Academic journal article MELUS

Telling Stories of Transgression: Judith Ortiz Cofer's the Line of the Sun

Academic journal article MELUS

Telling Stories of Transgression: Judith Ortiz Cofer's the Line of the Sun

Article excerpt

Critics often describe Judith Ortiz Cofer's work as straddling two cultures: the Puerto Rican one of her parents and ancestors, and the American one of her peers and her adolescence (Ortiz Cofer, "MEL US" 84). Although this is a common trope for understanding US multicultural writers, Ortiz Cofer has challenged publishing companies' desires to categorize her work. For example, she quotes one publisher as saying, "We don't know where to put Judith Cofer. Judith Cofer is writing in standard English, and she lives in Georgia"; Ortiz Cofer herself admits: "Until recently, I was somewhere in limbo. I'm not a mainstream North American writer, but I publish in mainstream North American journals. I'm not an island writer" ("Speaking" par. 27). Also, she claims that she is not part of the Nuyorican writer's literary legacy: "The Nuyorican writers have nourished me in the sense that it is good to know that they are completing the mosaic of Puerto Rican literature in the United States, [but] there is not just one reality to being a Puerto Rican writer. I am putting together a different view" ("Puerto Rican" 45). This "different view" valorizes feminine spaces and characters that Nuyorican writers neglect and writes an almost tangible and intense return to the island of Puerto Rico.

In addition, Ortiz Cofer is bound by the parameters of geography that have isolated her culturally. She notes: "Although I lived in Paterson, it is not the same as living in New York City, in the barrios and in those large communities where there is support and confirmation of culture and literature" ("Puerto Rican" 45). As a result of what Juan Bruce-Novoa calls her double otherness--displaced from the homeland, yet being located neither in New York nor in Puerto Rico--Ortiz Cofer embodies a migrant consciousness, representative of a people who are in a continual pendulum movement between two homes. Bruce-Novoa posits that because she is part of a broader Puerto Rican diaspora, her "definition of a new Puerto Rican cultural identity demands constant movement which ultimately places that identity in the act of movement itself" (61). (1) In her novel The Line of the Sun (1989), Ortiz Cofer explores how identity formation occurs through movement when the limits and boundaries of narrative voice, autobiographical strategy, and sexual and gendered deviance are crossed and re-crossed. The novel is transgressive, enacting and depicting challenges to the regulatory paradigms of identity and narrative that society upholds in order to write a new and more productive space of home.

The Puerto Rican town of Salud provides the setting for the first half of the novel; the second half takes place in an urban immigrant neighborhood in New York City. The novel spans the early 1940s to the 1960s and tells the story of Guzman, following his adventures in Salud as a young boy, his exile to the US, and his return to Puerto Rico. His niece Marisol is his "secret biographer" (282) who writes the story, then recounts her experiences as a bicultural teenager growing up in New York. The novel is layered with transgressions, addressing the limits between history and the present moment, the narrative of the US mainland and the island, fiction and autobiography, and between different kinds of narrators. I use the concept of transgression as Michel Foucault does; Foucault defines transgression as "an action which involves the limit, that narrow zone of a line where it displays the flash of its passage, but perhaps also its entire trajectory, even its origin; it is likely that transgression has its entire space in the line it crosses" (33-34). Building on Foucault, Juan Flores adds that transgression, rather than negating the limit by crossing it, instead foregrounds and mediates contrasts; transgression illuminates the spaces on either side of the limit (343). This suggests that acts of transgression have an enabling limitlessness inherent in them and that they somehow collapse time, making history (the "origin") and the future ("its entire trajectory") visible at once. …

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