Books Features

Top of the heap: Angela Garcia

This article is part of the following series:

For the first “Top of the Heap” of the new year, we spoke to Angela Garcia, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Stanford University.  Here is her list:

Angela Garcia

Georges Bataille, Literature and Evil (M Boyars, 1973 [1957]).

My daughters are suddenly passionate about vampires. They read books and watch movies about vampires. They delight at the sight of a vampire biting the neck of an unsuspecting friend, feel sad when a young vampire is felled (see  ‘My Babysitter is a Vampire’ and the first season of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’) and have heated debates about whether they are alive or dead, good or bad, or perhaps a little bit of both. A friend recently asked me if I was concerned about their “obsession.” I told her I thought it was magnificent . . . I’ve thought a lot about my daughters’ passion for vampires while reading Georges Bataille, drawn as he was to the problematic of Evil. In Literature and Evil, Bataille describes childhood as a time of “young savagery” with an “innocent sovereignty.” Literature is in touch with this powerful childhood instinct, which is otherwise lost in the violent transformation of a child to adult. Literature expresses Evil, or the  “instinctive tendency towards divine intoxification which the rational world of calculation cannot bear. This is the opposite of Good” (18-22). It projects and communicates—from an aesthetic and political perspective—instability, ecstasy and rupture, which is the opening to possibility, creativity and rebellion. It is in this sense that Bataille states, “literature is not innocent. It is guilty and should admit itself so” (x). How might we develop Bataille’s thoughts on literature in relation to ethnographic writing?


Cristina Rivera Garza, Textos desde un país herido [In Pain. Texts from a Wounded Country], (México: Sur+ ediciones, 2011).

Since 2006, when former Mexican President Felipe Calderón waged “war” on drug traffickers, over 70,000 Mexicans have been killed, 26,000 disappeared, and at least 250,000 displaced, orphaned or exiled. Cristina Rivera Garza’s book Dolerse, from the Spanish verb “doler” (to cause pain), seeks to add some specificity and meaning to these deaths. Rivera Garza is a novelist, essayist, poet and one of Mexico’s foremost public intellectuals. Dolerse provides a deeply affecting framework for understanding the myriad pains that are present in Mexico, which are too often been rendered in the American imaginary as passive, barbaric or disembodied. Fragmentary and evocative, the book is an extraordinary meditation on violence, pain and representation, attesting to the “la importancia de dolerse. De la necesidad política de decir tu me dueles” (the importance of being in pain. The political necessity of saying you pain me. . .


Bonnie Honig, Antigone, Interrupted (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

As a whole, the book questions humanistic readings of Antigone  (i.e. Antigone vs Oedipus), particularly those within feminist theory, which have interpreted Antigone as the exemplary heroine-lamenter, (unwittingly) depoliticizing her and the experience and expression of lamentation more broadly. Honig seeks to “decaptivate” us from this script by showing how humanism itself is implicated in the violence it claims to uncover and transcend. In contrast, Honig presents Antigone and lamentation as fundamentally political and agentive. This book is a timely challenge to prevailing readings of Sophocles’ Antigone and provides an instructive examination of the (anti)-politics of interpretation and representation, as well as a proposal for new languages and political solidarities.


José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (NYU Press: 2009).

In early December 2013, José Muñoz died. He was brilliant, hilarious, spirited, and endlessly curious. Since his death, I find myself returning to my favorite lines in his book, Cruising Utopia. I end with two quotes of these.

“The here and now is a prison house. We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds. Queerness is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing,” (1).

“Take ecstasy with me this becomes a request to stand out of time together, to resist the stultifying temporality and time that is not ours, that is saturated with violence both visceral and emotional, a time that is not queerness,” (187).

Rest in Peace, José.


Angela Garcia is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. Her work engages historical and institutional processes through which violence and suffering is produced and lived. A central theme is the disproportionate burden of addiction, depression and incarceration among poor families and communities. She is author ofThe Pastoral Clinic: Addiction and Dispossession Along The Rio Grande (University of California Press, 2010) and is currently engaged in research in Mexico City that examines emerging social and discursive worlds related to the dynamics of extreme urban poverty, mental illness and drug addiction in Mexico City, particularly within its peripheral zones.

Image credit: Lori Nix, Library, 2007