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Illness and Body Politics in Chicana Feminist Literature

Suzanne Bost

Publication Year: 2009

Encarnacicn takes a new look at identity. Following the contemporary movement away from the fixed categories of identity politics toward a more fluid conception of the intersections between identities and communities, this book analyzes the ways in which literature and philosophy draw boundaries around identity.The works of Gloria AnzaldLa, Cherr!e Moraga, and Ana Castillo, in particular, enable us to examine how identities shift and intersect with others through processes of incarnation.Since the 1980s, critics have come to equate these writers with Chicana feminist identity politics. This critical trend, however, has been unable to account for these writers' increasing emphasis on bodies that are sick, disabled, permeable, and, oftentimes, mystical.Encarnacicn thus turns our attention to aspects of these writers' work that are usually ignored-AnzaldLa's autobiographical writings about diabetes, Moraga's narrative about her premature baby's medical treatments, and Castillo's figure of a polio-afflicted flamenco dancer-to explore the political and cultural dimensions of illness.Concerned equally with the medical-surgical interventions available in our postmodern age and with the ways of understanding bodies in the Native American and Catholic traditions these writers invoke, Encarnacicn develops a model for identity that expands beyond the boundaries of individual bodies. The book argues that this model has greater utility for feminism than identity politics because it values human variability, sensation, and openness to others. The methodology of the study is as permeable as the bodies and identities it analyzes. The book brings together discourses as disparate as Mesoamerican anthropology, art history, feminist spirituality, feminist biology, phenomenology, postmodern theory, disability studies, and autobiographical narrative in order to expand our thinking beyond what disciplinary boundaries allow.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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Title page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This project has roused in me tremendous passion for my subject, and I begin with my gratitude to Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherrıé Moraga, Ana Castillo, Maya González, and Diane Gamboa for so vividly capturing the permeability of our bodies and our identities. I have found in their work models for responding ethically...

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pp. 1-33

Inga Clendinnen, historian of Aztec and Mayan cultures, turned to self-representation when she found herself disabled by liver disease. Her memoir, Tiger’s Eye (2000), relates an incident in which her nose began to bleed uncontrollably...

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1. Feeling Pre-Columbian: Chicana Feminists' Imaginative Historiography

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pp. 34-76

In Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain (1985), arguably the most influential work about pain in the Humanities, pain figures as the paradigmatic negative, the horizon of acceptable experience. It is so opposed to our self-understandings as living...

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2. Pain: Gloria Anzaldua's Challenge to "Women's Health"

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pp. 77-113

To talk about the work of Gloria Anzaldu´a is to cross borders, not just national borders but also the lines between biography and criticism, body and theory. Her recent death troubled these borders more radically as her passing and her suffering...

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3. Medicine: Cherrie Moraga's Boundary Violations

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pp. 114-150

Pain, illness, and disability are politically significant, in part, because they defy contemporary norms for how bodies should look and act. When Gloria Anzaldu´a struggled to find spiritual transcendence through the fluctuations of...

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4. Movement: Ana Castillo's Shape-Shifting Identities

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pp. 151-192

If we accept pain and illness as viable corporeal states, we must think more about how such bodies are able to move and to thrive in the world. In So Far From God (1993)—the Ana Castillo novel that might seem like the most obvious ‘‘fit’’ for this study because of its emphasis on pain, illness, and medicine—the...

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pp. 193-214

The epigraph from Frida Kahlo separates mobility from corporeality when she suggests that she does not need wings to fly. Kahlo’s injuries and surgeries led her to see past her body as the horizon of her being. In fact, she disavows disability in this...


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pp. 215-228


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pp. 229-234

Image Plates

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pp. 235-246

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247776
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823230846
Print-ISBN-10: 0823230848

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 647923402
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Encarnacion

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- Mexican American authors -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Diseases in literature.
  • Human body in literature.
  • Identity (Psychology) in literature.
  • Mexican American women in literature.
  • Mexican Americans -- Race identity.
  • Feminism in literature.
  • Feminism and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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