"Wanton Escapes: A Primer on Flight"
José Muñoz Memorial Lecture
EVENT | LECTURE
“Wanton Escapes: A Primer on Flight”
José Muñoz Memorial Lecture
On June 28, 1856, residents of Havana were called upon to witness yet another neighbor who had decided to get himself onto a balloon and fly. Balloon flights had become a fad and a frenzy in Havana at that time: Virginia Marotte, from Orleans, was the first woman aeronaut, and it is said that Domingo Blinó ecstatically threw pigeons, flowers, poems–and apparently two goats– overboard before he crashed near the port of Mariel. The same fearless, indomitable spirit possessed Matías Perez to fly twice in his balloon, called “La villa de Paris.” The first flight was a success but it was the second, on June 28, the one that turned Matías Pérez into something more than just simply a man, or a hero, but into the very pixie dust from which legends are made. For his feat was so spectacular, so magnificent, so noteworthy and courageous, that it is no wonder that habaneros are still waiting for Matias Perez to come back in order to congratulate him themselves.
For days, weeks, and years, countless rescue missions on the island as well as on surrounding keys failed to come up with our hero or with any kind of debris from “La villa de París.” To this day, perhaps the sole consolation we can derive from this heroic gesture is just the pleasure of the tale. And then, of course, a popular refrain. When someone has left the party, or hides from public view, when something is lost and cannot be found we say that he, she, or it, “fled like Matias Perez.” Which means: it, or he, or she, is no more. Or does it?
It is from this flight that we begin. Not only to think about Cuba, about the Caribbean, about Latinxs, about Latin Americans, but also about our present moment, about our here and now, about how to vanish and at the same time defy presence and loss, how to dissolve without a clear motive, or how to respond to provocation when the only useful element in our toolbox is that of existence-as-flight. Guest appearances by Walt Whitman, Federico Garcia Lorca, William Burroughs, Salvador Novo, Ana Mendieta, Alejo Carpentier, Reinaldo Arenas, Lydia Cabrera and many others.
Professor José Quiroga was born in Havana, Cuba, and grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He received a B.A. in English and Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures from Boston University, and a Ph.D. from Yale University in Spanish American Literature. Before joining the Emory faculty in 2002, he taught at The George Washington University and held visiting appointments at Columbia, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. His research interests are contemporary Latin American and Latinoliteratures and cultures, gender and queer studies, contemporary Cuba and the Caribbean, and Latin American poetry. His published books include Mapa Callejero (Buenos Aires: Eterna Cadencia, 2010), Law of Desire: A Queer Film Classic (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp, 2009), Cuban Palimpsests (University of Minnesota Press, 2005) and, in collaboration with Daniel Balderston, Sexualidades en Disputa (Buenos Aires: Ricardo Rojas, 2005). In addition he has also published Tropics of Desire: Interventions from Queer Latino America (New York University Press, 2001) and Understanding Octavio Paz (University of South Carolina Press, 2000). He has been an invited keynote speaker at numerous U.S. and foreign universities, and is the author of essays and articles that have appeared and in journals such as Social Text, MLN, La Torre, Hispania, as well as in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Nation, and The San Juan Star. He is co-editor at Palgrave Macmillan of the book series New Directions in Latino American Cultures and has been a member of the Board at theCenter for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) in New York. He is presently completing an edited collection for Duke University Press titled The Havana Reader, and a book on dissident practices in Cuba and Argentina, for which he has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for the year 2010-2011.