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American Quarterly 53.4 (2001) 733-743
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What's Love Got to Do With It?:
Consciousness, Politics and Knowledge Production in Chela Sandoval's Methodology of the Oppressed
Ruby C. Tapia
University of California, San Diego
An identity is questioned only when it is menaced, as when the mighty begin to fall, or when the wretched begin to rise, or when the stranger enters the gates, never, thereafter, to be a stranger: the stranger's presence making you the stranger, less to the stranger than to yourself. Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self; in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the dessert, through which robes one's nakedness can always be felt, and sometimes, discerned. This trust in one's nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one's robes.
James Baldwin, The Devil Finds Work 1
Chela Sandoval's Methodology of the Oppressed is, to use Baldwin's analogy, the outsider who has entered the gates of some of the most apparently incongruous methodological and theoretical positions, defamiliarizing their tenets in order to illuminate their dialogic origins, their possibilities for co-articulation, and the potential for their "occupants" to discard the robes muffling radical cultural critique, suffocating [End Page 733] social transformation. In this brilliantly innovative work, Sandoval demands that (all) intellectuals interested in democratizing power trust their nakedness enough to venture into new political, theoretical territories, to explode (inter)disciplinary and identificatory boundaries, to listen to and participate in conversations heretofore largely inaudible across borders of subjectivity. If this characterization of Sandoval's work seems abstract, if its imagery discomforts, then it has been effectively inspired by the word and spirit of a most rigorous, practical and practice-able political science: Sandoval's science of love.
Molded with material from such apparently "different" knowledges as those put forth by Frederic Jameson, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Roland Barthes, Methodology of the Oppressed feels through and across material and theoretical histories of first world powers and third world struggles, carving a path toward what Sandoval outlines in part four as "a hermeneutics of love in the postmodern world." Stirred in part by Roland Barthes' meditations on love in Incidents, The Pleasure of the Text, and A Lover's Discourse, Sandoval re-members these texts' connections to the decolonial theory of Frantz Fanon, Jacques Derrida, and Emma Perez, among others, as well as their applicability to contemporary predicaments of culture, subjectivity, and politics. She weaves together the theoretical narratives presented by each of the thinkers that she engages to construct not another narrative but a manner of story-telling and theory-making that attempts to take seriously and move always beyond the repertoire of intellectual and political possibility articulated in individual bodies of critical theory, whether they be post-structuralist, post-modern, post-colonial or strict identity-based bodies. Even as Sandoval calls attention to the weaknesses and would-be despairing moments inherent in the theoretical formulations that she engages, her analyses are immanently productive because they challenge the racialized "apartheid of theoretical domains" (chapter 3), (per)forming new terms, new possibilities, new alliances in intellectual being and importantly, social movement. Without a doubt, the love in Sandoval's Methodology has everything to do with social movement. It is love as social movement that is, ultimately, her object of study. It is love as social movement that inspires the dialogue she transcribes and furthers between intellectuals (such as Frederic Jameson and Gloria Anzaldúa) whose interests and formulations are widely perceived to be divergent, at best, and incompatible at worst. [End Page 734]
What Sandoval's location at the nexus of ethnic studies, women's studies, cultural studies, and American studies compels her to demonstrate is that intellectual-activists in these...