranchisement) and David the virgin and soldier of the Cuban intellectual revolution. One could wonder in this sense if it is David the Red, Michelangelo’s David, or David the virgin that most titillates Diego, who never misses an opportunity to chant and proclaim his identity as “fag-religious--and Cuban.” Cuba as a nation officially rid of fags, gods, and yankees, emerges here as the unlawful marriage between the unruly and the uncanny. As Goldman rightly suggests in her astute analysis of the film: beyond and despite the death drive, Cuba emerges as the narrated untainted utopian future.

To me the film echoes Homi Bhabha’s initial call for a cultural critique of the nation as a narrative (1990). Bhabha rhetorically asks: “What kind of a cultural space is the nation with its transgressive boundaries and its 'interruptive' interiority?” In light of Goldman’s analysis and the question posed in her title, “Happily Ever After?,” I would like to ask: What is the futurity of queer in a situation in which queer belongs less to the transgressive boundaries of the nation than to its interruptive interiority? Could we say that the queer moment is articulated both through a certain death of queer subjectivity and through a transformative redeployment in what is coined by Muñoz as queer utopia? What happens when utopia and futurity stand as the “ever after” present? Can negation and futurity (or strategic postponement or political suspension) constitute powerful critical terrains to reinterrogate the transformative power of queer beyond the regimes of identity and its necessary instrumentalization? On the other end, the deployment and configuration of multiple and competitive desires that travel through Strawberry and Chocolate and The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda prompt a lingering yet simple question: Queer?

Queer? With all its fractures, ruptures, configurations of shame and pride, one has to ask if the transformative and disruptive quality of queer doesn’t belong to its undercurrent potential to exist outside the representation of the reasonable self. This is maybe–I cautiously use “maybe”–what inhabits and makes intelligible the (a)shamed selves of Marta Veneranda: an unsettling sense that normative and non-normative sexualities are constituted through a sequence of porous boundaries, or what Goldman optimistically tags as “the essential connection between the teleological narrative trajectories and didactic models of reproduction.” Thinking of reproduction/nonreproduction and narratives of queer (Cuban) love at the same time might offer in this sense a way to reflect upon and critically unpack the ways queer, queer subjectivities and their bodily colonial deployments circulate on the theoretical and political highway.

It dawns on me that after years of feminism, postmodernism, queer theory, queer tout court, so much still needs to be written about how we inhabit our various queer subjectivities and how shamelessly we have colonized others, imperialized some, denied others, and outlawed those in between. Though we as theorists have done a fair job at describing the steps through which a certain construction of queer and queer affinities might be intelligible in the public sphere, it seems that we are still incapable of translating the competing meanings of queer outside the predicament of a neutral identity that unavoidably reconstructs the heteronormative and white order. Then the murderous question hits: Is queer as a representational death only the vessel of one's specific existence, and therefore the authorized dealer to monopolize the production of anxiety, fear, shame, pride, and exclusion which necessarily arise at the moment that one’s body becomes someone else’s body? What does it mean to think that even before we have a moment of humility--which to me equals a death of the self--we are already doomed to erase any trace of that moment from our skin and let the other, the face of that other queer bear the scars of shame? Is shame then all about making room for a liberal deployment of happiness that would erase any possibility for a future-already-in the present? To be, beyond all, continued…


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