Fetish and Fantasy in Colonial Latin America

AHA Session 96
Conference on Latin American History 19
Friday, January 6, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Mile High Ballroom 1B (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Martha Few, University of Arizona
The Audience

Session Abstract

Colonial encounters provoke fantasies of domination, submission, and devotion, and colonial Latin America is no exception.  Spanish and Portuguese conquerors and Catholic priests fantasized about the people of indigenous and African descent (as well as each other).  Often fantasies focused on religious ritual, though they also had a sexual component. Indigenous and African peoples, influenced both by their cultural traditions and the colonial process, had religious and sexual fantasies as well. Individuals of all ethnicities and genders fantasized about their neighbors, priests, and local council members, and Inquisitors fantasized about the people brought before them.  All people fantasized about their own bodies, and some about the bodies of the divine and the demonic.  Some of these fantasies contained elements related to sex, violence, and other power dynamics—which could be enacted ritualistically.  Sometimes the fantasies of these individuals took place in the real world.  Further, some of these fantasies enacted what today some would (anachronistically) deem a sexual “fetish,” “perversion,” or “sadomasochistic” activity. We analyze the role of fetish and fantasy in the construction of the individual subject throughout the colonial period in Latin America.  We ask what, if anything, is unique about the colonial experience that provokes particular fetishized fantasies linking sex with violence and devotion.  In exploring questions related to fetish and fantasy, the papers in this panel evoke a series of theoretical questions that are key to historians of sexuality and religion, postcolonial theorists, and subaltern studies scholars.  In particular, we ask how fantasy and fetish become visible within the archive, and how colonial rule changes the ways individual observers and participants relate to religion and sexuality.  The papers in this panel are based on Inquisition documents, confessions, notarial sources, historical chronicles, and a Hollywood film.  This diverse array of sources allows the panelists to look at fantasies related to guilt, pleasure, pain, oral and anal penetration, prostitution, virginity, bodily mutilation, sadism, masochism, and abjection.  The panelists recognize the limits of the sources that they study and the archives that they consult.  They also recognize the limits of the categories placed upon individual fantasies by observers, priests, ethnographers, archivists, and historians.  Thus, each paper both provides an extensive analysis of the sources, while also analyzing the position of fantasy in the archive.  Historians who attend this panel will come away with a deeper appreciation of the conundrum involved in the study of the fetishes and fantasies of people who lived in the colonial past.
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