Parisi on Ginway, 'Cyborgs, Sexuality, and the Undead: The Body in Mexican and Brazilian Speculative Fiction'
M. Elizabeth Ginway. Cyborgs, Sexuality, and the Undead: The Body in Mexican and Brazilian Speculative Fiction. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2020. 246 pp. $34.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8265-0117-2; $99.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8265-0118-9.
Reviewed by Ariela Parisi (Rutgers University) Published on H-Sci-Med-Tech (January, 2023) Commissioned by Penelope K. Hardy (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse)
Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=58001
Cyborgs, Sexuality, and the Undead by M. Elizabeth Ginway explores the role of the body as the ideal locus where stories of human resilience in the face of national and global inequalities are materialized in speculative fiction from Brazil and Mexico. Ginway's previous expertise in Brazilian science fiction allows her to build a comparative study between Mexico and Brazil, two countries that share a certain state of exception and uniqueness regarding their respective cultural traditions and experience, according to the author. The book focuses on bodily transformation as an act of resistance—and the literary works selected highlight the presence of certain bodies that continue to be identified as "impolitic," despite the rhetoric of mestizaje/mestiçagem (racial or cultural mixing) present in the public discourse of both Latin American countries. Despite an explosion of academic publications about Latin American speculative fiction in recent years, Ginway’s unique contribution to the field is embodied in her comparative approach and original corpus. Not only does the author’s analysis span a variety of short fiction and selected novels that are both canonical and non-canonical, but she also covers an essential timeline from the late nineteenth century to the twenty-first century.
This vastness in period allows the author to trace a particular evolution in the genre in both countries. In chapter 1, for example, Ginway explores the figure of the cyborg over three time periods: the proto-cyborg from the export-based economy, the female cyborg from postwar industrialization, and the posthuman cyborg from the neoliberal era. By focusing on the gendered cyborg, the chapter is able to shed light on the “dilemmas of gendered labor and social inequalities while simultaneously serving as a voice for those who have been silenced in the national collective memory.” This operation is essential, because it opens up the field of speculative fiction to new interdisciplinary relationships with the fields of memory studies and feminist studies. By introducing the reader to non-canonical works and explaining their relevance in capturing “social, racial, and technological contradictions of late development and modernization,” Ginway invites scholars to discover a new archive of speculative fiction and proves its relevance to understanding the cultural history of Mexico and Brazil (p. 27). Regarding the theoretical framework, the author uses various technical tools but mainly takes a cue from Ecuadorian philosopher Bolívar Echeverria and his concepts of ethos barroco (baroque ethos) and codigofagia to present the works analyzed in this chapter. An array of writers form the corpus, including Machado de Assis, João do Rio, Pedro Castera, Juan José Arreola, Dinah Silveira de Queiroz, Alfredo Cardona Peña, Caio Fernando Abreu, Emiliano González, Bernardo Fernandez, Roberto de Sousa Causo, and J. P. Cuenca.
One of Ginway's most significant accomplishments is using Echeverria's epistemological framework and his concept of the "baroque ethos" to illuminate the corpus and establish fruitful connections with theories from distant disciplines. In chapter 2, for example, Ginway explores Echeverria’s concept in depth and applies his theory to stories that emphasize sexuality. The chapter showcases how many non-canonical works of science fiction and fantasy use queer sexualities to challenge conventional heroic masculinist narratives of struggle and nation-building. Even though this chapter deals with renowned literary authors, such as Machado de Assis and Carmen Boullosa, it does not fail to deliver an original corpus divided thematically into three sections. In the first section, Ginway examines narratives of "women warriors,'' focusing on embodiment and the baroque ethos in landscapes of Mexican and Brazilian speculative fiction ranging from Siam to the remote Amazon (p. 76). In the second section, she explores narratives where women inhabit masculine bodies. Finally, in the last, she analyzes texts where women are identified with another species. These three distinctive thematic units are insightfully connected by their displays of the different strategies in which female corporeality and subjectivity are queered.
In chapter 3, Ginway turns to the zombie figure as portent and embodiment of fear and trauma. The chapter sheds light on the genealogy of this monster, and at this point, the book touches on Mabel Moraña's idea of the double face, or the dual nature of the monstrous (El monstruo como máquina de guerra ). Ginway argues that the zombie can illustrate both a manifestation of capitalism and resistance to it, emphasizing the latter as her most original contribution. In this way, the chapter explores capitalism as a virus and a sickness whose spreading affects all social classes. The corpus is organized and analyzed in relation to two categories: zombie as contagion and zombie as resistance. To pinpoint the counter-hegemonic force of the zombie, the chapter employs the theories of Roberto Esposito on immunity and the body politic, which is highly pertinent (Immunitas ). However, the chapter could also have dialogued with trauma theory to highlight the agency that the author is pointing out.
In the same way that chapter 3 offers an original take on zombies as resistant beings, chapter 4 focuses on the figure of the vampire. The author includes several examples of narratives where allyship between these monstrous beings and the subaltern is present. Chapter 4 is yet another journey in which the reader discovers not only the genealogy of vampires in Mexican and Brazilian speculative fiction but also an original corpus paired with appropriate theoretical tools. I particularly enjoyed this chapter because of the inclusion of fiction written by female writers, such as Amparo Dávila and Gabriela Rábago Palafox; but mainly, I enjoyed Ginway’s ability to piece together different short stories, offering a complete and polysemic version of an overstudied canonical figure. I believe the author’s discovery of vampires emerging in both countries as colonial avengers and championing the victims of colonial and neocolonial regimes complements chapter 3 perfectly.
Ginway’s book showcases an original, comparative approach to Latin American speculative fiction. This academic piece could be beneficial to students and scholars in Latin American studies and gender studies and to literary critics of contemporary speculative fiction as well. At the same time, it leaves a door open to those interested in studying the complexities of Latin American countries through the lens of speculation. I wonder what studies would be possible if, following Ginway’s lead and adopting a polysemic posture, other types of aesthetic materials, such as indigenous speculative performances or films, were included. When considering the body's status as the ideal locus of enunciation for speculative practices, contemporary indigenous performances from Brazil are extremely relevant. Such studies could continue the conversation that Ginway starts with written fiction in this original and highly significant contribution to the field.
. Bolívar Echeverria, "Ethos Barroco," in Modernidad, Mestizaje Cultural, Ethos Barroco, ed. Bolívar Echeverria (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), 13-36.
Citation: Ariela Parisi. Review of Ginway, M. Elizabeth, Cyborgs, Sexuality, and the Undead: The Body in Mexican and Brazilian Speculative Fiction. H-Sci-Med-Tech, H-Net Reviews. January, 2023. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=58001This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.