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AmLit: Christina León (Princeton), "Exquisite Dust: Desire, Translation, and Precarity in Manuel Ramos Otero"
Monday, March 26, 2018 - 5:30pm to 7:00pm

Fisher-Bennett Hall Graduate Lounge, room 330

Join us for an amazing talk by Professor Christina León entitled "Exquisite Dust: Desire, Translation, and Precarity in Manuel Ramos Otero." More details on the talk below: 

Abstract: "This talk traces the figure of polvo, translatable as dust, in the writing of Puerto Rican and New York writer Manuel Ramos Otero. His macabre sensuality spans his writing career, long before his diagnosis with HIV and up until his eventual death in 1990 from AIDS complications. Writing defiantly and openly as a queer, as a feminist, as a Puerto Rican, and as a sidoso (a slang for someone with SIDA/AIDS), his work invites death and desire to commingle through a figuration of dust, as substance that covers skin, coats translation, and dirties up conventional genres. Ramos Otero’s work strikes a tenuous balance between the personal and the figurative, through an insistence on aesthetic relation—a relation which he figures through polvo, a particular matter that exposes our porosity and yet still clings and hovers in the space between bodies, between the past and the future, between life and death. The forceful fragility of polvo is then not reducible to his work on AIDS, but is instead another instantiation of his oeuvre’s tropological commitment to thinking the persistence of that which is nonetheless finite, from dust to dust.

Concomitantly, as the dust settles in the wake of Hurricane María, we can read the past to see a trope that not only figures the world of Ramos Otero’s Puerto Rico, but also prefigures how coloniality persists and lingers with the promises of collapse, death, and forced precarity.  And yet, through Ramos Otero’s essays, poetry, and short stories, dust also marks the vibrant dangers of desire—its undoing, disappointment, and salacious risk. Moreover, his queer translations of autobiography turn the conventional wisdom of the genre on its head by refusing to consolidate a life into words—giving us, instead, an exquisite sprinkling of dust, a life both undone and made possible by desire. This figure of dust resonates as something both material and ephemeral, marking the bits of nearly imperceptible matter that moves between bodies, borders, and genres. Ramos Otero’s affinity for finitude, figured through polvo, counterintuitively conjures a relational desire that moves beyond distinctions between life and death in order to privilege the porous, the marginal, and the always precarious possibility of survival."  Email Kiana Murphy at kianam@sas.upenn.edu or  Mark Firmani at mfirmani@sas.upenn.edu for questions and/or concerns.