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Disidentifications

Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics

1999
Author:

José Esteban Muñoz

Disidentifications

An important new perspective on the ways outsiders negotiate mainstream culture.

There is more to identity than identifying with one’s culture or standing solidly against it. José Esteban Muñoz looks at how those outside the racial and sexual mainstream negotiate majority culture—not by aligning themselves with or against exclusionary works but rather by transforming these works for their own cultural purposes. Muñoz calls this process “disidentification,” and through a study of its workings, he develops a new perspective on minority performance, survival, and activism.

Taking psychoanalytic theory where it has never been before, Muñoz raises the curtain on queer performance art. Itself a complex act of disidentification, this vibrant and venturesome book unveils queer worldmaking at its passionate best.

Diana Fuss, author of Identification Papers

There is more to identity than identifying with one’s culture or standing solidly against it. José Esteban Muñoz looks at how those outside the racial and sexual mainstream negotiate majority culture—not by aligning themselves with or against exclusionary works but rather by transforming these works for their own cultural purposes. Muñoz calls this process “disidentification,” and through a study of its workings, he develops a new perspective on minority performance, survival, and activism.

Disidentifications is also something of a performance in its own right, an attempt to fashion a queer world by working on, with, and against dominant ideology. By examining the process of identification in the work of filmmakers, performance artists, ethnographers, Cuban choteo, forms of gay male mass culture (such as pornography), museums, art photography, camp and drag, and television, Muñoz persistently points to the intersecting and short-circuiting of identities and desires that result from misalignments with the cultural and ideological mainstream in contemporary urban America.

Muñoz calls attention to the world-making properties found in performances by queers of color—in Carmelita Tropicana’s “Camp/Choteo” style politics, Marga Gomez’s performances of queer childhood, Vaginal Creme Davis’s “Terrorist Drag,” Isaac Julien’s critical melancholia, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s disidentification with Andy Warhol and pop art, Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s performances of “disidentity,” and the political performance of Pedro Zamora, a person with AIDS, within the otherwise artificial environment of the MTV serial The Real World.

Disidentifications

José Esteban Muñoz (1967–2013) was assistant professor of performance studies at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.

Disidentifications

Taking psychoanalytic theory where it has never been before, Muñoz raises the curtain on queer performance art. Itself a complex act of disidentification, this vibrant and venturesome book unveils queer worldmaking at its passionate best.

Diana Fuss, author of Identification Papers

Demonstrating a thoughtful and acutely pushy intellect, Muñoz tops a new generation of identity theorists. Disidentifications beautifully describes transformative performances of sexuality and race in ways that reverberate dramatically, further transforming the conditions of possibility for those who encounter the text, its world of pleasures, images, and analyses. The sheer value of this archive of queer world-making acts cannot be overestimated: as citation keeps the films, performances, and texts open and animating, queer commentary like this sustains resistance to and optimism against the forces of exhaustion.

Lauren Berlant, Professor of English, University of Chicago

Disidentifications is an innovative and groundbreaking intervention done with theoretical and critical elegance. Eloquently written, this rich and eclectic text will ‘trouble’ the intersections of queer, racial, and ethnic studies.

Ana M. López, Tulane University

Munoz’s insights into the complex ways race, sexual difference, ethnicity, class and ‘professionalization’ influence each artist’s work can be startling. These essays are consistently enlightening and provocative.

Publishers Weekly

The ‘disidentifications’ explicated by Jose Esteban Munoz in his fine book are the efforts of ‘queers of color’ to subsume dominant artistic expressions for the purposes of creating their own unique expression. The interesting twist in this study is that its subjects exist and create outside not only the white, heterosexual hegemony, but also outside the most visible and (at least superficially) accepted mainstream gay culture. Hence, Munoz finds threads that link the bisexual black blues singer Bessie Smith to British filmmaker Isaac Julien, the Cuban-American performance Carmelita Tropicana to the late activist and MTV Real World star Pedro Zamora; these are disparate performers, artists, and communicators with similar goals and approaches to their art. By turning a light onto these unique individuals and the processes behind their work, Munoz allows the reader to share in a cultural perspective that is at once singular and universal.

Independent Publisher

This provocative, scholarly book explores what Munoz calls ‘disidentification,’ a process whereby art outsiders, namely sexual and racial minorities within various media navigate and transform the so-called normative or dominant cultural groups. This is a breakthrough book.

MultiCultural Review

If you could judge a book by its cover, you say that Muñoz’s Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics is alluring and fantastic. Disidentifications is a pivotal study of the identity-or rather, disidentity-of queer-of-color performers.

Reforma