Drug Lords, Cowboys, and Desperadoes: Violent Myths of the U.S.-Mexico Frontier

When and Where

Monday, October 31, 2022 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
VC 206
Victoria College
91 Charles St. West, Toronto, ON M5S 1K7


Rafael Acosta Morales


We are pleased to welcome professor Rafael Acosta Morales to the University of Toronto for a public lecture and presentation of Drug Lords, Cowboys, and Desperadoes: Violent Myths of the U.S.-Mexico Frontier, published by University of Notre Dame Press in 2021.

About the Book:

Drug Lords, Cowboys and Desperadoes contrasts works of fiction with historical representations of cultural heroes, and focuses on three archetypes: The drug lord - smuggler who claims to engage in social banditry in order to justify his path as an outlaw; the desperado who is forced to become an outlaw in self-defense because of racial or class tension and corrupt police, and the gunslinger who uses weaponized trauma as a basis for a state of exception that justifies violence. On its frontier, the Mexico-U.S. border, liberal representative democracy, shows its shortcomings clearly, and the icons I study belie some of the narratives of our political schema. The system makes use of affective matrixes which reroute affect to a purpose. I propose that the manifestations of violence implicating class and race in which these heroes are often involved arise not in spite of the state and its notions of legality, but because of it and the way in which the law channels affect. Both Mexico and the U.S. have constructed an image of the body politic that is predicated on the experience of political violence, and strategies by which it is normalized and obscured. 

Drug Lords, Cowboys and Desperadoes centers on key notions in the workings of representative democracy: exceptionality, legitimacy and universality. The narratives that have been built around these icons intertwine with the way conflicts related to these notions are resolved in the political arena. No tale is innocent, if widely shared, popular stories always represent structures of enjoyment, affective matrixes that are at the core of political impulses.

About the Presenter:

Rafael Acosta grew up grilling under the shade of the Río Bravo's pecan trees. His current research projects involve the political and legal matrices of affect that develop around culturally relevant stories and narrative figures. That or how stories convince us to do (or not to do) things in the political arena. His research interests focus on a notion of comparative literature that uses Mexico and the United States (instead of the France-England-Germany axis) as the nexus of meaning that allows for interpretation. He studies the narratives of these countries in conjunction with other European or narrative constructs, for example, studying the kinship of drug runner ballads and the Illiad, in order to develop a concept of an economy of honor and glory and to examine how literary representations of the drug lord develop notions of political legitimacy that belie social contract theories: how the Aeneid and the Trojan's nation building narrative relates to other stateless nations identitary narratives, specifically in the construction of Chicano Aztlán through prison narratives, or how the Cormac McCarthy's nomad dystopias in Blood Meridian help us analyze the dangers of the territory of exception where the judiciary power carries out its functions. His most recently published book, Drug Lords, Cowboys and Desperadoes, reflects on how narratives of the frontier provide a political laboratory for the political production of the center, and how these narratives are used to further political goals. He analyzes narrative in literary, cinematic and musical form, referring to works by Américo Paredes, Luis G. Inclán, Clint Eastwood, Rolando Hinojosa, Yuri Herrera, and Cormac McCarthy. Some of his articles are forthcoming on Latin American Research Review and Comparative Literature.

RSVP: https://violent-myths.eventbrite.ca


Department of Spanish & Portuguese, Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, Centre for the Study of the United States


91 Charles St. West, Toronto, ON M5S 1K7