- Slippery Subjectivity
Frederick Luis Aldama and Tess O’Dwyer, eds.
University of Pittsburgh Press
168 Pages; Cloth, $45.00
This is a welcome and well-conceived volume on the extraordinary work of Giannina Braschi, a Puerto Rican writer and consummate New Yorker whose creative decolonizing of aesthetics and culture deserves sustained critical engagement. Braschi is best known for three works in particular. El imperio de los sueños (1988 — retranslated into English by Tess O’Dwyer as Empire of Dreams ), is a feast of experimentation, a genre-defying exploration of a poetic dream world connected, sometimes, by New York City as well as by Braschi’s capacious reading of poetry in history. Spanish, like New York, is stretched and remade in Braschi’s poetry as she animates every character, jumping in and out of identities in a crazy whirl highly evocative of the kinesis of the Big Apple (including little bits of Macy’s, Shakespeare, and the Beatles). A second path-breaking work is Braschi’s Spanglish novel, Yo-Yo Boing! (1998), which understands the Latinx experience of the city as hybrid, contested, and bi-linguistically explosive (variations on the two “I”s of the title, and the clash between them). The third work in this informal trilogy of tribulation is a novel written primarily in English. United States of Banana (2011) is not all over the place for the sake of accumulation (as seen in capitalism, imperialism, and colonization) but seeks to articulate a counter narrative, a calling to account of US adventures (in Puerto Rico, most obviously) that wonders aloud whether the rhetoric of freedom symbolized by Lady Liberty might best be freely refigured by imagined characters, including Braschi in the novel, who sense that the unstable state of language does not automatically secure a united state in its name. By turns playful and polemical, Braschi’s writing troubles genres not least to question the formulations of identity meant to fill them. It is a testimony to the editors and contributors of Poets, Philosophers, Lovers that they are able to convey the energy, wit, and aesthetic nuance of Braschi’s timely interventions.
In his introduction to the volume, Frederick Luis Aldama comments on the range of Braschi’s artistic expression, in performance, poetry, and fiction, as well as her critical works that span the genuflections of modernity and its afterlives. Aldama usefully links Braschi’s work to a number of pertinent cultural genealogies, including the Nuyorican scene of the Eighties, contemporary Latinx “canon benders” like Machado, Acevedo, and Ayala, queer and feminist matrices that include Peri Rossi, Hélène Cixous, Clarice Lispector, Gertrude Stein, and Marguerite Duras, and, most importantly, a Puerto Rican anti-colonial culture, a “symbolic aspiration” as Acosta Cruz terms it, that casts doubt on the baleful benevolence of the United States towards its putative “territory” to the south. Aldama also raises the issue of “translanguaging,” a translation problematic that undoes the either/or code-switching of Spanish and English in favor of a kind of hybrid heuristics. All languages are sites of rearticulation (that is what makes them languages) but their combined and uneven relations with one another are historically concrete, and Braschi channels and lives that vibrant specificity.
The book is divided into three parts, with the first five essays addressing Braschi’s challenging approach to cultural forms through Latinx identity. One of the difficulties of reading Braschi is that she insistently sanctions peripeteia and the discursive reverie of peripatetics, so critics are tempted to “yo-yo boing!” their approaches as a mark of acknowledgement and solidarity. This is not necessarily a bad reflex, of course, (in criticism, as in art and translation, one must take on the “mystery of things”) but generally the artist is better at it and this is another reason to appreciate the current volume, since its contributors do not allow the “liquidity” of Braschi’s work, as Moreno-Fernandez puts it, to drown their own, and thus they illuminate the event of writing in both. There is much discussion of language on...