Academic journal article Chasqui

(De)constructing Confession: Transgressing Borders in Yanitzia Canetti's Al Otro Lado

Academic journal article Chasqui

(De)constructing Confession: Transgressing Borders in Yanitzia Canetti's Al Otro Lado

Article excerpt

Confession and Diaspora

Starting with its title, Yanitzia Canetti's novel Al otro lado (1997) suggests a division between sides that invites the reader to contemplate the concept of borders. The ambiguity of the title's reference to "sides" provides the foundation for Canetti's text, which both underscores and challenges the boundaries that shape people's lives, especially those who form part of the Cuban (literary) diaspora. (1) In the unnamed female narrator's proclaimed search to understand the "other side" of herself, she questions the nature of identity as she recounts the events of her life that take her from an unnamed island in the Caribbean to Manhattan. The novel's allusions to Cuba and its revolutionary government are not explicit, nor does emigration dominate the narrative; yet the narrator's struggle with boundaries--gendered, sexual, political, literary, and geographical-exposes the relationship between the articulation of subjectivity anal the narratives that shape identifications. (2)

One of the first things that strikes the reader about Al otro lado is the confessional framing of the narrator's diasporic experiences. Unlike many modern forms of confession, which are often defined solely by an intimate first-person narrative voice, Canetti's confession employs components of traditional religious confession, such as the recounting of transgressive acts in the presence of a priest in a confessional booth, in order to examine secular concerns regarding identity. By evoking religious confession, Canetti emphasizes the interaction between confessor and confessant in which the confessional relationship reveals a constant negotiation of power and authority that is intimately related to social and sexual norms. (3) Madeline Camara observes that religious confessions, especially within Latin America's colonial history, have served as models of subversive writing to which women have turned through the years because of the genre's attention to female sexuality and transgression (121-22). Within this perspective, texts like colonial nuns' spiritual life stories, or vidas, provide a foundation and discourse for women to highlight the interplay between gender and authority wherein transgression plays a significant role in exploring the limits, or boundaries, of societal expectations. (4) In Al otro lado, two of its most important elements, confession and diaspora, are linked through Canetti's use of transgression to reconstruct narratives of gender, sexuality, and nation-state.

Let us consider how confession and diaspora intersect through the association between transgression and movement in general. With regard to the transnational characteristics of the Cuban diaspora, Eliana Rivero turns to etymology, connecting the Spanish traspasar to the Latin transpassare in order to link movement across or through space to its spiritual counterpart in terms of "trespassing" or transgression, noting that "imaginers of the transnation have been seen as spiritual transgressors" (202). Aihwa Ong also observes that the prefix "trans" is suggestive of a variety of crossings, including the "transgressive aspects of contemporary behavior and imagination that are incited ... by the changing logics of state and capitalism" (qtd. in Mishra 18-19). This link between ideological and geographical transgression, or movement, is key both to Canetti's novel and as a previously unexplored aspect of confessional discourse that teases out the complexities of subjectivity when borders, and people, are in flux. (5)

Canetti structures the novel as an oral confession of the life of a young woman. Through her confessional episodes with a priest, the protagonist examines her childhood and adolescence, incarceration as a university student, and sexual adventures as a young woman until she leaves the island for the United States. Each chapter carries its own title and begins with a section in italics, including the narrator's description of the church, the priest, and their movement to the confessional, all of which take place in the narrator's present perspective. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.