Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
Volume 47, Number 3, Autumn 1991
pp. 93-116 | 10.1353/arq.1991.0022
DAVID E. JOHNSON Woman, Translation, Nationalism: La Malinche and the Example of Juan Garcia Ponce1 Every mere "ism" is a misunderstanding and the death of history. —Martin Heidegger, What is a Thing . . . the question "what is woman?" is itself suspended by the simple formulation of their common problematic. One can no longer seek her, no more than one could search for woman's femininity or female sexuality . And she is certainly not to be found in any of the familiar modes of concept or knowledge. Yet it is impossible to resist looking for her. —Jacques Derrida, Spurs Feminism comes up short; or so Luce Irigary suggests in This Sex Which Is Not One: "If we keep on speaking sameness, if we speak to each other as men have been doing for centuries, as we have been taught to speak, we'll miss each other, fail ourselves. Again. . . . Words will pass through our bodies, above our heads. They'll vanish, and we"' be lost. Fat off, up high. Absent from ourselves: we'll be spoken machines , speaking machines. Enveloped in proper names, violated by them. Not yours, not mine. We don't have any. We change names as men exchange us, as they use us, use us up. It would be frivolous for us, exchanged by them, to be so changeable" (205).2 In Spurs: Nietzsche's Styles, Jacques Derrida agrees: 'And in truth, they too are men, those women feminists so derided by Nietzsche. Feminism is nothing but the operation of a woman who aspires to be like a man. And in order to Arizona Quarterly Volume 47 Number 3, Autumn 1991 Copyright © 1991 by Arizona Board of Regents issn 0004- 1610 94David E. Johnson resemble the masculine dogmatic philosopher this woman lays claim— just as much claim as he—to truth, science, and objectivity in all their castrated delusions of virility. Feminism too seeks to castrate. It wants a castrated woman" (65).' In short, although women have made great strides under the feminist banner, their spécifie gains remain inscribed within a masculine epistemology. This essay attempts to put into play a non-feminist thought that remains other to masculism (and thus to feminism as well). First it remarks a tendency within Mexican historiography: the appropriation of the figure of la Malinche. Initially we will read this operation in Octavio Paz's El laberinto de ?a soledad, then we will consider a more subtle and insidious instance of the appropriative nature of masculinist historiography in Tzvetan Todorov's The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other. At the outset, let's note that both these works are exceptional: learned and finely tuned, their seminality is unquestioned and unproblematized. Their particular use and value are not at stake. Second, the essay displaces historiography by considering two texts by the contemporary Mexican novelist and critic, Juan Garcia Ponce. First we will read his one-page essay, "Lo femenino y el feminismo"; second we will look at an unremarkable moment in the two-volume novel Crónica de la intervención (1982). The movement from Paz to Garcia Ponce should not, however, be misunderstood as a function of recognizable intertextuality: for the critical notion of intertextuality, in its emphasis on a play between texts, endeavors to hide the critical (or necessary) position of the reader as critic. Such an elision, which is not the same as a displacement, leaves uneclipsed at the center of reading and textual production the subject, the reader. This essay, far from ignoring or intentionally covering the site of a reading, foregrounds a critical intervention. Garcia Ponce's texts thematically concern neither la Malinche, the Conquest, nor Mexican history in general; they do not answer (to or for) Paz. Rather, they concern, first, woman in general, and second, a particular woman. Garcia Ponce's consideration for woman extends ultimately to the limit of respectful interest: he leaves woman (and women) alone; like Hamlet, Garcia Ponce desires simply to let woman be. Yet this "letting be" does not entail a passivity before the question Juan García Ponce95 of being as if the ti esti were the inaugural or principle question of either philosophy or history. On the...