politics of space in Chicano/a writing – Mermann-Jozwiak

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A decade on again, I find my notes on an article by Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak that connected with my interest in (Mexican/American) place in Cisnero’s House on Mango Street. It still catches my eye. She wrote:

“In the preface to her edited collection Making Face, Making Soul: Haciendo caras Gloria Anzaldúa uses the metaphor haciendo caras (making faces) for the construction of Chicana identity. This identity, she claims, exists in the interfaces, the spaces “between the masks we’ve internalized, one on top of another….[I]t is the place – the interface – between the masks that provides the space from which we can thrust out and crack the masks” (xv-xvi). Like Anzaldúa, other Chicano/a writers and critics situate Mexican-American women through various and recurring spatial metaphors of nepantla, borderlands, brinks, and interstices. Chicanas speak from the “cracked spaces” (xxii), which, according to Anzaldúa, are simultaneously the spaces of revolutionary potential (“gestos subversivos” [xv]). [end p.469]
Two decades have passed since Anzaldúa’s articulation of a spatial poetics of resistance and, I might add, since Sandra Cisnero’s famous departures from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space in her House on Mango Street (1984).” (pp.469-470)

Reviewing Mary Pat Brady’s Extinct Lands, Temporal Geographies: Chicana Literature and the Urgency of Space (2002, Durham: Duke UP), Mermann-Jozwiak observes that the “book’s focus […] is on processes that shape our understanding of places, as well as on the effects of space on subject formation.” (p.472)She notes that Brady “examines border discourses and the simultaneous aestheticization, militarization, and representation of the border as abjection machine.” (p.471) Indeed, Mermann-Jozwiak felt that “In her conclusion, […] she reiterates the now common insight of “the border’s centrality to the field of Chicana/o critical analysis”” (p.473)

Going on to review Monika Kaup’s Rewriting North American Borders in Chicano and Chicana Narrative (2001, New York: Peter Lang), Mermann-Jozwiak writes that “Like Brady, Kaup is interested in tracing Chicano/a interventions in spatial politics. Her discussion of writers’ rearticulations of the spatial ordr derives from Michel de Certeau’s analysis of spatial practices that have the potential to subvert relations of power. The migration narratives she examines, for example, challenge the construction of nation-spaces and its concomitant rhetoric of alterity. Women, she shows, effectively employ the discourses of architecture to renovate male-authored narratives’ construction of domestic spaces. As the interstitial gaps are the “locations [where] oppositional, subaltern histories can be found” (Pérez 5), and as the interface is the place of revolutionary potential (Anzaldúa xv), Kaup and Brady both convincingly demonstrate the “urgency of space” in Chicano/a literature, as the writers they discuss engage in discursive constructions and reconstructions of spaces important to Chicano/a history and culture.” (pp.475-476)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak (2004) Cartographies of resistance: poetics and politics of space in Chicano/a writing. Modern Fiction Studies, 50(2)Summer; pp.469-476

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