Poetry News

An Interview With J. Michael Martinez

By Harriet Staff

J. Michael Martinez, author of Museum of the Americas (Penguin, 2018), is interviewed by Alex Dueben at The Rumpus. "The book tackles a wide range of topics: from casta paintings and postcards depicting dead Mexicans to the journey of Santa Anna’s wooden leg, a couple exhibited in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and Martinez’s own family history," writes Dueben in the intro. From their conversation:

Rumpus: So much of the book is related to and responding to the physical, in particular the different forms of art—casta paintings, postcards, the rosary. Did those aspects come from what you were writing about in your dissertation?

Martinez: For the writers I was looking at [for my dissertation] the corporeal was so vital to how they were conceiving the poetry of identity and how they were representing bodies. The corporeal for these writers are all present. Looking back at the Treaty of Guadalupe and the casta paintings and seeing how the body had been aesthetically constructed, there are comparable moments in those constellation of potential identities. To me the casta paintings act as a fundamental nexus since its dealing with heredity while also speaking of the construction of the museum and how identities are being referenced in relationship to the casta. The castas used exotic foods and clothes and they were used to advertise new world products in addition to representing identities. And so identity is getting caught up in representations of potential markets in the new world vis a vis the casta identities.

Rumpus: I was reminded about when genealogy and questions of heredity became important in the US, it was about whiteness and identity.

Martinez: When we think about the casta paintings in the eighteenth century they correspond and extend into the rise of eugenics. Casta being caste. They’re a very interesting nexus point between the aesthetic and epistemological and identity politics... 

Read on at The Rumpus.

Originally Published: December 7th, 2018