- A Praxis of ParataxisEpistemology and Dissonance in Lucha Corpi’s Detective Fiction
Chicana novelist and poet Lucha Corpi has been ignored by much of the academic literary establishment. She is rarely included in courses on literatures of the United States or even in courses on contemporary women writers. Occasionally Corpi's work might appear in a course on multiethnic writers, although most frequently her texts are read in those rare courses focused specifically on Chicana or Latina writers. It is possible to locate some critical appraisals of her literary production, but, for a broader readership, Corpi has been made invisible. This is a loss to our students, our colleagues, and—in what will surely sound like hyperbole—to our society.
In her novels Eulogy for a Brown Angel (hereafter cited as E)1 and Cactus Blood (CB), Corpi challenges conventional portrayals of "the detective." Her protagonist Gloria Damasco is not only a Chicano woman but also a middle-aged mother who, at the beginning of this series, is employed as a speech therapist—hardly a standard vocation, even for an amateur detective. Corpi also uses the detective novel, a genre that purportedly has only entertainment value, to engage in serious social critique and to locate the contemporary experiences of Chicanas/Chicanos squarely within U.S. society and history. Tim Libretti points out that Corpi joins other contemporary writers such as Sherman Alexie and Walter Mosley who have "appropriated the popular genre of detective fiction in order . . . to forward [End Page 89] new conceptions informed by an historical perspective of the racial experience in the U.S." (1999, 61). In fact, the antiwar protest of the 1970 National Chicano Moratorium and the 1973 United Farm Workers' (UFW) strike and grape boycott inhabit leading roles in Corpi's work.
These two novels address many important issues, including the treatment of Vietnam veterans, pesticide contamination, and the sexual abuse of illegal immigrant women who are domestic workers. In this essay I focus on two specific issues with profound social consequences: (1) racism within the criminal justice system of the United States and (2) the problems that inhere with unquestioned belief in scientific objectivity. I use these examples to suggest the ways in which Corpi's detective fiction offers productive models of living in a world filled with multiple cultures and consciousnesses. As I analyze the ability of Gloria Damasco to balance competing and potentially conflicting cultures, Corpi's contribution to social justice struggles becomes clear. I discuss the interplay between Corpi's novels and conceptual frameworks offered by two contemporary feminist theorists, Susan Stanford Friedman and Chela Sandoval, to explore how Corpi's novels help us envision activism and social change. I end by briefly pointing to the implication of Corpi's work for a praxis of equality and justice.
Kimberly J. Dilley argues that "women's detective stories illustrate their [women's] ambivalence toward law and the establishment" (1998, 59). According to Dilley this ambivalence occurs because the law is constructed to benefit men and privilege male interest. Corpi builds on this observation in her novels as she inserts the question of ethnicity and considers how ethnicity in any social context produces group identification and dis-identification. In the United States people of color have been both inside and excluded from the justice system. The rates of incarceration for people of color (particularly African American men) are disproportionate to their presence in the population. Yet despite this hypervisibility—or perhaps because of it—people of color cannot depend on the criminal justice system to protect them, and the racism of the big city police force underpins both of Corpi's novels. Both the farm workers' strike and the antiwar Moratorium are interrupted by excessive police violence and brutality and, [End Page 90] in some cases, murder.2 But we also see evidence of racist practices in more subtle ways. In Eulogy Gloria calls the police department to report her discovery of a dead child on the street; the murdered child turns out to be young Michael Cisneros. She is asked her name. Gloria thinks; "I hesitated. A Spanish surname always meant a delay of at least...