Histories of Erotica, Censorship, and the “Obscene” in Latin America

AHA Session 162
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 8
Saturday, January 8, 2022: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Napoleon Ballroom B3 (Sheraton New Orleans, 3rd Floor)
Mir Yarfitz, Wake Forest University
Anne Rubenstein, York University

Session Abstract

In recent years, there has been a significant expansion of historical studies around the production and distribution of erotica and pornography, as well as their attendant censorship campaigns by religious and state institutions. At least since the 1993 publication of Lynn Hunt’s edited volume, The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500 – 1800, historical studies on pornographic modes of circulation and the cultural constructions of the “obscene” have come to directly influence the contours that the now growing interdisciplinary field of “Porn Studies” would come to take in visual studies, cultural studies, literature, and queer studies. This panel looks aims to connect some of the theoretical and methodological insights of history, porn studies, and queer studies to think about the historical and activist circulations of Latin American erotica in new and imaginative ways. Using a diverse range of case studies from Latin America, spanning from the late eighteenth century to the early twenty-first, this panel explores some of the crucial connections between historical methods, archival research, material/digital preservation, and burgeoning field of Porn Studies and activism around historicized bodies and desires. Among the questions we ask are: How are researchers, archivists, and (LGBTQ) activists necessarily collaborative in some of their efforts at analyzing and preserving particular aspects (and physical remnants) of erotic pasts? How and why—in terms of process and technological change—do so-called “obscene” representations of particular bodies come to be archived across diverse media like criminal or Inquisition trials, photography, printed magazines, nitrate reels, VHS, and digital files? And, what can the historian’s role, both individual and collective, be in queer methods surrounding the archival preservation of historical sources relating to gender and sexuality in the past? Ultimately, this session analyzes overlapping historical genealogies of the “obscene” in Latin America, from late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Mexican Inquisition trials, and Cold War circulations of erotica in Peru and Argentina, to late twentieth-century constructions of Mexican national identity through gay pornography. In this vein, our panel seeks to rethink the obscene and its attendant libidinal politics as a conceptual space that activates the tensions between censorship and dissemination, the private and the public, and destruction and archiving.
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