Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

And the Gulf Did Not Devour Them: The Gulf as a Site of Transformation in Anzaldua's Borderlands and Kingsolver's the Lacuna

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

And the Gulf Did Not Devour Them: The Gulf as a Site of Transformation in Anzaldua's Borderlands and Kingsolver's the Lacuna

Article excerpt

Though critics highly regard her earlier novels, Barbara Kingsolver's 2009 Orange Prize winning novel, The Lacuna, has received little critical attention. One reason for the absence of scholarly debate is that the narrative form of The Lacuna is highly fragmented. Comprised of autobiography, diary entries, letters, book reviews, archivists notes, and court transcripts, the text describes the life and work of Harrison Shepherd, the novel's protagonist. Because the narrative is communicated in a variety of overlapping and functionally different forms, the text contains a number of gaps, or lacunas, that the reader must fill in using textual clues and deductive reasoning. While many reviewers cite this as a weakness in the text--NPR's Maureen Corrigan states that the "lacuna" in the novel is the "unintentionally missing" main character, The Los Angeles Times' Kai Marsted notes that the novel has "no enigma," and Entertainment Weekly's Tina Jordan says that "the book--told through newspaper clippings, letters, bits of memoirs, and the like--never quite comes together"--the gaps are, in actuality, the key to understanding the novel because they mark the places where Harrison experiences a crisis of identity as a homosexual, half-Mexican, half-Anglo man. Liesl Schillinger, author and literary critic for the New York Times, recognizes that "the value of Kingsolver's novel lies in its call to conscience and connection," and suggests that "Kingsolver gives voice to truths whose teller could express them only in silence." In the novel, therefore, the gaps become a site of connection: they leave a space in which the disparate parts of Harrison's identity can coexist. While interpreting the lacunas is crucial to understanding the text, their inherent lack makes them difficult to interpret. One way to inform the gaps, however, is through a comparison with Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera, which utilizes lacunas both to highlight the complication of possessing "non-normative" racial and sexual identities and to suggest the need to move through the liminal space created by physical and psychological gulfs. Doing so informs the lacunas within Kingsolver's text while preserving their complexity and ambiguity.

Before comparing the texts, however, it is necessary to outline their source of internal conflict--the establishment of the border between the United States and Mexico. Since the arrival of Hernan Cortes in the early sixteenth century, the territory known as New Spain and Mexico has been effectively colonized. Its indigenous populations have experienced deculturization while also undergoing cultural domination by both Spanish and American powers. Alejandro Lugo, in his Fragmented Lives, Assembled Parts: Culture, Capitalism, and Conquest at the U.S.-Mexico Border, argues that the basis for this cultural conquest can be found in the physical border itself. He states, "the name 'Rio Grande' speaks to power politics of land appropriation that allow geographical spaces to be invented in times when the conquerors (either Spanish or the Americans) can construct a world in their own image, whether it fits others' reality or not" (36). Hence, the renaming of the Mexican landscape resulted in the creation of a New Mexico, one which subsumed the identities of its indigenous peoples in the prevailing cultures of the conquerors. Furthermore, the "Rio Grande" was already an established landmark demarcating the border between the regions of Nueva Galicia and Nueza Vizcaya; thus, by reappropriating the term, the Spanish conquerors actually renamed and reappropriated the landscape to suit their needs. The American conquest of Northern Mexico similarly utilized the power of naming to assert colonial power. In particular, Lugo continues, "the United States appropriated 'Rio Grande' as a strategy to differentiate themselves from the 'Mexicans,' who preferred 'Rio Bravo'" (37). Thus, the border regions of Mexico have been both physically and linguistically dominated by colonial powers. …

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