Disturbing Beauty: Poetry, Performance, and Utopia in Ferreira Gullar, Miguel Piñero, and Pedro Juan Gutiérrez
Geyer, Charles Hampton
This dissertation explores the way in which the poetry and plays of Ferreira Gullar (Brazil, 1930-2016), Miguel Piñero (Puerto Rico/New York, 1946-1988), and Pedro Juan Gutiérrez (Cuba, 1950-) go about imagining utopian alternatives to social marginalization across the Americas in the late twentieth century. I study social marginality within the theoretical framework of abjection, examining the manner in which marginal subjects and spaces are marked as abject by dominant social groups—based on factors such as race, class, political ideology, sexual orientation, gender identity, (post)colonial status, and mental and physical disability—and systematically excluded from the dominant social sphere. As Gullar, Piñero, and Gutiérrez focus on these stigmatized subjects and spaces in their poetic and performative works, they create a shared aesthetic that finds a disturbing beauty within the abject zones of social life. Following the work of Alexander Nehamas, Ernst Bloch, and Theodor Adorno, I argue that this beauty offers a form of political promise, which gestures toward an alternative mode of social relations in which social margins are no longer constructed via a logic of abjection, and in which the category of “socially abject” ceases to exist as such. The abject beauty on display in the works of Gullar, Piñero, and Gutiérrez is disturbing in both an aesthetic and a political sense. Aesthetically, it disturbs the category of the beautiful itself, challenging our conceptions of what constitutes beauty by allowing it to coexist alongside and within the grotesque and the sublime. Politically, this beauty engages in the radically disruptive project of imagining the utopian transformation of oppressive systems of social abjection. Through studying the work of Gullar, Piñero, and Gutiérrez, I examine the way in which social abjection is both manifested and reimagined in Brazil during the military dictatorship (1964-1985), in Puerto Rican communities in New York during the 1980s, and Cuba during the Special Period in the 1990s.