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Anti-Empire: Decolonial Interventions in Lusophone Literatures$

Daniel F. Silva

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786941008

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781786941008.001.0001

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Transgendering Jesus: Mário Lúcio Sousa’s O Novíssimo Testamento and the Dismantling of Imperial Categories

Transgendering Jesus: Mário Lúcio Sousa’s O Novíssimo Testamento and the Dismantling of Imperial Categories

(p.264) Chapter Eight Transgendering Jesus: Mário Lúcio Sousa’s O Novíssimo Testamento and the Dismantling of Imperial Categories
Anti-Empire: Decolonial Interventions in Lusophone Literatures

Daniel F. Silva

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines how the novel combines the religious with elements of the fantastic in staging the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Placed within an existing field of global meanings, especially pertaining to notions of morality and propriety underpinned by racial and sexual discourses, Jesus confronts a world of stigma and suffering. As millions of people flock to Lém to seek out the messiah, many of which requesting miracles, Jesus comes face to face with imperial categorizations of bodies in terms of not only race and gender, but also of disease and disability. In doing so, she is forced to grapple with the construction and lived consequences of particular notions of normativity – of corporal ability, skin color, and gender – that inform privilege within Empire. The resolutions she seeks reveal a mission against what Michel Foucault and Gayatri Spivak call the epistemic violence of power, namely that of Empire.

Keywords:   Mário Lúcio Sousa, O Novíssimo Testamento, Postcolonial studies, Gender Studies, Imperial Categories

Writers from across the Lusophone world have formulated ways to grapple with and against Empire’s field of meaning, ranging from allegories of consumption to dealing with colonial specters and poetics of intersectionality. Mário Lúcio Sousa’s novel O Novíssimo Testamento [The Newest Testament] (2010), in combining the religious, spiritual, and the fantastic, offers yet another path against Empire.

Sousa was born in Tarrafal on the island of Santiago, Republic of Cabo Verde in 1964, 11 years prior to independence from Portugal. Aside from being an established writer of fiction, poetry, and theater (which he also directs), Sousa is a renowned musician. He is founder and lead singer of the Cape Verdean musical collective Simentera, an acoustic group fusing popular national musical genres such as Coladeira, Morna, and Funaná. Like his literature and dramaturgy, his music is also politically engaged. In addition to integrating the genres mentioned above, for instance, the group’s repertoire includes slave hymns from both Cabo Verde and continental West Africa. Beyond evoking colonial violence, this practice breaks with elitist constructions of Cape Verdean popular music of the early and mid-twentieth century, which sought to evoke a cultural and racial separation between ‘Europeanized’ Cabo Verde and the African continent. We can thus consider Sousa’s work in music, literature, and theater to be undergirded by artistic engagements with power and cultural politics. In addition to artistic endeavors, he earned a law degree from the University of Havana and served in the Cape Verdean parliament for five years.

While Sousa may have few recollections of direct experience of Portuguese colonial administration given his date of birth, he is arguably part of what we may consider a generation of Lusophone writers who grapple with the specificities and legacies of Portuguese colonialism, as well as with broader contemporary forms and manifestations of power based on race, gender, (p.265) class, sexuality, and (dis)ability. This sort of engagement is very much evident across his entire artistic oeuvre. Sousa was forced to confront one of those legacies head-on as an adolescent. Following the death of his parents when he was 15, he lived as an orphan in the Cape Verdean military base in Tarrafal, a building that had been Portugal’s concentration camp for colonial dissenters. The historical weight of that particular experience surely had an impact on his view of the postcolonial nation-building project as it grappled with all that colonialism left behind. At another level, though, this experience may have also contributed to the proposal against Empire we shall explore in O Novíssimo Testamento – the ability to resignify and transform what Empire had already signified. Regardless of the violence with which members of Empire performed the meaning of that particular space, it can become unfixed once again and postponed, as Derrida reminded us in Chapter 3, and thus reformulated.

The events of the novel’s plot take place in the remote Cape Verdean village of Lém, on the island of Santiago, during the early 1970s, the final years of Portuguese colonial rule. There a devout elderly Catholic woman lies on her deathbed at the end of a life lived in practical solitude with the exception of two young women referred to as her adopted granddaughters and known simply as the Marias. Living a life of total adherence to Catholic doctrine while shunning any form of pleasure not tied to her faith led to her becoming known as ‘a mulher mais beata’ [‘the most devout woman’]. Feeling the end of her life approaching, with both Marias by her bedside, she requests a photographer instead of a medical doctor, arguing that a photograph prolongs life more than a doctor’s visit.

The one photographer of Lém promptly arrives and snaps a photo as she takes her last breaths. At the very moment of the camera’s click, her body physically disappears into the camera. Residents of Lém quickly gather upon hearing news of the curious incident, and within the two days the photographer needs to develop the film, thousands of people from around the world flock to Lém to bear witness to the unfolding events. The developed photo depicts what everyone perceives to be a miracle: superimposed upon the image of the bedridden elderly Cape Verdean woman is the image of Jesus Christ, in its dominant European form. This ultimately leads to the arrival of millions of people from around the world, both to get a glimpse of the photograph and to wait for someone to step out of it. The self-conscious narrator jokes that he fears the island will sink due to the overcrowding. Although this does not happen, the population of Santiago and the remaining islands constituting the archipelago is multiplied 144,000 times. Within the immense crowds throughout the islands, it becomes impossible, according to the narrator, to distinguish the race, ethnicity, nationality, or gender of any (p.266) person to the point that such imperially inaugurated categories of human classification became unnoticeable, while also avoiding Lusotropicalist erasures of race as a socially relevant category. This decentering of imperially formulated categories is very much the narrator’s utopian interpretation of the demographic predicament at hand, but it is also a sort of foreshadowing of the ethical project to come later in the novel.

The development of the photo also restores the elderly woman’s body back to the physical realm of human life, but now as Jesus. In other words, the messianic figure of Christianity repeatedly gendered and racialized by Christian liturgies and visual arts throughout the centuries to embody white masculinity, concurrently with the formation of the West, now walks the earth in the body of an elderly African woman. Jesus, now referred to and addressed with feminine pronouns, interestingly carries around the photograph of the revelatory superimposition of the Western rendition of Jesus’s image as a manner of identification as the messiah, although news had spread almost universally that she was the reincarnation of Christ. Aside from carrying the photo, Jesus is accompanied by the two Marias and Clara, a resident of Lém, through whom Jesus speaks.

Before the reincarnation is fulfilled, however, the dominant Western image of Jesus is interestingly unpacked. Called to the elderly woman’s home following the disappearance of her body into the photographer’s camera was a local priest known simply as father Renan, a multilayered reference to Ernest Renan, whom the novel cites in an epigraph. The reference reminds us of Ernest Renan’s place within religious thought as well as his contributions to imperial notions of racial difference, particularly in his revision of Jesus’s biography, arguing in Life of Jesus that Christ transformed himself from Jew to Christian, thus Aryanizing the messianic figure. The deployment of a character named Renan who now witnesses the transformation of the male Aryan Jesus into the body of an African woman is both an allusion to the imperial construction of a messianic figure at the service of European expansion and right to global power, and a clever response to Renan’s imperial brand of narrativization. The narrator effectively captures a piece of Renan’s project in Life of Jesus, namely that of depicting Jesus as a human being rather than a divine entity, and takes it in a decolonial direction by stripping Christian religious meaning from the figure of Jesus altogether. For the many travelers visiting Santiago for a glimpse of the photograph, Father Renan attaches a description of the image of Aryan Jesus captured in the photograph:

não hesito em dizer que se trata de um homem caucasiano que media os seus bons um metro e oitenta centímetros e que pesava cerca de oitenta quilos, tudo indica que terá sofrido muito nos últimos dias da sua vida, porquanto apresenta (p.267) fluxos de sangue na cabeça, provenientes de várias feridas de perfuração na testa e no couro cabeludo, também terá sido espancado no rosto, apresenta feridas nos pulsos como se tivesse sido crucificado […] na verdade, as constituições da mão são demasiadas frágeis para suportar o peso de um homem de tal estatura.

(Novíssimo Testamento 52; emphasis original)

[I do not hesitate to say that it is a Caucasian man of about one meter and eighty centimeters weighing about eighty kilos, he seems to have suffered plenty in the final days of his life, as he displays cranial hemorrhages due to various perforations on the forehead and scalp, he seems also to have been hit in the face, he displays wounds on the wrists as if he had been crucified (…) in truth, the composition of the hands is far too fragile to support the weight of a man of his size.]

The narration of the image by Father Renan is poignantly dry and straightforward, using cursory medical speech in stark contrast with the polish of historical revisionism characteristic of Ernest Renan. The image of an Aryanized Jesus Christ is stripped of its religious meaning and supplemental value – that which furnishes the commodity or symbol with its perceived magic. In this sense, the narrator separates the image from its implied will to truth so central to Life of Jesus’s project of inscribing the superiority of whiteness by revising the pigment and religious/cultural whiteness of Christ. In describing the image in purely physical terms, Father Renan comes close to placing the body of the Christian messiah in the Real, reducing it to its positive physiological being, stripping it – as well as its whiteness, masculinity, and ableism – of its supernatural meaning and thus its religious value. In performing this separation of the corpse (the Real) from the signifiers of religious divinity (the symbolic), this passage effectively delinks the text of religious meaning from its imperial writing.

In her reading of Sousa’s novel, Catarina Martins points out its efforts to destabilize and revise European Christianity as it was imposed by colonial authorities (37). More specifically, ‘Sousa attacks Christianity’s core, not because it is un-African, but more importantly because it is inhuman […] we witness an attempt to develop a religious message that will do justice to a broad concept of Humanity’ (37). We can pinpoint the contours of this greater Humanity taking shape in the form of a persistent questioning of an array of imperial claims to normativity. By offering the above example of Christianity’s relationship with Empire, the former a part of the latter’s discursive field, the narrator sets the scene for both the reincarnated Jesus’s experiences in the realm of intersubjective meaning and her mission to change this realm.

(p.268) Dialogic Epistemes

The sudden reincarnation of the messianic figure, now as an embodiment of otherness vis-à-vis the image of historical universality in terms of race, gender, age, and ability as the standard bearer of Westernness appears, at first glance, to inaugurate an end moment. This would be the eschatology of History through a ground-clearing motion that brings forth a zero moment or new beginning. As the narrator warns soon after the development of the photo, however,

E tudo está ainda no começo, apenas no começo, pois a ideia de que a história termina aqui, que depois da resurreição tudo acabou, é errada, é exactamente aqui que começa toda a história, e tudo que se vai ouvir nos próximos tempos é isto mesmo.

(Novíssimo Testamento 51)

[And this was merely the beginning, just the beginning, as the idea that the story ends here, that after the resurrection everything ends, is false; it is precisely here that the whole story begins, and all that will be heard in the coming time is exactly that.]

The reincarnation does not simultaneously deliver a new realm of intersubjective meaning. Rather Jesus, now in the terrestrial body of a black elderly woman, is very much placed into the signifying field of Empire. Despite being widely recognized as the reincarnation of the messianic figure, Jesus must confront the ways in which her body is inscribed in terms of race, sexuality, and gender.

As the reincarnation of Jesus, she is also ensnared by the religious writings pertaining to the established canonical notion of the Christian messiah. In a chapter titled ‘Sermão da Montanha’ [‘Sermon on the Mount’], referring to the portion of the Gospel of Matthew (chapters 5–7) that presents arguably the most-recited series of Jesus’s moral teachings, Jesus cannot decide whether to simply follow what has been written (what she apparently said according to the Scriptures) or break with the Gospel:

estaria Jesus a ser outra vez vítima de Si própria?, refém da sua própria sorte?, cumpridora eleita de uma missão que nunca escolhera?, dona de uma vida já escrita?, com capítulos e versículos em que Ela não participara?

(Novíssimo Testamento 110)

[was Jesus once more a victim of Herself? A hostage of Her own destiny? The elected agent of a mission She had never chosen? Owner of a life already written, with chapters and verses in which She had not participated?]

(p.269) Jesus quickly realizes that her actions are inseparable from a realm of desire that has written and has read her prior to her reincarnation.

This is ultimately the crux of subjectivation, which we have explored in previous chapters – occupying a signifier that has already been inscribed, one whose desire has been tentatively synchronized with that of power; whose words, in her case, have already been ventriloquized through power’s writings in religious form. In looking to establish her own voice and site of signification, Jesus must confront the scenes of writing that had imperially created and ensnared her. The scriptures, moreover, narrate the actions of a messianic figure pertaining to a divergent subject-position, one grounded in imperial notions of racial and gender universality.

It is against this particular field of meaning – framing intersubjective relations and knowledge of time, space, and bodies – that Jesus realizes she must inaugurate a Third Age, that which comes after the Current Era. This new age of intersubjective reality will not appear and impose itself spontaneously, however. As Jesus explains, it is one based on a dialogic intersubjectivity, as opposed to the monologic scene of imperial signification:

Jesus estava ali para ver e ouvir, era inaugurada com Ela a era da palavra, a Terceira Idade do Mundo, em que o diálogo terá a força do Verbo, e Jesus ali estava para atender o seu povo, gente que até vergonha de falar tinha porque desconhecia a palavra certa.

(Novíssimo Testamento 103)

[Jesus was there to see and listen, with Her was inaugurated the era of the word, the Third Age of the World, in which dialogue will have the power of the Word, and Jesus was there to tend to her people, people who even felt ashamed to speak because they did not know the right word.]

In potentiating the emergence of new sites of signification, the displacement of the monologic foundation of reality also opens a space for the articulation of new forms of knowledge, the production of which had been barred by Empire. This sort of play and inversion between margins and centers is not new to works by Mário Lúcio Sousa, namely his plays, as Christina McMahon explores in ‘Sozinha no Palco (Lusófono)?’ (2014).

A large portion of the diegetic action follows Jesus as she listens to the pain, quotidian challenges, and maladies faced by the multidão [multitude] who search for a miraculous solution to these problems. Before such an enormous crowd living in anguish – brought on, in many cases, by contemporary power – Jesus reflects that ‘detrás das palavras vulgares do sofrimento estava um mundo em decadência’ [‘behind the vulgar words (p.270) of suffering was a decaying world’] (Novíssimo Testamento 103). In listening and permitting dialogue, Jesus allows the inscription of each individual to signify their own suffering and bring forth their own knowledge of reality. While many members of the multitude communicate their ordeals overtly pertaining to Empire and its system of differences, especially regarding disability, many of these also take on an element of the fantastic. This is the case, for instance, of a young boy able to button and unbutton the clothes of others simply by whistling, or a man who chose to live in trees rather than on the ground. The latter had become known in the village as one of the so-called ‘endemoninhados’ [‘the possessed’] – a group feared and marginalized due to illness, mode of living, or (dis)ability.

The multitude originally brings Jesus to the endemoninhados in order to cure their difference. Jesus listens attentively to both the endemoninhados and to others involved (witnesses, family members, etc.), but refuses to perform any miracle. In the case of the man living in the trees, for instance, she proclaims to both him and the multitude: ‘Deixai-o nas alturas’ [‘Let him live in the heights’] (Novíssimo Testamento 155). The narrator captures the significance of Jesus’s resolution:

E aquele homem voltou à sua vivenda, e os endiabrados pularam de alegria e todos os que estavam presentes, outrora temerosos do aspecto dos energúmenos, ficaram surpreendidos, e eis que, definitivamente, entenderam aqueles que sabiam e queriam entender o seguinte, um pormenor, isto é, que os chamados bastardos pelos próprios progenitors, afinal, não o são aos olhos de Jesus, e, se bastardos foram, já não o eram aos olhos do povo, porque quando pularam de alegria, fizeram-no não como manifestação de protesto pela liberdade própria, mas pela simples liberdade do outro.

(Novíssimo Testamento 155)

[And that man returned to his home, and the possessed jumped with joy and all those present, who had been scared by the appearance of the possessed, were surprised, and henceforth those who knew and wanted to understand definitively understood the following: that those called ‘bastards’ by their own progenitors were not so, after all, in the eyes of Jesus and, if they had been bastards, they were no longer so in the eyes of the people, because when they jumped with joy, they did so not as a protest for individual freedom, but to celebrate the freedom of the other.]

Jesus successfully undoes the dominant categories of human corporal classification and the way in which bodies are known and interpreted within the realm of intersubjective meaning. The so-called ‘possessed’ are (p.271) no longer categorized as such among the multitude. In doing this, Jesus also displaces the gaze that oversees the reproduction of power through such categories, including disability as an imperial classification and inscription of otherness. In this sense, she also gestures toward an altering of the terms by which subjectivation repeatedly occurs within Empire. The performance of subjectivity within Empire is remolded to no longer follow imperial knowledge and classification of bodies.

Through this decentering of the interconnected system of classification and gaze of Empire’s signifying field, dialogism is potentiated. As such, the ‘other,’ as a body/object signified through imperial difference and knowledge, inches closer to freedom from imperial meaning. The dismantling of categorizations of otherness becomes a project against imperial epistemic violence, a term brought forth within the field of postcolonial inquiry by Gayatri Spivak in ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ (1993), drawing on Foucault’s exploration of discourses of madness in eighteenth-century Europe. The term refers, in both Foucault and Spivak, to a field of knowledge serving as a means of domination over the groups contained within said field. In regard to Foucault’s example of epistemic violence and overhaul, Spivak reflects: ‘But what if that particular redefinition was only part of the narrative of history in Europe as well as in the colonies? What if the two projects of epistemic overhaul – European madness and colonial normality – worked as dislocated and unacknowledged parts of a vast two-handed engine?’ (31).

As Spivak suggests, madness and normality, or difference and normality, are two sides of the same coin of imperial epistemology. In the moment Jesus abolishes signified difference/abnormality, she also dismantles normality and the bodies ensnared within that epistemic dichotomy. This deconstruction also dislocates the power to signify from any notion of normality. In this case, access to participation in collective signification is now afforded to all and on a level field, not guided toward Empire’s desire for the reproduction of a power spectrum. Jesus had already signaled this intention earlier in delinking herself from established scripture, urging the multitude to separate their interpretations of phenomena from those found in scripture: ‘Não me tomeis por aquilo que julgais que sou, mas por aquilo que vós sois’ [‘Do not take me to be what you judge me to be, but as what you are’] (Novíssimo Testamento 115). In yet another act of delinking, Jesus separates the desire of the subject from the desire of Empire, in its Christian doctrinal form. As far as is possible, she attempts to present desire as a single-entity operation, perhaps not in the sense of a subject and desire isolated from ideology, but an open-ended, unguided desire of the subject within a revised field of meaning and relationship with said field. This would reformulate the subject by inaugurating desire as (p.272) de-synchronized from an ego-ideal – the function within a spectrum of power and its implied field of meaning ‘from where we are being observed’ (Žižek, Sublime 116).

The ego-ideal, in acting as the gaze that reaffirms the subject’s good standing in relation to the desire of the big Other (power’s field of meaning), ultimately serves to reaffirm the subject’s place within this field. As an ideological and psychic function, the ego-ideal is also intricately tied to the imperial modes of epistemic violence which the reincarnated Jesus seeks to eliminate. The ego-ideal’s fundamental function for the big Other in terms of the subject’s desire pertains to identity – particularly the performance of it in a mode synchronized with Empire’s desire for the reproduction of its spectrum of power. As a constellation of subject-positions/signifiers that comprise this realm of power, the individual is subjectivized to fit one of these positions, first introduced in the mirror stage as ideal ego. The latter, as well as the constellation of subject-positions, is in turn produced by way of imperial taxonomies of bodies in terms of race, gender, ability, health, class, and sexuality. The ego-ideal thus provides the link between Empire’s desire and the subjectivized performance of identity within and across these imperial categories. In this regard, Jesus attempts to delink the ideological foundations and inner apparatuses of imperial subjectivation.

In doing so, Jesus is also careful to not simply take the place of the ego-ideal, to not recircuit desire in any particular direction. This begins to become evident from the last quote above: ‘do not take me to be what you judge me to be, but as what you are’ (Novíssimo Testamento 115). When she decenters herself from desire, desire seems an unhinged phenomena with neither an ego-ideal nor an ideal ego derived from imperial knowledge and classification. Furthermore, Jesus performs a new relationship with knowledge, separating herself from it, from the subject-position Lacan calls ‘the subject supposed to know’ or ‘supposed subject of knowledge’ (Lacan, Seminar XI 232). Lacan’s use of the term refers mainly to the role of the analyst in the clinical setting, but we can find a similar dynamic in the initial relationship between Jesus and her followers, who seek her guidance and resolutions. In calling on her followers to replace her with themselves, as in the quote above, she displaces her agency over knowledge – a gesture that goes hand in hand with her vision of a dialogic intersubjective sphere of meaning.

(p.273) Rewriting the Dark Continent and Decentering Masculinity

The most notable aspect of Jesus’s goal of inaugurating a dialogic realm of social life resides in her deconstruction of masculinity and its claim to power, namely its power over signification. Her incursion into masculinity, namely its performance and its relationship with power, begins with the first time she speaks to the crowd of followers, her version of the ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ One of the first questions she is asked after gesturing toward the delinked desire of the multitude, and separating herself from it, goes as follows: ‘Senhora Jesus, sendo Vossa Santidade mulher, que me dirá do adultério?’ [Madame Jesus, since Your Holiness is a woman, what can you tell me about adultery?’] (Novíssimo Testamento 116). Before giving us Jesus’s reply, the narrator provides the ideological backdrop to her eventual answer, pointing out adultery’s masculine scene of writing by noting that, regarding adultery, ‘as opiniões dos homens, as únicas até hoje conhecidas’ [‘the opinions of men (are) the only ones known today’] (Novíssimo Testamento 119).

The narrator interestingly frames adultery as a discursive construction produced for and by the performance of masculinity in its relationship with compulsory heterosexuality, and the parallel silencing and masculine inscription of women’s desire. The parameters of the definition and application of adultery as both a practice and a criminal act are, as the narrator suggests, negotiated by men. This brief reflection points toward a masculine sphere of articulation (explored in chapters 4 and 5) that surveys, categorizes, and defines bodies and their actions within a realm of intersubjective meaning in which masculine power is couched. The narrator’s classification of masculine opinion regarding adultery as ‘the only one known today’ speaks to the masculine power to signify and its monologic grip on the meanings that inform social experience.

Along these lines of inquiry, Jesus’s reincarnation and subsequent journey through Empire as a woman consistently grapple with the products of this masculine inscription of bodies and actions. As an example of this grappling, the novel contains several passages that can be read as engaging Freud’s infamous conception of women’s sexuality as a ‘dark continent for psychology’ (Standard Edition XX 212). Freud’s stance has come to embody both the centrality of the male body as phantasmatic totality, its historical universality, and the foreclosing of non-cisgendered male identities from signifying their own bodies and actions. The premise is, of course, that such bodies are ‘too other’ to have the right to signify. Sander Gilman lucidly extrapolates the imperial categories of otherness at work in Freud’s theorization of female sexuality, particularly those of illness and abjection, by pinpointing Freud’s movement from a ‘suggestion of disease (p.274) and difference into a discourse about the “blackness” (the unknowability) of the woman’ (Freud 38). This unknowability goes hand in hand with the systemic quotidian barring from the signifying process.

The narrator’s words also point to the other side of unknowability – the production of meaning over the unknowable. For every foreclosed site of signification, in other words, there is a series of signifiers of alterity. The Freudian question that comes in tandem with his proclamation of women’s sexuality as a dark continent – ‘What does woman want?’ – marks the space over which women have been signified. This space is, of course, that of desire. In the masculine heterosexist-dominated sphere of articulation and historicization, from which women and non-conforming gender identities are barred, women’s desire is a patriarchal inscription, circuited to the desire of the Other by way of the masculine right to signify. The imperial signifying process does not only produce categories and classifications of otherness, it attributes a desire to the othered body. This is, of course, the centuries-old formula of orientalism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, xenophobic rhetoric, and other hegemony-derived phobias and forms of hate. The other is signified as ‘wanting’ to harm; exploit resources; rape/be raped (another tired chauvinistic trope regarding women’s desire); and corrupt the phantasmatic standard, norm, or moral fabric thereof.

In the briefest of sentences, in other words, the narrator refers to myriad layers of signification against which Jesus must battle. It is in response to the forces and products of imperial signification that, later in the novel, Jesus seeks exile on the uninhabited Cape Verdean island of Santa Luzia. Not only is it the only uninhabited island of the archipelago (of the ten main islands), it is, as the narrator reminds us, the only island bearing a woman’s name. The reasoning behind Jesus’s decision to seek exile on Santa Luzia invokes, once more, Freud’s trope of the ‘dark continent.’ In Santa Luzia, the narrator tells us, Jesus

podia assim fugir às Escrituras, e se havia a ilha de Santa Luzia pelo caminho, não era, todavia, pela Santa que Jesus a elegera, mas antes por a ilha ser virgem e deserta, sem homens nas suas entranhas agrestes.

(Novíssimo Testamento 214)

[could, in this way, elude the Scriptures, and if the island of Santa Luzia was on the horizon, it was not because of this particular saint that Jesus selected the island, but rather because the island was virgin and deserted, without men in its rough entrails.]

Santa Luzia’s past invokes much relevant imperial history, particularly that to which Freud’s term refers. Due to its extremely arid conditions, Santa (p.275) Luzia is deemed inhospitable in the long term, although it is a tourist site for brief visits. As such, it is the only island of the archipelago that resisted colonization and remained uninhabited, save for a small agricultural community that attempted to live there in the eighteenth century.

Santa Luzia’s appeal to Jesus, the fact that it is deserted, allows the island to embody more than the ‘unknowable,’ but also the unsignifiable. The novel thus contorts the trope of the dark continent into a symbol of resistance – a space that masculine historicization could not incorporate into Empire. It is, therefore, in a place that has eluded dominant meaning that Jesus can in turn elude the meanings contained in the Scriptures, those that lay out the actions she is supposed to follow, the blueprint for her subjectivation.

It is equally important to note that her exile in Santa Luzia comes as a consequence of the death of João, her object of romantic desire. João appears to her earlier in the streets of Lém as an apparition while he is actually jailed in a nearby prison, presumably the colonial prison of Tarrafal. Before she can come into contact with him, he is beheaded in prison by the colonial authorities, thus invoking the story of John the Baptist to which his name refers (João being the Portuguese equivalent of John). Jesus believed the earlier apparitions of João were signs that she must seek him out. Although the narrator does not fully flesh out the contours of Jesus’s romantic interest in João, perhaps in order to avoid speaking for Jesus’s desire, the reader can nonetheless grasp Jesus’s intention to live her terrestrial life as the messiah differently from her previous life as ‘the most devout’ Catholic. In that previous life, as she often remembers, she repressed all sexual and corporal desire in accordance with the imperial, patriarchal surveillance and control over bodies.

As the reincarnation of Jesus, she proposes to center the body as the means by which to know the world – spaces, objects, and other bodies. She begins to arrive at this conclusion when, following her version of the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ she allows herself to be touched by the multitude as she walks through the crowd. The narrator reveals that:

experimentava agora Jesus o que era a paixão segundo a carne e percebia que qualquer coisa para chegar ao espírito tem de passar pelo coração, e para passar pelo coração, tem de passar pelos sentidos.

(Novíssimo Testamento 140)

[Jesus was now experiencing the passion of the flesh and understood that for anything to reach the spirit, it had to pass through the heart; and to pass through the heart, it has to pass through the senses.]

(p.276) Jesus thus initiates a rethinking of Christian doctrine to displace the primacy of ‘spirit’ for the agency of the body and the senses to understand the physical world. Her previous subjectivity – that which was known as the ‘most devout Catholic’ – was arguably close to what we may consider a ‘pure subject of ideology’, one that subscribes fully to the ‘representation of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence’ (Althusser 109). In avoiding many forms of direct contact with the outside world, she had only come to know the world through the historicized representation of it.

We can thus also read the passage above as a championing of Spinozan immanence in the vein of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s stance against Empire. It is with regard to Spinoza and immanence that Hardt and Negri may offer insight into Jesus’s own philosophical and ethical project in the novel: ‘It is a philosophy that renewed the splendors of revolutionary humanism, putting humanity and nature in the position of God, transforming the world into a territory of practice, and affirming the democracy of the multitude as the absolute form of politics’ (77). Reminiscent of Spinoza’s humanism, Jesus’s feeling of the multitude’s touch provides her ‘uma sensação tão humana, tão humana que jamais tão perto de Deus Jesus se tinha sentido’ [‘a sensation so human, so very human that Jesus felt closer to God than ever before’] (Novíssimo Testamento 140). In this sense, for both Spinoza and reincarnated Jesus, the body’s immanent contact with matter, less mediated by meaning/ideology emanating from and serving power, is central to a new realm of democratic social life. This would go hand in hand with Jesus’s dialogic vision, as immanence would displace hegemonically articulated and disseminated meaning, and thus permit the individual to inscribe their own signifiers. The body thus becomes the instrument – rather than object – of knowledge; and meaning emerges a posteriori, rather than as a controlled phantasmatic frame of subjective experience.

Immanence and dialogism would thus constitute a new dialectic, mutually reproducing one another, making one another possible, each sublating the (re-)emergence of the other. The meanings that are inscribed through bodily experience are, therefore, barred from becoming frames of experience for others. An inscription of meaning at the level of the individual can, in other words, never become a hegemonic form of knowing, as it is contingent on intersubjective exchange. It is against this backdrop that Jesus enunciates her own desire in relation to the public as she searches for João.

Part of the new realm of intersubjective life which she seeks to build is the decolonizing of the body and corporal pleasure from the patriarchal schema (p.277) of power. This also implies a decentering and contestation of heteronormative masculine and imperially oriented knowledge pertaining especially to women and queer identities. Such a shift in meaning surrounding the body also points toward a further shift in the terms by which subjectivation plays out. The body, across gender and sexual identities, themselves intersecting with racial and socioeconomic identities, is now allowed a greater space for pleasure, an expansion of the pleasure principle, the amount of enjoyment permitted for the balance of a new symbolic realm. This comes arguably in response to Empire’s built-in privilege of enjoyment for men (explored in greater detail in Chapter 4), which she underscores in her ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in the context of the masculine discursive construction of adultery as an apparatus of control:

Ouvistes o que foi dito aos antigos, Não cometerás adultério, e que qualquer que atentar numa mulher para a cobiçar, já em seu coração cometeu adultério com ela, Eu porém vos digo desde esta minha condição, sendo assim, os homens, a não ser que em seus corações haja amor, são todos adúlteros e disto não escapam o próprio Adão com Eva e Lilith, e mais vos digo, se os homens assim se comportam todos, desde os tempos dos tempos, então é o adultério que deve ser abolido.

(Novíssimo Testamento 119; emphasis original)

[You heard what was said to the ancients, Thou shall not commit adultery, and that anyone that covets a woman, has already in their heart committed adultery with her. I, however, from my standpoint, tell you that, unless they have love in their hearts, men are all adulterous, and from this there is no escape, not even for Adam with Eve and Lilith, and what is more, if all men behave in this way, since the beginning of time, it is adultery that should be abolished.]

What may seem, at first glance, to be a broad generalization of men as inherently adulterous, speaks to the ever-present possibility of masculine enjoyment in adultery, an enjoyment from which women are barred. Adultery, as part of the official laws regulating intersubjective life, what Lacan calls the Law, invokes a socially constructed pleasure principal – the parameters of pleasure (sexual or otherwise) that a subject may access within the limits of the Law. Enjoyment, as discussed in Chapter 4, is for Lacan pleasure beyond the Law. Like Catarina in Chapter 4, Jesus’s reflection on adultery leads us to confront the heteronormative masculine enjoyment sanctioned by Empire, a breaking of official Law that, more importantly, reproduces and reinforces the imperial spectrum of power and field of (p.278) meaning. In other words, the enjoyment allowed to men, as in the example of adultery, performs and reinscribes masculine power. In this regard, Jesus does not approach adultery as merely an act, but as a legal and judicial edifice that is unequally enforced. To abolish adultery as a legal apparatus would thus diminish the space specifically designated for masculine enjoyment and privilege – in relation to the barring of women from enjoyment and the significational repercussions thereof.

This leveling of the plane of pleasure and enjoyment is merely a part of the new civilization Jesus wishes to construct, grounded no longer in the repression of pleasure for the sake of a paradisiac afterlife, but in the centering of pleasure as the worship of life itself:

ficaria decretado de Si para Si que, a partir daquela hora, o culto seria o culto da vida, seria a vida todo o seu acatamento, seriam os seus ensinamentos a adoração da vida, sobre a vida Jesus edificaria o seu altar, sobre uma nova vida construiria a nova civilização, da vida implantaria uma nova cultura, faria da vida toda a devoção, seria viver a única homenagem, tudo se passaria a fazer em honra da vida […] pregaria como religião unicamente a vida […] para que juntos adoressem a vida como a Deus, que, alias, passarão a significar a mesmíssima coisa e constituirão uma única entidade, Deus será Vida e Vida será Deus.

(Novíssimo Testamento 174)

[it was to be decreed by Her that, from that point forward, worship would be the worship of life, all deference would be to life. Her teachings would be on the worship of life, upon life Jesus would erect Her altar, upon a new life She would construct a new civilization, from life She would implant a new culture. All devotion would be to life, to live would be the only homage, everything would be done in honor of life (…) life would be the only religion to preach (…) so that together all would adore life as if it were God, which would, therefore, come to mean the exact same thing and would form one single entity. God will be Life and Life will be God.]

Ushering in such a revised collective view of humanity and approach to subjective experience entails for Jesus an undoing of both the existing view and the imperial forces that have ideologically engendered and reproduced it.

(p.279) Undoing Masculinity and a Move Beyond Gender Categories

It is with the objective of shifting the aforementioned collective view of humanity and intersubjective relations that Jesus centers her attention on the violent performance of masculinity. In the same paragraph of reflection as the previously cited passage, the narrator relates Jesus’s engagement, as a woman, with the performance of masculinity and its quotidian excesses:

agora a diferença é monumental, observa a postura de uma mulher, uma mulher não baba os copos, não sorve de um hausto um trago sem o ver sequer, uma mulher não arrota no final de gole, uma mulher não pega num copo como se fosse uma pedra, certamente que não, uma mulher não brinda com esse jeito de lutador grego nas tabernas, espancando os vidros, separando os ombros.

(Novíssimo Testamento 175)

[now that difference is monumental, observe the demeanor of a woman, a woman does not slobber on cups, does not slurp a drink all in one go without even looking at it, a woman does not belch at the end of a sip, a woman does not grab a cup as if it were a stone. Certainly not, a woman does not toast with that attitude of a Greek wrestler in the taverns, slamming down her glass, spreading her shoulders.]

This particular passage leaves plenty to unpack, namely its essentialist gendering. As Martins notes regarding the plot’s ushering in of a new brand of human relations through the subaltern experience of a black woman, ‘this statement however falls into some traps from a feminist point of view: it presents a mythical womanhood that is still stereotypical and builds upon a rather traditional conception of binary sexual identities’ (39). Though this passage – and others throughout the novel – lacks a degree of critical nuance in relation to the dominant constructions of gender and sexuality, it nevertheless points in an interesting direction regarding gender identity and the imperial categorizations thereof.

Despite, or rather through, its gender essentialism, the passage underscores the development of a gender binary into which subjects are interpellated and formed within Empire. Working within such a problematic binary, the passage highlights the fixed movements and actions of everyday hyper-masculinity which, through imperial gender interpellations, are not permissible to women. In barring women from performing identity through these performative signifiers, the latter have become part of the masculine lexicon of power and privilege within Empire. Despite evoking a stereotypical form of womanhood, within the context of the imperially engaged plot, we are directed toward how such a stereotype has been formed and historicized. (p.280) The stereotype, ideal ego of womanhood for the reproduction of imperial patriarchal power, is one that is historically calibrated, through patriarchal circuits of desire, to be the rigidly formed binary other of masculinity and the everyday performance of its own power, which the narrator points out.

The shifts in gendered power suggested in the passage thus begin with an inversion of the structure constructed by current power, before undoing the structure itself. The shift, in other words, comes from the imperially formed subject-position of gendered subalternity. This is also the case with racialized subalternity in the form of the resurrected Jesus, as the intersectional embodiment of imperial categories. One can argue that this is part of the novel’s ethics of anti-imperial engagement in the rethinking of imperial categories, toward their potential undoing, which is initiated – significantly – from the ontological sites of subaltern subject positions as they were created by and within Empire. Undoing all meaning through one divine gesture seems impossible to the reincarnated protagonist. Challenging and inverting Empire is, instead, a struggle to be led by those in subject-positions that have most endured Empire’s effects.

The characterization of masculinity offered here takes particular aim at its quotidian violence that becomes part of the masculine body schema through imagery such as ‘Greek wrestler’ and ‘slamming the glass.’ From here, we are led to ponder the role of masculinity within power, and especially in the reproduction and reinscription of the evident gender binary. From this tracing of a normative masculine body schema and performativity, Jesus ultimately makes the connection to the monologic grip on historicization and the realm of intersubjective meaning that is concomitant with various forms of social compartmentalization, uneven flows of capital, and the discursive production of otherness and normativity. Herein lies the core of the novel’s mission in transgendering and re-racializing Jesus; it is more than a diegetic device to question the self-signified legitimacy and universality of white masculinity. Rather, the novel appears to think through a new mode of conceptualizing interpersonal actions away from what is presented as the abject brutality of masculine inscription.

In opposition to this, the transgendering of Jesus, the shift in subject-position from which to view humanity, implies what the narrator refers to as ‘estética’ or ‘aesthetics’ with overtly decolonial contours:

estética no acto de viver mesmo, nos mais corriqueiros imundos actos do dia-a-dia, e cada coisa terá o seu antídote natural, estética na paz significaria continuar, estética na guerra significaria parar, estética na ira significaria ria, estética no sexo significaria erotismo, estética em mim significaria tu, estética na abundância significaria economato (p.281) significaria partilha significaria unidade significaria nós significaria todos, sem vírgula nem reticências.

(Novíssimo Testamento 175)

[aesthetics in the very act of living, in the most quotidian and banal acts, and each thing will have its natural antidote, aesthetics in peace would mean to continue, aesthetics in war would mean to cease, aesthetics in ire would mean to laugh, aesthetics in sex would mean Eros, aesthetics in me would mean you, aesthetics regarding abundance would mean economics would mean sharing would mean unity would mean us would mean everyone, with no commas or ellipses.]

The term ‘estética’ thus seems to imply not only a shift away from violence and discursively constructed inequalities, but also a shift toward dialogism, once again. This passage, however, takes dialogism even further, connecting it to a larger outcome underscored in the last lines of the passage – a shift toward collective thinking without the aforementioned imperial taxonomies of human life. This would begin with an effacement of masculinity as a collection of signs and performances, and through which imperial power and its taxonomies of life are carried out.

Jesus’s actions immediately following this reflection effectively tie all these ideas together. She quickly decides to put this ‘estética’ into practice at a small local tavern with Clara and the Marias. There she faces the imperial field of meaning orchestrated by the violent scenes of writing she aims to displace. The four women take their seats at a table as the regulars stare. They are greeted by a server, to whom Jesus declares through the voice of Clara: ‘Vim provar o vinho’ [‘I came to taste the wine’] (Novíssimo Testamento 177). Her statement provokes much surprise among the onlookers, as the narrator tells us:

E pronunciou Jesus com água na boca aquelas palavras, como se costuma dizer, para dupla surpresa de todos, inclusive das Marias, que sabiam que tal comportamento ia, de uma assentada, contra duas regras da tradição, a primeira, pelo facto de Jesus ser mulher e, a segunda, por ser Jesus Jesus, isto é, por ser Jesus quem julgavam os outros que Ela era, pois, como se sabe, nesses mandos dos costumes e das tradições, não importa o que tu és, ou o que julgas ser, mas sim aquilo que és na cabeça dos outros, ou o que significas para os demais, concluindo daí que Jesus era efectivamente aquilo que o povo pensava dela.

(Novíssimo Testamento 177)

[And so Jesus, her mouth watering, proclaimed those words to the double surprise of everyone, including the Marias, who knew that (p.282) such behavior was simultaneously in opposition to two traditional rules: first, due to the fact that Jesus was a woman and, secondly, as Jesus was Jesus, that is, for being the Jesus the others perceived Her to be, since, as we know, as far as traditions and customs go, it does not matter who you are, or who you think you are, but rather, what you are in the minds of others, or what you mean to the outside world, concluding from this that Jesus was precisely that which the people thought She was.]

The passage makes clear once more that Jesus is being read, her body circulating in a realm of textuality to be interpreted. Jesus’s response to this and the subsequent consternation of the crowd and service staff is to undo the texts that govern the interpretation of bodies – in this case, those pertaining particularly to gender difference and performance. The texts that construct the notion of woman – those to which Jesus must adhere through performance – dictate ‘proper’ and ‘normative’ actions for women within the space of social meaning. These texts governing social interactions also enunciate the bar as a physical space primarily for the performance of masculinity. It is also one in which women unaccompanied by men are read in particular ways. These implications undoubtedly factored into Jesus’s decision to go to the bar following the previous reflection on masculinity and its social narrativization. Although the passage operates by way of a strict gender binary, Jesus’s identitarian performance appropriates gendered signifiers of both sides of the binary and temporarily effaces the legibility of both, and thus avoids a performance of gender that falls into the patriarchal heteronormative stereotype of womanhood.

Jesus insists, once more through the voice of Clara, on being served without the reading of her body and actions, a reading that infringes on freedom and impacts desire while compromising, moreover, the goal of a collective dialogism. After Jesus, Clara, and the two Marias are served their respective glasses of wine, Jesus raises hers for a silent toast with the entire bar, leading to a solemn ‘momento de alto silêncio e de uma grande comunhão’ [‘moment of supreme silence and great communion’] (Novíssimo Testamento 197) which, more importantly,

causou uma breve exaltação e muita cumplicidade, e todas as antigas diferenças se esvaíram momentaneamente nos pingos de bebida que iam caindo dos copos, e assim como desapareceram as gotas também sumiram as desigualdades, e porque a ocasião era especial mandaram os homens da taberna que fosse servido mais vinho, isto é, na linguagem tabernácula, que fosse a todos presentes servido o vinho, (p.283) a todos, livremente das suas condições, fossem elas de género ou de espécie.

(Novíssimo Testamento 197)

[caused a brief exaltation and much conviviality, and all of the old differences dissipated momentarily in the drops of drink that fell from the cups, and as the drops disappeared so too did the inequities, and because the occasion was special the men in the tavern ordered that more wine be served, that is, in the tavernacular language, that all present be served wine, regardless of their respective conditions, be they of gender or species.]

For this brief and fleeting moment, the imperial field of differences is suspended. Although the narrator mentions, at different points, Jesus’s mission to engender a new era in which ‘fossem as mulheres e os homens todos iguais’ [‘women and men were all equal’] (Novíssimo Testamento 177), the manner in which she attempts to inaugurate this new age of intersubjective relations implies, at one level, a decentering or effacement of masculinity and deconstruction of its performance. On another level, spawning this new age, of which decentered masculinity would be a part, seems to suggest an abolition of the texts that inform gender categories.

Jesus’s very act of entering the bar and demanding wine appears to offer an example of this. Coded as a masculine act or, at the very least, one that is not characteristic of dominant/imperial/bourgeois notions of feminine propriety, she purposefully performs against her perceived gender identity within the realm of meaning that aims to establish the relationship between genitalia, gender, and sexuality. We can thus approach Jesus’s actions here as an example of what Judith Butler coined ‘gender insubordination.’ Butler’s term refers to an act that exposes normative gender and sexual identities ‘as an incessant and panicked imitation of its own naturalized idealization’ (‘Imitation’ 314; emphasis original). The topic of gender performativity is one that Butler has revisited across numerous books and essays spanning nearly two decades. In her later Undoing Gender (2004), Butler elaborates further on acts of gender insubordination and what their implications may be, drawing a parallel between an individual’s ‘doing’ of gender in their own way and the ‘undoing’ of dominant notions of personhood.

Along similar lines, by effacing the legibility of gender distinctions and categories, Jesus carves out a space for free assumption of gender identities that demonstrates a radical awareness against gender essentialism. This is an awareness that gender performance resides in a plane of socially constructed meaning where sexism, homophobia, and transphobia also reside. Jesus’s enactment of masculinity displaces it as a biological given and prompts the (p.284) reader to think of masculinity, or other cemented/normalized gender identities, as a performance, as ‘an imitation for which there is no original’ (‘Imitation’ 313). In this sense, Jesus’s actions here lay the groundwork for potentially critical gender nonconformity that informs the current life of Jesus as a trans identity. As Butler elaborates, ‘identity categories tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes, whether as the normalizing categories of oppressive structures or as the rallying points for a liberatory contestation of that very oppression’ (‘Imitation’ 308). It is in the sense of liberatory contestation against such categories of power and domination that Jesus affirms womanhood while also seeking to inaugurate the possibility of free gender inscription outside of the imperial texts that classify and gender bodies.

The temporary dissolution of differences that takes place in the scene of community at the bar comes about as a consequence of Jesus’s act of gender insubordination. Performing an action coded as masculine while being read as a woman effectively delinks the action from a sign of gender distinction, which is precisely what Jesus calls for. Her action, that of entering a bar and ordering wine, is part of what we may consider a constantly negotiated and constructed dictionary of actions that make gender difference, in this case masculinity, legible as such. This is precisely Butler’s argument when she clarifies performativity in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (1993): ‘Performativity is thus not a singular “act,” for it is always a reiteration of a norm or set of norms, and to the extent that it acquires an act-like status in the present, it conceals or dissimulates the conventions of which it is a repetition’ (12). The repetition does not merely reinforce the repeated norm, it seemingly adds another layer of normativity and legitimacy that moves the norm further away from its Real inexistence. The repetition, in other words, adds to the symbolic realm and dictionary of norms by once again separating it from conventionality and reproducing its ‘truth-ness.’ To phrase it in yet another way, according to Butler, borrowing here from Jacques Derrida, the repetition of the acts coded as constitutive of a discursively articulated gender identity lends to that identity/category the semblance of truth which goes hand in hand with the legitimacy of normativity.

Butler seeks to drive home this argument by drawing on Derrida’s notions of iterability and citationality. Like the act of signature in Derrida’s essay ‘Signature, Event, Context,’ a performed gender norm acts as a ritual that is immediately recognized within a signifying field mainly due to its previous inscriptions, thus reproducing its existing legibility while aiding in the constitution of the subject:

performativity cannot be understood outside of a process of iterability, a regularized and constrained repetition of norms. And this repetition (p.285) is not performed by a subject; this repetition is what enables a subject and constitutes the temporal condition for the subject. This iterability implies that ‘performance’ is not a singular ‘act’ or event, but a ritualized production, a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production, but not, I will insist, determining it fully in advance.

(Butler 95)

The act reaffirms the identity/category of the body performing it as well as the signifying field in which it is recognized. In the case of Jesus’s actions in the bar, however, the legible identity/sign of Jesus’s body and the act recognized as masculine ultimately complicate one another and momentarily throw off the system of gendered meanings by which she is to be read. The repetition reaffirms the subjectivized body, performing it for the sake of maintaining a place in the symbolic realm. The repetition maintains the subject within meaning but, as a repetition, the act is but one of a pre-existing set of acts that constitute the subject, establishing parameters for normative gendered subjectivation.

More than merely acts, the signifying field of power also dictates which identities – emergent from previously performed acts in agreement with the ideal ego into which one is interpellated – are to perform which acts. In other words, part of the gender agreement implied by a rigid gender dichotomy does not permit much space for mixing and matching actions to perform. The interpellation into a gender sign obliges the gendered subject to follow the catalog of actions constructed, indexed, and made available to that particular sign if the subject is to exist in the realm of intersubjective life and meaning. By performing actions, or doing identity, from both sets of repeated and thus gendered actions, Jesus legitimizes a crossing of the gender border that momentarily shuffles both dictionaries of gendered actions into a larger non-categorized volume open to further additions. Her act thus inscribes into the field of meaning new terms by which to perform identity and personhood with the capacity to re-historicize an ideal ego or displace its phantasmatic point of origin altogether. In other words, Jesus’s actions in the novel open the possibility of a gender non-conforming feminist discourse.

In this sense, Jesus’s political project strongly evokes a profound undoing of boundaries in the vein of Donna Haraway’s ‘A Cyborg Manifesto,’ very much a vision for late twentieth- and twenty-first-century historical transformation. Herein lies the socialist-feminist core one may read into O Novíssimo Testamento – the fictional creation of a body/self that is both (p.286) ‘a creature of social reality as a well as a creature of fiction’ (Haraway 291), one that affirms identity while deconstructing the imperially created categories that aim to circuit identity in the form of subjectivation into the realm of power. Haraway’s conceptualization of the cyborg figure captures Jesus’s existence and ethical objectives vis-à-vis Empire: ‘the cyborg has no origin story in the Western sense – a “final” irony since the cyborg is also the awful apocalyptic telos of the “West’s” escalating dominations of abstract individuation, an ultimate self untied at last from all dependency’ (Haraway 292).

Like the cyborg, moreover, Jesus in the novel’s reincarnated appearance emerges almost spontaneously, with little knowledge as to the origins of the body/individual acting as the returned messiah. If we recall, the woman formerly known as the ‘most devout’ of Lém, had no known biological family and thus no family history inscribed in local public knowledge. As Haraway elaborates, this sort of detail itself implies a move against the foundations of Western imperial historicization: ‘An origin story in the “Western,” humanist sense depends on the myth of original unity, fullness, bliss and terror, represented by the phallic mother from whom all humans must separate, the task of individual development and of history’ (292). The absence of an origin story for the reincarnated Jesus thus dovetails with her social project of challenging power-driven and power-reproducing categories of human life in favor of a greater freedom to signify across and beyond established taxonomies of bodies and desires.


Jesus’s trajectory and actions in O Novíssimo Testamento thus tie together her conception of a new era of intersubjective existence outside of Empire as well as the means by which to reach such a new culture of life. Representing and calling for an erasure of an imperial system of classification and knowledge dovetails with her dialogical vision of human relations in which a site of articulation does not seek to impose and hold onto its own version of reality. The call for immediacy further ensures that one’s production of meaning does not function as another’s frame through which to perceive and experience the social world. From here, one’s performance or inscription of identity, for instance, ceases to be ensnared in power’s categorization of bodies and the world by enunciating itself across and beyond existing normalized identitarian labels and their implied rituals of being. In this sense, Jesus’s journey offers a sort of blueprint back toward what Spinoza had championed as Humanity as God.