Limited notes on: Anzaldúa, G (2012)  Borderlands La Frontera The New Mestiza, 4th edn. San Francisco: aunt lute books

[I read this book because it has a prominent place in Barad 2007, and is one of the things that she diffracts. Ulmer has also diffracted Anzaldua — my speech recognition is not very good at putting in the accent over the  u. There are difficulties reading this book, because at least half of it is in Spanish. I appreciate that the point is to remind us of the difficulties faced by the Chicana in having to learn English. The other problem is that about one third of it is poetry, and I am not terribly good at summarising that.The book has appartently become a classic in the USA, in Chicana Studies especially.  Overall, I can offer only the bits that I found interesting as a white straight male — quite well predicted, in fact by Anzaldua herself]

I started to make notes on Anzaldua's spiritual understanding of the cosmos, which I think sets her apart quite noticeably from Barad, although Barad tends to gloss the differences. Here are some remarks she makes, as she draws upon Chicana, Mexican, Anglo and Inca traditions. She is also lesbian, at least, after an apparent dalliance with hetero and bisexuality.

'… Darkness, my night, is identified with the negative, base and evil forces — the masculine order casting its dual shadow — and all these are identified with dark skinned people' (71). She thinks that all these dualisms and splits, will not survive in the long term'

In many ways, her story is of a determined woman making her own way, facing prejudices of multiple kinds as she moves between and lives in more ordered worlds. Her determination to be her own person is rendered as 'now at midlife I find that autonomy is a boulder on my path that I keep crashing into. I can't seem to stay out of my own way. I've always been aware that there is a greater power than the conscious I. That power is my inner self, the entity that is the sum total of all my reincarnations' (72).

Some of the examples of the dominance of patriarchy are not apparent at first, but they seem to have affected the whole language. If I've understood the example correctly, the conventional way to refer to ourselves was to use the masculine form — 'nosotros' — but women among themselves used the feminine form. 'We are robbed of a female being by the masculine plural. Language is a male discourse' (76).

She speaks continually of being able to operate in several languages, including: 'standard English, working class and slang English, standard Spanish, standard Mexican Spanish, North Mexican Spanish dialect, Chicano Spanish (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California have regional variations), Tex-Mex,pachuco (called calo)' (77). I kept looking for examples of when these minority languages might be used to make the standard forms 'stutter', as in Deleuze and Guattari's account of Kafka, but the only example was the one about feminine forms used above. She does spatter extracts from different languages throughout this book, but they run alongside English. Generally, it seems difficult to avoid linguistic hegemony [maybe locally -- see below] : 'Chicanos feel uncomfortable talking in Spanish to Latinas, afraid of their censure' (80) and the rather pessimistic 'if a person, Chicana or Latina has a low estimation of my native tongue, she also has a low estimation of me'. (80); 'if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language' (81 English seems to be an neutral medium to cover embarrassments.

She does set out not to feel ashamed of being the person she is, but rather to overcome silence and make it a positive matter to have such a mixed heritage. It is evidently not easy — 'I have so internalised the borderland conflict that sometimes I feel like one [identity] cancels out the other and we are zero, nothing, no one' (85). The famous Cahavez strike of fruit pickers in California help to cement the identity of Chicano, apparently, but there is still an 'inner struggle'.

She starts to get more positive by considering artistic traditions, especially Indian ones, which were central to social life before the Conquest, she argues. She comes to understand herself in terms of Aztec patterns like mosaics or weaving. She is inspired by the way paint is overlaid on various surfaces — 'barely contained colour threatening to spill over the boundaries of the object it represents into other 'objects" and over the borders of the frame. I see a hybridisation of metaphor — though I believe in an ordered structured universe where all phenomena are interrelated and imbued with spirit' (88). [This last bit is the one that Barad paraphrases]. She sees stories and people as 'incarnations of God's or ancestors or natural and cosmic powers' (89).

She wants to fight the ethnocentrism which is 'the tyranny of Western aesthetics' and talks about how Indian objects are taken into museums — 'transposed into an alien aesthetic system where what is missing is the presence of power invoked through performance ritual' (90). They have to stop 'importing Greek myths and the Western Cartesian split point of view and root ourselves in the mythological soil and soul of this continent'. This would help white Anglos lose their own 'white sterility' and rationality.

Aztecs were right to communicate 'through metaphor and symbol, by means of poetry and truth' to bridge that which is above — the gods in spirit world' with 'that which is below — the underworld in the region of the dead'. (91).  'Picture language proceeds thinking in words; the metaphorical mind precedes analytic consciousness'

She talks of her own participation in the 'stories in my head' and becomes shaman-like when she writes. She often needs to be alone 'or in a sensory deprived state'. [Shades of Castenada] She goes for full participation and often becomes 'the actors — male and female — I am desert sand, mountain, I am dog, mosquito' (92). She can also consolidate and even change her own belief system — 'looking my inner Demons in the face, then deciding which I want in my psyche' it follows that 'writing is a sensuous act'. She draws on other Indian metaphors about the role of red and black paint, or seeing her negative feelings as a toad. 'When I write it feels like carving a bone. It feels like creating my own face, my own heart — a Nahuatl concept' (95). There is a lot of stuff on writing as embodied, arising from the body and being able to transform it, and these are like body scarification processes in Aztec religion.

There is a whole  very interesting section later on various female deities that are seen as particularly powerful and empowering. Overall, 'the stress of living with cultural ambiguity both compels me to write and blocks me' (96). Nevertheless, a new alien mestiza consciousness is arising. It is always restless and indecisive, sometimes providing multiple or opposing messages. There is a 'cultural collision' (100) and a constant attack from white culture. However, it is not enough just to counter dominant culture because that involves an implication with it. 'It is not a way of life' and there is a need to be both, to heal the split, or perhaps to disengage altogether from dominant culture. 'The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react' (101).

The point is to develop a tolerance for contradictions and ambiguity, adopt a 'plural personality' and to try to build on cultural and prevalences. Sometimes some a profound emotional event will do this, and it might be possible to grasp 'the possibility of uniting all that is separate'. It Is not just a matter of balance or  compromise, but rather synthesis, requiring a third element, a new consciousness [so we are probably quite a long way away from polite and affirmative diffraction]. It is both painful and energetic, transcending duality, by going back to the 'spirit that originates in the very foundation of our lives, our culture, and languages, our thoughts' (102). This would help mestizas stop being scapegoats and start being priestesses of the new order. This synthesis would be powerful and produce not just the combination of dark and light, but 'a creature that questions the definitions of light and dark and gives them new meanings'(103).

The indigenous person, like indigenous corn is crossbred, but this makes it hardy, tenacious. Mestiza can evaluate the various parts they have inherited from their ancestry, but they have to be 'willing to share… Vulnerable to foreign ways of seeing and thinking' (104) ready to take risks, like a nahuatl transforming into other animals. In particular the eye has to be transformed 'into the total self'

Similarly, those of sexual minorities can be constructively marginal. For example, 'homosexuals have strong bonds with the queer white, black, Asian, Native American, Latino, and with the queer in Italy, Australia and the rest of the planet — our role is to link people with each other… To transfer ideas and information from one culture to another' (106-7). They should be listened to by the marginal groups. They exist 'for a purpose' on an 'evolutionary continuum' and show that there are deep connections between people.

However, mostly the struggle is 'inner and is played out in the outer terrains… Nothing happens in the "real" world unless it first happens in the images in our head' (109).

The introduction to the third edition, by A Keating, stresses this point too, that Anzaldua has 'an inclusionary holistic worldview' because everything has spirit in it. This is based on indigenous philosophies and leads to the notion of a 'fluid cosmic spirit/energy/force that embodies itself through out — and as — all existence'(247).This means that she is not just unpacking political and theoretical dimensions but has 'spiritual activism'. There is always a risk of 'accusations of escapism, essentialism or other forms of a political naive thinking', and this is why these topics are generally not that well discussed by critics, but this is opposed by her 'activist dimensions'.

This also affects the notion of transformative writing, 'shaman aesthetics' (248). Writing transforms the storyteller and the listener. It is shape changing. It opens up a pathway to knowledge and therefore change. Her own process 'relies on multiple revisions and extraordinary attention to image, metaphor, and individual word choice'.

Introduction to the second edition by S Saldivar-Hull, points out some cultural contexts, for example that '"Cultural Tyranny" in Anzaldua's South Texas is metonymy for patriarchy' (254). While we are here, Anzaldua herself points out that that particular region of the USA is particularly polyglot and multicultural, where the Chicana, for example, do not see themselves as either Mexican or American.

An interview with K Ikas notes that as a writer, 'my whole struggle is to change the disciplines, to change the genres, to change how people look at the power, at theory or at children's books… I have to struggle between how many of these rules I can break and how I can still have readers read the book without getting frustrated' (272). She is unhappy about the term postcolonial if it implies that split between us and them. That is why she prefers to use a dash in her own term nos-otras. She does think that the distinction between coloniser and colonised is disappearing, 'because the coloniser, in his or her interaction with the colonised, takes on a lot of their attributes' (281) meaning 'there is not a pure other; there is not a pure subject and not a pure object. We are implicated in each other's lives' (282).

Lots more to read. Gripping as anthropology  — try it for yourselves.

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