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 Thinking Bodies: The Spirit of a Latina Incarnational Imagination M AY R A R I V E R A R I V E R A Habla con dejo de sus mares bárbaros, con no sé qué algas y no sé qué arenas; reza oración a dios sin bulto y peso. —gabriela mistral, la extranjera She speaks in the tones of her barbaric seas With who knows what algae and what sands; She prays to god without baggage and weight. —gabriela mistral, the foreigner Como un oleaje perpetuo, fragante, ella hace sonidos del mar. Inclinada se extiende y ası́ suspira como si fuera una resaca delgadı́sima, como si fuera una palabra de ausencia. Entonces en el lienzo del silencio y en la misma orilla del tiempo, ella se inclina toda desnuda y desnuda se mira con el rostro del agua en sus palabras. —marjorie agosı́n, idiomas Like a perpetual, sweet-smelling surf, she makes sounds of the sea. PAGE 207 ................. 18125$ CH10 09-19-11 07:52:39 PS 208 兩 m a yr a r iv e r a r i v er a Bent over, she stretches out, sighs as if she where a reed-thin tide, as if she were a word of absence. Then, on the canvas of silence and on the very shore of time, she bends over, naked, and naked regards herself with the face of water in her words. —marjorie agosı́n, languages Speaking a language shaped by the sea, with the face of the water in their words, both Gabriela Mistral and Marjorie Agosı́n evoke in their poems geographies of a country they have left behind. Their words have traces of algae and sand, of a naked body embraced by the sea. The poets’ fragrant verses have seduced me—though I tried to resist the spell of words about body and sea, alert to the dangers of bringing ‘‘body’’ too close to ‘‘nature.’’ Will her body be washed away by the sea’s unruly powers and be lost in its uncontrollable depth? Will she be seen as ‘‘merely’’ flesh, her carefully crafted words drowned in incomprehensibility , again dismissed as inadequate for theory or ineffective for politics? Her god too intimate with the turbulence of matter to be the subject of philosophy? Fearing being caught in the fate that awaits nature/native/body, afraid that perception of irrationality may flood the wisdom of bodies, I tried to resist the poets’ enchantment. But thinking of bodies, I too conjure images of the sea. Questions of bodies, foreign words, and fragrant seas may appear as strange openings for a discussion of epistemology, concerned as it is with discerning the proper, reliable foundations for knowledge. In Western epistemological traditions sensuality and bodies have often been considered distractions to be overcome in order to attain true knowledge. Decolonizing epistemology implies questioning the privilege of those traditions. Indeed, taking epistemology as a central concern, decolonial theorists not only explore the implications of the power structures in the production of knowledge but also seek to articulate alternative understandings and visions. Focusing on Latina body-words, this essay seeks PAGE 208 ................. 18125$ CH10 09-19-11 07:52:40 PS t h ink i ng b o di e s 兩 209 resources to think not only beyond the legacy of colonial/imperial knowledge but also beyond its disembodied definitions of ‘‘knowledge.’’ In the variegated intellectual traditions that constitute Latina studies, explorations of the legacies of colonialism in the Americas commonly imply theorizations of embodiment. There are very concrete reasons for this: Colonial-sexual violence against the African and indigenous women of the Americas indelibly marked the bodies of many of their descendants . Greed, violence, and enslavement literally became incarnate. They have left ‘‘memories in the flesh’’—to adapt Luce Irigaray’s phrase1 —and memories of the flesh seek theoretical articulation. Despite the evident dangers of being perceived yet again as one uttering barbaric words carrying who knows what algae or sand, or perhaps precisely because of the oceanic force of such speech, Latina efforts to decolonize epistemologies cannot abandon body-words. The corporeal effects of colonial histories cannot be neatly separated into physical and cognitive elements, for the genealogical traces of colonial -sexual violence are experienced in conjunction with the materialization of social and familial arrangements also introduced by colonial power. These new structures served as tools for ‘‘the organization of relations of production, of property rights, of cosmologies and ways of knowing,’’ all of which would...


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