Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Scoring the National Hym(e)n: Sexuality, Immigration, and Identity in Najat El Hachmi's L'últim Patriarca

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Scoring the National Hym(e)n: Sexuality, Immigration, and Identity in Najat El Hachmi's L'últim Patriarca

Article excerpt

Si trazáis el mapa de España y él de Marruecos y dobláis el papel por la línea del Estrecho de Calpe, hallaras que coinciden exactamente los sistemas tectónicos de una y otra banda.

Queda ordenado por Dios que se forme en este espado geográfico una unidad.

-Tomás Borrás, La España completa

If all existence is turned borderline, then, the border too becomes a space of contiguity and heterotopia.

-Parvati Nair, "Europe's 'Last' Wall"

In 1950, scholar Tomás Borrás proclaimed that the cartographic contours of Spain and Africa affirmed a divinely intended "georatial unity" between the two (11). Although this map image is outdated as a justification for Spanish hegemony, it still haunts Spanish-African relations as a specter of doubling, as Susan Martin-Márquez demonstrates in Disorientations. Her analysis suggests that Africa remains a defining figure of Spanish identity, with immigration in the complex European context of the present compounding relations of colonization/con quest in the past. This contemporary view is reflected in the epigraph by Parvati Nair, who envisions the border as multiply liminal, rather than linear: "Multi-hued and radical in its proposition of difference, it is the frame within which otherness encounters its own alterities" (21). If Spain and North Africa have long been perceived as mirror images, wherein folding the map figures cultural unity-or conquest-what interests me most is that fold where the page is scored. The fold marks a frontier space of liminality fraught with the tensions of doubling and difference in the process of immigration.1

Vúltim patriarca (2008), the award-winning novel by Najat El Hachmi, rewrites the story of Peninsular territory and identity, long rendered as a gendered space violated by the African invader.2 The tale of a young woman whose family immigrates to Catalonia from Morocco, Vúltim patriarca examines the clashes of competing facets of identity as one child straddles conflicting-and sometimes not so conflicting-cultural perceptions of language, sexuality, and power relations between the genders. The first part of the novel recounts the life of her father, Mimoun, who grew up as the coddled child of patriarchal Amazigh culture in Morocco. Then the story shifts as the adult narrator tells of her childhood with the abusive Mimoun and her struggle to end his control.3 Problematizing what Laia Climent Raga calls the "triple marginalitat" (23) of a female immigrant writing in a minority language, L'últím patriarca examines the complexities of immigrant identity through a focus on language and the body as the spatial battleground of patriarchal power and national identification.

My analysis of this novel plays on multiple meanings of the word "score" and is inspired by Jacques Derrida's image of the hym(e)n. He views the hymen as a liminal membrane between two realms that occupies the space of neither of them, and yet also either and both of them: "[it is] first of all a sign of fusion, the consummation of a marriage, the identification of two beings, the confusion between two. Between the two, there is no longer difference but identity . . . there is no longer any difference between desire and satisfaction" (209). In a second function, however, the hymen serves as a barrier rather than a blending of differences: "the hymen as protective screen, the jewel box of virginity, the vaginal partition . . . [which] stands between the inside and the outside of a woman, and consequently between desire and fulfillment. It is neither desire nor fulfillment, but between the two" (212-13). Thus Derrida portrays the hymen as a liminal site, a membrane that embodies and obliterates the space between difference and nondifference. He expands the semantic echoes of the hymen by tracing its etymological roots, wherein "hymen" is hypothesized to share the same origin as the word "hymn": "traced to a root u that can be found in the Latin suo, suere (to sew) and in huphos (tissue) . …

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