- Overlapping and Interlocking Frames for Humanities Literary Studies:Assia Djebar, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Gloria Anzaldúa
This article calls for more comparative perspectives among four cognate fields of study: postcolonial, feminist, ethnic, and francophone studies. Following the insights of Gloria Anzaldúa, Chela Sandoval, Gayatri Spivak, and Ella Shohat, I argue for decolonial feminist practices in comparative research. I provide specific examples of such decolonial feminist scholarship through comparing and contrasting multilingual strategies in the works of three transnational feminist writers: francophone Algerian writer Assia Djebar, anglophone postcolonial filmmaker and writer Tsitsi Dangarembga from Zimbabwe, and Chicana essayist and poet Gloria Anzaldúa. The presence of indigenous, national, or ethnic languages in texts written in English or French defamiliarizes these dominant languages for native speakers of French or English, and makes those languages more hospitable to native speakers of Arabic, Shona, or Spanish. I demonstrate how understanding the linguistic subtleties of the texts allows for more nuanced, culturally-relevant feminist interpretations of the message of the works.
This article addresses the need for more comparative perspectives among four cognate fields of study: postcolonial, feminist, ethnic, and francophone studies.1 Francophone studies is the analysis of literature and culture produced in French by authors coming from former French colonies; postcolonial studies represents the theories, histories, and literature emerging from former British colonies; U.S. ethnic studies analyzes the socio-political conditions as well as the literary and cultural productions of people of color in the U.S.; and feminist studies proposes theories taking into account perspectives committed to women's liberation worldwide. I first outline my general argument, and then provide specific examples of decolonial feminist scholarship through an examination of multilingual strategies in the [End Page 22] works of three transnational feminist writers: francophone Algerian writer Assia Djebar, anglophone postcolonial filmmaker and writer Tsitsi Dangarembga from Zimbabwe, and Chicana essayist and poet Gloria Anzaldúa.
Anzaldúa's theorization of borderlands is invaluable to developing the concept of "overlapping and interlocking" frames of analysis (Donchin 2004, 320). Anzaldúa differentiates borders that act as arbitrary lines separating two discrete countries from borderlands, areas around the borders that serve to blur the boundaries and are sites of ambivalence and tension as well as transition and intellectual expansion (1999, 25). While Anzaldúa was writing about a real borderland, the one separating and uniting Mexico and the U.S., her paradigm-shifting work contributed to a reformulation of Chicano/a studies as "border studies" (the work of Paul Gilroy  a few years later contributed to a similar reformulation of Black/African American studies as "Black Atlantic"/Africana studies). This coincided with the beginnings of a sustained interest in transnational frameworks in academia. The influence of these two scholars' works went far beyond ethnic or feminist studies, and contributed to profound reorientations in many areas of humanities research (Castillo 2006, 260-61).
In an important essay on the centrality of Anzaldúa's work, Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano cautions against "universalizing the theory of mestiza or border consciousness, which the text painstakingly grounds in specific historical and cultural experiences" (1998, 13) in order to preclude "[a]ppropriative readings" in which everyone becomes a mestiza and difference and specificity are erased (14; see also Phelan 1997; Castillo 2006). While I agree with Yarbro-Bejarano that what Emma Pérez (1999) would call Anzaldúa's "decolonial imaginary" should not be flattened out by a postmodern translation of the concept of borderlands that would erase its historical and cultural grounding by turning it into a disembodied metaphor that all can come to claim, it is also important to remember that Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera has at least two levels of address: one deals with the specificity of the Chicana/o history in the U.S./Mexican borderlands; the other seeks to make a space for Chicanas/os and others whose identities cannot be reduced to binaries in a variety of locations, including the academy. Anzaldúa's first words in Borderlands/La Frontera emphasize this very multiplicity of addresses: "The actual physical borderland that I'm dealing with in this book is the Texas-U.S. Southwest/Mexican border. The...