Academic journal article MELUS

Decolonizing Bodies, Reinscribing Souls in the Fiction of Ninotchka Rosca and Linda Ty-Casper

Academic journal article MELUS

Decolonizing Bodies, Reinscribing Souls in the Fiction of Ninotchka Rosca and Linda Ty-Casper

Article excerpt

While many Filipino American women writers are immigrants who have lived much of their lives in the US, their work tends to center on a Philippine setting. This might be easily dismissed as a nostalgic attempt to return to a lost ancestral Eden, but their focus reflects a more complex project of negotiation between past and present, between physical and psychic relocation. These writers reconstruct their country of origin as a means of reaching back through the barriers and dislocations caused by colonial history and migration, and thus aim at a recovery of the Filipina (1) and the Filipino American woman as colonial and neocolonial subject. The writers examined in this essay explore issues of postcoloniality in a variety of its manifestations; one of the central figures in these writers' project of reformulation is the postcolonial body. Filipino American literary critic Oscar Campomanes states that by its very nature, Filipino American culture is "marked by chronic and multiple displacements," as its texts "were and continue to be created under material, historical and political conditions that are better described by the (post)colonial analogy of world literature rather than the 'immigrant analogy' of US multiculturalism" (Gonzalez and Campomanes 74). While the term "postcolonial body" is often posited as monolithic and essentialist, these Filipino American women's fiction examines its layers of complexity, syncretically appropriating colonial structures, texts, and narratives.

Filipino American fiction traces the strains of hybridity in the Philippines, which critic Lisa Lowe, in her analysis of Asian American cultural politics, defines as produced by "the histories of uneven and unsynthetic power relations," and marked by the survival of these inequalities (82). Thus, these writers record and enact their emergence from colonial domination, their reinscription of the female self figured as a fighter who actively resists domination. This resistance may not be as spectacular as that of Assia Djebar's women of Algiers leaping down ramparts into battle, or pulling out grenades "as if they were taking out their own breasts" (150), but it is part of a similar project, not only in recording the colonial violence against women but also in countering it by creating an authentic subjectivity through the female body. In figuring their resistance to Spanish and American colonialism, and to their descendant and surrogate, the neocolonial "US-Marcos dictatorship," these women define themselves through layers of dislocation and negotiate these uneven power relations in a number of forms, as Filipinas who have lived under the effects of multiple colonizers--as women dealing with patriarchy, and as minority women living in the US--to form a rhetoric of self-determination that enables them to take their place in the world to which they have relocated.

This recreation of identity is particularly evident in the writing of a number of Filipino American women who have been producing significant fiction since the 1980s: Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Jessica Hagedorn, Marianne Villanueva, Ninotchka Rosca, and Linda Ty-Casper. All of these writers are part of a development described by Rachel C. Lee as "an evolving tradition of literary works that detail Asian/Pacific feminine postcoloniality" (74). This paper will focus on the postcolonial body as a "crucial site for inscription" in the attempt at representation and control in the postcolonial experience, (Ashcroft et. al., Key Concepts 183) and in particular examine it as a site for resistance of domination. The process of this resistance involves the interrogation of social and cultural codes of control of the body. This essay will analyze two novels, Ninotchka Rosca's State of War (1988) and Linda Ty-Casper's Awaiting Trespass (1985), as particularly illuminating in their representations of bodies and souls, which, in their engagement with these codes, make their way through their complexities to arrive at a decolonizing of the postcolonial body (deconstructing the term in the process) and lead to the creation of a spirituality that is predicated on their ethnic identity. …

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