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35 chapter one Fun with Death and Dismemberment Irony, Farce, and Nationalist Memorialization Ana Castillo’s novel So Far from God begins: “La Loca was only three    years old when she died.”1 While the death of a child is not usually the stu¤ of comedy, the first chapter recounts, with the novel’s characteristic dry wit, the miraculous resurrection of La Loca at her own funeral and the ensuing panicked argument among the parishioners about whether the event is an act of God or the devil. This, we find out, is but the first of many deaths that occur throughout Castillo’s book, along with assorted dismemberments, diseases, ritual self-­ mutilations, and other embodied distresses. Oscar Zeta Acosta’s loosely autobiographical novel The Revolt of the Cockroach People, which documents his involvement in the Chicano movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, is likewise fascinated with death, albeit in a di¤erent a¤ective register that moves between earnestness and glibness.2 As befitting someone who, in legal terms, was the first to argue for “Mexican American” as a distinct racial category di¤erent from “white” because of the relationship to what Ian Haney López calls “legal violence, encompassing both judicial mistreatment and police brutality,”3 Acosta writes about death in The Revolt of the Cockroach People in a properly memorializing nationalist fashion. However, this text simultaneously laments the ways in which nationalism becomes the only available language for making sense of death. So Far from God approaches this question in a di¤erent way but ends up with a similar response to death. Castillo’s novel undermines a number of metanarratives, one of 36 Fun with Death and Dismemberment the most important of which is the metanarrative of nationalism, both oªcial state and minority nationalisms. As such, So Far from God has been read as a postmodern text that undermines all sense of certainty through the deployment of irony. Yet the novel at moments defends the fixity of meaning and the sanctity of death and, in so doing, insists on the necessity, at particular moments, of an earnest memorialization attributable to nationalist sentiment. Both texts enact a complex and ambivalent rereading of oppositional nationalist ideologies of the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. In so doing, these texts share a project with Audre Lorde’s active intervention into the Malcolm X weekend with which I began this book and echo her challenge to remember the 1960s in multiple and contradictory ways. In this chapter, I elaborate upon these projects of rememorialization , arguing through readings of Castillo’s and Acosta’s texts that these ambivalent re-­ readings operate not only in what they remember but how they remember. These texts must refuse the traditional genres of heroism or elegy, which are themselves deeply nationalist formal strategies, and mobilize new, hybrid, or debased formal strategies that remember social movements di¤erently. In Castillo’s and Acosta’s texts, these formal strategies might be called irony. Yet at the same time, like Lorde, both Castillo and Acosta refuse to jettison the mournful a¤ects of nationalism entirely, insisting that there are moments that require a straightforward and un-­ ironic challenge to oªcial nationalist distribution of racialized death. As such, I will elaborate, their form of irony cannot be encapsulated either by the bourgeois literary notion of irony as constitutive of a knowing subject or by the postmodern variant that purports to shatter that knowing subject. Rather, Castillo’s and Acosta’s ironic representations of nationalist culture, both oppositional nationalism and oªcial state nationalism, emerge from the racialized and gendered contradictions of nationalism itself. In particular, Castillo’s and Acosta’s dis-­ identification with nationalism emerges through an ironic relationship to its primary idiom: death. While engaging with nationalism treads on well-­ worn ground, I do so here to describe the ways in which nationalism is newly redeployed by neoliberal power. If, as I have been arguing, neoliberalism is foundationally an epistemological formation organized around erasure and Fun with Death and Dismemberment 37 disavowal, that gesture of disavowal is only possible with the appropriation of the social movements of the post–­World War II era. An important aspect of this appropriative gesture is to misremember that moment as entirely subsumed under a cultural nationalist claim to injury. Certainly, one of the tactics of those social movements was to make racialized death visible as something to be memorialized, in order to reveal the hypocrisy of liberal claims...


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