Spotlight

Here is a link to The Statesman spotlight about me and my involvement with La Poderosa Media Project, and a photo of the group in Port Jefferson, NY, after our workshop at Stony Brook University.

 

Image Joseph M. Pierce, Nicolás Schvarzberg, Gabriela Espinosa, Jorge García, Alejandra Zambrano, and baby Joaquín

 

Community + Arts + Education

Stony Brook University
Friday, February 21, 2014
1:30 to 3:30 PM
Melville Library N-3060

LPMP3

This interactive workshop will discuss methods of artistic intervention and community engagement that have been employed by La Poderosa Media Project across Latin America and the United States over the past eight years. Workshop facilitators will emphasize the connection between arts programs and community-based pedagogies that can be applied to university curricula, nonprofit organizations, and social enterprises. Students, faculty, and staff are all welcome to attend.

La Poderosa Media Project is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to encourage youth empowerment, cultural empathy, and collaborative learning through community-based visual arts programs. It has facilitated the production of 20 short films and documentaries in the Dominican Republic, Panama, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and the United States.

Alejandra Zambrano, Founder and Executive Director, obtained a PhD in Latin American Literature at The University of Texas at Austin, where she also completed a portfolio in Nonprofit Studies from the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Jorge García, Curriculum Director, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Ithaca College.

Joseph M. Pierce, Communications Director, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature at Stony Brook University.

Sponsored by the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature

Workshop Flyer

SPJ

This is not an obituary. Not a remembrance. Hopefully it is a reflection on the people we trust with our thoughts, on the ways in which we open ourselves to others, on the people who help us become what we want to be. On love. On friendship. It is not a reflection on being an academic. I want it to be much broader than that.

Stephen Paul Jacobs was my friend, my editor, my interlocutor, my cuate. We met in 2005, the year I started graduate school at The University of Texas at Austin. The year of Katrina. My cuate, Steve, passed away on the morning of January 5, 2014. I was on a bus traveling from Houston to New Orleans to visit him, perhaps for the last time. But he had already died by the time I got there.

The last time I saw him in person was this past June. I was moving from Texas to New York, from where we met to where he was born. It was also a trip from the beginning of my time as a graduate student to my first semester as an Assistant Professor. It was a trip I could not have shared with anyone else.

He had seen everything. I am tempted to write this in the second person. I still feel like you are here, Steve, cuate, I still feel like you should be calling me. The rhythm of my life has not yet adjusted to the fact that you and I will no longer talk on the phone. That you will not read my conference papers anymore; that we will no longer listen to Puccini; that you will no longer ask me if I did a bicycle kick in a soccer game. When did I ever?

You shared every moment, every joy, every hoop I had to jump through. You were there for me, whatever that means. You are the only person who read every page of every draft of my dissertation. Doesn’t that sound strange? Doesn’t that sound selfish? My dissertation director didn’t read as much as you read. I am sure of it. You were my sounding board, the person I felt I could ask anything, no matter how silly or un-self-aware, no matter how banal, no matter how trite, no matter how juvenile. I asked you all the things I felt scared to ask other people. And what did you ask me?

You asked me “Wass hapnin?” You would say, “Hey Peps, its Steve. Give me a call when you get a chance. Bye bye.” In fact, that was the last voice mail you ever left me. Six seconds. Your voice mails were always exactly six seconds long. I knew what they said, always. I didn’t even have to listen to them.

But I don’t want to talk about voicemails, even though voicemails are important. Echoes of a voice, that bass voice that I will never hear again, that voice that fades. I want to talk about needing you, about needing what you were to me. On how sad and how weak that makes me feel, but also on how grateful and how much responsibility I feel to share you with others. I mean, to share what you were to me with others.

I think that means that we need people. I think that means, truly, that we just need people. People who listen, people who laugh at us, people who make us realize how fragile we are, how self righteous, how serious we feel like we have to be. Steve, you were that for me. I would do well to remember it, as you know. But you were the person who helped me realize that I am a person, as strange as that sounds. That I am a person, not a statistic or a robot or a job candidate, but a fucking person.

That humanity, that profound sense of humility and grace is what you will always be to me. I forget it sometimes, I admit. But you were always, you will always be the one I needed to get through all of this. To get to where I am (one step of many I was hoping to share with you). A journey. A friend. A feeling.

But not sympathy. A feeling like I always knew that we needed each other; like there was always something to share, something to see, something to taste, something to do together. A feeling like love and admiration and vulnerability and childishness all at once. A feeling like mattering to someone even if you could never say exactly what that meant.

Programas comunitarios de educación audiovisual como alternativa al aprendizaje-servicio en el extranjero

New article out:

Programas comunitarios de educación audiovisual como alternativa al aprendizaje-servicio en el extranjero

Abstract: En julio de 2011, La Poderosa Media Project (LPMP) terminó su décimo programa comunitario de artes visuales en América Latina. Dicho programa reúne a jóvenes latinoamericanos con estudiantes universitarios estadounidenses en un taller de producción cinematográfica cuyo objetivo final es la realización de documentales y cortometrajes de ficción. El presente artículo se enfoca en el impacto de esta edición del programa de LPMP en los estudiantes de español como segunda lengua. Además se analiza, a partir de la afectividad, el efecto tanto de la producción artística como de la traducción intercultural en las subjetividades de los participantes estadounidenses. Más allá de una valoración del programa en su estado actual, este artículo es una proyección de sus implicaciones futuras para profesores y administradores que deseen diseñar e implementar programas de estudio en el extranjero con un componente de compromiso social en el que prime el aprendizaje experiencial a través de la integración de los estudiantes en la comunidad.

Co-written with Jorge García (Ithaca College) and Alejandra Zambrano (Ithaca College).

GarciaPierceZambrano_Hispania_96.2

LASA 2013

Latin American Studies Association Annual Meeting, 2013

Round Table: Queer Generations: A Critical Dialogue (presented 5/31/2013)

The Future is Familiar: Queer Latinidad, Queer Familia

Understanding how normative practices and desires become sedimented, ingrained in a particular society has been one of the most pressing issues taken up by queer theorists over the past twenty years in both North and South America. To de-naturalize sexuality and gender by describing them as a historical progression or by showing their performativity is one of the principal gestures of queer theory meant to rest hegemony from ‘the normal’ in favor of nonnormative and intersectional queer identities, desires and practices.

Jorge Salessi’s 1995 book medicos maleantes y maricas is a pioneering work in this field, showing how Foucaldian historicism could be applied to a Latin American context. Using a heterogeneous archive including police records, hygienic essays, legal documents and autobiographical writing, he demonstrates how the modern Argentine nation was constituted through the disciplinary effects of legal and medical discourses that determined who was considered normal, healthy and desirable, on the one hand, and who was degenerate, pathological, and therefore undesirable, on the other. In short, his work shows how the normative criollo model of sexuality and gender performance was defined in contrast with the taxonomy of deviants at the turn of the century: invertidos, homosexuales, maricones, uranistas, among others, who for their aberrant sexualities were seen as harmful to the future of the modern Argentine nation.

Today I want to see if we can push Salessi’s work in a new direction by framing the question of the normative not in terms of gender and sexual performance, but in terms of the responsibilities, connections, and feelings that are indexed by the family. Since the colonial period and especially over the course of the nineteenth century, family has served as both a subject of fictional representation and an organizing principle of society in Latin America; regions and entire countries have been dominated by extended family networks, las oligarquías latinoamericanas. The fear of decadence in both economic and social terms of these families is what Salessi registers in his text, showing the discursive construction of a broad range of ‘others’ to be blamed for Argentina’s uneasy relationship with Liberal international development at the turn of the century. But rather than thinking about the ways in which these elites provide models for national citizenship against which we can glimpse queer practices and identities, I want to ask if the normative families themselves could also be considered queer.

The example I would like to share is the diary of Delfina Bunge. The sister of Carlos Octavio Bunge and the wife of Manuel Gálvez, Delfina was a consolidated participant in the social and intellectual scene of the Argentine oligarchy at the turn of the century. Her diary is probably the longest-kept piece of autobiographical writing in Latin America, begun when she was 15 in 1897 and amassing nearly 10,000 manuscript pages by the time she died in 1952. I was able to briefly consult the original manuscript in Buenos Aires in 2010, though an annotated selection was made by Delfina’s granddaughter, historian Lucía Gálvez, and published by Planeta in 2000.

The following is an excerpt from one entry dated June 4, 1904 that shows the problematic relationship between the idealized notion of family that was held by many members of the Argentine elite, and the reality of their individual aspirations.

4/6/1904. ¡Pobre Octavio! [She is referring to her brother, Carlos Octavio] ¿Quién iba a decir que iba a ser él quien más se preocupase por mí, y el que con más delicadeza supiese insinuarse en mi pensamiento? Puedo casi decir que es el que mejor me comprende. […] A veces me pinta lo que puede ser la vida de “una mujer sensata, inteligente y distinguida” sin necesidad de que se case. Y me la pinta… con atractivos colores. Me dice cómo, en tales condiciones, se pueden tener nobles goces, y hacer mucho bien. Una vez que salimos a caminar, en San Isidro, a la hora del crepúsculo, y me llevó hasta la famosa chacra de nuestra infancia, me hacía los ofrecimientos más delicados. De vivir con él por supuesto. Sin romanticismo; con cuentas y con todo. “Serás independiente, tendrás tu cuarto, tu piano…”

¡Me ofrecía, como último y más eficaz recurso, un lindo piano de cola! Lo que él no quiere es que…me vaya. Y como único medio de impedírmelo quiere demostrarme el papel de una mujer soltera como natural y bueno: “Una mujer inteligente puede quedarse soltera,” me repite. (144)

Delfina was 23 in 1904, and seemed rather fed up with what she saw as the ostentation and falsity of the upper class in Buenos Aires. The fact that her sister Julia was a renowned socialite may have had something to do with that. Delfina had written previously in her diary that she might be interested in becoming a nun, though her real passion was playing the piano.

There are three characteristics that I would like to underscore regarding this diary entry. The first is Delfina’s surprise that it was Carlos Octavio, rather than one of her other siblings—she had seven in total—, who recognized her dissatisfaction, who had the finesse to “insinuarse en mi pensamiento,” as she describes it. This understanding between family members is described in terms of intuition, the ability one has to sense what another is feeling. Communication between siblings is intimate, almost corporal. But not only does Carlos Octavio sense Delfina’s dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, he proposes an alternative to her living arrangements, which brings me to the second important point.

Carlos Octavio invites Delfina to form a queer home with him. I mean by this that he proposes to break with the normative model that conceives of the home as the exclusive locus of family sociability and biological reproduction, indeed, the place within which the family is constituted as such. Instead, he proposes to turn his bachelor pad into a space of sibling collaboration and freedom, a place where his sister could write and practice the piano and where they might stimulate and encourage each other in their artistic endeavors. That is, he proposes a sibling-led home rather than a patrilineal one.

We could even think of this arrangement as an attempt to subvert the patria potestad, the father’s legal prerogative over his daughter until marriage, which remained part of Argentina’s civic code until 1926. The explicit mention of Delfina’s future independence, “serás independiente,” serves to highlight both the legal and cultural ramifications of being “una mujer soltera” in Argentina at the turn of the century. Carlos Octavio intends to entice his sister by offering her precisely what she lacks: freedom from the watchful eyes of her parents, but also the ability to use her own skills and talents for her own satisfaction. That is, he wants to allow her the freedom to feel better about her own desires. It is in this sense that not just any “soltera” can succeed. She has to be “inteligente,” she has to be able to fend for herself, “sin romanticismo; con cuentas y con todo”. It is not a free ride, but an opportunity for her to develop and enjoy herself while doing so. It should be noted that this accommodation is made possible by virtue of their class, one needs plenty of disposable income to be able to afford to live alone, but it is precisely this type of class privilege that I am interest in pointing out. Even members of the oligarchy wanted to find new ways of living and feeling.

Finally, there is a moment when Delfina admits her own skepticism about this plan, when her brother has to argue for “el papel de una mujer soltera como natural y bueno”. Here we are reminded of the cultural insistence on the link between womanhood and reproduction, with Delfina needing to be reassured that to be a spinster can also be “natural” and “good”. Not only does Carlos Octavio invite her to leave the legal jurisdiction of her parents home to join him, he directly contradicts much of his own public writing on the natural place of the woman in society as the Angel of the home.

In contrast, theirs is a queer home in which Carlos Octavio proposes to form a partnership with his sister Delfina. Her artistic predilections, her taste, complimented his own, she was a potential interlocutor, someone who could offer him more than just amenable conversation, but stimulation and comfort. In contrast with the criminology texts and literary works that have most often been used to understand gender and sexuality at the turn of the century, Delfina’s diary allows us to think of the upper class criollo family unit itself as having the potential to generate a queer habitus, a mode of relating and feeling toward others that does not involve biological reproduction. The sibling-led home has the potential to foster a radical equality, a sense of mutuality that patriarchal sexuality and gender performance reject. This queer home shows the potential for new types of love, care, and dependency that are not often registered by contemporary cultural criticism. That is, the diary shows what type of love can still be family love, what type of feelings count as familiar and what were the ways in which one could deviate from script. These are not sexual practices or identities, but attitudes and relations between individuals.

Unfortunately, Delfina would reject the offer—she doesn’t give an explanation—and continued to live with her parents until she married Manuel Gálvez in 1910. We are left, then, with the image of Carlos Octavio attempting to persuade his sister on a picturesque walk through San Isidro, the image of the family as contradictory space within which the desires of the individual may conflict with the demands of the class; a space of sameness in difference; of freedom and of mutual dependency; of a never completed project of complimentary kinship. The image of a queer home uninhabited.

By citing Delfina’s diary I do not mean that we have to find yet more ‘rare’ archives from which to mine queer resonances, but that one of the ways to move forward with queer studies in the Latin American context is to rethink the nexus where gender, sexuality and race converge; it is to rethink the affective and hereditary bonds of kinship that constitute the normative family. This case shows us one of the ways to complicate queer theory’s relationship with the normative by returning to the scene of the home in order to question the desires that shape the sense of self and other.

Works Cited

Gálvez, Lucía. Delfina Bunge: Diarios íntimos de una época brillante. Buenos Aires: Planeta, 2000.

Salessi, Jorge. Médicos maleantes y maricas: Higiene, criminologya y homosexualidad en la construcción de la nación Argentina. (Buenos Aires: 1871-1914). Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo, 1995.

Some Things I learned in Graduate School, or How to Feel Better about the Last 7 Years

I learned that you don’t know what you don’t know.
I learned that prepositions are hard to translate.
I learned that I would fail many times, many times.
I learned that I was getting old(er).
I learned that the professor who had declined to write me a letter of recommendation to graduate school because he didn’t think it was a good idea, was proud of me regardless.
I learned that you have to be an entrepreneur, that if you don’t see in front of you the thing you want to do, then you have to create it, make it, fake it. This is hard for humanities people to understand because its reeks of business school, but what else are you going to do when there are 40% less jobs being offered than 5 years ago? It is to do what you want to do, what you must do, because you have to.
I learned that I had friends who had had nervous breakdowns, friends who got cancer, friends who died, who got divorced, who got married and had kids—not necessarily in that order.
I learned that I could not go more than two weeks without playing soccer.
I learned that even though I had fallen in love, I didn’t have to settle for creamy peanut butter.
I learned that there is a lot that I don’t know. I may have learned that grad school is much more likely to reveal what you don’t know than to allow you to know more things. I may have also learned that empathy is a utopia and that we can never really know what other people feel, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.
I learned that queer theory is not as sexy as people think it is.
I learned that I could be a morning person.
I learned that you have to have a support group of friends, family and colleagues, some of whom you ask to read your writing, to talk to you about your work, and to ruthlessly critique you, some of whom you drink and dance with, some of whom you talk about trashy TV shows with.
I learned that gossip is essential to graduate school.
I learned that writing a dissertation chapter could take a year or it could take a week. The latter is inadvisable.
I learned that everything we do is personal because we invest so much time and we struggle so mightily to come up with new ideas, to show people that we can think for ourselves. So when people say that rejection is not personal, they are lying.
I learned that you have to spend more time in the library than you think.
I learned that a PhD is the most expensive luxury item most of us will ever buy.
I learned that I have to learn to listen better, and that I’m not there yet.
I learned that I could be a cat person.
I learned the meaning of many words that, if used in real life, make you seem like a complete asshole.
I learned that no matter what my professor’s opinion was, I should do what I wanted and justify it later.
I learned that there is nothing about graduate school that you have to accept at face value.
I learned that you have to pay attention to what you feel and that you shouldn’t lie to yourself because there is too much time to think in graduate school.
I learned that writing a dissertation changes who you are; it forces you to change who you are, and you may lose yourself and become different to many people, to people you care about, you may sacrifice friendships for your dissertation, you will certainly have to confront many of your fears and many of your worst qualities before you finish. It is not a pretty process, and once you are done, you have to pick up the pieces and figure out who you are going to be.
I learned that there are many, many people who are awful human beings, and it is not my job to change them.
I learned that there is no accounting for taste, and that Susan Sontag and Oscar Wilde would not have been friends, or maybe they would have.
I learned that we can go days without seeing the sun, but that is also inadvisable.
I learned not everyone is like me.
I learned that there are people who think that the humanities have no role in modern society, but I don’t care about those people.
I learned that linguists are people too.
I learned how to sell myself, to make elevator pitches and to memorize different versions of the same answers, to become a product in the academic marketplace, and then, I realized that sometimes getting a job is just pure luck.
I learned that my undergraduate students had no idea what it meant to be in graduate school, and they had no idea who I was, what I was trying to do, and many of them didn’t really care, though some of them did, and it’s a shame it happens because we’re not all that different.
I learned that I have to read better. That was what a very important person said to me once, that our job as scholars was to read better.
I learned to disagree with that. The most important thing we can do as scholars is to feel better, to help our bodies sense better, to teach our souls and our histories to sing better, to let our tongues speak better and our hearts love better, to let ourselves be loved better, to cry better and to sit alone and still better, to daydream better, to scribble poems better, to obsess and to succeed better, to feel better; to feel better.

Dissertation Abstract

I successfully defended my dissertation this past Monday. Here is my final abstract.

My dissertation departs from the idea that horizontal kinship, in particular the sibling bond, has largely been overlooked by criticism of 19th century Argentine literature. Works on the foundational mid-century narratives concentrate on allegorical heterosexual unions, while those of the late century primarily deal with the failed marriages of naturalist fiction. I argue that in viewing the fictional family as a vertical, genealogical structure, these texts often fail to consider what Pierre Bourdieu calls “practical kinship”. Also, in primarily focusing on the novel, they overlook the minor genres to which women were traditionally limited, such as pedagogical texts, as well as private or semi-private writing like the diary and the memoir, in which sibling relations are more prominent. This project, in contrast, takes a politically engaged, socially influential family of writers, rather than a fictional representation, as the framework for analyzing the social, cultural, and political shifts of the turn of the century in Argentina (1890-1910). Focusing on the work of two proto-feminist sisters, Delfina and Julia Bunge, and a closeted homosexual brother, Carlos Octavio Bunge, I study the dynamic relationship between these siblings, reading a wide range of their public and private texts. In dialogue with naturalist novelists and positivist essay writers, la familia Bunge challenges the conventional view that the upper class saw the traditional criollo family unit as the last bastion of stability in the face of sexual and class “inversion” by themselves questioning normative gender roles, complicating compulsory heterosexuality, and performing the gaps in the hegemonic division of public and private space. I analyze siblinghood as a dynamic actor in shaping the literature, culture, and politics of the turn of the century, underscoring the role of relational subjectivities in forming notions of gender, sexuality, citizenship, and mutual intelligibility.