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Define the concept of hybridity and analyze how any two texts are expressive of this topic in terms of content and form.
The rhetoric surrounding the subaltern brought with empire a dispossession of its subjects that was racial, geographic, and culture-historic1. The assumptions surrounding the ‘orient’ allowed for the imposition of numerous hierarchical systems that governed and still influence ongoing narratives.2 These generally pointed toward the binary perspectives on collective as well as individual identity (us/them, black/white, male/ female, civil/savage).
As demonstrated by Hegel’s dialectic, the formative process is problematic: the assumptions regarding the power dynamics between the self and the other are subjective. The other, as a reference point always contributing to the construction of the self, is as such as indestructible by; and equally as powerful as, the self. The resultant synthesis/hybrid thus, would always be whole and unique yet fragmented and rhizomically rooted in its parent components. Characterized by constant conflict, the conquest of the self and the resistance of the other, it will be capable of occupying both spaces while being simultaneously alien.
Globalization has made the collision of cultures a reality everywhere. It has highlighted the effect of the earlier mentioned dispossessions, diminishing the essentialist margins and magnifying the destabilizing effect of the hybrid. The result is an ambivalent and constantly deconstructing narrative surrounding individual as well as collective identity: it is no longer rooted in, but rather routed through its paronymy. Furthermore, it all but destroys the myth of individual or collective insulation highlighting the ever increasing influence of the alternate in the formative framework.
It is into this reaction to historical dispossession and the resultant catachresis as well as a rejection of the static cartographic demarcations, that both Gloria Anzaldua and Walter Mosley write. Both, Borderlands and Devil In A Blue Dress, are texts of translation and negotiation within the in-between spaces; appropriative in their adherence to, while conscious of their abrogation from, literary and formative techniques.
My use of culture-historic is purposeful, the hyphen points toward the tenable link between the history of a
place/people and their engendered culture.
By sexual here, I refer to the process of gender identification.
Borderlands re-presents literature as part of the developing hybrid space. A fractal text, Anzaldua’s autohistoria-teoria is a revolution in form, embracing its component elements: an autobiographical bildungsroman, an historical narrative, a mythological text, as well as a collection of essays and of poetry. Formatively kinetic, it resists the static norms and forges for itself a polyphonic literary space; apt for the “many voiced” people it encompasses. This is exemplified in Anzaldua’s use of language.
In quoting Ray Gwyn Smith, ‘Who is to say that robbing a people of its language is less violent than war.’3, Anzaldua points toward a linguistic dispossession. Language becomes a mode of dominance and power; censorship a mode of violence: ‘speak American’ to ‘be American’. Her consistent breaking from English into Chicano is in resistance to this linguistic dominance lending power to the ‘two forked’ hybrid tongue. Attention here is drawn to the tenable link between language and culture. Synergist culture would require signifiers that are routed within the synthesized languages. Anzaldua thus, forces a recognition of the present and increasing liminal space with its developing language and literary culture.
Though in comparison Devil in a Blue Dress has less of a formative deviation, it is in the distinct differences highlighted by the similar elements that the text gets its richness. The marriage of formative elements from the classic detective novel and the hard boiled crime fiction narratives - especially their noir subset - provide the tools to create what is, though seeming homogenous, quite unique and counter-discursive.
At its core Devil In A Blue Dress is obedient to the idea of a puzzle being solved that should restore a broken social order. This is true to the form of a classic detective novel, however, unique to the text, is the root of the puzzle. Devil In A Blue Dress presents a social order that is distorted, not by conventional crime (i.e theft and murder), but by the - still heavily reverberating - nuances of racial, cultural and economic dispossession. Murder, one of the conventional crimes within the narrative, is a result of the distorted order rather than its cause. This could be a comment on the ideological rhetoric that powered the engine of slavery and conquest. An inditement of sort against ethnic subjugation: the true crime that remained unresolved. It is however, a crime that through the text is shown to cause suffering on some level to all peoples regardless of their place on the ethnic spectrum: both Easy and Todd Carter, who achieve their goals, experiences loss.
Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands: La Frontera, third edition (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 2007) 75
Of interest is the fact that contrary to the genre conventions the solving of the mystery further emphasizes the apparent distortion of the social order. All the discoveries made about the source of the mystery, Daphne Monet, point toward the chaos within what Edward Said calls ‘a world of mixtures, migrations, and of passing across borders’: the evident turbulence resulting from the emergent hybrid. 4
This is another point of similitude between the two texts: their re-telling of history, as well as social commentary, from the hybrid’s perspective. History is here re-claimed as a part of the hybrid becoming: process of developing self awareness. It is moved away from the singular, and racially marginal historical perspective and re-conceptualized as collective and inclusive.
Mosley presents post-war America as a racially fragmented society. From the very first line of Devil in A Blue Dress emphasis is placed on racial difference and its resultant chaos. Easy is ‘surprised to see a white man walk into’ the bar. In the same manner, the reaction to Easy by the ‘little white man’ at Albright’s office convinces him that he ‘is in the wrong place’. This sense of racial separation is emphasized by Albright’s inability to maneuver within the black spaces. Easy is, likewise, unnerved when he drives into the more unfamiliar ‘white communities’.
In Easy’s valuing of his house, there is a comment on the economic impact of the deracination of ethnic minorities, as well as the resultant transience that formed part of the dispossessed experience.5 His love for what is Econo-geographic significance, a change from ‘never owning anything’ is in a reaction to the mentioned deracination. 6 Symbolized in the exotic nature of his garden is the sense that there is a re-
Said, “The Myth of ‘The Clash of Civilizations’”. Lecture presented to the University of
Massachusetts, New England, Massachusetts, June, 1998.
The use of the word ‘formed’ in its tense is somewhat problematic. It assumes that the experience has
passed. I however use it for specificity: keeping the discussed experience in context of the text’s setting.
By econo-geographic I point toward the rhizomic process of identification being highlighted here: Easy’s
home contributes to his self concept and is tied to his financial status as well as the geographic/ spatial significance it has afforded him.
presenting, or re-coloring, of the spaces previously uninhabitable.7 There is also an allusion to the alternate’s, and the hybrid’s, search for meaning by econo-geographically passing through the margins between the hegemonic and the dispossessed.
As a protagonist, Easy is a victim. He is involved in the unfolding mystery, struggling to stay away from the extremities that Mouse and Albright resort to in their attempts at economic transience. As Mouse puts it, Easy’s experiences have given him a hybrid mind: where Daphne ‘look like she white’, he ‘think like’ he’s ‘white’. Through Easy’s comments on his war experience, Mosley presents the double conscious and somewhat contradictory state of being American and black. 8 This is typified by Easy’s ‘thrill of fear’, a allusion to the ever present slave consciousness even in the, supposedly, new space. Through this Mosley retells American history, making it equally a black history: Easy’s history, Daphne’s history, a hybrid history.
Likewise, Anzaldua re-tells history from the Chicana perspective. It is a story of their becoming as well as a lament at the extensive disposition that followed. She celebrates the Mestizos’ survival of small pox before highlighting the Chicana journey into cartographic exile: their land was seized ‘while their feet were still rooted in it’. There is a resistance in this re-telling to the perspective perpetuated by William H. Wharton whom she quotes:9 ‘the fiction of white superiority ‘ that deemed the Chicana to be ‘savage’, ignorant, and superstitious while marketing the conquest as a process of redemption by ‘Anglo-American blood and enterprise’.
‘… Where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country - a border culture.’
The Homeland, presents the southern part of the U.S, surrounding the border with Mexico, as a place that’s still steeped in racial and socio-economic suppression: overtly as expressed by Pedro’s story. A place where
The use of the hyphen in re-presenting and re-coloring is to emphasize the place of originality and newness
in the process. Something completely new, not a copy, is presented.
W.E.B Du Bois, The Souls of Black folks, (New York: Penguin 1903) 205 Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands: La Frontera, third edition (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 2007) 29
‘the whites and those who align themselves with the whites’ are in ‘power’ and the resultant alienation of the ‘other’ forms part of the Chicana experience. The cartographic border itself is presented as an ‘unnatural boundary’, emphasis here being placed on its economic significance. The image of children innocently crossing it further adds to the Chicana sense of dispossession: the turbulence of the ‘iron sky’ is far from the natural, and peaceful, play.
Far from limiting the re-telling of history to the becoming of the Chicana, Anzaldua also uses it to critique the pre-existing perspectives on gender and sexuality. In her narration on the fall of the Aztecs, she points toward a separation that was both class and gender biased. Culture and tradition, the method by which its beliefs are sustained, are a ‘tyranny’ by which the female is involved in the perpetuating of her subjugation: as ‘males make rules and laws, women transmit them’. In the eagle and the serpent, Anzaldua roots masculine power in mythology, mitigating it in critique: if the root is as fictional as racial difference then the result is as ambivalent. Gender and sexuality become modes of power to be re-claimed and re-configured within hybrid space and culture.
In Easy’s experience at the pier, there is highlighted a sexual hierarchy that stems from the plantation experience, where sex, and sexual ordinance were means of subjugation. The hegemonic white male dictated sexuality; using it to diminishing the place of the other. Easy powerlessly watches as Albright asserts his dominance in such a way. The result was a state within which the black male was beneath the white female and the black female was base. The white female, as exemplified by Barbara, became the purveyor of sexual power: subject to the white male but a means to power for the black. In the boys reaction to Easy, Mosley reflects the resultant fears surrounding miscegenation.
There is however, an expressed double dispossession of the black female: first racially, then sexually. Daphne’s sexual abuse at the hands of her father emphasize this. Being raped in a zoo is somewhat animalistic and could be a critique of the misuse of gender biased power. Moreover, the scene happening in front of the Zebra enclosure highlights the vulnerability experienced by the mulatto, the mixed race female: alienated from both the black as well as the white narratives on femininity, she stands exposed in a third space more turbulent then those of her paronymy. This theme of a double dispossession of the dark skinned
female is one that is resonated in Anzaldua’s excerpt on The wounding of the India-Mestiza.10 She speaks not only of a ‘betrayal’, a silencing, and ‘sterilization’ of the dark-skinned female but also of her ‘fight for her own skin and piece of ground’.
In thus discussing a hybrid sexuality, Anzaldua resists sexual acculturation. Sexuality, as expressed in her discussion of the ‘half and half’, becomes a means to emancipation: a resistance to the cultural nuances of gender biased power. Sexuality and homosexuality, furthermore, become a hybrid expression: ‘mitigating’ the ‘duality’ between the opposing qualities of the masculine and the feminine. As in Daphne’s - as well as Coretta’s - case, sex becomes a tool: a method of dominance and control. Coretta uses it to interrogate Easy in the same way Daphne, displaying masculine qualities, uses it to express herself: the power is firmly in her hands as she is the one who brought him there.11
As Mosley uses the tragic mulatto to critique the time: her vulnerability indicts the social order, Anzaldua celebrates the potential of the mestiza. Drawing strength from her component binaries, she - the mestiza, has at her disposal the means to transcend/pass: taking humanity with her from oppression to freedom, Chicano to ‘raza cosmica’, marginality to border-less, uncomfortably static to comfortable transient, and from the deluded politics of insulation into the potent ‘third space’.
Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands: La Frontera, third edition (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 2007) 45 Ibid, 187
Bibliography 1. Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands: La Frontera, third edition (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 2007) 2. Walter Mosley, Devil In A Blue Dress (New York: Serpent’s Tail, 1990) 3. W.E.B Du Bois, The Souls of Black folks (New York: Penguin 1903) 205 4. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Riffin, Post-Colonial Studies: Key Concepts, Second Editon (London: Routledge, 2009) 5. Joseph Conrad, Heart Of Darkness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) 6. Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Penguin, 2003) 7. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Knopf, 1993) 8. Edward Said, “The Myth of ‘The Clash of Civilizations’”. Lecture presented to the University of Massachusetts, New England, Massachusetts, June, 1998. 9. Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994) 10.Andrew Bennet and Nicholas Royle, Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory, Third edition (London: Pearson, 2004 11.David Lodge and Nigel Wood, Modern Criticism and Theory: A reader, second edition (London: Longman, 2000) 12.David Held and Anthony Mcgrew, Globalization/Anti-Globalization (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004)
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