Jon Jaramillo, 2021 Jane Grant Dissertation Fellow

Jon Jaramillo

Jon Jaramillo, PhD candidate in romance languages, “Viral Bodies: AIDS and Other Contagions in Latin American Narrative.”


Abstract: The HIV/AIDS crisis in Latin America was overshadowed by the late phase of the Cold War, while authoritarian governments promoted discourses reflecting moral and ethical exceptionalism. People with AIDS (PWAs) experienced multiple crises—moral excision by the state, marginalization, and the certainty of death. Existing societal infrastructures of class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, which already urged marginalized lives into even more precarious ways of being, complicated and intensified how PWAs experienced isolation, internal exile, neglect, condemnation, discrimination, and death. Exceptional conditions led to a 10-year delay before works by Latin American artists and writers emerged. My dissertation…examines works by Reinaldo Arenas (Cuba), Mario Bellatín (Mexico), Pedro Lemebel (Chile), and Pablo Perez (Argentina) since they reveal a spectrum of intersectional AIDS subjectivities exhibiting accommodation, resistance, and transgression of prevailing national and religious norms. Drawing from the fields of exile studies, transfeminism, contagion theory, and virality, ‘Viral Bodies’ argues that as these narratives break imposed silences by radically exteriorizing the insularity, anonymity, and decomposing bodies of those dying, and living, with the disease, they also intervene in national, transnational, and religious discourses. They offer utopian imaginings of kinship, belonging, and community formation, while also bringing practices of difference such as transvestism, sadomasochism, and spiritual fetishism into focus. The dissertation intervenes in transfeminist discourse by questioning how HIV/AIDS feminizes subject formation when the viral contagion penetrates the body. The infection places the person in the passive/receptive position, the identity categories destabilize, and the body becomes charged with viral potential.