Criticism in the Borderlands: Studies in Chicano Literature, Culture, and Ideology / Edition 1

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This pathbreaking anthology of Chicano literary criticism, with essays on a remarkable range of texts—both old and new—draws on diverse perspectives in contemporary literary and cultural studies: from ethnographic to postmodernist, from Marxist to feminist, from cultural materialist to new historicist.
The editors have organized essays around four board themes: the situation of Chicano literary studies within American literary history and debates about the “canon”; representations of the Chicana/o subject; genre, ideology, and history; and the aesthetics of Chicano literature. The volume as a whole aims at generating new ways of understanding what counts as culture and “theory” and who counts as a theorist. A selected and annotated bibliography of contemporary Chicano literary criticism is also included.
By recovering neglected authors and texts and introducing readers to an emergent Chicano canon, by introducing new perspectives on American literary history, ethnicity, gender, culture, and the literary process itself, Criticism in the Borderlands is an agenda-setting collection that moves beyond previous scholarship to open up the field of Chicano literary studies and to define anew what is American literature.

Contributors. Norma Alarcón, Héctor Calderón, Angie Chabram, Barbara Harlow, Rolando Hinojosa, Luis Leal, José E. Limón, Terese McKenna, Elizabeth J. Ordóñez, Genero Padilla, Alvina E. Quintana, Renato Rosaldo, José David Saldívar, Sonia Saldívar-Hull, Rosaura Sánchez, Roberto Trujillo

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822311430
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 6/28/1991
  • Series: Post-Contemporary Interventions Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.87 (d)

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Criticism in the Borderlands

Studies in Chicano Literature, Culture, and Ideology

By Héctor Calderón, José David Saldívar

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1991 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-1143-0


Narrative, Ideology, and the Reconstruction of American Literary History

Ramón Saldivar

Before I present a more detailed analysis of narrative forms, ideology, and American literary history, I should say something about the coordinates of this essay I think that we have reached a point in literary studies where it is no longer fruitful, nor even accurate, for us to assume that we can go directly to a text without first considering the critical presuppositions that we bring to our reading of a text. This is as true for noncanonic texts as for those of the established canon.

It is especially true, I believe, in the case of Chicano literature and its literary criticism as it produces texts that have been systematically excluded from the traditional framework of American literature. Works by Mexican-American authors are absent from the American literary histories, the anthologies of American literature, and from the syllabi of courses on American literature. Spanish departments in American universities have also participated in this strategy of exclusion. This exclusion is by no means innocent. Its effect has been very similar to that of the exclusion from the American canon of African-American art, where as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., describes it "logocentrism and ethnocentrism marched together in an attempt to deprive the black human being of even the potential to create art, to imagine a world and to figure it" (1984, 7).

I wish to suggest a method of interpretation that will provide a ground for the development of a way of reading Chicano literary texts as a group of works that intentionally exploit their peripheral status to and exclusion from the body of works that we might call majority literature. This method of reading obliges us to make connections between the findings of narrative analysis and traditional as well as modern approaches to ideology. Such critical dialectical awareness is crucial in the case of a developing literature like contemporary Chicano literature where literary historians are still involved primarily in the process of establishing the texts in the tradition and resolving questions concerning the issue of canon formation. This work is crucial as a reflection on the primary texts that constitute a tradition, for the dialectical analysis of which I speak both defines the tradition and helps to shape the direction of an art that is, to paraphrase Gates, in the process of "imagining" and "figuring" a world.

Narrative and Dialectics

I begin with the first of my three topics, narrative itself. The problem of narrative structure and of its relationship to the thematic aspects of texts is currently one of the most vital areas of analysis in literary theory. Much contemporary narrative analysis reveals the dialogical nature of meaning.

In Figural Language in the Novel (1984) I argued that with its care for authenticating detail and its passion for credibility and intelligibility, the novel especially among narrative forms expresses a continuing desire for types, for monological readings, for an anachronistic mythos of common understanding and a shared universe of meaning. And yet, in the same breath, the novel never ceases to express the conceptual maneuvering that we all must perform in order to conceive reality, indeed to shape reality, in ways that will make sense to the human mind. The novel allows us to seek, to absorb, and to understand new experiences by discovering new forms and rhythms, "grasping and reconstructing the stuff of social change in the living substance of perceptions and relationships" (Eagleton 1976, 34). This conflict between the contrary tendencies toward monological unifications, single voices on the one hand and polyphonic diversity, what Mikhail Bakhtin has called a choir of voices, on the other, all this makes the novel a particularly important Chicano literary genre.

As narrative productions, socially symbolic acts, and not mere reflections of the ideological formations within which they arise, Chicano novels put ideology to work, exposing the framing limits of what we take as self- evident truths, as common sense (Eagleton 1976, 155). These narrative fictions represent that what appears "natural" in the ways individuals live their lives in society is the result of identifiable cultural matrices. These cultural matrices, the truths that we hold to be self-evident, use the signifier to create truths and set them as norms, as coercive texts for meaning, that claim universality. Dialectical readings can point out the reification of these truths from the constructed domains of a specific history and a particular culture. They allow us to see the production of ideology not as a system of formalized ideas, but as ordinary ways of thinking, as common sense. E. P. Thompson puts it very sensibly in these terms. He says that:

Very rarely in history—and then only for short intervals—does any ruling class exercise authority by direct and unmediated military or even economic force. People are born into a society whose forms and relations seem as fixed and immutable as the overarching sky. The "common sense" of the time is saturated with the deafening propaganda of the status quo; but the strongest element in this propaganda is simply the fact that what exists exists. (1978, 254)

As narrative representations, these productive processes are necessarily figurative and cannot be abolished because they allow social formations to persist, but they can be articulated and analyzed. That articulation would have as its object what Jameson has called ideological analysis (1981, 12), namely a critical exposition of cultural texts that amounts to a rewriting of the text so that it is seen itself as a rewriting of a prior historical and ideological subtext that is no longer present as such (1981, 81).

Narratives, in sum, are preeminently and rigorously dialectical. Like the ideologies that they articulate, narratives both figure and are determined by their social context (Jameson 1971, 4–10). Read dialectically, narratives indicate that language and discourse do affect human life in determining ways, ways that are themselves shaped by social history. Giving rise to questions concerning language itself, the sovereignty of our identity, and the laws that govern our behavior, narratives reveal the heterogeneous systems that resist the formation of a unitary base of truth.

Ideology and Narrative

Turning now to the second item of my title, the notion of ideology itself, I follow Jameson's claim that narratives in general instantiate ideology as the substance of our collective thinking and collective fantasies about history and reality.

It is sufficient initially, I think, to understand ideology as the ways a culture links social action with fundamental beliefs, a collective identity with the course of history. Basically, ideology functions as a unifying social force (Higham 1974, 10–18). It is, according to Sacvan Bercovitch, "the system of interlinked ideas, symbols, and beliefs by which a culture ... seeks to justify and perpetuate itself; the web of rhetoric, ritual, and assumption through which society coerces, persuades, and coheres" (Bercovitch 1986, 8). In an essay on American literary history Bercovitch argues that the "network of ideas through which the culture justifies itself is internalized rather than imposed, and embraced by society at large as a system of belief" (Bercovitch 1986, 9). The beauty of the hegemonic power of what Bercovitch calls "the American ideological consensus" (1981, 20– 21) is that it has already built into itself a way of dealing with, and neutralizing, "alternative and oppositional forms" of social formation (1986, 9).

In literary and historical terms this American ideological consensus has involved "the legitimation of a certain canon," a canon based on the works of the Puritan forefathers. It has also involved consensus about "the meaning of the term history that was legitimated by a certain vision of America" (Bercovitch, ed., 1986, vii), America as a land of men of independent mind and independent means, developing through "initiative, individualism, self-reliance, and demands for freedom" (Bercovitch 1986, 3). Bercovitch, again, puts it this way:

An ideology ... arises out of historical circumstances, and then represents these, symbolically and conceptually, as though they were natural, universal, and right; as if the ideals promulgated by a certain group or class (... individualism, mobility, self-reliance, free enterprise) were not the product of history but the expression of self-evident truth. The act of re-presentation thus serves to consecrate a set of cultural limitations, to recast a particular society as Society, a particular way of life as the pursuit of happiness. (Bercovitch 1986, 10)

An ideology as such is not necessarily either good or evil, true or false. We can set aside crude notions of "false consciousness." But an ideology is a system of ideas underlying a certain social order. That is to say, ideology connects what we say and believe with the power structure and power relations of the society we live in (Eagleton 1983, 14). Ideology is thus much more than the unconscious beliefs a people may hold; it is more particularly "those modes of feeling, valuing, perceiving, and believing which have some kind of relation to the maintenance and reproduction of social power" (Eagleton 1983, 15). An ideology will thus repress alternative or oppositional forms when these arise. The ideology of the Puritan colonies, for example, did not simply exclude Native Americans from the colonists' consensus about the new world being fashioned from the wilderness. The native inhabitants were seen as the very embodiments of the evils most threatening to the creation of the new Jerusalem. This ideology of exclusion remained central to the American creed throughout the nineteenth century. And we see its effects in other historical and literary moments.

While I will employ these general senses of "ideology," I begin with Althusser's provisional definition of the ideological as "a 'representation' of the Imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence" (Althusser 1971, 162).

For our purposes we need to retain but two features from this somewhat cryptic definition. First, ideology must always be necessarily narrative in its structure because it involves a mapping of the real. That is, it underwrites the stories about what we conceive of as real. Ideology also involves the essentially narrative, or fabulous, attempt of the subject to inscribe a place for itself in a collective and historical process that excludes the subject and that is basically nonnarratable. But as Paul Hirst reminds us, these relations exhibit no necessary homogeneity. This means that the "mapping" of the real cannot exhibit a singular "ideological instance." It must insist on the "heterogeneity of ideological social relations and their effects" (Hirst 1979, 2). Ideology thus refers to "a non-unitary complex of social practices and systems of representations which have political significances and consequences" (Hirst 1979, 54). For Chicano literature this "imaginary relationship" of political significances and consequences is not limited to issues of class ideology. Questions concerning race and gender, for example, are no less important and will not allow us to subordinate them to one single structure. No single map will suffice for an understanding of the "Real," and its features cannot be predicated in advance.

Second, we also need to retain the notion that the "Real" is an outer limit that the subject approaches in the anxiety of moments of truth— moments of personal crisis, of the loss of identity, or of the agonizing political polarizations of revolutionary situations such as those suffered by the characters in much of contemporary Chicano fiction. The makeup of "history" as such, then, is not so much the empirical events of the world as the self-inscription and symbolization in texts of those events and in our thinking about them. In other words our approach to the "Real" must always pass through its textualization, or what Jameson calls its "narrativization in the political unconscious" (1981, 35).

Althusser's notions of ideology offer "a representational structure [that] allows the individual subject to conceive or imagine his or her lived relationship to transpersonal realities, such as the social structure, or the collective logic of History" (Jameson 1981, 30). In this sense the "Real" is not to be considered as a knowable thing in itself. Nor is it a string of facts that one can know directly in the positive form of some "true" representation of consciousness. It is instead a cultural-historical and subjective invention, projected by an ideologically riddled consciousness. The "real" is what "resists symbolization absolutely" (Jameson 1981, 35). According to Terry Eagleton, "The text takes as its object, not the real, but certain significations by which the real lives itself—significations which are themselves the product of its partial abolition" (1976, 72). This narrativized real is not a reproduction, a reflection, or a mirroring of the historical real. Rather than conceiving it as an imaginary transposition or concretization of the historical real, Althusser argues that the textual real is the product of signifying practices whose source is history itself (1971, 222–25). What all this means basically is that reality can be known in experience only if it is first imagined as a formed product of the subjects who recognize it or misrecognize it and express it in symbolic forms. The "imaginary" is thus both an image and a spectral reality through the recognition of which the subject becomes a subject (Hirst 1979, 57). As Paul de Man argues, ideology, like metaphysics, may be conceived preeminently as a precritical stage of knowledge (1984, 132).

And yet, the narrative apparatus that informs ideological representations is not mere "false consciousness." Ideology is much more than that. It is an authentic way of grappling with a Real that must always transcend it, a Real into which the subject seeks to enter, all the while painfully learning the lesson of its own ideological closure and of history's resistance to the fantasy-structures in which it is itself locked. A text can be said to refer not to concrete situations so much as to the ideological formations that concrete situations have produced.

For those of us involved in literary studies, one particularly important result of this way of conceiving the work of ideology is that it allows us to understand the radical "decentering" of the subject, and the consequent emphasis on the collective and the political, that occurs in a contemporary literature like Chicano literature. There are no given, constitutive subjects with an experience of the real. "Subjects are not essential but are constituted" (Hirst 1979, 41). Or, in Althusser's words, "Ideology interpellates individuals as subjects" (Althusser 1971, 170). Appropriating Jacques Lacan's concept of the "mirror phase" (Lacan 1968) as a "speculary, i.e. a mirror-structure" phenomenon (Althusser 1971, 180, 195–219), Althusser argues that the subject exists as a mirror reflection of an other subject and becomes a subject itself in its recognition and reflection of and in the other (Hirst 1979, 57). Individuals are always "subjected" to and by certain principles and directives of ideology, so that they will be "happy, useful, and safe subjects, in the political sense of the term" (Lentricchia 1983, 1). To conceive of a text as ideology is thus to focus on the way that it affects the formation and transformation of human subjectivity (Therborn 1980, 2). Ideology is socially conditioned consciousness, allowing men and women to live what Clifford Geertz has called "lives of patterned desperation" (1973, 204). From this perspective human thought thus comes to be seen as a public and not fundamentally a private activity.


Excerpted from Criticism in the Borderlands by Héctor Calderón, José David Saldívar. Copyright © 1991 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Foreword: Redefining American Literature / Roland Hinojosa xi

Editors' Introduction: Criticism in the Borderlands 1

Part I. Institutional Studies and the Literary Canon

Narrative, Ideology, and the Reconstruction of American Literary History / Ramón Saldívar 11

The Rewriting of American Literary History / Luis Leal 21

The Theoretical Subject(s) of This Bridge Called My Back and Anglo-American Feminism / Norma Alarcón 28

Part II. Representations of the Chicana/o Subject: Race, Class, and Gender

Imprisoned Narrative? Or Lies, Secrets, and Silence in New Mexico Women's Autobiography / Genaro Padilla 43

Body, Spirit, and the Text: Alma Villanueva's Life Span / Elizabeth J. Ordóñez 61

Ana Castillo's The Mixquiahuala Letters: The Novelist as Ethnographer / Alvina E. Quintana 72

Fables of the Fallen Guy / Renato Rosaldo 84

Part III. Genre, Ideology, and History

The Novel and the Community of Readers: Rereading Tomás Rivera's Y no se le tragó la tierra / Héctor Calderón 97

Ideological Discourses in Arturo Islas's The Rain God / Rosaura Sánchez 114

Conceptualizing Chicano Critical Discourse / Angie Chabram 127

Sites of Struggle: Immigration, Deportation, Prison, and Exile / Barbara Harlow 149

Part IV. Aesthetics of the Border

Chicano Border Narratives as Cultural Critique / José David Saldívar 167

On Chicano Poetry and the Political Age: Corridos as Social Drama / Teresa McKenna 188

Feminism on the Border / From Gender Politics to Geopolitics / Sonia Saldívar-Hull 203

Dancing with the Devil: Society, Gender, and the Political Unconcious in Mexican-American South Texas / José E. Limón 221

Works Cited 237

Selected and Annotated Bibliography of Contemporary Chicano Literary Criticism 260

Index 275

Contributors 287

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