Gritos Desde la Frontera: Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, and Postmodernism
Mermann-Jozwiak, Elisabeth, MELUS
When the term gained currency in the 1960s, the dominant image of postmodernism in both academic discourses and in the popular imagination was one of elitist "art pour art." Theoretical discussions tended to focus on formal and linguistic experimentation, and studies as diverse as those by Brian McHale and Ihab Hassan identified a list of techniques, including pastiche, briccolage, appropriation, and misappropriation as defining features of postmodernism. Works that presented extreme formalist experimentation, such as those by Raymond Federman and Marvin Cohen, were celebrated as high postmodern achievements, while works by women or multicultural artists were conspicuously absent in discussions of metafiction, surfiction, or the narcissistic novel.(1) However, at least since the early 1980s, critics have questioned such aesthetic postmodernism by investigating intersections between postmodernism and multiculturalism. Following Andreas Huyssen's statement that "women and minority artists ... added a whole new dimension to the criticism of high modernism and alternative forms of culture" (250), Chicano critics such as Rafael Perez-Torres and Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano have sought to relate the experimentalism of Chicana texts to their social, cultural, and historical contexts and have viewed Chicana cultural productions as instances of discursive resistance against dominant ideologies. Norma Alarcon, for instance, has indicated that Chicano works engage in textual politics or "revisionary dialogue" with older forms of representation (99). Similarly, Perez-Torres describes Chicana texts as counterdiscursive, as "writ[ing] through and against, not in place of, dominant and dominating discourses" (34). As a result, in Alarcon's words, "a variety of discourses can be negated, supplemented, modified, and repeated" (99).
Unlike early critics, who focus on formal experimentation in their postmodernism criticism, I suggest that postmodernism is a cultural politics that exposes the constructed nature of literary and social conventions. By focusing on Ana Castillo's novel So Far From God (1993) and Sandra Cisneros's short story "Little Miracles, Kept Promises" (1991), I will demonstrate how these authors use an aesthetics of appropriation and pastiche to stage a dialogue between Mexican and Anglo-American traditions. Both incorporate and deconstruct narratives that derive from diverse cultures: Castillo's novel incorporates the family saga and the telenovela (Mexican soap operas), and Cisneros's work makes use of the short story and Mexican-American oral tradition, specifically that of the declamadores. These techniques capture the experiences of Mexican-Americans as a constant process of negotiating two cultures while simultaneously countering eurocentric notions in prose fiction. Their works show that discontinuities in Mexican-American experience motivate experimentation and ground their fiction in historical and material reality.
Barbara Kingsolver's 1993 review of Ana Castillo's So Far From God draws attention to this generic hybridization when she characterizes the novel as "the offspring of a union between One Hundred Years of Solitude and `General Hospital'" (1). Castillo's third novel is an outrageous tale about an untraditional Mexican-American family in the New Mexico town of Tome. The story moves in circular fashion from the death and magical resurrection of one of the daughters to her repeated death and resurrection at the end. Kingsolver's description foregrounds Castillo's combination of elements from both "high" and "low" cultures; the novel is a web of intertextual references, blending American literary and popular culture with Mexican-American folklore. Castillo draws on a variety of genres, including the family saga, the telenovela, myth (Pueblo, Apache, and Aztec), cuentos (oral stories), magic realism, comedy, tragedy, folkloric elements such as remedios and recipes, and religious narratives.(2) Such blending of forms highlights issues of representation and of the representability of Mexican-American experience in the novel form. …