Monstrous Erotics: Poetics of Embodiment in Black Diasporic Women's Performance
Róża Szaniawska, Aleksandra
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Monstrous Erotics: Poetics of Embodiment in Black Diasporic Women's Performance engages with African diasporic music, dance, literature, film and art in order to explore how black women, through performance, thieve pleasure from within those monstrous narratives that have cast their bodies as commodified spectacles. Rather than analyzing the workings of violent inscriptions mapped upon black women's bodies, I look at how contemporary performers rework the notion of monstrosity from only a condition of subjugation to one of performative agency along the lines of Hortense Spillers' call for new grammars. Such a counter-intuitive reinvestment in non-traditional forms of agency present in monstrous refashioning can rewrite what we think about resistance, victimization and power, and provide alternative modes of erotic autonomy for black women whose sexuality has historically been used as a proof of their inhumanity. This project looks specifically at the connection between monstrosity and sexuality. Through the concept of monstrous erotics, each chapter thinks through multifaceted queer desires located in the body in specific black women's cultural texts, such as Erykah Badu's “Window Seat,” Janelle Monáe's Afrofuturist sonic fiction, Nora Chipaumire's Miriam, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter's Lemonade, Mayra Santos-Febres' Sirena Selena and Wangechi Mutu's Nguva na Nyoka (Sirens and Serpents). By foregrounding movements, gestures, facial expressions, sounds and breaths as everyday acts of resistance, Monstrous Erotics inquires into the processes that make the body “speak.” Through such a methodological approach, which utilizes both my scholarly training and dance-theater practice, I show how the black woman's body in performance functions as a repository of knowledge, a locus of cultural memory, and an archive of pleasure. The focus on embodiment and its poetics opens up new possibilities to read black diasporic women's agency in the twenty-first century.