Worldmaking powers of law and performance: queer politics beyond/against neoliberal legalism
Prado Fernandes, André
This thesis examines the worldmaking powers of the law and of performances, two crucial sites/strategies of historical importance for LGBT and queer activists and artists. My focus is a particular rhetoric of LGBT rights circulating in the mainstream of international human rights law and politics that posits gender and sexuality as inherent, natural properties of self-bounded, sovereign individuals. I begin by offering a genealogical account that asks how this rhetoric went rather rapidly from global obscurity to omnipresence in, even preclusion and colonisation of, our political repertoire. Next, drawing on insights from feminist, queer, and critical race scholars and activists, my critique centres on some of this rhetoric’s ontological and political limitations: its narrowing down of fundamental political vocabulary and concealment of historical injustice and structural inequality; its reductionist misconception of the operations of power and displacement of alternative, extralegal sites and knowledges; and its disavowal of social relationality through the myth of the self-sufficient, possessive subject. My overarching purpose is to scrutinise this rhetoric’s potentials and pitfalls for queer politics, a task I pursue with the purpose of not rejecting but decentring it from, even decolonising, our political imaginaries and subjectivities. To do so and foreground the potential of extralegal modes and knowledges of queer politics, I turn to a case study and foil against which the ontopolitical limitations of neoliberal LGBT (human) rights may be exposed and challenged. Namely, to the social contagion and social movement in/as the aftermath of the performances of the Dzi Croquettes, a 1970s Brazilian theatre and dance group/family whose style, language, and ‘philosophy of life’ leaked out of the stage and increasingly onto the streets, igniting incipient discussions about gender and sexuality. In order to illustrate how queer performances may help expose and challenge the ontopolitical limitations of the neoliberal LGBT rights rhetoric, I turn to this ‘pre-rights’ era under the Brazilian dictatorship in early 1970s to examine the Dzi Croquettes both qua performance group/family and social movement. At a time when Brazil was ruled by a patriarchal, fascist dictatorship, I argue that the Dzi performed and ventilated alternative ontologies against the notion of the impenetrable male body and disidentified with structuring binaries such as male and female, public and private, even oneself and other. Based on a survey of the literature, on data generated through archival research and oral history interviews as well as on ephemera gathered on- and offline, I dwell on the group’s trajectory and oeuvre before presenting and analysing my participants’ accounts on the Dzi performances’ magnetic and disorienting powers. I proceed by bringing both the legal and performative realms in conversation with each other. I demonstrate that the Dzi/queer performances more broadly ‘target’ affective and disciplinary modes of powers in ways the mainstream LGBT rights rhetoric comes short of. Further, unlike the atomised subject to whom others appear primarily as dangerous or intrusive, the Dzi posited and valued alterity as fundamental to the knowledge and constitution of both oneself and the social world. The analysis of my participants’ narratives brings the Dzi performances under relief as catalysts for collective, multidirectional identification and resistance as well as of (re)formulation of political needs and vocabularies against/beyond those of neoliberal legalism. I conclude by examining what might be at stake in decentring the law and meditating on how it may fit and nurture a kaleidoscopic political arsenal as plural and diverse as the workings of power. This thesis contributes to critical enquiries on what happens, on what we may lose and/or gain, in/through the translation between queer politics and the law. It also advances the concept of legal decentring, which first appeared three decades ago but whose meanings and implications remain little theorised. In an effort to extend and develop the concept, I gesture towards what it may open up and/or close down, both its potentials and limits. Lastly, it contributes to debates of 1970s queer utopia and communes in/from the Global South and to the literature on the political and affective potentials of performances as realms where we may collectively imagine and enact radical ways of being and doing queer(ness).