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Of Space and Mind

Of Space and Mind
Cognitive Mappings of Contemporary Chicano/a Fiction

Bringing cognitive methodologies to the analysis of Chicano/a fiction for the first time, this book maps ethics of "persistence" and "transformation" in the fiction of Rudolfo Anaya, Ana Castillo, Denise Chávez, Rolando Hinojosa, Arturo Islas, John Rechy, Alfredo Véa, and Helena María Viramontes.

Series: Cognitive Approaches to Literature and Culture, Edited by Frederick Luis Aldama, Arturo J. Aldama, and Patrick Colm Hogan

April 2011
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224 pages | 6 x 9 |

Chicano/a fiction is often understood as a literature of resistance to the dominant U.S. Anglo culture and society. But reducing this rich literary production to a single, binary opposition distorts it in fundamental ways. It conflates literature with life, potentially substituting a literature of protest for social activism that could provoke real changes in society. And it overlooks the complex range of responses to Anglo society that actually animates Chicano/a fiction.

In this paradigm-shifting book, Patrick L. Hamilton analyzes works by Rudolfo Anaya, Ana Castillo, Denise Chávez, Rolando Hinojosa, Arturo Islas, John Rechy, Alfredo Véa, and Helena María Viramontes to expand our understandings of the cultural interactions within the United States that are communicated by Chicano/a fiction. He argues that the narrative ethics of "resistance" within the Chicano/a canon is actually complemented by ethics of "persistence" and "transformation" that imagine cultural differences within the United States as participatory and irreducible to simple oppositions. To demonstrate these alternative ethics, Hamilton adapts the methodology of cognitive mapping; that is, he treats the chosen fictional texts as mental maps that are constructed around and communicative of the narrative's ethics. As he reads these cognitive maps, which envision Chicano/a culture as being part of U.S. society rather than as "resistant" and separate, Hamilton asserts that the authors' conception of cultural difference speaks more usefully to current sociopolitical debates, such as those about gay marriage and immigration reform, than does the traditional "resistant" paradigm.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Toward New Mappings of Contemporary Chicano/a Fiction
  • Chapter 1: Mapping Resistance in Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima and Rolando Hinojosa's "Sometimes It Just Happens That Way; That's All"
  • Chapter 2: Mapping Persistence in John Rechy's The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gómez and Helena María Viramontes's "The Cariboo Café"
  • Chapter 3: Cosmopolitan Communities in Alfredo Véa's La Maravilla and Ana Castillo's So Far from God
  • Chapter 4: Changing Minds in Ana Castillo's Sapogonia and Arturo Islas's La Mollie and the King of Tears
  • Chapter 5: The Transformative Spaces of Alfredo Véa's The Silver Cloud Café and Gods Go Begging
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index

Patrick L. Hamilton is Assistant Professor of English at Misericordia University.


What can we understand about cultural differences—race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, and others—from contemporary Chicano/a fiction? Through their constructions of uniquely imagined storyworlds and individual textual aesthetics, what do novels and short stories by Chicano/a authors ask us as readers to think?


These are the questions at the center of this study. The emphasis above on the words "can" and "ask" highlights how texts, in the worlds they imagine, act upon a reader's mind. They communicate to that mind a particular meaning, point-of-view, and ethics. Within the field of Chicano/a literature—and U.S. multiethnic literature in general—the tendency has been more to sublimate a text's unique meaning and ethics to an already-existing point of view and ethos. Critics including Marcial González, José Aranda Jr., and Juan Bruce-Novoa previously attest to how a paradigm of "resistance" dominates the study of Chicano/a literature. This paradigm fosters an understanding of cultural interactions based on a binary opposition between dominant and subordinate that is always contextualized by conflict, contestation, and distance. Resistance's ascendancy, however, has the potential to turn against Chicano/a literary study, as it has in other fields such as anthropology, geography, postcolonial studies, and, in particular, cultural studies. In advocating its cognitive approach to the analysis of contemporary Chicano/a fiction, this study seeks to complicate this dominant understanding by placing other textualized conceptions of difference alongside it in an effort to expand the repertoire of intellectual positions within Chicano/a literary study and criticism.


Emblematic of resistance's dominance is one of the governing conceits within Chicano/a literary and cultural study: Gloria Anzaldúa's concept of the "borderlands." Early on in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Anzaldúa powerfully describes the border between the United States and Mexico as "una herida abierta," or open wound, "where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds" (25). As this "blood" scabs over, it creates a borderland that Anzaldúa further characterizes as "vague and undetermined" and "in a constant state of transition" (25). The borderlands is, then, a space of First and Third World frictions that is at once hybrid and liminal but also contextualized by violence and conflict. A resistance toward the hegemonic positionalities that partially form the borderlands lies inherent in this image. As well, much work done in the fields of Chicano/a literature and/or Borderlands Studies emphasizes this inherent stance. José David Saldívar's Border Matters, for example, comprises a wide range of Chicano/a works—going "beyond literature to examine issues of expression and representation in folklore, music, and video performance art"—that challenge "the homogeneity of U.S. nationalism and popular culture" (ix). Mary Pat Brady likewise notes in Extinct Lands, Temporal Geographies how Chicana literature resists U.S. cultural and capitalist hegemony. It "contests the terms of Capitalist spatial formation, including the attempts to regularize the meanings and uses of spaces, especially the use of space to naturalize violent racial, gender, sexual and class ideologies" by offering "not just alternative cartographies (or countercartographies . . .) but entirely different conceptualizations of spatiality altogether" (6). Similarly, Ramón Saldívar characterizes Chicano/a works as "one of the most independent cultural and literary 'forms of opposition and struggle' that the dominant culture of the United States has attempted to control, neutralize, and integrate" (10-11). These efforts, and many more like them, define a politically charged approach to Chicano/a cultural production that seeks a more inclusive version of American Studies in general. Their insights successfully created a conceptual framework for Chicano/a literature, music, and video/film in terms of their challenge and opposition to dominant U.S. culture and society.


This study seeks to complicate that framework. It too finds its impetus to do so in Anzaldúa's seminal text. First, it is important to remember that her image of the borderlands is not only textual or metaphoric. It also derives from and encompasses the efforts of real people, residing and laboring in a real, material world external to the literary text. This fact raises the question: what role does the literary text have in such real-world and, yes, political action and change? The tendency under resistance has been to equate the literary text with such action; that is, to see the literary text as not so much representing resistance, but rather as resistance and resistant. This study wants to maintain the distinction between the literary text and real-world, material action, an effort in which its advocacy of a cognitive approach plays a significant role. It proposes that we conceive of Chicano/a fiction as a springboard for understanding relations of difference first in textual worlds and secondarily in real ones. That is, that the textual understandings offered by the authors here seek to affect how we think about such differences as race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexuality within the U.S. nation-space. Those thoughts, then, are the ones with which readers interact and encounter their experiential worlds. Further to this effort, this study proposes that there are other frameworks offered by Chicano/a fiction in addition to that promulgated as resistance. Such alternative narrative and ethical positionings need to be, first, recognized through what this study puts forth as an aesthetic of cognitive mapping and, second, included as other possible relationships toward dominant/hegemonic U.S. culture and society. These textual possibilities reflect on those differences' existence in the experiential nation and world and, ideally, affect how the reader conceives of their existence.


Second, another image from Borderlands/La Frontera inspires this study. Anzaldúa begins the prose section of her text with the powerful presentation of the borderlands. She ends it with a similarly powerful call:


But it is not enough to stand on the opposite river bank, shouting questions, challenging patriarchal, white conventions. A counterstance locks one into a duel of oppressor and oppressed; locked in mortal combat . . . both are reduced to a common denominator of violence. The counterstance refutes the dominant culture's views and beliefs, and, for this, it is proudly defiant. All reaction is limited by, and dependent on, what it is reacting against. Because the counterstance stems from a problem with authority . . . it's a step towards liberation from cultural domination. But it is not a way of life. At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal combatants somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once . . . . Or perhaps we will decide to disengage from the dominant culture, write it off altogether as a lost cause, and cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory. Or we might go another route. The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react. (100-101)


In this image of crossing to the "opposite river bank," Anzaldúa strikingly suggests the need for actual action and change, specifically a change from the acts of "shouting" and challenge that are recognizably resistant. Though a step on the path toward liberation and understanding, resistance itself is not the end goal of this passage, or of Anzaldúa's text. She lists, toward the end of this passage, multiple outcomes that may result from this "crossing"; resistance, or disengagement, is among these possibilities, but it is not the only one.


To Anzaldúa's voice, Alfred Arteaga adds his. In his Chicano Poetics, Arteaga seeks to direct us out of what he terms a "clash of senseless monologues" both within and external to the literary world (78). Both writers express a reduction of life and consciousness—to violence in the former and senselessness in the latter—that results from simply "standing" in opposition, "proudly defiant." Both Anzaldúa and Arteaga theorize a new "territory," "another route," and thus other conceptions of cultural interactions than that defined by resistance. It is, then, a need to take another "step" in how we conceive and understand these cultural differences and relations that both Anzaldúa and Arteaga so vociferously advocate. It is in this spirit that the present study offers its aesthetic of cognitive mapping and analysis of contemporary Chicano/a fiction.


Resistance in Cultural Studies, U.S. Multiethnic Literature, and Chicano/a Fiction


The latest battlefronts in the "culture wars" display the continued presence and power of this binary construction of difference. Pundits on the twenty-four-hour cable news channels and politicians haranguing against the "evils" of gay marriage and border policy/immigration do so on the basis of a racist and xenophobic logic. They assert a binary opposition between a dominant self—be it the heterosexual self in the gay marriage debate or the white, Anglo self in that on immigration—and the homosexual or foreign "other." This logic hinges upon both a psychological and literal distance between the parties in its attempted creation of literal and psychological conflict and opposition between them.


The logic behind these virulent positions parallels that underpinning the narrative and ethics of resistance. This reactionary point of view bases itself on the idea that gays and immigrants are something wholly other than an idealized U.S. national "self." Implicit in the challenge both Saldívars and Brady make of Chicano/a literature is the same idea: that Chicano/a culture is wholly other to a homogenous U.S. national and cultural identity. This parallel reveals the resistance model's possible weakness within contemporary cultural debates. Is not resistance too making a similar implicit (if not, in fact, explicit) assertion as dominant U.S. culture when, to paraphrase Anzaldúa, it stands always in refutation and defiance of that nationalist fervor? Would not such a model as resistance, rather than combat such attitudes and beliefs, actually feed into and even exacerbate them? If both "sides" of this debate are, at their respective cores, telling their audiences that "American" and Chicano/a, heterosexual and homosexual, or "citizen" and "illegal immigrant," are in fact wholly other and in irreconcilable conflict with each other, in what other terms are those audiences left to think?


Though these questions may for now seem more theoretical, and thus rhetorical, in relation to Chicano/a literary study, the presence and consequences of the problem they indicate are not so hypothetical elsewhere. Other fields dominated by a paradigmatic binary logic, if not, in fact, an explicit ethics of resistance, have come under fire for just such a consistent position. For example, Linda McDowell, writing about the field of geography, explains how "in common with the other social sciences, binary categorizations structure geographical scholarship"; furthermore, she declares the task of a "feminist geography" to be the "tearing down and re-erecting [of] the structures" of this discipline, "the very ways in which we theorize and make connections between people and places" (11). In the task McDowell sets for herself and other feminist geographers, she points to the continued operation of binary structures—men/women, public/private, to name but two—as a situation to be redressed within the field of geography. Richard Maddox more directly engages with the problematics of resistance and its dominance within the "anthropological community." While noting the "laudable zeal" of scholars looking for "tactics of resistance" in the daily lives of those they studied, Maddox criticizes how "they often seemed to join together under the notion of 'resistance' a disparate array of discourses and dispositions," which "not only appeared to underestimate the forces operating to contain and incorporate counterhegemonic practices but also seemed to obviate the need for direct political action in some subtle way" (275-276). Here, Maddox specifically directs attention to how the dominance of resistance doubly runs counter to its aims: these efforts both underestimate the ways in which power can contain such assumed resistant practices, while also, in the idea that daily life is itself "resistant," short-circuit any more directly resistant or political action.


Aijaz Ahmad similarly objects to just such a circumvention of political action and, more generally, the kind of sweeping paradigm that resistance exemplifies, in his criticism of postcolonial literary/cultural theory. In relation to the former, Ahmad, more pointedly than Maddox, condemns post-1960s theory as "institutionally domesticat[ing] the very forms of political dissent which the movements had sought to foreground" and displacing "activist culture with textual culture" (1). For Ahmad, the rise of poststructural theory extended "the centrality of reading as an appropriate form of politics" to the detriment of "a broadly Marxist politics" (3-4).


But it is in Ahmad's critique of the categorizations "Third World Theory" and "Third World Literature" that he demonstrates an affinity with those criticisms of resistance above. As he observes, the category of "Third World" simply inverts the "tradition/modernization binary in an indigenist direction so that tradition is said to be better for the Third World than modernist, allowing a defense of the most obscurantist positions in the name of a cultural nationalism" (9). Far from unsettling or destabilizing such a binary logic, this "inversion" simply deploys that logic in a different "direction," if you will. As in resistance, this "Third World" approach is limiting in its selection of and approach to texts. In the first case, as Ahmad explains, postcolonial texts written in English provide "one kind of archive for the metropolitan university to construe the textual formation of 'Third World Literature,'" but neglect the archive of works "in a number of indigenous languages as well" (78). And, for Ahmad, theorists read very narrowly within this category: "The preferred technique among cultural theorists . . . is to look at 'Third World' literary texts in terms always of their determination by the colonial encounter," and so ignoring their "determination" by class, gender, or "the needs of socialist cultural production" (92). Much of Ahmad's criticism of postcolonial literary theory—its sweeping categorization, pre-determined and determining archive or canon, and narrow interpretation—parallels the effect of resistance within U.S. multiethnic and Chicano/a literatures.


But a field even more identified as treating its subjects in predominantly resistant terms is the discipline of cultural studies. Two if its assessors, Winfried Fluck and Thomas Claviez, describe cultural studies in general as a "radical ideological critique of American cultural myths" through "approaches which focus on the critical role of ethnicity, race, gender and sexual preference in American culture" (x). In other words, Fluck and Claviez see the assigning to these differences a consistently "critical role" as putting them in opposition to hegemonic conceptions of American culture, in particular the myths about what is "American" or "America" that dominant U.S. society and culture perpetuate.


Donald Morton likewise identifies such resistance and challenge as the explicit domain of cultural studies. According to Morton, "cultural studies [has become] an intellectual practice aimed at dehierarchizing the gender, the racial, the ethnic, the sexual, and other binaries in which privilege has always been inscribed and which are taken for granted by traditional knowledges and forms of study" (27). Here, he makes it the "practice" of cultural studies to inscribe its subjects within a critical logic that is, at its heart, in opposition to and conflict with a hegemonic U.S. nation-state. To paraphrase Morton even more succinctly, cultural studies by nature inscribes its subjects within a logic of resistance.


Such critiques as those above spur Lawrence Grossberg to call for a transformation of the discipline: "[C]ultural studies need to move beyond models of oppression, both the 'colonial model' of the oppressor and the oppressed and the 'transgression model' of oppression and resistance . . . . Both models of oppression seem not only inappropriate to the contemporary relations of power but also incapable of creating alliances" (355). Like those mentioned above, Grossberg too sees cultural studies as riven by such a binary logic, and he echoes McDowell in urging the field to alter the same.


But while these more sympathetic treatments call only for change, others are more strident in their critique of the inherent resistant logic of cultural studies. Morton, for instance, explains how cultural studies has been called out for reducing literature to simply one of many cultural practices that relate to our understanding of culture: "[L]iterature no longer has a special privilege when it is placed in conjunction with science, sports, music or any other elements of popular culture" (9). While the surface of this charge betrays an in itself problematic elevation of literature above other cultural practices, it gestures toward a greater consequence. The paradigm of resistance reduces all cultural practices in assigning them the same relationship to and within culture. None is unique; rather, all are in conflict with dominant U.S. culture. Thus, the function of literature or any other practice has less to do with it as a unique practice in and of itself, and more with how it works within culture, a practice that is always the same. As a result, within cultural studies, "resistance is everywhere omnivore"; cultural studies scholars, according to Grant Farred, and echoing Maddox from earlier, have "expanded the definition of resistance to problematic lengths . . . , see[ing] working class and marginal communities' resistance in every aspect of their lives. So much so, in fact, that the field is able to identify challenge by oppressed groups in places that are at best unlikely or at worst, implausible" (Farred 86). Resistance thus becomes a kind of shell game. It is what cultural studies is always and only looking for and, thus, always and only finding.


Coinciding with these more acute criticisms against cultural studies are further-reaching "remedies" that bear particular relevance to the study of U.S. multiethnic and Chicano/a literatures. In the name of what they term more transcendent, humanistic values, critics like Richard Rorty and Frank Farrell turn cultural studies' emphasis into a rationale for abandoning it as a critical method. Rorty, for example, laments the current state of literary study, dominated (as he sees it) by the cultural studies model, as "depressing," "antiromantic," "immune to romantic enthusiasm," and devoid of "social hope" and "visions of a better future." Per Rorty, cultural studies has robbed the study of literature of its "romance and inspiration," replacing and "flattening" it with an inferior substitute: "professional competence and intellectual sophistication" (8-9, 12). His "remedy" for this problem is to refocus the study of literature on what he terms the "inspirational value" found in its great works: "[G]reat works of literature all, in the end, say the same thing—are great precisely because they do so. They inculcate the same eternal 'humanistic' values. They remind us of the same immutable features of human experience" (15). There is, of course, an obvious circularity in Rorty's position. We, as critics, should only talk about the "great" literature that reflects these "inspirational" values, and what makes specific literary texts "great" is that they reflect these values. But more chilling is Rorty's recourse to eternal and unchanging "human" values as the basis for literary and cultural study. In a similar vein, Farrell advocates a shift to how literature "allows for experiences important to the living out of a sophisticated and satisfying human life," such a concern being absent in his view from the cultural studies approach: "The cultural studies model holds that all representations are implicated in regimes of social power that are never innocent. . . . So any act of reading must not be neutral or confine itself to the 'literary' but rather must see itself as an intervention in these power processes, as an act of confirming or subverting . . . those cultural representations" (23, 24). In their plea for a return to the "good old days" of a transcendently humanistic literary study, these critics set cultural studies and its paradigmatic resistance in opposition to such immutable values.


The logic behind such a declaration is truly disturbing. In effect, the subjects that cultural studies emphasizes—for example, race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality—have no "human value." Farrell perhaps most explicitly throws this baby out with the bath water when he "grant[s] that texts can be usefully read in [the] manner" of cultural studies, but that doing so will "impoverish literary space without offering in return much assistance to those in need of social justice" (23). Though he acknowledges the presence of those who need such justice, his position is that, since cultural studies will not really do anything for them in reality—and has a deleterious effect on the study of literature—we really should stop talking about racial, ethnic, gender, class, and sexual justice(s) in relation to literature altogether. This sweeping claim poses a particular problem for the study of Chicano/a and U.S. multiethnic literature because it implicitly dismisses them. It also neglects what literature can and has done in relation to social justice, which is effect change in the minds of its readers that can in turn lead to real, material action.2


That the same fault lines allowing these critiques of cultural studies exist within the fields of U.S. multiethnic and Chicano/a literatures should be similarly troubling. The dominance of resistance has been noted by multiple critics. Aranda Jr., for example, explicitly identifies "a 'resistance theory' paradigm" that "holds steadfast . . . , strengthened by the sweeping canonization of certain contemporary writers whose works challenged the racist, heterosexist, and other hegemonic foundations of U.S. society" (xxi). He points to resistance's sway in investigations of contemporary writers, citing the canonization of Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Audre Lorde, and others who reflect its logic. Aranda Jr. similarly implicates the entry into the canon of rediscovered writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Zitkala-Sa, and Americo Paredes in this promulgation of resistance: its logic similarly determines those earlier and obscured writers that get re-included into this canon. Parallel to Aranda Jr., W. Lawrence Hogue cites numerous contemporary writers—Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko, N. Scott Momaday, Frank Chin, Toni Cade Bambara, and Paule Marshall—as problematic for how they define an ideology of "racial tradition" that casts racial communities as "cultures of resistance" (4). Formulated as such, Hogue goes on to argue, this racial tradition and its resistant emphasis has "caused certain sectors of the white American population to resist this emerging heterogeneity in the educational and cultural spheres and to attempt to restore to hegemony a codified version of high modernism that is mostly white, male, and upper middle class" (20). Hogue here anticipates precisely what the discussion of the critics of cultural studies should likewise allow us to see. As Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson similarly explain, resistance can "result in reconfirming or strengthening existing identities, ironically contributing to maintaining the status quo" (19). In this case, the dominance of resistance has, according to Hogue, led to a reassertion of those hegemonic values and attitudes it initially combated.


Similarly, both Aranda Jr. and Hogue identify specific consequences to the practice of literary study that result from resistance's emphasis. For the former, it is that the continued privileging of these writers and their narrative interferes with more "comparative and . . . integrated critical approaches" (Aranda Jr. xxi); for the latter, it is how these works exclude people of color from the experiences theorized as "modernity" and "postmodernity" through how they construe racialized subjects as different—temporally, spatially, and ontologically—from subjects traditionally classed as "modern" and "postmodern" (see Hogue 5-6). However, the consequences of this dominance extend beyond what kind of scholarly approaches are tenable (or not so) under resistance, or within what theoretical constructs differently raced, gendered, sexed, or classed peoples can be included. The "canon of resistance" and its accompanying logic foster an understanding of contemporary U.S. culture that separates and distances the experiences of peoples of difference from that culture. It encourages readers—always and already—to think of these experiences, these cultures, and these peoples as in conflict with or opposition to U.S. culture, never as a part of it.


As it is one subset of the U.S. multiethnic literary canon, Chicano/a literature and criticism having resistance at its head is perhaps not surprising. The dominance of the resistance model further stems from the Chicano Movement of the 1960s. As Manuel Gonzales explains, "The Chicano Movement, with its emphasis on cultural regeneration, encouraged the rise of a vibrant community of authors . . . and determined their choice of themes for years to come" (252, italics added). Wilson Neate further details the precise alliance between literary criticism and the Movement's cultural nationalism. The latter "tended to evaluate whether a work constituted acceptable Chicano/a literature" on whether or not that text included specific elements deemed essential, including "an expression of anti-Anglo sentiment and resistance to dominant Anglo culture" (12). Such a sentiment led to the designation of Chicano/a literature's "Big Three": . . . y no se lo tragó la tierra by Tomás Rivera, Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, and The Valley by Rolando Hinojosa. "In all of them, despite the constant contact with Anglo-American culture, the characters seem to exist in a separate space. All three novels posit the possibility of an alternative other space of Chicano existence in which the family and individual can survive as an ethnic entity" (Bruce-Novoa 123). Though initially these texts posited a Chicano space as an alternative for survival, their ascendance within Chicano/a literature has identified a Chicano/a space as the alternative; that is, Chicano/a identity and culture are wholly and only possible separate from U.S. society.


These texts thus define the Chicano/a canon as one of resistance. Such a conscription of the canon allows Ramón Saldívar to characterize Chicano/a literature as continuing "to define itself in opposition and resistance to mainstream social, historical, economic and cultural modalities" (3). It similarly allows Marcial González (much more critically, it should be noted) to claim that "[w]ith borderlands theory, almost anything can be considered an act of resistance" (283), a statement that again resonates with those earlier from Maddox and Farred concerning the ubiquity of resistance. These statements raise the implications cited earlier: when resistance is so pervasive a narrative paradigm that any act—regardless of sociopolitical circumstances or material context—becomes an act of resistance, then the literary text loses its particular significance as a cultural intervention. Conversely, equating actual sociopolitical actions to the aesthetics goings-on of a literary work is similarly flattening.


Chicano/a literary criticism evidences such a tendency to flatten out both the literary and sociopolitical spheres in multifarious ways. It can be found, as González describes, in scholars' inclination to romanticize their own cross-cultural readings as a form of border crossing, which "tends to desensitize the horror of the real conditions of the border" by reducing a "matter of life and death" to "a luxury or an act of resistance" (284). The emphasis in Chicano/a criticism on the borderlands, particularly as a kind of liminal or hybrid space, results in another such flattening. Take for example, Border Matters' concept of the "transfrontera contact zone" (adapted from Mary Louise Pratt's own "contact zone"). The text describes this zone as the "social space of subaltern encounters, the Janus-faced border line in which peoples geopolitically forced to separate themselves now negotiate with one another and manufacture new relations, hybrid cultures, and multiple-voiced aesthetics" (Saldívar, Border Matters 13-14). The transfrontera contact zone evinces a contradictory "condition of perpetual liminality" (González 280). The actual interactions embodied by or contained in this space all become evidence of its hybridity or liminality, just as all "Third World Literature" is determined by the "colonial encounter," according to Ahmad, giving them an essential sameness that flattens and/or ignores their particular and specific material context and reality.


These examples demonstrate how the same vulnerabilities that have been turned against cultural studies exist within the field of Chicano/a literary criticism. These vulnerabilities are products of how the resistance model has dominated and furthermore encouraged us to equate the aesthetic construction that is the literary text with sociopolitical or material action. Such a move impoverishes not only the act and implications of reading, but also sociopolitical action itself. In order to avoid such consequences, we must maintain a distinction between the literary and the material and recognize that the literary's particular intervention into the material or the cultural is through the reader—and his/her mind—and based on a text's specific aesthetic workings. We must look at how a text's own particular form(s), style(s), genre(s), storyworld(s), and construction(s) inculcate its judgments and values and, in a dynamic process, affect a reader's own beliefs, judgments, and values.3 What, as a consequence, becomes necessary is an approach or methodology that calls attention to these workings of the text and their cognitive effects. For that, this study turns to the concept of cognitive mapping.


Textual Ethics and Cognitive Mapping


The term "ethics" has already occurred in this discussion, as I have referred to resistance as both a paradigm and an ethics. What, then, is resistance as an ethics?


Ethics, and ethical criticism, has become, in recent years, more and more of a fashion within literary criticism. However, Adam Newton points out that ethics and the ethical have always been a part of the novel's development: "[E]thics closely informed the novel's early development as a discourse both accessory . . . and internal . . . to narrative texts. Novels trained ethical sensibility . . . [and] narrators schooled their readership in the correct evaluation of and response to character and moral situation" (9). The novel in this sense is inherently didactic. It "trains" one's ethical sense; it guides how one should react to the characters and situations represented. Implicit within this description is the notion of a text's ethics being particular to that text and what it represents. The novel trains the reader how to respond to the specific and unique characters and situations it represents to him or her. Newton's description does not assign to literature the upholding of an ethics external to it. Instead, a text defines its ethics through its storyworld, its events, and its characters' actions and interactions with that world's characters, situations, spaces, and places.


Contemporary ethical criticism, however, has at times too much imposed just such an external ethics onto a text. In these cases, ethical criticism boils down to judging which works of literature are "good" or "great" precisely because they uphold a particular ethical or moral position. Rorty and Farrell, for example, evidence just such a compensatory approach in their treatments. Jeffrey F. Folks even more explicitly advocates such an approach: "The basis for an ethics of literature is the recognition that a shared knowledge of moral conduct exists, that this ethical knowledge is necessary to the survival of human societies, and that the function of literature is to hold this knowledge clearly before our sight" (6, italics added). Here, the ethics precedes the text. Folks assumes a universal "moral conduct" that literature must reflect. This function then becomes the standard by which critics deem texts worthy of literary study. The specific texts selected are "important examples of ethical art" because for Folks (who draws from John Gardner's On Moral Fiction), they allow "the 'true critic . . . to show what is healthy, in other words, sane, in human seeing, thinking, and feeling, and to point out what is not'" (18). Like Rorty and Farrell, Folks resorts to an assumed universal of what is "human." Substitute Folks's term "important" for "great" or "inspirational," and we have an argument identical to Rorty's. Furthermore, Folks's kind of ethical criticism not only determines what texts get read, but also the critics of those texts. The "true critic" is one who presents literature in this ethically or morally compensatory role.


As should be clear already, this study does not practice this kind of ethical criticism. It does not treat the ethical as a judgment of which texts are "good" or "great" or "important." Nor does it look at them as morally compensatory. Instead, the term "ethics" and the "ethical dimension" of a literary text is something more "descriptive" rather than a "dogmatically prescriptive or doctrinaire form of reading" (Davis and Womack x). A text's ethics are the particular and specific ethical values or meanings encoded in and conveyed through its aesthetic constructions. In other words, texts—including their storyworlds, their characters, their events—communicate unique values and meanings that should not be used as criteria for judging their moral value. All texts, then, are ethical—not in a morally judgmental sense, but in the sense that all texts have an ethical import in what they do. They ask us to judge, value, and think about the specific issues they raise, including issues of cultural differences related to race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, and more. As a result, ethical criticism is necessarily an interactive and dynamic process between the text and its reader. We "engage [texts] in their concrete, formal, narrative particularity. One faces a text as one might face a person, having to confront the claims raised by that very immediacy, an immediacy of contact, not of meaning" (Newton 11). We therefore confront and are confronted with a text's individual, subjective values. Interacting with a text ethically means looking at it as part of this interactive and dynamic process between two unique subjects—the text and the reader—rather than the latter interacting with the morally reified and ethically conscripted former.


When this study refers, then, to resistance as an ethics, it means to indicate two things. First, that resistance is an ethical position regarding cultural interactions and differences communicated by Chicano/a texts. Such an ethics can be conveyed, for instance, through the spatial arrangements of a text's storyworld, as will be shown in the next chapter's discussion of Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima. The ethics of resistance can also be conveyed through the aesthetic or formal arrangements of the text itself. Rolando Hinojosa's "Sometimes It Just Happens That Way; That's All," likewise discussed in the next chapter, is an example of precisely this. Second, besides being an ethical position encoded within specific texts, resistance has become the ethics of Chicano/a literary study, as well as of U.S. multiethnic literature in general. As was mentioned earlier, the defining of Chicano/a literature through such texts as Anaya's Ultima and Hinojosa's The Valley has also defined their ethics as the ethics of Chicano/a literature. Consequently, resistance's tendency to impose itself on the readings of Chicano/a and U.S. multiethnic works can obscure other possible positionings and the texts that encode them.


As a way to expand our readings and interpretations of Chicano/a literary texts beyond (though, again, not exclusive of) resistance, I propose an aesthetic or methodology of cognitive mapping. Cognitive mapping has grown in its appeal and usage since its origination in the psychological work of Edward Tolman in 1948. The approach was later adopted and adapted by Kevin Lynch for his study of physical urban environments, The Image of the City (1960). Cognitive mapping as it is practiced today stems from Lynch's application of the concept to his subjects' impressions of three urban downtown areas: Boston, Jersey City, and Los Angeles. What he posited from their responses was a connection between subjects' inability to mentally map their physical surroundings and their feelings of disconnection, confusion, and even alienation. As he states, "[To] become completely lost is perhaps a rare experience for most people in the modern city. . . . [B]ut let the mishap of disorientation once occur, and the sense of anxiety and even terror that accompanies it reveals to us how closely it is linked to our sense of balance and well-being" (4). The ability to hold a mental representation or understanding of the physical environment—a "cognitive map"—is crucial in Lynch to our ability to position ourselves and make our way through that environment.


This effort to understand or "mentally map" space has since been translated to the study of literary space. To cognitively map a text is to put together its storyworld and that world's meaning and significance from the cues provided through description, character movements and interactions, events, and so on. As applied to literature, cognitive mapping has predominantly occurred in one of two forms oriented externally to the text. Marie-Laure Ryan describes the first such application, its "literal definition," as the generation of a "mental model of spatial relations" (215); in other words, the mental mapping, by the reader, of physical location within a text's storyworld. "[M]ental models of narrative space are centered on the characters and they grow out of them. . . . Out of the movements of characters . . . we construct a global vision . . . that enables us to situate events" (236-237). Ryan demonstrates such an application by having her subjects graphically convey where things are located in the world of Gabriel García Márquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold: what buildings and specific locations were on the town plaza and which near the river; of the locations on the plaza, which were on the north side, the south side, east and west; and what specific locations were placed away from the town center. This phenomenological approach is prefigured by Gabriel Zoran who, though averring that textual "space is not a neutral material just existing in the [textual] world" as setting or backdrop, still emphasizes the mapping of such worlds in physical terms. He imagines the reader navigating the textual world based on cues relating to its "horizontal structure"—defined as "relationships such as inside and outside, far and near, center and periphery, city and village, etc."—and its "vertical organization" of "up-down" (322, 333). In both cases, the reader's cognitive map yields a literal translation of location within a text's storyworld.


The second application of cognitive mapping to the literary text proceeds by way of analogy and values the text's space for how it reflects an extant reality. Fredric Jameson is perhaps the most famous example of this approach. He applies cognitive mapping to "the realm of social structure . . . in our historical moment, . . . the totality of class relations on a global [or] multinational scale" ("Cognitive Mapping" 353). The result is to cast the "spatial peculiarities of postmodernism" and its associated works as "expressions of a new and historically original dilemma . . . that involves our insertion as individual subjects into a multidimensional set of radically discontinuous realities" (351). Echoing Jameson's approach is Brian McHale's explanation of the "system of structures en abyme" in Cervantes's Don Quixote as reflecting "the greater Mediterranean's unity-in diversity." For McHale, then, Don Quixote serves as "a cognitive map of the Mediterranean world" and therein lies that map's value ("En abyme" 201). Like Jameson's cognitive map of a discontinuous postmodern reality, the map's and text's significance lies only in how it directly reflects an external reality.


Drawing on these externally oriented applications, this study asserts that cognitive mapping can be applied internally to the text as well. The function of textual space is not only to tell us where things "are" in a storyworld, nor only to reflect an extant reality. The literary text can itself be seen as a cognitive map. To put it another way: rather than looking at the text as a space to be (cognitively) mapped, we interact with the text as a cognitive map. Richard Bjornson explains how "[a]ll works of literature must have had a similar origin [that] triggers an individual's desire to create an imaginary space . . . subject to his or her control. This desire impels aspiring writers to devise plans or strategies for achieving their goal" (56). Though Bjornson perhaps too much emphasizes the writer's "control" of the text's imaginary space, he calls attention to what prior efforts to cognitively map texts elide: that the literary text is shaped and arranged to "map" and thus communicate a particular "goal," which can be associated with a text's meaning or ethics. The world mapped by a literary work encodes that text's specific ethical positionings. It is this map that we as readers encounter, not a physical one but rather an aesthetic and ethical one. Thus, the storyworld of a text should not be treated only in a strictly phenomenological sense that conflates it with real or physical space; nor should its value only lie in its reflection of extant realities. In how texts "embody a type of knowledge," they communicate this knowledge to the reader through their various objective characteristics (Bjornson 57).


By paying attention to how a text "maps" its particular world and the ethics inherent within that world, we can begin to open ourselves up to not only those texts communicating a well-established ethics such as resistance, but also to texts that present entirely different conceptions of cultural differences and interactions through their constructions.


Mapping Ethics in Contemporary Chicano/a Fiction


The application of cognitive mapping to the Chicano/a novels and stories discussed in the coming chapters will allow us to perceive how they encode particular ethical positionings into and through their storyworlds. These narrative and ethical paradigms, explicated through the close readings of the works by Rudolfo Anaya, Rolando Hinojosa, John Rechy, Helena María Viramontes, Alfredo Véa, Ana Castillo, and Arturo Islas, concern the relationship between the peoples and cultures of difference they represent and dominant U.S. society. The initial phases of this discussion will focus on two primary methods by which these authors inscribe the particular values and judgments into their storyworlds and communicate them to their readers.


The first method involves characters' relationships to and/or interactions with particularly coded or valued places within the storyworld. Linda McDowell explains how our actual built environment encodes "[e]xplicit and implicit rules and regulations about whose bodies are permitted in which spaces" (166), and the same is true of fictional spaces and places. Wesley A. Kort in particular describes how the "language of space begins to dominate character and plot when it determines the characters that are likely to appear in certain locations or the kinds of events that occur" (16). Such interactions can also determine a text's ethical import. For example, in placing restrictions, limitations, and conditions on the characters who can inhabit a particular place, textual space also places a value on them. More specifically, characters' associations with specific storyworld institutions symbolic of dominant U.S. society position them in relation to that society and its values.


Such a representation occurs in Denise Chávez's The Last of the Menu Girls (1986). Chávez presents her protagonist, Rocío Esquibel, in conjunction with places symbolizing dominant U.S. society—the Drama Factory in "Space is a Solid" and the Altavista Memorial Hospital in the collection/novel's titular story/chapter—and its restrictive effects on peoples of difference, which result from its idealized, homogenous U.S. identity. Nita Wembley, a benefactress of both the Factory and (for a time) Rocío, gives explicit voice to just such a desire: "If you're American, marry an American. If you're colored, marry a colored. If you're Chinese, marry a Chinese . . . . None of this other stuff now" (101). Besides her opposition to miscegenation, Wembley also demarcates people of color outside the category of "American." None of that "other stuff" makes its way into her idealization of this cultural identity. The hospital is as limiting, if more subtle in its conveyance of this fact. Rocío volunteers in this place that is both a space "of order . . . [an] environment of restriction" and a "place of white women, [and] whiter men with square faces" (17). Thus, in this space and its descriptions, the novel associates white/Anglo society with feelings of restriction and order from which Rocío is just as clearly differentiated and separated, a fact indicated most clearly by how, upon first entering the hospital, she sees herself reduced to "a frightened girl in a black skirt and white blouse standing near the stairwell to the cafeteria" (17). In both places, Chávez positions Rocío separate from the dominant U.S. society they symbolize.


Both locations furthermore inscribe Rocío within a subordinate position to that dominant society. Her job in the Factory's Costume Shop is backstage; she is "responsible for washing the actors' clothes and costumes" and "extricate[es] once-starched shirts and pairs of brown knickers, and a few dark socks" from the male actors' dressing room (104). Rocío does not get to appear onstage; she is relegated to the back of the house, a fact made abundantly clear, to both her and the reader, by her boss Charene when Rocío oversteps these boundaries in her relationship with Mrs. Wembley: "Do you know that Mrs. Wembley's one of the theatre's patrons . . . and . . . can do and say anything she damn well pleases around here . . .? That means you better the fuck get your priorities and problems and shit together and stop screwing around with members of the 100 Club" (131-132). Not only is Rocío's subservient position to Nita Wembley and the wealthy Anglo society to which she belongs reinforced in this tirade, but so too is the fact that Rocío is not free to do or say "anything she damn well pleases." As for the hospital, it inscribes Rocío within a subordinate position through the identity it imposes as a condition of her entry into this space and the society it represents. Rocío literally encounters the image/role that will allow her—as ethnic other—to enter into this space: "I stared up at a painting of a dark-haired woman in a stiff nurse's cap and grey tunic, tending to men in old fashioned service uniforms. There was a beauty in that woman's face, whoever she was. I saw myself in her, helping all of mankind, forgetting and absolving all my own sick, my own dying, especially relatives, all of them so far away, removed" (17). The painting Rocío observes and describes here is of Florence Nightingale. Rocío's "fantasy of becoming the etherealized figure that dispenses benediction to a suffering humanity" is also a fantasy that abstracts her out of her ethnic identity (Anderson 239). Such an abstraction is the condition upon her belonging and functioning within not only this space but also the society of which it is an institution. Interestingly enough, she must trade one stereotypically subordinate position—"ethnic other"—for another, "woman tending man." In either case, and even perhaps through the conflation of both, the space of the hospital, like the Drama Factory before it, inscribes Rocío within a subordinate role. In presenting these places and Rocío's interactions with them, Chávez clearly "maps" out their particular values and Rocío's position toward them.


Second, a text's descriptions of spaces are also sources of its ethics and values, making them not only descriptions but also ethical characterizations. A particularly striking example of such is to be found in the opening paragraph of Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima. Here, the text presents us with an idealized and idyllic image of the llano that serves as its primary landscape:


Ultima came to stay with us the summer I was almost seven. When she came the beauty of the llano unfolded before my eyes, and the gurgling waters of the river sang to the hum of the turning earth. The magical time of childhood stood still, and the pulse of the living earth pressed its mystery into my living blood. She took my hand, and the silent, magic powers she possessed made beauty from the raw, sun-baked llano, the green river valley, and the blue bowl which was the white sun's home. My bare feet felt the throbbing earth and my body trembled with excitement. Time stood still, and it shared with me all that had been, and all that was to come. (1)


In a variety of ways, this passage places a positive value on the space of the llano. It casts this landscape as a living being through the choice of such active verbs and gerunds as "unfolded," "gurgling," and "throbbing." There is a sense of warmth throughout the passage, not only in the fact that it is summer but also through the particular description of this space as "sun-baked." There is also an emphasis on the vivid colors of the llano, especially in the latter portion of this paragraph. It mentions the "green river," the "blue bowl" that is the sky, and the "white sun," all of which paints and further characterizes this space as vibrant. The effect the llano has on the novel's young narrator, Antonio, further feeds into the ascription of positive value to this space. It exposes him to the power of the earth. It is magical. It not only causes time to stand still, but also opens all of time to Antonio's perception. In sum, this opening paragraph crafts the reader's perception of the llano and the values it embodies. As will be shown in the following chapter's discussion of Anaya's novel as a whole, these positive images of the llano are ethically inscribed within the text's larger world and how it creates a stark contrast and distance between the space of the llano (and its inhabitants) and Anglo-American society.


In sum, the literary world is a constructed world. It is shaped and arranged to reflect and communicate particular values and ethics. Because of its nature, literary space should not be treated in a phenomenological or objective sense; that is, to conflate textual space with real, social space (and vice versa) is to assume equivalence between social reality and textual worlds and reduce both. Literary space is objective in the sense that there are objective aspects of how it is constructed and how it constructs its world: how it is narrated, how it is stylistically presented, how it is generically identified, how its world and spaces are described, and how its characters interact with that world and its spaces. We are not dealing with, reacting to, and evaluating objective spaces when we encounter texts. We are coming to and encountering a space that is subjective in its objective aspects. That is, we are coming to a text that is already constructed with particular, subjective values and ethics within its imagined world and textual arrangements. It thus has it own conception or understanding of the social world and culture that it attempts to communicate through its imagined one. And it is this imaginative, ethical space that we, as readers and scholars, are obligated to decode.




Each of the subsequent chapters is an effort to do precisely that: to demonstrate how each text "maps" and communicates particular ethical positionings in regard to cultural difference. The works at the center of this study—Ana Castillo's So Far from God and Sapogonia; Arturo Islas's La Mollie and the King of Tears; John Rechy's The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gómez; Alfredo Véa's La Maravilla, The Silver Cloud Café, and Gods Go Begging; Helena María Viramontes's "The Cariboo Café"—were all published in the final two decades of the twentieth century, a point at which previous challenges to the Chicano/a canon had already forced it to expand beyond the narrow confines of the male-centered and heterosexist identity and experience noted previously. Castillo, Viramontes, and Rechy would be three prominent figures in this effort, and now-seminal texts like Castillo's So Far from God and Viramontes's "The Cariboo Café" are emblematic of its success. But these texts also embody the ways in which other limitations owing to the still-predominant ethics of the canon still impinge upon Chicano/a writers and specific texts, such as Rechy's Amalia Gómez. Writers further on the canon's periphery (if even there), such as Islas and Véa, further demonstrate the limiting effects of the canon's basis in resistance.


What these works do in particular is complicate the understanding of cultural interaction guiding the Chicano/a canon, resistance. This established understanding is the subject of Chapter 1, which analyzes Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima and Hinojosa's "Sometimes It Just Happens That Way; That's All" for how they "map" resistance within the spaces of storyworld and text, respectively, and so facilitate the shaping power of that ethos. Beginning with Chapter 2, the texts being analyzed offer alternative conceptions and understandings of cultural presence and interaction within the U.S. nation-space and so represent important ethical expansions to the Chicano/a canon. John Rechy's The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gómez and Helena María Viramontes's "The Cariboo Café," both of which are set in Los Angeles during the latter part of the twentieth century, are the first such examples. Both texts have been (mis)read in terms consistent with resistance, showing a further permutation of that paradigm's shaping power. Both works are, rather, constructed in various ways to communicate what I term a "narrative of persistence." That is, both texts speak to (if not depict) cultural differences coming to be an enduring presence within the specific metropolis of Los Angeles and the larger U.S. nation-space and society.


Chapter 3 continues the discussion of persistence in two works set in the rural American Southwest during the mid- and later twentieth century respectively, Alfredo Véa's La Maravilla and Ana Castillo's So Far from God. These novels go a step further than Rechy and Viramontes in how they present racial and cultural, as well as gender and sexual, differences not only as a presence within the U.S. nation-space but also as a part of and participatory within its culture and society. Furthermore, inhering within both texts' representations is a cosmopolitan ethos that challenges and complicates reduced understandings of such differences. The ontological irreducibility gestured toward in these texts is the crux of the second narrative understanding dealt with in this study, what I term "transformation." The differences represented in these texts' storyworlds, and often mirrored in their narrative constructions and generic conflations, seek to disrupt comfortable and reductive categorizations of differently raced, cultured, gendered, classed, and sexed peoples and spaces that exist within their imagined worlds and parallel the same in the extant world to which they refer.


Chapter 4 begins the effort to map this transformation by mapping the dimensions of Castillo's Sapogonia and Arturo Islas's La Mollie and the King of Tears. These two novels focus on the consciousnesses of specific Chicana and Chicano protagonists who, over the course of their narratives, transform (or fail to, as in the case of Castillo's male protagonist) themselves from such limited and problematic understandings of difference. These transformations, particularly that of Louie Mendoza in Islas's posthumous La Mollie, parallel what the text works to facilitate in its reader. The final chapter concludes this study with an analysis of Véa's second and third novels, The Silver Cloud Café and Gods Go Begging. These two texts explicitly "speak," in their imagined storyworlds, to the challenge of irreducibility that forms the basis of the narrative of transformation. They furthermore parallel those worlds with a similar irreducibility of text in their conflations of times, spaces, genres, narratives, and/or styles; they thus "push [the reader] to question the traditional and often limiting categorization of his or her experiences of reality" (Aldama, Postethnic Narrative Criticism 28). As the Conclusion argues, including these texts and their narrativized understandings of cultural differences alongside that of resistance within the Chicano/a literary canon is important, particularly for how they may speak more usefully to current sociopolitical debates such as immigration reform and gay marriage, which center on a rhetoric and politics of similarity, rather than those of identity-in-difference.