Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Lust and Disgust: The Rhetoric of Abjection in the Spanish Immigration Films Bwana, Flores De Otro Mundo and Princesas

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Lust and Disgust: The Rhetoric of Abjection in the Spanish Immigration Films Bwana, Flores De Otro Mundo and Princesas

Article excerpt

[The abject]... lies there, quite close, but it cannot be assimilated... Unflaggingly, like an inescapable boomerang, a vortex of summons and repulsion places the one haunted by it literally beside himself.

Julia Kristeva

The notion of the abject has been integral to countless investigations about sexual identity, and much less frequently racial and immigrant identities, in fields ranging from literature to psychology since the publication of Kristeva's Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection in 1982.1 Associated with filth, contamination and similar types of debasement, abjection provokes disgust, creates disorder and threatens the notion of an established identity (Kristeva 1982: 4). Self-identification is predicated, in part, on disassociation with defilement; waste, filth, and contamination must be separated from the body for self-preservation (1982: 3). The body acts as a border between the self and the abject, which is neither completely separated nor integrated (4).

Imbued with ambiguity and couched in spatial terms like 'border', 'displacement', 'interior' and 'exterior', the concept of the abject offers a rich vocabulary for exploring ambivalent attitudes toward immigrants, particularly regarding their assimilation, degradation, and/or rejection. In numerous Spanish films dealing with immigration, abjection appears in a variety of manifestations; however, to date there have been no studies that concentrate primarily on how representations of abjection reveal both a profound rejection of and attraction towards the immigrant body. In the films Bwana (1996), Flores de otro mundo (1999) and Princesas (2005), the immigrant Other, in the role of the abject, is perceived as a potential source not only of filth and contamination but also of sexual satisfaction.2 These films form part of a larger narrative in contemporary Spanish cinema that examines the complexity of how immigrant identities are subsumed into Spanish identity.3 Since the 1990s there has been a growing trend towards disinterring the figure of the abject immigrant Other, particularly the corpses, filth and contamination of immigrants, as is evidenced in films such as Las cartas de Alou (1990), Taxi (1996), Barrio (1998), Ilegal (2003), Agua con sal (2005), 14 kilómetros (2007), and Biutiful (2010), to name a few.4 These films reverse the overall tendency in post-Franco Spanish cinema towards ignoring issues related to race and immigration. Inhabiting abandoned subway and sewer tunnels, hidden sweatshops and other concealed locales, the abject immigrants are revealed as being both hidden from and present in mainstream Spanish society. This paradox leads to the fundamental question: What is the function of the verbal and visual rhetoric of abjection in commenting on the potential integration of foreigners into Spanish society in the films Bwana, Flores de otro mundo and Princesas?

In order to better understand the role of immigrant identity in the films, it is helpful to first take a look at immigration in Spain from a socio-historic perspective. Following the Spanish Civil War, the Franco regime fortified the belief that Spain was a unified, homogeneous nation, despite the influences of Muslims, Jews, Gypsies, and the inhabitants of culturally and linguistically distinct autonomous communities. Isabel Santaolalla maintains that this belief is still prevalent today: 'Contemporary Spanish society is characterized by a fundamental paradox which affects the way it perceives and represents itself. This paradox is the result, on the one hand, of historical awareness that Spanish identity is the product of a rich amalgamation of cultures, races and religions, and, on the other hand, of the self-perception of Spain as an ethnically homogenous country' (Santaolalla 1999: 113). Throughout most of the twentieth century, it was more common for Spaniards to emigrate to other countries than it was for immigrants to move to Spain. However, starting in the 1980s, Spain began to see dramatic increases in the immigrant population. …

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