Brown Study

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study post

by Deborah Paredez, University of Texas-Austin

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It was the blue hour.

That time when bodies turn silhouette against the vast azure.

When you stumble home from the bar towards bed—yours, anyone’s—to, as Joni Mitchell sings, “lay down an impression and your loneliness.”1

When, at last, the baby sleeps and you can now prepare for your morning class.

The blue hour.

Which actually lasts less than an hour, the blue burned to dawn after about 20 minutes.

But what’s an hour, really, when you measure your days against straight time?

It was the blue hour on the last class day of the semester. I was writing up my final notes for my lecture course, “Performing America.” How to end it? How to convey to my students a model for performing (against) America? I turned to José Feliciano’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” letting it play over and over as I stared out the window towards the cerulean horizon.

It was José Muñoz who, years ago, first introduced me to Feliciano’s minor key take on the anthem. It was José who taught me how to practice a critical and ethical attentiveness to a wide range of performances by Latina/o artists. José who helped so many of us identify “all sorts of antinormative feelings that correspond to minoritarian becoming.”2 José who helped us hear in Feliciano’s song the tentative strumming of those first measures, the plaintive “Ohhhhh,” the steady murmur of the melody and the languorous voice refusing to keep the time. The lag. The longing the longing the longing. This, José instructed us, is what it sounds like to feel brown.

For those of us invested in and, indeed, in love with Latina/o performance (studies), José’s work was the light of the blue hour: the source of illumination against which we positioned our own bodies of work in the hopes of being made to seem more luminous, more clearly defined. The distinct shape of our work was impossible to achieve in any other light. He named our feelings and their relationship to our (lack of) access to citizenship; he chronicled the disidentificatory practices so central to our identificatory pursuits; he legitimated our strivings for that sparklingly sapphire queer beyond.

Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light?

It was the blue hour on 4 December 2013, a moment of passage.

It was the blue hour and Feliciano’s voice shirred the silence and the dawn broke the blue and I taught my class, playing Feliciano’s song under my lecture for the whole hour, and I returned to my office and received word of the news.

It was the blue hour and it passed too soon and I was left feeling brown.

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Visit the full José Esteban Muñoz gallery here.

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Notes
1. Joni Mitchell, “Down to You,” Court and Spark, CD, Asylum, 1974.
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2. José E. Muñoz, “Feeling Brown, Feeling Down: Latina Affect, the Performativity of Race, and the Depressive Position,” Signs 31.1 (Spring 2006): 679.
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