- Phenomenology of Chicana Experience and Identity: Communication and Transformation in Praxis
Jacqueline Martinez's book, Phenomenology of Chicana Experience and Identity: Communication and Transformation in Praxis, appears in the new and promising series New Critical Theory, edited by Martin Matustik and Patricia Huntington, who are to be commended for their foresight and determination to bring together a younger, more heterogeneous and heterodox community of scholars to reflect the face as well as future of any critical theory in a global context.
Martinez's intellectual trajectory exhibits the kind of migrations that critical theory, phenomenology, semiology, and Chicana(o) studies have made over the last two decades. Here is a thinker trained as a philosopher, teaching in a communications program. This migration, probably forced by an inhospitable disciplinary environment, is characteristic of what has happened to the methods and approaches developed in the first part of the twentieth century. There is a way in which the methods of critical theory have undergone a process of deprovincialization as a result of continental and disciplinary crossovers. Many, of course, think that not enough of this deprovincialization has taken place; or, to put it less negatively, many would argue that critical theory has not become cosmopolitan enough and that much work in unmasking and dismantling its Germano- and Fracocentrism remains to be done.
Martinez's work takes us to a region almost never visited by critical theory: the borderlands of the U.S. empire, where many cultures meet violently, where languages are unmade, races forged, and new sensibilities disclosed. This is the borderlands between the United States and Mexico. A lot of excellent, creative, original, and prodigiously researched and documented work on la frontera has been produced, mostly by sociologists, historians, and political theorists, but little of it has been done in philosophy per se, although much of the work by major Chicana theorists such as Norma Alarcón (1993) and Paula Moya (2002) [End Page 231] is profoundly philosophical and has great philosophical relevance. Martinez's work contributes to the "double translation" between philosophy and that important anatropic space of the borderland.
On another but equally important level, Martinez's work is about the codetermination between race (ethnicity) and gender, or to use the title of a collection by Naomi Zack (1997), Race/sex. We cannot think the one without the other, Martinez argues, using the tools of phenomenology and semiology. For Martinez, who has made her own "coming to consciousness" the prime experimental exhibit, her experience as a Chicana became a phenomenological window to the codetermination of her identity as a gendered human being and as someone marked by discourses of racialization. Of course, human existence is always marked by a historical index, and this is annotated in the grammar of class. Martinez thus links her phenomenological investigations into Chicana existence and identity with questions about class in late twentieth-century U.S. culture. This work, in short, is not only a wonderful text for teaching the way in which phenomenology is a critical tool that inescapably directs us to lived and embodied experience (a redundant expression that must be used to make explicit what to many remains hidden and unthematized), but also a refreshingly candid autobiographical exploration of what philosophy can contribute to the elucidation of existential questions.
A question that one must always ask when reading any text is whether anything was redundant, or anything that should have been pursued further. In Martinez's case, I found nothing redundant, and much about which I wished she had extended herself more. I do not see this as a failure but rather as a success of her text: she picked my philosophical imagination. Let me just bring up two lines of investigation that she embarks upon but which she leaves us to pursue on our own, probably due to "space constraints" imposed by publishers bent on cutting books because of market imperatives. The first is to a fascinating question about the role of parents as mediators between and bridges of cultural traditions, and the second is...