Archival Nothing

Fiol-Matta, Licia

As opposed to other realms of art, like literature or painting, a plethora of “great women singers” has existed in the Caribbean and Latin America since the recording industry began. These were marquee artists with legions of adoring fans. Yet, the critical paucity regarding their careers has been severe. It seems obvious, but bears repeating, that, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, most music writing on Latin America did not engage in a hermeneutic with regards to gender. As I compiled buried, fragmentary, or discarded archival objects, I came to think of my subjects as not having come into critical view yet, as not yet being “interpretable.” I found in the nothing a highly suggestive concept that allowed me to work productively with absences and omissions, but also to analyze singers as able sculptors of a generative nothingness. Related to both the nothing as empty and, in contradistinction, as empty-set, a paradoxical “full emptiness,” I had to consider the common-sense concept of diva, often employed to account for every instance of female stardom and success (rendering it empty). For this book, I decided to keep my critical stance at a remove from the “diva” while not discounting the term’s everyday and scholarly use, the moments when it indexes the generative nothing (which might be one of its definitions). In The Great Woman Singer, I opted for a deferral of diva in favor of a foregrounding of musician.

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November 13, 2019