By Susan Antebi (auth.)
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Extra resources for Carnal Inscriptions: Spanish American Narratives of Corporeal Difference and Disability
T. Barnum will perhaps be reminded of Martí’s earlier response to the Coney Island spectacles, as discussed above. Yet, while Martí’s distance from the scenes he describes is partially grounded in melancholy and in a nostalgic longing for home and for Spanish American cultural identity, Tablada is far more willing to enter and engage with the circus scene and to demonstrate a detailed reporter’s knowledge of Barnum’s lucrative enterprise. In this sense, Tablada’s textual project, although initially distant and dismissive of the Coney Island spectacles, creates the Caliban and Coney Island 39 impression of an intense proximity between the literary language of the newspaper chronicle and the live experience of the show.
The more experienced readers of “Coney Island” and other North American scenes apparently need no such reminders, perhaps—ironically—favoring the opportunity to perform the role of the unwitting, infantilized spectator caught in the seemingly unique and irrepeatable quality of the present moment. 10 Within this second opposition, freakishness is either a fixed category, inseparable from the specific group of bodies it designates, or a mode of expression in which anyone can participate, and in which all bodies have a stake.
Radio and movies made amusement ubiquitous, and the movies in particular presented elaborate, convincing illusions at a price Coney Island could not match. From great amusement park spectaculars, Coney came to rely more and more on the sideshows that had been its stock-in-trade before Steeplechase, Luna, and Dreamland were built” (112). Tablada’s evocation of an absent Barnum thus reflects the overarching nostalgia that could be considered symptomatic of Coney Island culture in the 1920s; sideshows were in full swing, yet at once pointed backward to a distant heyday still ripe with future promise for the development of the entertainment industry.