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'Sex and the City' to
be catalyst for study of Caribbean culture, literature
Lynn, Humanities Editor
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — First there was "Sex
and the City," the television show – a hit and hip cable
comedy celebrating women’s sexuality and the urban experience.
And soon there will be "Sex and the City," the college course
– arguably a more cerebral incarnation of the racy and controversial
However, the course – a graduate-level seminar that starts in
January and runs parallel to the last eight episodes of the show –
is shifting locales and emphasis.
Rather than pivoting on four gal-pals in New York City, Dara Goldman
and her graduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
will focus on "the space of the city and how it intersects with
issues of sex and sexuality in Hispanic Caribbean cultures."
More specifically, students in the Spanish
442 class, titled "Urban Desires: Sex & the City in Caribbean
Cultures," will consider "significant texts and critical debates
in contemporary Hispanic Caribbean literary and cultural production."
Along the way, Goldman, a professor of Latin
American and Caribbean literatures and cultures at Illinois, plans
to engage her students in a "rigorous exploration" of some
of the principal questions that guide her current research projects
on space and spatiality in Hispanic Caribbean discourse. One of those
projects is a book manuscript she is finishing titled "Out of Bounds:
Charting the Rhetoric of Hispanic Caribbean Insularity."
Goldman sees the TV show, which will end in mid-2004 after six seasons,
as a springboard for considering a host of issues, literary and cultural
in nature. In academic terms, "the idea of the show and the critical/popular
debates that have emerged in response to it serve as a framing device
for the course," Goldman said.
The intersection of "sex" and "the city" in the
TV show not only provides a common focus for the storylines, but also
sets up a structure of "pairing" opposites – of people,
mentalities, lifestyles, Goldman said.
"This dichotomy has often been the focus of critical analyses of
the show and its depiction of feminine sexuality."
Critics have spent gallons of ink and spread miles of pixels "expounding
on the representation of four young women who freely explore and express
their sexual desires," Goldman said. "In this sense, the four
principal characters embody – literally and figuratively –
the type of sexuality that has traditionally been restricted to male
Yet many other critics have argued that the show is "anything but
feminist." More than one has pointed out that the women of "Sex
and the City" seem to be increasingly focused on fashion, beauty,
and the need to find/keep a man and on motherhood.
"So, the course plays off the question – as portrayed in
the show and also debated by the critics – of whether or not the
city creates the opportunity for new paradigms of sexuality," Goldman
The professor also notes that in Hispanic Caribbean literature and popular
culture, "the city" has often been portrayed as "the
space of opportunity and as a gateway to the opportunities that were
not readily available at ‘home’ – either in rural
spaces or in the Caribbean itself in the case of migration from the
Antilles to a U.S. urban center."
Even more broadly, "Major metropolitan centers throughout the hemisphere
are often studied as sites of development – whether productive,
excessive or insufficient – and of hybridity, transgression and
transnationalism," Goldman said.
"Conversely, the freedom and access to transnational movement is
often viewed negatively – seen as something that is only achieved
through the loss of traditional cultural practices and values,"
she said, adding that "since sexuality often constitutes a useful
barometer of cultural values and norms, it can help us to evaluate the
impact of urban development on these values and norms and to assess
how subjectivity is reconfigured by and through Hispanic Caribbean culture
in major metropolitan centers."
In examining how the city and sexuality interact in contemporary Hispanic
Caribbean cultures, the professor and her students will ask a variety
of questions: Is sexuality fundamentally different in the urban context?
If so, to what extent do the urban landscapes of San Juan, Santo Domingo,
Havana, New York, Miami and Chicago engender new and/or more liberated
forms of sexuality? And how are the space and ethos of these cities
affected by the expression and exploration of Hispanic Caribbean sexualities
The students will begin their exploration by looking at theoretical
readings that analyze urban spaces and their impact on culture –
both within and beyond the Hispanic Caribbean context.
Next, the class will examine texts that "explore – whether
with anxiety or enthusiasm – the new sexualities that emerge from
urban development and migration," Goldman said. Texts will include
René Marqués’ "The Oxcart," Luis Rafael
Sánchez’s "Macho Camacho’s Beat" and Goldman’s
own article, "The Limits of the Flesh."
The last three sections of the course are to be devoted to an in-depth
examination of what Goldman describes as "queer subjectivity, migration
and globalization and the melancholic relationship with urban excess
– that is, the overpopulation and over-stimulation of the city
that leads to a sense of less, rather than more, satisfaction."
Mayra Santos Febres’ "Sirena Selena" will be read, as
will Achy Obejas’ "Days of Awe." Goldman has assigned
six books and dozens of shorter readings. Some readings will be Spanish,
others in English, but class discussions will be conducted entirely
The class also will watch films such as "Brincando El Charco"
and "Suite Habana." But will they watch episodes of the TV
show that spawned the course?
The professor has no plans for that, alas, except to show a few minutes
of an episode at the beginning of the semester as part of an introduction
to the course.
Also in the spring semester, Goldman will teach a freshman seminar on
"Globalization and Its Discontents: The Case of Cuba" as part
of Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s Cross-Campus Initiative on the Humanities
in a Globalizing World.