Alex McGuire

Rubén Ríos Ávila compared Baroque poetry and queer theory on Thursday at the University of Maryland. Photo from

A little over a dozen people wrapped themselves around a conference table in the Charles Carroll Room of Stamp Thursday afternoon to hear a comparatist of Latin American poetry do what he does best: compare.

Rubén Ríos Ávila, a Puerto Rican premier comparatist of Spanish, Cuban and Argentinean poetry and literature, explored the cultural intersection of Baroque poetry and queer theory by taking the audience on an intellectual journey into the works of Cuban neo-Baroque poet José Lezama Lima and Argentinean queer activist Néstor Osvaldo Perlongher.

Through discussions of both authors’ works, Ávila conveyed one message: what’s normal or routine is always changing, and the Baroque style identified this through expression.

“Baroque works and queer theory are both ground in the  idea of constant movement, whether it be through transformation or physical time and space,” Ávila said. “Queer theory encompasses anything that is at odds with the normal, and normalcy is constantly moving.”

While queer theory generally does not refer to anything in particular, it basically identifies itself with anything that is not considered the legitimate or dominant in our culture. The common misconception is that the term “queer” always refers to what is not gender-normative.

“In sociology, queer theory is almost always associated with gender studies,” Ávila said. “It’s different in art and literature.”

The Baroque artistic style spread throughout Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries and was heavily used by the Catholic Church in response to the Protestant Reformation. It can be most easily identified by its attention to details representative of drama, tension, exuberance and the constant process of “becoming,” or coming into one’s own.

To compare the two authors, Ávila alluded to the poetic styles of Luis de Góngora, an early pioneer of Spanish Baroque poetry who famously used directness, simple language and witty metaphors to convey his messages, and French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s ideas on how Baroque art and theories are “nomadic” because they are becoming modern in interpretation.

With all of the Spanish names and works being thrown around, some non-Latino students found the lecture difficult to follow.

“The concepts were familiar but I kind of forgot who was associated with what,” said junior Chris Grobaker.

Queer theory remains very relevant. “The Baroque aspects of intensity and harsh emotion have remained relevant throughout history,” Ávila said. “And queer theory’s message of challenging the normal heavily touches on these human qualities.”

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