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Revista Brasileira de Estudos da Presença

On-line version ISSN 2237-2660

Rev. Bras. Estud. Presença vol.10 no.3 Porto Alegre  2020  Epub June 22, 2020 


The Scenic Performance as Subversive Negativity: radical alterity and trava sudaca performance in the voice of Susy Shock9

IConsejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas - CONICET, Buenos Aires, Argentina

IIUniversidad Nacional de La Plata - UNLP, La Plata, Argentina


Considering the scenic performances of the artist Susy Shock, and in particular the stage presentation she makes of a so called monstrosity that maintains a series of elements that make up a scenic performance where the monstrosity can break into the field of intersection and conjugation, we offer some epistemological thoughts about the limits of identity representations versus stage presentations. Her poetic performances include songs of musical genres of Argentine folklore (vidalas, coplas, tangos), through the appropriation of a traditional cultural product in the voice of a transgender person. This produces the visibility of a radical alterity in the simultaneous presentation of elements that can only be recovered from the intersectionality that is released in the ground of presentation, where all the elements break into overlap at the same time and in the same place.

Keywords: Transvestite Stage Performance; Intersectionality; Conjunction; Radical Alterity


En ocasión de las performances escénicas de la artista Susy Shock y, en particular, de la presentación que mantiene en el plano de la intersección y la conjugación una serie de elementos que conforman una escena performática donde la monstruosidad pueda irrumpir, ofrecemos algunas reflexiones epistemológicas acerca de los límites de la representación identitaria frente a la presentación escénica. Sus performances poéticas incluyen canciones propias de géneros musicales del folklore nacional argentino (vidalas, coplas, tangos), mediante la apropiación de un producto cultural tradicional en voz de una trava. Esto produce la visibilización de una alteridad radical en la presentación simultánea de elementos que sólo es posible recobrar a partir de la interseccionalidad que se libra en el campo de la presentación, donde todos los elementos irrumpen en superposición al mismo tiempo y en un mismo lugar.

Palabras-clave: Performance Escénica Travesti; Interseccionalidad; Conjunción; Ajenidad Radical


A l’occasion des performances scéniques de l’artiste Susy Shock et, en particulier, de la présentation qui entretient une série d’éléments qui composent une scène de performance où la monstruosité peut s’introduire, au niveau de l’intersection et de la conjugaison, nous proposons quelques réflexions épistémologiques sur des limites de la représentation identitaire versus la présentation scénique. Ses performances poétiques comprennent des chansons typiques des genres musicaux du folklore national argentin (vidalas, coplas, tangos), à travers l’appropriation d’un produit culturel traditionnel à la voix d’une trava. Cela produit la visibilité d’une altérité radicale dans la présentation simultanée d'éléments qui ne peuvent être récupérés que de l'intersectionnalité qui a lieu dans le domaine de la présentation, où tous les éléments se chevauchent en même temps et au même endroit.

Mots-clés: Performance Scénique Travesti; Intersectionnalité; Conjonction; Aliénation radicale


In our local context, there are multiple historical records of sexual dissidence collectives that confront us with the layering of senses marked by suffering and by the violation of human rights. However, drawing attention to the traces of trava-trans existences allows us to face the productive power of this particular collective. The passing of the Gender Identity Law in 2013 installed the challenge of broadening the margins of recognition and intersecting the memory social frameworks with trans and travesti sense-making. Lohana Berkins emphasises the travestis’ spark, wit and resourcefulness next to the clumsy construction that the media makes10 (Berkins, 2003; 2007). In that same direction, Camila Sosa Villada (2019) points out that “being travesti is a party”. In that range of meaning, we can assert that some contributions of queer theory and the performative production of travas and trans artists (Naty Menstrual, Susy Shock, Effy Beth, among others) allow us to spot the scenic component as a vehicle for the productive power of these existences, even during the worst years of our history.

The Argentinian poet Susy Shock tells stories that really speak about that productive power. She tells us that the travas of her generation borrowed from heterosexuality the models of womanhood that existed prior to the military dictatorship of the 70s. In her case, the identifications went towards the noted Susana Giménez and the advertisement in which she famously whooped “shock!”, although her name is also weighed up against “Susanita”, the sinister name that the military dictatorship gave to the electric prod due to the electric shock that it produces. Her poetic performances include songs that can be framed within national folklore musical genres, both urban and rural - such as vidalas, coplas and tangos. Her unique stamp comes from the appropriation of a traditional cultural product in the voice of a trava11. This voice of her own is not only shaped by the inscription of written contents or wordings that speak of desires and existence conditions which are individual as well as situated - the shift that her appropriation leads to lies also in the very materiality of her voice, with a register that takes apart the normative construct that underlies in the pretense of femininity. In this way, her voice bursts into the scene in a particular way, not only in terms of a diverse subjective positioning, but also regarding disruptive aspects in the tones and vocal registers that are part of that folkloric style. The appropriation of that style, in complex interaction and overlapping that turns the performative scene into a space where monstrosity (a monstrosity explicitly reclaimed in her poetry) can burst.

On the occasion of this artist’s performance, we offer a few epistemological reflections that allow us to discern an underlying layer of analysis in the way that the text of her poetry reclaims the right to be a monster. The narrative that Susy Shock unfolds can be interpreted as a political claim against the way that certain identities are signalled as devious, inferior, pathological - suffering, as a result, the social destiny of exclusion, with consequences that involve the impossibility of thriving under conditions of a life worth living (Butler, 2006). However, we point out that the multiple elements that intricately tie together to make her performative scene shape the monstrosity - but not the monstrous character that her poetry outlines through linguistic meanings: the monstrosity that bursts in that constitutive element of the scenic performances, which is impossible to capture in linguistic categories.

Here, we will not deal with otherness as the position to which multiple identities are destined as a result of the power arrangements of a discursive field that separates the intelligible and the unintelligible, but rather with that radical alterity (Boellstorff, 2007) that can only be recovered from the intersectionality that unfolds in the field of presentation and performance, where all the elements come forth in juxtaposition at the same time and in the same space. The representation that we can make of it leads us to a sorting unable of overcoming the limits of the identitary categories that language provides (Edelman, 2014).

Radical alterity and intersectionality: the scenic overflow of language

Susy Shock confronts us with intersectionality in her staging. The monstrous impact of her performance lies in the conjunction of elements that remain distant, distinguishable or scattered in other contexts - while in her scenic presentation they appear conjunctly and inextricably present, in a simultaneous appearance that presents all elements together, superimposed in the space that a body and a scene take, at the same time, in front of the spectator, composing an irretrievable thing, impossible to fragment without depriving sense from it.

Strictly speaking, that irrecuperable simultaneity underlies in any performative scene. There is something in the scene that is inevitably lost when we attempt an explanation. Teresa de Lauretis (2008) suggests that every representation of identity necessarily entails an alterity that cannot be reduced, translated or represented through the positivity of a cognizable formulation, outlined by the terms of language.

Judith Butler, from her post-structuralist perspective, takes into consideration the discursive coordinates that grant identities existence and intelligibility. An heir to Michel Foucault’s thinking, her concern is to politically, through a radical resignification, transform the normative terms that function as subjectivation frames. According to Butler, this would allow an expansion of intelligibility frames and for those abject lives to find intelligibility under a different community policy.

Conceiving the existence of a radical alterity within language, even if it is impossible to articulate in the terms of language, allows us to not reduce the analysis of the social sphere to the normative distribution of legitimate and recognizable positions versus abject positions only intellectibly known through identitary categories that indicate inferiority and exclusion (Butler, 2008). The radical alterity in every identitary position confronts us with exceeding the limits that attempt to locate subjectivities under the terms of language. That excess dimension implies an inevitable dramatic dimension.

Intersectionality - the consideration of the multiple cleavages (gender, class, age, ethnicity, race, etc.) that make up an entire network of social inequalities - introduces complexity into the general idea of identity and into the particular idea of sex and gender identity. The overlapping of multiple axes of power that make up social differences dissolves the ambition of intelligibility through unequivocal identitary categories, defined by the normative power arrangements. Overlapping and juxtaposition turn Susy Shock’s scene into something monstrous, intelligible, like any identity; although the specificity of the scenic is what allows the survival of that very excess which is impossible to name, that radical alterity, that simultaneity both of time and space. Susy Shock is not only trans and not only sudaca, she is all of those at the same time, coexisting in a simultaneity that affects and modifies each of its elements, that reciprocally alter themselves in conjugation.

Every mise-en-scène has an impact beyond language and therefore confronts us with the impossibility of bearing a totalizing version. Every scene loses something when we try to translate it, to explain it logocentrically, for this only separates its elements, names them under an intelligible structure and indicates its specificities, along the way losing the power of being-at-the-same-time-and-space and negating the radical alterity that we are referring to. We stand before a radical alterity unintelligible through the senses provided by discourse. Located within language, that alterity is uncontrollable: it interrupts any totalizing vision of language and identity. In that way, the scenic dissolves us in the ambition of linguistic control as it points to the failure of the politics that attempt to make the unintelligible intelligible. An alterity excluded by the absolutization of the logic of identity along with linguistic monisms try to erase the trace of the unrepresentable.

This should not be interpreted as a pessimistic version: we defend the political power of affection, the experiential as the incessant negativity that promotes dynamics of thought and critical reflection (Halberstam, 2008). It is about posing an epistemological point of view that assumes a radical alterity, resisting representation and reduction to a single structural cleavage of the categorizing system. The mise-en-scène does not represent linguistically. Therefore, we regard as epistemic violence any attempt to reduce the alterity to a concrete representation of which the political interpretation is to capture any subjective positioning in a rock-hard, fixed and static identity - with the exotization of the Other through the use of the identitary terms travesti or trans as its counterpart.

In no way are we suggesting that the political battle that derives from the demand of rights from the point of view of travesti or trans identities is a strategy that should be dismissed. We affirm the necessity of the collective battles that the travesti-trans collective has historically held in our country as well as in the rest of Latin America. We acknowledge the necessity of standing by the identity politics that, at least strategically, appeal to a political subject able to collectivize battles and claims. However, those ethical-political considerations unable to abandon the ways of the signifier and representation should not restrict the analytical reflections that roam the onto-epistemological level. However politically effective it may be to appeal to identitary categories, we must not overlook the fact that they do not comprehend the totality of existence and subjective power. The negativity and radical otherness that we are noting point to the constant subjective collapse that lies beneath empowerment as a political strategy. Even though identity politics may and should preserve the precarious character of our existence - and fight the regimes that make some collectives more precarious than others -, we should also prevent the ontologization of identities to close down the game of politics.

Facing the ambition of capturing the power of existences within the closed limits of identities and naturalizing them under the production of fixed and necessary bases - usually identified with the body as a closed and determining ontological layer -, we propose the action of a force or power that we have named, as a neologism, discompleting. This notion is a direct effect of a negativity - a surplus that cannot be captured by the positivity of the identitary categories offered by the discursive taxonomies - that should not be viewed as an extradiscursive essence, given that outside language it merely has a virtual existence. It is only manifested in the very act of wounding the ambition of closure that is typical of the categorization or sense-giving that attempt to turn intelligible the world and even one’s own experience. From that negativity comes the possibility of criticism - there lies its subversive character. From that negativity comes as well a constant disconnection between the terms from which we become intelligible - even for ourselves - and a radical otherness that cannot be expressed through language, not even under the terms that were historically designed to name otherness and its illegitimate attributes.

The political relevance of the scenic performance takes place precisely in the possibility of ousting the normative terms, of improvising within a field of constitutive restrictions. Although, in a normative context, that entails a degree of novelty without being completely outside the identitary terms that contain and oppress us, what gives it its character of subversive improvisation is that unbreakable conjunction of various elements in a single performance, in a single body on the scene. Considering that discompleting negativity of the radical alterity, we can capture what is experienced in the performance that remains as an illegible surplus, able to plant the seed of otherness in any identitary positioning, even in the ones that coincide with normative terms. Negativity always makes way for a possible rupture of any totalizing representation.

A world that reveals its own terms becomes present in the scenic performance. Something beyond it is exposed. In precisely that which is revealed, there is a part of the otherness that is beyond the categories with which we can decode it. By all means, that alterity, that otherness is not alien to language. Each of the elements that constitute it are within language, which makes them intelligible in a parting gesture. But language does not accept the simultaneity that the scenic restores. The scenic suggests something that escapes the crypt of identitary positionings.

It is the force of the scenic what allows - suggests, fizzes, beats, vibrates - some negativity, something unnamed in the intersectionality, because everything appears at the same time, the overlaying of multiple identitary cores. This produces a certain impact that cannot be translated under an identitary denomination or a series of it, that inevitably fails to recover the overlaying and simultaneity of the multiple identitary cores that are present in one single subjective position and its scenic presentation. The poetics of the scene slide into language but are just not captured, because the linguistic categories that we have have already been captured. There is something that impacts beyond our categories, that does not remain after the affectation.

Susy Shock stages an interesting game between singularity and particularity. Her poetry speaks of the singularity of her desire and of her monstrosity in the epicentre of a web of inequalities; whereas on stage she takes the particular elements that locate her position in a network of historical alterities. Both things (again: together in the same space and time) make that singularity monstrous, but not from a oneness or from an identitary unity. In the singularity evoked in her poetry, she names some of the radically other, but this appears in a more powerful form in the scenic, that contains a monstrosity marked by intersectionality. The disruptive and subversive power given by the overlaying of identitary cores also relates to a dis-exotizing proposal: her scenic performance points out intersectionalities in diversity and inequality without falling into an exotization (Viveiros de Castro, 2013) and focusing on the tension between equality and difference. Susy Shock reclaims something of the alien, of the otherness; but this claim does not lie in the inhabitation of the otherness, but rather in the intersectionality of every identity, while it reclaims the in-authenticity, the radical alterity bestowed by intersectionality.

What guides us is the attempt to fight the violent erasure of alterity that any representation (as opposed to presentation) is based on, through a vindication of the power of scenic performance. The poetic and dramatic element of the scenic and of the performance lies in the annihilation of the ambition of a total representation. An alterity unrepresentable in the heart of the subject, one must recognize that the experience (par excellence home to intersectionality) cannot be reduced to identitary terms.

The scenic power of Susy Shock’s Poemario Trans pirado

Susy Shock’s performances enact the sedimentation of historical struggles. Her poems and songs carry the traces of the symbolic and material violence against the travesti-trans collective. Susy Shock’s performative force is fuelled by the liminal spaces between the individual and the collective. Susy Shock’s art and activism intertwine with (and contains the strength of) the singularization of the collective claims of the gender and sexual dissidence (Luzza Rodríguez, 2018). Furthermore, the power of her stagings does not lie in an attempt to cross the limits that separate the legitimate from the illegitimate but rather in an attempt to pulverize the limit itself. There we can see the force of the subversive negativity that settles her as a monster. Susy Shock does not reclaim a taxonomic identity. Self-affirming as a monster implies an effort to point out, in the terms of language, a place of radical alterity that destroys the many violences that are a part of the limits of any system of identitary categories. Affirming herself as a monster both in the verbal and properly scenic record, assumes a form of non-linguistic agency that does not reclaim the privileges of being inside language, but rather the flight, the transformation, the flow, aspects that we can only take into account when we consider the subjective power in terms of collective agencies.

There are analysis of poet’s stagings that rely on the axioms of Judith Butler’s early thoughts and, from there, bring to the fore the fictional and incidental character of identity, as well as the way in which the performance sediments and stabilizes the identitary categories that allow recognition. Guillermina Bevacqua (2013), for instance, studies the non-verbal scenic languages that operate in the construction of identity and travesti corporeality in Naty Menstrual’s performance. Like Bevacqua, we emphasize in Susy Shock the signic tension that the author notes between the costume and make-up, that align with the mimesis of the normative feminine models, and the way that the voice and gestures take that mimesis apart. We offer as a complimentary addition to those contributions, the power that lies in the way that scenic presentations dissolve identities.

The scenic languages, both verbal and non-verbal, put forth the power of the appropriation of suffering and the vindication of a way of existence in one’s own terms - inevitably monstrous to the heteronormative eye. The semantic aspects of Susy Shock’s performance make us face the political strategy of resignification of slurs (trava and sudaca). We need no more than to take a closer look to the most representative poem in her presentations, woven from a famous quote by Marlene Wayar “I reclaim my right to be a monster” , included in her trans pirado12 collection of poems.

[…] / Yo, reinvindico mi derecho a ser un monstruo / ni varón ni mujer / ni XXI ni H2o / yo monstruo de mi deseo / […] / no quiero más títulos que cargar / no quiero más cargos ni casilleros donde encajar / ni el nombre justo que me reserve ninguna Ciencia / Yo mariposa ajena a la modernidad / […] / Reinvindico: mi derecho a ser un monstruo / ¡que otros sean lo Normal! / El Vaticano normal / El Credo en dios y la virgísima Normal / y los pastores y los rebaños de lo Normal / el Honorable Congreso de las leyes de lo Normal / el viejo Larrouse de lo Normal / Yo solo llevo la prendas de mis cerillas / el rostro de mi mirar / el tacto de lo escuchado y el gesto avispa del besar / […] / mi bella monstruosidad / […] / otro nuevo título que cargar / baño: de ¿Damas? o ¿Caballeros? / o nuevos rincones para inventar / Yo: trans…pirada / mojada nauseabunda germen de la aurora encantada / la que no pide más permiso / y está rabiosa de luces mayas / luces épicas / luces parias / Menstruales Marlenes Sacayanes bizarras / sin Biblias / sin tablas / sin geografías / sin nada / solo mi derecho vital a ser un monstruo / o como me llame / o como me salga / como me pueda el deseo y la fuckin ganas / mi derecho a explorarme / a reinventarme / hacer de mi mutar mi noble ejercicio / veranearme otoñarme invernarme / […] (Shock, 2011, la cursiva es nuestra).

In the same direction, here are some fragments of the poem “Soy” (I am), from the same collection.

¿Qué soy? ¿Importa? […] / ‘Soy arte’, digo, mientras revoleo las caderas y me pierdo / entre la gente y su humo cigarro y su brillo sin estrellas y su / hambre de ser. / Travesti outlet, […] / Se me salió un taco, / se me corrió el rímel, / se me atascó la voz, / pero nunca el sueño. / […] cada ‘Noches Bizarras’ crecemos y no importa qué somos, si / alcanzamos a poder serlo… el resto es máquina / y yo no (Shock, 2011).

As a good mutant, Susy Shock projects in her poems the beautiful monstrosity and the right to exist without fitting in any box. She resists being captured in the binary terms and in any label that closes down the possibility of escaping to other becomings that allow her to constantly reinvent herself, following her desire. The claim of a mutation that takes apart any answer to the question on identity. Susy Shock is art: her existence is not restricted by previous determinations; it is, on the contrary, a hunger of being that, in taking off the identity corset, reveals itself as heteronormativity-resistant monstrosity. The recognition that our trava sudaca poet seeks is not the one required by the normatively sedimented identity position, but rather the recognition of the mutation as an aesthetic that underlies in the particular ways of existence that live within identities and, at the same time, resist its totalization. When she says “ni hombre ni mujer ni XXY”, she resists being pathologized, being clinically accepted by the medical system, becoming intelligible through a medical discourse. She reclaims the right to live in a “state of monstrosity”, embracing the possibility of not having to choose being one thing or the other.

The senses the weave Susy Shock’s poems allow to

[…] dilucidar los mecanismos con los que actúan los controles y las regulaciones sobre esos cuerpos, cómo esas regulaciones y controles los construyen de un modo determinado y, a la vez, cuál es la materialidad existente que se torna abyecta, qué tienen en común esos cuerpos materiales que hacen que sean objeto de una intervención normalizadora que incluso les niega existencia, que los ve como algo que hay que arreglar quirúrgicamente para que el orden sea re-establecido. De modo contrario, las luchas por el reconocimiento se han valido de la apelación a la naturalidad de estos cuerpos, naturalidad que en su inexorabilidad determinaría su normalidad y su derecho a ser parte de este mundo (Mora, 2017, p. 176).

The field of theatre semiology uses a metalanguage of its own that attaches it to the specificity of a scenic practice and distances it from being reduced to a literary practice. The reflections offered by the different lines of queer theory selected and enacted by the chosen scenic performance constitute an oblique way of access to the scenic arts that intend to be held up by their own epistemological bases.

Simply to present the well-known and classic terms of the problem around which we are contributing, we would like to note the way in which Patrice Pavis (1988) views the relation between text and scene. He suggests that the mise-en-scène is in no way reducible to the text. The mise-en-scène has the specificity of an epistemological horizon of its own that allows to analyse the theatricality of the performatic effects of gestures, colour, the choreographic aspects of movement, among other multiple elements that compose a non-textual, theatrical language. This set of scenic codes (gestural, mimic, musical, sonorous), especially in its specific combination, resonates with the aspects that we define here as radical alterity, precisely because they highlight experiential effects that cannot be linguistically named, although they circulate and disturb the text and the alleged univocality of its categories. The nuances, registers and voice timbres, the way of articulating the text, taking a stand, the characteristics of the costume, her caja bagualera13, among so many elements and the multiple connections between them, turn Susy Shock into a scenic linking point where a myriad of performative assembly lines intersect. The text breaks down into this scenic multiplicity that beats strong and pierces the bodies in levels that trip up the possibility to make sense of the scenic experience through verbal language, since this intersectionality - that finds its possibility of existence in the overlapping that the scenic allows - cannot be named. And how could it be, since it is about a negativity that takes apart the ambition of closing down meanings typical of text and therefore, about a radical alterity with a force that always slips between units of meaning at the same time that it melts them?

The strictly scenic aspects, irreducible to verbal language, show us the power of the monstrous in action. The impact of Susy Shock’s deep voice shapes the materiality of the scenifications where her poems performatively happen. “Her voice, fusion of the feminine and the masculine, boosts in the tenderness of the lyrics and the sound of the caja”, states Mariane Pécora14. “Susy’s voice shakes your hegemonic categories”, points out Juliana Quintana, to whom Susy Shock responds, in an interview: “Do we all pitch our voice? I have the voice that I have because I sing, it is my sound, and I cannot go against my sound”15. Ana Fornaro refers to Susy Shock as “Monster with a velvet voice” and tells of one of her performances: “[…] an a capella singing of a deep zamba begins, with her found, perfectly pitched voice of a lifetime. There is no voice like Susy Shock’s voice because it resembles nothing. It has the colours of the folklore of the north and there is no simulation, no character or wrapping to it”16. The travesti-trans collective behind El Grito del Sur describes the way in which Marlene Wayar gives voice to the performative reading of Susy Shock’s poems as follows: “The strength with which she embodies Susy Shock’s verses gives you goose bumps. Her powerful voice is not an outcry but a spear that goes through the layers of meaning”17. Her voice embodies the verses to a point where the word becomes body. The experience of listening, that pervades the watching in such a particular way, the power of her voice, inject an outcry into each word, like an uncontrollable flow with an edge that can rip open any boundary set to capture her poems’ claims. The deep register of the materiality of her voice dismantles the normative ambition of putting together a normalized feminine identity, even in the requirement to tame the tones and vocal registers.

Only the scenic can recover and contain the way that different dimensions, impossible to define by identities outlined by discourse, intersect in a single instant. The monstrous way in which Susy Shock breaks the gender coherence that the heterosexual intelligibility demands -the achievement of an authentic and legitimate femininity - lies in the materiality of a voice where coplas, vidalas and bagualas reverberate. The sudaca genres that her scenic monstrosity shatter - recovered, at the same time, as a particular form of geopolitical enclave - account for the fact that her monstrous and unclassifiable radical alterity is hinted at by the complex tyings of the folkloric northern Argentinean and Latin American tradition and the course of the trava-trans collective in the reality of the local contexts, among other lines that escape the homogeneity of a discrete and coherent identity. There, where identities fail and stumble, the scenic power is able to recover, in the experiential level that turns the body into a vibrant surface, that otherness radically alien to language.

The voice as an approximation to the irretrievable otherness of the scenic

We wish to emphasize that, when Susy Shock reclaims her existence as a Monster, the monstrosity lies less in the meaning of the term than in the sound of her voice that, in complex interaction with other elements from her performative mise-en-scène, escape the possibility of being precisely articulated in any full identitary meaning. But to be able to move forward in this idea, we need to take a detour.

The voice is a key element in Susy Shock’s scenic performance. The voice, as an analysis category, has been used to describe a series of aspects of the social and political life. Numerous contributions belonging to specific lines of feminism have played a part in uncovering, or building, the feminine voice as a resource from which it is possible to politically claim and represent the demands of an authentic identity (Gilligan, 1994). As a political strategy, the self-representing function of the feminine voice holds the power to contrast and rectify the patriarchal distortions of the reality and experience of women. This self-representing possibility has been a key piece in the politics of identity and has brought along the promise to give voice to minority and excluded groups. Thus, retrieving the subalternized voice has been a part of a wide emancipatory agenda.

Connected, in this way, to social movements, the voice must be viewed as the attempts to install, maintain or expand a discourse that guarantees recognition and, therefore, allows the identities that are considered different to achieve the necessary redemption to be included under the terms of legitimacy (Silverman, 1983). In this way, the aim to ‘give voice’ implies an access to language and the possibility of self-designation. Beyond individual experiences, the political identity reclaimed by the voice sheds light on collective and shared experiences (Crossley; Crossley, 2001), fundamental in order to bring together - under the identitary categories that already circulate and constitute the power dynamic - the members of minority groups that face prejudice and discrimination.

Nowadays, the political power of this perspective on the voice can be, if not criticized, at least problematized. The voice confronts us with a multiple and contextual character. Within a group, or even within a subject, multiple voices interact. Like this, the voice confronts us with a double epistemological problem - the one about multiplicity and the one about representation. Many have criticized the theoretical assumption that ties together empowerment and the adoption of a voice in terms of assuming one of the identities cut out by the available discourses. Here it has been noted that the voice offers superficial forms of inclusion. Therefore, at best, it traps under normatively saturated identities any attempt to resignify the assigned position in the division of power or, at worst, it essentializes personal and group identities, not addressing the problem of power not only as that which coerces and represses, but as that which produces the very terms that restrict any radical transformation of the terms that divide the intelligible and the unintelligible (Foucault, 2008).

Appealing to the voice as a guarantee of truth and self-presence, as an expression and assemblage of self, as revealer of an identity able to transform the non-hierarchical dynamics of difference, may disguise - and to many intellectuals it does in fact disguise - the exclusions that underlie in the apparent representation of a political identity that hides the operation of multiple axes of power (Stryker, 2006). In view of this, that idea of a voice as a revealer of the truth of an inner self is hard to uphold convincingly in a theoretical context that admits the limitations of the political strategies that aim to find a legitimate place within the terms of language.

Accordingly, if we can observe that, in the context of the politics of identity, the voice is inscribed as representation, it is possible to confront the voice in its presentation noting the multiplicity of voices and elements that those voices interact with, that reclaim a place between the problem of representation implied in the impossibilities inherent to language (Lacan, 1988). Before the unquestionable appeal of the discursive domain and the power of language prevailing since the middle of the previous century, we can find other ways of reclaiming the multiplicity of the voice in the field of anthropology. This discipline has emphasized the methodological relevance of participant observation to suggest that we should observe not only the semantic content of speech, but also the aspects related to action as well as, we could state, a certain dimension of alterity that exceeds any attempt to enclose it in discourse. Evidently, as some anthropologists note, each speaker has at their disposal numerous ways of speaking associated with linguistic norms, professions, genders, social statuses, parenting roles, age groups, ethnicities, and such variability includes lexical choice, variations in fluency, phonology and syntax. In this way, the voice can sound different and even change in different contexts. Therefore, the uses of the voice are revealed as multiple in the scenarios of a singular enunciating subject. Along this line, it has been suggested, we should not be looking for a real self represented through a single totalizing identity, since the self is scattered in the multiple voice as well as in the interstitial spaces between the voices and between the terms that language provides us to name identities. Even when there is a single agent, the differences within (Braidotti, 2000) reclaim multiple voices that the limitations of language cannot resolve.

As it can be seen, there are considerations about aspects of the voice that poststructuralism does not consider, since they confront us with the limitations of language. And, precisely, what matters is to study the way in which Butler - in her initial conceptions regarding performative gender - does not consider the dimensions of the voice that imply an excess regarding the linguistic terms available. Several ideas presented by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1978) became the focus of contemporary postmodern thinking due to its exploration of the notion, among others, of phonocentrism. As such it understands the historical premise that locates speech as the language form that identifies comprehensively with the fully human. Derrida states that there is nothing more intrinsically human than the non-phonetic forms of communication, such as the sign or writing. Like this, he locates phonocentric moments in the western tradition that led to the consolidation of the power of speech over other forms of language.

Speech is privileged in the phonocentric tradition because it implies immediate communication, transmission, and reception of meanings. As Derrida suggests, when we articulate words, we operate on the assumption of a pure and unmediated presence. These ideals of perfect self-presence and immediate possession of meaning, with respect to Derrida’s metaphysics of presence, contrast with writing as an artificial means that comes between -and therefore maintains at distance - the parts in an act of communication. From the phonocentric prism, writing opens a space and time distance between subjects, and the absence of an author removes the certainty of what we should understand or interpret from the written text. Therefore, if speech implies expressivity and direct communication, writing, by virtue of its artificiality, arbitrariness, and impersonality, is open to mistaken interpretations or wrong appropriations and is, consequently, not effectively expressive or communicative.

The supremacy of speech and the repression of non-phonetic forms of communication weave warps in the fabric of the western construction of being. Derrida states that in the western metaphysical tradition, the voice barges in not only as a natural actualization of language, but also as meaning and source of self-presence. The privileged bond of speech with thought and meaning is, according to Derrida, what characterizes logocentrism, which is also a form of phonocentrism: an absolute proximity between voice and being. Even though the voice, in this context, may be interpreted as the bearer of self and identity, we meet a different aspect of the voice, irreducible to language, where a sort of effective presence takes place, in sonorous aspects that compose the scene where the subject consists as such, that identity in itself cannot contain.

Adriana Cavarero (2005) examines the role of the voice in the history of philosophy and notes the way in which Derrida undermines those aspects of the presence of the voice beyond linguistic representation. According to Cavarero (2005, p. 14) the metaphysical tradition tends towards a “devocalization” of speech, a mechanism aimed at “focusing on speech and the voice itself, while it neglects the vocality of the speakers”. Derrida’s critical work, Cavarero argues, bears witness to the way in which the voice is represented as an acoustic signifier that fuses with the signified, giving the illusion of presence under the terms of representation. Instead, the genuine game of signs that characterizes writing is subversive to Derrida because its spatial organization undermines the absolute identification of signifier and signified that the voice appears to present. The privilege of writing implies an act of denying the voice a meaning of its own, not always destined to word, that entails the impossibility of theorizing speech as a material act. From our point of view, representation in language, writing itself and the naming of identities confront us with a discursive dimension unable to reflect the complexity of the intersectionality that the scenic presentation allows to recover, a complex simultaneity that the very temporality and spatiality of language take apart.

If we heed Judith Butler’s early theoretic postulates (2007; 2008) regarding gender performativity, it is not difficult to note that the strong appeal of language that imbues her entire theory dismisses the presence of any dimension that implies an excess not reducible to linguistic categories. The voice, in its dimension of presentation beyond representation, has no place in her ideas. The sounds involved in language beyond the linguistic meanings seem to disregard the sonorous dimension of the voice, indispensable in the scenic character that the author herself awards to the performative unfolding of gender identities. The voice, we argue, is a scenic component that contains the possibility to indicate the connection between the noted radical alterity and the limitations of language. In the same way, we can attend to the corporalities in a multiple torrent of “subtle corporal acts” - in Butler’s own terms - to point out a complex element that, in interaction with the multiple axes of power that intersect, highlights the restrictive character of language when it attempts to identitarily delimit the surplus character of the scene. Undoubtedly, the Derridean presence in the Butlerean thought weaves un underlying position regarding the treatment of a circulating sound that does not find a proper place in linguistic meaning.

In spite of the fact that, in tune with Derrida, Butler (2007; 2008) draws away from any project that tries to link in a natural way the voice, the body and a specific identity, the fear of falling into essentialism and naturalism lead her to recognize any excessive dimension regarding the possibility of signification. We do not wish to point out, against Butler, the existence of a feminine voice that is able to express, beyond language, a revealing feminine nature and therefore the truth of a feminine self. We suggest, rather, that if, as Butler explains, femininity, like any sex-gender identity, is composed through a performative mise-en-scène that precedes its stabilization in an identity named in language, the scene itself produces an excess, a circulating negativity that is impossible to stabilize in language (Bersani, 1995; Berninin, 2015). It is true - Butler would recognize that any identity is failed. But the argument that she uses to attack identities refers to the fact that they do not count on the substantial support of a necessary foundation (Butler, 1992). From our point of view, the failure of identities is also the failure of language in its ability to represent the totalizing ambition of the logic of identities. Despite this, Butler does not abandon the discursive field as the arena where to wage the discursive resignifications that a possible political transformation entails.

Butler distances herself from the representation politics of feminism and its notions of essentialized identities. But her “gender performativity” proposal flares up the place assigned to language. Against the expressive conception of gender identity, Butler (2007) states that the “metaphysical substance” that is regarded as the source that gender expresses is actually the effect of a continuous series of corporal acts that are materialized in discourse within a binary gender normative system (Martínez, 2018). A series of acts produce the truth of the self as a “performative accomplishment” announced in discourse and such an accomplishment is the result of the effect of a “subtle and politically reinforced performativity” that cannot be thought of outside language.

Despite the powerful Butlerean conceptualization on gender identity as performance, the author takes a position that does not allow to conceive scenic, vocal aspects, among so many others that can circulate within language even if they cannot be articulated under its terms (Weir, 1996). Judith Butler’s ideas - and the Derridean echoes in them - attest to the elision of the manifestations of the voice that indicate a radical alterity that dismantles any identitary ambition, be it legitimate or illegitimate. Susy Shock is a multiplicity of presences that intersect and that, in their impossibility of being named, do not find an identitary location. To name her would be to encrypt her in a denomination that, finishing the radical otherness inherent to her scenic presentation, would tie her to the games of linguistic power. No revindication can radically resignify the terms of the linguistic taxonomies.

Vicky Kirby (2006) suggests the way in which the visual is installed as a privileged dimension in Butlerean thought. However, Kirby refers to the discursive sedimentation that structures the intelligible. Her thought focuses on identities under the premise that installs the scenic as a linguistic sign. For Butler, that which is composed as linguistic sign agrees with the epistemic a prioris that determine what Kaja Silverman (1996) names as the threshold of the visible world. Butler is unable to explore a domain of the visual or audible that implies a dimension that overflows the linguistic. The way in which the world is revealed to us, in its multiple dimensions, exceeds the limitations of language. To paraphrase Silverman, we could well ask ourselves about the threshold of the audible world to dwell on the sonorous aspects of the vocalizations, tones, rhythms, volumes where lies the radical otherness that makes of Susy Shock a monstrous placement, one without a clear and defined identity position. The voice, viewed in this way, as a component of the even greater complexity of the scenic, admits this deep epistemic reflection placed in a delicate and fluctuating limit between the discursive aspects and its radical alterity.

Regarding Butler’s work (2007), we can note that the political proposal that underlies in the theory of gender performativity attempts to dislocate visual acts, although from a perspective where the scenic configuration is only understood in terms of discursively intelligible meanings, a level in which the sex-gender coherence and authenticity is rendered in the context of what she names as heterosexual matrix. In a more or less explicit way, Butler’s critique involves the privilege of what is made visible by discourse. What meets the requirements of the visual within discourse is what participates in the imaginary construction of the sexual difference in the western world - that is to say, the construction of identities instituted in the same bodies that discourse itself materializes under its domains. In this way, the drag mises-en-scène that, at first, are at the basis of the production of Butlerean ideas regarding gender performativity hold an eminently discursive-visual component. That discursive-visual character that imbues her proposal answers to her absolute interest in language. The radical alterity that Susy Shock’s performative mise-en-scène lets us contemplate becomes source of an epistemological negativity able to highlight the discursive frameworks that restrict the visual and the audible under identitary denominations (Butler, 2009). The scenic as we understand it implies the impact and corporal sediment of that overflow that, with a register as multiple and complex as the performative scene itself, cannot be recuperated by language.

Certainly, Susy Shock’s vocalization can be considered a scenic component from which the vocal material collapses in the linguistic representations and prevents a more detailed and concrete study regarding the way in which that dimension participates in the production of identities. If the performance is understood as a scenic condition of the realization of gender as theatrical, Susy Shock’s voice allows us to suspect of a dimension beyond the linguistic although profoundly scenic. This dimension is manifested in practices that provide a condition for the production of significance but that, nevertheless, far exceed it. The conceptualizations of speech used in a discourse that theorizes about the performative scene should pay more attention to the forms that do not move forward along the lanes of the linguistic signifier. The notion of radical alterity ought to matter in a gender performativity theory, since such alterity is where intersectionality is scenified in the clearest of ways, even if it escapes the possibility of being named.

Pamela Hendricks (1997) has arduously worked on the racialization of the voice, particularly referring to the timbre or “color” of the voice. The racialization of the voice, however, is the linguistic form in which an identity tries to capture, with a totalizing and closing-down ambition, the sound as a radical alterity stripped of any linguistic marks. The discursive capture of the audible and the visible attempts to annihilate the radical alterity that language stumbles upon. Nina Eidsheim (2019) makes it clear that the interrelation of the visual and acoustic perception is the reason why narratives that are racially essentialized under inferiorized identitary categories of the voice are so persistent. The way in which a listener identifies a sonorous source through hearing consists in a language operation that makes that incomplete information intelligible: the listener absorbs the sonorous character into already known categories as a sonorous, inarticulate and radical alterity. The discursive elements frame the scenic elements under a supplementation that transforms the performative presentation into a practice that assigns identity and therefore restricts the power of the scene.

Facing the capture of a performative scene through normative racialized, genderized -among other axes of power that participate in its structuration - schemas, we must acknowledge the negativity that remains embedded in various discursive regimes that intersect in a way that is as complex as it is elusive. When Butler states that, in mimicking gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender as well as its contingency, the type of performance that she refers to speaks of a kind of mise-en-scène that attempts to create an illusion of gender coherence. Susy Shock allows us to think about the irruption of a radical alterity that emerges in its own performance to de-totalize the ambition of coherence that any identity makes possible. Susy Shock’s vocal execution interrupts the image of feminine coherence normatively constructed and actualized. Therefore, the sonorous aspects of her voice reinforce the monstrous scene that is performed. Even if Susy Shock’s visible body produces a gender that can be tied to the feminine identity that the heterosexual matrix of intelligibility normatively produces, her voice does not take part in such production, since, from its impact and material presentation, it interrupts the efficacy of the norm. Moreover, it installs the scenic character of the monstrously travesti and, from there, interrupts the production of transsexual identities, which already have a place in the power and language games, and with which the medical system normalizes even the tone and register of the materiality of the voice. It is also the voice that the copla requires. Instead of vocalizing the voice that matches the required identity for intelligibility, the intersection with the voice of the copla monstrously decompletes, as an eruption of the excessive alterity, the coherence that any spectator, organized by the normative terms of intelligible identities, projects on the scene (Massumi, 2002; Featherstone, 2010).

No performance absolutely matches the identitary conventions of the functioning of the performance. Susy Shock confronts us with the intrinsic radical alterity when her mise-en-scène, outstanding in its vocality, becomes an elusive mark of any gender-discursive ambition of the available identities. The coplera trava sudaca - all at the same time and none of it as well - voice of Susy Shock confronts us with the monstrous because her voice is heard without a clear bond with the visual. In that way she demonstrates to us the complex overlapping that the radical alterity always entails, monstrous when dislocations evidence identitary limitations. The normative frameworks contained in discourse attempt to suture the unnaturalness of the links between the intersecting overlappings, spaces where the threateningly disruptive alterity beats. The attempts to suture the visual and the sonorous, to simply name two of the multiple dimensions that we are not even capable of naming, confront us with the complex discursive operation that identities require to accomplish the coherence of grafting a voice not located in a particular body to make the voice its source.

Susy Shock’s performance is paradigmatic regarding that discursive operation that her scene causes to fail. Susy Shock is a monster because her mise-en-scène confronts us with the radical alterity that disrupts that suture operation, it breaks the illusion of an interiority that is permanently instrumentally expressed by a voluntary subject. The radical alterity that Susy Shock reveals disturbs the attempt to incorporate the voice into an impossible unit. Susy Shock turns the voice into a tract where the radical alterity beats strong enough to upset heteronormativity and even language itself18. She indicates the ungraspable power of interrupting the illusion of coherence of any identity. Butler has noted that gender as a reproduction practice runs the risk of failing, but she never theorized that the void of meaning can harbour the negativity that can threaten the solidity of any normatively sedimented discourse. The monstrosity that Susy Shock reclaims reminds us of that.


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1This article emerges from the research and critical reflection brought about by the dialogue between the research projects “Body, affection and performativity in contemporary artistic performances” (H810), lead by Dr. Ana Sabrina Mora (said project is closely connected to her individual research as a CONICET investigator) and “Gender identity and body. Transgender self-perception and performances in artistic production environments” (PPID/H060), lead by Dr. Ariel Martínez. Both projects are accredited and subsidized by the Secretaría de Ciencia y Técnica of the Universidad Nacional de La Plata.

2These words are extracted from Lohana Berkins’ participation in the documentary film “MOCHA. Nuestra lucha. Su vida. Mi derecho”, which is a collective creation of the Bachillerato Popular Travesti-Trans Mocha Celis directed by Francisco Quiñones Cuartas and Rayan Hindi. It premiered in 2018.

3The self-designation of trava sudaca is used by Susy Shock commonly both in her written poetry and songs and in her public presentations in general. Trava is a short version of the term travesti, but it also includes the transgender category. Sudaca, short for South American, is an appropriation of the European derogatory term for South American immigrants. Throughout the text, we will keep these designations since they condense senses pertinent to our analysis.

4The word play within the title of her book of poems Poemario Trans pirado contains at the same time – at least – three areas of meaning: the trans identity; the reference to corporality in transpirado (transpired, wet with sweat) and an Argentinean Lunfardo slang close in meaning to crazy/mad: pirado. [Translator’s note]

5The caja bagualera is a percussion instrument typical of Andean folk music.

6Available at <> on March 1st 2020.

7Available at <> on March 1st 2020.

8Available at <> on March 1st 2020.

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10To emphasize the bonds between radical alterity and Susy Shock’s performative act in relation to the material impact of her voice we must, with the same energy, highlight the fact that the placement of her voice constellates around a socio-historical movement with an identity locus that does not identify with binary frameworks of cisgender intelligibility as it proclaims a political trava/travesti/trans identity (Berkins; Fernández, 2005; Wayar, 2018). We thank one of the evaluators for noting this.

This original text, translated by Catalina Lluna and proofread by Ananyr Porto Fajardo, is also published in Spanish in this issue of the journal.

Editor-in-charge: Gilberto Icle

Received: November 01, 2019; Accepted: March 05, 2020

Ariel Martínez is Psychologist and PhD in Psychology (Universidad Nacional de La Plata, UNLP, Argentina); Specialist on Education on Genders and Sexualities (UNLP). Researcher and teacher at the Faculty of Humanities and Education Sciences (FaHCE-UNLP) and at the Faculty of Psychology (UNLP). Researcher at the Interdisciplinary Center on Gender Research (CInIG-IdIHCS-UNLP/CONICET). ORCID: E-mail:

Ana Sabrina Mora is Anthropologist and PhD in Anthropology (Universidad Nacional de La Plata, UNLP, Argentina). Researcher of the National Council of Science and Technology (CONICET, Argentina), developing her research at the Institute of Research on Humanities and Social Sciences (IdIHCS-UNLP/CONICET). Teacher at the Faculty of Natural Science and Museum (FCNyM-UNLP). ORCID: E-mail:

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