In her work as poet, essayist, editor, dramatist, and public intellectual, Chicana lesbian writer Cherríe Moraga has been extremely influential in current debates on culture and identity as an ongoing, open-ended process. Analyzing the "in-between" spaces in Moraga's writing where race, gender, class, and sexuality intermingle, this first book-length study of Moraga's work focuses on her writing of the body and related material practices of sex, desire, and pleasure.
Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano divides the book into three sections, which analyze Moraga's writing of the body, her dramaturgy in the context of both dominant and alternative Western theatrical traditions, and her writing of identities and racialized desire. Through close textual readings of Loving in the War Years, Giving Up the Ghost, Shadow of a Man, Heroes and Saints, The Last Generation, and Waiting in the Wings, Yarbro-Bejarano contributes to the development of a language to talk about sexuality as potentially empowering, the place of desire within politics, and the intricate workings of racialized desire.
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The essays collected in this book span a ten-year period and record the development of a critical practice as much as they trace the different facets of Cherríe Moraga's work as poet, essayist, editor, dramatist, and public intellectual. Taken together, the essays offer a kind of periodization of Chicana/o studies that suggests, gratifyingly, that the body of Chicana lesbian writing has radically transformed the terms for conceptualizing identity and community. The articulation "Chicanas/Chicanos" need no longer refer to the male-centered, essentialized subject of cultural nationalism nor the passive, pathologized subject of social science discourse. Thanks in large part to the creative struggle of Chicana feminists and Chicana lesbian feminists in particular, the idea of "difference within" ourselves and within our communities has multiplied, rather than fragmented, sites of social action and critical intervention. Although the position of Chicana lesbians in cultural, political, and academic institutions, and in the U.S. economy, remains precarious, a glance at the array of Chicana texts since the 1981 release of This Bridge Called My Back demonstrates a vital shift in the critical terrain for writing identity and community.
With Moraga as creative interlocutor, I have been fortunate to participate in the process of building a field of inquiry, constructing new critical practices by learning from the limitations of earlier ones that neglected the acknowledgment of race or sexuality. My work is located at the junction of Chicana/o studies, feminist studies, and queer theory; I take from each a critique that questions the ingrained lines of inquiry of the others to produce a rich and theoretically stimulating theoretical apparatus. A sign of the enrichment of this continuing dialogue is that I am able to pose these issues, formerly defined as "private" by academia, as legitimate sites of intellectual inquiry.
Moraga's work has been extremely influential in the ways those of us involved in current debates on culture and identity think about the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Her writing has informed the contemporary understanding of identity as being constructed in an ongoing, open-ended process. The project motivating my analysis is to get beyond the acknowledgment of the multiple categories of difference ("race, class, gender, and sexuality") to an analysis of the relational complexity of the "in-between" spaces where these categories intermingle. Complementing work by Norma Alarcón and Chela Sandoval, who show consciousness to be key in identity formation, my essays focus on the neglected/repressed body and related material zones of sexual practice, desire, and pleasure. I see our work in Chicana/o studies as a collective undertaking to explore and envision the meanings of "Chicano." My essays show how its representation changes over time, for example, in the turn to nationalism in Moraga's more recent texts.
My discussions of the multiple crossings and interweavings of categories of identity in Moraga's writing contribute to the development of a language to talk about sexuality as potentially empowering and important for political work. I couch my analysis of Moraga's strategies of representation within the notion of "the problematic of enunciation" (Mercer, 194) attuned to the politics of location in the utterance. The struggle to "give voice" or "make visible" experiences, identities, and subjectivities that have been historically marginalized raises political questions of agency: who is empowered or disempowered to "speak" of difference (Mercer, 194). My work explores the place of desire within politics, and links close textual readings of the intricate workings of racialized desire to Moraga's liberatory project of making desire(s) legible.
Cherríe Moraga's work spans a range of genres and speaks from multiple sites of struggle. In compiling my essays for this collection, I am struck both by the fluidity of Moraga's analysis of difference and by the coherence of her imagery in evoking the contradictory ways in which race, class, gender, and sexuality shape identity. My own engagement in the critical project of investigating the articulation of racialized desire follows a similarly divergent path, responding to the context in which the original essays were written.
Part 1 consists of chapter 1, which centers on Moraga's writing of the body. The first version of this essay, published in the anthology Chicana Lesbians edited by Carla Trujillo in 1991, discussed images of the body in Loving, with some discussion of the meanings of the head in Shadow and Heroes as it relates to the project of (de) and (re)construction of the lesbian mestiza body examined in the essay. This analysis laid the ground for another piece I wrote on the lesbian body and strategies of lesbian representation in Latina writers and visual artists, published in ¿Entiendes? Queer Readings, Hispanic Writings in 1995. In revising the essay on Moraga's writing of the body, I expanded the textual examples to include discussion of images from Ghost, The Last Generation (1993), and the essay "Waiting in the Wings: Reflections on a Radical Motherhood," which I read in its next-to-final form in 1994. The revision of this and the other essays collected here has increased my appreciation of the remarkable degree of intertextual coherence in the development of key imagery in Moraga's writing.
Chapter 2 on Giving Up the Ghost (1986) was actually written before the analysis of the lesbian body in Moraga's Loving in the War Years presented in chapter 1. My original essay on Ghost, published in Third Woman in 1986, focused on the representation of female desire. I revised the essay around that time for an anthology that never materialized. The revision places Ghost in the larger framework of feminist theories of representation, particularly of alternatives to dominant theater, and in the context of national and international debates within feminism going on in the wake of Bridge (1981) and the increased awareness of racial issues and differences among women. I offer a reading of Moraga's autobiographical essay "A Long Line of Vendidas" (Loving) as the theory and the set of thematic concerns infusing the theatrical practice exemplified in Ghost. I have grouped this essay on Ghost with the two chapters on Shadow of a Man and Heroes and Saints to form part 2 of the book, concentrating on Moraga's writing for the theater.
Besides the early analysis of Ghost, part 2 includes an introduction to and overview of Moraga's plays. I discuss her dramaturgy in the context of dominant and alternative Westem theatrical traditions, including Chicana/o and feminist theater, and outline the principal themes of her plays and their relationship to one another. Chapter 3 on the play Shadow captures, I hope, some of the liveliness of the moment of its groundbreaking production at the Eureka Theater in San Francisco in 1990 and of contemporary debates on "difference within" the Chicana/o "community." These debates included a critique of sexuality and the family. Written around the time of the 1990 "Chicano Studies/Cultural Studies" conference at the University of California at Santa Barbara, chapter 3 also reflects some of the cross-fertilization of the two fields going on at the time, and particularly the influence of Stuart Hall. Chapter 3 focuses on an analysis of the characters in Shadow to illustrate the potential of theater's performative dimension in highlighting the constructedness of racial, gendered, and sexual identities. Chapter 4, an unpublished essay written in 1994 on Heroes and Saints, examines how the theme of pesticide poisoning and the image of the head place Heroes explicitly in dialogue with the Chicano theater movement. It also attempts a reading of the play through the lens of a theory of the collective experience of "joy" developed in African-American cultural studies.
Part 3 gathers together three previously unpublished essays that look at the discursive production of identities in Moraga's writing. I wrote the first version of chapter 5 on TLG in 1993 at Hedgebrook (a women writers' retreat at Whidbey Island in Washington State) as part of an earlier book project comparing Gloria Anzaldua and Moraga that turned into this collection of essays. I wrote the final chapter over the summer and fall of 1995 after teaching the unpublished version of "Waiting in the Wings" in Spring Quarter at Stanford.
Chapter 5 examines the centrality of sex as both practice and metaphor in Moraga's work, and the thematic blending of the sexual and the spiritual, both Christian and indigenous. It centers on the short story "La Ofrenda" as an example of the textualization of racialized desire and identity. The analysis of racial identities continues in the discussion of TLG in chapter 6, which concentrates on the representation of whiteness in the realms of cultural nationalism, the family, and lesbian desire. Moraga's naming of whiteness in this text and my analysis of its representations point to another key item on the new research agendas of ethnic, feminist, and queer studies. As Mercer points out, "for all our rhetoric about 'making ourselves visible,' the real challenge in the new cultural politics of difference is to make whiteness visible for the first time, as a culturally constructed ethnic identity historically contingent upon the violent denial and disavowal of 'difference' " ("Welcome to the Jungle," 215). The collection ends with chapter 7, an analysis of "Waiting in the Wings" focusing on how Moraga privileges writing as the site for the production of the new self: the (butch) lesbian mother.
Moraga's insistence on taking sexuality seriously as a category of analysis has made us aware of the need to reclaim our passion as academics, to interrogate what moves us deeply to do what we do, to identify where and how we experience our pleasure as well as our pain, and to envision the possibility of joy in a cultural context that acknowledges the differences among us, whether in the continuing struggle for social justice or in the understanding of continuity and change in the generational cycle of life and death. These essays reflect my own history over a ten-year period of academic passions, textual pleasures, and hopeful joy in a collective undertaking to envision what "Chicana/o" means.