space and bilingualism in The House on Mango Street – Kuribayashi

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Tomoko Kuribayashi made some really interesting comments on the use of space and language in Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street – they are really in line with some of the things that interested me about this text. Kuribayashi wrote:

“Cisneros’ narrative illuminates the linguistic, spatial and sexual oppression that racist society imposes on minority – more specifically Chicana – women, but also offers a somewhat hopeful perspective on future possibilities. Architecture is a central means by which society as well as Cisneros express and experience oppression as well as hope for change. In the beginning of Cisneros’ novel, Esperanza yearns for acquisition of cultural ideals of the white society, most specifically the white, middle-class house widely displayed in the mass media.” (p.166)

“Cisneros’ narrator, Esperanza, also wants a house just like the ones she sees on television and all her family members share her dream… Young Esperanza is keenly aware of how houses define and represent the resident’s social status; so simply having a roof over one’s head is not enough.” (p.166) However, as Kuribayashi notes “later her vision changes and she contemplates the possibility of housing the poor in her future house” (p.167)

“Owning and controlling her own space is to own her self. One cannot become oneself without having one’s own place. As Cherríe Moraga asserts, the “anti-materialist approach [that some white, middle-class feminists take] makes little sense in the lives of poor and Third World women”, when material conditions are so much a part of their oppression that coming into possession of material necessities is a must for becoming one’s own person.” (p.167)

“In The House on Mango Street, as sociocultural oppressions and future hopes are architecturally expressed, so are the female characters’ experiences of social and sexual violence inseparably linked to their spatial experiences.” (p.168) Kuribayashi’s discussion of the different ways space is inhabited, or prohibited to, the women of this text is a great read. I think the connection between space and body, as well as the point that Esperanza finally occupies another space entirely through her writing are fitting criticism of the text;

“Esperanza […] also has another vision of space outside, that is, a space that her imagination and her writing – and bilingual ability – will create for her outside and beyond the limits of her Mexican-American community and of the dominant white culture of America.” (p.169)

“Cisneros’ narrative highlights how language – and taking control of it – is a determining factor for Esperanza’s future. Taking control of language means taking control of one’s spatial experiences. The narrative of The House on Mango Street is a linguistic manifestation and product of the process in which Esperanza creates a new self and a new world. The text also testifies how she can do this through giving herself a new name and discovering a new language, without disowning the cultural background from which she comes.” (pp.169-170)

“Through the very text of The House on Mango Street the narrator moves back to her native community. The narrative is a textual documentation of the homeward movement of her body as well as of her spiritual homecoming.
The narrator’s leaving home is necessary, though, for her to find her self. Anzaldúa  says of herself, “I had to leave home so I could find myself, find my own intrinsic nature buried under the personality that had been imposed on me”. Esperanza is taking tremendous risks, and she is fortunate to be able to choose to do so, since so few of her group of people can afford it. As Anzaldúa says, “As a working class people our chief activity is to put food in our mouths, a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs”. While most women of her ethnicity have had to choose between “three directions… to the Church as a nun, to the streets as a prostitute, or to the home as a mother,” Esperanza is making the newly and sparingly available fourth choice, “entering the world by way of education and career and becoming self-autonomous persons,” or claiming a public identity.” (p.174)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Tomoko Kuribayashi “The Chicana girl writes her way in and out: space and bilingualism in Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street” pp.165-177 Eds. Tomoko Kuribayashi and Julie Ann Tharp Creating Safe Space: Violence and Women’s Writing. Albany, State University of New York Press, c1998

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Haunted spaces and Gothic emotion

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Bruno Lessard explains:

“Gothic space differs from ancient Greek space, again according to Worringer, on the basis of the former’s wresting from space “a vitality of expression” (158) that facilitates the coming to life of the sensuous pathos of Gothic that is to be desired in the first place. As Worringer describes it, Gothic architectural space relies on a visual spectacle and embodied impact that force us to reconsider the legacy of Gothic through the ages in order to investigate the transformations it has incurred in other artistic phenomena and media environments. When Worringer mentions that, upon entering a Gothic cathedral, one “encounters an intoxication of the senses … a mystical intoxication of the senses which is not of this world” (159), we can rest assured that affect, sensation, and emotion have become as primordial in the construction of the cathedral as they are in art historical discourse. The sensuous and affective dimensions of Gothic can only take form in the context of a critical practice that will be attuned to these aesthetic and corporeal dimensions, which equally rely on their hypostasized presence in the work. The overwhelming nature and often violent enrapture of Gothic space, as “sensuous-super-sensuousness” (176) or “Sinnlich-Übersinnlich” and affect-value, would undergo a crucial transformation in what is known in literary studies as the “Gothic revival.” A primordial characteristic of Gothic, as noted by a number of scholars, is its reliance on visuality and spectacle. Insofar as this can be relayed through the written word, Gothic writers’ descriptions of emotional states often went beyond their medium of expression in a way that sought to question the boundaries of expressive forms: “Though [Gothic writers] always insist on the powers of feeling and imagination, they tend to concentrate on external details of emotional display while leaving readers to deduce for themselves complex inner psychological movements.” The rise of Gothic cannot be separated from a dual emphasis: the heightened display of emotion and the visual characterization of emotion to the detriment of inner motivation and psychology. The creation of Gothic emotion has to be linked to exterior stimulation, a point that has led to the critique of Gothic as a mode that relies too heavily on sensation, melodrama, and theatrical display. Therefore, the intermedial ambiguities at the heart of Gothic seem as disturbing as the plots of the novels themselves, and the fact that these novels provoke pictorial effects, or ekphrasis, appears equally problematic in terms of defining what Gothic affect is.” (p.218)

“…commentators on Gothic and horror film have noted a first difference [between literary and film Gothic] that would lie in the production of emotion and affect. On the one hand, literary Gothic would rely on an invisible presence that incites a plurality of interpretations; meaning thus becomes overdetermined in the field of suggestion. On the other hand, cinematic Gothic would tend to show the threatening agent, thereby reducing the number of possibilities. Therefore, the production of affect and emotion would always be accompanied by the production of subjectivities in a dichotomous scheme that leaves little room for the contradiction and hybridity that has always fueled Gothic.

“A film such as Wise’s The Haunting already problematizes the aforementioned distinction between literary and cinematic Gothic. The problem may arise when, as in Wise’s film, Gothic does away with the immediate visible presence of the threatening agent; the house replaces the monster. Instead of a physical presence haunting space, we have physical space h(a)unting the characters. Characters and spectators hear pounding and thumping noises and see doors bend. It is therefore appropriate to speak, as Misha Kavka does, of the cinematic Gothic’s use of the “plasticity of space” to convey emotion and affect, thereby disclosing “an underlying link between fear and the manipulation of space around a human body.”” (p.219)

Kavka argues that in Gothic “something … remains shadowed or off-screen,” while the horror film would present “something terrifying placed before our very eyes but from which we want to avert our gaze” (227). Kavka goes on to refine the dialectic between seeing and not seeing by adding that in the horror film there is something to see that we try not to see. In the case of Gothic, she maintains, the dialectic is different in the sense that it is “part of the structure of visualization itself” (227). Indeed, she suggests that it is not that we do not want to see, but that we cannot see: “Rather than the horror film’s challenge to the audience to open their eyes and see, the feared object of Gothic cinema is both held out and withheld through its codes of visual representation” (227).” (p.220) [NB Lessard goes on to complicate this distinction through consideration of Wise’s The Haunting]

“…perhaps it is Worringer who stated it best about haunting, life, and the use of CGI in contemporary Gothic films when he said that “[b]ehind the visible appearance of a thing lurks its caricature, behind the lifelessness of a thing an uncanny, ghostly life, and so all actual things become grotesque” (82).” (p.222)

Ref: Bruno Lessard Gothic Affects: Digitally Haunted Houses and the Production of Affect-Value, pp.213-224 in Esther Peeren, and María del Pilar Blanco (Eds.). Popular Ghosts : The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2010.

Reference is to: Misha Kavka ‘The Gothic on Screen’ in The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, ed. Jerrold E Hogle (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University press, 2002)

Wilhelm Worringer, Form in Gothic, trans. Herbert Read (New York: Schocken, 1957)

Ghosts and time in the Gothic

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According to Arno Meteling:

Gothic literature, film, or television series with ghosts as popular stock characters usually ponder the rules of communication between the living and the dead. In most cases there is an asymmetry between them, for although the ghosts admittedly inhabit the world of the living, they have no natural place in it. Moreover, ghosts, like images or characters on a photograph or in a film, are usually not able to change or develop. Like the psyche’s reaction to trauma, ghosts are often forced to repeat the same thing over and over again or at least to stay in the same place forever. As a consequence, ghosts tend to establish a timeless zone of inertia in the flow of the narrative, creating a cyclical ahistoric or posthistoric state, or, as Jacques Derrida puts it, the “end of history.” Despite Derrida’s reference to Hamlet as a central context for his hauntology, ghosts in literature, film, or television series are usually not responsible for time being completely out of joint. Instead, ghosts seem to be specific figures of anachronism, or more precisely, of asynchronicity, representing a static moment of the past haunting the present. As literary or filmic devices, ghosts therefore often operate as erratic monuments or hieroglyphs that signify a disturbing incident that happened in the past, a secret that has to be deciphered in order to understand the repercussions for the present.” (p.187)

Meteling continues: “One of the chief literary precursors of the modern ghost novel is the Gothic fiction of the eighteenth century, a literary genre that, besides dealing with ghosts, family curses, damsels in distress, and evil villains, evokes fear not only by describing horrific events, but by creating a certain mood of terror or horror derived from its setting. The Gothic novel is always about spatial arrangements, most obviously about architectural spaces like haunted houses, castles, dungeons, cemeteries, attics, [-p.188] or crypts. Significantly, Horace Walpole not only names the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764), after its setting but emphasizes its realism in the preface of the first edition[ in which the setting is described in detail].” (pp.187-188)

“Considering that the novel is a fantastic one,” Meteling notes, “with supernatural effects that border on the comical and the grotesque (including a giant helmet that falls from the sky and kills the villain’s son), the emphasis on the spatial authenticity of the castle is conspicuous and proves the importance of setting for the Gothic novel. Since its reformulation in the nineteenth century, the dark and brooding atmosphere of haunted houses and castles also increasingly reflects the inner conflicts of the characters. …Most modern ghost novels adopt this Gothic correspondence between characters and building, sometimes transforming the house itself into a storehouse of repressed memories and thereby anthropomorphizing it….” (p.188)

Ref: Arno Meteling Genius Loci: Memory, Media, and the Neo-Gothic in Georg Klein and Elfriede Jelinek, pp.187-199 in Esther Peeren, and María del Pilar Blanco (Eds.). Popular Ghosts : The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2010.