Academic journal article MELUS

Editor's Introduction: Transgressing the Borders of "America"

Academic journal article MELUS

Editor's Introduction: Transgressing the Borders of "America"

Article excerpt

All the lives I could live, all the people I will never know, never will be, they are everywhere. That is all that the world is.

--Aleksandar Hemon (2)

As a mestiza I have no country, my homeland cast me out; yet all countries are mine because I am every woman's sister or potential lover. (As a lesbian I have no race, my own people disclaim me; but I am all races because there is the queer of me in all races.) I am cultureless because, as a feminist, I challenge the collective cultural/religious male-derived beliefs of Indo-Hispanics and Anglos; yet I am cultured because I am participating in the creation of yet another culture, a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbols that connect us to each other and to the planet.

--Gloria Anzaldua (103)

A recent article by Liesl Schillinger in the New York Times titled "Passport Lit: Words Without Borders" notes that in 2009 the finalists for the US's National Book Award in fiction include three authors not born in this country, two of whom currently live abroad: Irish author Colum McCann (who won the prize) was born in Dublin but now lives in New York; Marcel Theroux, a son of the American writer Paul Theroux, was born in Uganda and currently lives in London, yet deploys a distinctly American idiom; Daniyal Mueenuddin grew up in Pakistan and Wisconsin and currently lives in the southern Punjab but spends time in London. Schillinger contends that such nominations challenge criticism of American fiction made by, for example, Horace Engdahl, spokesman for the Swedish Academy (which awards the Nobel literature prize) as "too isolated, too insular" (WK 1). According to Schillinger, these selections demonstrate that the "American idea not only translates, it disregards national boundaries."

Schillinger views this as a recent development in American letters, yet if we look to ethnic and immigrant texts written since at least the early twentieth century (if not before), we see that the idea of a firm "national boundary" demarcating America often has been put into question and that US identity frequently has been viewed as multigeographical, transnational, and only artificially contained by the actual legal boundary of the US. Writers discussed in this issue of MELUS, in particular, are likely to undermine the idea that "US" literature exists (or can exist) apart from the literatures of other countries, nations, and peoples; they are likely to see borders as permeable spaces where cultures come into contact in a creative process that leads to the continual modification of the meaning of America. These writers transgress the borders of "America," but they also question the meaning of this term. As perhaps symbolized by Tino Villanueva's vibrant watercolor, crayon, and pencil artwork "Flashpoints," which graces this issue's cover, the US may become a space where cultures converge, interact, deconstruct each other, and are remade in a productive fusion and fission, an almost chemical (but certainly visceral) transformation that leads to new forms of language, subjectivity, and nationhood.

Yet in the productive chaos of Villanueva's "Flashpoints" a center--possibly a black hole--exists, holding still amid the swirling energy and galaxies that orbit it. We may read this as ah emblem of something in the US that is stubbornly resistant to being remade, a sort of black (w)hole that translates all too well, sucking away the energy and power of other cultures in favor of a dark nothingness. The artists discussed in this issue, then, do not deny the US's continued presence on the world stage as ah engine of transnational dominance and power; nor do they overlook the painfulness of living on borders and in margins that, as Gloria Anzaldua has famously phrased it, constitute "ah open wound" where "the Third World grates against the first and bleeds" (3). These essays explore the painful yet emplastic elements of this "border culture," but they also depict the ways that the idea of America as a coherent ideological and geographical space still holds force. …

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