The Sense of Brown

The Sense of Brown

Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe

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Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 14 illustrations Published: October 2020

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory, Theater and Performance

The Sense of Brown is José Esteban Muñoz's treatise on brownness and being as well as his most direct address to queer Latinx studies. In this book, which he was completing at the time of his death, Muñoz examines the work of playwrights Ricardo Bracho and Nilo Cruz, artists Nao Bustamante, Isaac Julien, and Tania Bruguera, and singer José Feliciano, among others, arguing for a sense of brownness that is not fixed within the racial and national contours of Latinidad. This sense of brown is not about the individualized brown subject; rather, it demonstrates that for brown peoples, being exists within what Muñoz calls the brown commons—a lifeworld, queer ecology, and form of collectivity. In analyzing minoritarian affect, ethnicity as a structure of feeling, and brown feelings as they emerge in, through, and beside art and performance, Muñoz illustrates how the sense of brown serves as the basis for other ways of knowing and being in the world.


“The final work of José Esteban Muñoz—scholar, mentor, and precious node in an intergenerational and transnational web of intellectual and social relations—will be received with eager enthusiasm and a box of tissues.” — Juana María Rodríguez, author of Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings

“In The Sense of Brown, José Esteban Muñoz maps and grapples with an evolving theory and method of feeling and being in the world that he names brown. In this work, brownness 'is already here, . . . vast, present, and vital.’ Muñoz gives his theory ‘historically specific affective particularity,’ rejecting the abjective. Read on their own and in tandem with Muñoz's earlier works, these thirteen essays written with care and a sense of urgency outlive his too-soon passing. Lovingly edited, they are a gift.” — Christina Sharpe, author of In the Wake: On Blackness and Being

"Conceptualizing Latinx studies within the terms Muñoz offers, those of affect, aesthetics, and performance, gives way for more room in which to construct a Latinx studies that seeks to counter anti-blackness and anti-indigeneity, assimilationism, settler nation-state borders and boundaries, language essentialisms, and other settler colonial logics which merely reify the power structures perpetuating global precarity, exploitation, violence, and death." — Marcos Gonsalez, ASAP/Journal

"The Sense of Brown is a classic academic work, so it has a density that requires effort to parse through, but it’s well worth the read. In this book, Muñoz examines how brownness, particularly for queer Latinx people, becomes a 'lifeworld' that reveals itself through performance of all kinds, including plays, films, and albums. If you loved his prior work, then The Sense of Brown serves as a perfect ending—both putting a bow on his scholarship and creating pathways for those who want to further it." — Evette Dionne, Bitch Magazine

"The book is his most pointed intervention into Latinx studies and the contradictions of Latinx racializations, and it represents the work of nearly two decades, done alongside and around two books and over a dozen essays and lectures. . . . As students, friends, and readers, we meet The Sense of Brown, finally, as a consolation in the midst of a global crisis that’s paradoxically lonely and chaotically social."
  — Roy Pérez, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Offers ... startling moments of insight and ... profound intellectual generosity." — Jane Hu, Bookforum

"Expertly edited after his passing by Joshua Chambers-Letson and Tavia Nyong’o, The Sense of Brown is Muñoz’s final work, and it’s a true testament to an intersectional project that suggests that 'queerness is in the horizon, forward dawning and not-yet-here. Brownness diverges from my definition of queerness. Brownness is already here.'”  — Maximilíano Durón, ARTnews

"With The Sense of Brown, José Esteban Muñoz left a love-letter to brownness that acts as a dream for its desire. Extending to the minerals of the soil, to the animals, and to the people who bare its shade, it is an ode to a brown of rapturous multiplicity. . .  [T]his book and Muñoz’s thoughts remain an arsenal full for any minoritarian subject who desires to understand and even love themselves, and their sense of being, more–a radical proposition." — Jess Saldaña, Lambda Literary Review


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

José Esteban Muñoz (1967–2013) was Professor of Performance Studies at New York University and author of Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity and Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics.

Joshua Chambers-Letson is Professor of Performance Studies at Northwestern University.

Tavia Nyong’o is Professor of American Studies, African American Studies, and Theater and Performance Studies at Yale University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Editors' Introduction. The Aesthetic Resonance of Brown / Joshua Chambers-Letson and Tavia Nyong'o  ix
1. The Browns Commons  1
2. Feeling Brown: Ethnicity and Affect in Ricardo Bracho's The Sweetest Hangover (and Other STDs)  8
3. The Onus of Seeing Cuba: Nilo Cruz's Cubanía  24
4. Meandering South: Isaac Julien and The Long Road to Mazatlán  29
5. "Chico, What Does It Feel Like to Be a Problem?": The Transmission of Brownness  36
6. The Vulnerability Artist: Nao Bustamante and the Sad Beauty of Reparation  47
7. Queer Theater, Queer Theory: Luis Alfaro's Cuerpo Polizado  59
8. Performing the Bestiary: Carmelita Tropicana's With What Ass Does the Cockroach Sit?/ Con Que Culo se Sienta la Cucaracha?  78
9. Performing Greater Cuba: Tania Bruguera and the Burden of Guilt  86
10. Wise Latinas  100
11. Brown Worldings: José Rodríguez-Soltero, Tania Bruguera, and María Irene Fornés  118
12. The Sense of Wildness: The Brown Commons after Paris Burned  128
13. Vitalism's Afterburn: The Sense of Ana Mendieta  141
Notes  151
Bibliography  167
Index  175
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1103-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0997-9