The Second Tower of Babel: Ana Castillo's Borgesian Precursors in the Mixquiahuala Letters

By Jiron-King, Shimberlee | Philological Quarterly, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

The Second Tower of Babel: Ana Castillo's Borgesian Precursors in the Mixquiahuala Letters


Jiron-King, Shimberlee, Philological Quarterly


Reading Ana Castillo's Mixquiahuala Letters with a strong understanding of its religious context and its inter-textual relationships increases one's potential to locate the numerous lines of thought anchored in its transnational literary history, in the Americas. As in U.S. literary, history, Chicana/o literary history depends upon a conglomeration of literary and religions texts that initiate numerous patterns, images, and ideas. (1) At some moments, distinctly religious inter-textual references shape the novel of the Americas and how it resonates with issues of race, class, and transnational relations. At other moments, the inter-textual references grow secular but a critical awareness of Spanish-Catholic religious history and consequent epistemological differences from those of the U.S. canon make it possible to create readings that might otherwise remain closed.

When the reader considers Mixquiahuala Letters by drawing upon the lines of influence and interplay between one text and another, its religious history becomes more clear; it is not merely that one epistle in the novel suggests a single religious idea or that a character engages in a religious act such as confession or communion, though this happens quite frequently in Castillo's work. Rather, the question of overall representation foregrounds a novelistic interplay that reveals Castillo's novel as non-static in form. This Chicana novel thus demonstrates that literary and historical context demands that the critic attend to religious differences even while taking a number of related cultural issues into consideration. It is especially important in the case of Ana Castillo's Mixquiahuala Letters where the geographical and historical context places the work in a position where epistemic violence has remained particularly strong on both sides of the border.

The interplay outlined between the novels discussed in this article demonstrate various lines of thought as authors render them sacred or profane, depending upon one's line of reasoning and how one reads. For example, Julio Cortazar's Rayuela is known in its English translation as Hopscotch, but many translators and critics have noted that the literal translation of Rayuela is closer to "line game," which is what a "hopscotch" as rendered in English actually is--a game of lines. However, rayuela is not exactly the same game as hopscotch, but an approximation, a translator's compromise in order to bridge an inexpressible cultural and linguistic gap that cannot be transcended by words alone. Only the reader (or player) can bridge that gap.

While Castillo's novelistic form immediately resonates with and alludes to Julio Cortazar's Rayuela/Hopscotch, Cortazar's work revolves around lines and lineages which take religious history and difference in the Americas and Europe for granted. In one way, Cortazar's figurations can offer Castillo textual and historical resources that are unavailable in the U.S., but the epistemic violence that manifests itself on both sides of the border demonstrates that the Chicana's position en el otro lado is not better--it is simply different and the players must adjust to new rules as epistemologies shift.

In order to fully measure the length, breadth, and depth of the texts discussed in this article, one must grasp the significance of lines as a word, as an image, and as both a cause and effect of the texts. The culmination of what lines and lineages can mean is what connects Ana Castillo's The Mixquiahuala Letters, Cortazar's Rayuela/Hopscotch, Jorge Luis Borges' essays and short stories, Macedonio Fernandez's Novela Eterna and Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. As one traces the connections between the texts, one begins to see that each author continuously claims a multi-faceted heritage and a privilege that authorizes the lines that they have written; each author claims sacred lineages that can be traced to Ur and the linguistic gap that occurred at the putative Babelian moment. …

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