Abject Performances

Aesthetic Strategies in Latino Cultural Production

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 69 illustrations, including 10 Published: May 2018

Chicanx and Latinx Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Theater and Performance > Performance Art

In Abject Performances Leticia Alvarado draws out the irreverent, disruptive aesthetic strategies used by Latino artists and cultural producers who shun standards of respectability that are typically used to conjure concrete minority identities. In place of works imbued with pride, redemption, or celebration, artists such as Ana Mendieta, Nao Bustamante, and the Chicano art collective known as Asco employ negative affects—shame, disgust, and unbelonging—to capture experiences that lie at the edge of the mainstream, inspirational Latino-centered social justice struggles. Drawing from a diverse expressive archive that ranges from performance art to performative testimonies of personal faith-based subjection, Alvarado illuminates modes of community formation and social critique defined by a refusal of identitarian coherence that nonetheless coalesce into Latino affiliation and possibility.


"In writing this, I am thinking of contemporary figures of abjection—the asylum seeker, the victim of domestic abuse and gang violence, the parent and child violently separated at the US border. Abject Performances does not make such figures more legible, but rather encourages readers towards being with illegibility so as to create a condition for thinking through alternatives to citizenship, to accept the unknown and unknowable as a viable, yet confounding aesthetic, and a necessary, though unsustainable politic." — Eddie Gamboa, Women & Performance

"Abject Performances presents a dynamic, fascinating, and novel approach to understanding the role of abjection in contestatory articulations of Latino identity. From the esoteric to the popular, the sacred to the profane, Leticia Alvarado weaves together a narrative that convincingly positions the abject as an entirely distinct way of producing latinidad through diverse cultural products." — Alexandra Gonzenbach Perkins, Journal of American Studies

"Alvarado’s book usefully brings aesthetics and affect theory to bear upon not only what Latinidad means, but also how its possibilities can shift. . . . Alvarado rigorously theorizes a strand of Latinx affective and aesthetic engagement that names a feeling we already have and a perspective we need to embrace." — Renee Hudson, ASAP/Journal

"Abject Performances is an ambitious text. The breadth of theoretical frameworks is especially impressive given the depth of critical analysis that complements them. . . . Viewing the ways in which aesthetic theory meets performance and media studies, Latino studies, and queer theory as an emerging flux continues necessary conversations in these fields." — Lacie Rae B. Cunningham, Aztlán

"In subject matter and style, Abject Performances is a dense study that will interest ethnic studies scholars versed in the specialized language used in performance studies, visual culture, cultural studies, queer theory, and critical theory. Alvarado convincingly demonstrates, through a unique and wide-ranging expressive archive, that an aesthetics of abjection reveals modes of collective belonging and social critique that refuse identitarian coherence and facilitate affiliative possibilities distinct from homogenizing cultural nationalism and liberal feminism." — Camilla Stevens, Modern Drama

"Alvarado brings together artistic, academic, and activist ways of being and doing in this world, opening spaces to imagine brighter futures. . . . Against the myth of wholeness and completion, Alvarado offers a final Muñozian gesture: circling back to the urgency of imagining futurity, Abject Performances rehearses a path towards a more sensual world not-yet-here." — Leticia Robles-Moreno, TDR: The Drama Review

Abject Performances makes foundational contributions and interventions to the fields of Latina/o studies and performance studies. [Alvarado] intricately deploys the work of cultural producers as abject, thus disrupting prominently circulated articulations and embodiments of Latinidad.”

— Micaela Díaz-Sánchez, Latino Studies

"Abject Performances is admirable in its interdisciplinary ambitions."

— Sarah J. Townsend, Latin American Theater Review

“In this provocative text, Leticia Alvarado offers us abjection as an aesthetic strategy for thinking about embodied performances that bear the weight of the fraught communal failures of latinidad. Her eclectic archive of formal and informal performances of world-making practices draw her readers toward those improper subjects of Latino cultural production that expose the perverse pleasures of refusing both civic incorporation and identitarian regimes to linger in the difficult promise of racialized otherness.” — Juana María Rodríguez, author of Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings

Abject Performances counters inspirational, mainstream representations of Latinos that give them a constrained place in U.S. minoritarian politics. Leticia Alvarado understands abjection as resistance: a wily, uncooperative ethos within the heroic narrative of Latino inclusion and assimilation. She sets her critical eye not on aspirational models, but on artists and performances that insist on the confusion of boundaries. The result is a brilliant contribution to Latino Studies.” — José A. Quiroga, author of Tropics of Desire: Interventions from Queer Latino America


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Leticia Alvarado is Assistant Professor of American Studies at Brown University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. Sublime Abjection  1
1. Other Desires: Ana Mendieta's Abject Imaginings  25
2. Phantom Assholes: Asco's Affective Vortex  57
3. Of Betties Decorous and Abject: Ugly Betty's America la fea and Nao Bustamante's America la bella  89
4. Arriving at Apostasy: Performative Testimonies of Ambivalent Belonging  131
Conclusion. Abject Embodiment  161
Notes  167
Bibliography  193
Index  209
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Honorable Mention, 2019 Latino/a Section of the Latin American Studies Association Outstanding Book Award

Honorable Mention, 2019 United States Latina and Latino and Chicana and Chicano Literary and Cultural Studies, awarded by the Modern Language Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7078-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7063-5
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