MANGROVE POETICS: WRITING COMMUNITY IN HISPANIC CARIBBEAN DIASPORAS by Karen Rebecca Denise O’Regan A DISSERTATION SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE AND POSTDOCTORAL STUDIES (Hispanic Studies) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver) August 2020 © Karen Rebecca Denise O’Regan, 2020 ii The following individuals certify that they have read, and recommend to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for acceptance, the dissertation entitled: Mangrove Poetics: Writing Community in Hispanic Caribbean Diasporas submitted by Karen O’Regan in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Hispanic Studies Examining Committee: Dr. Alessandra Santos, Hispanic Studies Supervisor Dr. Kim Beauchesne, Hispanic Studies Supervisory Committee Member Dr. Jon Beasley-Murray, Hispanic Studies Supervisory Committee Member Dr. William E. French, History University Examiner Dr. Jessica Stites Mor, History University Examiner iii Abstract How do writers of Hispanic Caribbean diasporas write community in a transborder era? This dissertation focuses on contemporary literature of the Cuban and Dominican diasporas that challenges notions of belonging as tied to a specific place, nationality, culture, or social group. Examining works by Severo Sarduy, Achy Obejas, Loída Maritza Pérez, and Junot Díaz, this project argues that such writing redefines the parameters of coexistence to imagine solidarities that escape categorization. Rather than affirming identities limited to a Cuban, Dominican, or North American body politic, these texts invite the reader to contemplate commonalities that privilege negotiation over identity politics. As characters participate in intercontaminations of socio-cultural praxes, their connections form neither bounded nor undifferentiated collectivities but open rhizomes of relation with the world. They thus preclude any attempt to distinguish a singular race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender, or sexuality as the basis of their solidarity. This discussion of writing that reconsiders the performance of community takes shape in the pairing of Édouard Glissant’s concept of Relation and Giorgio Agamben’s community theory. These thinkers’ notions of human interaction across boundaries provide a framework for understanding how fiction problematizes discourses of exclusion and inclusion with a poetics of inessential sociality. Contributing to the dialogue on belonging in the literature of Hispanic Caribbean diasporas, this study opens space for research into narratives of unrepresentable communities and their dissonant potentialities. iv Lay Summary How do writers of Hispanic Caribbean diasporas write community in a transborder era? This dissertation focuses on contemporary literature of the Cuban and Dominican diasporas that challenges notions of belonging as tied to a specific place, nationality, culture, or social group. Examining works by Severo Sarduy, Achy Obejas, Loída Maritza Pérez, and Junot Díaz, this project argues that such writing redefines the parameters of coexistence to imagine solidarities that escape categorization. Rather than affirming identities limited to a Cuban, Dominican, or North American body politic, these texts invite the reader to contemplate commonalities that privilege negotiation over identity politics. v Preface This thesis is an original, unpublished, and independent work by the author. Chapter Four developed from my 2015 M.A thesis: “Longing for Dissonance: The Coming Community in The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) by Junot Díaz.” vi Table of Contents Abstract ........................................................................................................................................ iii Lay Summary ................................................................................................................................ iv Preface ........................................................................................................................................... v Table of Contents .......................................................................................................................... vi Acknowledgements .................................................................................................................... viii Dedication ...................................................................................................................................... ix Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 1 Chapter One: Desire and Metamorphosis: The Inessential Community in Severo Sarduy’s De donde son los cantantes (1967) ............................................................. 17 Sarduy’s Neobaroque Aesthetic ........................................................................................... 17 Reconfiguring Mestizaje ...................................................................................................... 20 The Irreducible Other ........................................................................................................... 27 The ‘Oriental’ Other ................................................................................................... 30 The ‘African’ Other and the Exhausted Sign .............................................................. 38 The Nation as Performance .................................................................................................. 46 Chapter Two: The Contrapuntal Gaze: Exile and Translocal Connections in Achy Obejas’s Days of Awe (2001) ......................................................................................... 52 Exile’s Re-routings .............................................................................................................. 55 Faith as Exclusion: Tactics for Survival .............................................................................. 63 Loss and ‘Olvido’ ....................................................................................................... 67 Translocal Contaminations ................................................................................................... 73 Transgressive Relations .............................................................................................. 74 A New Polyvocality ..................................................................................................... 80 Disruptive (Re)turns ............................................................................................................. 82 Uncovering Narratives of Longing ............................................................................. 91 Home Unbound ........................................................................................................... 98 A Secular Translocality ...................................................................................................... 106 Chapter Three: Topologies of Compassion: Navigating Trauma in Loída Maritza Pérez’s Geographies of Home (1999) ......................................................................... 113 The Enigma of Trauma ....................................................................................................... 114 Trauma and the Abject ............................................................................................. 122 Community in Crisis ........................................................................................................... 129 vii Discourses of Alienation .......................................................................................... 134 Language and Testimony ................................................................................................... 144 Survivor as Witness ............................................................................................................ 149 Chapter Four: Spanglish Corruptions: Reimagining Community through Textual Cannibalism in Junot Díaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) ............... 156 Repressed Histories ............................................................................................................ 161 The Face and the Faceless One ............................................................................... 163 The Plantation Full Circle ....................................................................................... 166 Alterity in the Dominican Diaspora ................................................................................... 168 Darkness in the Chaos of the Caribbean ................................................................. 174 Devouring the Word: Textual Cannibalism ....................................................................... 179 Anthropophagy and Cultural Renewal .................................................................... 180 Linguistic Cannibalism ............................................................................................ 184 Literary Cannibalism ............................................................................................... 187 Distorting Realism ....................................................................................... 190 Recuperating Fantasy .................................................................................. 194 Zafa and the Light of Potentiality ....................................................................................... 200 The Coming Community ........................................................................................... 205 Conclusion .................................................................................................................................. 213 Notes ............................................................................................................................................ 219 Works Cited ............................................................................................................................... 225 viii Acknowledgements I would like to express my profound gratitude to Dr. Alessandra Santos for her honest guidance and unsparing support as both academic supervisor and friend. The compassion with which Dr. Santos approaches her interactions with students promotes intellectual engagement across boundaries. I would also like to thank Dr. Kim Beauchesne for her valuable feedback and Dr. Jon Beasley-Murray for his critical eye and constant push for community. I owe much appreciation to the UBC Department of French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies, UBC Graduate Studies, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for their generous sponsorship of this project. Many thanks to my friends, colleagues, and mentors for inspiring encounters in literature and elsewhere: Upasana Thakkar, Charu Mittal, Olga Albarran Caselles, Liliana Castaneda, Jennifer Nagtegaal, Marcos Moscoso-Garay, Fabricio Tocco, Camilo Monje, Han Fei, Sara Barnard, Maria Julieta Cordero, Juan Carlos Rodríguez, Juan Felipe Hernández, Rodolfo Ortiz, Xana Menéndez Prendes, Gianluca Oluic, Derek Carr, Laura Moss, Rita DeGrandis, Sneja Gunew, Raúl Álvarez-Moreno, María Soledad Fernández, Enrique Manchón, and Brianne Orr. I am deeply grateful for the love and friendship of my translocal confidantes: Tina Hickey, Victor O’Regan, Braden Haggerty, Tanya Hillson, Angie Gerst, Awet Gebrehiwot, Alberta Ohenewah, Ayah Ouziel, Barbara Taylor, Tracy Hall, Nigel Todd, Heather Lill, Jas Gill, Joyce White, Patrick Latarius, Dominique Panebianco, Karl Chambers, Meg Haggerty, Richard Hillson, Ellie Van De Lagemaat, Ronnie Bishop, Paul Greig, Miriam Nuttal, and Robin Shumacker. Special thanks to Eamonn, Brigitta, Annette, Martina, and Rory O’Regan for your love extended over multiple terrain: Bandon, Krefeld, Montreal, Frankfield, Koforidua, Ottawa, Zaria, Letchworth, St. Augustine, Port Moresby, Gaborone, Altötting, Fukuoka, Barcelona, Adelaide, Seoul, Iqaluit, Kamloops, St. John’s, and Vancouver. Awekakamanao! Torin O’Regan-Latarius . . . you have made this a reality. ix Dedication For Torin, Erin, Seamus, and Mirin 1 Introduction . . . the taking place of every single being is already always common. —Georgio Agamben, The Coming Community What is a community? As we navigate the currents of globalization, the circuitous migrations of peoples across socio-political and cultural borders challenge the assumption that belonging requires identification with a unified, enclosed collective. This doctoral project explores the notion of community in the contemporary literature of Hispanic Caribbean diasporas. How do writers from Cuba and the Dominican Republic who spend much of their lives outside the Caribbean write their communities? Do their diasporic voices evoke a longing for rootedness, or do they reimagine the idea of belonging in a transborder era? These questions guide my research on the ways in which fiction written by migrants from the Hispanic Antilles deconstructs paradigmatic concepts of communal identity. Defining the term ‘community’ has become problematic across disciplines. According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Sociology (1994), “The sociological content of community has remained a matter for endless dispute . . . [as] there is no clear and widely accepted definition of just what characteristics of social interaction constitute the solidaristic relations typical of so-called communities” (72-73). Reflecting the conundrum of sociologists, there is little consensus on the meaning of community within critical theory. Those who espouse Marxist theory eschew the view that community is about culture rather than economic relationships. For many postcolonial theorists and poststructuralists, the idea of community as an idealized affirmation of a stable and essential identity belies the irreducible nature of human experience. These critics argue that conventional notions of community are founded on criteria of inclusion and exclusion 2 so that individuals can be identified and differentiated. Such divisions have become the cause of violent conflict throughout history. Echoing this debate within critical theory, the novel has begun to transcend boundaries as many authors have adopted supranational perspectives in their writing. In the texts I study, individuals with diverse and multiple cultural practices transform the spaces they inhabit into entanglements of interdependent relationships. As these connections are constantly reworked across political and cultural boundaries, they problematize the idea that communities have a cohesive essence. The intercontamination of epistemological and ontological perspectives confounds discourses of belonging that require the confirmation of a collective identity founded on continuity. Thus, despite the present right turn in international politics, Benedict Anderson’s definition of the nation as an act of collective imagination remains problematic for citizens who do not imagine their communities to be confined within exclusionary borders (Imagined Communities 6). With this dissertation, I hope to contribute to the dialogue on the literature of Hispanic Caribbean diasporas by analyzing texts that conceive of such alternative commonalities. Employing Giorgio Agamben’s theory of community at its intersection with Édouard Glissant’s concept of ‘Relation,’ I propose that the narratives of my study reveal an understanding of belonging that approaches Agamben’s idea of community as a being together of individuals in an inessential solidarity. The Corpus In my investigation of the ways contemporary authors of the Cuban and Dominican diasporas portray the changing realities of their communities, I focus on writers who challenge normative concepts of belonging. I use the term ‘normative’ to refer to the notion that belonging implies a 3 tie to a specific place, culture, religion, or social group as a marker of collective identity. My corpus comprises works in which a deterritorialized sense of sociality confounds such identifications:1 De donde son los cantantes (1967) by Severo Sarduy, Days of Awe (2002) by Achy Obejas, Geographies of Home (1999) by Loída Maritza Pérez, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) by Junot Díaz. Written in either Spanish, English, or Spanglish, these texts redefine the parameters of coexistence to imagine solidarities that escape national and transnational affinities. Rather than affirming identities limited to a Cuban, Dominican, or North American body politic, they favour open, translocal relations. Here I refer to Julia Verne’s understanding of translocal spaces as relational processes in which internal and external migration creates rhizomes of people, objects, and ideas.2 As these entities are not nations, their interconnections cannot be grasped as transnational. For example, a Hakka-speaking immigrant in Havana watching his daughter’s Dominican wedding in New York’s Loisaida engages in a translocal practice. These community relations emerge as fraught but generative processes that escape national discourse and a politics of inclusion in a multicultural society. I argue that the novels I examine extend this idea of translocality to imagine open, collective singularities.3 These narratives write Hispanic Caribbean diasporas as sites of cultural flow, where characters participate in intercontaminations of daily praxes that defy categorization: their cultural miscegenation thwarts any intention to distinguish a singular race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender, or sexuality as the basis of their commonality. While such collective anonymity follows a painful uprooting from familiar spaces of belonging, it can become a productive space of relationality. As individuals navigate porous socio-political borders, they experience a liminality that opens the potential for realizing a viable sense of community. These interstitial sites of becoming foster horizontally engaged processes that counter any 4 cosmopolitanism seeking to flatten human interaction with a harmonious, representable ideal. Each novel’s irreverence for the notion of closed collectivities invites the reader to contemplate an openness that privileges negotiation over conformity. In my discussion of art that calls for a reconsideration of the ways communities are conceived and performed, I address two questions: How do these texts write community in the Cuban and Dominican diasporas, and how do they engage readers to rethink established paradigms of belonging? A Poetics of Relation in the Coming Community Key to answering these questions is my theoretical framework, which takes shape in the pairing of Édouard Glissant’s concept of Relation and Giorgio Agamben’s community theory. These thinkers’ notions of human interaction across boundaries provide a basis for analyzing the way individuals and communities navigate Caribbean diasporas as topologies of cultural flux. Using their conceptions of community in close readings of the primary texts, I show how the binaries inherent to a politics of exclusion and inclusion dissolve beneath the dissonance of unrepresentable commonalities. I argue that these texts suspend boundaries predicated upon nationality and socio-cultural specifities to imagine communities described in Glissant’s view of cultural creolization and Agamben’s theory of the ‘coming community.’ In Poetics of Relation (1997), Glissant embraces disorder as integral to his notion of a creolizing poetics of the Caribbean, a limitless métissage as a relationality that diffracts its elements in a “consentual, not imposed, sharing” (Poetics 34).4 He uses the term chaos-monde to describe the fluid working of the world, which is “neither fusion nor confusion,” and in which mobility dissolves binaries: “Its hidden order does not presuppose hierarchies or pre-cellencies—neither of chosen languages nor of prince-nations. The chaos-monde is not a mechanism; it has no keys” (94). Neither chaotic nor aimless, the nomadic movement of migrants involves both a 5 process of deracination and “a dialectics of rerouting” consistent with “a will to identity, which is, after all, a search for a freedom within particular surroundings” (16, 20). This relational identity differs from rooted identities: Relational identity —is linked not to a creation of the world but to the conscious and contradictory experience of contacts among cultures; —is produced in the chaotic network of Relation and not in the hidden violence of filiation; —does not devise any legitimacy as its guarantee of entitlement, but circulates, newly extended; —does not think of a land as a territory from which to project toward other territories but as a place where one gives-on-and-with [yields to others] rather than grasps. Relation identity exults the thought of errantry and of totality.5 (144) Neither travellers, discoverers, nor conquerors, errant individuals move from the violence of a unique rootedness and “territorial intolerance” towards Others; they strive to know the world as relation while realizing this can never be achieved (20). Thus, errant thinkers do not seek the affirmation of an essential rootedness founded on lineage. Their gaze is always directed towards new horizons: “[E]rrant thought [. . .] silently emerges from the destructuring of compact national entities that yesterday were still triumphant and, at the same time, from difficult, uncertain births of new forms of identity that call to us” (18). Traversing Caribbean diasporas, migrants cast off the myths of national belonging to encounter new experiences of engaging with others. 6 Thus eschewing a longing for nation and genealogy as a lack of roots makes the commonality of errantry and exile, Glissant appropriates the rhizomatic thought of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. The principle behind Glissant’s ‘poetics of relation,’ in which “each and every identity is extended through a relationship with the Other," the rhizome describes the connections that occur between people, places, and things (11). These connections are envisioned as a horizontal root system that displaces the vertical arborescent structures of hierarchical order and classifications established over time. For Glissant, the rhizome characterizes Caribbean realities in which identity formation is a continual process contingent upon relationships with others. While physical and psychic displacements constitute the quintessential condition of the uprooted peoples of the Caribbean, this errantry promises a continual process of relation: an experience of deracinated co-belonging that favours the dissonance of difference over the utopia of a harmonious uniformity. To further support my argument, I link Glissant’s ‘poetics of relation’ with Agamben’s theory of the inessential community in The Coming Community (1993). Like Glissant, Agamben rejects any concept of community that imagines a unified collectivity founded on an exclusionary identity. He describes this notion of belonging as an imposition of a false sense of shared understanding that silences differences, and insists that a viable community thrives without a grounding in essence. This alternative community embraces both conflictual and convivial relationships mediated neither by any conditions of belonging, such as being Muslim, French, or Communist, nor by the absence of these conditions but by belonging itself (1-2). No longer rooted in identifications of race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender, and sexuality, belonging concerns itself with solidarities that cut across lines of difference. As boundaries become porous with a flux of open subjectivities not united in essence but scattered in existence, human beings 7 form an “absolutely unrepresentable community” (18, 24). Their commonality is never a fixed, passive site of affiliation but a process where being is always a becoming that undermines the body politic. Similar to Glissant’s ‘poetics of relation,’ this process opens up the possibility for new concepts of self and community as individuals negotiate interactions with similarly engaged singularities. Agamben calls these singularities “whatever singularities”; ‘whatever being’ indicates a singularity that is loved for its own sake, not for its individual qualities or its belonging to a general category: “Love is never directed to this or that property of the loved one . . . but neither does it neglect the properties in favor of an insipid generality (universal love): The lover [desires] the loved one with all of its predicates, its being such as it is” (2). Thus, ‘whatever being’ is a pure singularity—neither universal nor the essence of a particular identity—that makes possible a community of individuals in an inessential solidarity (17). Agamben uses the term “Irreparable” to describe this being such that what matters is how one lives as opposed to what one is: “The Irreparable is that things are just as they are, in this or that mode, consigned without remedy to their way of being . . . How you are, how the world is—this is the Irreparable” (89). As the ‘how’ eclipses the ‘what’ of existence, the coming community is always a present potentiality, not a future (or past) utopia. Through this double theoretical lens, I reveal how the texts I examine depict diasporic Caribbean communities as neither bounded, unified, nor undifferentiated collectivities but as open rhizomes of relation.6 Contributions to the Field While there is extensive scholarship on identity formation in Hispanic Caribbean diasporas, there is considerably less academic research on collectivities that go beyond transnational configurations of belonging. Most importantly for my purposes here, there has been no 8 discussion to date on how these texts coincide with Agamben’s theory of community at its intersection with Glissant’s ‘poetics of relation.’ My study contributes to the dialogue on belonging in the contemporary literature of Caribbean diasporas by proposing that Agamben’s theory of community offers a means of apprehending these writers’ experiences of communitas.7 In an era in which some continue to see the need for walled communities, fictive or otherwise, and others persist in imagining a harmonious multicultural ideal, assertions of identity continue to inform configurations of self and community. Similarly, recent scholarship continues to investigate alternative concepts of representable belonging in the literature of the Hispanic Caribbean and its diasporas. While recognizing an expanded notion of collectivity that subverts territorialized subjectivity, these studies remain invested in the idea of recognizable communal identifications for Caribbean migrants. In “Diasporic Disquisitions: Dominicanists, Transnationalism, and the Community” (2000), Silvio Torres-Saillant rejects the transnational paradigm. He challenges the view that the displaced peoples of Caribbean diasporas are not only rootless but borderless. Instead, he describes these migrants as diasporic (30), which implies both uprooting and rooting (35). Although this ontological elasticity permits them to be “neither this nor that,” he refuses to question narratives of identity as the transnationalists do (“Cross-Cultural” 59). Insisting that only the materially privileged can embrace multilocality without anguish, he claims the disenfranchised “crave for rootedness” and “want to be home,” not “foreign or alien” (“Diasporic” 35, 36). While this dissertation also problematizes transnational configurations of identity, I examine physical and psychic displacements that undermine the need to affirm stable affiliations with others. I argue that the novels I study rewrite ‘home’ as spaces of movement in 9 which different practices of connection are articulated without the need for an identifiable commonality. Similarly engaged in reconceptualizing the meaning of ‘home’ for Caribbean migrants, Dara Goldman values the mutable character of Caribbean communities that reterritorialize the rhetoric of insularity. In Out of Bounds (2008), she claims that with displacement “insular identity extends beyond geography and becomes a defining characteristic of perpetually shifting entities” (187). The translocality of contemporary communities fosters new loci of enunciation to destabilize conventional plots and structures so that desired subjectivity is at odds with the established vision of national spatiality (210). The resulting tension between conventional demarcations of identity and the contemporary conditions of Caribbean communities only confirms “a discourse of national identity based on movement through distinct insular topographies” (188). For example, in her analysis of how community self-definition in cyberspace challenges the primacy of the land as the locus of self-fashioning, the island as national allegory remains “highly crucial as the primary space of subject formation,” even as insular spaces are continually redefined in an increasingly globalized world (209). While for Goldman national territory becomes an allegorical space that can be productively reterritorialized (60), Juan Flores and Jorge Duany develop less politically grounded concepts of identity. In The Diaspora Strikes Back (2009), Flores’ notion of “cultural remittances” describes the cultural cross-pollination of migrants returning to the Caribbean. This counter-stream resulting from massive circular migrations and the continual transfer of cultural values and practices decenters normative concepts of identity (4). Nevertheless, he argues that although diasporic communities are no longer dependent on national or cultural demarcations of belonging, cultural innovation remains tied to movement between insular terrain and the 10 diasporic spaces from which to return ‘home’ (4). In other words, the cultural remittances he identifies rely on insular homelands and host nations as loci of a rooted sense of kinship. Similarly, although Jorge Duany moves towards the idea of a deracinated identity, he claims that connections to an insular homeland remain tied to exclusive cultural identifications. In Blurred Borders: Transnational Migration between the Hispanic Caribbean and the United States (2011), he explores the redrawing of borders by transnational migration, and recognizes that the identities of diasporic peoples cannot be contained within the territorial, socio-political, or linguistic discourses of nation states. However, he conceives of transnationalism as a middle ground concept, “between nearly all-inclusive and extremely exclusive” approaches to relations across borders and between mobile populations and non-migratory residents (21). In this focus on movement to and from Caribbean homelands, he does not investigate communities that fail to express loyalty to a home territory or an original culture. Two writers who study forms of self-fashioning that undermine such affiliations are Raphael Dalleo and Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel. These writers examine Caribbean texts that challenge politically and culturally imposed constructions of identity to imagine collective identities that do not rely on particular commonalities. In Caribbean Literature and the Public Sphere: From the Plantation to the Postcolonial (2011), Dalleo traces how literature has shaped the history of domination and resistance in the Caribbean. Acknowledging that claiming the end of coloniality in the Caribbean is problematic, he reconfigures the term “postcolonial” to signify the emergence of a new international regime (227). This view of postcoloniality contests the totalizing vision of Empire and its power as originating in the metropole to suggest postcolonial studies move the focus from Europe and the United States to the relations of capitalism and modern sovereignty with the rest of world (230). He is particularly interested in how Caribbean 11 writers reimagine public spaces and identities where “community building might be located even as political, social, and economic realities circumscribe the range of possibilities available” (2). This study is useful as the Anglophone, Francophone, and Hispanophone writers he examines rethink the intellectual’s public role and assumptions about race, class, and gender “and what sorts of identity can be public” in the Caribbean (238). Adding to this discussion of Caribbean literature that resists externally imposed concepts of identity, I focus on narratives of Hispanic Caribbean diasporas that exhaust the bounds of collective identity. Unlike Dalleo, Martínez-San Miguel takes the idea of coloniality to its limits in her study of diasporic communities that transcend nationalist frameworks. In Coloniality of Diasporas: Rethinking Intra-Colonial Migrations in a Pan-Caribbean Context (2014), she insists on the inadequacy of the concept of transnationalism, which takes the nation-state as a point of departure for theorizing migration in the Caribbean and its diasporas (1). Reworking Aníbal Quijano’s concept of the “coloniality of power,” she coins the term “extended colonialism” to describe the formation of identity discourses that emerge outside the borders, real or imagined, of the sovereign nation-state (7). From this approach, she conceives of an erotic episteme founded on the notion that “sexiles,” or sexualities in exile, perform an alterity that interrogates traditional political imaginaries (165). In her study, sensuality becomes an alternative framework to think about subjectivity that problematizes the exclusion of difference in the construction of identity. Nevertheless, she signals a form of identification that remains tied to a “new political and identity project” (195). In other words, in the social imaginary identifying communities remains a priority. Contributing to this dialogue on identity in Caribbean diasporas, my work draws attention to writers and collectivities whose commonality challenges traditional discourses of belonging to reinscribe community as an assemblage of irreparable singularities. 12 Structure This thesis comprises two parts, each of which deals with the ways the writers I discuss imagine collectivities from diverse diasporic spaces of the Hispanic Antilles. The first part looks at texts by writers of the Cuban diaspora, and the second part focusses on novels by writers from the Dominican Republic. Each chapter examines the writing of community through a different lens to show how diverse narratives of the Cuban and Dominican diasporas imagine irreducible collectivities. The specificity of each context allows me to address the different forms of community encountered in these texts and avoid universalizing the experiences of pluralistic lives. As I make connections between chapters, my premise evolves into a rhizomatic engagement with the themes I sketch below. My conclusion reviews the central claims of this dissertation to affirm the reimagining of community in the texts I study and consider new trajectories of inquiry. Chapter One introduces Severo Sarduy’s De donde son los cantantes (1967) as a valuable text for the study of contemporary literature of Hispanic Caribbean diasporas that challenges normative constructs of belonging. A Cuban of Spanish, African, and Chinese heritage, Sarduy recognized the contributions of the diverse cultures of Cuban society, whose official identity he problematized. In this text, his focus on the rhizomatic connections between these cultures becomes a point of departure for a subversion of the idea of a national Cuban essence. My critical analysis of Cantantes examines how Sarduy makes use of a neo-baroque aesthetic to explore the possibility of defining a Cuban identity. By superimposing various elements of this aesthetic—fragmentation, opacity, desire, and metamorphosis—Sarduy evokes a decentered subjectivity as materiality in continuous transformation. As his characters occupy multiple realities across contingent temporal and spatial registers, errantry, ambivalence, and mutability 13 characterize their experience of daily life. These characters’ constant metamorphosis and their rhizomatic connections with diverse cultures invite the reader to re-examine accepted paradigms of individual and collective identity. I argue that Sarduy’s neobaroque interpretation of lo cubano reveals a concept of solidarity that approaches Glissant’s idea of creolizing relationality and Agamben’s notion of the unrepresentable community. Chapter Two examines how affirming identity in a translocal context becomes equally problematic in Achy Obejas’s Days of Awe (2002). As Obejas’s characters navigate exile from Spain, Cuba, and the U.S, relationships between individuals take precedence over their various socio-economic, cultural, and political backgrounds. Their physical displacement results in a mental shift that can transform concepts of self and others, a condition that Edward Said claims affords exiles a contrapuntal awareness: they develop the capacity to criticize both the country of origin and the dominant narratives of a new habitual order. This plurality of vision fosters an “appreciative sympathy” that surpasses national and provincial limits so that exile becomes a dynamic trope of modern culture (Exile 186). As a means of fostering a secular caritas, Said insists, exiles must reconcile themselves to the reality that loss is inherent to both home and love and work through attachments (185). This perspective emerges in Days of Awe, where loss paradoxically strengthens ties founded on an unbounded and translocal sharing of experience. The entire text is premised on the notion of exile as a space of limbo in which individuals negotiate their collective singularity. This interstitial space is experienced in kairological time, which Agamben describes as “the abrupt and sudden conjunction where decision grasps opportunity and life is fulfilled in the moment” (Infancy 101).8 As the present, past, and future overlap, the characters explore possibilities for social renewal. My reading of Days of Awe 14 suggests Obejas’s rejection of transnational identities in favour of a translocal consciousness founded on compassion resonates with the idea of an inessential commonality. Chapter Three discusses Loída Maritza Pérez writing of deterritorialized individuals invested in the recuperation of past and present narratives with which to negotiate home as spaces of desire. In her novel, Geographies of Home (1999), the atrocities of the Trujillo dictatorship haunt self-exiled Dominicans who must reconsider the meaning of belonging in the face of continued physical and psychic torment in the U.S. For these immigrants, exile after fleeing El Trujillato becomes a condition that precludes the idea that commonality is tied to a politics of inclusion in a multicultural society. These individuals must navigate the uncanny return of the repressed past not to reconnect with established communities but to reveal home as a psychic space, one where relationships rather than identities matter. By interrogating the past, they afford themselves the opportunity to work through attachments, negative or positive, to foster sustainable relationships; however, engaging with others fails to guarantee productive results. This uncertainty becomes fundamental, for ambiguity fuels engagement with others so that the interaction between individuals becomes more meaningful than definitive outcomes. Negotiation, not judgement, subverts official histories and opens space for horizontal affiliations and unorthodox concepts of commonality. Through the lens of Cathy Caruth’s trauma theory, I show how Pérez problematizes the experience of trauma to undermine the notion of belonging as connected to socio-cultural identifications. I argue that the geographies of her title are psychic spaces in which the awareness of distinct realities allows for a sense of community as a being together without essence. Resisting the cultural norms that marginalize the disenfranchised in the Dominican Republic and the United States is similarly fraught in Junot Díaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life 15 of Oscar Wao (2007); however, my focus in Chapter Four is Díaz’s treatment of diasporic communities in terms of his literary style. In this text, the unspeakable horrors of the Trujillo regime become a ghostly character that haunts an immigrant family in the U.S., and gender and race emerge as inseparable threads in the narratives of traumatized individuals. Unlike Pérez’s text, however, much of Oscar Wao also addresses the repercussions of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic so that we see the characters’ alienation in two oppressive realities. The circuitous migrations of Díaz’s protagonists foster a sociality that resists the longing for national Dominican or American identifications. Rather than embrace a cultural bifocality with which to navigate a continued sense of estrangement from dominant discourses, these characters cultivate new ties across socio-cultural and political divides. I investigate Díaz’s portrayal of individuals and their culturally composite environment through the lens of Oswald de Andrade’s “Cannibalist Manifesto” (1928). I present his linguistic and literary anthropophagy as an innovative and ludic dialogism that rewrites past and present narratives of the Dominican diaspora. By thus undermining official memory, his poetics inspire a dialogue as to the meaning of community. This discussion shows how Díaz’s textual cannibalism narrates a fugue of Caribbean diasporic voices to evoke community as an assemblage of indeterminate, rhizomatic connections. In the following close readings, I examine the different ways in which Sarduy, Obejas, Pérez, and Díaz reconfigure belonging in Hispanic Caribbean diasporas, regardless of their individual national and cultural labels: Cuban/French, Cuban/American, Dominican/American, gay, straight, male, female etc. To this end, I focus on how they imagine horizontal enmeshings of social ties that escape collective identifications. I argue that by embracing open socio-cultural and linguistic contaminations in their texts, they narrate a productive relationality to engage in a 16 poetics of community building. Far from universalizing social interactions, their writing of community values connections between individual experiences of commonality. This call for social renewal depends on an appreciation of difference within an unidentifiable commonweal, without dismissing peoples who choose to affirm a particular identity. All social groups have the right to assume a common identity—whether based on culture, gender, ethnicity, class, age, or sexuality—with which to challenge discourses that persist in capturing their voices. Rather than offering readers prescriptive constructs, these authors of Caribbean diasporas suggest the potentiality of unrepresentable belonging. Speaking ‘beside,’ rather than ‘for’ others, they write the inessential community as a dissonance founded on compassion, a mangrove poetics. 17 Chapter One: Desire and Metamorphosis: The Inessential Community in Severo Sarduy’s De donde son los cantantes (1967) “El travesti no imita a la mujer. Para él, á la limite, no hay mujer, sabe . . . que ella es una apariencia” (“La simulación” 13).9 With this affirmation in 1982, Severo Sarduy crystalized his conception of being as a performative process, an idea that germinated in De donde son los Cantantes (1967). The novel opens with his transvestite protagonist reflecting on the crisis of modernity: “la pregunta de los sesenta y cuatro mil dólares [es] la definición del ser [porque] los dioses se fueron . . . se fueron todos” (12). With this allusion to Martin Heidegger’s conception of Entgötterung—the flight of the gods in the modern world—Sarduy interrogates the meaning of being to resist any notion of an ontological origin for the individual and the state. To this end, he appropriates the Spanish Baroque aesthetic of the 17th century and transforms it to explore Cuban culture, not to essentialize social groups but to write their mutability. In Cantantes, the diverse cultures of the island and the transvestites become points of reference for the destabilization of the idea of a fixed Cuban essence. As individuals occupy multiple realities across spatial and temporal registers, metamorphosis and ambiguity characterize their experience of the quotidian. This flux opens liminal spaces from which they can interrupt the cultural performance of their present. I argue that Sarduy’s Neobaroque interpretation of lo cubano engages the reader to re-examine normative paradigms of identity and imagine a solidarity that approaches Glissant’s creolizing poetics and Agamben’s notion of the unrepresentable community.10 Sarduy’s Neobaroque Aesthetic In “El barroco y el neobarroco” (1972), Sarduy laments the abuse of the term ‘barroco,’ which leaves it open to every possible interpretation and the danger of becoming an all-encompassing 18 aesthetic of “metonimización irrefrenable.” Paradoxically, he declares his intent to limit Baroque expression—“reducirlo a un esquema operatorio preciso”—for its codification as Latin American art of the 20th century. This reconfiguration of the Baroque becomes a schema of attributes he views as particular to Latin American art: artifice, parody, eroticism, reflection, and revolution. Articulating a new Baroque, Sarduy notes the convergences and crosscurrents of European Baroque and Latin American aesthetics. He values the Baroque as “la apoteosis del artificio, la ironía e irrisión de la naturaleza” but with regard to language rather than to histories and cultures (1386-1397). Similar to Agamben’s view of history as non-progressive and fractured, Sarduy’s concept of history allows for its disruption in kairological time as a means of reworking the present. His characters resemble Agamben’s ‘contemporary,’ the individual who claims the present as “my time” and breaks the continuity of history to foster “an encounter between times and generations” (“Contemporary” 41, 52). By thus dividing and interpolating time, these individuals adhere to the present while maintaining a distance from it; they perceive both its limitations and its potentials for the transformation of their immediate realities. Equally invested in the problematizing of linear history, Glissant insists on a confluence of times and spaces: “What we call the world today is not only the convergence of the histories of peoples that has swept away the claims of philosophies of History but also the encounters (in consciousness) among these histories and materialities of the planet” (Poetics 195-196). In the Caribbean, diffracted temporal registers and scattered histories undermine the notion that the different times of history form a hierarchical or chronological order (163). Like Glissant’s errant Antillean and Agamben’s contemporary, Sarduy’s characters occupy an in-between time full of possibility and can read histories in innovative ways to bring about an exposure for a process of renewal. Their present is a space of dissonance in which 19 potentiality is contingent on temporal connections and a movement of being towards its own irreducible becoming, not from a fixed past toward an inevitable future. This view of history departs from José Lezama Lima’s notion of the Baroque as the art of plutonism, in which cultures and histories create new forms of expression to become a Latin American counter-conquest (“Curiosidad” 80). By the same token, Sarduy dismisses Alejo Carpentier’s grounding of a New World Baroque superposition of styles in the realism of a cultural mestizaje arising from distinct colonial pasts (“Columnas” 73). For Sarduy, Latin American texts disengage from reality by practicing a Baroque artificialization through linguistic substitution, proliferation, and condensation. The result is an erotic excess of language as artifice, an element of Baroque desire he appropriates as a rhetorical strategy for the Neobaroque. Initially following Jacques Lacan’s theory of desire, Sarduy conceives of a Baroque eroticism characterized by an individual’s frustrated desire for the partial and residual object (a): an Other that remains an irreducible and therefore unrepresentable alterity. The impossibility of locating this Other means desire, a supplement to need and demand, is founded on a lack, implying its ludic repetition as an artificiality manifested in play with the object of desire. For this reason, the act of reproduction without the objective of procreation becomes an act of pleasure, and language loses its denotative function to be perverted by metaphor. The structure of this Baroque game of waste and excess is a reductive and incomplete reflection of all that surrounds (and transcends) it. However, Baroque eroticism differs from that of the Neobaroque: while the Baroque mirror reflects a universe of harmony, the Neobaroque image evokes a dissonance provoked by the desire for an unattainable object. No longer the product of an absolute logos bolstered by the authority of God and King, this reflection becomes an art of “destronamiento y la discusión” (“Barroco” 1403). I propose that the Neobaroque desire 20 for the Other in Cantantes propels the narrative to present the cultures of Cuba as equally inaccessible for an imagined Occidental logos. Sarduy’s aesthetic moves from an art founded on desire as lack to one in which desire stimulates a productive poetic of relations. His characters resemble Agamben’s ‘whatever beings’: singularities that are loved for their own sake rather than for their individual qualities or their belonging to a general category, such as Latin American mestizaje. Reconfiguring Mestizaje Writing Cantantes in Europe, where self-exile became banishment after the publication of his first novel, Gestos (1963), Sarduy lamented the Revolution’s privileging of ‘el hombre nuevo’ over Cuban plurality. A descendant of Chinese, African, and Spanish immigrants to Cuba, Sarduy recognized the contributions of diverse cultures in Cuban communities, while aiming to deconstruct the country’s official identity as a syncretic harmony rooted in history. Rejecting the idea of a Cuban society comprising a fusion of cultures, he valued the constant intercontamination of cultural elements and relations founded on contingent experience. This understanding of lo cubano approaches Glissant’s notion of creolization, a Baroque “rerouting” favoring “expansion” over “depth,” which depends on the processes of cultural mixing, not the contents on which these operate (Poetics 77, 89). For Glissant, relations between peoples are inspired by a “sacred motivation” and result in contaminations that undermine the imposition of models and foundational myths, whose hidden violence challenges the existence of the Other (121, 50). In Cantantes Sarduy disrupts traditional state-sanctioned means of conceiving community by imagining kinships born of present exigency, rather than affiliations based on consanguinity or pre-colonial history. With his focus on the rhizomatic nature of human 21 interaction, as opposed to arborescent social structures, the diverse cultures of the island become a point of departure for the subversion of the idea of a representable Cuban identity. This view coincides with Glissant’s description of a community’s relationship to the land not as an absolute ontological possession regarded as sacred, but as the basis for the complicity of relation, a Baroque defraction that goes beyond a mere meeting or synthesis of cultures (Poetics 147). That is, while the generalization of métissage in the Caribbean allowed the Baroque to become naturalized, the relations of peoples as creolizing processes transformed the Baroque from an aesthetic to a way of being-in-the-world (Poetics 78). Sarduy’s vision of cultural heterogeneity corresponds with Glissant’s rejection of métissage as a limited mixing of two cultures that can concentrate once again to become an exclusive affiliation (92). Cantantes breaks with past conceptions of cultural mestizaje in Latin America to affirm the multiplicity and diversity of rhizomatic communities and their constant transformation. For centuries, the promotion of cultural mestizaje has been seen as a means of social change in Latin America and a panacea for the socio-political fragmentation of the continent. In The Rise and Fall of the Cosmic Race (2004), Grace Miller affirms “mestizaje can be used as a lens through which to read the complexities and contradictions of Latin American social and literary history at both the regional and local levels” (2). From Inca Garcilaso de la Vega to Fernando Ortiz and Gloria Anzaldúa, the desire for a viable cultural mix has inspired a utopic vision of a distinct Latin American identity. Simón Bolívar declared in his “Carta de Jamaica” (1815), “no somos indios, ni europeos, sino una especie media entre los legítimos propietarios del país y los usurpadores españoles” (192). Similarly, in “Nuestra América” (1891), José Martí called for a united America as a countermeasure against North American expansionism, insisting “No hay odio de razas, porque no hay razas” (38). This intent to reconcile the cultural differences 22 of the population leads to the quintessential expression of mestizaje in José Vasconcelos’s La raza cósmica (1925). With this text, Vasconcelos developed the visions of Bolívar and Martí to propose a Latin America founded on the physical and spiritual synthesis of the descendants of African, Indian, Asian, and European heritage for the creation of a fifth universal race (5). This essentially racist discourse privileged those of European descent and failed to recognize other sectors of the population, such as cultural groups of the Caribbean and Central America. As a project promising to realize a semiotic and somatic mix of the population, the concept of mestizaje continued to prove problematic in a century characterized by the increasing mobility of peoples and their belief systems. In an effort to address this issue, Fernando Ortiz coined the term ‘transculturación’ in Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar (1940) to describe the complex exchange of European and African cultures in Cuba. In this text, Ortiz juxtaposes the cultural homogenization of sugar production and the heterogeneity of the tobacco industry to offer a metaphoric counterpoint of the dominant discourses of the island. Dismissing concepts of acculturation and deculturation, which privileged the dominant European culture, he determines that transculturation more adequately expresses life in what Mary Louise Pratt describes as ‘contact zones’:11 “[La] transculturación . . . no consiste solamente en adquirir una distinta cultura . . . el proceso implica también . . . la pérdida o desarraigo de una cultura precedente . . . una parcial desculturación, y . . . la consiguiente creación de nuevos fenómenos culturales que pudieran denominarse de neoculturación” (90). Developing Bronislaw Malinowski’s concept of neo-culturation, Ortiz maintains that cultural exchange produces new ways of being that conserve aspects of original cultures while remaining distinct from them.12 From the “amorfismo” of the 23 sugar industry and the “infinito polimorfismo” of the tobacco trade, emerged communities characterized by the intercultural contamination of diverse peoples (19). In these ‘zones of contact,’ however, the heterogeneous communities of Cuba do not realize an idyllic harmony. On the contrary, for Ortiz the conflictive character of this diversity constitutes the obverse side of social experience as transculturation involves the “doble trance de desajuste y de reajuste, de desculturación o exculturación y de aculturación o inculturación y al fin de síntesis, de transculturación” (87).13 This cultural dynamism discards cultural homogeneity to reveal transculturation as a continuous performance of identity in transition, characterized as much by the colliding of subjectivities as by their commonality. Lezama Lima’s and Carpentier’s understanding of the Baroque as a natural expression of American cultures diverged from Ortiz’s notion of mestizaje in valuing cultural syntheses rather than a transcultural counterpoint. In “La curiosidad barroca” (1957), Lezama Lima celebrates a Latin American way of life founded on the Inca-Hispanic and the African-Hispanic syncretisms of the region (106). The beneficiaries of this cultural mixing never lose sight of their deep-rooted histories as they negotiate lives “errante en la forma y arraigadísimo en sus esencias” (80). Similarly, in “La ciudad de las columnas” (1964), Carpentier describes a unique Caribbean Baroque aesthetics arising from the superposition of cultures: “[un] estilo sin estilo que a la larga, por proceso de simbiosis, de amalgama, se erige en un barroquismo peculiar que hace las veces de estilo, inscribiéndose en la historia de los comportamientos urbanísticos” (63). Moreover, this Antillean real maravilloso is inspired by the need to name things (“Problemática” 41). Following Eugenio D’Ors’s conception of the modern Baroque in Lo barroco (1944), both writers locate the spirit of Baroque in urban transcultural environments, where new forms of identity are forged across times and cultures. 24 Unlike the above-mentioned visionaries, Sarduy’s narrative expresses the desire for a fluid cultural plurality that remains unidentifiable. In Cantantes, the binaries of Ortiz’s counterpoint disappear with a Cuban fugue of unknowable subjectivities. In typically Baroque fashion, the text blurs the line between the I and the Other, and being and seeming to be, underscoring the multiple fragmentation and mutability of Cuban communities.14 In this way Sarduy’s text prefigures Antonio Benítez-Rojo’s theory of cultural mestizaje in La isla que se repite: el Caribe y la perspectiva posmoderna (1989), in which he reformulates Ortiz’s counterpoint through a postmodern lens. Benítez-Rojo values Ortiz’s dialectic as a point of departure for understanding the cultural complexity of the Caribbean. Nevertheless, he maintains that the discourses of sugar and tobacco production are relational rather than binary: flux, not polarity, characterizes everyday life. This emphasis on the ambiguity of the dynamics of power within the plantation system permits him to problematize traditional notions of these power structures; while Western and non-Western cultural narratives have, as Ortiz suggests, influenced Caribbean culture in different ways, they are interdependent aspects of Antillean life. Therefore, the negative image of the sugar mill machinery can become a positive metaphor for Caribbean culture, which he describes as “una máquina de flujo y de interrupción a la vez; … una máquina tecnológico-poética” (xxiv). Neither Western nor purely autochthonous, this machine is born of “una sabiduría ‘otra,’” in which scientific knowledge and traditional knowledge coexist as differences within the same system (xxiii). In Benítez-Rojo’s reappropriation of Plantation discourse, then, the line between object and subject is blurred as perspectives multiply and the system is at once Other and I. To better describe the complementarity that occurs with this erasure of fixed boundaries, he alludes to the chaos theory of quantum physics where particularity and universality overlap (iii). The supposed 25 order of the Plantation becomes a meaningful chaos in which each island of the Caribbean repeats itself “desplegándose y bifurcándose hasta alcanzar todos los mares y tierras del globo.” With each iteration, the island engages in a new process of becoming (iv). Along with the chaos described in Glissant’s Poetics of Relation, this disorder predates postmodernism as a Caribbean discourse from which emerge new ontologies and epistemologies. For Glissant, the plantation was a focal point for the development of multiple relationships that could foster agented communities: “Within this universe of domination and oppression, of silent or professed dehumanization, forms of humanity stubbornly persisted. In this outmoded spot, on the margins of every dynamic, the tendencies of our modernity begin to be detectable” (Poetics 65). While plantations in the Caribbean were enclosed by boundaries crossed on pain of severe punishment or death, the workers’ destitution obliged them to risk the repercussions of breaking rules to engage in various odd jobs to supplement their income. Such Certeauian tactics of subversion within the rigid structure of their lives resulted in a fragmentation of the capitalist system.15 In addition, the plantation’s dependence on international commerce meant that the planters had neither control over the market nor the ability to develop an independent monetary system. These factors, combined with the intercontaminations within the social hierarchy, complicated relationships on the plantation and undermined the notion of the plantation as an invulnerable bastion of progress. Thus, according to Glissant, socially “the Plantation is not the product of a politics but the emanation of a fantasy . . . [where] the contradictions become madness,” resulting in a new communicability (67). Similar to Benítez-Rojo’s Plantation discourse and Glissant’s poetics of Relation, in which “every subject is an object and every object a subject" (xx), Sarduy’s Neobaroque text obscures the line between object and subject. While perspectives multiply to create an 26 anamorphic vision of human experience, subjectivity emerges as the I and the Other at once. Of critical importance in Cantantes is this exchange of dualism for multiplicity, which concurs with Gilles Deleuze’s ontological, non-reductive materialism in which being unfolds continuously. Borrowing from Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz’s notion of the fold as generator of new realities, Deleuze refers to Baroque architecture where “the problem is not how to finish the fold, but how to continue it, to have it go through the ceiling, how to bring it to infinity” (Fold 34). As constantly folding material, individuals are haecceities, consisting “entirely of relations of movement and rest between molecules or particles, capacities to affect and be affected” (Plateaus 261). Similarly, for Sarduy individual and collective being constitute a process characterized by a folded multiplicity. As haecceities, human beings form part of a material continuum united with the world through relations of affect. Both the I and the Other, then, embody an undefinable process of becoming as they disappear within a relation of spaciotemporal folding and unfolding on a plane of immanence. As Antonio Férez-Mora points out (516-516), Sarduy evokes the materiality of being in unceasing transformation in his 1991 poem “Palabras del Buda en Sarnath”: El sujeto no es uno; sino un haz de fragmentos dispersos que a su vez —sin origen textura o nitidez— se dividen en otros . . . (“Poemas” 241) In these lines, the Neobaroque conception of being as assemblage superimposes various elements: the individual, community, fragmentation, dispersion, opacity, and metamorphosis, evoking a decentered subjectivity. As haecceities that divide themselves to become others, individuals are assemblages of materiality engaged in unending mutation; involved in a relation 27 of folding and unfolding as an indefinable process of becoming, both I and Other belie the existence of a reducible alterity. The Irreducible Other From the first page of Cantantes, the Other imagined by dominant discourse appears as a fiction, for Sarduy refuses to present the multiplicity of a people as an exoticized homogeneity. In his treatment of the Chinese, African, and Spanish cultures through the experiences of his nomadic transvestites, Auxilio y Socorro, it is not possible to distinguish any definitive voice. Sarduy’s characters and their communities intercontaminate to such an extent that neither individuals nor their communities can be recognized as representative of an essential identity. Indeed, these individuals go through so many transformations they can hardly be called protagonists. In the introduction, “Curriculum cubense,” Auxilio y Socorro are in a self-service café examining several photos in which the first appears in different scenes: “Auxilio está en guayabera, con la cara pintada de amarillo y un gorro, tomando café, delante de una torre de cartón, o una carroza, o un mausoleo con letras arábigas” (17). On the surface this might be a description of a multicultural moment par excellence. The tower represents the Spanish culture; the carnival float evokes Cuba’s African heritage; and the mausoleum with its Arabic lettering symbolizes the Orient. However, it soon becomes clear that these are far from totalizing images of the Other; and the superimposed figure of the transvestite occupying fleeting moments in each photo underscores the fact that these images are social constructs. A more adequate interpretation of this scene would be that through a parody of an essentialist vision of the world, Sarduy exposes this limited view as a fiction; like the 47 blurry versions of her in the photos, Auxilio’s identity remains indiscernible.16 In each repeated image, Auxilio manifests distinct properties occasioned by different guises, moods, or temporal spaces. 28 These exposures of various moments of being subvert the idea of stable individual and collective identities and introduce the reader to a reconceptualization of lo cubano. As Sarduy affirms, “Tres culturas se han superpuesto para constituir la cubana — española, africana y china—; tres ficciones que aluden a ellas constituyen este libro” (151). With these words, Sarduy approaches a Glissantean understanding of diversity within communities as a dynamic force, similar to Deleuze’s notion of differences as constitutive of a process of individuation (Difference 247):17 “Diversity, the quantifiable totality of every possible difference, is the motor driving universal energy, and it must be safeguarded from assimilations, from fashions passively accepted as the norm, and from standardized customs” (Poetics 30). The photos present Auxilio’s Baroque polymorphism and a palimpsest of cultural fictions to prepare the reader for a destabilizing of the stereotypes produced by an imagined community. By thus suggesting that the Other conceived by his audience does not exist, Sarduy subverts logocentric conceptions of reality to reveal the void that underlies all configurations of reality, whether they be ‘Western’ or ‘Eastern.’ The first of many such subversions, this scene foregrounds the ambivalence inherent to all cultural stereotypes while undermining an Orientalism that aims to exoticize alterity. From the fragments of a putative identity emerges a Cuban community that cannot be essentialized. Julia Kushigian interprets this treatment of Orientalist constructs in Cantantes as a productive engagement with the Other that is unique to Latin American literature. In Orientalism in the Hispanic Literary Tradition: In Dialogue with Borges, Paz, and Sarduy (1991), she breaks with Edward Said’s definition of Orientalism as “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (Orientalism 3), proposing that this Orientalist discourse differs from that of the Hispanic tradition. Her argument is that in Hispanic texts the Orient does not represent binary oppositions but rather a more benevolent syncretism. This is because 29 although Spain emerged as a colonizing power after the Reconquista, the prolonged cultural contact between the Arabs and the Romance cultures in the peninsula resulted in a polyglossia without precedent in Europe (Dialogue 2). In her view, this cultural connection between the Orient and the Hispanic world demonstrates “a spirit of veneration and respect for the Orient unparalleled by other Western European nations” (3). Furthermore, she argues that in dialoguing with the East, Hispanic Orientalism strives not only to engage with the Other but also to better understand the nature of the Hispanic I. Rather than reinforce binaries that essentialize cultures, this commitment ties the Hispanic tradition and the literary theory of the West to Eastern philosophy, literature, and art. The resulting fusion of opposites and the integration of the cultural differences and similarities reveals a respect for diverse realities and an invitation to imagine other ways of being (13). Kushigian’s disagreement with Said highlights the difficulty of attributing a definitive meaning to the term ‘Orientalism.’ While Said emphasizes the destructive aspects of Orientalist thought in European and North American texts, Kushigian values its restorative role in Hispanic literature. Nevertheless, both Orientalisms coincide in their use of an imagined Orient to construct an identity. That is, while there are various concepts of what constitutes the Orient in the differing Orientalist visions, all are fantasies with no basis in the reality of any country of Asia. On the contrary, ‘the Orient’ is a monolithic term that ignores the plurality of the world as Orientalism’s ultimate objective is to imagine a fictive Other to create another reality. In Cantantes, this tension between fantasy and reality produces an ambivalence that subverts the idea of homogeneous communities and opens space for the transformation of society. 30 The ‘Oriental’ Other This ambivalence towards an imagined Orient emerges clearly in the first chapter of Cantantes titled “Junto al río de cenizas de rosa.” A Spanish general and tourist in Havana’s Chinese quarter is obsessed with a soprano of the Shanghai Theater Opera, Flor de Loto. However, it soon becomes clear that the military chief pursues a fantasy as the soprano is a Chinese man disguised as an opera singer, and his passion for the singer emerges as a symptom of the equivocal relationship he negotiates with a fictional ‘Orient’; as a construct of dominant discourse, she is at once the object of his ardor and of his aversion. This dualistic desire for the difference of a fixed Other allows him to construct his own, similarly fictitious, identity. For this reason, he makes use of stereotypical nicknames for her, such as “la amarilla” (26), “la Emperatriz Ming,” and “su frutica china, su li-chi” (32), to interpellate her as a known object, immutable and therefore tractable. Despite this labelling, however, the object of his passion reveals herself to be anything but stable or whole. In the first Shakespearean scene of his search for her, his pursuit proves futile once she transforms herself into a wild bird “ejercitando su yin en pleno bosque de La Habana.” She also becomes part of the flora, a “[c]aimito sobre los ramos de caimito,” rendering her an exotic fruit ready for the plucking. Even his initial spying of her only reveals a fragment of her body he attempts to link with an assumed completeness; all he perceives are her eyes, which he describes as “los ojos de encantador de serpientes.” When he manages to surprise her, the face he desires does not pale as it is already white “de tanto arroz con té” (25-26). Her imposed identity is fixed by the cliché of the sensual courtesan, which permits the general gaze of the dominant subject towards a desired Other. Although incapable of capturing a chimaera, the general remains condemned to pursue her. Each day he waits outside Flor de Loto’s dressing room in the hopes of meeting the 31 Chinese soprano who will satisfy his sexual desire. So blinded is he by this fantasy that he does not recognize Flor when she emerges from her dressing room as a bald, asthenic Chinese man (32). In other words, a victim of the stereotype of the eroticized Chinese woman, she has become the embodiment of the exotic Other and fetish for the general. And just as the fetish signals absence, she becomes a metaphor for the cultural void that underlies the term ‘the Orient.’ At first glance, the plethora of objects related to the Orient in Cantantes appears to undermine the notion of a homogenous Other. With respect to China, there is mention of pagodas, silk robes, Peking flutes, as well as Cantonese rice, soy sauce, bambu, jade, fans and dragons. In addition, Sarduy includes repeated references to other regions of the world: Japanese kimonos, Indian nirvana, Polynesian brothels, Byzantine coins, a Melanesian lute, Persian pomanders, and Mongolian peasant girls. This juxtaposition of elements typically associated with distinct cultures betrays their interchangeability under the label ‘the Orient,’ emphasizing the superficial knowledge of these countries in the Cuban imaginary: they evoke automatic associations with so many regions of the world they lose their cultural relevance and become symbolic. The discerning reader soon realizes these token images refer to an Asia that remains as fabricated as the opera scenes that fascinate the general. As Sarduy engages the reader to participate in the creation of alternative Cuban narratives, he must also liberate individual and collective memory from an official discourse that goes beyond hackneyed images to engender violence towards the desired Other. For this reason, incapable of dominating Flor de Loto through the open adoration of her imagined body, the machista moves easily from sexual passion to sadism. The opera singer’s continuous metamorphosis threatens the general’s masculinity, equally the fruit of his imagination. As the narrator ‘Yo’ explains, referring to Lacan’s “What Is a Picture?” (1964), “¿no ves que si el 32 general se quita sus quincallas, sería como el pájaro pintor de Lacan que se quita sus plumas?” (19). Like Lacan’s bird, who paints with his feathers, the general’s identity is constructed with the display of his medals. Flor as objet petit a becomes the Lacanian gaze under which the general becomes object, and his desire emerges as lack “(“Picture” 118). Nevertheless, determined to conserve his authority, the Spaniard makes a final, desperate attempt to possess the singer. Rather than present her with gifts of love, he sends her a bracelet equipped with hidden razor blades with which he hopes to kill her. His aggression is the other side of ambivalence and demonstrates the broad spectrum of stereotype as fetish.18 Whether consumed by desire or hate, the general requires the subordination of the soprano to maintain a sense of self. This violence directed towards anything associated with the East is reinforced with pejorative references to Chinese culture, which are as exaggerated as the more favorable images of all things Asian. By employing these negative stereotypes, Sarduy ridicules those who refuse to accept the existence of communities whose realities do not coincide with their concept of ‘the Orient.’ The deprecatory language that Sarduy appropriates to describe La Habana’s Chinatown and its inhabitants will be recognized by readers the world over as a familiar discourse of discrimination. From the Chinese quarter emanates an odour of “orina de perro” (Cantantes 27), and in front of the obligatory Chinese laundry the general exclaims “¡Qué olor a proletariado!” (45). There are also the classic references to Chinese eyes, which are “dos huecos de alcancía” (39), and to Chinese torture, which the general experiences when one of his nails is removed by Carita de Tortura, a black belt in Kung Fu (44). In the laundry, surrounded by ironed shirts and sacks of Borax, the general finds himself before a cliché scene of contemporary China: “De un estante colgaba un almanaque con una china (la cara plana, como si la apretaran contra un 33 cristal) en bikini, montada en una Vespa; un refrigerador portátil, una radio de pilas, una camera de cine y una Coca-Cola . . . Entre cuños negros, al nivel de las ruedas, había escrito LA CHINA MODERNA” (45). The repetition of images such as these parodies the gaze of the beneficiaries of global commerce, which converts individuals into products for modern consumption. Sarduy complicates such negative stereotypes with positive yet equally Orientalist images by presenting the Chinese laundry as a site of potential cleansing. In this creolizing Cuban space, an ancient Chinese woman serves the general dragon-eye soup so that he may be cured of his Occidental desire for an East that does not exist. Despite her efforts, he is unable to renounce his passion, even when Carita de Tortura threatens him: “Óigame bien: o deja de perseguir a Flor de Loto o lo elimino. ¿Entiende? . . .¿Quisiera que lo acueste en hielo? ¿Que le pegue fósforos encendidos en la planta de los pies? ¿Quiere que se los corte con una Gillette azul?” (46). The familiar profusion of damaging images constructed over centuries engages Sarduy’s readers to re-evaluate their understanding of Asian cultures and Cuban communities. A reassessment of cultural prejudices, however, fails to occur as long as Sarduy’s readers, like the general, remain averse to recognizing the constructedness of their socio-cultural and political positions: if the identity of the Other is a social construct, the I of the Occident remains a product of the collective imaginary. As a representative of dominant discourse the general is also a fabrication. His is a singularity that cannot be fixed under an imposed identity, as his multiple aliases indicate: “el Condecorado,” “el Glorioso,” “el aîdos gallego,” “un mirón,” “[el] Belicoso” (26), “el Matarife” (27),” “el Medalloso,” “el Gene” (33), or simply “G” (36). These apellations are all indicative of a fractured and fluid being, one compared to the painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s figures—composed of a montage of material that can be dismantled and recombined to create new entities (31). Far from evoking a universalizing amalgam of cultures, 34 this figure as assemblage resembles Glissant’s processes of creolization, which affirm multiplicity without undermining the diversity of Caribbean specificities (Poetics 34). As we will see in the second half of this chapter, the reconciling of particularities in the portraits of Arcimboldo is also an apt image of Agamben’s community of whatever singularities, whose solidarity depends on how individuals live as opposed to what individuals are (Community 2). Sarduy’s ironic labelling of an archetype of hierarchical order parodies dominant discourse to subvert essentialist generalizations. By thus creating a distance between the reader and official narratives of identity, his text invites a re-evaluation of societal norms. In spite of his various aliases, the general remains incapable of accepting the possibility of alternative realities, for he believes he enjoys a seamless subjectivity as a dominant white European male. Unlike Agamben’s contemporary, he has failed to grasp his potentiality in the time of the now. For Agamben, the potential for realizing agency requires the perception of “the light that strives to reach us but cannot,” which, paradoxically, occurs when one’s gaze is directed towards the darkness of one’s time (“Contemporary” 46). Only those who have the courage to distance themselves from the epoch, “who neither perfectly coincide with it nor adjust to its demands,” are able to perceive its obscurity. The contemporary, then, experiences a singular relationship with his or her time adhering to it “through a disjunction and an anachronism,” a disconnection that permits a grasping of her or his potentiality (40, 41), As the general lacks the courage to accept the possibility of realities other than his own, he is unable to transcend borders and participate positively in the relational chaos of human interaction. Faced with the mutability of the object of his desire, the military chief becomes frustrated in his imagined fixity, and the hunt ends in failure. First, the unattainable Chinese maiden changes disguises, appearing and disappearing in the same place to disorient her pursuer. Later, 35 she flees this location, “dejando al adversario ese doble inasible, esa imagen deshilachada y móvil” (Cantantes 27). Like the butterfly to which the general compares her, Flor de Loto is always in a process of metamorphosis, a transformation that precludes the formation of a definitive identity. She is no different from the director’s pagoda of smoke as the identity the general imposes on her is likewise an illusion. When the general demands: “¿Dónde está la Emperatriz, mi locura, mi culito lunado?” Auxilio and Socorro reply in chorus first as “las Peripapatéticas”: “La Emperatriz es un espejismo, un trompe-l’oeil, un flor en vitro”; and then as “las Pintarrajeadas”: “La Ming es una ausencia pura, es lo que no es. No hay respuesta. No hay agua para tu sed” (38). As her name indicates, Flor de Loto Junto al Río de Cenizas de Rosa is a fluid, unknowable being of the void—a continuum of death and re-awakening. Refusing to accept that the seductive soprano is a construct of his imagination, the general remains caught in the stasis of a supposedly identifiable subjectivity: “Allá; lejos, chilla la china, baila el mambo de Cantón. Y él, aquí, clavado. Fijo” (27). Counter to Kushigian’s claim, under Flor’s thick makeup there is no reality with which he can establish a dialogue of cultural understanding founded on veneration. The vacuity that Flor de Loto exposes with her multiple transformations undermines any argument that Sarduy’s text evokes a tangible and knowable Orient. According to Kushigian, through the Baroque experience of ornamentation and proliferation in Cantantes, the subject is displaced, “projecting one visible center and purporting the existence of another, hidden center, which resists detection and decodification” (Dialogue 84). She also affirms that the parody of stereotypes of the Orient reveals both their artificiality and the superficiality of the text. Despite this observation, however, she insists that the persistent dialogue between the East and the West and the superimposition of cultural images in Hispanic Orientalism “provide in Sarduy a 36 method for making the Other less strange and distant” (90). This argument is problematic, considering the failure of Sarduy’s text to represent, or even pretend to represent, the reality of Chinese culture. That is, if the void underlies the superficial representation of the Orient, how can this dialogue between cultures take place? In Cantantes, the Orient always escapes description. The text is founded on Buddhist thought, which cannot be associated with one particular culture as it is a philosophy practiced in different ways by diverse peoples. Sarduy himself insists that it is not possible to access a ‘true’ Orient: “[La] única descodificación que podemos hacer en tanto de occidentales, que la única lectura no neurótica de la India [por ejemplo] que nos es posible a partir de nuestro logocentrismo es esa que privilegia su superficie. El resto es traducción cristianizante, sincretismo, verdadera superficialidad” (“Conversación” 319). For this reason, the text offers no space for what Kushigian describes as “the interanimation of cultural and linguistic systems” (Dialogue 106). Curiously, she maintains that while Sarduy’s commentary on India can be applied to the Orient, in the tradition of Hispanic Orientalism “the Orient is presented as a complementary cultural source whose dynamic presence influences and is influenced by the West. This is why Hispanic Orientalism does not seek to entrap the discourse in the enclosed space of a binary opposition” (104). She undermines her own argument not only with the use of binary terms but also with a reference to the Orient as a cultural source which, according to Sarduy, cannot be located. If there is no dialogue between cultures in Cantantes, to what purpose does this preoccupation with the rendering of a superficial Orient serve? According to Roberto González-Echevarría, Sarduy’s intention is not to present a dialogue of cultures but to problematize the gradations and hierarchies of culture by unveiling popular culture. In other 37 words, Sarduy re-examines Hispanic culture to recuperate local and contingent narratives that resist the totalizing discourses of the globalized world (Ruta 9, 133). This is in keeping with Glissant’s conception of totalité-monde: the dismantling of imposed social stratifications through the privileging of relations over ontologies of belonging and identity (Poetics 56). The polyphony of Sarduy’s text, then, has less to do with a dialogue between the cultures of the imagined ‘East’ and ‘West’ than with the interaction of Cuban voices. By means of his interpretation of Buddhist and Taoist philosophies, Sarduy uncovers the irreparable communities of Cuba. In Cantantes the void underlying the simulacrum—Flor de Loto/Orient—becomes a dynamic space where singularities are always in a process of realizing new ways of being; the Orient is at once the imposture and the foundation of the culture since Christopher Columbus’s initial error in identifying Cuba as Cipango, land of India and Japan. When the director of the Chinese opera demands, “¡Atmosfera china, muchachitas!” and the actors become hummingbirds, Sarduy returns to the leitmotif of birds, alluding to those the admiral could only hear the night of his arrival in the Caribbean (28). Rather than portray a fusion of the various elements of the culture that compose it, Cantantes seeks the erasure of origins. For González-Echevarría, this indicates “un regreso al principio, un regreso a la nada, a la página en blanco” to begin anew (Ruta 127). The Orient as a metaphor of the void now also becomes a metaphor for Cuba in a text in which “lo que se niega es la posibilidad de definición cultural” (129). However, González-Echevarría sees this impossibility of locating culture in Cantantes in terms of the fixing of identities rather than the lack thereof: “Si Sarduy ha declarado en varias entrevistas que la novela no es simbólica, que no es traducible a un significado cultural dado . . . [a]quí se encuentra . . . la preocupación con las raíces, con los 38 principios, con el origen” (101-102). The following discussion contests this reading and furthers my argument by illustrating how the text problematizes language as representation in its treatment of another cultural construct in Cuba: lo africano. The ‘African’ Other and the Exhausted Sign If Flor de Loto incarnates an inaccessible Chinese Orient, Dolores Rondón of the third chapter undermines the notion of a reducible Cubanness via another Orient: Africa. In this chapter, the customs of Yoruba culture superimposed on others of Cuba characterize the African element on the island. However, the Yoruba culture is synonymous with neither Nigeria nor the African continent. Similar to Flor de Loto’s multiplicity, that of the mulata Dolores Rondón suggests the mutability of being. The previous chapter concludes with the image of the general waiting for Flor de Loto’s cadaver, and this chapter opens in a cemetery where Dolores Rondón is interred. In this juncture between life and death, which takes place in the central Cuban town of Camagüey, Flor metamorphoses into the courtesan and poet Dolores (Cantantes 57 ).19 Both alive and dead at the same time throughout the chapter, very much in the manner of quantum physics and Benítez-Rojo’s conflated I and Other, or ‘not I,’ she presents herself by means of her own epitaph: Aquí Dolores Rondón finalizó su carrera ven, mortal, y considera las grandezas cuáles son. El orgullo y presunción, la grandeza y el poder, todo llega a fenecer. 39 Y sólo se inmortaliza El mal que se economiza y el bien que se puede hacer. (57) Rejecting a logocentric teleology, she makes use of this décima to narrate her biography without chronological order so that the events of her life create a palimpsest of temporalities. And as the entire chapter is narrated as a gloss to the poem, the reader becomes disoriented because obliged to read the text from multiple perspectives. In this way, the text realizes a Baroque anamorphosis that problematizes the act of reading and the nature of language itself. The twin narrators of Dolores’s various lives, who focus on the “calidad espiral del tiempo del ser,” are two of the many incarnations of Auxilio y Socorro (68). Their transformations throughout the chapter coincide with those of Dolores, which are inspired by the desire for power embodied in the politician Mortal; by his supporters, or “[l]os de la proclamación” (64); and by her poem. Once again we see Sarduy’s theory of the eroticism of Neobaroque language: the desire for the unrepresentable object (a), or language in search of nonexistent meaning (“Barroco” 1402). On a quest to find her lover and an empowered social position, Dolores travels from the eastern countryside of Camagüey to the western metropolis of La Habana, only to return to her hometown and death. While the twin narrators attribute her ruin to a longing for material gain and disregard for the various Yoruba elements of her community, her fall also results in a productive engagement with the world via her art.20 As González-Echevarría observes, Dolores’s journey from east to west alludes to the origin of Cuban literature, which began with criticism of the treatment of slaves on the island (Ruta 114). The 19th century novels of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda and Cirilo Villaverde, for example, condemn the elite of Cuban society but without tangible benefit for marginalized 40 communities.21 When the narrators discuss literature and its value, Narrator One doubts its relevance: “¡Ah sí, ponerse a escribir otra vez, qué vomitivo! ¡Como si todo esto sirviera para algo, como si todo esto fuera a entrar en alguna cabezota, a entretener a alguno de los lectores babosos, ovillados en sus poltronas, frente al sopón soporífero de cada día!” (Cantantes 58). At first glance, this protest implies not only a lament as to the incapacity of literary texts to realize an end or lead the reader to concrete meaning, but also to engage the reader to contemplate change. However, Narrator Two’s reply confirms the opposite: “Pues sí, descifra o revienta: todo sirve, todo es definitivo, todo vuelve al todo, es decir a la nada, nada es todo” (58). For Sarduy, language cannot arrive at any fixed meaning as language only performs desire, a movement towards an unreachable Other—‘unreachable’ signifying unrepresentable rather than a failure of communication. Actualizing this desire is an end in itself as engaging with others, not accessing an originary truth about them, transforms our experience of reality. Thus, I argue, the Lacanaian desire founded on lack is extended in this chapter to become a productive impulse. As the second narrator concludes, “con palabras se modifican las cosas, los comportamientos” (58). In this derisive reference to the rhetoric of dominant discourse, the term ‘modificar’ also suggests a continuous transformation as language serves no ultimate end; its value emerges from pleasure, the diversion produced by the movement towards another haecceity, or life, whose label as object constitutes mere fiction. Dolores Rondón’s fall demonstrates Sarduy’s shift from a Hegelian understanding of desire as negating otherness (Spirit 86-90) to a Glissantean valoration of the desire for difference. Referring to Victor Segalen’s thought, Glissant describes this desire as a creative force: 41 Segalen's crucial idea was that encountering the Other superactivates poetic imagination and understanding . . . [T]here could be no question of hierarchy in pursuit of relations with the other . . . Segalen does not merely describe recognition of the other as a moral obligation . . . but he considers it an aesthetic constituent, the first edict of a real poetics of Relation. The power to experience the shock of elsewhere is what distinguishes the poet. (Poetics 29-30) This view resonates with Deleuze and Guattari’s term, ‘desiring production,’ which describes desire as a productive assemblage, a multiplicity whose aim is the experimental forging of connections with other desiring machines. Simply put, “There is only desire and the social and nothing else” (Anti-Oedipus 29). In Cantantes, Sarduy is similarly invested in desire as productive social impulse. Dolores’s pursuit of Mortal subverts the impotence of Lacanian desire—the general’s obsession for Flor de Loto—as her interest in the politician inspires her writing of the poem. This linking of desire, art, and positive production, approaches Agamben’s claim that there is no being without communication; as love seeks communicability, “it conditions precisely the possibility of knowledge and the access to truth” and is fundamental in the realization of potentiality (Passion 186). Dolores’s engagement with the world evokes that of Agamben’s ‘whatever singularity,’ “that being such that it always matters” precisely because it is lovable as an existence in an irreparable relation with others (Community 1). Dolores’s story offers Sarduy’s reader the mechanisms by which even a desire that ends in personal tragedy can bring positive social outcomes. Her tragic history is that of a disenfranchised individual whose quest for status leads to her interment in a country cemetery under her own décima. Her unsuccessful relationship with Mortal presents the failure of 42 language (the signifier) to make the object (the signified) pass through the other side of the Lacanian mirror: as her objet (a), Mortal resists crossing the line of Alterity (“Barroco” 1402). Nevertheless, her desire allows her to make connections between her Yoruba beliefs and the Spaniard’s rhetoric, transforming this experience into art, a poem whose meaning remains inaccessible. As Narrator Two claims, Dolores transforms herself not to be free of her roots, which cannot be located, but to create another reality in which writing becomes a useful emetic that purges language of definitive meaning (Cantantes 61). Belonging is less about rooted affiliations than rhizomatic relationships and an experience of reality as fluid. As for Sarduy language can never represent a static present, Dolores’s alternative reality emerges as proof against a socio-political transparency that pretends to safeguard public morality as a social good. In effect, her ruin realizes a subversion of a binary morality: right and wrong. By pursuing Mortal, the courtesan initially forgoes the possibility of agency; however, her desire also produces her décima, the impulse towards the Other made word yet without definitive denotation. Like Baroque art, her poem is “un reflejo estructural de un deseo que no puede alcanzar su objeto” (“Barroco” 1403). The object of her desire must be unattainable so that she may transform herself with language that escapes capture. In this interaction between singularities that affect and are affected by others, the notion of subject and object disappear beneath the ‘haz’ or assemblage alluded to in Sarduy’s poem “Palabras del Buda.” And if words fail to denote an arrested reality and hierarchies of materiality, morality as a coherent system of justice becomes problematic. As Roland Barthes affirms in the prologue to Cantantes, Sarduy’s text lacks didactic purpose: “esa pizca de remordimiento, este algo de culpa, esta sombra de significado, que transforma la escritura en lección” (6). Thus, while for Narrator One words and realities are crippled, for Narrator Two it is precisely this incoherence that is generative; 43 fragmented and incomplete, words undermine the logos of an imposed system of values (59). Together both narrators express Sarduy’s Baroque appreciation of language as an artificiality that writes something rather than about something (Escrito 1129). Echoing Samuel Beckett’s words on James Joyce, Sarduy values the performativity of language, the linguistic anamorphosis that enacts multiplicity and a nomos in defiance of logos.22 In this way, the enigmatic stanza written above Dolores’s decomposing body blurs the border between the moral and the immoral. The ambiguous lines transform the past, present, and future to open space for a new nomos in the Deleuzean sense of a heterogeneous open space of encounters in rhizomatic multiplicities (Plateaus 370-71).23 To demonstrate how language escapes modes of existence governed by logos, the first narrator refers to the four parts of language as “perro-palabra, agua-sentido” (Cantantes 59). While this combination of signifiers and signified eludes logic from a European/Saussurean perspective, the linguistic configuration has purchase in Greek mythology and Yoruba culture. In Yoruba and Santería cosmologies, dogs occupy liminal spaces between material and spiritual realms, the latter accessed via water, but unlike Cerberus, they also watch over the four cardinal directions and are associated with with hunting, smithing, and healing.24 Nevertheless, any significance of the construct remains opaque. This undermining of definitive meaning values the performativity of language, as Narrator One’s example shows: “Tú tienes un perro sarnoso . . . tú coges el perro, que es la palabra, le echas encima un cubo de agua hirviendo, que es el sentido justo de la palabra. ¿Qué hace el perro? ¿Qué hace el agua? Conque ésas tenemos: perro-palabra, agua-sentido” (58-59). The uncoupling of signifier and signified opens both to a multiplicity of expression, subverting an imagined 44 existence in which being as materiality comprises essences, language arrests meaning, and time progresses linearly (67-68). The characters encounter this sundering of sign and referent during the provincial elections for municipal council positions. When a dog (word), appears during Mortal’s speech promising prosperity, Auxilio and Socorro declare the dog rabid as the politician’s empty rhetoric confrms their alienation from a viable reality. In a superposition of cultural signifiers, Narrator One then produces the polysemic locution “Canis hydrofobus” (66). A metaphor for language, the dog is opposed to water, or definitive meaning. This neologism transforms African and European socio-linguistic systems to evoke the madness (“relajo”) of politics as method (“orden”) (73). Thus, less characters than concepts, the twins shout “¡Agua! ¡Agua! ¡Agua!” when the dog reappears (69). Their thirst for contingent, not fixed, meaning in a community that is neither African, Chinese, nor European is futile, however, as political discourse confounds communication. That is, language as play—Dolores/dólares—rather than synonymy, engages the world: [E]l motor primero sigue siendo el juego de palabras, el salto de la muerte. Así se pierde lo esencial: la palabra corre ante el juego como el perro ante la rebanadora. Se ve en salchicha. Se ve en lascas, con aceitunas, entre panes…y huye. Huye ladrando, y lo dice el dicho, perro que ladra no muerde. De ahí tantas palabras ladradoras…pero desdentadas. (86) For this reason, the group referred to as ‘curiculum cubense,’ which resembles a giant clover, or the four roads of Yoruba myth, constitutes a community that subverts the limits of a fixed identity. In Cantantes, the transculturation of Cuba is not that of Ortiz’s counterpoint but of an assemblage of singularities as folds; it is a question of communities without essence. 45 Like Agamben’s coming community, the communities of Cantantes evince neither cultural fusion nor an ensemble of individual essences. The clover of the four aspects of lo cubano—the Chinese, African, and Spanish elements, along with Death (Auxilio with her sickle is also ‘la Parca’)—fail to represent an immutable culture with definitive roots. The diva of the Shanghai theater is not a Chinese woman, the black poet is not African, and the general without his uniform belies his claim to being a model of European patriarchal masculinity; subverting the possibility of origins, all metamorphose, continuously folding and unfolding as they interact with others. As Glissant insists, “Relation . . . does not act upon prime elements that are separable or reducible. If this were true, it would itself be reduced to some mechanics capable of being taken apart or reproduced. It does not precede itself in its action and presupposes no a priori” (Poetics 172). For Sarduy, even death is protean as Auxilio transforms herself through space and time in the photos she distributes in the Self-Service, where the Godless choose from plastic delicacies (Cantantes 18). In another incarnation of death, Auxilio becomes a bald seamstress wielding enormous scissors, triggering Dolores’s memory of a wake she cannot quite place: her own funeral (71). Socorro also personifies ‘La Parca’ in the Domus Dei, where the god she has been waiting for “[b]rilla por su ausencia” as breadcrumbs for the poor become snow (13).25 The four elements of Cuba, then, do not comprise “los cuatro de que habla el lechosito de la Selva Negra . . . cuatro seres distintos y . . . uno solo . . . (21). This ironic reference to Hegel’s philosophy of history undermines the notion that the island communities constitute a union of static identities. Sarduy rejects Hegel’s logic regarding the progression of world history—from Oriental, Greek, Roman, and Germanic empires—from which emerges a union of the human and the divine for the reconciling of objective truth and freedom (Right 346-50). At the end of the introduction, 46 Socorro observes the ‘curiculum cubense’ disperse: “Ya se van zafando, ya se miran. ¡Qué graciosos!” (Cantantes 21). As this fragmentation confirms the irreparability of individuals, communities, and language, Narrator One turns to Narrator Two to question the value of Dolores’s poetic narrative: “Tú que decías que todo era útil, que todo servía para algo . . . Dime de qué ha servido, de qué está sirviendo esta devoración en cadena . . . ¿Se han ‘modificado los comportamientos’? ¿Se han ‘asido las esencias’?” (86). Before dying “para que el poema se cumpla” (62), Dolores, now “Haz,” offers the narrators an answer to this question (62); she leaves them her décima and last pesos, a gesture that actualizes the last line of the poem: “y el bien que se puede hacer,” That is, a secular caritas is all that has purpose, for “todo vuelve a todo . . . a la nada” (87).26 Despite this affirmation of the void, the anonymous author insists on the potentiality of art as “el poeta nos mira desde la muerte” (57). Like the anonymous epitaph of the Camagúey gravestone, Sarduy’s narrative of transgression calls for a new ethics. The Nation as Performance If Sarduy uses parody to criticize European logos and reveal that all is simulacra, as he affirms in an interview with Kushigian, the nation itself loses its official identity as a revolutionary state (Crónicas 34). However, the unmasking of the Castro regime fails to confirm a definitive Cuban identity. In the fourth chapter, “La entrada de Cristo en La Habana,” the twins’ search for Mortal, now an absent lover, ends with his appearance as a rotting wooden figure of Christ in the Santiago museum. Disguised in masks for Semana Santa, Auxilio and Socorro participate in a parodic procession of characters carrying this “Cristo de bagazo” through Havana streets (Cantantes 130). Recreating the parade as spectacle, Sarduy recuperates the Bakhtinian carnival, in which social hierarchies are displaced to open possibility for a plurality of new relations; the carnival is an open space of pleasure and abundance in defiance of both bourgeois prejudices and 47 official discourses of the revolutionary Marxist state. As María Celina Bartolotto argues, Sarduy constructs the image of Cuba in Cantantes through a focus on the Baroque, carnival, and choteo as a subversive space for the criticism of the Castro regime, which did not recognize the various heterogeneous elements of the ‘pueblo cubano.’ With this carnivalesque text Sarduy also condemns national literature. As we have seen, he not only rejects the totalizing notion of Cuba in the work of Lezama Lima, with its melancholy for a lost past, but also refuses to support Carpentier’s vision of a Cuban nation that had emerged from history and music. By means of the stage directions, costumes, and baroque carnival masks, the text constitutes a performance of the multiplicity of the nation (“Fake” 17-18). Bartolotto uses the metaphor of mirrors and their frames to evoke the way in which Sarduy’s carnival complicates any reflection of Cuban identity. Citing Blas Matamoro, she asserts that in the Baroque logic of the superfluous, the frame and the mirror transform the captured image to create another totality. In the mirrors and Baroque frames imagined by Sarduy, the identities of Auxilio and Socorro remain indecipherable; they cannot be identified by their ethnicity, their gender, or their occupation as they are always in the process of constructing themselves (22). However, Bartolotto contradicts herself when she suggests that it is necessary to frame this reflection of lo cubano as “it is in permanent danger of being lost” (21). That is, she posits the existence of reflections that must be preserved, a notion that does not coincide with Sarduy’s conception of the Neobaroque as constituting an unbounded flux of relations impelled by the opacity of others (“Barroco” 1402-1403). Equally problematic is Bartolotto’s suggestion that Sarduy’s pseudo characters are motivated by the desire to realize their dreams and private aspirations (26). This interpretation is undermined by the fact that stability remains anathema for the transvestites, who don costumes 48 because “[q]uieren . . . ser otras,” thus their numerous apellations: “las Floridas, las Siempre Presentes, las Siamesas, las Divinas, las Sedientas, las Majas [and] las Parcas” (Cantantes 107, 151). Interrupting their search for Mortal/Christ, the wait in Medina-Az-Zahara transforms them into salamanders inhabiting ruins from which even the birds have fled. In this scene, in which Gongoran ruins fail to offer them the possibility of pursuing their desire, “[e]sperar es convertirse en nada” (95). Like the anticipation of God’s arrival in “Curriculum cubense,” their wait reveals that solitary and passive abstractions do not inspire desire; only a movement towards others generates a productive engagement with the world. The Neobaroque play of desire/eroticism occurs in the present, not in the future as a final point of a logical teleology. Before the twins find Mortal, they appear as “dos vertientes de la hispanidad” (152), Faith and Experience, who argue about a carpet he has left them “para que lo amen como a mí me aman” (97). The carpet presents a Cuban banquet illustrating the official history of the island: a Spanish Catholic prince surrounded by musicians sits at a table before a main dish of wild boar. The meat is served in a vessel resembling a ship with a sail of speckled skin and a mast whose spire sports a pineapple, symbol of Carib hospitality and the Spanish conquest. Under the table, between the blond monarch’s legs, hides a frightened boy flanked by two greyhounds (the species used by Columbus to subdue indigenous populations). While Faith suggests the banquet scene might be a woven message from Mortal, Experience insists on selling it as “[n]ada dice nada” (97). However, on unstitching the cloth from its lining, Faith discovers that behind the image of the colonial feast, with its Spanish Catholic prince and Carpentier’s musicians, lies that of another repast. This scar of stitching emerges as an indecipherable joke beneath the visible portrait of history, an illustration to which Sarduy refers in “Palabras del Buda en Sarnath”: la noción de sujeto: es un matiz 49 de un color que preceda a toda luz el rostro en el reverso de un tapiz que aparece un instante a contraluz O el timbre inolvidable de una voz Pero nunca el encuentro de los dos. (“Poemas” 241) Once Faith, “the transcendental,” is unable to find any meaning behind the banquet scene and tearfully resews the lining, she and Experience appear as figures in the canvas. In this altered scene, Experience, now a hag as death, prevents Faith, a naked young woman, from entering the banquet room. The former for her part is barred from entry by a page “carirredondo cubierto con un sobrero de plumas que se abren como liras” before her (Cantantes 98).27 The page and his plumes resembling lyres suggest that he is a poet whose art thwarts any attempt by the two transvestites to locate a definitive history of the island. Thus, the scene on the canvas soon becomes a collection of torn pieces, with the figure of the prince discarded as waste, and the remaining fragments used as ornamentation. The destroyed images of the tapestry underscore the role of official history in the fabrication of the nation, a narrative parodied by the characters’ pilgrimage. Their journey from east to west satirizes the historical development of humankind in Hegel’s philosophy. In addition, their parade in the capital serves as a comic rendition of Castro’s grand entrance into La Habana in 1959. Helicopters typical of the videos shot at the time augment the fanfare; however, in this version the procession appears with active machine guns as a portent of dictatorships to come. Fidel, an incarnation of Mortal, now becomes the Christ who is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, and whose visible absence frustrates the twins who search for him. This pseudo messiah’s manifestation as a rapidly deteriorating wooden processional figure suggests the 50 corruption of time and context: “anacronismos cada vez mayores, superposición al cubano de otros paisajes, reiteración e irrealidad de la nieve” (152). The parade also recreates Dolores’s fall, and with these repetitions of various journeys, movement eclipses the need for origins and destinations. Sarduy’s characters’ traversing of multiple landscapes renders null the myth of the nation as essence. These rhizomatic de/reterritorializations produce assemblages as productive machines creating new realities. As a result, the discourse of the nation presents as a performative act, much like the gender of Sarduy’s transvestites. As Judith Butler affirms, gender is realized through acts and gestures that only produce the effect of an essence on the body’s surface; genders, like any other marker of identity, are “fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means” (Gender 173). Neither the gendered body nor the nation has an ontological position separate from the performative acts that produce their reality. As Cuba’s citizens lack fixed identities, their communities are equally incapable of manifesting a cultural essence. At the end of the novel, the reader is presented with an unidentifiable island community. Even the flora and fauna that Sarduy’s nomads encounter in their circular travels appear contaminated by non-indigenous species. In the Santiago museum, where they find Mortal/Christ, they discover an absurd collection of objects that evokes a Baroque dissonance; giraffes, cockatoos, roosters, hummingbirds, mockingbirds, lizards, haddock, and snapper present an incongruous assemblage of displaced creatures. This list functions as a criticism of the classifications imposed by science throughout history while also suggesting an incomprehensible environment. A mute hummingbird pinned to wood, “[un] volador fijo,” indicates a petrified past, as does the wooden body of Mortal/Christ, which later disintegrates in the hands of the Parcas (Cantantes 117, 148). Leading up to this fragmentation of 51 being in “La entrada de Cristo en la muerte,” Mortal/ Christ feels the ground moving away from him as he senses a physical displacement: “sintió que iba entrando en otro espacio” (147). As mambo drums welcome him to the other side, he meets tigers with bleeding ducks in their jaws; and leaves, vines, and fronds grow in moss covered with snow. This reiteration of the snow in “Curriculum cubense” brings the reader full circle to the beginning of the text and another nomadic venture. Conclusion The circularity of Sarduy’s narrative confirms his commitment to a Baroque “lectura radial” that connotes a presence without naming it (“Barroco” 1389). Cantantes takes the reader from “la entrada de Cristo en la muerte” to the absence of God in the Domus Dei at the beginning of the novel, where Sarduy introduces his Cuban curriculum. As this curriculum is a process, Auxilio and Socorro collect the remnants of a fragmented Mortal/Cristo to construct another discourse with which to engage in productive relations with desired Others. This assemblage of haecceities emerges in the Self-Service, where death and life unite in the figure of Auxilio attached to the General’s body. The two are genesis and death, a binomial phrase that sucks in everything around it, including Dolores and Flor, to form “una cosmogonía en ciernes.” Thus, the idea of the nation gives way to an “Auxilio Concepción del Universo,” in which relations between beings constitute communities in perpetual transformation (20). As the ambiguous title indicates, as much an interrogation as an affirmation, the communities of Cuba are from the plains and the hills. In constant metamorphosis, they dance the son of an inessential community, la de donde son los cantantes. 52 Chapter Two: The Contrapuntal Gaze: Exile and Translocal Connections in Achy Obejas’s Days of Awe (2001) In the previous chapter, I showed how Severo Sarduy’s neobaroque aesthetic in De donde son los cantantes reconfigures the concept of mestizaje to present communities in Cuba as assemblages of contingent relations. Escaping collective identifications, these commonalities problematize the notion of a cultural fusion that erases the experiences of diverse social groups. Their relationality undermines labels used to capture the imagined essence of individuals and communities limited to ‘Oriental,’ ‘African,’ or state-imposed designations. For Sarduy, such markers of identity ignore the constant inter-contaminations of people as well as their irreparable particularities. Propelled by desire, his ineffable characters encounter diverse realities in which signs and referents become uncoupled for novel ways of engaging with others. The following discussion furthers the idea of mobility as conducive to relationality by departing from a portrayal of commonality in one insular space to a writing of a relationality that spans multiple loci. Unlike the communities evoked in Sarduy’s text, these connections emerge from movements across various diasporic spaces between Cuba and North America. This widening of scope extends my central argument as I consider a rhizome of diasporic ties among individuals exiled inside and outside Cuba. In this chapter, I examine how affirming a singular collective identity in a translocal context becomes problematic in Achy Obejas’s Days of Awe. As her characters navigate exile in the Cuban diaspora, they experience an awareness Edward Said terms “contrapuntal” (Exile 186): alienated from their country of origin and a new social order, they criticize the narratives of both. This plurality of vision reimagines concepts of self and others, fostering sympathetic affinities that transcend socio-political limits to transform culture. For Said, exiles nurture compassion when they reconcile themselves to the reality that loss is inherent to home and love 53 and work through attachments, rather than reject those that appear unfeasible (185). Obejas narrates this process in her novel as the loss endured by her exiled protagonists strengthens ties among individuals who experience an unbounded sociality, one as conflictive as it is convivial. As the novel’s title suggests, the text presents exile as an interstitial space in which the uprooted negotiate multiple elements of their individual and collective singularities. In Judaism the ten Days of Awe, or Yamim Nora’im, offer communities a liminal period during which participants reflect on their interactions with others for social renewal. Yamim Nora’im, then, becomes a metaphor for exile and a contrapuntal perspective that promotes positive social engagement for the creation of viable communities. I argue that Obejas develops Said’s view by presenting individuals whose relationships destabilize essentialist communal identifications of culture, race, sexuality, and nation in favour of a translocal imaginary founded on relationality. As these exiles “cross borders [and] break barriers of thought,” they experience a solidarity that eclipses identity politics (185). This argument takes as a point of departure Julia Verne’s understanding of translocality. In Living Translocality: Space, Culture and Economy in Contemporary Swahili Trade (2012), Verne defines translocal spaces as relational processes in which the movements of people, objects, and ideas create rhizomes of open becomings. As these entities are not nations, their interconnections cannot be grasped as transnational. Rather, they are relationships premised on mobility, for to inhabit a translocal space “the key is not to belong to any specific physical location or territory, but to share and participate in the mobile practices that constitute it” (213). To describe these open linkages, Verne relies on Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of the rhizome, in which intersecting lines of flow and flight create a complex assemblage of relations in constant metamorphosis: becomings (Plateaus 1-25).28 This absence of fixed elements replaces 54 imagined binary structures such as center/periphery, subject/object, human/non-human, with a relational multiplicity that belies the idea of discrete identities. For Verne, a rhizomatic perspective reveals these divisions as corollaries of category making. Without origin and made up of interdependent becomings, the rhizome conveys her notion of translocal connections as heterogenous processes of differentiation. Borrowing from Deleuze and Guattari, she conceives of these processes as entanglements of horizontal multiplicities, without beginnings or ends, only middles. Thus, the rhizome is “anti-genealogy”; rather than evidencing enduring lack or loss, broken connections become productive possibilities for new, transformative relations (Translocality 26-29). At first glance, this eschewal of hierarchical dualisms and their identifiable elements engaged in particular trajectories of growth appears to be reductive: undetermined middles in constant flux can only realize a chaos of undifferentiated, mobile materiality. For Verne, quoting Deleuze and Guattari, however, heterogenous translocal connections are at once mobile and stable as “lines of segmentation stratify, mark, assign, organize, and territorialize the ‘rhizome’.” That is, these linkages form neither a vertical rootedness nor a simple horizontal flow but a complex and mobile matrix of connections, much like the tangled roots of a mangrove: “Movement and situatedness induced in the understanding of translocality are . . . brought together by indicating processes of embedding, through growth and the amalgamation of heterogeneous elements as well as processes of disembedding” (29). As processes of ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being,’ translocal connections cannot be restricted to global-to-local or local-to-local relations, inseparable from a particular place. The rhizome ‘becomes’ by transgressing multiple terrain to create new spaces in which affiliation and mobility are not mutually exclusive: “Instead of being reduced to a single location, home becomes a set of relations” (238). 55 Characterized by mobility, the translocal space remains a home for individuals whose attachments and sense of belonging escape geopolitical limits. Referring to her study of Swahili traders whose relations extend through communities in Zanzibar, Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, Dubai, London, and Toronto, Verne sees the rhizome as a living organism characterized by constantly changing connections that cannot be mapped (32). Much like Sarduy’s haecceities, whose movement and rest are determined by an affirmative desire, these errant merchants are propelled by the quest for a sustainable existence. They experience mobility as “a way of kutufuta maisha”: a search for a life as a shared “common presence.” While their translocality exposes them to ruptures, frustration, disappointment, and failure, they thrive on open interactions with others (210-211). Such commonality approaches Glissant’s notion of rhizomatic Caribbean communities as dependent on “understanding” in Relation—an open “giving-on-and-with” (donner-avec), defined as a generous yielding to others (Poetics 114). As Glissant explains, this awareness favours extension over depth, replacing that implied in the French comprendre, ‘to grasp’: “A gesture of enclosure if not appropriation” (191). Thus, exile and errantry are only beneficial when experienced as a quest for an irreducible Other rather than an expansion of territory (18). Although the nomads of Verne’s study maintain a rhizomatic, deterritorialized Swahili identity, her conception of translocality is useful for studying Obejas’s writing of a community that transcends political boundaries. Exile’s Re-routings By foregrounding the translocality of Cuban exiles in Days of Awe, Obejas problematizes the way we look at place and time to present home as an open set of relations. Uprooted from traditional topographies of kinship, her characters transform and are transformed by translocal spaces. The first-person narrator, Ale San José, is the daughter of a crypto-Jew, Enrique, and a 56 Santería follower, Nena, who flee Cuba by boat on the night of the Bay of Pigs invasion. As mobility across generations informs her family’s experience of belonging as contingent and relational, not rooted in place, Ale insists, “I am a child not just of revolution but also of exile, both of which have so much to do with love and faith” (6). Born in Havana on January 1st, 1959, she emerges two years later as a refugee in Chicago, where she grows up to become an interpreter. Only as old as the revolution when she acquires American citizenship, she is protected from the memory of her family’s suffering under the exigencies of various political identities. She knows little of her family’s past—other than her mother’s figure of la Virgen de la Caridad and her father’s religious accoutrements—and identifies as “a blank space, unconnected to history, bloodless” (182). The sanguine history denied Ale traverses generations. As descendants of Sephardic conversos from 15th century Seville, her relatives experience multiple suspensions of belonging in the interstices of Spanish, Cuban, and American society. Whether they engage in heroic efforts to erase all trace of Judaism from their lives, overtly practice Jewish customs with other expulsados, or adopt a syncretic faith, they remain an excluded, errant minority. Repeatedly forced to distance themselves from a national rhetoric that conceives of community as fixed to one land, dominated by one culture and one language, they become cultural nomads. Their reality is a limbo from which they reach out to communities across continents to realize a sustainable existence. This openness to diverse experiences and belief systems is alluded to in Obejas’s choice of epigraph, a quote in which José Martí recognizes the complexity of faith as an extension of cultural heterogeneity within national communities: “It’s humankind who invents gods in our image, and so each nation imagines a different heaven, with divinities who live and think in the 57 same way as the people who create them” (vii). Although Martí’s pueblo remains confined by sovereign interests, his emphasis on plurality undermines the favouring of one culture over others by state discourse. Whether threatening or welcoming, this respect for multiplicity posits the reality of coexisting value modes and prepares the reader for Obejas’s writing of a community in which cultural intercontamination informs the praxes of daily life. Far from monolithic, this social (dis)order privileges ambiguity as what unites peoples is a desire for a more tenable existence with others whose credos take various forms. As Ale insists in the prologue, flux sustains viable communities, and humanity’s sole predictable quality is the yearning for change: As “human as the instinct to breathe,” revolutions are momentary outside challenges, but once they become the inside power, they demand another upheaval, an “anarchy of emotions” that eschews “placid immortality.” Forgoing a singular and eternal righteousness, human beings since Eve “or was it Lilith” (a wanton demoness) have “felt the pang of desire for something else” (1). Similar to Sarduy’s notion of desire as potentiality, Obejas presents the yearning for difference as a trope that propels her narrative. Rather than offering her readers a definitive account of lo cubano and Judaism, her text begins with a plurality that prioritizes connections over identities. As for Ale revolution entails “constant insurrection,” rather than the establishment of an entrenched socio-political order, her narrative begins with a subversion of Cuban politics (1). She details her birth on the day of Fidel Castro’s triumph as a parallel destabilizing event, but one that promises a continuation of revolutionary purpose. Ambiguity characterizes the first moments of her delivery as she teeters on the verge of death, looking like “something born by mistake” due to her parents’ incompatible blood types (71). While a doctor interprets her fortuitous birth date as a guarantee of her survival, a nurse predicts doom on “the darkest day in 58 the history of the world” (3). To protect her child, her mother crosses herself before chewing on a rooster’s heart, disregarding the distant staccato fire and a picture of Christ offering “his vain and hallowed core.” However, modern medicine, a Catholic priest, and Nena’s Christian-inflected Santería faith are not enough to save Ale; she requires eight blood transfusions, supplemented by an untranslated Hebrew benediction: “Ner adonai nishmet adam” (4). A significant number in Jewish and Santería numerology, the number eight connects science with three belief systems, transforming her birth into something new. In Judaism the number signifies all that is beyond the limits of nature and logic; in Santería the number is associated with the orisha Obatalá, an androgynous mediator for justice and compassion, whose corresponding Catholic saint is Our Lady of Mercy. This combination of diverse tenets, both sacred and profane, indicates a confluence of human experience for the safeguarding of a new life. Her arrival as the youngest citizen of a nascent regime via technology and three faiths becomes the harbinger of a revolution in which plurality guarantees the potentiality for productive change. Ale’s unorthodox introduction to the world coincides with Fidel Castro’s official reconfiguring of the collective Cuban identity as a culturally egalitarian society, a failed initiative. Despite his insistence in 1961 that “[w]e respect man’s right to freedom of belief and of religion” (“Speech”), his “fusillade of words” excludes elements deemed problematic by Marxist-Leninist dogma (Awe 3). In the first years of the revolution, 94 percent of the 15,000-strong Jewish population leave the country. After centuries of violent exclusion, an already errant community is not convinced that Castro’s rhetoric will erase the history of anti-semitism on the island: the persecution of marranos by the Spanish inquisition; the alienation of Jewish émigrés from Europe, for whom Cuba was a point of transit due to restrictive US immigration laws in the 19th century; and the resentment of Jewish participation in the interwar boom in 59 businesses dependent on gambling, prostitution, and drugs—‘the dance of the millions.’ This exodus of Jews in the 60s anticipates the regime’s increasingly communist stance vis-a-vis Israel and the Middle East, where Karl Marx’s open attack on religion in “On the Jewish Question” (1844) becomes a justification for human rights violations. For the Jews who remain in Cuba, the new government’s contradictory rhetoric—on the one hand officially tolerating a faith shared by Castro’s father and on the other condemning the Jewish businesses community—means insecurity paralyzes even the most successful of their representatives. As Ale observes, coinciding with Verne’s understanding of translocality, upheaval and movement are inimical to human relations (1). Cognizant of their precarious citizenship, Ale’s parents choose exile over the familiar spectre of complete disenfranchisement. To prepare for their dislocation, they depend on diverging approaches to life, seen clearly in their study of English. Enrique processes the new syntax and vocabulary by comparing verses from old English and Spanish-language bibles and consulting an Oxford English/Spanish dictionary. Prefiguring his new career in the US as a translator, Enrique’s focus is semantics. He savours each word “fascinated by the pursuit of meaning, by corralling significance in a word or phrase from the vast array the universe offered” (11). As his search for meaning is endless and requires assiduous reflection, Ale sees her father as a modern incarnation of the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides, “writing his own guide to the perplexed, trying to rationalize godly acts, as if there were mortal ways to reason with things that are both sacred and mundane, like language itself” (91). Such is his confidence in the unambiguous, that he feels no slight when Gabriel García Márquez, a friend of Fidel’s, does not approach him for a translation of his texts. For Enrique, any transcendence in language arises from practical necessity; translation enacts a spiritual return to Spain, with which he confirms his monolithic difference in Cuba and in the U.S. and avoids 60 the trauma of racism. His use of language as a tool for rationalizing the world and navigating a problematic hyphenated identity prevents him from making sense of impossible translations; unable to find a Spanish equivalent for ‘heaven’ or an adequate synonym for escampar, he remains perplexed by the functions and origins of words, asking: “What came first: the concept or the sound?” (11). Nena’s approach to learning English, in contrast, requires an engagement with others denied by Enrique’s determination to discover the purpose of a particular word and whether it is “friend or foe” (11). Grasping meaning as much from facial cues, tone, and attitude as from etymological knowledge, she relies on meaning generated from sound and affect: “[She reads] entire sentences in a rush, barely flirting with each word, waiting for their purpose to emerge in banter and play” (10). Unlike her husband’s confusion regarding the lack of an exact translation for the word ‘heaven,’ she insists on an affective decoding for a referent made immanent, insisting: “Heaven is here . . . right here, right now” (194). Like her mother, Ale is less interested in denotation and linguistics than the hope required for communication. For her, Enrique’s fascination with definitive meanings ignores the affective force of language and minimizes the importance of what language as denotation cannot express: [F]or me there was something much more crucial at stake: If it is true that speech reflects the realities of life . . . what does it say about us—Cubans, Hispanics—that we can’t even imagine heaven enough to name it? Most of the time, I think that our inability to express heaven is simply a measure of our respect for a higher power; that, like certain orthodox Jews who insist on never pronouncing or writing the word for god, we have a deeper understanding, a profound humility about our role in the cosmos. (11-12) 61 This respect for the excess of language affirms a perceptiveness her father’s approach to language, faith, and identity cannot explain. He is a secret Jew who clings to a Spanish identity rooted in genealogy, and his efforts to establish “how words mean” fail to allow for the irreparable that escapes denotative language (11). Nevertheless, even he observes his religious writings “losing meaning and becoming light” (91). Enrique’s dependence on the rational leaves him with an acute sense of loss as the San José family flee Cuba on the night of the Bay of Pigs invasion, with a Polish survivor of Auschwitz, Olinsky, and a Cuban criollo. Beyond rationalization, their sea crossing becomes another rerouting of a persecuted people, confirming Verne’s notion of translocality as characterized by mobility and situatedness, transgression and cohesion (19). Enrique’s inability to speak of these narratives of past uprootings exacerbates his distress. As Glissant insists, unlike mere wandering, in which one might become lost, errantry depends on pausing long enough to relate one’s story: “[I]n errantry one knows at every moment where one is—at every moment in relation to the other . . . as the thought of errantry is a poetics, which always infers that at some moment it is told” (Poetics xvi, 18). Traumatized by his lack of socio-political security as a Jew and the precariousness of the group’s displacement, Enrique is unable to perceive their destination from the deck. He can only stare longingly at the receding lights of the “irreclaimable island,” and when Olinsky urges him to “[l]ook ahead,” his response is lackluster: “There’s nothing ahead, it’s pitch black, a wilderness” (25, 27). His faith in logos also prevents him from using the stars to determine the duration of their voyage. From his extensive reading, he knows that sidereal time does not align with solar time, so he cannot give Olinsky an estimate of their arrival time. Thus, his physical and psychological disorientation are accompanied by a temporal 62 dislocation. As Julia Verne insists, citing Watts and Urry (2008), translocality requires a continual shift in relations with others through place and time (“Re-enliving” 128). As their yacht, La Marilyn, drifts on the northbound current, each individual navigates their spatio-temporal liminality differently. Meaning ‘rebellious woman’ in Hebrew, the nautonym foreshadows the role of the female protagonists in the text, which contrasts with Ale’s father’s fraught conformity. While Enrique fears the “terrible beauty” of the sea, a “silent unknown” preferable for millions across centuries to the suffering endured in abandoned homelands, Nena is cautiously hopeful (Awe 28); the passage from Havana to Miami is assured the protection of her carefully wrapped image of la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint of hope, a syncretic icon emerging from various beliefs over space and time. Also known as Ochún, the Yoruba goddess of love and sweet water, the Madonna represents a fluidity integral to the transformation of Obejas’s characters, whose flight becomes a difficult second birth. Nena embraces the mysterious energies of this syncretic deity for a hopeful present. With her flaming halo of hair resembling the figure she has carefully stowed for the voyage, she is “like a mermaid poised uneasily out of her element” (25). For her, their uncertainty does not foreclose potential. Unlike healing drinkable water, salt water can be both curative and curse, but the protection of her orisha means she is less frightened than her husband, who feels the burden of his hidden faith, its “constant imbroglio” (47). In contrast to Nena’s openness regarding the possibilities of their journey, Enrique’s Judaism precludes the welcoming of an unknown reception in the U.S., where Jews were forbidden entry during World War II. When Olinsky identifies him as a marrano as they approach sunbathers on a Miami beach, his anger and humiliation bring him close to panic. He fears interpellation as a ‘wandering Jew’— doomed to circumnavigate the globe—but limited to retelling the narratives of others. 63 Faith as Exclusion: Tactics for Survival Ale’s recounting of the San José family’s complex relationship with a forbidden faith explains her father’s mistrust of others and (self)imposed alienation from diverse communities. This history highlights the loss and fragmentation characteristic of the exile, whose “need to reassemble an identity out of the refractions and discontinuities of exile” informs her or his “jealous state” (Exile 178). Ale imagines that like his 20th century descendants in Miami, the first San José left Columbus’s ship and “planted his own roots” instead of seeking to confirm an aborescent genealogy (35). Such illusory freedom from history does not, however, erase a faith that transcends time and place to permeate multiple realities, despite juridical borders. Enrique refers “with all the vanity of royalty” to the dispersive quality of his faith when, asked if he is Jewish, he insists, “All people of Spanish descent have some Jewish blood in them, of course . . . Don’t all the great religions owe something to Judaism?” (37). Judaism, like most religions, offers those willing to maintain the faith a deterritorialized sense of home; however, while this extension of belief opens space for the corruption of dogma, it fails to weaken the constancy of the devout. Enrique has no difficulty carefully mending his wife’s damaged plaster icon despite his indifference to Christian and Santería votaries. This openness to other belief systems emerges throughout the family’s history as a means of concealing their Judaism and connecting with others. In the Jewish “netherworld” of the Caribbean, where exclusion remains ubiquitous, Jews must resort to tactical disguises, claiming false identities and participating in the torching of judío effigies (121-22). Like the peripatetic migrations of generations before them, their multiple crossings of socio-political boundaries unmoor the rhetoric of citizenship. Publicly adopting the nationalities of their persecutors—whether Turkish, Portuguese, Polish, or German—these stateless errants become masters of 64 subterfuge, whose survival strategies promote cultural contamination. Many Cubans, “living openly with their burdens and contradictions,” attend Catholic mass and consume the blood of live goats during nocturnal Santería practices (121). On Ale’s father’s birth in rural Oriente in the 1920s, a rooster’s severed head hangs from the bedroom door inscribed in blood with a Hebrew prayer for protection from Lilith, devourer of newborn babies. The public sacrifice of roosters for Jewish celebrations resembles that of Santería custom and therefore falls within acceptable cultural practice. The family also journey yearly to observe Christmas mass in Santiago de Cuba, and in their home a brass Menorah complements an icon of the Virgin of Charity, only to be hidden when guests arrive. While these hybrid identifications obscure an unacceptable orthodoxy, they fail to assuage fears of social stigma and accompanying violence in the 20th Century. Enrique’s childhood friend, Moisés Menach, whose parents are new immigrants from Turkey, is perplexed by the presence of ‘marranos’ after the exodus of so many Jews fleeing the anti-Semitic climate. The San Josés continue to yearn for inclusion in a community from which they remain alienated and must resort to a self-inflicted violence; subterfuge gives way to assimilation, a more palatable otherness within an imagined cubanismo. Enrique’s parents eschew the wistful faith of medieval poet and philosopher, Judah Halevi—who pined for the holy land from his native Spain—to embrace Martí’s nationalism; for them being Jewish means living with an inherent, less condemnable difference, “like being left-handed, something innate that becomes problematic only when others notice and whisper” (119). Centuries after the first Jews arrive with Columbus, the family remains tied to a marginalized history and struggle to acculturate. Faced with this socio-political and cultural exclusion, Ale’s great grandfather, Ytzak, strives to find a sense of belonging within the social gradations that privilege the favoured few 65 and belie the state’s celebrated mestizaje. He longs to affirm his Jewish identity as a patriotic Cuban, rather than a descendant of Spanish Jews. Having lost his leg in Cuba’s struggle for independence during the Spanish-American War, he claims to be more Cuban than the Taíno cacique, Hatuey. His belief in the possibility of being both Jewish and Cuban resembles the itinerant Halevi’s troubled attachment to two places and two faiths. Ytzak is a Catholic in Oriente, where Chinese storefronts are stoned by those who confuse them with Jewish businesses; and a Jew in Havana, where although tolerated his faith also invites violent discrimination. Nevertheless, no longer willing to lead a life of deception, he leaves his Catholic community to live in the capital, where he can openly practice his faith and stop “pretending [he is] only half of who [he is]” (148). Emboldened by the public affirmation of his belief in the “importance of continuity” regarding his faith, Ytzak returns to Oriente and kidnaps his newborn grandson to have him circumcised in a brit milah (125). This abduction so enrages Enrique’s father that he throws the last vestiges of the family’s faith, the family Bibles, with their notes on Jewish rituals and elaborate family trees dating back to 1492, into the Mayarí river. The river is also the site of Ytzak’s wife’s later suicide after locals convince her black lover that the Hebrew prayers pinned to the inside of her door are evidence of sorcery. In Havana, too, socio-cultural and political flux, as well as anti-Semitism perpetuated by dominant discourse, thwarts any hope for continuity in terms of a deep-rooted religious identity. Ytzak’s ties in the city will become horizontal entanglements intercontaminated by various modes of life. While eight days after his birth Enrique is circumcised according to Jewish tradition, his daughter is saved by eight blood transfusions accompanied by Catholic, Santería, and Jewish invocations. 66 Long before this valoration of the transgressive at Ale’s birth, Ytzak introduces Enrique to Cuba’s first Sephardic society in Havana, a city whose cultural collage challenges their monotheism. Although Yztak claims a hyphenated Cuban and Jewish identity, believing it is “possible to be both, and to be whole,” he and Enrique choose to identify as Jewish before Cuban (120). Ytzak’s faith does not prevent him from supporting Fernando Ortiz’s call for a sense of cubanismo, as he confirms by asking “Why do you think I gladly sacrificed my leg?” (139). He refuses to assume Enrique’s parents’ pretence of a noble Spanish lineage and includes Hatuey, José Martí, Antonio Maceo, and Abraham Lincoln on his list of heroes, as do many compatriots. However, his idea of Cubanness allows for unorthodox cultural contaminations. His dream is to sit with Cubans to tell stories in which Jews are “the proper heroes” (120); and while Castro limits his admiration of Lincoln to keeping a bust of the latter in his office, Ytzak believes Cubans can only prosper by modeling themselves after the more “civilized and smart” Americans (140). This deviation from revolutionary loyalties reveals his faith’s primacy over a citizenship from which he is effectively excluded. While Ytzak embraces a faith-based solidarity with which to navigate the continued violence of loss—the disappearance of the family’s written history, their rejection of his orthodoxy, his wife’s death, and his exclusion from the socio-political imaginary—Enrique cannot free himself from his family’s centuries-old terror of discovery. As Moisés tells Ale, in Cuba Enrique has never desired to openly associate with anyone or anything Jewish (185). As a boy of twelve, he witnesses the violence inherent to exclusion when he discovers the body of one of his reading tutees, Celestino, who has hanged himself. Like Reinaldo Arenas’s character of the same name in Cantando en el Pozo (1982), the boy has endured aggressive bullying for writing poems on trees. This traumatic encounter with the rage that difference engenders 67 awakens a fear of his own otherness as a ‘bookish’ Jew in a rural Christian-Santería society (143). Ale becomes aware of his anxiety long after the family’s escape to the U.S., when the family watch media coverage of the fall of the Berlin wall. A clip of a group of Neo-nazi skinheads shocks Enrique, who, unwilling to explain his reaction, must face his daughter’s unwitting taunt: “A little racial memory, Papi? A little trouble with the family secret?” to which he responds with outrage: “How dare you! . . . You don’t know! . . . You don’t know” before exiting the room (173). His traumatic past makes him doubly cautious about identifying himself as Cuban in the U.S., where he publicly celebrates his Spanish heritage “as if Cuba almost didn’t exist, because Spain was scar tissue, whereas Cuba was a gaping historical wound” (18). She only discovers the reason for her father’s lifelong struggle with publicly acknowledging his faith after his death. Loss and ‘Olvido’ By distancing themselves from their converso past and a fraught present, Enrique and Ytzak confirm their alienation from communities claiming a non-Jewish identity. In mid-20th-century Cuba, Jews are disenfranchised members of society. After the economic decline of the late 1920’s, resentment against Jewish immigrants grows along with nationalist fervour. In 1939 the Cuban government refuses entry to 900 Jewish refugees on the passenger ship the SS St. Louis, condemning them to their fates in Europe. In this climate of anti-Semitism and xenophobia, the men become examples of Giorgio Agamben’s homo sacer, who can be “killed but not sacrificed.” As (bio)politicized beings without political agency, they lead a “bare life,” a condition that persists in a life of internal and external exile (Sacer 85, 126-35).29 Ale learns from Moisés that her father’s experience of being openly part of a Jewish community ends in his teens, when he is put into a coma by Nazi sympathizers after Ytzak tears down their Swastika 68 flag. The trauma resulting from this event prevents Enrique from practicing his religion freely. His fear is such that rather than reveal his faith, he chooses to shout “Heil Hitler!” with a mob of Cuban and Spanish Nazi sympathizers he has accidently joined (Awe 352). Already culturally conditioned to fear persecution before his brutal beating, Enrique becomes a crypto-Jew, anchoring himself in the loss of history. His survival means resigning himself to replacing memory with olvido, which he and Ale understand as a space of forgetting, a repository for all that he must forget (103). As Ale laments, “[m]y father only made cameos in his own stories. Instead of memories, his recollections were photo-captions for tourists, snapshots of an idyllic and faraway moment in time” (201). With this repression of violence suffered under repeated uprootings, his Judaism is experienced as an unbreachable gap, “the void between Cuba and Spain, between him and everybody else” (119). While Enrique consciously suppresses his family’s fraught histories, they become impossible to avoid in the subconscious, where past loss inflects the present and imagined future. The narratives of diverse temporal registers intersect in his and his wife’s memories of realities not consciously processed. When adversity is linked with Cuba in dreams, they fail to recognize their subconscious perception of reality, which only compounds their present suffering. This disassociation from lived experience prevents them from interpreting visions in which their loved ones appear to remind them of the continuity of loss. Before the death of her mother-in-law, Sima, Nena believes she has seen a vulture passing so close to her that she can feel the heat of its breast and the rushing wind created by its wings. She is convinced that the bird with its militaristic shadow is a bad omen, but Enrique reinterprets her vision. He claims the vulture is a positive sign, for in nature these birds are known as nurturers; the females offer their own blood to their young when food is scarce as if they “understood the difference between the present and 69 the future, and the importance of continuity” (211). For the reader, Enrique’s repetition of Ytzak’s words when the latter abducts him as an infant serves as a premonition of further sacrifice and loss. In the same time period, Enrique dreams of a similarly ambiguous winged creature that evokes Gabriel García Márquez’s character in “Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes” (1955), and a fallen version of Walter Benjamin’s angel of history (“Theses” 257, 58). On the dawn of the invasion of Playa Girón, a black shadow drops from the sky in a rush of wind. When what seems to be a flightless bird lands on the ground, Enrique sees a badly wounded angel—neither male nor female—with a torn wing. Soon Havana street children gather to reset and patch the wing with their own clothing, after which they cradle the equally innocent seraph. Enrique then uses a rope to pull the angel onto his balcony, but the latter is still unable to fly and falls into the “panicky crowds.” Soon the creature, now sporting a wristwatch, disappears into a confusion of bodies being beaten by police as the children return to their games (Awe 213-14). Although Enrique catches a glimpse of his mother in the frantic melee, he and Nena feel the dream is a sign of approbation for the Cuban diaspora. With the denial typical of exiles who have not yet developed Said’s contrapuntal perspective, their estranged gaze blurs the actuality of both the new and old environments (Exile 186). The wounded angel represents them and the intractable crowd the United States, where they must assimilate, “becoming part of the fabric . . . in spite of our injuries” (Awe 214). Even as an eleven-year-old child, Ale senses that this interpretation favours her parents’ unconscious desire to ignore a more worrying reality. Questioning their distortion of the dream, she reminds them that the angel appears like a bomb from the sky, not from the crowd, which is Cuban, so it cannot represent her parents. However, her mother disagrees: “[I]t can’t be that the crowd is Cuban because, though we are Cuban, we 70 can’t return, even if we wanted to” (214). Her parents refuse to contemplate the hardship imposed by the Castro regime, even with the knowledge that repatriation is not an option. As Ale’s parents are unable to grasp the import of their dreams, they are prepared neither for the news of Sima’s death nor for its cause. Having nursed Ytzak through grave illness in Havana, she falls ill after a train journey home made nightmarish by the lack of fuel and overcrowding. After low sugar harvests and a fall in world sugar prices in the early sixties lead to a balance of payment crisis, Castro launches his failed plan for economic recovery: all able-bodied citizens will work to produce ten million tons of sugar a year by 1970, requiring an exodus from the capital and large-scale disruption of the economy. That Sima’s death is a direct consequence of the state’s economic policies provides the reader with a different explanation for her appearance in the dreams. Like those of Enrique’s nurturing vulture, her sacrifices are great; she loses her father, son, and the family bibles due to the state’s discrimination against Jews, and the revolution’s failure to provide for its citizens leads to her death. This loss occasions another understanding of their visions: the vulture with its militaristic shadow and the wounded angel recall a revolution gone awry and warn of impending death. Despite the children’s patching of the angel’s broken wing, it cannot fly and must lose itself in the hysterical crowd, where communities dissemble as they become victims of state violence. Thus grounded, the angel wears a useless timepiece, much like Castro’s sporting of two wrist-watches long after synchronized guerilla attacks required their accuracy. The watch becomes a reference to stagnation and an illegal tourist economy serving a privileged minority, with minimal benefit to the majority. For communities in Cuba, revolution has absconded with the past, present, and future. 71 Emerging as narratives of communal loss, these dreams point to a period of socio-economic and political stasis in which privation and violence are ideologically condoned. Ale’s suspension of the border between the oneiric and the real affords her a better interpretation of her parents’ visions. Ironically, considering his passion for encountering exactitudes in his work, Enrique rejects Ale’s interpreation and asks her not to translate dreams too literally. He thus confirms Said’s assertion, citing Georg Lukác’s Theory of the Novel (1916), that the prevalence of the unreal in the exile’s imaginary resembles fiction, “the form of ‘transcendental homelessness.’” Like the novel, which exists so that “other worlds may exist, alternatives for . . . wanderers [and] exiles,” Enrique’s fantasies make forgetting possible (Exile 181). However, for him and his daughter, forgetting does not mean an erasure of history. Olvido is a place with dimensions and weight, holding all the reality they want to forget (Awe 103). Afflicted with “a feverish kind of racial memory,” they are compelled to look to an extant past. Enrique’s sense of self-preservation directs his gaze towards Spain, whereas Ale will turn to Cuba (39). While Ale intuits the presence of Cuban rather than American state violence in her parents’ visions, she remains unaware of the reasons for her insight. Her upbringing in the U.S. has sheltered her from her family’s histories of alienation endured under Castro’s socialism. Despite this ignorance of specific events, she senses the complexities of narratives that struggle to reconcile faith and community. Indeed, Obejas complicates Enrique and Ytzak’s marginalization by revealing their own inability to avoid exclusionary practices as they attempt to preserve a unique collective identity. In Havana their orthodox Jewish faith allows individuals to connect across many socio-political divisions as an errant community within Cuba and internationally; however, like the rural Catholic society they escape from, the men’s Jewish solidarity relegates other marginalized individuals to secondary status. Women, non-cisgender 72 individuals, and practitioners of Santería, for example, lack an equal voice in these mono-faith enclaves. Ale experiences such internal exile in Chicago when she visits a Tunisian storefront temple to mourn the death of her father. In the synagogue beside Russian émigré bookstores, Pakistani and Indian groceries, and Chinese restaurants serving kosher food, an elder ex-client from Cuba interrupts her as she prays with Enrique’s phylacteries. When she protests, he informs her that Jewish tradition supersedes both national law and any notion of gender equality; she must navigate the loss of her father without tefillin and behind a plywood partition that separates her from the men. By aligning themselves with this religious intransigence, Ytzak and Enrique become exiles Said describes as those who, disoriented by loss, attempt to rebuild their fractured lives by seeing themselves as part of a restored people. Orphaned and feeling their difference in a discontinuous state of being, they jealously insist on their right not to belong by excluding others (Exile 177-178). As a result of these mechanisms of exclusion, imposed first by the state’s repression of difference and then by their religious identification as alienated and alienating other, both men are dismembered from the body politic. Enrique divests himself of any sense of community, religious or otherwise, in order to preserve a faith made personal. In contrast, Ytzak sees his faith as a means of bonding with others and is as reluctant to hide his Jewishness as he is to lose his faith in an equitable Cuban society. However, at the beginning of the Mariel exodus in the 1980s, he joins thousands of asylum seekers waiting for exit visas at the Peruvian embassy. His advanced age compounds his separation from the mob, and left without the means or support to withstand the extreme physical and mental hardship, he does not survive the siege. Whether his 73 presence is due to an accident of circumstance or a planned escape matters little to his family, who recognize the centuries-old discrimination that renders him less than human: [A]mid the shredded papers, the discarded chicken bones and plastic bottles, the torn rags, loose and unmatched shoes, coconut shells, putrid eggs, dried shit, and broken glass, were [his] crumpled remains . . . His body had shrunk to the size of a tote bag . . . Against the wall, with his back to the thousands, his white hair and dirty Dril 100 suit merged together so that he looked like discarded linen . . . not a person at all . . . his body had been broken in so many different places that his limbs and torso went every which way, like a loose bag of stones. His peg leg was missing, the blood glazed on his black stump. (Awe 225-226) Forgotten is Ytzak’s contribution to the war of independence, in which he loses his leg. State violence, represented by the white suit associated with various patriarchal figures, from bankers to politicians and dictators, reduces him to an abject materiality. Translocal Contaminations While Verne understands translocality as an unbounded relationality, her application of the Deleuzean rhizome to Swahili Sunni trade practices better describes the Jewish diaspora than Ale’s ahistorical rootlessness and “revulsion for the predicaments of faith” (8). For Verne, the movements of peoples, objects, and ideas fosters a horizontal enmeshing of materiality for interactions that remain culturally coherent; she studies Swahili traders who share customs and artefacts in their translocal communities of Zanzibar, Doha, London, and Toronto; however, the cultural contaminations that occur in these translocal spaces are beyond the scope of her research. While she insists that these ‘contact zones’ transform and are transformed by individuals, her focus is the mobility of individuals who claim kinship with Swahili 74 collectivities. In the next section of this chapter, I expand Verne’s conception of translocality to show how translocal relationality fosters interactions that subvert collective identifications. Key to this departure from Verne’s focus on how communal identities are maintained as cultural topologies, is a reconfiguring of the term ‘belonging’ as defined in contemporary English dictionaries such as The Oxford English Dictionary: “to be a member or affiliate of a particular group or category; to be a follower or adherent of a person, a subject of a ruler, a member of a family, a native or inhabitant of a place” (“belong”). Instead, I refer to the word’s Old English root ‘long’ (have a yearning desire) from the Middle Dutch ‘langen’ (desire, extend, offer) to argue that Obejas’s narrative imagines a translocality propelled by desire (“long”). Transgressive Relations While Enrique’s and Ytzak’s Judaism eclipses their ability to participate fully in non-Jewish imaginaries, Ale and her mother enjoy affiliations that extend Verne’s understanding of translocality. From their open association with others who choose diverse markers of identity—Cuban, Haitian, American, Chinese, Jewish, Santería, queer, and straight—emerges a translocal community defined by relations rather than religion, genealogy, or culture. These individuals escape the antinomy of the specific and the universal—the experience of a community versus its socio-political legitimacy, both local and global—by embracing their exemplarity rather the labels assigned them. Explaining his valorization of “the example,” Agamben claims language identifies individuals as being members of a class that cannot represent their particularity; the word ‘tree’ classifies all trees irrespective of ineffable differences (Community 8). The example, on the other hand, is neither fully included in a classified set nor fully excluded from it; it does not represent every object in a set that cannot account for all of its traits: “Neither particular nor universal, the example is a singular object that presents itself as such, that shows its singularity.” 75 With respect to social structures, then, classification forestalls the creation of viable communities as naming imposes identity on the unrepresentable, thereby creating false solidarities. Only the interactions between singularities, not those of singularities to wholes or vice-versa, create open, irreparable communities: “Pure singularities communicate only in the open space of the example, without being tied by any common property, by any identity. They are expropriated of all identity, so as to appropriate belonging itself” (Community 10). Glissant conceives of a similarly open relationality: “[R]elation, as an aptitude for ‘giving-on-and-with’ . . . challenges the generalizing universal . . . especially as the particulars that are its interpendent constituent have first freed themselves from any approximation of dependency” (Poetics 142). The Baroque reroutings of the Caribbean renounce “any ambition to summarize the world’s matter in sets of imitative harmonies that would approach some essence” (78). That is, while affiliations in the Antilles allow for the choice of non-rooted identities, they neither form an amalgam nor confirm an essence, remaining irreparably opaque (192). If the plurality of Ale’s community is not experienced as an identifiable political space, how does Obejas evoke home in a Caribbean diaspora? Early in the text, Nena’s personal narrative reveals her elusion of categorical definition. Paradoxically, in contrast to Enrique’s past, her lineage is “as clear as stitches, as irrefutable as as forensic bands of DNA.” Although orphaned as an infant, she can claim ancestors hailing from three continents, a traceability enriched with cultural contaminations following “a train line that covers a map of the earth” (Awe 39). However, she has no interest in her personal history, preferring to live in the moment. If Enrique is drawn to voices from centuries before, she lives “in the here and now . . . what really matter[s]” (43). As Ale affirms, she “cannot dip back in her genetic pool and claim anything or anyone, because it is all marvelously distant to her, as fanciful and irrelevant as 76 Athena bursting from the head of Zeus (44). Indeed, she has little faith in genealogy; when Ale presents her with an abundance of information on her family tree gleaned from Mormon church records, she asks “Isn’t that odd? Do you trust it?” (44). Indifferent to the loss of memories, she is “free of any burden, free to reinvent herself as necessary, free to reinterpret pain as karmic jet fuel, propelling her—and [her family]—toward the next level of the journey.” Unlike her equally exiled husband and daughter, who grew up “surrounded by firewalls of love,” Nena was raised “on a winded plain, always exposed” (39). Resembling Said’s sympathetic exile, she is aware that in a secular and contingent world, homes are always provisional. In this sense, she approaches Hugo of St. Victor’s idea of the “perfect” individual, who forgoes all sense of belonging (Exile 185).30 While Nena’s Jewish ancestors converted centuries ago to Catholicism, she is a lax Catholic who practices Santería and accepts the mysteries in life, along with her husband’s failed attempts to understand them (Awe 47). Ale associates her “strong, sexy” mother with the earth and its secrets, observing that her approach to gardening is one of contingent praxis (53). Like the Rorschachs of sweat on the back of her blouse—signs amenable to interpretation—plants for her require an open approach. Rather than depend on the textual lore her husband employs to diagnose health and disease in horticulture, she prefers to engage with the world by sharing experience with others. She confers with an ethnic Chinese exile from Vietnam until both are baffled before consulting Enrique (102). This openness to various knowledges is due to her unorthodox childhood as ward of her mother’s cousin, Barbarita, whose 40-year hidden relationship with a Chinese-Cuban chef and work as a translator allow her to imagine non- aborescent structures of belonging. 77 Barbarita translates Chinese texts from the T’ang dynasty and poems read in Tiananmen Square into Spanish “as tanks rolled and all the world watched, except Cuba” (42). But when an underground paper publishes her translation of Bei Dao’s dissident poem, “The Answer” (1954), the publication is confiscated by the Castro government. The regime’s suppression of references to the Tiananmen protests in lines such as “The Ice Age is over now / why is there ice every-where?” confirms the potentiality of individuals whose capacity for unrepresentable united action confounds the state apparatus (42). Agamben describes the Tiananmen Square protests as an example of a community of ‘whatever singularities’ who grasped their potentiality for social change by peacefully demonstrating their being in common: “For the state . . . what is important is never the singularity as such, but only its inclusion in some identity, whatever identity, (but the possibility of the whatever itself being taken up without an identity is a threat the state cannot come to terms with . . . sooner or later, the tanks will appear” (Community 85-86). Thus exposed to cultural contaminations at a young age, Nena has scant interest in pursuing a career as a translator. Converting Hemmingway’s “macho exploits” and Faulkner’s “wry pities” into Spanish bores her, and she gives her first translation job to her husband, thereby launching his career. His success becomes proof that her destiny is “not to be anybody’s daughter, not to have a particular career, not to hold forth on the noble Spanish lineage of her chromosomes,” but to love those around her (Awe 43). Nena’s focus on the present does not mean she distances herself from all ties with the past. Although she claims, “When I left Cuba, I left everything. This life—the people here—this is what matters to me now,” her new connections transform, not obscure, her relationship with the past (66). During the San Josés’ first few days in Miami, Nena struggles with her loss before a memorial to Cubans who perished during the exodus from the island. Respectful of the Santería 78 offerings of a coconut shell, a dead chicken, and a pile of pebbles, next to which she places her bouquet of flowers, she becomes distraught: “I don’t want to be here . . . none of this belongs here” (100). In this scene, Nena becomes aware that her previous idea of belonging as tied to the familiar, albeit culturally plural, sites of Cuba no longer holds true. The now translocal objects allow her to perceive her faith as unmoored from land and culture, and her equally displaced present as hanging in the balance. Nevertheless, because her (up)rootings constitute a horizontal assemblage of connections, rather than the arborescent structure valued by her husband, she is able to grasp her potentiality in kairological time. That is, Nena’s living in the present affords her an adaptability and an openness conducive to experiencing translocal relations with others, regardless of their histories or immediate reality. Contingent upon her desire for connection as well as that of those whose present she shares, these ties fail to conform to normative concepts of belonging and extend Verne’s conception of relationality. Similarly, as Ale moves between her mother’s openness to new bonds and her father’s isolated longing for a lost past, she embraces the constant socio-cultural intercontamination of her present. For this reason, her interest in her father’s Judaism is a quest neither for a lost faith nor an exclusive nationality. On learning her mother’s ancestors were also Jews, she denies the need for a religious identity: “I’ve never formally staked a claim, or ever will—not only because of my own adverse reaction to organized religions and the concept of legitimacy, but because it would be untrue” (44). Even if she could claim a faith so long abandoned that she lacks the matrilineal legitimacy required by all Jews, she would reject its absolutism. Her curiosity about the past emerges from a desire for open relationships with the individuals she encounters in daily life. Whether experienced directly or through objects that traverse multiple temporal and spatial registers—photos, magazines, telephone calls, letters, and religious paraphernalia—these 79 interactions manifest as a rhizomatic multiplicity, a horizontal rooting of mobile assemblages. Before Ale first travels to the Caribbean, she represses this yearning for lost connections with others of various times and places, particularly with individuals rendered homines sacri by the Castro regime. Once she moves between continent and island, however, she discovers these linkages inform an unbounded topology of flux, independent of political borders. Like her father on the Marilyn, Ale is unable to see the Key West lights shining like a beacon for viewers on the Malecón, only perceiving blackness and a wilderness populated by ghosts. In Miami, however, she has no difficulty discerning the lights of Havana across the Glissantean abyss of the sea (50). For her, Havana is a rock of “insolent majesty (95),” evoking Nancy Morejón’s image of the island as an enduring yet transforming “piedra pulida” of the sea, a malleable stone worked to a brilliant shine (Piedra 109). In contrast, Miami’s skyscrapers of steel teeter precariously on a bog (Awe 94). The quiet American metropolis, unlike the cacophonic Havana, is literally in danger of sinking into the sea, and the ubiquitous suitcases for sale in Miami stores only confirm the “floating” city as a way station rather than a destination. Soon after disembarking in Miami, the San Josés reject a city where migrants without connections risk becoming like a rock rolled down the heart of the quiet glass city, only to sputter to a halt “exhausted and finally still” (95). Determined to avoid such silencing, they move to the lake city Chicago, where Ochún, the Yoruba goddess of love and sweet waters, will keep them safe from dangerous sea voyages. This favouring of Havana and Chicago over Miami concerns Ale’s personal experience rather than the anchoring of an imagined community to a specific national territory. Her particular engagement with others of diverse lives transpires across multiple terrain to become an emerging translocal relationality. 80 A New Polyvocality In Chicago, Ale’s suppressed yearning for alternative narratives of belonging becomes a latent mechanism for the transformation of her family’s exile into a Glissantean desire informed by multiplicity—creolizing encounters of histories and materialities (Poetics 195). A bisexual, Jewish, and Cuban-American exile, she lives a plural reality and appreciates ties across social structures grounded in monolithic histories. As no single language can evoke her protagonist’s connections, Obejas uses the interplay of diverse languages and linguistic registers to recount lived experience. The weaving of Hebrew, Ladino, Spanish, and Cuban vernacular into the English narrative reveals a Bakhtinian ‘dialogized heteroglossia,’ in which multiple socio-cultural perspectives interact within a text (Bakhtin 272). The untranslated phrases interrupt the English text, engaging the reader through sound and affect, so that language becomes doubly ambiguous, opening space for a creative unfolding and folding of meaning. Differing from Enrique’s linguistic essentialism, Ale’s relationship with languge is “as messy and organic as a playground scuffle” (Awe 90). The inevitable “paraphrases and approximations” in her spontaneous interpretations irritate her father, who detests the drama of quotidian communication (92). Such is Ale’s disregard for his carefully contrived texts that she speculates there was once a universal language before the debate over its origin in sound or objects. Prelinguistic voicings—like those of animals, infants, the insane, and the dying—constitute “a language of the senses, a speech strictly of vowels: ooooh-aaaaah-iiiiiii…a kind of glossolalia: ecstatic and pure and boundless” with “a rhythm that defies culture and class, defies time” (89). As a child she addresses her parents with vowels, and refers to herself as Alef, Aleh, and Ale, the L a concession to her father’s Hebrew, a language written in consonants (90). This reduction of her name evokes a myriad of connotations alluded to in Obejas’s epigraph: from the 81 Hebrew Aleph, meaning the oneness of God, to the mathematical symbol of infinite sets, א, and Jorge Luis Borges’s short story, “The Aleph,” in which the particular cannot be separated from the uncircumscribable whole (Fictions 181-82). For Ale, the whole is an open relation of particulars to particulars, individuals to individuals and communities to communities, irrespective of specific properties. Carrying affect beyond the limits of linguistic form, sound communicates “desire and need: the most direct, the most religious kind of communication” (Awe 90). Unlike Enrique, who insists on speaking “pure Castellano” and translates Spanish and English texts, Ale is an oral translator, negotiating both languages spontaneously and without the need for definitive glosses (17). Her father’s search for exactitudes results in frustration as he struggles to guarantee the purity of language, but she remains unperturbed by the lack of a precise rendering for the word ‘heaven.’ She relishes the ambiguity of language, and that each of her interpretations becomes yet another version of reality: “I simply pluck the best word whether cielo or paraíso or porvenir and give it motion and meaning with my utterance. I talk and talk, negotiating between intention and message, and when we arrive at an agreement, my voice falls silent.” Rather than reproduce an original voice, she becomes a compassionate witness to speak beside rather than for others, experiencing language at its most performative: “I’m an empath. I slip my client’s words through my mouth as if they were formed by the electrical impulses of my own brain. I don’t think, I hook in, I mind meld, I feel and I articulate all the agony or joy or confusion the client is experiencing . . . I have no clue about what I’m actually saying. It’s all aaaah-uh-eeeeeeeeeeeeee” (92). This approach to communication prioritzes relationality so that sound as affect becomes means as end. Resembling the low moan of the sea, “the last sound we make with our mouths wide open—it’s a longing to belong” (245). 82 Inflecting her text with this multivocality, Obejas invites the reader to participate in the creation of new social imaginaries propelled by an interest in connecting with others. Eager to engage with the individuals she encounters in various geographic spaces, Ale becomes part of a web of relations that admits no particular identification. Regardless of their attributes: educated, lesbian, African-American or Cuban born, individuals are “living in the subjunctive—contingent emotionally conjured lives of doubt and passion” (76). That is, their interactions are fueled by desire as an end in itself, a longing within the cultural Babel of plurilocal relations that offers them the possibility of transforming their experience of community. Disruptive (Re)turns In Days of Awe, Obejas links communication and the sea as both are characterized by a fluidity that fosters mutable affiliations. For Ale, water communicates with a language of its own, a pre-linguistic voice with which to engage the world: “It talks, hums, ripples, and giggles through brooks and fountains . . . Water groans—the deep of the sea can pull back and hurl forth a fierce tsunami, unstoppable and orgasmic. It exalts, it heals, and kills. Afterward, water sighs, retreats with a siren song” (236). As ambiguous as language, the sea is a liminal space in which her passages to and from Cuba become topological folds of shared experience, its siren song voicing a longing for ties across socio-political divides. Associated with the seduction of human beings from terrenal belonging, the sea facilitates a mobility essential for translocal connections. Ale first crosses the Caribbean Sea as an interpreter in 1987, shortly before the Soviet withdrawal and the resulting economic crisis during the Special Period and Zero Option. As a child, she inherits Enrique’s and Ytazk’s obsessions with an imagined, personal utopia; Cuba resembles a “Land of Oz” conjured up in dreams and Havana a Zion whose streets she has memorized (54). However, the imagined city in which she envisions herself alone, “wild and 83 free” and “welcomed after . . . endless, unplanned travels in the diaspora,” vanishes when she becomes an adult (55). Her American identity eclipses her need to take refuge in a lost home, and her parents’ “exile-style paranoia” at the prospect of her return reinforces her estrangement from everything Cuban (52). Nena insists she disavow any connection with their past: “[T]ell them you’re an American citizen, that you gave up being Cuban a long time ago—tell them you have nothing whatsoever to do with Cuba” (53). And having learned from his own disillusionment in Havana, Enrique cautions her against expecting reality to match an ideal. Ale’s response is to reassure them of her ambivalence: “I could care less about Cuba . . . It’s no different to me than if I were going to Bolivia or Senegal or Spain” (54). Officially on a fact-finding mission regarding the realities of life under the revolution, she arrives at the Havana airport averring an objective distance: “I didn’t go as a tourist or a displaced person looking for roots” (51), . . . “I don’t have anyone in Cuba” (66), . . . “[M]y being Cuban is an accident of timing and geography” (67). Far from Agamben’s notion of an “in-difference” to properties, which “individuates and disseminates singularities, makes them lovable,” her impassivity is grounded in detachment, albeit forced, rather than connection (Community 18). Once in customs at José Martí airport, Ale is unsure of whether to present her American or Cuban passport as she does not consciously identify as Cuban. This moment of doubt signals her emerging awareness of a repressed past: “What could be more dramatic than returning to the place of your birth and feeling nothing, absolutely nothing, but the slightest shiver of an echo from a bottomless pit? (Awe 75). Crossing into sovereign Cuban territory becomes an uncanny event, and the resulting confusion opens space for a new vulnerability. Obejas develops this transition from an aloofness founded on denial to critical reflection through Ale’s recounting of two key memories of this initial trip. 84 First, on arrival in Cuba she avoids engaging in meaningful interactions with others, and rather than affirm a distinct identity, she clings to all that separates her from the people she meets. Even her body language insists, “I have nothing in common with you” (75). Using taxis, wearing incongruous black clothing to hide sweat stains, and showing partiality to English speakers, she confirms her difference. This effort to preempt relations on the island means she is never fully present. Identifying as American is impossible given her Spanish, but she will not respond to questions directed to her personally in Spanish, preferring to answer “like an automaton” in English. When called to account by a frustrated client, she insists on her invisibility: “Regardless of what language I was speaking . . . my mouth was filled with rocks and stones and broken glass . . . ‘These are not my words’ I explained. ‘I have no words of my own here’” (76). Unable to rely on an American identity and refusing to admit any possible ties with the people she meets, her sense of self begins to unravel, prefiguring her struggle with paradigmatic identifications of belonging. Another memory is of Moisés’s home, where she contemplates the life she could have led had her parents remained in Cuba. She describes this reflection as characteristic of individuals who, denied a life by revolution and exile, live their lives in the subjunctive, a space where “[e]verything is measured by what might have been, everything is wishful.” She appreciates the aptness of the subjunctive in Spanish, a language of cultures rife with yearning, yet finds comfort in its relative absence in the “cool confidence” of English (76). This intellectual reflection on language reveals her yearning for an otherness that escapes the confines of language conceived simply as means to an end. Indicating a wishfulness other moods fail to evoke, the subjunctive presents meaning as emerging from a longing, rather than the stasis of fulfillment. When Moisés tells Ale of her mother’s ability to produce an ache in others, not to possess her but to experience 85 a union, “not as an adventure but for eternity,” Ale sees her mother as “the subjunctive personified” (77). Nena’s renunciation of genealogy and embrace of the present undermines traditional affiliations and inspires Ale’s willingness to consider other experiences of belonging. In Cuba, this tentative openness to difference becomes a desire for new relations, the driving force of the text from this point on. Ale’s uncovering of her family’s lost narratives in Moisés’s home becomes the impetus for the multiple connections she makes across socio-cultural borders as she plies the Atlantic. Interacting with his relatives and friends, she learns of the coexistence of the various belief systems that tie the experiences of these individuals to hers. While Moisés’s Jewish faith informs his day-to-day activities, his children have the names of Cuban heroes, some of which are Catholic; his son, Ernesto, channels his revolutionary namesake by irreverently faking an asthma attack. When Ale asks why his children have not been named after living relatives, as is customary in the Jewish tradition, he justifies this divergence from custom by claiming a syncretic identity: “Of course we’re Jews! . . . [but] in Cuba we’re Cubans . . . And here, we are always naming our children for heroes, heroes who are very much alive and can serve as examples” (79). This pluralism characterizes the entire family. His wife whispers to him in a fractured French inflected with Spanish and Turkish (84). And while his daughter and three granddaughters are Jewish, his son-in-law, Orlando, is a gentile accepted for his revolutionary zeal. In contrast, Moisés’s father appears frozen in time, “an ancient mummy-like mass,” as he sits under a sheet in front of a TV all day. This “patriarchal zombie”(78), who claims to have not slept since the Playa Girón invasion, appears as a reminder of the socio-political paralysis Cubans must navigate in a stifled revolution (77). 86 As Moisés’s door is always open to visitors with whom he shares his table and possessions, Ale enjoys her first dinner on the island with a community of family members and neighbours (79). During the meal, she is overcome with emotion, “as if the force of the ocean had been contained in [her] chest,” by the generosity with which she is welcomed (84). Once again, her longing for connection is associated with the sea, a site of potentiality throughout the novel. Having escaped to recover in the bathroom, she witnesses a shocking scene perceived from a window overlooking the back yard: Orlando pleasuring an underage girl, Celina, who, conscious of Ale’s voyeurism, returns her gaze as she caresses her lover’s cheek. Ignorant of this exchange, Orlando drives Ale back to her hotel, and on the way they have sex in the vehicle. In this scene, both Orlando and the absent Celina are objects of Ale’s desire as she savours the trace of the girl on the body of the man. Unlike Sarduy’s ‘curriculum cubense,’ this assemblage of desiring singularities presents the complicity of those who champion human rights while perpetuating the very discourses they condemn. Deriving pleasure from their encounters with Celina’s open sexuality, Orlando and Ale replicate the insidious violence of their respective socio-political environments. Indeed, the doubling of the abuse enacted on the girl’s body in both private and public spaces confirms their endorsement of such violence. Through this undermining of her protagonists, Obejas subverts the binaries sustained by dominant discourse. As notions of center/periphery, subject/object, us/them become problematic, Ale and Obejas’s readers must reconsider their engagement with ethics. The disruption of Ale’s psycho-social habitus becomes evident after her return to the U.S., when Celina’s brother, Félix, travels to Chicago as a light technician for a touring theater group. His interaction with Ale and her boyfriend, Seth, produces an entanglement of objects, bodies, and values transposed over time and place, unsettling Ale’s grasp of belonging. Wearing 87 a winter jacket worn by his father on a visit to the U.S. in the fifties, Félix arrives at her Chicago apartment to deliver a letter from Moisés. Before they share stories over dinner and a bottle of Havana Club, Ale learns that Félix’s fourteen-year-old sister lives alone, orphaned by the death of their mother and their father’s incarceration for anti-revolutionary activities. Although captivated by Celina, an “extraordinary” youth whose “coquettishness” only enhances her beauty, Ale sees her as a vulnerable child and a victim of sexual violence (81). Her own actions with Orlando, “quite possibly a monstrous man,” provoke shock and guilt as she has failed to protect a minor. Her ostensible complicity in such abuse is complicated by Félix’s assertion that his sister is a young woman “older than her years,” not a child, who Orlando drives regularly to visit their father (156-157). Despite Ale’s witnessing of their tryst and Celina’s obvious enjoyment of Orlando’s attentions, their coupling breaks with Ale’s understanding of licit sexuality. She also cannot reconcile this perceived violence with her own desire for Orlando and Celina; her positioning between the two undermines a heretofore confident morality. For this reason, she envies the facile ethics of her “wholly noble, intuitively just” Jewish-American boyfriend, Seth, who reduces destitution in Cuba by relativizing suffering: Cubans are more fortunate than Mexicans and Bolivians. Perhaps because of his easy humanitarianism, Seth is unaware that Celina’s story has piqued his desire, and when he and Ale later catch Félix casually observing their love-making, the youth’s open pleasure outrages him (159). Félix’s invasion of their privacy differs from Ale’s intrusion of the congress in Moisés’s garden in that although both acts can be condemned as deviant behavior, Celina’s youth renders her a victim of abuse; however, there is an inverse relationship between the events that problematizes a victim/perpetrator binary, highlighting the violence enacted on all the characters. In each scene, a couple’s intimacy is shared by a third party, and while in both Cuba and the U.S. 88 one sexual act is deemed natural and the other a perversion, the roles of observer and observed overlap to undermine an imagined morality. In the first scene, Ale’s reluctant titillation on viewing Celina’s submission and her own subsequent actions confirm the normalization of violence in the patriarchal state. In the second scene, aroused by Félix’s recounting of his sister’s relationship with Orlando, Ale and Seth become the focus of Félix’s scrutiny, a doubling of Celina’s Lacanian return gaze. This witnessing of events from various perspectives invites criticism of two distinct socio-political environments in which a dominant morality outweighs ethics. Whether the actions of Obejas’s characters inspire disgust or pleasure, their multiple positionings engage readers to contemplate their own complicity with mainstream discourse. The destabilizing of fixed social mores leads Obejas’s protagonist to a contrapuntal re-evaluation of discourses dependent on state-sanctioned archives, irrespective of diverse histories. For Verne, borrowing from Deleuze, translocal connections comprise productive assemblages of relationality, meshworks of entangled lines, rather than points as dominating centers punctuating static trajectories (Translocality 29). Similarly, Obejas prioritizes multiplicities of experience over imposed histories grounded in certitudes. For her characters, the intangible and tangible inform a matrix of irreparable relations extending across multiple terrain. Letters, for example, narrate past and present lives for the sharing of experience rather than verifiable facts. The letter Ale receives from Moisés via Félix focusses on mundane topics, interspersed with anecdotes about the family’s history. The missive’s lack of meaningful content underscores its value as an object that contributes to the breadth of the diasporic rhizome. Inspired by love, rather than a practical impulse to convey information, it engenders reciprocal affection. Enrique’s lack of interest in the letter’s contents frustrates Ale, who grows more impatient when she realizes his ignorance fails to diminish his joy on hearing of Moisés’s correspondence: “‘Don’t you want to 89 know what he said? . . . He is your friend,’ I told my father, as if that should give him permission, or perhaps more precisely, imply obligation. ‘No, he said . . . he is not my friend—friend is not the right word. He is my brother, if not in the literal filial meaning certainly in spirit’” (162). Enrique’s bond with the son of Turkish-Jewish immigrants to Cuba escapes the ties of lineage and the social duties of friendship to emerge as an open love for another singularity. Moisés echoes this openness in another letter to Ale, in which he approves of Seth’s Jewish background but stresses the higher importance of their attachment: [In] the end, it is really only love that matters; that is what I tell my children, that is why I was so happy when Angela married Orlando, because that he is not Jewish could not be a criteria [sic] when what is really important is that he is a good person and loves my daughter. (Some members of my community used to protest his not being Jewish to cover up their real objection—that he is mulato—but having felt the sting of that kind of racism myself . . . I find the whole idea of judging a person this way simply repulsive. It’s what’s in the heart that counts.) (163) Thus, letters in the novel become physical manifestations of mobile affiliations dependent less on individual properties than the processes that connect people. Although Moisés values human connections regardless of religion or race, his self-identification as a Cuban revolutionary ties him to Cuban territory, “our little island,” for emigration to Turkey or Israel is not an option. He affirms his Cuban identity by asking “How would I know what to do anywhere else? Who would I be anywhere else? I was born here.” This patriotism, however, is undermined by his conflating of revolutionary cubanismo with Judaism—another “small nation”—whose parallels with Marxism he applauds; both Jews and Communists have moved from innocence to their present social chaos but will soon achieve 90 harmony (167). His particular Cubanness deviates from official rhetoric and corrupts orthodox Judaism to perform alternative ways of being Cuban and Jewish. A month after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which fills Ale with awe, Moisés writes of his confidence in the revolution’s ability to surmount difference: “Our walls are all of our own making—all of us—and none of them are real. In the long run, we will survive here, and there [the U.S], too, with all our mutual yearning, and we will find our own way back to each other, and it need not be with war, cold or otherwise, or with dollars” (175). For him, the longing for a viable existence foregoes certain boundaries in favor of a productive national solidarity. Moisés’s support for the opening up of socio-cultural and political borders widens the scope of his family’s imbrication with other lives on and off the island, without diminishing his allegiance to the state. For this reason, he believes that despite Enrique’s and Ale’s reluctant citizenship, both she and her father can never become Americans, “one of them,” as they are unquestionably Cuban (186). Aware of his potential extremism, however, he claims the Cuban nation for Cubans as an affirmation of independence, “not to the exclusion of others but that we are not under anyone’s boot” (187). Thus, even with this respect for other peoples, his commitment to the revolution prevents him from recognizing the failures of a government that appears to put ideology before the well-being of its citizens. As Orlando observes, his father-in-law’s devotion to the revolution evokes Abraham rather than Job as he is “willing not just to sacrifice himself but everyone around him—always true to the revolution” (337). When the regime fails Moisés’s ex-wife and son (once practicing Jews), leading the former to Spain and the latter to suicide, his apparent fanaticisms, revolutionary and Jewish, never waver. Blind to his own status as homo sacer under a sovereign ban, his faith in the revolution precludes change. 91 Uncovering Narratives of Longing Moisés’s circumspect regard for other communities and Orlando’s criticism allow Ale to appreciate the diverse nationalisms of Cuba; however, her wordless exchange with the orphaned Celina occasions her reflection on the meaning of home. Her interest in Celina cannot be separated from the eroticism of the encounter in Havana, but her fascination grows to encompass all that the girl represents in terms of an unknown otherness. The daughter of an imprisoned dissident, Celina is exiled within her native Cuba and therefore mentally free to live as she chooses, a mode of existence unexplored by Ale. Her unwilling obsession for the girl is evidence of an estrangement from her Cuban ties and her frustrated sexuality, both of which forestall her experience of a viable community. Representing an openness Ale has yet to experience, Celina becomes a catalyst for the uncovering of her family’s past and, paradoxically, relations that do not depend on arborescent structures of rootedness. After Ale returns from her first visit to Cuba, she begins to discover horizontal rootings and an emerging sexuality. Her stable relationship with Seth is threatened by her attraction to a female lawyer who shares her grandmother’s name: Sima. Enquiring about the lawyer’s Hispanic background, Ale is surprised to be told the name is Hebrew and encouraged to explore her Jewish heritage. This brush with a hidden sexuality and obscure past so disrupts the narratives Ale has constructed regarding her personal and collective identity that she severs contact with the lawyer: “I felt so transparent, so like a terminal patient suddenly aware that all the medicine I’d been taking may have just been placebos administered to a control group in some macabre experiment” (113). The shock of this experience leads to a confrontation with her father, who admits to his mother’s conversion to Catholicism while insisting “We’re Spaniards, we’re Catholic . . . We’re like everybody else in Cuba” (115). Enrique’s refusal to publicly 92 acknowledge his faith privileges dominant Eurocentric identifications that deny the existence of excluded individuals and communities. However, Ale’s recent encounters with otherness render his argument suspect. As an unknown past inflects her present, Ale’s imagined ties with Cuba become realities in relation—a Glissantean ‘giving-on-and-with’ that replaces the ‘grasp’ of monolithic identifications. Subconsciously no longer limiting her physical desires, Ale has erotic dreams of a threesome with Sima and a Jewish-Cuban client sporting a prosthetic arm. This latent sexuality becomes reality when she falls in love with Leni, an American Jew with “cinnamon-skin” who rejects her parents’ Judaism and the existence of a Jewish race. Leni’s disavowal of her religious heritage reinforces Ale’s desire for reconnection with those her family left behind in Havana; her lover’s denial of one reality affirms the potential existence of others. As “rebellion itself,” Leni embodies an otherness Ale longs to explore: “I’ve never been more Cuban than when I was with her . . . I was closer than ever to all the dark peoples for whom I interpreted and to whom I represented a system and established order that I never felt part of. With her, I relished my own darkness.” That is, Leni’s compelling difference allows Ale to enjoy her own singularity and an opacity that outweighs essentialized identities. She feels closer to disenfranchised people of colour and free to play with her professed “cubanidad,” without the need to assert an authenticity she is incapable of demonstrating (179). However, Ale and Leni also share a sense of guilt for the privileges they enjoy when identified as middle-class Americans, which confounds their status as members of an oppressed minority. Their unease manifests itself in telling ways: Leni’s features mark her difference—she is often mistaken for being Moroccan, Greek, Brazilian, or Cuban—but she can use her Jewish name and wealth to her advantage and yearns for an urban American anonymity “unfettered and 93 free.” Ale, on the other hand, lacks physical traits that coincide with stereotypical notions of Jewishness and Cubanness and enjoys public spaces free from discrimination. Thus denied ties with marginalized pasts and presents, she sees herself “as a blank space” (182). From this sense of vacuity arises a desire for connection rather than a longing for an exclusive individual and collective identity. Ambivalent about the need to affirm a particular national affiliation as she begins to experience a diasporic belonging, she envies her lover’s undeniable bonds. Before appreciating a translocal multiplicity, Ale remains unable to navigate the ontological gap that limits her experience of self and others. Her family’s exile, her father’s hidden Judaism, and her mother’s orisha beliefs confirm her self-estrangement. When she asks “Who am I in all this?” her answer is that she is “a stranger, as out of place as a whale whimpering on the shore, a lute, a hairless native pretending to live free” (192). The lack of water for the stranded creature, the absence of sound from the unplayed instrument, and the vulnerability of a false liberty speak to her hybrid alienation: I’m my father’s daughter, mindful of both the mystery and the exodus, but I am also heir to my mother. I ask the requisite four questions at Pesaj . . . but I also lay sunflowers and roses at the feet of the Virgin of Charity and arrange for fruit to ripen at her altar . . . Like him, I’m a child of Amos, forever critical and self-critical; like her, I am a consequence of events beyond my control—and utterly practical, capable of creating god out of matchsticks, if necessary. Like both of them, I believe god is everywhere. (192) At first glance, her pied reality appears to depend on an immanent God; however, her use of the word ‘God’ has little to do with organized religion. Only once claiming to be Jewish to avoid two young bible-wielding Christians and “avenge the injustices of five hundred years ago,” she sees as much value in her father’s Judaism as in her mother’s Santería (273); but unlike them, 94 she rejects the notion of an omnipresent being, feeling “ill at ease with all [the] vigilance . . . with the idea that [she] might need to be protected.” Unable to conform to the tenets of any faith, she remains a stranger, out of place and as exposed as Hans Christian Andersen’s naked emperor (192-193). This vulnerability, expressed as the question “Who will see my naked beauty, who will love me now?” informs her longing for a community in which to navigate love and loss with similarly engaged singularities (193). Her ‘God’ constitutes an affirmation of life, a yearning for an ethics produced by and productive of the constant intersection of individuals and their realities: “God, like sex, reflects our morality and mortality: In their own timeless ways, we use them in the present to relieve us of the past, to conceive a future. We use them to get beyond death” (191-192). For Ale, life and death no longer mark beginnings and endings; they are experienced on a continuum of desire within an immanent relationality. Rather than depend on religion to serve as a moral compass, she uses her body as the most reliable interface with the world. Like the erotic play in Cantantes, the relation of bodies and their affects through time and space in Days of Awe produces an excess that allows for a reconfiguring of ethics. This appreciation of play approaches Agamben’s notion of ‘profanation.’ For Agamben, play allows for the profanation of the sacred as it removes people, ideas, and objects from their prescribed uses as means towards ends. As pure means without ends, they render inoperative imposed power structures and return to common use that which power has captured, for example, when children reenact a wedding ceremony or wear rosaries as necklaces: “Just as the religio that is played with but no longer observed opens the gate to use, so the powers (potenze) of economics, law, and politics, deactivated in play, become the gateways to a new happiness” (Profanations 95 76). That is, as Ale engages with others outside of socio-political constraints, she affords herself the opportunity to realize a new ethos. Ale’s frustration with her father’s tormented attachment to a hidden faith now arises less out of disdain than compassion. She sees that his “fanciful mythology” is a means of escaping past trauma (Awe 193): I already knew the answers to my father’s Friday night obligations. Like every ancient human who ever wrote on a clay tablet or cave wall, we both understood the cosmic sympathies between our guts and the moon’s cycles, our brains and the scattered constellations, the rhythm of our earthly hearts and the eclipses of the sun and the moon. When my father prayed, he pondered this: Perhaps god [sic] is a construct, but perhaps not. Perhaps light is a metaphor, simply what happens when we think we’ve found an explanation for what frightens us; but perhaps, too, it stands outside of us. Maybe the first sentient being to discover light did so not by the magic of internal illumination but by opening her eyes, seeing what was already there. The dark, perhaps, was not ignorance but the mere backside of an eyelid. (My father would take no chances.). (193-94) While Ale prefers to invest in the material present rather than an omnipotent transcendent being, she shares Enrique’s problematic relationship with the past. Unlike her mother’s history, to which various objects and “a chorus of witnesses” can give ample evidence, Enrique’s life is punctuated by decades of “black holes.” Even when pressed to divulge an anecdote from the past, he omits entire decades, hoping his audience will not notice (198, 199). This denial of the past appears as a form of self-imposed amnesia when he insists that his life is devoid of significant events. If coaxed, he entertains his daughter with scenes of everyday life in Cuba, 96 repressing the trauma of the past, which nevertheless persists as a present anguish for both: his fear of discovery and her yearning for connections. Sensing the import of her encounters in Cuba, Ale imagines an island inhabited by individuals who call to her as “a chorus of ghosts in limbo” (204). This reference to liminality suggests the ‘days of awe’ of Obejas’s title, in which time is suspended for a renewal of community. The image also evokes Agamben’s understanding of limbo—the unbaptized child’s heaven—as a space beyond divine and political judgement, where, free from exclusive communal identities, ‘whatever singularities’ can realize their potentialities (Community 5). Thus, after Ale’s first visit to the island, Cuba is less a topographical space than a topology of voices calling for her assistance in changing their reality. Among these voices is that of the young girl Ale spies with Orlando. Indeed, Celina (heaven) synecdochally represents a relationality freed from cultural and political impasses. These spectral others are as tangible as Enrique’s Judaism, but eschewing his dependency on a definitive religious identity, Ale welcomes alternative means of relating with others. To this end, she confirms an incipient bond with Celina by making an offering to La Virgen de la Caridad, Cuba’s syncretic saint of love—a physical act less about spirituality than a presencing of her yearning for the girl and the otherness she represents. Ale’s passionate interest in Celina resembles her father’s desire for a Jewish refugee he hardly meets when, as a young man, he delivers foodstuffs to the exiled SS St. Louis. After the banishment of the passenger ship and his doomed love, Enrique looks to his Spanish roots to affirm a more compassionate, religious identity. His faith strengthens his ties with the absent girl and becomes the home denied by Cuban politics. For Ale, too, love and loss inform a problematic relationship with the Cuban state, but a diasporic perspective, not religion, guides 97 her search for belonging. With the death of Celina’s brother, Félix, she recognizes the reality of state repression. His suicide after being forbidden an emigration visa due to a political infraction marks the beginning of Ale’s engagement with the Castro regime’s abuse of power and her active interest in Celina and her family’s past. Once a “sadistic” voyeur of Ale and Seth’s lovemaking, Félix inspires compassion as Celina’s lost guardian angel (207). In his place, Ale sends a care package to the girl with a Catholic charity defying the US blockade; and in a tribute to hope, she places Félix’s photo beside his sister’s Santería offering while invoking a Jewish prayer (208). This assemblage of rites and their associated objects intensifies her engagement with an emerging translocality. Such is Ale’s concern over Celina and the Cuban state’s persecution of the girl’s family that Félix appears in dreams fraught with anxiety. As Glissant insists regarding the silenced histories of the Caribbean, “The past, to which we were subjected, which has not yet emerged as history for us, is . . . obsessively present” (Caribbean 63). In these nightmares, Ale attempts to free Félix of the tie he has used to hang himself when he suddenly awakes, cackling with the same derision he displayed after being caught watching Ale having sex with her boyfriend. Once again his laughter undermines discourses of progress. The boy’s tie reduces the Cuban flag to a pennant describing the reality of Cuban life. It lacks the flag’s red triangle, symbolizing fraternity, equality, and liberty; and the white star, indicating independence. Instead, a white stripe, denoting the purity of ideals in the flag, is set on a black background and marked by a blue apostrophe. While the blue in the flag represents the Cuban people, the apostrophe, signifying a lack, becomes Félix’s final assessment of the regime’s failure to deliver on its promise to create a more equitable society. Obejas’s use of this punctuation mark and the image of the ghostly chorus coincides with Agamben’s appreciation of the rhetorical apostrophe as an 98 address that must be heard for the witnessing of silenced histories (Remnants 54). Thus, as Ale learns of the details of Félix’s suicide, she understands his death as a process rather than a single factual event. For her, as for all exiles, deaths in Cuba occur “as narratives, each with its own complicated unfolding, its cast of characters and subtle plots” (Awe 209). In this way, the young man’s story joins the many narratives of communities in limbo. Home Unbound On Ale’s second return to Cuba in 1997, the revolution has become a crippling absurdity for all but diehard Castroistas. When she and Moisés’s wife watch the film The Madness of King George (1994), the monarch at his most irrational grows a beard, producing an uncanny likeness to Fidel. The audience’s nervous giggle demonstrates an awareness of their leader’s comparable derangement. Ale believes this madness permeates all of Cuban society, emerging as an “insanity that is collaborative, collective,” a phenomenon Orlando terms “los caprichos,” alluding to Goya’s etchings condemning Spanish society (130-131). Castro’s initiatives evidence ludicrously desperate approaches to rescuing a failing economy: growing belts of agricultural products around Havana; erecting windbreakers so citizens can continue their activities during hurricanes; equipping cattle stalls with air conditioning and classical music for increased production; and breeding a miniature cow for every household—“Look at that, El Comandante has invented the goat!” (132). When Ale discusses these ill-conceived strategies with Moisés, he refuses to criticize a leader who has educated generations of Cubans to believe in transformative change. For her, this denial explains Castro’s political longevity; he has become a legendary figure embodying a collective desire in response to dire impoverishment: “Fidel, like the devil himself, is an invention of necessity. He is the mirror onto which Cubans project their heroism 99 and betrayal, their sense of righteousness and valor. Without Fidel, there would have been no golden age, no paradisiacal past, no lives in the subjunctive” (129). Less evidence of support for the regime than a prioritizing of hope over lack as a tactic for survival, this positive desire is an end in itself, a means without end for connecting individuals, ideas, and objects across space and time. Ale first appreciates the potentiality of desire through her engagement with those exiled on the island. She recognizes that without interaction with others, hardship in Cuba cannot be overcome, regardless of state initiatives. In the beginning years of the revolution, an inclusive socialist state plans to erase inequality as Che Guevara’s hombre nuevo invests in the well-being of his or her community and the nation. However, after the landing at the Playa Girón and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Castro regime takes an aggressive approach to limiting the rights of homosexuals, Jews, and other minorities seen as detrimental to the national project. As the government resists then revives discriminatory practices long established by colonial interests, individuals and communities depend on their continued relations for survival. The resulting socio-cultural intercontaminations problemize notions of an ideal citizen. As Ale observes, the dearth of resources in Cuba during the Special Period leads communities already characterized by multiplicity to distance themselves from the official rhetoric regarding the new Cuban man. Their yearning for others becomes essential for withstanding their capture by an imagined ideology. On this second trip to Cuba, Ale visits Barbarita, the woman who raised her mother after she was orphaned, and who is known as “La china” due to her long-term lover’s ethnicity. In this scene, Obejas presents the reader with individuals whose relationships undermine dominant conceptions of Cuban identity, whether colonial or revolutionary. Ale searches for Barbarita in Varadero’s substratum, behind tourist hotels where she lives “with the rest of the natives . . . 100 places that never appear on postcards and tourist brochures” (240). She finally locates Barbarita’s home, not through the logic of a numbered address nor by a single appellation, but by introducing herself and explaining her relationship with the woman. In the resort individuals and their relationships have many names, so only narratives can elicit a response from the locals, as Ale explains: “‘We’re looking for Barbarita Abravanel . . . She’s my aunt,’ I say, using another kind of license—the Cuban custom of rearranging and renaming relatives and others we love according to need, not bloodlines” (241). In this community connections contingent upon circumstance replace aborescent structures of kinship to accommodate complex and fluid ties. Barbarita’s storm-ravaged home appears as a physical manifestation of a once-imagined enclosed community, now revealing a natural openness: [W]e know it’s her house because there’s nothing else, only brambles and bush. It is a large home, long like a train; we see it disappear back into the wilderness. The last hurricane not only tore the roof but the walls, too, opening the front room completely to the skies and the elements. Amazingly, the front door is intact—its frame a hard mahogany, with roses carved into its face, a knocker, and a doorbell with tricolor wires like the Cuban flag that leak out and down, along the exposed and weathered blue-and-white living room tiles. The door and the frame hang suspended in air. (242) Confused by the chaos of the house—silent but for the sounds of the sea, the ocean breeze, and distant hum of traffic—Ale calls out in English and Spanish. When her aunt, “not Chinese by birth but perhaps by osmosis,” recognizes her as Nena’s daughter, she welcomes her with open arms amid the little Buddhas placed throughout the wreckage. Later, as a group of elderly neighbours entertain her and Orlando, she compares the security of her aunt’s destroyed home with the inevitable looting that would occur in a similarly ruined house in the U.S. This 101 romanticizing of suffering irritates Orlando, who insists that she is incapable of grasping a reality she will never experience. The problem with Ale, he believes, is that she feels she has been deprived of something. An exile with little knowledge of the past, Ale agrees. As Said explains, the exile is drawn to a loss he or she cannot fathom (Place 216-217). She describes herself as an awkward swimmer who struggles as if resisting the current, “always trying to escape from . . . captors, to go back rather than advance.” This uncertainty only intensifies her need for others. As she swims, she hears the water as a “deep, horrible and dazzling” moan that reverberates through her chest and throat as a longing for community. Once again, water propels her towards a desired unknown. When she emerges from the sea, her first sighting is Cuba, and she is born anew, ready to add breadth to her rhizomatic community (Awe 245). Barbarita’s home, then, confirms the continuity of desire amid the debris of loss. As Ale’s yearning is not to establish roots embedded in religion or national identity, she values the movement the sea permits for self-transformation and a contrapuntal caritas. Like Sarduy, Obejas writes open communities, whose horizontal reroutings unmoor the imposition of fixed identifications. The displacement of realities that accompanies the movement of people, ideas, and objects over multiple sea crossings fosters linkages for a critical relationality. Similar to Moíses’s missives, Orlando’s letters to Ale become translocal objects that afford them an intimacy resembling that experienced when Orlando is present. He writes repetitious yet distinct descriptions of daily life in Cuba, with abbreviations that become a cipher between them, allowing him to punctuate his prosaic notes with explanations of a more personal nature; his marriage was a pretence orchestrated by the demands of societal norms, so he and his wife have secretly divorced. The separation has not affected their love for each other, only confirmed their affection without the need for legal restrictions as to how to conduct their bond. Orlando’s letters 102 offer Ale an explanation for his extra-marital affairs, yet leave the question of ethics open. This ambiguity invites her contemplation of interactions that escape the boundaries of normative social ties. His relationship with Celina, now a young woman, remains particularly problematic. While open to same-sex relationships, Ale bridles at the thought of the possible abuse that might have taken place between a man of forty and a girl of fourteen, even though in 1995 the age of consent in Cuba is twelve (“Summary” 12). Her letters to Orlando resemble “conversations with [her] own confused self” as they are “loaded with questions and doubts” that exhilarate and terrify her (Awe 249). Ranging from mundane topics to the importance of rain and Enrique’s preoccupation with the word ‘heaven,’ these exchanges force her to re-examine her understanding of ethical relationships. Her reflections on translation and the failure of language to signify all of human experience approach Agamben’s discussion of Plato’s theory of ideas: “Meaning and denotation do not account for all of linguistic signification: we have to introduce a third term: the thing itself, the being-such that is neither what is denoted nor what is meant” (Community 99). That is, singularities can never be fully captured by language, which only reveals a communicability rather than an object or subject. Not naming essences, only exposing the communicability of things in the kairos of the present, language opens space for the only ethical experience, “the experience of being (one’s own) potentiality” (43). Through her experience of exile and diaspora, Ale recognizes that the communicative power of language depends on a performativity characterized by ambiguity. With this focus on the limits of representation, Obejas offers up for scrutiny the norms associated with a capture of language that separates human beings from their potential. To explain her understanding of language as contingent on circumstance, Ale outlines for the reader the various possible uses of the word ‘love’ for Latinos and Cubans; querer translates 103 as “desire . . . an imperfect human bond”; amar as romantic love; encantar and gustar as a like for objects, with gustar also describing a like “chock-full of lust” for a person (252-254). When she meets Orlando in 1997 and suggests he loves (querer) Celina, he agrees; however, when she then asks if he also loves (amar) the young woman, he finds the question humorous, insisting that they did not sleep together as intercourse is for lovers. Ale balks at the idea that this is an acceptable justification of their interaction, but Orlando reminds her that her grandmother married at fourteen; it is not human experience that changes over time but the lens through which it is perceived (257). He knows, too, that Ale has no choice but to believe that he did not breach his own code of ethics because she loves him (in the sense of querer): her actions are also inspired by desire. While Obejas risks alienating her readers with what appears to be the condoning of unethical behaviour, her aim is to inspire a questioning of social norms, regardless of culture. Her protagonist offers an example of such critical thinking so that desire remains productive, not repressive. Whether or not the various forms of desire offend readers, they must engage with their own ethics. For Obejas, desire affirms communicability between individuals, or in Agamben’s terms, the “intelligence of an intelligibility” (Community 1). That is, connections do not depend on actual physical contact or knowledge of a reducible other. Enrique keeps a picture of the unknown Jewish girl on the SS St. Louis due to a secret yearning for community. She represents his alienated religion and his hopes for a rapprochement with the forces that have made him and generations before him homines sacri in various terrain. However, as he cannot openly practice his faith in Cuba and the U.S., where in 1939 the SS St. Louis was also turned away, “Cuba is an endless dream” indulged in only for Nena (Awe 260). Like Enrique and his mute passion for the Jewish refugee, Ale finds herself drawn to Celina on their first wordless encounter. The girl 104 represents an unfathomable otherness, the heaven that exists but for which there is no specific identifying term. Similarly, Nena sympathizes with the disenfranchised communities left behind and joins a virtual community under the screen name MamaChola, an alias for Ochún. Although her online discussions center on Cuba, she takes no political position, preferring to solicit information about day-to-day life on the island. This interest in a community her husband refuses has less to do with the nationalist ‘revolutionary’ agenda than with belonging experienced as deterritorialized commonalties in relation. The figure of Elegguá—possessor of the keys to past, present, and future roads—stands in her American living room as a “proud cultural artifact, evidence of a nationality as much as spirituality” (260). Representing her personal beliefs, not those of her plural community, this object functions as a particularity engaging with others across socio-political boundaries. That is, rather than confirming her allegiance to an exclusive political community she rejects when she burns all her official documents to “sever[…] Cuba from her life like a rotten limb,” the figure affirms her translocal connections. When at the age of twelve Ale protests her mother’s erasure of a political past, Nena explains its irrelevance to their new life: “You will have your own connections, your own memories . . . you don’t need mine” (302). The orisha’s syncretic religious and cultural significance contributes to an irreducible multiplicity. Nena’s Santería is as translocal as Enrique’s Judaism, but while her husband longs for an imagined, immutable Zion, she is intent on navigating the “here and now” (43). As an exile who is able to live in the present and enjoy a plural community, Nena understands the dangers of nostalgia: The problem with being born on an island . . . is that you get used to gazing at the horizon. You develop a longing for whatever is on the other side—the island always 105 looks small and miserable compared to what you’ve imagined beyond. Then, one fine day, you leave the island, and you go out into the world and discover something terrible: You have not beaten the habit of looking at the horizon, yearning for what’s invisible to you. And so you find yourself consumed with nostalgia. (261) Enrique’s gaze is always towards the past and Spain, while Nena’s focus is the immediate present. Even when she develops a “mania” for uncovering news from Cuba, everyday life rather than politics interests her. These two approaches to loss inflect Ale’s longing for a community, which transforms loss into new assemblages of relations. When in Havana she hears the Cuban music that her father enjoys, the sounds do not evoke an idyllic Cuban nation; instead, she is transported to her parents’ home in Chicago. The translocality of music contributes to a contrapuntal perspective from which emerge new ties with diverse ways of life (261). Manifesting an ambivalence regarding collective national identifications, Ale’s family holds Seder gatherings attended by Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews from Latvia and Poland; exiles from Iran, Argentina and Brazil; and refugees from Iraq and Yemen. Brought together as Jews of various backgrounds to openly discuss exile, this group attests to the failure of the nation-state to secure their individual and collective rights. With first-hand experience of loss, they are quick to recognize the implications for those subject to a sovereign ban. When Ale’s parents learn the Cuban horn player Arturo Sandoval is refused American citizenship, for instance, Ale’s disbelief pales in comparison with their traumatized reactions: “My father was motionless . . . He stared into an abyss only he could see . . . They both shook their heads, surrendering to a terrible inevitability only they seemed to understand” (266). For Enrique, now terminally ill with heart disease, the news recalls his assault at the hands of German neo-Nazis, confirming his disillusion with state rhetoric regarding human rights. Sandoval’s exclusion from 106 the imagined Cuban and American communities renders him yet another homo sacer, “a man without a country” (266). After the subsequent deaths of the exiled Cuban poets Dulce María Loynaz and Gastón Baquero, Enrique’s despondency becomes a complete withdrawal from life. Having lived to witness the end of hope for the former in internal exile and the latter exiled in Spain, “going on now is . . . the very, very worst thing” (267). This resignation signals an inability to navigate the disconnect between his faith and the political communities that claim to guarantee the rights of its citizens. As Enrique’s doctor informs Ale and her mother of his imminent death, Nena silently follows the pattern of flowers on the waiting room wallpaper, looking for “the telltale flaw of connection . . . the gap that inevitably exists no matter the workman’s care and trepidation” (268). Despite their love and his faith, her husband has failed to make sense of the absence of ethics in history. A Secular Translocality Affirming her faith in present multiplicities, Nena honors her husband’s work with a secular memorial service—secular in the original sense of worldly, not exclusively allied or against any particular religion. The family respects Yoruba orishas as well as Catholic and Jewish customs as they engage in cross-cultural practices with individuals of diverse backgrounds. Self-identifying as African Americans, Chinese Americans, Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Russians, Poles, and Americans, the mourners of all races, ages, sexes, and genders assemble over a Cuban-Chinese buffet. As volatile as they are productive, their linkages promote a dissonance in which negotiation, not judgement, opens space for rhizomatic affiliations and heterodox concepts of community. After the service, Nena appears to wallow in nostalgia, the Santería altar with the plaster figure of Ochún in her basement expanding with her longing for return to the island. However, 107 this yearning is for translocal connections, evidenced by the “nautical feel” of the room, rather than a nation from which her family is excluded. For her and Ale, Enrique’s death confounds spatial and temporal registers so that present, past, and future enfold in the kairos of their ‘now,’ and ghosts and angels appear indistinguishable (306). Similar to the flightless seraph of her husband’s dreams, the grounded revolution leaves “everything and everyone . . . weathered and patched a thousand times” (310). Within a continuum of loss, specters and human beings remain caught in interminable stasis. When Fidel emerges after disappearing (and being declared dead) for three weeks during the summer of Enrique’s death, Nena is denied a visa for travel to Cuba. She, too, remains a ghost burdened by “destierro,” another word for which there is no adequate equivalent in English. Most often translated as ‘exile,’ this word signifies a more devastating displacement for Ale and her mother: “Exile is exilio, a state of asylum. But destierro is something else entirely: It’s banishment, with all its accompanying and impotent anguish. Literally, it means to be uprooted, to be violently torn from the earth” (309). Nena’s torment stems not from the loss of an arborescent structure of belonging (even in Cuba she is anti-genealogy) but the state’s condemnation of her as femina sacra. She fears the denial of the rhizomatic roots that cross land and sea to form what Glissant calls ‘a poetics of relation.’ While Nena is physically prevented from returning to Cuba, the relationships the family fosters continue to traverse frontiers of understanding. Before dying, “like something that could take flight,” evoking his potentiality, Enrique asks his daughter to perform kaddish for him in Cuba (280). In allowing a female gentile to perform an exclusively male rite for the dead, he breaks with the traditions of his faith to embrace the unfathomable: “[W]hat I know is that god is beyond my imagination, his power beyond my abilities to see” (287). Contrary to Jewish practice, his desire is not to be buried on land but for his ashes to be thrown into the sea, a space 108 of confluence. In orthodox Jewish law, cremation is associated with pagan customs and constitutes the destruction of God’s property. However, Enrique eschews such circumscribed belonging for a relational fluidity, relinquishing his quest for denotations of ‘heaven’ and accepting the irreparability of his connection with others. When Ale returns to Cuba to carry out her father’s last wish, she notices that the Yamim Nora’im holidays are hardly noticeable for the misery of life on the island. Normally this period of atonement—the days of awe—are celebrated with wonder at the prospect of strengthened communities; in Cuba, however, the “fatalism and terror” of internal exile replace awe, and the most sacred days in the Jewish Calendar become “los días terribles” (319). Redemption remains elusive in a nation founded on the denial of agency for individuals and communities forced into inactivity. For these disenfranchised citizens, filling the cool darkness of the night with life—to trasnochar—offers the only relief from suffering. Explaining how in Cuba to trasnochar, a regular verb, is to pass time marked by a backward sidereal clock, Ale cites Martí’s “Dos patrias” (1913), in which Cuba is the night, evoking the long hours of escape from diurnal somnolence (320). However, the night cannot ease Ale’s physical and psychic torment. Without the tactics needed to foil the violence of the day, she collapses from heatstroke. Ale regains consciousness with the help of Moisés’s granddaughter, Deborah, who offers her water that she hears as it “trickles, cascades, pulls at [her] with a moan” (318). Using her art to call for a common humanity that values particularity, Deborah evokes her Hebrew namesake in the Old Testament: the rebellious prophet, leader, judge, and poet. With this character, Obejas suggests a stripping of socio-political identifications for social renewal. A performance artist for whom revolution remains “meaningful precisely because its work is never done,” Deborah publicly criticizes the government (333). In one performance, she drops from the Havana 109 Cathedral wrapped in the Cuban flag, while her partner, Pilar Puentes—after the character in Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban (1992)—does the same from the Freedom Tower in Miami. Both women end by removing the flags to reveal their naked bodies. As Deborah confirms, the point of this radical image is to confront “authority . . . conformity . . . attitudes that say the truth—which is beauty—can only be defined by imposed order,” but “not in a way that could possibly echo left-right politics.” Rejecting imposed political rhetoric regarding Cuban identity, her art asks Cubans to return to their “true origins, to [their] unmasked, vulnerable selves” (323). Similarly, her next piece on communication uses animal sounds in different languages, suturing the experience of the human animal (zoē) and its form (bios) for the reimagining of community. In Agambenian terms, this new “form-of-life” constitutes a viable communitas of ‘whatever singularities’ who thrive outside the purvey of the sovereign ban and biopoliticized life as an open and mutable collectivity (Means 2-3). Thus, As Deborah discusses her artwork, she fills empty bottles with water, as if safeguarding fluidity for the transformation of the present. Cherishing the dissonance of particularities, Deborah follows Moisés in prioritizing cultural contaminations over notions of a Cuban or Judaic monolithic purity but rejects his political idealism. For Moisés, the indigenous of the Caribbean are descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, making “each Cuban, if not each Latin American, from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego, an unwitting Jew, part of God’s plan to save humankind through . . . the eventual triumph of Marxist revolution, the embodiment of Talmudic promise” (332-333). This confounding of Judaism and Marxism for the transformation of communities across the globe imagines a deterritorialized translocal revolution, one that nevertheless affirms a religious and socio-political identity. Deborah, however, prefers to imagine a Cuban crypto-Judaism emerging 110 with Spanish colonization and continuing to the present day, for in this narrative anusim resist dominant discourse rather than assimilate. Intent on challenging impositions of identity, she cannot condone her grandfather’s loyalty to the Castro regime. Although he supports Ale’s refusal to choose between these narratives when she insists, “I can live with both possibilities,” he remains devoted to a suspended revolution, a reality Deborah hopes to transform (336). With a tattoo of an aleph on her hand, she, like Ale, embraces the relationality of particulars, “for whom the future’s a gift of awe” (323). This healing encounter with Deborah and her stored water prefigures Ale’s decision to act on her desire for Celina, now a young woman. Just before fulfilling her father’s final request, and still “too lost to trust [she’d] know what to do at that water’s edge,” Ale weathers a tropical storm with Celina, who lives in Ale’s parents’ abandoned Vedado apartment (325). As the women collect rainwater in an assortment of containers once used by Ale’s mother, Ale experiences a homecoming informed by unorthodox relations. Like the sea, the deluge has brought her once again to face her desire for the girl, a reciprocated transgression of multiple boundaries that realizes the potentiality of each individual. No longer a challenge to her moral compass but the catalyst for an ethics of relationality, Celina embodies the ‘heaven’ that once eluded her and her father: the ways of being that forgo exclusionary politics in favor of difference. Her brazen openness to alternative ways of relating with others escapes the confines of state-sanctioned norms. Hearing Celina sigh “está escampando” after the storm, Ale experiences a sense of belonging that challenges accepted communal identifications. Another problematic verb for translators, ‘escampar’ can mean ‘to stop raining,’ ‘to clear up,’ ‘to take shelter,’ ‘to sweep clean,’ and ‘to flee,’ all of which describe the women’s positionings vis-à-vis their transformed reality. 111 Elated after this quickening of potentialities, Ale has no difficulty respecting Enrique’s final request. Her altered perception of self and community allows her to perform a transfigured, deritualized kaddish. Before blowing her father’s ashes into the Atlantic from the Malecón, she dons the tefillin reserved for Jewish men to recite a kaddish whose focus is the open sea rather than a bounded nation. The traditional mourner’s prayer imagines a restored Israel as homeland; however, Ale recites a verse of the exile Halevi’s poem “On the Sea” (c.1120), which ends “The sea shall not frighten you when its waves rise up / For with you is one who has set a bound to the sea” (357). Although she invokes Enrique’s Jewish god and fulfills his wish to be swept upwards like his Hebrew namesake Elijah, she reimagines his ties with the world; as his ashes scatter northward over the water, they form a figure resembling Ochún, the Virgin of Charity. Having reconfigured a centuries-old rite, Ale is reassured that her father will rest in his particular Zion while remaining tied to those he has left behind (357). Her creative subversion of his faith reveals the way in which her translocal interactions with individuals of diverse beliefs informs an open engagement with the world. This relationality challenges any attempt to identify her translocal community according to markers of a specific religion, genealogy, culture, class, race, gender, sexuality, or citizenship. Conclusion The plurilocal matrix of relations Ale negotiates as she explores her family’s chronic exile affords her a contrapuntal awareness with which to undermine conventional notions of belonging. As she travels between Chicago, Santiago, and Vedado, she finds herself immersed in a state of limbo much like Yamim Nora’im, in which negotiation with members of her translocal community becomes a means for individual and social renewal. She experiences this interstitial state in kairological time as the present, past, and future overlap to create a palimpsest of 112 rhizomatic connections. Accessing narratives of cultural diffraction that corrupt genealogies, she builds relationships as processes rather than the contents on which they operate. These ties foster a community founded on a desire for connection, not a socio-political category of collective identity. Following her mother’s example, she begins to see the ways in which human interactions surpass the confines of denomination, creating a spillage of intercontaminated peoples and cultures. As Obejas insists, “In Days of Awe, I tried to just let everybody be whatever they were going to be, to live and love according to their hearts rather than any particular label” (377). Aware that this cacophony of being and praxis does not realize a harmonious ideal, Obejas appreciates the ways in which plurality opens space for a secular caritas. In the translocal diaspora, what matters is not what people are but how individuals relate across multiple spaces. Their participation in mobile assemblages of people, ideas, and objects allows them to experience home as an open desire here and there: a plural living in the subjunctive. 113 Chapter Three: Topologies of Compassion: Navigating Trauma in Loída Maritza Pérez’s Geographies of Home (1999) While in Days of Awe the subjunctive mood predominates to characterize exilic longing and translocal connections in the Cuban diaspora, in Geographies of Home trauma demands the imperative mood for a witnessing of violence in the Dominican diaspora. In Obejas’s novel, Cuban exiles navigate a diasporic limbo that undermines a sense of belonging related to citizenship, culture, and religion. The protagonist’s traversing of the Atlantic affords her a contrapuntal appreciation of the past and present lives she encounters in her translocal errancy. From her interactions with various people, places, and things, emerges a longing for a sense of belonging that escapes paradigmatic definitions of ‘home.’ My study shows how her secular translocality transforms loss into a desire for inessential commonalities. In Loída Maritza Pérez’s text, loss becomes a traumatic erasure of experience for a family of immigrants with shattered psyches. Thus, rather than an outward bound translocality, we see an internal alienation that sabotages any sense of self and community. My reading of Geographies of Home examines Pérez’s understanding of how trauma forestalls a viable sense of community but also demands a compassionate witnessing of anguish for a healing relationality. In Geographies of Home, Loída Maritza Pérez writes ‘home’ in the Dominican diaspora as a space of desire for connection rather than identity. In this text, the atrocities of the Trujillo dictatorship haunt exiled Dominicans in the U.S., who must reconsider the meaning of belonging in the face of continued physical and mental torment. For these individuals, exile becomes a condition that resists the idea that commonality is tied to a politics of inclusion and exclusion. They navigate the traumatic effects of unwitnessed histories to reveal home as a space animated by relationships rather than communal labels. As they interrogate the uncanny hauntings of past violence, they afford themselves the opportunity to bear witness to suffering and foster 114 relationships of compassion. While their engagement with others fails to guarantee productive results, they disrupt imposed articulations of kinship so that sustainable relations become more meaningful than definitive outcomes. By foregrounding ambiguity, Pérez offers a nuanced portrayal of the effects of extreme violence to destabilize fixed notions of singular and collective subjectivities. She deconstructs divisions of race, gender, and culture to present these socially determined performances of identity as interdependent modes of difference. Regardless of their attributes, her characters are both casualties and perpetrators of violence, whose deep-rooted psychoses reveal that the denial of past anguish forestalls a viable present. Only by reconfiguring relationships inflected by trauma are they able to reckon with the ghostly presence of a brutal dictatorship and their continued subjugation in North America. Negotiation, not judgement, destabilizes the teloi of official historical narratives and opens space for horizontal ties and new experiences of commonality. Through the lens of Cathy Caruth’s trauma theory, I show how Pérez’s writing of physical and psychic displacement undermines traditional topographies of belonging. I argue that the geographies of her title are ethical spaces in which the awareness of multiple realities allows for a sense of community that does not rely on socio-cultural and political identifications. The Enigma of Trauma In Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History (1996), Caruth argues that the psychological anguish that victims suffer after experiencing a violent event can be managed to open possibilities for individual and social renewal (75). For Caruth, trauma is not simply an effect of destruction but also an enigma of survival as individuals suffering from trauma are caught in a paradox: consciousness must repeatedly expose the damaged psyche to a past near-death experience as a condition of its survival. This process requires the suspension of 115 consciousness so that reliving past violence cannot further torment the individual. In other words, to protect itself the mind must perpetuate the trauma occasioning a fracture between present and past selves. On the one hand, this counterintuitive defense mechanism of the human brain can continue to afflict victims of violence until they succumb to incurable psychosis or death. On the other hand, the fragmentation of an imagined self also opens up potential for a productive transformation of the individual’s concept of the ‘I,’ and the way she or he negotiates relationships with others. This does not mean the survivors of a devastating event overcome their loss of a previous subjectivity and others by numbing themselves to a recurring past. On the contrary, a more tenable individual and collective existence develops through the externalizing of personal despair so that it may be shared with others and laid to rest without being forgotten. In Geographies of Home, Pérez explores the mechanisms of trauma and their effect on human relationships to rewrite diasporic communities. Her characters are a family of sixteen who have emigrated to New York from the Dominican Republic, where they have had to withstand the brutality of the Trujillo regime. The discourses of power in the Dominican Republic have left a legacy of trauma since the Spanish conquest and the history of slavery, to the Trujillo dictatorship, the occupation of the United States, and the present subjugation under economic disparity. Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina (1891–1961) was president of the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1938 and from 1942 to 1952. After being forced by the OAS to cede the presidency to his brother Hector Trujillo (1908–2002), who held the post until 1960, he continued to control the country as military leader until his assassination in 1961. As a result of his tyrannical rule of the country, citizens and ex-patriates alike became victims of extreme repression, with deaths numbering over 50,000 people. This fraught history is inscribed on the minds and bodies of an 116 entire population and travels with them as they traverse the diaspora. Thus, the migration of Pérez’s characters neither allows them to discard the effects of the violence they have narrowly escaped nor affords them a means of healing their psychological wounds; also, their marginalization in the North American metropolis only subjects them to further violence. As an immigrant family living below the poverty line, they find themselves displaced physically and psychically and alienated from any narrative of community, past or present. As such, they are examples of Glissant’s errant nomads whose “tortured geography” is that of the sea (Salt 17), the “womb abyss” in which histories are lost (Poetics 6). The resulting disorientation distances them from family members and a sense of self so that being uprooted entails the loss of identity tied to place, culture, and kinship, leaving them in psychosocial and cultural limbo. This liminal state, characterized by a desire for an imagined belonging and an incapacity to locate a home in their daily reality, is navigated by each character differently. As victims of trauma, however, all are exposed to further violence both real and imagined. For Caruth, referring to her study of Sigmund Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), the blurring of the line between reality and fantasy is the classic response of the human brain when faced with the effects of violence without knowledge of its cause at the time of the event. In its belatedness, or nachträglichkeit, trauma reveals a paradox as “[w]hat returns to haunt the victim. . . is not only the reality of the violent event but also the reality of the way that its violence has not yet been fully known” (6). The mind is unable to process the reality of a near-death experience, for at the moment of the threat to life, consciousness attempts to protect the psyche from violence by creating a cognitive gap. That is, because complete awareness of the destructive event would cause irreparable damage to the psyche, the individual is mentally absent, rendering the cause of their trauma equally inaccessible. As Glissant insists, the traumatized are like the dead and can 117 only sow “explosive seeds of absence” (Caribbean 9). For this reason, the event itself is not traumatic for the individual. It is only the later effects of this momentary psychological blindness that constitute trauma, for as long as the victim cannot witness her or his own past reality, she or he must return to the scene of the event. This departure from past and present realities and imagined return to an unknown experience occurs in the form of nightmares, flashbacks, and hallucinations. Subjecting the individual to repeated violence, such psychotic episodes become a fatal compulsion, a death drive which, paradoxically, emerges as a longing for life: What is enigmatically suggested . . . is that the trauma consists not only of having con-fronted death but in having survived, precisely without knowing it. What one returns to in the flashback is not the incomprehensibility of one’s near death, but the very incomprehensibility of one’s own survival. Repetition . . . is not simply the attempt to grasp that one has almost died but, more fundamentally and enigmatically, the very attempt to claim one’s own survival. (Unclaimed 66) Put another way, the death drive emerges when traumatized individuals have escaped death without being aware of it and strive to confirm their continued existence. As Caruth asserts, trauma’s irreducible delay in grasping the violent event distorts linear time as two unfolding temporal experiences inform a potential future in the present. This overlapping of temporal experience operates as both a socio-political erasure of history—a denial of individual and collective pasts—and an opening from which new histories may emerge (69). For Pérez’s characters, then, trauma does not recognize the limits of chronological time or bounded space; rather, time folds in on itself as the human psyche attempts to process events across multiple temporal registers in kairological time. This experience of time undermines the association of experience with place, for past and present events are relived in multiple loci. For 118 Agamben, kairological time—“operational time”— unfolds within chronological time—“representable but unthinkable” time— as “the pearl embedded in the ring of chance . . . . the past (the complete) rediscovers actuality and becomes unfulfilled, and the present (the incomplete) acquires a kind of fulfillment” (Remains 67, 69, 75). Time is reconfigured so that futurity is already present in ‘the time of the now,’ or jetztzeit, rendering the messianic moment a relation in itself (Remains 74).31 Like Glissant’s nomadic survivors of the abyss, who without roots must begin a new history (Poetics 9), Pérez’s characters experience a failure of memory. As they navigate the spaces of psychological trauma, time collapses, but they remain incapable of consciously accessing the past. In keeping with Glissant’s analogy, for them memory is like the sea: a fluid topology plied by individuals and communities whose common preoccupation is each other rather than names and origins—the terrain of language. This transposition of the psyche across time and space allows for a disruption of the continuity of history for positive change. Although Caruth envisions a discourse of responsibility and Agamben rejects responsibility and guilt as facets of legal imputability, both thinkers conceive of a new ethics for human relationships (Remnants 22). Pérez begins her narrative with the imbrication of time and place as a natural aspect of human experience. The prologue opens with two individuals facing death in different parts of the Dominican Republic. A young woman, Aurelia, sees an apparition while in the throes of childbirth; from the gap between life and death, her mother, Bienvenida, has invoked her Santería saints to transcend the limits of time and place and warn her youngest daughter of her imminent death. With the aid of Yoruba spirits, she has conjured a black cat that springs from beneath Aurelia’s bedcovers and flees the room. This invocation brings them so close together that they each become a version of the other, without erasing their singularity. As the women lie 119 on their beds surrounded by family, one facing death and the other confronting that possibility in childbirth, their thoughts are of human ties. Each silently calls to the other for a connection made without speech. Recognizing the black cat, Aurelia prays for her mother’s help as her labour pains become more intense. For her, home and Bienvenida are interchangeable, and she continues to conflate the two in her pre-partum agony. She experiences a craving for the soil she can still taste as she remembers her mother turning the earth in the garden of her childhood home. But as her mother tells her at their last face-to-face meeting, their lives are as mutable as the soil she works. In this scene, Bienvenida prepares her daughter for her eventual death by offering a parting gift: a fistful of earth “to which we return to nourish those who follow,” on which rests a water jug “to remind you that in our blood we carry the power of the sea” (Home 134). With these words, she reminds her daughter that individuals return to earth that has been removed from its original site. As mobile as the sea, the displaced soil transforms the notion of home as tied to place into a deterritorialized space in which the confluence of life and death subverts the notion of linear time. Thus, when the women later experience the fear inherent to their conditions, they call to each other and their loved ones as they prepare to navigate the transformations they are about to experience. Like these singularities on the threshold between life and death, the child about to be born, Iliana, embodies a liminality in which there are no guarantees but where potentiality can be grasped. Intrinsic to this in-betweenness is the potential for violence to thwart productive change. Thus, the black cat returns to Aurelia’s room “to fling itself against walls and chairs in a mad attempt to catch its tail” (viii), evoking the circular repetition of oppression alluded to in the first chapter of the novel; now a university student, Iliana returns to her dorm room and “[t]he ghostly 120 trace of ‘NIGGER’” on the message board hanging from her door (1). She has already decided to leave her residence at New York University after Aurelia’s disembodied Santería-invoked voice informs her of the family’s suffering; ill health, physical abuse, rape, disappearances, adultery, threatened fratricide, and a nervous breakdown link the family’s life in New York with their violent past in the Dominican Republic. Such adversity confuses the loci of events, for each family member is haunted by a past that is also their present. The racial slur reduced to a “ghostly trace” on Iliana’s door links past and present violence and affirms its persistence despite the performance of political hyperbole: Trujillo’s official promise of security for all citizens, and the American rhetoric of human rights for a plural society. Like a phantom, trauma surpasses the limits of an experienced event to inflect daily life. As the foreboding cat in the prologue suggests, the ‘writing’ of trauma on the psyche and the body becomes a haunting that traumatizes individuals as long as they remain incapable of processing the violence in their lives. Iliana’s passing through the door with the racist message, which now “fail[s] to assault her” as she leaves for home, prepares the reader for a fraught journey in which language can be appropriated to promote connections between people (1). Iliana must undergo an encounter with unknown histories in order to reconfigure her present and that of her community. According to Freud, when a traumatic past comes to the individual as a sudden return of the repressed or a haunting, one mode of history interferes with another and alters reality. In “The Uncanny” (1919), Freud borrows FWJ Schelling’s definition of the term unheimlich, or the uncanny—all “that ought to have remained hidden and secret but has come to light”—to explain the disorientation that occurs when a past that has been repressed or forgotten is recalled (224). For individuals who experience trauma, the past becomes alienated from the mind through a process of repression. However, when the memories of harrowing events return unexpectedly, 121 bubbling to the surface of consciousness, the past reappears, and the anxiety produced by this recurrence transforms the familiar into something frightening. For trauma victims, the repeated experience of the uncanny return of the past leads to an unconscious desire for self-destruction as the mind strives to grasp an inaccessible reality. Although Caruth accepts Freud’s description of the traumatic recall of a deferred ‘truth,’ she proposes that the unconscious return to a violent past may be as productive as the psychologist’s ‘talking cure’: While trauma involves a departure from the shocking loss of the familiar to its later unrecognizable repetition, the return to the scene of a violent event offers victims the possibility of working through their experience; rather than seeking a ‘cure,’ they can unburden themselves by sharing their pain with others. For Freud, a separation from those who have not survived past violence in dreams and hallucinations is recreated by the psyche to allow for an awakening from the nightmare of a forgotten past. In contrast, Caruth argues that the dream itself constitutes an awakening and can allow the individual to embrace life in an affirmation that derails the death drive. She claims that because trauma is related to the individual’s concept of self and her or his relation to another, traumatic repetition is never only a representation or its absence but the re-enactment (and potential erasure if never processed) of a shared history that refuses recognition. In tying trauma to perceptions of self and human relations, Caruth suggests that what matters is not the truth of an event but whether histories will emerge. From the heart of trauma’s potential erasure of the past emerges “a command to respond that intervenes—historically—in the oscillation between death and survival” (Unclaimed 132). Drawing on Caruth’s reasoning, I argue that Pérez’s characters are caught in a process of departure and repetition; they remain incapable of realizing a sustainable present until they acknowledge past narratives and relegate violence to memory rather than repeat it. This 122 unveiling of history proves problematic, however, when physical and mental abuse reduce individuals to ‘bare life.’ Trauma and the Abject The traumatic repetition of past violence in psychotic dreams and hallucinations in Pérez’s text denies her characters the waking memory of violence condoned by two political systems. The first of fourteen children to emigrate to the U.S., Iliana’s sister Marina has suffered extreme physical and mental hardship in the Caribbean and in North America, causing her recurrent lapses into psychosis. During these episodes, she is raped by an astrologer; and while an original assault cannot be verified, the issue is not the veracity of her claim but the reality of her mental decline and its effect on others. Hence, Pérez complicates the event with an African-American perpetrator who is himself excluded from the body politic. Whether real or imagined, the rape has resulted in a psychopathy that brings into question Marina’s past while forestalling the creation of a viable present and future. In other words, her history hangs in the balance. Due to the abuse she has suffered in the past, Marina also develops delusions, imagining arachnid infestations in her home. On perceiving a teeming mass of large, black spiders crawling on the walls of her family’s kitchen, she sets fire to the creatures, almost burning down the house and herself along with it. Soon after her failed attempt to rid the house of these outward manifestations of a repressed past, she relives her rape by the fortune teller. He appears as a black silhouette beside her bed and brutally rapes her until she feels herself “fragmenting and her limbs recoiling from her desecrated flesh.” She repeatedly suffers this assault, each time imagining a physical dismemberment that reflects her broken psyche. Reduced to a collection of body parts and “thoughts scattered” by pain, she is left with a rage that fuels an incapacity to relate to others (Home 17). 123 Despite this terrifying reenactment and its shattering of her psyche, Marina attempts to fight back. Propelled by hate, she determines to survive the abuse and absolve herself from blame for approaching her rapist in the first place. Berating herself for encountering a black man with dreads “coiled tight as if to strike” rather than the stereotypical female fortune teller, she draws strength from the very discourse that generates the crime: “No flat-nosed, wide-lipped nigger would claim her soul. No savage with beads dangling from his neck. She would survive all this. There was nothing else to lose. Nothing else to fear” (17). Reiterating the language of oppressive social constructs, Marina reveals that her determination to survive this recurrence of the rape rests on her own racism. Indeed, the rape is initially occasioned by the astrologer’s rage on learning that she disagrees with his prediction that love will come to her in the form of a dark stranger: “[S]urely a white man or at least a light-skinned Hispanic like herself would come into her life,” hence his misogynistic command as he rapes her: “Look at me, you fucking bitch!” (17). Marina has internalized the racism of both the Trujillo regime and a North American society that privileges those with light skin colour. As a result, she refuses to accept features that classify her as a member of a marginalized group: “[S]he had been able to manipulate her reflection so as to see only her pale skin shades lighter than any of her sisters’ and only slightly darker than [her brother] Gabriel’s wife. That skin color had blinded her to her kinky, dirt-red hair, her sprawling nose, her wide, long lips.” Her recurring rape, however, undermines her efforts to reconstruct this false subjectivity as her African features “[appear] magnified, conveying to her eyes that she was not who she’d believed” (18). No longer able to manipulate her reflection in the mirror to highlight her light skin, she loses touch with this imagined self; and failing to recognize any other mode of existence she is filled with loathing for the body she continues to reject. 124 Marina’s psychological disintegration indicates a loss of self, both real and imagined, characteristic of those who suffer from trauma. According to Caruth, the traumatized individual undergoes an ontological metamorphosis—a splitting of the self—that problematizes subjectivity (Unclaimed 160-161). The loss of the self disorients victims whose “fright” on waking renders the familiar foreign (66). This disorientation coincides with the abjection Julia Kristeva describes in Powers of Horror (1982). For Kristeva, the abject emerges as human repugnance when it is impossible to distinguish the inanimate object from the human subject. This ambiguity awakens a feeling of horror, collective and individual, as it evokes the archaic memory of the violent and immoral separation of the human subject from its physical environment. Like Kristeva’s example of the child who spits out the nausea inducing skin on the surface of the milk (the abject) that her parents give her (2-3), Marina abjects herself with the same action that she tries to establish a subjectivity: Filled with self loathing, Marina turned on the hot water in the shower. When its steam obliterated her image in the mirror, she collected a razor, a can of Lysol, several Brillo pads from under the sink, and stepped into the stall. Even in the shower the stench pervaded—sharp—as of vegetables which had remained in a dark, damp place too long. Determined to rid herself of the odor and reclaim her defiled body, she reached soapy fingers into the folds between her legs. Wincing, she worked the lather into her inner walls, then shaved her pubic hairs as well as those under her arms . . . When her body was hairless as a baby’s, . . . [s]he meticulously scoured herself with Brillo . . . When her skin blistered and she could stand the pain no more, she stepped from the stall and sprayed herself with Lysol. (Home 18-19) 125 In this scene, the horror of Marina’s rape is relived as in the most mundane of rituals she becomes the perpetrator of her own victimization. Just as the bathroom mirror fails to reflect a coherent image, her abject condition makes her unrecognizable to herself, and she is driven to annihilate the imagined abject self she loathes. In her effort to cleanse herself of any trace of her assailant, she submits herself to further abuse, reducing her already fragmented self to a vegetal physicality. That is, Marina’s death drive is so relentless that she already perceives herself as an object reduced to an abject materiality. After her depilation and stripping of all connection with ego, she is no longer able to converse with others and speaks “in tangents and ellipses” (282). According to Caruth, the traumatized individual’s refusal of sight and understanding is realized in the fragmentation of the self, and through this disassembling the traumatized body becomes a monument to the death of others (Unclaimed 32). Paradoxically, then, Marina’s cleansing constitutes both the erasure and the evocation of histories. On the one hand, her self abuse with brand name products reinforces the dominant narratives that lead to her rape, rendering her incapable of witnessing her past and present suffering. On the other hand, in repeating the abuse meted out to generations of marginalized peoples, she gives voice to their suffering. For her and the reader, her disarticulation becomes a freeing from reference—her public identification as impoverished subaltern—that restores her singularity in defiance of the state’s claim to her body. Put another way, Marina’s actions reveal the aporia that separates zoē and bios—femina sacra—therefore indicating the existence of narratives that have been obscured by the state of exception. Like Agamben’s Muselmann, the most abject prisoners of Auschwitz, she has been reduced to an abject ‘bare life.’ According to Agamben, there is little difference between the dead and the living for those whose human rights are not protected by the juridical structures of public life. Positioned on the threshold between inside and outside state 126 politics, modern biopolitics confounds the difference between life and death: “[W]hen natural life is wholly included in the polis—and this much has, by now, already happened—these thresholds pass, as we shall see, beyond the dark boundaries separating life from death in order to identify a new living dead man, a new sacred man” (Sacer 131).32 But how does Marina’s living death allow for a reconfiguring of history? For Kristeva, the abject is neither the Other nor the I but that which existed before the human being entered the symbolic order: before its participation in the interchange of signs and language (Horror 10). Excluded from all discourse, the space of the abject is a site in which the limits of linguistic binaries such as the I/Other and subject/object are erased: “It is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite” (4). Marina’s metamorphosis, then, entails the sloughing off of an unwanted self—the socially constructed Other that informs the speaking I—which subverts the notion of a reducible subjectivity. Resembling an Arcimboldian figure, she becomes an assemblage of disparate elements, reduced to a materiality for the possible creation of an alternative being in the world. In this way she approaches the horizon of Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘body without organs’; she is an assemblage stripped of the labels that society has imposed on it, whether related to race, sexuality, gender, age, religion, or culture (Plateaus 161). With this pre-discursive body, she enters Agamben’s messianic time, which he compares to the contraction of muscles before an animal leaps, to transform impotentiality into potentiality (Remains 68). As “the residue of a deterritorialized socius” (Anti-Oedipus 281), her desubjectification can give rise to a new ethics as what Agamben terms a “form-of-life” in which life is its form: a life whose zoē and bios are one and the same and entirely removed from the grasp of the law (Remnants 69). 127 Before Marina can grasp her potentiality and release to memory the phantoms of her past, however, she reenacts her assault as perpetrator of Iliana’s rape, which Pérez evokes in all its viciousness: “Back arched against the raging pain, hands clawing futilely at the fitted sheet, Iliana thrashed and writhed. The world, as she had known it, crashed irrevocably around her head as her sister’s hand curled into a fist. Her thought screeched mercifully to a halt as that fist crashed against her womb.” As Iliana has already been the victim of a drunken stalker at university, this is also a reenactment of her own past, and she becomes disoriented, “not know[ing] if she continued in the throes of a nightmare or was just waking up” (Home 284). This scene occurs twice, repeating other attacks on women in the text, all of which create a Goyázquez-like tapestry of horror multiply reflected across time and space. Marina’s assaults on Iliana, however, do not merely mimic her own violation; they are also an attempt to remove the penis she imagines her sister is hiding from others. Her intention is to emasculate an oppressor whose gender shapes the discourse she has internalized. Due to Iliana’s androgynous physique—she looks like a drag queen—as well as her dark features, Marina conflates the fortune teller with her sister. This confusion of motivations, acts, perpetrators, and victims highlights the fact that Pérez’s focus is not the subject’s or victim’s attributes but the violence they inspire in the imagined community, severing even the closest of human relations. By reversing stereotypes of male-initiated violence to address the brutality suffered by victims, Pérez problematizes entrenched sexism and racism, whose discourses reduce human beings to objects of social exchange. Marina, for example, confirms her socio-cultural conditioning in a discussion she has with Iliana regarding potential partners: [Marina: “H]ave you hooked yourself a gorgeous blue-eyed hunk yet? . . . ” “Blue-eyed wouldn’t be my first choice,” [Iliana] muttered. 128 “Why? What do you have against white people?” “I didn’t say I had anything against them. And all whites aren’t blue-eyed.” Marina snickered. “A big, black stud. That’s what you want.” “Yeah . . . A big-black-man-with-a-great-big-dick. What would be wrong if I did?” “Only that you could do better.” “Better? What the hell is that supposed to mean?” “You know how black men are . . . They’re as lazy as shit and undependable.” “You’ve been watching too much TV,” Iliana snapped. “TV, my ass. Look at all your brothers.” “Look at yourself. You’re suffering from the same thing they are, thinking anything lighter must be better.” “Give me a break, Iliana. How many black people are at your school? . . . “What are you saying? That blacks are inferior? Is that what you think about yourself?” “I’m Hispanic, not black.” “What color is your skin?” “I’m Hispanic! . . . Wanna know something else? . . . White people have always been nicer to me than anyone else . . . ” “Yeah? Well, they’re all paid to be nice to you!” (38-39) Marina’s internalization of racist rhetoric, as prevalent in her childhood in the Dominican Republic as it is in the United States, demonstrates her refusal to acknowledge her own difference. Equally of import is the problematic nature of the conversation itself; although in disagreement, both women become immersed in repetitions of racial typecasting despite the fact that their mixed-race heritage precludes any attempt to identify them with one particular group. 129 Community in Crisis As we have seen, Marina’s continual exposure to the violence inherent in patriarchal discourse engenders a trauma-induced psychosis, preventing her from experiencing a ‘pure’ singularity. Her emotional catatonia also denies her any possibility of connecting with others, including her family. Aware that the failure to communicate her anguish confirms her alienation amongst similarly estranged individuals, she chooses what she sees as her only means of escape: death. As the narrator explains, “[S]he knew, with frightening conviction, that—if not on that night, then on another—their bodies would be crushed by these shifting walls. This awareness of the instability of their home was what caused her to control her own death by dictating the time and manner of its occurrence” (83). As femina sacra, and like Herman Melville’s Bartleby, Marina’s only recourse is to commit suicide. For Agamben, just as ‘whatever being’ always has a potential character, the being that is properly ‘whatever’ has the capacity to choose not to be. That is, it is a being equally capable of a conscious impotentiality, which is a potentiality whose object is potentiality itself. Agamben refers to Bartleby as an example of this taking of the right not to be; asked why he has stopped writing, the scribe replies that he “prefers not to,” thereby exercising his potential not to act (Community 36). Marina’s desire to realize agency if only in death attests to her invisibility in North American society. Because her life holds as much significance for the state as her death, she is the abject being who can be killed but not sacrificed. Before one of these attempts to satisfy the death drive, Marina ventures out of her home, naked but for an open coat, to haunt the winter streets of New York City. Indistinguishable from the darkness that surrounds her, she wanders from her neighborhood of squalid tenement buildings to formerly middle-class streets that have become barrios for black and Hispanic immigrants. When she stops in front of a once bourgeois home, she imagines entering it and 130 discovering generations of possessions and an entanglement of histories that include her own. In this vision of a collective past, she perceives “an extensive web of roots that assured her she too belonged” (Home 85). However, this momentary feeling of inclusion is co-opted by the fantasy of her transformation into a nineteenth-century belle: Standing before a mirror with a period dress, she revels in her now slim, straight-haired self only to be brought back to the reality of her two-hundred-and-seventeen-pound body and “knots of kinky hair” (85). At this moment of her awakening from a return to another violent past, Marina subconsciously connects her trauma with that of marginalized peoples past and present. Pérez makes this evident as Marina’s reverie is interrupted by the sound of a car that crashes to avoid hitting her. Like the victims of the slave trade and their descendants who continue to suffer the injustices of dicriminatory politics, Marina finds herself at the mercy of a familiar aggression. She must contend with an irate driver rather than a concerned citizen. This linking of individual and collective trauma coincides with Caruth’s claim that history surpasses individual bounds (Unclaimed 69). Pérez, however, complicates this scene to undermine stereotypes as the well-dressed driver is an African American whose history remains equally obscured by colonialism, the trappings of which Marina has imagined admiring in the house. The appearance of this character foreshadows Marina’s oscillation between victim and perpetrator and alludes to her attacker’s own subaltern position as marginalized citizen. When she glimpses the driver’s face “clenched as tightly as a fist,” Marina experiences an uncanny return of the repressed, and her body once again becomes a site of memory. Encountering the likeness of her rapist, “the fear smoldering at the base of [her] uterus [catches] flame,” and she is flung back in time to her rape by the fortune teller (Home 85). Although she manages to avoid a confrontation with the man by fleeing onto a train, she is unable to escape the disdain of those similarly inculcated to forget their own torment. 131 In her coach, she recognizes the averted gaze of a black woman, who, feigning ignorance of their plight as disenfranchised individuals, shares the “[s]heer, unadulterated disgust” of the other passengers (86). Whether black, white, Hasidic, or Puerto Rican, these commuters perceive only a destitute black woman, rather than a human being in need, thus excluding her from multiple communities. Although together they represent a potential community of ‘whatever beings,’ their collective contempt sabotages this possibility. Silenced by the discourses of biopolitics, Marina embodies the abhorred abject and belies the nation’s rhetoric of equality and inclusiveness. Marina’s abjection is further compounded when she experiences the same ostracizing condemnation during a Seventh-Day Adventist service in which her father, Papi, presides as a deacon. Surrounded by her family and a supposed community of acceptance, she experiences a hallucination in which God’s face is revealed. As she displays a biblical euphoria, she becomes an assemblage of body parts, and the outward manifestation of her fragmented psyche is attributed to a menacing Otherness that must be excised from the community: Marina’s arms twitched spasmodically. Her head, hanging as if from a broken neck, rolled listlessly each time what appeared to be an invisible, outside force yanked her forward, then shoved her back against her seat. Her arms fell to her thighs. Her elbows banged painfully against the armrests, echoing loudly in the surrounding silence. No one moved. It was as if the force powerful enough to jerk Marina’s body like a yo-yo in a child’s hand also held the congregation still. (108) Blind to the fact that Marina’s convulsions perform a traumatic episode emerging from a shared history, the parishioners (mis)understand her display as a satanic possession. Only subliminally cognizant of how this frenzied manifestation relates to their own past and present subjugation, they refuse to interpret her delirium as an epiphany and resort to a familiar violence; after her 132 mother slaps her, two men remove her from the premises, and she is ostracized from yet another community. Expelled from the church, Marina fails to find solace in her faith. The face she has glimpsed with such passion becomes the object of her increasing rage, and she reflects on the foundational violence that religion perpetuates: “The longer she considered how God had introduced violence into the world by demanding sacrifices from those who had previously not conceived of shedding blood, the more she questioned His wisdom in other things” (113). Nevertheless, so entrenched is her indoctrination that she determines to reform the divine, “providing Him with solutions to the problems of a modern world” (114). Once again Marina’s individual trauma cannot be separated from other histories. Her psychosis requires the constant return to a self she has left behind with those who have not survived, deferring her access to a less wretched present. While this mental instability informs her continued social isolation, it also constitutes a potential Deleuzean line of flight for alternative modes of being. That is, her death drive is essentially a drive towards others that ultimately seeks a life dependent on relationality. For this reason, Marina imagines a reformable God and remains focused on her role in a world in need of healing. Indeed, her own welfare depends on that of others and vice versa. When she is excluded from family and community, her actions become a cry for acknowledgement; as Caruth insists, trauma surfaces as “a plea . . . to be seen and heard” (9), “a command to respond that intervenes—historically—in the oscillation between death and survival” (Unclaimed 132). The repeated violence and trauma in Geographies of Home reveal their co-inflection in Marina’s struggle to make herself heard by others equally incapable of processing the past. As Caruth affirms, any narrative of a trauma-producing event does not merely represent its violence but also “conveys the impact of its very incomprehensibility” (6). The two modes of human 133 experience (of an event and its unprocessed impact) are perpetually imbricated; the suppression of the reality of one does the same to the other. Trauma par excellence, then, “is always the story of a wound that cries out, that addresses us in an attempt to tell us of a reality or truth that is not otherwise available” (4). However, the inaccessibility of past experience does not prevent the sharing of present suffering. Pérez’s characters’ pasts resemble the Glissantean errants’ ‘womb abyss’; a sea of impossible histories, from which stifled cries emerged to be transformed into the coded sounds of the plantation: “The unconscious memory of the abyss served as the alluvium for these metamorphoses. The populations that then formed, despite having forgotten the chasm, despite being unable to imagine the passion of those who foundered there, nonetheless wove this sail (a veil)” (Poetics 7). Behind a similar veil, Marina and her family navigate the present without knowledge of the past. They can only make the unspeakable known through an encounter with another who bears witness to their suffering rather than to the truth of events. As Agamben insists, “the taking-place of every single being is already always common,” and only through encounters with others do ‘whatever beings’ access an irreparable belonging (Community 23). Similarly, for Caruth history and trauma are never solely the victim’s, and listening to another’s story can lead to new connections as well as histories (Unclaimed 8). According to these thinkers, a survivor alone is incapable of serving as a witness of the past as only those left behind can be true witnesses. Indeed, for Agamben the witness is never a single individual but two: the survivor who testifies to past violence and the lost victim, whose very existence exposes the erasure of histories: “[T]he survivor bears witness not to the gas chambers or to Auschwitz but to the Muselmann” (Remnants 150, 164). Through language this witnessing assemblage of the dead, the survivor, and the listener/reader allows for a sharing of experience that undermines dominant 134 discourse and opens space for alternative realities. For Pérez’s characters, however, language fails to offer a means for making themselves heard as witnesses to obscured histories as long as the state continues to exclude their voices from the societas. Discourses of Alienation Just as the discourses of patriarchy divest Marina of a ‘form-of-life’ with which to engage others in spaces she can consider home, they deny her family a sense of community in the private and public sphere. The coopting of language by the sovereign ban separates individuals, rendering family and cultural connections inconsequential, for verbal abuse reduces people to objects of exclusion. As individuals internalize this self-effacing discourse, they become alienated from themselves and others. While Marina is a witness to her own degradation, she cannot externalize this testimony of racial hatred and the violence it condones. This is because she does not consciously accept it. Like all victims of trauma, she is not able to process the injury to her body and psyche. Remaining on the train past her stop to avoid others who would “see her shame” (Home 87), she notices the clothing factories where she once worked as a child among immigrant laborers. This sight reminds her of her later desire to attract an attorney to escape the humiliation of having to commute with the disenfranchised elements of society. As she reminisces on her days as a clerk in a law office, she recalls setting fire to a stack of documents after being subject to sexual harassment by an ambitious lawyer. Prefiguring the fire she starts at home, these flames indicate a desire to subvert the discourses that oppress individuals and sever their connections with others. Whether performed privately or publicly, however, Marina’s rebellious acts only obscure her pain rather than communicate it for a healing witnessing of her trauma. For this reason, she becomes undone. 135 Similar to Marina’s estrangement from others, Iliana’s subjection to her father’s religious fervor and her assault by a fellow student stifle her attempts to locate a community that accepts her regardless of her particular properties. As a child in New York, she observes the way patriarchal language creates imagined subjectivities while erasing others in a self-perpetuating cycle of psycho-social violence. So pervasive is this language that even those closest to her delight in merciless teasing: She noticed that her siblings had radar for what made others feel bad . . . They wielded language like a weapon, employing it to alienate and assault. Because Marina had an enviable body, she was made fun of for her long, wide lips and kinky hair. Beatriz, who was beautiful, was ridiculed for her flat nose. Tico was teased for being small. She herself was offered pity because that, and not insults, was one of the few things able to make her cry. (190) Drawing on racist biases regarding physical characteristics to denigrate each other or engender a false pity, they unwittingly reinforce dominant narratives of racial superiority and inferiority. This repetition of linguistic violence within the family bleeds from a public discourse that attempts to render the unknowable Other a reducible subjectivity. In a neighbourhood inhabited by few Dominicans, Iliana fails to realize a sense of belonging due to her immigrant status and because her features and accent cannot be attributed to any particular social group. As a black immigrant from the Hispanic Caribbean, she does not fit easily into categories of kinship: She used to feel like a rope in a game of tug-of-war. Throughout elementary, junior-high and high school she had frequently been harassed by black friends for hanging out with greasy spics who in turn questioned why she wanted to be in the company of loud-mouthed spooks. With her skin color identifying her as a member of one group and her 136 accent and immigrant status placing her in another, she had fit comfortably in neither and even less in the circles she had found herself in when she finally went away to school. (190-191) This inability to conform to classifications of culture and race estranges her from others whose efforts to associate her with a definitive identity become more aggressive as she grows older. As her brother confirms, even her gender appears ambiguous: “[I]f you weren’t my sister I wouldn’t know if you were a man trying to look like a woman or a woman trying to be a man” (106-107). Although her androgynous black body and Dominican accent problematize identifications of race, gender, and culture, this ambiguity only condemns her to an abject materiality as her exclusion can be justified by multiple designations. Thus, as an adult she is reduced to a body part when she refuses to engage with a group of men on her way home: “Fucking cunt, . . . That’s why bitches like you get raped!” (308). The various forms of abuse Iliana suffers throughout her life and her assault indicate an Otherness confirmed by the word ‘Nigger’ on her dorm room door. Even her best friend, a gay Mexican man, Ed, indulges in male chauvinism. As a child, Iliana is not conscious of the ‘bare life’ she must navigate with her siblings and parents and can only share their “bewilderment” as to the events that have traumatized them (191). As with Marina’s unhinging, this disorientation stimulates anger rather than a passive muteness. At eight years of age, Iliana experiences the rage of generations when she realizes that neither her religious faith nor her devotion to North American customs have changed her reality. Like the children of her wealthy neighbours, she has prayed to God and St. Nicholas for a list of Christmas gifts. However, she receives one unwanted gift: Hi-Dottie, a doll with a telephone rather than the gymnast doll whose imagined back flips and somersaults she has learned in school. In violent protest, she destroys the only item her parents have been able to afford, leaving 137 her with a momentary loss of faith and an increasing bafflement as to her family’s reality. The rage with which she attacks the doll reenacts the past violence her family has suffered and prefigures its perpetuation in her and Marina’s assaults and the latter’s puppet-like ataxia in the church: Iliana reached through the darkness for the doll she had destroyed. She fingered its bald and caved-in skull, its bruised and naked flesh. Only then was she struck by the magnitude of what she’d done. The violence of it stunned her . . . because she had not expected it from herself, . . . had not known that lurking under her skin was a rage like her mother’s when she’d slapped her; like her father’s whenever he lost his patience; and like Tico’s when he unexpectedly knocked his head against a wall and, if Aurelia tried to calm him, pummeled her with his blows. This same monster which Iliana had often glimpsed through the eyes of those whose souls it had possessed now made its presence known within her own . . . Although she was only eight years old, she became terrified of her impulses. (188-189) This fear of her own emotional volatility leads to the repression of her feelings and various neuroses in an attempt to control her natural impulses. Thus, the blond doll and her mock telephone evoke a discourse that undermines human connections, producing only violent confusion and a culture of silencing. Too young to understand the reasons for her outburst and convinced of her wickedness, Iliana turns once again to the teachings of her faith. Before she reaches her teens, she has absorbed the discourses that encourage self restraint to limit communication rather than foster dialogue for alternative realities. Although at a very young age Iliana recognizes the anger that is constantly acted out in her home, she remains ignorant of its cause and unable to protect herself and others from its 138 damaging effects. Her father serves as a model of patriarchal oppression while affirming his own subjugation by the very discourse he supports. His religious orthodoxy is such that the family’s home resembles a police state, and their dysfunctional relations perpetuate the violence he strives to shield them from. Throughout their lives, Iliana and her siblings have tried to avoid incurring his wrath. When Iliana is three years old, he beats her for playing by a river; and already aware that she has been attacked by Marina, he knocks her against a wall when she returns home after being out late and unescorted. His repeated blows accompanied by the words “Shameless hussy! Whore!” become repetitions of the violence he and his family have experienced over decades of trauma. This is clear when he appears to be disoriented after Aurelia interrupts his tirade and he sees Iliana: “He turned to her with wide and startled eyes . . . as if he’d only then emerged from sleep and was surprised to find her there” (312, 313). Papi’s abusive policing of the family is a symptom of a personal trauma he is unable to process and so must continually relive. Marina’s seizures in church, for example, trigger a traumatic return to his youth in the Dominican Republic, instilling in him a terror of what he perceives in his daughter’s delirium and cannot verbalize (149). That they both experience a rupture with present reality at the same time confirms a history that exceeds personal narratives without obscuring them. In this recurring flashback, he finds himself in the middle of a hurricane, summoning “the strength of rage to keep himself upright” as he tries to rescue a young woman, Anabelle, from both the storm and an attempt to drown herself (156). Although they are strangers, he has decided to marry her even after discovering that she is pregnant and a victim of incest. During the nightmare of their struggle to reach shelter, he recalls a story often recounted by his dead father, a man beaten by a lifetime of hard labour: an old man walks home with his donkey and his dog, but after several beatings the former refuses to move and speaks to the man: 139 “I am tired and will lay myself down to die. Your beating me has no power to change my mind.” The man flees with his dog on hearing the donkey speak, only to hear his dog wonder “Imagine that! . . . A donkey speaking!” (159). This story is significant in that it threatens Papi’s belief in a world where human beings and animals have fixed roles in an equally static reality, hence his inability to comprehend his father’s glee on relating it. In the tale animals are zoē with language, much like his father and himself, whose speech does not guarantee their rights to life. Under a dictatorship where ethics depend on a tyrant’s whim, Papi and his father are excluded by every modern state’s biopolitical formula “to make live and to let die” (Remnants 83). Similarly, the speaking burro highlights the young woman’s despair before her father’s assaults and those of the storm. When Papi encounters her, she is already an “apparition” in her transparent white dress. With her back against the wind—her feet barely reaching the ground, and her torn dress resembling a broken wing—she evokes Benjamin’s Angel of History; propelled by wind and debris and a history of wretched subjugation, she mutely resigns herself to the elements, “[h]er lips emit[ing] a sound which held no words, a sound like that of a rabbit caught in the claws of its prey and swooped into the air . . . a determination to encounter death” (Home 158). In effect, she has become an example of Agamben’s Muselmann, reduced to a ‘bare life’; but like Bartleby’s preference not to continue, her decision to drown herself transforms an impotentiality into a potentiality. Carrying her body into a church where the community has taken refuge, Papi discovers she has died, and his failure to prevent this loss torments him throughout his life. For him the memory of this event is traumatic, “a secret pain that had proliferated like cancerous cells to infect every aspect of his being” (162). This pain informs his abusive treatment of his children as each child becomes another version of Anabelle, problematizing their interactions. As his son Tico, who has also been assaulted by Marina, 140 reflects, “as far back as he remembered, his brothers and sisters had behaved like strangers. They shied away from and were barely civil to each other . . . He could not even recall ever having seen his parents kiss, hold hands or hug. And he had no memory of being embraced himself or hearing tender words. All his family ever seemed to do was argue and accuse, preach and pray” (176). An entrenched mode of interpersonal relating both inside and outside the home, this patriarchal violence also contaminates Aurelia’s relationships. Besides resorting to corporal punishment when she cannot control her children, she employs her Santería skills to inflict pain on others as a means of protecting the family. Before arriving in the U.S., she abandons her beliefs and adopts her new husband’s faith despite its historical irrelevance in the Dominican Republic. However, due to their daily struggles as marginalized individuals, she focusses on immediate outcomes, without regard to past experience or future repercussions, thus undermining her ability to protect her family. In New York City, she senses a loss but is unable to determine the nature of her anxiety, which results in a nine-month hospital stay due to physical and mental collapse. Lying close to death, Aurelia experiences flashbacks of life in the Dominican Republic, where men are “stooped by labor that donkeys, had they possessed them, would have had to be beaten into doing” (132). Returning to her mother’s final days, she remembers refusing to comply with Bienvenida’s request to add a patch of her shawl to a family quilt commemorating lost lives. Her family’s fraught history, evoked by a quilted patch of green shirt worn by her brother on the day of his bloody suicide, is irreducible to factual accounts. The quilt records multiple narratives, and a swath of cloth from her mother’s shawl will add another to the stitched folds. However, Aurelia cannot accept her mother’s imminent death or the loss of other lives past 141 and present. Disregarding Bienvenida’s warning that “the future can hurt you if you deny the past,” and that her forgetfulness will consign the dead to a second death, she also rejects an inherited voodoo sensibility “that had driven her brother mad and had tormented her into seeing and hearing what others couldn’t" (134). Despite Aurelia’s conversion to Christianity, however, she cannot escape the Santería vision invoked by her mother’s voice; she dreams of being pulled into the sea and its impenetrably dark waters “of which she too was a part” to resurface and be comforted by the rocking of the waves (134). Realizing on recalling this vision that her fear of the unknown past has denied her family a viable present, she finally embraces her mother’s gifts, replacing Christian salvation with spirits “that linger after death to resolve the problems of former lives” (133). This acceptance of her Santería beliefs offers her the possibility of connecting with others across time and space for a new sense of belonging: one dependent on past and present relationships rather than a deeply rooted history. Thus, once again in the New York hospital after Marina’s overdose on her heart medication, Aurelia perceives that her ties with others constitute home: In the presence of strangers . . . Aurelia for the first time granted herself permission to sprout roots past concrete into soil. Throughout more than fifteen years of moving from apartment to apartment, she had dreamed, not of returning, but of going home . . . to a place not located on any map but nonetheless preventing her from settling in any other. Only now did she understand that her soul had yearned not for a geographical site but for a frame of mind able to accommodate any place as home . . . From that day on she would hold only herself accountable. She would no longer depend on anyone else to do for her or her children what she should have taken it upon herself to do. (137) 142 Assuming, a non-juridical responsibility for her daughter’s condition, she envisions a rhizomatic entanglement with others founded on compassion. Her choice to take on this burden alone, however, undermines her potentiality. While appearing to be a productive means of acquiring agency, her decision to act alone to commit murder with the aid of her Santería spells does little to ensure her family’s well-being. In a surreal scene, she conjures the asphyxiation of her daughter Rebecca’s husband from her kitchen. Another victim of colonial subjugation, Pasión subjects his wife to extreme physical and psychological abuse. She and her emaciated children live in squalor among the chickens he collects in an attempt to recreate an idealized farmer’s lifestyle that he cannot tolerate because of his severe asthma. In this scene Pérez undermines the private/public divide to show the pervasive nature of discourses of violence; animals normally found outside transform the home into a cage, while confined human beings live as if they were farmyard poultry. This abuse of humans and animals conflates their misery; reduced to objectified biological life, both are denied their right to a sustainable existence. Without heat or food, Rebecca and her children become destitute, but she cannot escape a reality she refuses to see. Since childhood, she has withdrawn in the face of violence. If as a girl she heard whispered news of Trujillo’s “dictatorial madness” or caught her mother burying a stillborn child behind their house, she would assume the fetal position (212). Enraged that her daughter’s life and that of her grandchildren are at risk, Aurelia transforms herself into a vision that horrifies Pasión as he is overcome by blinding clouds of feathers. Staying long enough to witness “his conscience . . . terrorize his soul” and conjure his death, Aurelia becomes complicit in the very discourse that has physically and psychically dislocated her family (255). Only after Iliana’s rape does she realize that her love for her family does not justify her crime and that this act repeats the violence that continues to “wreak havoc” 143 in their lives: “Only now did she concede that nothing was stable—nothing. The earth itself might give out under their feet, their house burn down, madness take root, evil unfold into their lives” (293). Pérez’s evocation of collective trauma here coincides with Kai Erickson’s description of the two possible forms of communal trauma: “damage to the tissues that hold human groups intact, and the creation of social climates, communal moods, that come to dominate a group’s spirit” (“Trauma” 191). The family’s inability to voice their anguish precludes both a witnessing of the reasons for Marina’s psychosis and their own individual and collective trauma. Thus, when Iliana examines a family photo, she perceives a longing for the uncovering of hidden narratives: “At the center of their impenetrably dark pupils, pinpoints of light . . . receded far back into their heads so that, although their faces appeared to shed emotions, their eyes suggested stories only waiting to be told” (Home 44). Similarly, as she contemplates the reasons for Marina’s suicide attempt on her way to rescue Rebecca, she becomes aware that this lack of communication is, paradoxically, facilitated by language. While away at university, she is kept apprised of events by various family members; however, “[t]heir self-protective tones—tinged at moments with patience, faith, humor, anger or indifference . . . obscured the truth about Marina’s mental state” (191). Their language conceals experience, inhibiting the possibility of empathic response as a form of testimony. Nevertheless, by presenting Iliana’s belief that speech can also unveil her family’s multiple secrets, Pérez affirms the possibility of a witnessing through verbal communication. Frustrated by her parents’ and siblings’ incapacity to engage with each other after Marina’s breakdown, Iliana longs “to discuss each of that day’s events so as to determine if all she had witnessed had actually taken place” (191). For Pérez, language can connect histories for present 144 and future potentialities, but only if transformed from the alienating discourses of biopolitics to an ethical witnessing for the creation of an alternative community. Language and Testimony Iliana’s and her family’s inability to conform to the labels that language assigns them represents a failure of interpellation from which it is possible to forge new affiliations. In other words, while language separates individuals from others and their own understanding of themselves, the resulting linguistic and epistemological aporia confirms their existence outside of language and the possibility of creating alternative discourses of belonging. For Agamben, human beings are not human because they speak but because in their being outside of language, they have the potentiality to speak or not to speak. Citing Émile Benveniste’s studies on pronouns in Problèmes de linguistique générale (1966), he argues the pronoun ‘I’ has no lexical meaning in itself. Rather, it indicates a moment of speech, an enactment of discourse in which language itself, not its contents, identifies the individual: “Enunciation thus refers not to the text of what is stated, but to its taking place; the individual can put language into act only on condition of identifying himself with the very event of saying, and not with what is said in it” (Remnants 116). This means that for the individual to become a speaking being, she or he must experience a desubjectification in which the pre-linguistic self disappears with the enunciation of the speaking ‘I’: “The subject of enunciation is composed of discourse and exists in discourse alone. But, for this very reason, once the subject is in discourse, he can say nothing; he cannot speak” (116-117). In this way language propels the living being away from its speaking subject into the past or the future as it represents the outside of language that is never truly present. The mute self and the speaking self can never coincide, but neither can they be separated (151). 145 Agamben understands this “indivisible partition,” in which our pre-linguistic and speaking selves neither separate nor constitute a whole, as the site of shame (151). Shame occurs when a speaking self, the ‘I,’ becomes witness to its own abjection as an organic life distinct from human life: “In shame, the subject thus has no other content than its own desubjectification; it becomes witness to its own disorder, its own oblivion as a subject. This double movement, which is both subjectification and desubjectification, is shame” (106). As during Marina’s and Iliana’s rapes, in this ontological gap between the speaking self and the non-speaking self, there emerges a witnessing in which the as yet unspeakable abjection can be acknowledged in speech: “Testimony is a potentiality that becomes actual through an impotentiality of speech; it is, moreover, an impossibility that gives itself existence through a possibility of speaking. These two movements cannot be identified either with a subject or with a consciousness; yet they cannot be divided into two incommunicable substances. Their inseparable intimacy is testimony” (146). This compound testimony subverts the complete desubjectification of biopolitics, which reduces human beings to ‘bare life,’ or life that cannot be witnessed. Biopolitical discourse separates zoē and bios, but language can also allow for a witnessing that unites the two to reveal being as a haecceity. In Pérez’s text, individuals find themselves caught in an existential wasteland wrought by language; but the shame that trauma produces calls for a recognition of human life as a ‘form-of-life’ that can never be separated from its organic being. Whether this call is answered, however, depends on each individual’s capacity to serve as witness to the abjection of the human. In Geographies of Home, language becomes a medium for testimony when ties between individuals are founded on ethical relationships rather than socio-cultural and political affinities. The individual and communal well-being of Pérez’s traumatized characters depends on an 146 empathic recognition of other subjectivities regardless of their attributes. This understanding of trauma as inseparable from collective experience coincides with Caruth’s assertion that individuals are inextricably bound together through trauma’s narratives. Citing Lacan, she insists that surviving another’s death confirms a bond that trauma strengthens because what the individual cannot grasp in the loss of others becomes the foundation of a different sense of self: “In thus relating trauma to the very identity of the self and to one’s relation to another, Lacan’s reading shows us . . . that the shock of traumatic sight reveals at the heart of human subjectivity not so much an epistemological, but rather what can be defined as an ethical relation to the real (Unclaimed 95). Although Iliana’s parents and their children are graced with a mix of attributes that problematize their identification, they remain inseparable from others—those they have survived, and those with whom they negotiate a fraught present. These entanglements of human experience undermine the perpetrator/victim binary, not to absolve individuals and institutions of their crimes but to foreground the way violence is propagated within communities. Citing Primo Levi’s account of Auschwitz in The Drowned and the Saved (1989), Agamben refers to the ubiquitous and timeless space of the abject as a “gray zone” in which our understanding of morality and humanity are called into question. In this “zone of irresponsibility,” the oppressed becomes the oppressor and the executioner the victim (Remnants 21). He gives the example of a concentration camp visited by a preacher who tries to convince the Muselmann of the need for dignity and self-respect. The cleric’s gesture, an “atrocious jest,” problematizes notions of good and evil and the idea of an ethical limit beyond which one is no longer human. That is, if for the abject concepts such as dignity and self-respect no longer have meaning, “then they are not genuine ethical concepts, for no ethics can claim to exclude a part of humanity, no matter how unpleasant or difficult that humanity is to see” (63, 147 64). Similarly, in Geographies of Home what matters is an ethics outside the juridical sphere for the fostering of viable human interactions and a presencing of histories. For both Caruth and Pérez, individuals can never be separated from others as they navigate trauma and possible healing as the latter are involved from the moment of violence to the continued processing of the subsequent anguish. For Caruth, applying Freud’s analyses, the death drive emerges as a result of the psyche’s inability to process an escape from death and departure from others, forcing a continual return to the event. However, this subconscious reliving of the trauma producing event that consciousness refuses to recognize is also an attempt to acknowledge survival. The traumatic return, then, becomes an awakening and affirmation of life connected to others that can derail the death drive: flashbacks and nightmares are a return in the form of wish fulfillment; the wish that others were still alive brings them back to life in dreams and hallucinations (Unclaimed 97). In this way, the traumatic reliving of past events—consciousness desiring its own suspension to resurrect lost others—transforms death to life: “[T]he dream, as a delay, reveals the ineradicable gap between the reality of a death and the desire that cannot overcome it except in the fiction of a dream” (98). Thus, Marina’s psychotic episodes constitute a relation of the psyche to the realities of past and present violence to herself and others. It appears to follow, then, that to awake from a nightmare is to be in conflict with consciousness, which strives to bring the dead back to life by remaining oblivious to the reality around its sleeping host. By referring to Lacan’s extension of Freud’s understanding of the dream state, Caruth explains how the opposite is true; the dream awakens the sleeper who must then face the loss of those whom she or he has survived: “[I]t is in this paradoxical awakening—an awakening not to, but against the very wishes of consciousness—that the dreamer confronts 148 the reality of a death from which he cannot turn away” (102). In other words, by forcing the dreamer to acknowledge loss, awakening relates the oneiric to the real and becomes the locus of trauma as the individual must respond to a call that can only be heard when consciousness is suspended: “Awakening . . . is itself the site of a trauma, the trauma of the necessity and impossibility of responding to another’s death” (103-104). When Marina wakes up from her psychotic episodes, whether after envisioning walls teeming with spiders or raping her sister, she awakens to a repetition of a failure to prevent the loss of a previous self and the other victims of the Trujillato she has left behind in the Dominican Republic. The potency of her traumatic experience emerges from her loss and incapacity to respond to a call for help due to her psychological absence as the violence transpired; she has failed to witness events and therefore repeatedly engages the past in the hopes of realizing a self-presencing in multiple topologies of time and space. In this overlapping of temporal and spatial registers, her bonds with others eclipse the need for facts. As Caruth affirms, the psyche’s relation to the real is not only a question of acknowledging empirical experience; rather, it is a matter of engaging ethically with others and their stories (106). That is, the bonds that dreams and flashbacks reveal constitute the real. This does not minimize the experience of physical and mental anguish; on the contrary, from these very bonds emerges an imperative for compassion (107-108). As Caruth concludes from Freud’s Moses to Monotheism (1939), the death of another cannot be isolated from the idea of one’s own death. Trauma reveals the ethical dilemma of consciousness, whose foundational moment is a responsibility towards others who call to us in their deaths or potential deaths (171). 149 Survivor as Witness If the voices of the dead in their inaccessible otherness persist across time and space to demand an awakening, how can the traumatized navigating the gap between two modes of existence respond for the transformation of the present? And how can language become an effective medium for this change? As an imperative to survive and recount the unspeakable for the witnessing of violence and its erasure, this address insists on a new speaking, not an understanding “but a transmission, the performance of an act of awakening that contains within it its own difference” (109, 110). This transmission as testimony does not relate facts to be archived but awakens others to silenced histories which remain inaccessible experiences. For Caruth and Agamben, language aids in the enactment of this passing on of awakening; however, what is passed on is not merely meaning but the performance of words. This takes place in the movement—in the repetition and the gap—between locutor and addressee, which constitutes “an ethical imperative of an awakening that has yet to occur” (115); or in Agamben’s terms, it is from the lacuna of testimony that the speechless inhuman calls to the human (Remnants 54). At first glance, Marina’s repeated awakenings merely confirm her inability to process her past and that of other victims of physical and psychic abuse. Each time she returns to the present after her psychotic episodes, she appears only to compound her suffering and her family’s torment. Performing the roles of both perpetrator and victim, she seems deaf to any calls for acknowledgement and unable to serve as witness to the events that have traumatized the people she loves. This feeds a disconnection from others that precludes all forms of community formation. Like Melville’s Bartleby, she prefers to withdraw in suicide. Despite this apparent refusal to answer an imperative to survive, however, Marina’s assaults on her siblings and her attempt to end her life can also be interpreted as a confirmation 150 of her connections with a past self and others lost or living. If, as Caruth insists, the death of another cannot be isolated from the idea of one’s own death, then another’s suffering is equally a reminder of one’s own. While Marina’s rape of Iliana reenacts her own rape and perpetuates violence, it also confirms her witnessing of the brutality suffered by those who are subject to the discourses of oppression. This witnessing is also the site of her shame and forces her into attempting an erasure of her desubjectified self. Like the Muselmann, however, she is so damaged psychologically that she remains the “complete witness” whom language fails (Remnants 39). Although Marina cannot use language to communicate with others, her actions are cries that if heard can foster a productive witnessing of the silenced past. Her suicide attempt constitutes a rupture in a present narrative that has no history, but clearly self annihilation is not a viable solution for individuals who long for an open community; Pérez’s characters only become more alienated from each other after Marina ingests her mother’s pills. Had she been successful, this act may have constituted a valid, albeit desperate, method of realizing a momentary agency. However, this would have done little to further the emergence of a sustainable community. An act of violence itself, her suicide would only have perpetuated the oppression she seeks to overcome. Marina’s continued survival, on the other hand, brings her family together to negotiate a fraught existence as a community. That is, Marina’s psychotic episodes force the people around her, and Pérez’s readers, to recognize her suffering for the emergence of alternative realities. Through Marina’s cries, those of the victims of generations of violence—from Columbus’ arrival in Santo Domingo to the Trujillato and migration to the US—do not go unheeded. 151 When Iliana is raped by her sister, she is a witness to her own degradation and gains insight into her sister’s suffering. One self, the speaking ‘I,’ witnesses the violent subjection of another, the pre-linguistic form of life, in an event that problematizes her ethical stance. In other words, Iliana feels shame for Marina’s immoral act and her own failure to prevent the unspeakable. Marina has intentionally stripped her of a false dignity, forcing her to reconsider her understanding of self: “Her sister knew precisely what it was she’d done. She knew and was pleased that no one else would ever detect what it was she had destroyed. She knew and depended on shame to silence Iliana and to efface whatever self she’d been” (Home 290). With this discovery of her own abject condition, Iliana also recognizes that of her sister and experiences a revulsion before their shared status as femina sacra. This disgust results in a symbolic purging of the self into her mother’s kitchen sink. As Agamben claims, “The man who experiences disgust recognizes himself in an alterity that cannot be assumed” (Remnants 107). Her physical reaction also confirms the reality that she cannot escape her family’s suffering, for although she longs for an imagined home, “[e]very spasm of her body, every tremor and heave only reminded her that she was already there” (Home 291). Like Marina’s revulsion, her disgust necessitates a cleansing for renewal; unlike Marina, however, she chooses not to complete this purification through a violent rejection of reality. Her means of interrupting the tail-chasing cat her grandmother conjures at her birth is to acknowledge “the apostrophe from which human beings cannot turn away” to become a witness of obscured histories (Remnants 54). Her compassion allows her to seek connections, or in Glissant’s terms, relations with others as a ‘giving-on-and-with.’ With Marina’s attempted suicide and rape of Iliana, the latter experiences the “shock of sight” that occurs when customary modes of engagement are brutally interrupted, thereby 152 opening space for other histories. However, as Caruth affirms, such interruptions can never occur when individuals are isolated from others: “[O]nly in their relation to each other and only in the way in which this relation creates, precisely, a break within the mutual understanding of their address” can individuals uncover hidden pasts (Unclaimed 44). Once Iliana has witnessed her own desubjectification through Marina’s re-enactment of her rape, she enters her parents’ bedroom to find it overrun by ants. But this is not a symptom of psychosis; rather, their reality is evidence of the entering of the past into the present. Iliana has finally heard Marina’s cry for help and become a witness to her narrative and that of those excluded from the polis to become homines sacri. Nevertheless, her testimony can only effect change if it can be communicated. By finally voicing her shame and “shattering the silence threatening to corrode her tongue,” she is able to transform its toxicity into a productive sharing of hidden narratives: “Ed, I was—I was attacked, Ed. Last night I was a—attacked.” Her brain tried to absorb the impact of that single word. Attacked. Was that what she’d endured? Was that the term for her pinned body, for the fist jammed in between her thighs, for the pain that had ripped through to her very core? . . . Could her sister—her sister? Sister. That was the word that had stuck in her craw, the word that prevented her from speaking to anyone about what had occurred. Sister. The mere definition of the word chilled her blood and made her heart murmur, with each apprehensive beat: no no I will not have this life I will not have this blood which also flows through my sister’s veins I will not have it daily reminding me of the feel of her intrusive hand of its fingers tinged with red of her weight upon my own. (Home 311) The repetition of the words, “attacked” and “sister,” along with the questioning tone, constitute a Derridean deferral that details Iliana’s awakening to reject the violence her sister cannot avoid. 153 Her move from disbelief to definitive rejection and the repetition of ‘no’ and ‘not’ confirm her realization that although “she had wanted, more than anything, to belong . . . she felt as displaced out in the world as in her parents’ house” (312). The fact that Ed is not actually present, confirms Pérez’s intention to engage her audience once again for a compassionate testimony of suffering. Having sabotaged a potential death drive and its accompanying psychic trauma by consciously externalizing her anguish, Iliana is able to challenge her father after he beats her for staying out after dark: “‘Are you through?’ she asked, her tone venomous enough to convey to her father that she meant more than was he through with her and meant as well was he through with life, with pride, with the righteous man he had believed himself to be” (314). In her defiance, she eschews violence in favour of a meaningful address to reveal the injustice that informs his patriarchal dominance. This exposure divests him of all illusions regarding his authority, leaving him with the burden of his shame: “Utterly defeated . . . Papito’s lips parted, flapped, hung open like a wound” (314). When she then confronts her mother regarding their collective denial of the family’s dysfunction, the three engage in an exchange of the stories behind her father’s authoritarian control of his children. Beginning to uncover the narratives she has “ached to hear” (44), their interaction allows her to perceive her parents’ vulnerability. As she listens to her disillusioned father, whose “posture remained that of a man conscious of having failed his children and fostering no hopes of being redeemed before their eyes,” she understands “that he was more afraid of the world than she herself had ever been” (320). With the knowledge that their relationships have been founded on fear, Iliana is able to replace resentment with a compassion that strengthens their ties: [H]er soul had transformed into a complex and resilient thing able to accommodate the best and the worst. Everything she had experienced; everything she continued to feel for 154 those whose lives were inextricably bound with hers; everything she had inherited and had gleaned from her siblings would aid her in her passage through the world. She would leave no memories behind. All of them were herself. All of them were home. (321) Thus, Iliana embraces rhizomatic connections with others across time and space to subvert the notion of belonging as tied to one mode of existence. An ethics of testimony emerges from a willingness to found relationships, however fraught, on compassion. Her aim is not to establish a bounded community dependent on socio-political classifications; her desire is to connect with others across these divisions to reveal multiple histories for individual and collective healing.33 Belonging for her becomes an ethical imperative to heed the call of others, regardless of their attributes, and to establish bonds without erasing the particularity of individuals. Conclusion By positioning the reader in the space of an uncomfortable witnessing of her characters’ anguish, Pérez demands a ‘listening’ for an encounter with other realities, past and present. As Caruth argues, writing trauma as fiction can foster this engagement with human experience as literature defies yet asks for our understanding by evoking worlds without naming them: because the ethical bases of our experience of the world eclipse the search for epistemological certainty, literature resembles reality, the knowledge of which is always deferred (Unclaimed 3). Indeed, the very ambiguity of the literary text undermines the factual—properties related to race, gender, culture etc.—to inspire an ethics of testimony. When we read Pérez’s novel, we are moved by the suffering of individuals regardless of their real or imagined experiences. Just as for Caruth “events are only historical to the extent that they implicate others” (20), Pérez writes human suffering as a shared experience. Her characters’ individual traumas inform human relations so that ethical attachments, rather than identities, open a productive dialogue on the meaning of 155 community. If at the heart of trauma’s cry is not a question of representation but the possibility of histories, Geographies of Home becomes a compelling testimonial as an address to readers. From its polyphony emerges an appeal to be heard and a yearning for new stories to be told: a dissonance that accommodates “any place as home” (139). 156 Chapter Four: Spanglish Corruptions: Reimagining Community through Textual Cannibalism in Junot Díaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)34 As in Geographies of Home, the marginality experienced by Caribbean migrants in Junot Díaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao undermines traditional notions of belonging. The horrors of the Trujillo regime haunt an immigrant family in the U.S., where individuals must navigate the violence directed towards their difference. Pérez’s text presents the diasporic individual’s navigation of psychic displacement when trauma is relived in hallucinations, dreams, and nightmares. These subconscious repetitions of extreme violence destabilize the immigrant’s understanding of self and community and forestall any encounter with a viable present. Unlike Pérez’s text, however, much of Oscar Wao also addresses the repercussions of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic so that we see the characters’ alienation in two oppressive realities. The global flows of people and media further complicate Díaz’s narrative of violence in the Dominican diaspora. This constant cross-cultural contamination informs the following discussion, which differs in its approach to appreciating the writing of communities in the Dominican diaspora by shifting emphasis from the narratology of trauma to a study of intertextuality. For Pérez, trauma’s fragmentation of an imagined subjectivity and disruption of reality can open space for personal and collective healing. That is, this rupture of the psyche allows for a witnessing of anguish and a potential encounter with new ‘forms-of-life.’ Similarly, literature affords space for such testimony and new experiences of community as the ambiguity of fiction prioritizes narratives over facts and non-juridical ethics over imposed accountabilities. From a compassionate ‘listening’ to the survivors of suppressed histories emerge narratives that promote discourses of relationality. Developing this idea of dismantling alienating discourse, the focus of 157 this chapter is Díaz’s rendering of diasporic communities and their histories in terms of his literary style. To this end, I investigate Díaz’s portrayal of individuals and their culturally mixed environment through the lens of Oswald de Andrade’s “Cannibalist Manifesto” (1928). Using Andrade’s theory of cultural anthropophagy in my analysis of the novel’s hybrid form, I show how Díaz’s intertextuality rewrites the fractured diasporic community. I argue that his textual cannibalism calls for a re-examining of normative paradigms of affiliation by imagining communal relations as indeterminate rhizomatic connections. In my discussion of this transformative narrative, I look at Díaz’s depiction of migrant life before turning to the means by which his textual anthropophagy supports his understanding of diasporic experience. In Oscar Wao Díaz presents communities in the Dominican diaspora as sites of cultural flow, where individuals are part of a commonality that is heterogeneous. In these complex and fluid spaces, ties can be forged and agency realized, but there are no guarantees. This very uncertainty emerging from the blurring of cultural boundaries undermines the notion of fixed identities and allows for the reconfiguration of memory. The flux of culture destabilizes official historical narratives to reveal a palimpsest of fragmented histories, making possible the transformation of daily life. Like Pérez, Díaz calls for the recuperation of histories not to preserve a fixed past but for a reinscription of the present. He rejects historicist causality represented as a sequence of events enacted in what Benjamin terms “homogenous empty time,” instead drawing attention to the possibility of refiguring the past as a means of reworking the present (“Theses” 261).35 This perspective appears to coincide with Agamben’s view of history as a space of disjunction and anachronism, which allows for its disruption and the grasping of potentiality in kairological time (“Contemproary” 41). 158 For Díaz, the peripatetic mobility of individuals throughout the Caribbean and its diasporas is fundamental to the realization of alternative ways of conceiving self and community. His narrative begins with two epigraphs that problematize notions of identity as fixed in bounded collectivities engaged in linear trajectories. The poem “The Schooner Flight” (1979) by Derek Walcott presents the problematic binary of an imposed identity, i.e. alienated citizen, in the voice of a Caribbean migrant of autochthonous, African, and European origin: Christ have mercy on all sleeping things! From that dog rotting down Wrightson Road To when I was a dog on these streets; If loving these islands must be my load, Out of corruption my soul takes wings, But they had started to poison my soul With their big house, big car, big-time bohbohl, Coolie, nigger, Syrian, and French Creole, So I leave it for them and their carnival— I taking a sea-bath, I gone down the road, I know these islands from Monos to Nassau, A rusty head sailor with sea-green eyes That they nickname Shabine, the patois for Any red nigger, and I, Shabine saw When these slums of empire was paradise. I’m just a red nigger who love the sea, I had a sound colonial education, 159 I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me, And either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation. (Oscar Wao) With this epigraph, Díaz invites the reader to reflect on the movement of oppressed peoples who lack a rooted identity while officially belonging to nations that only exist in the imaginary of dominant discourse. Both witness and voice of his people’s suffering, the narrator of the poem, living like a “dog” along a wharf in Trinidad, rejects the rapacious carnival of capitalism by fleeing to the sea. Thus, the novel opens with a focus on the way in which the inheritance of oppression under market forces has denied the disempowered a space of belonging. They have become souls poisoned by the "slums of empire,” where they must navigate physical and psychic displacement. In Poetics of Relation, Glissant describes this double displacement as the quintessential condition of the uprooted peoples of the Caribbean: for the abandoned orphans of globalization, “roots make the commonality of errantry and exile, for in both instances roots are lacking” (11). Like the narrator in Walcott’s poem, the errant Carib suffers “a debasement more eternal than apocalypse” (6); and the image of a ship adrift on the abyss of the unknown “whose chasms are our own unconscious, furrowed with fugitive memories” becomes a metaphor for the transience of oppressed peoples permanently exiled to anonymity (7). Díaz draws further attention to the violence wielded by power systems in another epigraph, a quote from the Marvel comic Fantastic Four (1961), which refers to Galactus, a diabolical superhero who devours entire worlds for survival: “Of what import are brief, nameless lives . . . to Galactus??” (Oscar Wao). In this discourse of popular culture, the lives of the anonymous inhabitants of diverse worlds are fleeting, and individuals are divested of agency before a power whose siblings are eternity and death. With this quote Díaz alludes to globalized consumerism, whose narratives perpetuate the brutal marginalization of an errant 160 population. The quote also refers to a subversion of the subject/object binary, for Galactus cannot survive without the planets he devours; their ‘import’ is fundamental. He is an inherent part of a cosmos that depends as much on the negative energies of the universe as it does on its positive forces. This interdependence of cosmic beings means that they are constantly negotiating existence so that the universe constitutes a type of ordered chaos. Such disorder resonates with Glissant’s use of the term chaos-monde: the active flow of the world in which “[i]ndividuals and communities go beyond vainglory and suffering, power and impatience together—however imperceptibly” (Poetics 94-95). For Glissant, the mobility of errantry dissolves binaries to realize neither a chaotic synthesis nor an unproductive dispersion of lives. On the contrary, it involves not only a process of uprooting but one of rerouting as a search for self-determination, regardless of the terrain one chooses to occupy (16, 20). Unlike the travelers, discoverers, and conquerors whose ties to capitalism Walcott’s sailor rejects, errant individuals do not seek the affirmation of an essential rootedness. Rather, their gaze is always directed towards new horizons, defying both empire and nation with the assertion of a creolizing identity. Thus, the seafarer insists, “I, Shabine . . . have Dutch, nigger, and English in me,” and “I taking a sea bath” (Oscar Wao). Due to his ambivalent relationship with the colonizer as a subject who is both of and removed from the machinations of capitalist commerce, he has the desire to cleanse himself of the corrupt history of empire for a possible rebirth. Like Glissant and Agamben, Díaz’s problematizes binaries to favour the polyphony of difference over the flattening of human experience. In the two epigraphs, the anguish suffered over past and present violence and the search for spaces of agency in a transitory existence emerge as leitmotifs from which Díaz’s narrative flows. 161 Repressed Histories As with Perez’s characters, Díaz’s protagonists are immigrants to New Jersey whose personal and collective trauma persists in their adoptive country, where they are unable to participate in an empowered community. Deprived of voice, these displaced individuals insulate themselves against further oppression by maintaining silence as they long for the right to presence a self. Paradoxically, however, as Díaz observes in an interview with Katherine Miranda, their mute state denies them agency, for it produces a collective blindness vis-a-vis the past (“Diaspora” 29), which festers under a mask of homogeneous belonging. Appearing to concur with Glissant’s notion of rootlessness, Díaz confirms that this semblance of socio-cultural uniformity does not exist in reality, thus the non-linear structure of his text: I’m a product of a fragmented world. Take a brief look at Dominican or Caribbean history and you’ll see that the structure of the book is more in keeping with the reality of this history than with its most popular myth: that of unity and continuity. In my mind the book was supposed to take the shape of an archipelago; it was supposed to be a textual Caribbean. Shattered and yet somehow holding together, somehow incredibly vibrant and compelling. (“Brief”) Thus, as the chapters move back and forth in time and space, readers encounter the characters’ navigation of diaspora through a narrative of disruptions. For Díaz, the Dominican diaspora opens to a plurality of peoples with diverse life experiences in function of their socio-cultural reality and individual characters. Besides being black, Díaz’s principal figure, Oscar León, is an obese nerd and effeminate virgin born in the United States; and his ‘mulatto’ friend Yunior, the first-person narrator, is a voracious reader intent on living the myth of the virile Dominican male. Yunior’s father supports the United 162 States invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 before emigrating to the U.S.; and Oscar’s mother, Beli, survives torture during the Trujillo dictatorship only to move to the U.S., where menial labour destroys her body. The socio-cultural divides between these characters reflect the fractures of the diaspora that frustrate the recognition of a shared history of violent subjugation (“Diaspora” 24). Despite the attempts of this fragmented community to repress the knowledge of a shared yet heterogeneous past, the spectre of untold histories persists in the collective memory in the form of a curse: el fukú americanus. According to Díaz, the past is an irrepressible weight: “[T]he shadow of history doesn’t go away . . . it’s actually a shadow from a past that’s very old and very long . . . it works its way into things” (“In Darkness” 16). The fukú americanus represents the recrudescent curse of the ‘New World’ that arrived with Christopher Columbus, the moment from which “we’ve all been in the shit” (Oscar Wao 1). However, the fukú is not only a recurring nightmare for generations of Dominicans, but also for all those who have carried the curse with them since Columbus became a victim of the spell, dying “miserable and syphilitic” (1). Although Yunior claims Trujillo and the fukú curse “had an understanding, that them two was tight” (3), this relationship remains ambiguous as “No one knows whether Trujillo was the Curse’s servant or its master, its agent or its principal” (2). After the CIA assassinated the dictator in 1961, for example, John F. Kennedy’s family inherited the curse. Thus, for Díaz the perpetrators of tyranny become victims of their own violence, and like Pérez, he complicates the distinction between the oppressor and the oppressed. However, the destabilizing of this binary far from trivializes the suffering of the marginalized. Díaz does not confuse the atrocities endured under authoritarian rule with the misfortunes of those in power. On the contrary, the fukú that plagues the colonizer, the dictator, 163 and the proponents of U.S. expansionism is a reference to the degradation of the entire human race under rapacious capitalism: “Santo Domingo might be fukú’s Kilometer Zero, its port of entry, but we are all of us its children, whether we know it or not” (2). The violence of the past affects all of humanity and haunts the memory of those enduring present subjugation; and with this doubling of the fukú, the ghost of past trauma becomes the reality of present violence, as much for the forces of oppression as for its traumatized victims. As a phantom of the past that resides in the individual and collective subconscious, the fukú curse is incarnated in the form of a man without a face, who appears before moments of terror for each generation of the León family. Díaz introduces this non-character after Oscar’s grandmother, La Inca, breaks her silence regarding Beli’s traumatic past, when “her life got slopped into those containers in which governments store nuclear waste, triple-sealed by industrial lasers and deposited in the dark, uncharted trenches of her soul” (258). The words of La Inca open space for a return of the repressed past, and as her name indicates, she becomes a voice beside those of the unheard victims of injustice since the Spanish conquest. She gives testimony to that which has neither name nor face but the memory of which appears unbidden to interrupt the present. As Freud argues, with this uncanny return of a forgotten past, one mode of history interferes with another and transforms the familiar into a disturbing strangeness to alter reality (“Uncanny” 226). As La Inca recounts Beli’s past, she transforms the figure of her tyrannical daughter into a victim of shocking violence, and Díaz introduces the man without the face as a metaphor for the unspeakable suffering that continues to haunt the family.36 The Face and the Faceless One In Means without End (2000), Agamben describes the face as an exposure of being and the only location of community in which individuals disclose their singularity free of essence: “There is a 164 face wherever something reaches the level of exposition and tries to grasp its own being exposed” (91). The face does not reveal the truth about a state of being in the world but allows for an opening that is language; for what human beings have to communicate to each other is above all “a pure communicability” (95). Where human beings encounter a face, they enjoy the passion of revelation, which is the revelation of language itself: The face is not something that transcends the visage: it is the exposition of the visage in all its nudity, it is victory over character—it is word . . . In the face, I exist with all of my properties (my being brown, tall, pale, proud, emotional . . .) but this happens without any of these properties essentially identifying me or belonging to me. The face is the threshold of de-propriation and of de-identification of all manners and of all qualities—a threshold in which only the latter become purely communicable. And only where I find a face do I encounter an exteriority and does an outside happen to me. (97-99) For Agamben and Díaz, then, an absence of face signifies a lack of communicability, a ghostly silence that stifles the voices of past and present trauma. The history of subjugation that Caribbean communities have endured since the colonization of the region continues well into the twentieth century as the León family’s fukú. Although Beli never speaks of her childhood and surrenders to “the amnesia that was so common throughout the Islands, five parts denial, five parts negative hallucination . . . the power of the Untilles” (Oscar Wao 258-259), the repressed past always returns to haunt the persecuted. As the Dominican Republic is the epicenter of the fukú curse, the family first experiences the full force of state violence and its silencing effect decades before immigration to the U.S. Prior to Beli’s father’s imprisonment for suspected treason, and the subsequent disappearance of her parents 165 and her sister, the dictator, or “Fuckface,” frequents her mother’s dreams as a man without a face (2). Even after Trujillo’s assassination with a shot to the face, this phantom is present at every encounter the following generations have with the authoritarian regime and the violence it engenders in Dominican society. Left an orphan, Beli experiences the ways in which state violence permeates daily life on the island. She suffers terrible abuse at the hands of her adoptive father, who empties a skillet of burning oil on her back as his “face turn[s] blank” (261). Later, having escaped from her foster family but physically and mentally scarred for life after repeated torment, she passes through a remote community and sees a skinned goat. Beli, whose surname is Cabral, notices that the skin of its face is like a “funeral mask” that triggers “dim memories of her Lost Years” —her tyrannized childhood (135). In a scene that reminds the reader of the widespread disintegration of communities under the Trujillo regime, she also thinks she glimpses a faceless man as he waves to her from a rocking chair; however, before she can confirm this “the pueblito vanishe[s] in the dust” (135). Shortly after this premonition, Beli catches sight of the faceless man again on one of the dictator’s henchmen who attempts to capture her. Finally, the spectre of Trujillo as a faceless police officer greets her just before she becomes the victim of a savage assault at the hands of his thugs. History is repeated when they beat her “like she was a slave. Like she was a dog,” and it is “the end of language, the end of hope” (147). As her boyfriend, a police officer called The Gangster, jokes when he ejaculates on her scarred back, her mute body is “like chalk on a blackboard” on which the law inscribes her subjugation (163). The moment she loses language—left speechless to “dwell forever, alone, black, fea, scratching at the dust with a stick, pretending that the scribble was letters, words, names”—she is in a cane field, the site of generations of brutality (148). 166 The Plantation Full Circle The abuse that took place in the Caribbean under colonial rule continues for individuals on the margins of the global market economy. For Glissant, however, the plantation was not only a site where language failed but also one in which the potential for a new communicability persisted. The voices that emerged from the fissures created by the contradictory forces of the tobacco, cotton, and sugar trade took various forms, allowing for a disruption of the linear narrative of history: tales, proverbs, and songs spoke of past and present struggle; creole combined basic functional language with unspoken desires for a new subversive speech; and the dissonance of jazz became the non-verbal expression of plantation life. These new discourses opened the closed space of the plantation and informed the lived experience of the Caribbean, where “[m]emory . . . is not a calendar memory . . . [and] time does not keep company with the rhythms of month and year alone; it is aggravated by the void, the final sentence of the Plantation” (Poetics 72). Similarly, the cane field in which Beli almost meets her end is an interstitial site where chronological time gives way to kairological time in a confluence of contingent histories. This temporal palimpsest reveals an ambiguity that opens space for Agamben’s contemporary to access his or her potentiality and transform reality. However, while the liminal space of the plantation can reveal multiple narratives for the renewal of ‘the time of the now,’ there is no guarantee of success. Like generations before her, Beli is unable to escape the continued assault on her body and psyche. Even before her encounter with the faceless man in the cane field, her resistance to oppression is futile. As a young victim of racial, social, and sexual discrimination, she first tries to escape persecution by leaving school and renouncing an education that will guarantee her marginalization. Shaking her head 66 times in refusal, crying “NO,”37 she decides to assume 167 control of her life: “Never again would she follow any lead other than her own . . . Only me, she whispered. Me.” Thus, her first adult oath, “I will not serve,” becomes a life-long mantra that isolates her from others and sabotages her attempt to secure agency (Oscar Wao 102-103). Ironically, she finds a job as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant frequented mostly by men, where she learns the various self-effacing skills that will guarantee her failure to go beyond a life of subsistence. While she rejects patriarchy, she cannot avoid becoming an object of desire for a police officer and must suffer the consequences alone. After her romance leads to her torture in the cane field, her only recourse is to flee to the United States to become the “Empress of Diaspora” (106). Once in New Jersey, life in the North American consumer society only exacerbates her subjugation. She takes on multiple service jobs, handling the waste of industrial capitalism so that her family can survive. As a black woman from the ghetto, her doubly oppressed body becomes an object on which the laws of a neoliberal market are inscribed over the scars of the dictatorship, forming strata of capture. The image of her watching a soap opera as she waits for the results of a cancer test underscores the illusory nature of her life-long attempt to escape a modern servitude. As her daughter Lola narrates, “[Y]ou would never have known her life was in the balance. She watched the TV like it was the only thing that mattered” (63). After years of toil as a slave of capitalism, Beli succumbs to the violence of disease, the physical manifestation of her Othering. Her inability to acknowledge the past, even as it materializes as a breast tumour like a “knot just beneath her skin, tight and secretive as a plot” (53), guarantees the perpetuation of the fukú curse. Haunted by her unutterable pasts and marginalized by the absolutism of the sovereign state, the younger generation struggles to construct a viable sense of self and community. 168 Alterity in the Dominican Diaspora In Oscar Wao, the authority of state discourse inscribed on the bodies and minds of the victims of oppression in the Dominican diaspora essentializes those reduced to ‘bare life.’ The non-linear text develops from the characters’ movements between the cultural narratives of two nations, where silenced pasts and oppressive presents thwart their struggle for agency. Like the first-generation Dominican-Americans, Yunior’s and Oscar’s day-to-day existence involves the constant navigation of the ideological constructs of their alterity. Mainstream discourse homogenizes these excluded citizens through stereotypes that normalize difference as means of control. In the Antilles, the stereotype of the Dominican male is a reflection of the execution of masculinity according to the dictates of the Trujillo regime rather than a cultural phenomenon. Yunior, for example, describes Trujillo as a tyrant whose psychological hold on the nation is maintained through physical coercion: “[He was a] portly, sadistic, pig-eyed mulato who bleached his skin [. . . and] came to control nearly every aspect of the DR’s political, cultural, social, and economic life through a potent (and familiar) mixture of violence, intimidation, massacre, rape, co-optation, and terror; treated the country like it was a plantation and he was the master.” The dictator’s domination over his masculine subjects and his reputation as a sexual predator, whose victims included “thousands upon thousands upon thousands of women,” characterize the physical aggression of the state over the disenfranchised (2). Setting the standard for masculinity, Trujillo embodies the long arm of sovereignty, which must establish arbitrary limits to its citizens’ liberty in order to justify its existence. In the United States, the characters also become victims of the state’s attempt to control the voices of those deemed unworthy of political agency. Yunior’s and Oscar’s families are deprived of any socio-political role that might threaten the dominance of mainstream society, 169 which means their citizenship is more nominal than real. The exclusion of non-conformist narratives in the U.S. prevents them from having a voice in the imagined community of the nation state. Segregated from the more privileged citizens, they are relegated to a life of impoverishment. For this reason, Yunior warns Beli not to celebrate when La Inca tells her she has to emigrate: Oh, Beli; not so rashly, not so rashly: What did you know about states or diasporas? What did you know about Nueba Yol or unheated “old law” tenements or children whose self-hate short-circuited their minds? What did you know, madame, about immigration? Don’t laugh, mi negrita, for your world is about to be changed. Utterly. Yes: a terrible beauty is etc., etc. Take it from me. (160) The reference to the line, “Transformed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born” in William Butler Yeats’s poem “Easter, 1916” (1921), marks the suffering Beli will experience in the United States. The poet’s ambivalence regarding the Easter Rising, after the violent suppression of Irish revolutionaries by the British, is a reminder of the consequences of opposing the sovereign state: The othering of the disenfranchised in society reinforces borders that separate individuals from their political and human rights. Having crossed one national border only to find themselves negotiating new socio-political and cultural boundaries in North America, the immigrants develop “a particularly Jersey malaise—the inextinguishable longing for elsewheres” (77), which their children inherit. This melancholy grows out of a desire for belonging in a society that excludes them by fixing them as Other. Like their parents, Oscar and Yunior lack bios and yearn for a community in which they can realize a viable sense of self. Yunior feels frustrated in his search for love despite his efforts to embody the quintessential Latino: the ‘macho’ man with an insatiable sexual appetite and a 170 great capacity for violence. An insidious cultural mechanism of oppression, this stereotype remains so ingrained in society that it penetrates the psyche of individuals who subconsciously reinforce their own victimization. As Yunior has internalized the cliché of the hyper-sexualized man of colour, he jealously covets his sexual prowess and begrudges Oscar a flirtation: “Me, who was fucking with not one, not two, but three fine-ass bitches at the same time and that wasn’t even counting the side-sluts I scooped up at the parties and the clubs” (185). For Yunior and Oscar, this aggressive machismo is part of the Dominican cultural paradigm into which they were indoctrinated at birth. When as a child Oscar returns home complaining of his problems with one of his girlfriends, his mother throws him to the floor insisting, “Dale un galletazo . . . then see if the little puta respects you” (14). Sexuality and violence are two sides of the same coin stamped with the face of male authority. While Yunior may be living up to a popularized Dominican ideal, his overt virility only confirms his inferior difference in the U.S. Although he criticizes Oscar’s lack of machismo, he is rejected by a society that associates the perceived promiscuity of minority groups with primitivism. The notion that the primal instincts of the hyper-sexualized Other reveal an implicit aggressivity is deeply rooted in discriminatory rhetoric. Yunior, for instance, becomes a target for street beatings at the hands of youths who have assimilated the stereotype; however, he avoids hospital care because he cannot afford medical insurance. Thus, his status as homo sacer is experienced on various levels: state policing fails to protect him from the violence of youths who are in turn victims of the “NJ State Police-patented niggerkiller lock” (287); and the national medical system cannot guarantee his physical health for he does not conform to state law. Despite his numerous conquests, Yunior is alienated from the mainstream community while remaining exposed to its inherent brutality, and his macho persona frustrates his ability to 171 maintain healthy relationships with women. The stereotype of the libidinous Latino in the Dominican Republic and the United States subjects the male characters to discourses of power that depend on physical and psychic violence for the control of its citizens. Born in New Jersey outside the concept of masculinity imposed by the Trujillo regime, Oscar is equally lacking in bios. Unlike Yunior, however, he is an object of ridicule even among the marginalized as he fails to fit the mold of the stereotypical Latin Lothario. Oscar is an obese bibliophile who is looking for love and the loss of his virginity. His search is frustrated by his incapacity to navigate the cultural norms of his adopted home and the expectations of a community that refuses to speak of the past. As a youth trapped between cultures, he experiences a double oppression further compounded by his singularity. Besides being an effeminate black youth in an ostensibly machista immigrant culture, he has an obsessive interest in science fiction, both of which traits condemn him to social ostracism. The verbal abuse he suffers in school as a child accumulates in kilos of fat, like layers of defective Kevlar, which cannot protect him from the relentless persecution of a society that wants nothing of him save his silence. While Yunior can conceal his difference with his patent machismo, Oscar “couldn’t have passed for Normal if he’d wanted to” (21), and at university he is shunned by his peers: “The white kids looked at his black skin and his afro and treated him with inhuman cheeriness. The kids of color, upon hearing him speak and seeing him move his body, shook their heads. You’re not Dominican” (49). A black youth deficient in the requisite ultra-masculine qualities of the Latin male, Oscar is fixed by yet another cliché, that of the nerd. Rendered multiply Other, he is alienated from his own community and that of the dominant culture. His over-extended body becomes the physical manifestation of a desire to camouflage his alterity, while his search for love indicates a longing for an absent community. The discourses of equal opportunity and convivial plurality fail his 172 family in the Dominican Republic and in the U.S., where, forced to work three jobs to survive, his mother leaves him emotionally abandoned. Despite his calorie-laden armour, Oscar is the tormented antihero of dominant imaginaries that reduce him to an invisible citizen. Díaz’s use of invisibility as a trope denoting the socio-cultural and political absence of the displaced confirms the immigrant’s status as homo sacer: a human being who, deprived of the right to participate in political life, is no longer human. As Hannah Arendt confirms in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), “a man who is nothing but a man has lost the very qualities which make it possible for other people to treat him as a man" (300). Without political voice in the Dominican Republic and the U.S., generations of the León family pass through life as spectres from an equally absent past. As the fukú curse haunts the present reality of the disadvantaged majority, invisibility and disappearances characterize daily life in the Caribbean. For instance, acting outside the law by refusing to introduce his daughter to Trujillo, Oscar’s grandfather, Abelard, becomes a non-person by state law: “no disappearance was more total, more ultimate, than Abelard’s” (Oscar Wao 247). Similarly inheriting her father’s lack of bios, Beli is ostracized at school, banished to “Sycorax territory” 38 with other “ultra-dalits,” or untouchables: the Boy in the Iron Lung, the idiot, and the Chinese girl. These nameless fellow outcasts find themselves exiled to the “Phantom Zone,” where they cannot participate in the ‘regular’ life of the school (84). When Beli purposely bumps into her crush, Jack Pujols, the wealthy, blue-eyed son of a Trujillista, she remains a sight unseen for him and his friends, who perceive only her skin colour: “Maybe she’d see better, one of his lieutenants cracked, if it was dark out. It might as well have been dark out. For all intents and purposes she was invisible to him” (91). In contrast, already being groomed as a future minion of the state, Pujols’s visibility is assured: “The teachers, the staff, the girls, the 173 boys, all threw petals of adoration beneath his finely arched feet: he was proof positive that God—the Great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy!—does not love his children equally” (90). In this way, marginality is reinforced at an early age in educational institutions where deviation from the party line is not tolerated. When a teacher asks the students to contemplate the future of the country and its president, a boy writes in favour of democracy and the end of dictators, insisting that Trujillo killed Jesús de Galíndez. A Basque student who wrote a thesis condemning the despot’s regime, Galíndez disappeared in New York after fleeing the Dominican Republic. The boy and his teacher soon vanish, and the children learn that without political agency they are included in society solely through exclusion: they are the nation’s homines sacri. Deeply ingrained in the psyches of Dominican children, this obscurity continues into adulthood and from one generation to the next so that even the unborn inherit their families’ oppression. Having miscarried after her beating by Trujillo’s men, Beli tries to talk about her loss; however, her gangster boyfriend dismisses her anguish, “wav[ing] the diminutive ghost away with a flick of his wrist and proceed[ing] to remove her enormous breasts from the vast armature of her bra” (162). Merely an object of physical pleasure, Beli has no more value than that of the lost child, neither of whom are truly present for the Trujillato. Without voice in the discursive space of the nation state, the excluded find themselves in a political no-man’s land, where being does not signify living. This living death continues for Beli’s other children, Oscar and Lola, who survive birth to become similarly alienated adults. Oscar’s affection for a girl is a “huge sputtering force” that is “most like a ghost” because it goes unnoticed, so he cries where nobody can hear him (23-24). His ‘ghostliness’ is both imposed on him and reinforced by his own withdrawal from the pain of 174 his experience as a social outcast. When Lola recommends restraint in his pursuit of love after his near fatal encounter with a girl’s abusive boyfriend, he replies, “I know . . . But I don’t know if I’m even here, you know?” (48). An outsider in a culture that denies him agency, Oscar remains a phantom of New Jersey society. Similarly, Lola repeatedly expresses her desire to disappear in the same way her father absents himself from their lives, “[d]isappeared like everything disappears” (209). Like Beli, who becomes visible after developing physically in the “Summer of Her Secondary Sex Characteristics . . . [and] a terrible beauty has been born” (91), she exemplifies Agamben’s living dead, for she remains an object ripe for patriarchal consumption. At the age of eight, she is sexually abused and forced to keep silent as her body is not protected from a social order in which domestic violence and rape continue unchecked, and women have limited legal right to control their own fertility.39 This obscuring of multiple realities across generations alienates human beings from others, inhibiting the realizing of their individual and collective potential. Darkness in the Chaos of the Caribbean In Oscar Wao the problematic nature of cultural interaction enacts the lived experience of the displaced, whose lives are complicated by extreme violence. In an interview in the Wall Street Journal, Díaz describes the Caribbean as a labyrinth of shifting communities characterized by centuries of subjugation: I don’t think you can be from the Caribbean and not know a certain amount about the apocalypse. The Caribbean is such an apocalyptic place, whether it’s the decimation of the indigenous populations by the Europeans, whether it’s the importation of slaves and their subsequent being worked to death by the millions in many ways, whether it’s the 175 immigrant processes which began for many people, new worlds ending their old ones. (“Pulitzer”) With these words, Díaz associates change in the Antilles with untold suffering so that rather than ‘chaos,’ the word ‘apocalypse’ characterizes the lives of the disenfranchised. Although his terminology differs from Glissant’s, Díaz also portrays unequal power structures as intrinsic to the tangled skein of relations in the Caribbean. In particular, his use of the tropes of darkness and light to depict the complementarity of forces in the Dominican diaspora approaches Agamben’s use of the same in “The Contemporary.” For Agamben, to be ‘contemporary’ requires courage because it means focussing on the darkness of the epoch and perceiving the light that infinitely distances itself from us. The darkness of the era is not a void or an absence of light but an actively produced reality. It is a coming light, just like the darkness of the sky at night is the negative presence of light from galaxies that cannot reach the Earth (46). Díaz also associates light with transformation; however, his characters only apprehend this light when they confront the darkness of their time and limits are strained or surpassed. The darkness that the characters inhabit on what Yunior calls the “Blue Side of the Moon”—referring to Glissant’s phrase, “la face cachée de la Terre”—has permeated life in the Antillean archipelago for centuries (Oscar Wao 92). Although the León family see Abelard’s inadvertent criticism of Trujillo as the catalyst for the fukú curse and the darkness that plagues them, Yunior suggests that the arrival of Columbus might be a better starting point for the malediction. He also insists that his version of events does not cancel out the family’s rendition, for the Caribbean comprises a plurality of cultural narratives: “[W]ho am I to question their historiography?” (211). These multiple histories become interconnected under the shadow of the state-sanctioned injustices obscuring the light of potentiality. Recounting her flight from Santo 176 Domingo, Beli recalls the inertia imposed by the darkness of the Trujillato: “There was no light and a whole ocean crushing down on you. But most people had gotten so used to it they thought it normal, they forgot even that there was a world above” (81). Yunior interweaves individual and common experience in Beli’s depiction of the ocean as a form of Antillean ether polluted by oppression as even after the death of Trujillo, a “great darkness” lingers and spreads throughout the diaspora (156). Thus, exposed above her bra “slung about her waist like a torn sail,” the scar on Beli’s back is “as vast and inconsolable as the sea” (51). For the diasporic Other, the ocean is a dark liminal space where individuals have been disappeared since the ‘discoveries’ of the ‘New’ World and the slave trade, to colonialism and globalization. As the fukú curse is a trans-oceanic phenomenon, Beli’s ‘escape’ from “the grips of Darkness [when she] passed through her days like a shade passes through life” in the Dominican Republic only results in the entrenchment of her family’s oppression in the United States (160). In La Inca’s mind, the U.S. is . . . “a país overrun by gangsters . . . Its cities swarmed with machines and industry, as thick with sinvergüencería as Santo Domingo was with heat, a cuco shod in iron, exhaling fumes, with the glittering promise of coin deep in the cold shaft of its eyes” (158). Establishing herself in yet another obsucurity in New Jersey, Beli must navigate the shadows of progress that thwart her family’s potentiality. The haunting of Oscar’s family by the fukú curse leaves each member mute regarding past violence, leading Oscar to fits of depression and a failed suicide attempt. Rather than a sign of helplessness, this act of despair indicates a nascent potentiality as a means of resisting imposed narratives of identity. Like Bartleby, Oscar chooses not to live according to the dictates of a society that oppresses obese black Latino nerds. He first makes this decision to reject conformity when he refuses to continue with Yunior’s weight-loss regimen. Struggling on a 177 gruelling 6 a.m. run reminiscent of military training, Oscar suddenly stops and declares, “I’ve decided to run no more.” Over three days of badgering, he repeats “I’d rather not, I’d rather not,” evoking Bartleby’s mantra (178). As a ghost in New Jersey, he elects to withdraw from imposed discourses of masculinity as his only means of exercising his will. This disengagement is facilitated by his inability to see himself connected to a society where everyone “misapprehends” him (189). His refusal to participate in a social order offering him no means of expressing his individuality is a potentiality characterized by a willed abjection rather than a violent opposition to the state. In the same way that Bartleby’s isolation in the Dead Letter Office provokes an abject resistance, Oscar’s inability to communicate his needs to others leaves him no other recourse but to remove himself from a conversation that will never allow him to speak. Like Bartleby, who is also described as a ghost in society, his determination not to abide by societal norms confounds teleological trajectories and becomes a threat to the system. Oscar’s impotentiality becomes operative potentiality when he engages in an active response to the discourses that torment him. As Agamben affirms, perceiving darkness “is not a form of inertia or of passivity, but rather implies an activity and a singular ability” (“Contemporary” 45). When Oscar renounces despair in favor of hope, he perceives the potentiality eclipsed by the darkness of his time. Having returned to the Dominican Republic with Beli and Lola after claiming, “My elder spirits have been talking to me,” Oscar falls in love with a Puerto Rican prostitute, Ybón, whose lover is a capitan of Trujillo’s military police (Oscar Wao 272). When the latter discovers Oscar’s interest in his “mujer,” he is taken one night to a cane field, where he suffers “the Götterdämmerung of beatdowns” (298) at the hands of the captain’s thugs, Grundy and Grod.40 En route to the cane field, Oscar sees a solitary faceless man in a rocking chair in front of his 178 ruined house. The same faceless figure that haunts Beli, this ghost joins the men in the assault. Left to die in the cane, Oscar is rescued by a taxista who is guided by singing and a “tremendous wind” ripping through the cane “like the blast an angel might lay down on takeoff” (300). Like the sudden gust Beli feels when she realizes she has survived her abduction, this rush of wind indicates the possibility of change amidst the violence of past, present, and future histories. The positive allusion to Benjamin’s Angel of History and the storm of progress that occasions the horror of its glance even as it “would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed,” highlights the possibility of social transformation and the precarious nature of Oscar’s potentiality (Writings 392). Recuperating after his beating in the cane fields, Oscar begins to articulate his potentiality with a form of linguistic appropriation: “One day while watching his mother tear sheets off the beds it dawned on him that the family curse he’d heard about his whole life might actually be true. Fukú. He rolled the word experimentally in his mouth. Fuck you” (Oscar Wao 304). With this expletive, he transforms language for the creation of new narratives; however, before he can actualize his potentiality, he must muster the courage of the contemporary. Although aware that he should “make like a Lola” and go back to the Dominican Republic and “Fuck the capitán. Fuck Grundy and Grod. Fuck everybody,” fear inhibits him; when he dreams of his mother and sister screaming for help in a cane field, he runs from them (306). Shortly after these nightmares, he comes across a line in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1954): “and out of Far Harad black men like half-trolls” (307), referring to the slaves of Sauron, the diabolic necromancer. The line occasions an epiphany, and he realizes that he must break the cycle of suffering that such language guarantees: “[H]e dreamed about the cane again. But instead of bolting when the cries began, when the bones started breaking, he summoned all the courage he ever had, would ever 179 have, and forced himself to do the one thing he did not want to do, that he could not bear to do. He listened” (307). By acting as a contemporary and listening to generations of silenced voices, Oscar accesses “some power of his own” to transform the fukú curse into to an act of defiance (319). Thus, he breaks his mother’s silence and returns to Santo Domingo. Although Oscar’s act of potentiality complicates his role as a victim in patriarchal society, he cannot escape the rejection that is his due as an abject citizen. Even a passive abject agency such as Bartleby’s, which causes first fear and then repulsion, ends with his death at the hands of the law. Initially, Oscar is ‘eliminated’ by being rendered invisible, and then he opts out of the imagined national communities of the U.S. and the Dominican Republic by choosing not to follow the dictates of society. This position both inside and outside two juridical orders leaves him caught in a cycle of violence from which it becomes impossible to break free. The state- sanctioned violence against his politicized being has a domino effect that strengthens the arm of sovereign law, and he is executed by Trujillo’s thugs, murdered as homo sacer. Neither American nor Dominican authorities recognize his death as a crime: “Four times the family hired lawyers, but no charges were ever filed. The embassy didn’t help and neither did the government” (323). Devouring the Word: Textual Cannibalism In Oscar Wao, the ‘bare life’ suffered by diasporic individuals as they traverse the Caribbean Sea is inextricably linked to their displacement; however, the circuitous migrations of peoples since the arrival of Columbus has produced a cultural kaleidoscope offering individuals the possibility of forming tenable communities. The cultural hybridity of Díaz’s characters in New Jersey exacerbates their marginalization but also forces them to inhabit liminal spaces where identifications of race, gender, and class are disrupted. That is, as homines sacri they experience 180 an errancy that affords encounters with permeable boundaries and the potential for participating in communities with a united bios and zoē. In Díaz’s text these ‘coming communities’ disregard state-imposed identifications. Exposed to cultural contaminations that belie national frontiers, Díaz’protagonists eschew a political bifocality that fails to protect them from repressive discourses. Rather, they cultivate new ties across socio-cultural and political divides. Díaz evokes these connections by means of a form of linguistic and literary anthropophagy, creating an innovative and often ludic dialogism to rewrite past and present narratives of the Dominican diaspora. First, he corrupts two colonial languages by writing in Spanglish interspersed with catachreses, neologisms, and the vocabulary of other languages.41 This textual potpourri reflects the limitless relationality of the Caribbean diaspora while subverting dominant epistemologies and ontologies. Second, in an act of literary cannibalism Díaz breaks with canonical texts to expose narratives that challenge the metanarratives of official rhetoric. He weaves classical and popular texts, from Greek myths to comic books, and the narrative modes of Macondo and McOndo to create a literary bricolage whose plurivocality interrogates the limits of genre and identity. Writing the polyphony of the diasporic lives, Oscar Wao undermines official memory to begin a dialogue on the meaning of community. Anthropophagy and Cultural Renewal In 1928 Oswald de Andrade published his “Cannibalist Manifesto,” in which he criticized the European literary canon and called for the creation of a distinct Brazilian cultural reality: “Cannibalism alone unites us. Socially. Economically. Philosophically. The world's single law. Disguised expression of all individualism, of all collectivisms. Of all religions. Of all peace treaties. Tupi or not tupi, that is the question” (38). This humorous and provocative allusion to 181 Shakespeare’s Hamlet preserves the existential angst of the play while corrupting it to reveal other ways of being. Hamlet’s dilemma becomes a question of the survival of a Brazilian culture that must choose between a cannibalistic ingestion of other cultures to transform itself and the cultural erosion imposed by Europe. An example of literary cannibalism, Andrade’s declaration presented an alternative to the cultural assimilation that privileged one culture over others. However, what is the manifesto’s relevance in the globalized world of the twenty-first century? Since its publication, the cultural contaminations of communities across the globe are without precedent. Texts assimilate various influences that affect both writers and readers, whether they are conscious of this or not. In “The Ecstasy of Influence” (2007), a response to Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence (1973), Jonathan Lethem celebrates plagiarism, insisting that appropriation and originality cannot be separated: “Appropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion, and sublimated collaboration consist of a kind of sine qua non of the creative act, cutting across all forms and genres in the realm of cultural production” (61). Nevertheless, while plagiarism is inherent in the creative act and intertextuality characterizes texts the world over, authors consciously appropriate texts for different reasons. I propose that the intertextuality of Oscar Wao involves not only appropriation but linguistic and literary cannibalism. Going beyond the literary plagiarism practiced by many, Díaz employs intertextuality as a tool for the rewriting of past and present narratives of the Dominican diaspora. His corruption of language and texts answers Andrade’s call for cultural anthropophagy as a means of undermining cultural imperialism while promoting new realities. The ‘Tupi’ dialogism of Díaz’s rhizomatic narrative reveals the injustices of colonization and globalization to open spaces of agency for diasporic communities. 182 Andrade’s reappropriation of the term ‘anthropophagy’ for cultural renovation transforms the image of the cannibal as a symbol of Brazilian culture seen as primitive, static, and condemned to dissolution. Rejecting a nationalism that imagined a ‘pure’ Brazilian culture immune to contamination, Andrade proposed the incorporation of other cultural practices to guarantee a fluid but definitively Brazilian identity. Thus, ritual cannibalism became a metaphor for cultural appropriation, including the complex ambivalence produced by the desire and repugnance for the Other who aimed to create a viable identity. For Andrade, anthropophagy was not an act of violence but a productive strategy for cultural renewal. In “Cannibalist Manifesto,” the use of anthropophagy as a metaphor for cultural transformation redefines Brazilian alterity and underscores the destructive power of a global market that consumes cultures and homogenizes communities on the ‘periphery.’ The representations of indigenous peoples in the texts of Christopher Columbus in 1492, and the testimonies of Hans Staden and others in the sixteenth century, become images of a developed culture victimized by European commerce: “[W]e had divination. We had Politics . . . [a]nd a social system in harmony with the planet” (42). Thus, Andrade preserves the ritualist character of cannibalism described by Jean de Lery in 1578, who marveled at the harmonies of indigenous songs during the gustatory act: “Their tunable singing was so sweet . . . that I was . . . ravished out of myself . . . [and] my mind rejoiceth” (“Excerpt” 2). Andrade also approaches Michel de Montaigne’s argument in “Of Cannibals” (1580), which describes the anthropophagy of the Tupinamba as a practice of civilized communities: “I find that there is nothing barbarous and savage in this nation, by anything that I can gather, excepting, that everyone gives the title of barbarism to everything that is not in use in his own country” (3).42 In anthropological terms, the practice of anthropophagy is set on an equal footing with European customs. The Other is 183 recognized as that which is not the ‘I,’ but both are human beings deserving of equal rights. For Montaigne and Andrade, barbarism does not exist, only cultures with distinct practices. As Andrade recognized that all cultures have potentially positive qualities, he advocated the consumption of foreign customs, or in his words, the “[a]bsorption of the sacred enemy. To transform him into a totem” (“Manifesto” 43). According to Sigmund Freud in Totem and Taboo (1918), the ingestion of the human body as a ritual is not an instinctive act but a practice that involves the incorporation of another’s remains to attain his or her admirable qualities for the renewal of both body and spirit (95). Applying this analysis to Andrade’s manifesto, then, through the strategic absorption of other cultures—eliminating the negative and appropriating the positive—society is nourished culturally to engender a unique Brazilian identity. Valuing the African and indigenous contribution to Brazilian culture, Andrade made the taboo of anthropophagy his totem. Just as Andrade hoped to subvert an imposed modernity through the transformation of cultural signs as a performative act, Díaz incorporates various lexicons and texts in his novel in an act of cultural renewal. Although less interested in national affiliations, Díaz answers Andrade’s call for writers who intervene at the level of the sign to transfigure language and society so that compassion informs human relations, whether conflictive or harmonious. Thus, Oscar’s dream of becoming a writer of fantasy and experiencing romantic passion links the act of writing with love for another as a counterspell to the fukú curse. In the voice of Yunior, Díaz introduces the novel with this hope directed at the reader: [T]raditionally in Santo Domingo . . . anytime a fukú reared its many heads there was only one way to prevent disaster from coiling around you, only one surefire counterspell that would keep you and your family safe. Not surprisingly, it was a 184 word. . . Zafa. It used to be more popular in the old days, bigger, so to speak in Macondo than in McOndo. There are people, though, . . . who still zafa everything . . . Even now as I write these words I wonder if this book ain’t a zafa of sorts. My very own counterspell. (Oscar Wao 6-7) Thus, Díaz expresses his intention to reinscribe past and present narratives in a Spanglish text written with elements of the ‘magic’ realism of the literary ‘Boom’ of the 1960s and the urban realism of literature writing the ‘new’ Latin America of the 1990s.43 He aims to transform the accepted paradigms of textual representation to open spaces for the silenced communities of the Dominican diaspora. Linguistic Cannibalism To transform the monolithic narratives of official histories, Díaz corrupts two colonial languages by writing in Spanglish. This hybrid voice is enriched with the vocabulary of other languages, as well as with his use of catachreses and neologisms. The resulting textual multivocality disrupts linguistic norms to reflect the enmeshing of cultures in the Dominican diaspora. The use of catachreses throughout the novel begins with the title: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s short story, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" (1936), Díaz’s title immediately introduces a deferral of meaning in the doubling of the title of a Western text. Like Hemingway’s antihero Macomber, Oscar, problematizes societal norms and experiences a fleeting potentiality just before he is murdered. The name ‘Oscar Wao’ is derived from ‘Oscar Wilde.’ As a social pariah, Díaz’s protagonist is the ironic double of a writer whose “otherness” in British society contributed to an increase in 185 transgressive writing in nineteenth-century England.44 The manner in which Oscar receives his name is a clear example of différance in language: observing his obese effeminate friend disguised as Doctor Who, a time traveler like his narrating self, Yunior compares Oscar to Wilde, a literary dandy par excellence who is ostracised by his community. However, one of his friends mispronounces the name and interpellates Oscar as a version of the tragic figure. This moniker is itself unstable as a plurality of meanings is generated with each iteration. Whether as who, wow, woah, why, wild, while, or wile, the play of vowels and consonants in Wilde’s name translated and enunciated in Dominican Spanish or repeated in English reveal the Entstellung of the word: “a process of displacement, distortion, dislocation, and repetition” (Bhabha 105). The title of Díaz’s text also becomes the acronym BWLOW, associating his text with the flux of all that is below and between the imagined communities of the official mind. The abbreviation further connotes the slang term ‘blow’ to suggest the rupture of reality with the liberating intoxication of fiction. By thus appropriating the title of a canonical text, Díaz underscores the polysemic quality of the sign and the fluidity of language. The ambiguity achieved through the manipulation of the sign in the title continues throughout Oscar Wao, giving it its linguistic power. By transforming language so that meaning becomes ambiguous, Díaz contests the notion that individual and communal identities are anything other than fluid. This ambivalence in the text obliges readers to participate in the production of the potential meanings of the narrative. As Oscar and Yunior speak English, Spanish, Spanglish, and Elvish, and use the argot of a variety of countries, their bank of possible linguistic marks is infinite. New words such as “gaijin” (48), “baká” (139), “funtoosh” (143), and “geas” (292) are not put into italics and appear out of context and without a gloss.45 Borrowed from other lexicons and appearing without warning to confound passive readers, the new words 186 interrupt linguistic chains that limit communication. This encounter with difference promotes new connections between signifiers and signifieds and a reconsideration of language and culture. Whether obliged to investigate meanings for these words or admit ignorance, readers become conscious of other realities outside their own for a transgressive reinscription of histories. The polyphony of appropriated signifiers in the novel also emerges in Díaz’s use of the hyperbole of derogatory terms. The constant repetition of degrading labels such as ‘nigger,’ negro, toto, maricón, and puta undermines their recognized semantic value. Traditionally, the use of these words in dominant culture facilitates the physical and psychic oppression of the marginalized. However, while they are used as insults in racist and sexist discourse, they are also used within disempowered communities as a way of reappropriating language to affirm social and cultural difference. In Oscar Wao, the Hispanic narrator further complicates the use of these terms by directing them at his audience, thereby unsettling the boundaries of race and sex so that readers recognize their own discriminatory postures and appreciate the violence of these terms. This appropriation of pejorative language linked to damaging social constructs constitutes a rejection of the stereotypes that identify human beings as immutable subjects. With the repetition of unfamiliar lexical items and despective slang, Díaz refashions language; his open writing of human experience subverts discourses that distinguish Others as inferior and alien subjects. Another way in which Díaz makes use of the gaps between signs and referents to destabilize dominant narratives of belonging is with neologisms and other forms of semantic extension. With these new locutions, Díaz engages in the ironic naming that alters meaning. For example, Yunior uses the derogatory term “otakuness,” derived from the Japanese word otaku, meaning loser or nerd, to describe his and Oscar’s difference (21); “The Untilles” rather than ‘The Antilles’ to refer to the amnesia of the Dominican population and their invisibility in 187 dominant narratives (259); the greeting “Hail, Dog of God” as a translation of “Hail, Dominicanis” (a corruption of Ave Dominus) to parody ‘New World’ representations of the indigenous Caribs as cynocephalic cannibals (171)46; and the curse fukú americanus, or ‘fuck you America,’ becomes a linguistic counterspell to the official texts of the imagined community of the nation. The ludic tone and hybrid language create strata of meaning that problematize monolithic narratives and invite the reader to imagine other communities and their stories. Literary Cannibalism Just as the innovative use of language in Oscar Wao displaces the arbitrary fixation of signifier and signified, the intertextuality of Yunior’s narrative belies the absolutism of official histories in the Dominican diaspora. Opening literary canons to expose narratives that challenge the metanarratives of official rhetoric, Díaz reveals the dissonance of his literary cannibalism. Due to the weaving of classical and popular texts, from Greek myths to comic books, and elements of the literary movements of Macondo and McOndo, his narrative defies classification. Referring to the latter two in particular, Díaz explains his conception of the text as genre neutral: “I’m thinking, like a Caribbean, why can’t we have ’em both simultaneously? So this book was an attempt to put Macondo and McOndo on the same page, in the same sentence, sort of to prove that you can’t write the American experience, our American experience, by banning one set of passports in the process of privileging another” (“Interview”). This rejection of the imposed limits of genre—and identity—reflects his preoccupation with the mutable realities of the Dominican diaspora. The majority of the more than fifty authors that appear in the novel write the lives of the persecuted. Walcott, Cervantes, Glissant, Ortiz, Melville, Julia Álvarez, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Salman Rushdie, for example, are points of cultural reference that speak to the suffering of the oppressed subject in multiple temporal and spatial contexts. From 188 this diversity of voices emerges a carnivalesque dialogism inherent in the formation of both the ‘I’ of the writer and his readers. A Spanglish-infused novel that aims to inspire the desire to transform the present, Díaz’s narrative presents “two language intentions, two voices and two accents participating in an intentional and conscious artistic hybrid” (Bakhtin 360). As new voices are added to the dialogue, recognizing the existence of other consciousnesses, its “multi-languagedness” subverts authoritarian discourse because it rejects “the absolutism of a single and unitary language” (366). A stratified heteroglossia of past and present signifiers and signified gives the text a meaning constantly being reconstructed as new voices are added to the mix (272). Thus, in Oscar Wao official histories of the diaspora are juxtaposed with the fictions of literary canon, the texts of popular culture, and orality to create a literary farrago whose plurivocality goes beyond the limits of established representations of the past. As Díaz’s aim is to open space for the voices of the displaced, he appropriates texts that problematize oppressive power structures. As we have seen, he begins the novel with two epigraphs that introduce the theme of the search for agented space in a violent, transient life perpetuated by colonial and neoliberal discourses of power. Thus, the story of Oscar’s coming of age is a narrative that resists the language and structure of the traditional bildungsroman. Unlike the classical story of the young European male who is obliged to learn the mores of society to maintain existing power structures, Oscar must resist social norms to gain personal agency. At the beginning of the non-linear text, references to historical contexts in the frequent footnotes suggest the subordinate role of officially sanctioned texts in which the ‘facts’ present an uncontestable truth. Yunior’s narrative has the principal voice on each page in which accounts of historical facts in small font and elaborated with his ludic tone gradually become shorter until they finally disappear. Yunior’s and Lola’s narratives also expand the picaresque mode of 189 writing as by exposing hidden pasts they criticize a social order while revealing the potential for an irreparable co-belonging. In imitation of a story of apprenticeship written in Spanglish as a means of distortion, the novel manifests a productive intervention at the level of the sign. Following Andrade’s example, Díaz appropriates literary traditions and transforms them not to speak for but beside those whose histories have been erased. Díaz’s reluctance to assume the role of spokesperson of the Dominican diaspora reveals his preoccupation with the impossibility of attributing transparency to any representation of diasporic communities. In the voice of Yunior he observes, “[W]ho can keep track of what’s true and what’s false in a country as baká as ours” (Oscar Wao 139). Díaz constantly deconstructs texts to erase the borders between facts and fiction, thus undermining any understanding of history as a monolithic truth. As Julia Kristeva affirms, referring to Bakhtin’s conception of heteroglossia, the ambivalence of language does not accept the affirmation of an uncontestable truth and the simple communication that attempts to silence the multiple voices of a society: “In Bakhtin’s work . . . dialogue and ambivalence, are not clearly distinguished . . . [for] any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another. The notion of intertextuality replaces that of intersubjectivity, and poetic language is read as at least double” (Desire 66).47 Thus, Kristeva criticizes a logocentric valuing of univocality in favour of an appreciation for the polyglot character of novels, whose ambiguity fosters new realities. Similarly, echoing Andrade, who affirms “we never permitted the birth of logic among us” (“Manifesto” 39), Díaz does not believe reason can explain the conditions of the Dominican diaspora. Thus, his text cannot be reduced to a definitive list of influences or sources. Its intertextuality is practice and production, or what Hannah Arendt terms ‘praxis.’48 More 190 importantly, in Oscar Wao this praxis involves a cannibalistic process demanding not only the appropriation of signifiers but their transformation. Distorting Realism A key example of Díaz’s cannibalistic praxis is manifested in the fact that he chose to write what appears to be a dictator novel, a genre explored by writers such as Alejo Carpentier, Augusto Roa Bastos, Gabriel García Márquez, and Julia Álvarez.49 These authors form part of Díaz’s text as what Kristeva terms an ideologeme, that is, as product of and continuous producer of the socio-political and historical reality of Latin America.50 However, the dictator novel of Mario Vargas Llosa, La fiesta del Chivo (2000), plays a more salient role in Oscar Wao, which was conceived in part as a critical response to Vargas Llosa’s text. In an interview with the Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat in 2007, Díaz berates Vargas Llosa: You better believe that I was fucking with other books written about the Dominican Republic. I mean, have you read The Feast of the Goat? Pardon me while I hate, but people jumped on that novel like it was the greatest thing on earth! Call me a . . . hater, but Vargas Llosa’s take on the Trujillo regime was identical to Crassweller’s . . . [written] 40 years ago! (“Junot Díaz”) Here Díaz rejects Vargas Llosa’s text, which reads as a realist narrative in the style of Robert Crassweller, the author of Trujillo: The Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator (1966). In this biography, the dictator is both the focus of the oppressive power of the regime and its incarnation as an immoral human being with an admirable capacity for maintaining his power. In another interview in 2013 for El País, Díaz clarifies his position: “Vargas Llosa fracasa en el intento de llegar al fondo de la historia de un episodio muy importante de la historia de mi país. No consigue capturar en modo alguno los matices más sutiles de lo que significa vivir en una 191 sociedad secuestrada como lo fue aquella” (“Cada joven”). For Díaz, Vargas Llosa’s text is incapable of representing the complexities of life under the Trujillato, for these stories exceed the limits of a realist narrative: “El realismo . . . es incapaz de captar las dimensiones más sutiles de todo un entramado de emociones fugitivas, sentimientos espectrales que se producen en situaciones históricas extremas . . . En eso consiste el fallo de La Fiesta del Chivo” (“Cada joven”). Díaz’s rejection of Vargas Llosa’s realism is key to understanding the intertextuality of Oscar Wao as an act of literary cannibalism that compels the reader to appreciate the complex character of Dominican history.51 Beginning with the plot of each novel, the authors appear to focus on two principal themes: the Dominican Republic under the tyranny of the Trujillato, and the brutality, in particular the sexual violence, propagated by the regime. They appropriate the myth of Trujillo as the quintessential Don Juan—comparing him to a goat, symbol in the Caribbean of indiscriminate sexual avarice—who satisfies his erotic appetite with innumerable victims.52 The consumption of bodies, whether male or female, becomes a metaphor for the auto-cannibalism of the state effectuated by Trujillo. Like Saturn devouring his son in Goya’s painting, the state feeds on the cadavers of its citizens to maintain a power that is ultimately self-destructive. Despite these basic similarities, however, the distinctions between the two texts are significant. In La fiesta del Chivo, the power of the dictator is presented as a product of the aspirations of a man whose dominion over the population ends with his assassination, hence the title referring to the celebration of the dictator’s death.53 Conversely, in Oscar Wao the oppression experienced during the Trujillato begins with the arrival of Columbus and continues long after the death of the dictator. In other words, for Díaz the power that Trujillo personifies is 192 only one aspect of the complex matrices of power that continue to inform the experience of daily life in the Dominican diaspora. While Vargas Llosa confirms the legend of the tyrant when his protagonist offers Trujillo a night with his virgin daughter to regain his favour, later sending her to the United States, Díaz refuses to follow his example: Let’s be honest though. The rap about the Girl Trujillo Wanted is a pretty common one on the Island. . . So common that Mario Vargas Llosa didn’t have to do much except open his mouth to sift it out of the air. There’s one of these bellaco tales in almost everybody’s hometown. It’s one of those easy stories because in essence it explains it all. Trujillo took your houses, your properties, put your pops and your moms in jail? Well, it was because he wanted to fuck the beautiful daughter of the house! And your family wouldn’t let him! (Oscar Wao 244) Unlike Vargas Llosa, who perpetuates popular legend of the despotic dictator, Díaz dismantles the myth as it ignores the history of colonization and globalization that facilitates his tyranny. In Oscar Wao the despot’s violation of women’s bodies not only reflects the cannibalistic acts of the state but also the insatiable appetite of the ‘West’ for the wealth of the island. As Yunior observes, “Trujillo wanted the Mirabel Sisters, and the Spaniard wanted Anacaona” (244).54 Thus, in an act of literary anthropophagy Díaz transforms Vargas Llosa’s text for new interpretations of history, or in the words of Andrade for “Routes. Routes. Routes . . . The Carib instinct” (“Manifesto” 3). Díaz complicates the image of a society controlled by a man of great political and sexual power with the fraught history of the León family. Like the protagonist of the same surname in La fiesta del Chivo, Oscar’s grandfather, Abelard Cabral, falls out of favor with Trujillo.55 He is a surgeon, an intellectual, and publicly a Trujillista who turns a blind eye to the massacre of the 193 Haitians in 1937; however, he is arrested at the height of his career, for unlike Vargas Llosa’s character he refuses to comply with the dictator’s wish to bed his daughter. This fatal act of defiance is not the reason for his imprisonment, which has less to do with sex and everything to do with language. As Yunior insists, the tragedy of the Cabral family “always begins in the same place: with Abelard and the Bad Thing he said about Trujillo” (Oscar Wao 211). Opening the trunk of his car after drinking with his co-workers, Abelard jokes “I hope there aren’t any bodies in here.” Articulated in front of a Packard, the same model of vehicle used to hide the bodies of Trujillo’s political opponents, this phrase is transformed by witnesses into “Nope, no bodies here, Trujillo must have cleaned them out for me” (234). This linguistic mutation of Abelard’s quip becomes a threat to Trujillo’s authority, resulting in the former’s brutal torture. However, while Díaz’s focus is on the power of language in a system where “one man’s jiringonza is another man’s life” (235), he proposes yet another version of the events; not speech but the written word leads to Abelard’s perdition. In this interpretation of the fall of Abelard, the doctor was writing an exposé of the supernatural roots of the Trujillo regime: the “Dark Powers of the President.” In this book, he argued the stories that “[Trujillo] was supernatural, that he was not human—may in some ways have been true” (245). At first, Yunior dismisses this fantastical tale as “nothing more than a figment of our Island’s hypertrophied voodoo imagination,” only to make an about-turn with another reference to Vargas Llosa: The Girl Trujillo Wanted might be trite as far as foundation myths go but at least it’s something you can really believe in, no? Something real. Strange, though, that . . . Trujillo never went after Jackie, even though he had Abelard in his grasp. . . Also strange that none of Abelard’s books, not the four he authored or the hundreds he 194 owned, survive. . . You want creepy? . . . Not one single example of his handwriting remains . . . You got to fear a motherfucker or what he’s writing to do something like that. (246) Here Díaz underscores the sinister character of Trujillo’s power, which goes beyond realism to become fantasy, reflecting a systemic violence that surpasses the limits of place, time, and reason. It is not the supposed transparency of realism that allows the reader to imagine the tortured lives of the Dominican diaspora; realism in literature presents limitations that reality does not recognize. As Díaz insists: “No one can write a straightforward political novel about the Trujillato and capture its phantasmagorical power. That’s another reason I had to go hard-core nerd. Because without curses and alien mongooses and Sauron and Darkseid, the Trujillato cannot be accessed, eludes our “modern” minds. We need these fictional lenses, otherwise It we cannot see” (“Brief”). Thus, Yunior explains, “In Santo Domingo a story is not a story unless it casts a supernatural shadow” and appropriates the world of fantasy to depict the plurivocality of diasporic narratives (245-46). Recuperating Fantasy Unlike the realist representation of Trujillo in Vargas Llosa’s novel, the dictator in Oscar Wao is only one possible manifestation among many in the history of violence that has traumatized generations of diasporic Dominicans. To portray the long-term repercussions of the fukú curse, embodied only in part by the dictator, Díaz compares Trujillo to Tolkien’s Dark Lord in Lord of the Rings: “He was our Sauron . . . our Once and Future Dictator, a person so outlandish, so perverse, so dreadful that not even a sci-fi writer could have made his ass up” (2). Like the sorcerer, the dictator maintains tyranny over his victims with his ubiquitous presence. His lidless eye watches over the banal brutality of his regime in the Dominican Republic and 195 abroad from his inauguration in 1930 to long after his death and the present day. Similar to the classic necromancer who feeds on the corpses of the dead to divine the future, the Trujillo regime depends on the consumption of its citizenry and the insidious destruction of communities in a cannibalistic act that sabotages any attempt to renew culture. Nevertheless, while for Díaz fantasy allows the reader to access other narratives of the Dominican diaspora, the fukú curse surpasses make-believe as the latter is equally unable to provide a complete picture of histories of oppression. That is, Díaz’s transformation of the incorporeal Sauron into a human being renders the dictator and his regime less intelligible. Like La fiesta del Chivo, Díaz’s text is incapable of representing the realities experienced by the Dominicans. As Yunior insists, “[I]f you’re looking for a full story, I don’t have it” (243). His novel portrayal of Trujillo and his enduring ghost is only one of many erased by the curse that came from Africa, “a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles . . . the Curse and the Doom of the New World” (1). At the end of The Lord of the Rings, good conquers evil, leaving the protagonists free of any lasting effects, but for Oscar’s family Trujillo is “too toxic a radiation to be dispelled so easily” (156). The notion that Trujillo permeates life as a toxic force becomes more meaningful in his association with Galactus, the cosmic entity in the comic The Fantastic Four, who devours planets to quench his insatiable appetite. Like Trujillo’s ghost, Galactus’s true form is elusive. Each galactic species, regardless of the epoch, sees the ‘Devourer of Worlds’ in a form they can comprehend rather than as mere energy. In addition, similar to Trujillo with his right-hand man “Demon Balaguer” (90)—the antithesis of his inoffensive counterpart in La fiesta del Chivo—Galactus has an accomplice who collects lives for his consumption.56 There is no escape from his 196 voracious appetite, and the only survivors, ‘The Wanderers,’ are condemned to roam the universe (Mills 96-131). As a cosmic energy whose siblings are eternity and death, his cannibalism remains destructive, equal to the deleterious effects of colonization and globalization. In both cases, the victims of a rapacious hunger are silenced by a reality that perpetuates the marginalization of an errant population. In spite of this somber portrayal of realities in the Caribbean and its diasporas, Díaz offers the reader hope for the transformation of life ‘on the margins.’ The population displaced by Galactus can avoid his consuming energy with the help of the Fantastic Four, dysfunctional superheroes whose qualities Yunior, Oscar, Beli, and Lola share: a knowledge of texts; the capacity to transform the body, to become invisible, or to represent a human torch; and the potential to tackle adversity with superhuman strength. This likening of Trujillo to a supervillain of popular culture, and the inhabitants of the Dominican diaspora to the Fantastic Four, is not an affirmation of the dividing line between the subjugator and subjugated. On the contrary, Díaz makes the comparison to subvert the subject/object binary. As Homi Bhabha affirms, citing Foucault, the subject is not revealed in relationships between masters and slaves, but in complex discourses in which the subjects of oppression are at once adversaries and allies. These “capillary effects of the microtechnics of power” break the limiting duality of oppressor and oppressed (116). The control of citizens is never determined only by authority as the latter is always divided and ambivalent. Thus, the use of the figure of Galactus as Trujillo’s double is appropriate in Díaz’s text. Although unable to survive without the planets he consumes, the ‘Ravager of Worlds’ is an inherent part of the cosmos, whose existence depends as much on the negative energies of the universe as on its positive forces (Gabilliet 203-12). This inter-dependence characterizes the way in which the disenfranchised navigate 197 existence in a form of ordered chaos, where boundaries remain porous. Such blurring of boundaries creates ambiguity in the novel, obliging the reader to reflect on accepted paradigms of morality. When Yunior discovers the Watchmen (1986) comic Oscar takes to Santo Domingo where he is killed, the fine line between right and wrong becomes unclear. In the last chapter titled “A Stronger Loving World,” Oscar has circled the final conversation between Adrian Veidt, who has saved the world by destroying New York, and the scientist Dr. Manhattan, named after the Manhattan Project. Veidt asks, “I did the right thing, didn’t I? It all worked out in the end,” to which the scientist responds, “In the end? Nothing ends Adrian. Nothing ever ends” (Oscar Wao 331). In quoting this exchange, Díaz suggests the struggle against the forces of oppression is a continuous process that does not guarantee a universal good; the bombing of Hiroshima, for example, undermines the concepts of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ and a fixed morality. Thus, on the last day of his life, Oscar sees a mongoose (the incarnation of the zafa counterspell) and the faceless man (the embodiment of the fukú curse) together on a bus. Like the fallible four superheroes of the Marvel comic, the integrity of Díaz’s characters remains equivocal; as Lola laments, “Ten million Trujillos is all we are” (324). The characters’ complicity with the Trujillo regime and its discourse they internalize as a means of surviving their subjugation appears as a warning to the reader. Abelard, for example, keeps silent until it is too late to speak while his daughter repeats, “Tarde venientibus ossa,” or “To the latecomers are left the bones” (219). His inertia condemns generations of the León family to lives of mute suffering despite Beli’s escape to the United States. In the equally oppressive American society, she shows signs of post-traumatic stress, and her children struggle under the shadow of her repressed anguish, which ultimately manifests as cancer. For his part, Yunior adopts the machista norms carried with the displaced to the United States, where they 198 compound his alienation. Intent on preserving a false masculinity, he sabotages his love for Lola and a close friendship with Oscar. Thus, with Lola’s collective ‘we’ Díaz invites his audience to recognize its complicity with the discourses of power that have silenced generations, while admitting his own responsibility as writer: “We all dream dreams of unity, of purity . . . that there’s an authoritative voice out there that will explain things, including ourselves . . . Just remember: In dictatorships, only one person is really allowed to speak. And when I write a book or a story, I too am the only one speaking, no matter how I hide behind my characters” (“Brief”). For Díaz, the writer’s position within the matrices of power is equal to that of dictators. Through Yunior’s narrative voice, Díaz problematizes the notion that writers situate themselves on the ‘right’ side of morality, whether they perceive morality to be fixed or not: “Rushdie claims that tyrants and scribblers are natural antagonists, but I think that is too simple; it lets writers off pretty easy. Dictators, in my opinion, just know competition when they see it. Same with writers. Like, after all, recognizes like” (Oscar Wao 97). In other words, both writers and dictators have the power to create new worlds, but they do not necessarily assume an ethical responsibility for their actions. As Yunior affirms, the adage “[w]ith great power comes great responsibility . . . [is] bullshit” (94). Given the ambiguous nature of morality, a text can be destructive or transformative as it negotiates the blurred borders between right and wrong, and the writer must wield her or his power with care. Conscious of the limits of his art, Díaz insists that he cannot offer the reader a complete narrative. When Yunior claims his story is “a zafa of sorts” against the fukú curse (7), the phrase “of sorts” is key as it indicates the impossibility of creating a narrative that guarantees protection, i.e., productive change. As a testimony to past and present trauma, his narrative will fill the páginas en blanco of the book Oscar is unable to write before he is killed by state police (78). However, he does not see his text as an antidote against 199 evil but as a site of potentiality from which the repressed voices of the Dominican diaspora can emerge to transform ‘the time of the now.’ As Yunior endeavours to break the silence “that stands monument to the generations, that sphinxes all attempts at narrative reconstruction” (243), he himself must become a literary necromancer. He consumes a palimpsest of texts to conjure a narrative that can transform the day-to-day existence of the marginalized. Juxtaposing supernatural Macondian encounters with the urban realites and popular culture of McOndo aesthetics, he creates a polyphonic narrative that promotes processes of transformation and agency. This is why Oscar’s only girlfriend Ybón asks, “Can something be impossible and not impossible at once?” (287). With this question, Díaz refers to Oscar and Ybón’s inconceivable love and to a novel that combines reality and fantasy. The final pages of his hybrid narrative describe the connection between the unlikely couple, whose love is “the cure to what ails us . . . The Cosmo DNA” (333). Appearing to concur with Andrade for whom the cannibal instinct “[c]arnal at first . . . becomes elective and creates friendship [and] [w]hen it is affective, it creates love” (“Manifesto” 43), Díaz ends the novel with the potentiality of a passion that transcends the limits of subjectivity. In this way, Díaz’s linguistic and literary cannibalism enacts the ambivalences and ambiguities of lived experience that expose the porosity of socio-political and cultural borders. As he writes the rhizomatic connections between diasporic individuals, his language moves from a set of supposedly fixed meanings to the emergence of new signs of agency. The resulting polyvocality undermines official memory to promote a dialogue as to the meaning of community. 200 Zafa and the Light of Potentiality Before his death, Oscar summons the courage to grasp potentiality and become an example of Agamben’s contemporary. His brave return to the Dominican Republic to pursue a forbidden relationship with Ybón allows him to perceive, if only fleetingly, the light occluded by the darkness of his epoch. That is, his potentiality as praxis, rather than mere contemplation, serves as a counterspell, or zafa, to the fukú curse. This light of possible change for life in the Dominican diaspora first appears in the León family history when Abelard’s love for his child, Beli’s sister, forces him to do a “Brave Thing” (Oscar Wao 217): he keeps her from any contact with Trujillo even though he has “a reputation for being able to keep his head down during the worst of the regime’s madness—for unseeing” (215). Abelard’s quiet defiance eventually leads him to speak openly of his dissatisfaction with the regime and lie to the dictator when questioned about his absent daughter at a state function. In a moment of brilliance, he jokes that the despot would not be interested in his moustachioed girls, to which Trujillo responds with customary bonhomie. Abelard’s impromptu repartee mimics the sexist language of the regime, and he gains a temporary reprieve. However, he refuses to take credit for his quick-witted appropriation of chauvinist discourse. When his wife asks him for the source of his inspiration, he claims it comes from “within my soul . . . From a Numinous being”; and when asked if he means God, he answers, “I mean someone” (223). This ‘someone’ appears again when the light of a mysterious being accompanied by the voices of the past becomes the source of Beli’s salvation. As only survivor of her father’s “CHISTE APOCALYPTUS” (233), Beli is a literal “Child of the Apocalypse” (251). Orphaned as an infant, she becomes a restavek exposed to extreme violence at the hands of her adoptive family.57 Even when La Inca discovers her and brings her “out of the Darkness of those days and into the light of Baní” (82), she continues to be 201 buffeted by the demands of patriarchy. Nonetheless, the light she perceives when rescued by her new mother continues to appear as she matures. The daughter of “the Fall”—Trujillo’s elimination of the Cabral family—and the recipient of its heaviest radiations, she longs for love and loves “atomically” (126). Díaz connects this longing to both her burning as a child and future joys and suffering so that ambiguity across temporal registers is always present. When she is dancing in El Hollywood club just before she meets the Gangster, others shout “La negra está encendida. La negra está encendida indeed!” (114). The repeated phrase evokes the trauma of her childhood and foreshadows her doomed first love. The short chapter introducing this romance is titled “KIMOTA!” (89). The phonetic equivalent of ‘atomic’ reversed, Kimota is the word that the Marvel Comic character Micky Moran, an orphan, uses to transform himself from a reporter into Marvelman. Struggling for justice and humanity, the superhero uses his writing skills to expose police corruption. Through this reference to atomic energy, and by extension the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, light and darkness constitute two inseparable elements of human experience. Thus, Beli’s love for the Gangster ends in a blackout in the cane field and the end of language as she is unable to hear the voices of the diaspora; but when she comes to and recognizes her lover’s betrayal, she becomes aware of their cries and another potential future. Only by focussing on the darkness of the epoch does she access her “Cabral magis” and the “coraje that save[s] her life. Like a white light in her. Like a sun” (148). The light that Beli perceives as an internal force is complemented by an outside energy Yunior understands as an extension of her own bravery. In the cane she encounters a creature with “golden lion eyes” that contrast with the “absolute black of its pelt” (149). A mongoose with “chabine eyes,” it prevents her from falling into unconsciousness as it sings “Yo me llamo sueño de la madrugada” (150). In a footnote Yunior refers to the Mongoose, also the name of a 202 Marvel comic supervillain, as “one of the great unstable particles of the Universe and also one of its greatest travellers.” Like the ancestors of Walcott’s Shabine, this supernatural being “[a]ccompanied humanity out of Africa and after a long furlough in India jumped ship to the other India, a.k.a. the Caribbean . . . [and] has proven itself to be an enemy of kingly chariots, chains, and hierarchies” (151). While Beli drifts in and out of awareness, the voice of the Mongoose merges with that of the lead singer of a band who discovers her beaten body. The splinter of light from the match he uses to see her as “a blunt-featured woman with the golden eyes of a chabine” is enough to convince him that he must save her (151). Confounding the voices of past and present trauma, his curious cibaeña accent recalls the northern region of the island where the Mirabel sisters held clandestine meetings to organize action against Trujillo. After Beli is rescued and her story circulates, this conflation of voices confuses locals, who remain undecided as to whether the Mongoose is the incarnation of a curse or a blessing. And while La Inca believes her adopted daughter has had an encounter with God, Beli is uncertain: “I met something” she says warily (152). Echoing her dead father’s words regarding the ‘someone’ that saved him at the presidential event, Beli underscores the ambiguity that characterizes their experience of this elusive presence. The complementarity of light and darkness, so that while one is perceived the other remains latent, precludes any notion of guaranteed stability for either. Thus, reminiscent of Benítez-Rojo’s likening of the Caribbean to the chaos of quantum physics, Díaz suggests the possibility of multiple realities determined by the observer’s experience of the world.58 While light and darkness are always present, the onus is on the contemporary to actualize potentiality. As both the fukú curse and the zafa counterspell in Oscar Wao are integral to the Caribbean experience, they guarantee the instability of daily life in the Dominican diaspora. This 203 volatility, however, is counterbalanced by a constant throughout the text: the notion that compassion for others, whether expressed orally or in written form, propels individuals towards effecting positive social change. Before Oscar is killed (but not sacrificed), he exercises his potentiality by refusing to respect boundaries that classify individuals according to their race, sex, class, and culture. The impulse behind his transgressive behaviour—his raison d’être—is his longing for intimacy. When he falls for a hard core “luminous” goth, a boricua nicknamed La Jablesse,59 Yunior wonders at the transformative powers of his adoration, comparing it to “the light of a new sun” (182, 185). After this platonic relationship ends and Oscar’s suicide attempt fails, Yunior relates how Oscar writes of his continuing despair in his journal: “That fall after the Fall was dark . . . dark” (200). Nevertheless, while he once again contemplates taking his life, the memory of his sister Lola and their close connection keeps him open to the possibility of change: “[He] [d]rove so long and so far on some nights that he would actually fall asleep at the wheel . . . about to go all the way under and then some last alarm would sound. Lola. Nothing more exhilarating (he wrote) than saving yourself by the simple act of waking” (201). Although Oscar’s affection for his sister gives meaning to his life, the catalyst for his conversion from suicidal virgin to agented individual is his love for Ybón. Described as “on eof those golden mulatas that French-speaking Caribbeans call chabines,” Ybón is “one whiteskinned relative away from jaba” with “snarled apocalyptic hair” and “copper eyes” (279).60 At this point in the novel, the trope of incandescent eyes evokes for the reader the figure of the Mongoose, whose “Aslan-like figure with golden eyes” tries to speak to Oscar in dreams after their initial meeting during his attempted suicide (302). Reappearing in Oscar’s subconscious after his first beating in the cane field, the Mongoose asks Oscar, referring to his illicit love for Ybón, “What will it be, muchacho? . . . More or Less?” (301). After some 204 hesitation at the prospect of further violence, Oscar remembers his family and the optimism of his childhood fueled by his Planet of the Apes lunchbox, and replies, “More.” Yunior then writes the Mongoose’s response as three blanks: “ , said the Mongoose, and then the wind swept him [Oscar] back into the darkness” (301). We later learn these are the same blanks that Yunior is unable to fill to express his feelings for Lola: “Before all hope died, I used to have this stupid dream . . . I’d finally try to say the words that could have saved us. ____ ____ ____. But before I can shape the vowels. I wake up. My face is wet, and that’s how you know it’s never going to come true” (327). Unlike Oscar, Yunior is unable to break the bonds of conformity to pursue meaningful relationships with others. Only later, with a woman he refers to as a “wife I adore and who adores me, a negrita from Salcedo whom I do not deserve,” can he begin to fill in Oscar’s “página[s] en blanco” (326, 78). Thus, through love and language, or in Glissant’s terms a ‘poetics of relation,’ the light of potentiality is grasped in the chaos of the Caribbean. While Oscar’s text remains either unwritten or lost, his oral interaction with Ybón and others has given him a viable sense of self.61 Just before he is shot, Oscar speaks to his assassins about his relationship with Ybón, telling them “that it was only because of her love that he’d been able to do the thing that he had done, the thing they no longer could stop” (321). That is, their love has transformed borders of exclusion into frontiers of communication. Facing his firing squad, Oscar is comforted by the knowledge that his actions have benefited others in kairological time: “Zafra would be here soon, and the cane had grown well and thick and you could hear the stalks clack-clack-clacking against each other like triffids and you could hear krïyol voices in the night” (320).62 Among creole voices, he perceives the plantation as a place “strangely familiar to him” and has “the overwhelming feeling that he’d been in this very place, a long time ago.” In 205 this unheimlich moment, “worse than déjà vu,” he sends telepathic messages to loved ones both past and present, positioning himself within a non-essentialized community (298). Facing his assassins for the last time, his words emerge from his mouth “like they belonged to someone else” (321). As his killers fade into darkness, his last act is the translation of the word fuego into his final word “fire” (322). This occurs after Yunior tells the reader that Oscar’s favourite post-apocalyptic science fiction film, Virus (1980), ends with the Japanese hero finally reuniting with “the love of his life” in Tierra del Fuego (307). His translation, then, replaces the ‘fire’ of the firing squad order, with fire as passion. A knowledge of both languages and his desire to communicate result in his death; however, he has the last word, evoking a myriad of connotations in a productive response to darkness. The Coming Community As Yunior comes to the end of his version of diasporic life, it is clear that the character most adept at transgressing imposed socio-political and cultural borders is Lola. From the beginning of his account of Oscar’s short-lived agency born of a love for the abject, Lola is associated with the light of possible change and becomes zafa incarnate as she destabilizes normative concepts of race, culture, class, and gender. An example of Agamben’s empowered contemporary, she represents potentiality in Caribbean diasporas and invites the reader to question essentializing notions of community. In The Coming Community Agamben describes the halo as a luminous radiance, a glow at the edges of matter, whether objects or living beings, that is a manifestation of their potentiality. As an inessential supplement and the “manifesting beside itself of each thing” (100), the halo indicates an otherness, “in which possibility and reality, potentiality and actuality become indistinguishable.” However, this singularity is “not a final determination of being, but 206 an unraveling or an indetermination of its limits: a paradoxical individuation by indetermination” (55). Similarly, for Díaz light appears at the conjunction of reality and potentiality. Both Oscar and Lola occupy this liminal space; however, Oscar, who is “a Caliban” for Yunior, refers to himself as “Apokolips” and Lola as “The New Genesis,” the names of two DC Comics planets representing evil and good, respectively (Oscar Wao 170). Associating his characters with the opposing planets of a Fourth World spawned by the death of old gods, Díaz highlights the overlap of darkness and light, impotentiality and potentiality. In contrast to Oscar’s delayed actualizing of his potentiality, Lola accesses hers at a very young age and is associated with the bright planet and new beginnings. Lola’s ability to withstand the multiple pressures of life on the margins of society contrasts sharply with her brother’s suffering. Growing up, she is a reader and athlete who fights girls envious of her straight hair and slim nose as well as abusive boyfriends claiming, “If a boy hit me . . . I would bite his face” (18). In her teens she becomes a rebel, shaving her head to resemble Sinéad O’Connor and passing as a lesbian (37), and at university she establishes herself as “a Big Woman on Campus . . . her hand on every protest and every march” (50). For Yunior, she is anything but the stereotypical Latina he is attracted to: Lola [was] like the fucking opposite of girls I usually macked on: bitch was almost six feet tall and no tetas at all and darker than your darkest grandma. Like two girls in one: the skinniest upperbody married to a pair of Cadillac hips and an ill donkey. One of those overachiever chicks who run all the organizations in college and wear suits to meetings. Was the president of her sorority, the head of S.A.L.S.A. and co-chair of Take Back the Night. Spoke perfect stuck-up Spanish. (168) A poor black daughter of immigrants who looks “more Hindu than Dominican” and whose 207 gender is ambiguous, Lola easily crosses class boundaries and becomes a success at university as she traverses the Pacific and Atlantic (52). Whether in the U.S., Spain, Japan, or the Dominican Republic, she is able to find a space of belonging that has little to do with national borders. Thus, her development is characterized by multiplicity, mutability, and a viable sense of self. When her narrative voice replaces Yunior’s, her preoccupation with the possibility of change manifests as “[b]right lights [that] zoom through you like photon torpedoes, like comets” (53). Her “jagged lightning-bolt part” (74) and “tiger-colored irises” (35) add to a fierceness that her mother likens to fire (59). This luminescence, like Agamben’s halo, is a manifestation of her potentiality grasped as a result of her willingness to listen to the voices past and present that emerge from La Inca’s account of life under Trujillo. The premonition of a transformation first comes to Lola at the age of twelve as she stands transfixed at the sight of her mother’s naked body in a bathroom mirror reflecting their doubled selves. When Beli asks her to stop staring and examine a lump in her breast, she tears herself away from the mirror to explore the tumour that will further disfigure her mother’s scarred body. Comparing herself to Helen Keller as she closes her eyes to feel the growth, Lola is overcome by a feeling that her life is about to change. Born with “bruja ways,” she becomes aware of her potentiality as she begins to empathize with her mother rather than merely observe the physical manifestation of her pain: “I feel it too . . . Lo siento,” she says of the lump (53). Evoking various possible translations of the verbs ‘to feel’ and ‘sentir,’ she transforms the clinical bathroom scene into one of compassion where “it all begins. Where you begin” (54). This empathic exchange with her mother in a site of cleansing leaves her receptive to a message that “tolled like a bell: change, change, change” (58); and the use of the second person becomes an appeal for readers to address the injustices of neoliberal biopolitics. 208 Lola’s encounter with caritas in the bathroom prefigures her participation in the later unraveling of her mother’s past and a deeper understanding of her dysfunctional family. When La Inca is about to break her silence regarding Beli’s traumatic youth, Lola senses the import of the occasion: “My abuela was sitting there, forlorn, trying to cobble together the right words and I could not move or breathe. I felt like I always did at the last seconds of a race, when I was sure I was going to explode. She was about to say something and I was waiting for whatever she was going to tell me. I was waiting to begin” (75). As her grandmother uncovers the family’s past, Lola realizes that her tyrannical mother is also a victim of the unspeakable violence endemic to patriarchy and experiences a transformation. From her positioning at the interstices of the Dominican diaspora, and armed with the knowledge of narratives that question official versions of history, Lola is able to exercise her potentiality to subvert dominant discourse. Unlike her mother, “one of those Oyá-souls, always turning, allergic to tranquilidad” (79), whose spiritual malaise occasions the desire to escape “her own despised black skin” (80), Lola becomes aware that escape from oneself, that is, from the past, is impossible.63 Only the recognition of past and present wrongs can bring about change, for “you can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in” (209). Thus, through Lola’s voice in first person and second person, Díaz advocates reinscribing the past with diverse narratives as the only possibility for agency in diasporic communities. He suggests the collapsing of time necessary for these narratives to emerge only requires an imaginative overstepping of the boundaries of fact and fiction. As Benjamin affirms, “a revolutionary chance in the fight for an oppressed past” requires a creative blasting open of the continuum of history for new empathies (“Theses” 262-63). As temporal and spatial borders dissolve, complementarity supplants causality for transformation in kairological time. Healing comes not with disconnection but by 209 engaging with the narratives of dissonant lives. As Lola affirms, “that’s what I guess these stories are all about” (Oscar Wao 209). The ease with which Lola crosses borders to perceive the voices of those occluded by history offers Díaz’s audience an example of the way in which the contemporary transforms potentiality into actuality.64 That is, her liminality allows her to forge relationships with others across imagined boundaries of race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender, and sexuality. These relationships are founded on the ability to feel compassion for others, whether for her tyrannical mother, her ostracized brother, her sexist boyfriend, or the marginalized she protects on and off the university campus. Unlike Beli, Oscar, and Yunior, for whom relationships are problematic, she engages positively with the diverse voices of the subjugated in the daily struggle against multiple discourses of oppression. As she negotiates cultural contact zones, she becomes the personification of the non-linear text and an ethics of relationality (not narrative subjectivity), offering the reader a non-representational concept community founded on humanity. For Díaz, relationality in the Dominican diaspora precludes the notion that a sense of belonging arises from the desire for exclusive citizenship in an imagined nation state. A fragmented text that exposes narratives eclipsed by the teleology of history, Oscar Wao presents individuals who reconcile border crossing with belonging. Occupying multiple temporal and physical positions, relationality becomes a contingent process that is neither essentialized nor universalized. As Díaz insists when asked about his sense of place in an interview for The Chicago Tribune, the key attributes of belonging in the Dominican diaspora are paradox and flux: “I have a very powerful sense of place, but I have a very powerful sense of being a migrant, so it's both. It seems like I'm always leaving my home. That's part of the formula. I love the Dominican Republic. I go back all the time. I love New Jersey. Go back all the time. But ... when 210 I close my eyes and see home, it's both the Dominican Republic and New York City” (“Long-term”). Like Oscar, who asks Ybón why he cannot have two homes, Díaz embraces a mobile existence that problematizes the notion that belonging involves fast ties to an exclusive inclusivity (Oscar Wao 318). Imagined homogenous communities fail to silence the dissonance of the Caribbean, where individuals engage in a process of cultural contamination that promotes open affinities. As conflictive as convivial, these relationships make possible the undermining of sociocultural and political boundaries so that compassion rather than othering fosters solidarity. At the end of the novel, Yunior reads Oscar’s last letter, in which he claims that he has fulfilled his quest for love and discovered “the cure to what ails us” (333). Similarly, in the final chapters Yunior speaks of the affection he has for his wife and Lola, whom he perceives as open singularities rather than the fixed objects of lust he pursued as a younger man determined to meet the standards of Dominican maleness. The interaction between Yunior and Lola at the end of Oscar Wao points to Yunior’s awareness that love, paradoxically, brings the Other closer while revealing being as irreducible. Accepting that possessing another is the antithesis of what he desires, he can nurture a positive relationship with Lola and reconfigure Che Guevara’s concept of the individual in society to declare himself “a new man, you see, a new man, a new man” (326). This more meaningful bond includes her daughter, Isis, whose ineffable connections with others undermine traditional collective identity constructs. Both Dominican and American and further culturally contaminated by a Cuban father, she embodies an alternative concept of collectivity that approaches Agamben’s conception of the ‘coming community.’ When Yunior and Lola meet, they take turns saying her daughter’s name, that of the Egyptian mother goddess and patroness of nature and magic. Born of the lotus flower, a rhizomatic plant and symbol of rebirth, Isis is the protector of 211 the downtrodden and the powerful. Thus, with a name evoking both ambiguity and regeneration, Lola’s daughter is “[n]either Captain Marvel nor Billy Batson [his alter ego], but the lightning” (329). That is, she is neither superheroine nor mortal but the actuality of her mother’s potentiality. Wearing a necklace of three azabaches—symbolizing protection, healing, and spiritual awakening—that once belonged to La Inca, Beli, Oscar and Lola, she is protected by generations of powerful elder magic. Her motley present will shield her against the fukú curse until she is “as smart and as brave” as Yunior hopes she will be to transform the family’s “inextinguishable longing for elsewheres” into a healing yearning for new connections (330-331). Conclusion Affirming a profound desire for open communities, Díaz answers Agamben’s call for art as the expression of human potentiality. For these writers, the violence perpetuated by neoliberal discourses guarantees the persecution of individuals whose very existence as homines sacri remains negotiable. Only a reinterpretation of community can reconcile the individual’s zoē and bios so that being matters because it takes place within an open commonality, not because it is placed within an exclusivity. In Oscar Wao the marginalized Others of the Dominican diaspora long for a sense of community that transcends the notion of bounded identifications. Like Derek Walcott´s Shabine, who laments “either I’m nobody or I’m a nation,” they reject the notion that a viable sense of self can emerge from the antinomy between the particular and the universal. Forced to navigate physical and psychic displacement in the interstices of the Caribbean chaos-monde, they are never only of one nation or one culture, neither can they be identified as representing a single race, class, religion, gender, or sexuality. Rather, they occupy multiple realities across contingent temporal registers so that mobility and irreparable relations 212 characterize their lives. This becoming in flux opens liminal spaces from which they can grasp potentiality to refigure the past and interrupt the performance of the present. They reject affiliations based on essence, consanguinity, or pre-colonial history to experience kinships born of present exigency, irrespective of imposed boundaries. Thus, Díaz’s cultural anthropophagy as transformative praxis affirms the complementarity of Glissant’s Plantation discourse. Oscar Wao narrates human relations as a fraught but generative process that precludes any attempt to essentialize individuals and their communities. In the imagined communities of the Dominican diaspora, errantry dissolves the dichotomy of the particular and the universal as individuals experience a union that also keeps them apart. Their being in common as particularities in relation is founded on their exposure to others and the desire to communicate with similarly engaged singularities; not moving toward another thing or place but towards a taking place with others, they subvert the politics of polarity in favor of difference. Thus, Díaz’s ‘Tupi’ dialogism promotes an ethics of relationality that transforms Kurtz’s final cry in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) so that Oscar’s last words become “The beauty! The beauty!” (335). 213 Conclusion ¡Ah sí, ponerse a escribir otra vez, qué vomitivo! ¡Como si todo esto sirviera para algo, como si todo esto fuera a entrar en alguna cabezota, a entretener a alguno de los lectores babosos, ovillados en sus poltronas, frente al sopón soporífero de cada día! —Severo Sarduy, De donde son los cantantes . . . the wonderful and uncanny power of making being and the world appear, of producing them in the work. —Georgio Agamben, The Man Without Content In The Man Without Content (1999), Agamben insists that art is the expression of existence in a shared community. It is a practice that can bring potentiality into actuality as long as poiesis, to produce or bring into being, and praxis, to do or act, are not separated from shared human experience. Transformative works of art participate in the ongoing production of humanity as part of the materiality of the world. They are neither objects of an individual’s unique will nor commodities for the entertainment of the individual spectator. That today a work of art has value as an object in itself means that we prioritize aesthetics over the performance of sociality. Agamben sees art as a medium for engaging in a dialogue about what it means to be part of a commonality. Literature, for example, enacts communicability when, “renouncing the guarantees of truth for love of transmissibility,” it becomes “the transmission of the act of transmission” (114). This idea that connections between language and materiality perform the world resonates with Glissant’s notion of chaos-monde, where “words, no one’s fiefdom, meet up with the materiality of the world, [and] Relation is spoken” (Poetics 202). In this dissertation, I have argued that the voices Sarduy, Obejas, Pérez, and Díaz channel from multiple discourses to create their art transmit a common potentiality. Rejecting the separation of art from shared experience, their socially engaged narratives allow for a dialogic of non-juridical accountability founded on ethics. 214 Review of Study This doctoral project begins with two questions: How do diasporic writers from Cuba and the Dominican Republic write their communities? Do their voices always evoke a longing for rootedness, or do they reimagine the idea of belonging in a transborder era? To answer these questions, I present readings of narratives imagining communities that problematize identification. Although Agamben’s theory of community and Glissant’s notion of Relation guide my discussion of literature of the Cuban and Dominican diasporas, I approach each work with a different focus: Sarduy’s Neobaroque aesthetic in De donde son los cantantes; translocality and exile in Obejas’ Days of Awe; trauma in Pérez’s Geographies of Home; and linguistic and literary anthropophagy in Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I also demonstrate how each text develops to extend these foci. Cantantes moves from Sarduy’s concept of desire as lack to a creative Deleuzian engagement with difference. In this text, mixed communities in Cuba navigate a repressive state apparatus to enjoy a productive relationality of “whatever singularities” with an “Auxilio Concepción del Universo” (20). Obejas’ novel extends Verne’s notion of translocal relations to embrace open rhizomes of belonging. Her protagonist’s experience of cultural limbo as she plies the Atlantic fosters a contrapuntal caritas that deterritorializes belonging, allowing for an open ‘giving on with’—a life in the subjunctive. Pérez’s narrative of anguish surpasses Caruth’s idea of trauma as the ‘enigma of survival’ for the witnessing of histories to consider new topologies of relation. Shared experience, not bounded space, defines her characters’ sense of ‘home.’ In my final reading, Díaz’s cannibalistic intertextuality develops into the imagining of collective experience that escapes classification. The socio-political and cultural contaminations emerging from his poetics evoke open assemblages of connections—a ‘Tupi’ dialogism. The broadening of theoretical 215 scope employed in each critical analysis shows how the texts’ diverse treatments of community call for a questioning of traditional parameters of belonging. This widening of heuristic lenses also reveals how these writers of Hispanic Caribbean diasporas recast Agamben’s notion of community and Glissant’s poetics of relation. Writing the inessential community as a present potentiality in the Cuban and Dominican diasporas, these novelists evoke particular irreducible relationalities. In their texts, individuals create rhizomatic connections on a smaller but broader scale than that of the multitude in Tiananmen Square; nodes of affective commonalities become deterritorialized assemblages of life that also extend Glissant’s understanding of belonging to a diasporic giving-on-and-with. That is, the narratives I investigate imagine solidarities experienced as contingent groupings of individuals in topologies of desire. As such relationality privileges difference over identity across multiple terrain, the notion of ‘a people’ gives way to the constant intercultural contaminations of unbounded communities: encounters with the ineffable differences towards which we direct our desire. Far from arguing that these narratives constitute a facile uniformity in terms of literary praxes and outcomes, this dissertation uncovers their unique approaches to writing community as a poetics of unrepresentable relationality. In my discussion of the irreparable communities envisioned by Sarduy, Obejas, Pérez and Díaz, I do not claim to have encountered the same sociality in each text. Rather than offer blueprints for a reductive universalism, these authors imagine communities of ‘whatever singularities,’ whose specialness lies in their exemplarity: “without resembling any other, [they] resemble all the others” (Profanations 59). Speculating as to the extent of this inessentiality is like quantifying love, for these connections are beyond measure. Their art refuses such determinations to value inessential experiences of commonality—‘forms-of-life.’ 216 Open Threads for Further Exploration This project will inform my research on other writers of Caribbean diasporic communities and fields of study only touched on here. I am interested in how familiar and emerging writers of post-identitary solidarities treat gender. Drawing on Judith Butler’s, Jack Halberstam’s, and C. Riley Snorton’s theories on gender for further studies in this area, I will gain a deeper understanding of the role gender plays in my widening corpus. Especially intriguing are authors such as Mayra Santos Febres, who present gender transitivity and the expropriation of identity to undermine all gendered identities. Equally important for my research are more experimental texts as they will challenge me to consider other narrative strategies. Giannina Braschi, for example, combines elements of memoir, poetry, and theatre in her work. Such mixed-genre narratives describe Hispanic Caribbean diasporas as fertile ground for disjunctive communal spaces of (non)identity. I am also looking at the connections that such literature makes between the commonweal, the environment, technology, and economics. These studies will contribute to scholarship on how Hispanic Caribbean narratives of community offer new ways of realizing common potentialities. As I continue to examine the writing of diasporic communities, I will investigate works inflected with socio-political perspectives from outside of the United States. Caribbean diasporic fiction in Canada offers a rich source for this project. Authors such as Francisco García González, Ihosvany Hernández González, Néstor E. Rodríguez, Eucilda Jorge Morel, César Reynel Aguilera, David Chariandy, and Dionne Brand are of particular interest. My study of their work will allow me to consider how the writing of alternative communities develops as a persistent thread in contemporary literature of the Caribbean and its diasporas. And so I end with more questions: What new writing of community will such research uncover? Will Agamben’s 217 and Glissant’s conceptions of community and relationality be relevant in these narratives? How will our hypotheses evolve as we broaden our scope of sources, and how will our study of these works contribute to the growing dialogue on the literature of Caribbean diasporas? Final thoughts As I am writing this conclusion in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am forced to consider the coming communities I see in cities and towns across Canada and beyond. Of course, this dissertation may seem of minimal importance, considering the suffering we hear of daily in the media and experience intimately as friends and loved ones become ill. However, my isolation in the current lockdown has added some urgency to my passion for this project. The connections I make between the communities emerging in these urban spaces and those presented in the novels I discuss are many. In a virtual Canada, people in cities from one coast to another are not only gathering as Chinese Canadians, Indo-Canadians, French-Canadians, working Canadians, gay Canadians, retired Canadians, or any other nationally affiliated group. Like the communities imagined by Sarduy, Obejas, Pérez, and Díaz, they are also connecting across socio-political boundaries in creative performances of communitas. This spring we daily witness communities coming together on and offline to offer each other support. Somehow they are managing the ‘social distancing’ necessary for preventing the spread of the virus while collectively offering thanks to health care workers. Like communities in Gabarone, Havana, and Fukuoka, residents of Montreal regularly offer their voices in song or whoops to praise those who risk their own health and that of their families in highly contagious environments. These people treat their patients without basic protective gear such as masks, which are so scarce only doctors have access to them. In fact, surgeons cannot approach patients before consulting with nurses, such is the concern that we will lose their expertise if they 218 contract the virus. The same demonstrations of support can be heard nightly in Vancouver, where at 7 pm a dissonant clang of pots, cheers, clapping, and whistles celebrates compassion and a united cause. Accompanying this cacophony, a flutter of limbs defies the physical limitations of isolation, and equally baroque wafts of home-cooked meals spill from open windows and doors. Rather than social distancing, I see here a social ‘closening.’ Yes, this is a time for new terms. The horizontal connections growing across balconies bring people closer together, even as they maintain their physical distance. This social quickening is not tied to a common, representable identity. The balconied are not shouting about identity; they are celebrating a unity founded on compassion for others. In the future, we may refer to 2018 as year 1 PC, or ‘Pre-COVID-19,’ the year before great suffering and loss. We may also think of 2020 as a beginning. Perhaps 2020 will be the year of ‘The Quickening,’ when communities around the world emerged as spontaneous expressions of compassion, a mangrove poetics. 219 Notes 1 I borrow the word “deterritorialization” from Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of positive “absolute” (virtual) and “relative” (actual) deterritorialization described in A Thousand Plateaus (1987): “Deterritorialization is the movement by which “one” leaves [a] territory” (processes tied to particular space and time) to bring about “revolutionary connections in opposition to the conjugations of the axiomatic” (508-509, 473). That is, I see the novels of my corpus as positive deterritorializations that transform negative processes into new, productive relations: a becoming community. 2 See Julia Verne, Living Translocality: Space, Culture and Economy in Contemporary Swahili Trade (Franz Steiner Verlag, 2012). 3 Throughout this thesis, I use Agamben’s understanding of the term ‘singularity’ as synonymous with ‘whatever being’ and haecceity, or in Deleuzean terms, “a haecceity . . . of singularization . . . a life” (Immanence 29). 4 Glissant understands “limitless métissage” as the open intercontamination of diverse ways of life rather than the mixing of two cultures (Poetics 34). 5 Glissant understands Relation as an “open totality”: “In Relation the whole is not the finality of its parts: for multiplicity in totality is totally diversity” (192). 6 Thus, in keeping with Agamben’s theory, I use the word ‘particular’ in this dissertation to mean individual yet unrepresentable. 7 I borrow this term from Victor Turner’s discussion of community in “Liminality and Communitas” (1969). For Turner, “communitas emerges where social structure is not,” and represents the “‘quick’ of human interrelatedness” as spontaneous, immediate, and concrete relations, whose potentiality “is often in the subjunctive mood” (371-372). 8 Kairological time is from the Greek word kairos, meaning a moment of time in which all times converge and everything happens at once. Unlike chronological time, which is quantitative and linear, kairological time is qualitatative and cyclical. In kairological time, for instance, one eats when one is hungry and not when the clock determines it is time to eat. It is a time consisting of moments of opportunity in which human beings are able to look to the past and the future from the present and effect change. 9 In “La simulación,” Sarduy refers to Buddhism and Taoism to insist on the impossibility of being as essence: “[E]l saber en sí mísmo es un estado del cuerpo, es decir, un ser compuesto, una simulación de ser—de ser ese saber—, que no hace más que recorder el carácter de simulación de todo ser—al manifestarse como ese ser . . . no una presencia plena, dios, hombre, logos, sino una vacuidad germinadora cuya metáfora y simualción es la realidad visible” (19). 10 I use the term lo cubano, rather than cubanidad, cubaneo, or cubanía, as this is the term Sarduy uses in Cantantes. For a discussion of these terms, see Gustavo Pérez-Firmat, Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way (University of Texas Press, 2012). 11 In Imperial Eyes (1992), Mary Louise Pratt describes a “contact zone” as “the space of imperial encounters, the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality and intractable conflict” (8). 12 See Bronislaw Malinowski, A Scientific Theory of Culture, and Other Essays (The University of North Carolina Press, 1944). 13 In Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar, Ortiz emphasizes the differences that are retained in this mixing of cultures: “Al fin, como bien sostiene la escuela de Malinowski, en todo abrazo de culturas sucede lo que en la cópula genética de los individuos: la criatura siempre tiene algo de ambos progenitores, pero también 220 siempre es distinta de cada uno de los dos” (96-97). Perhaps for this reason, the English translation of this text replaces the word “síntesis” with “in a word” (Cuban Counterpoint 98). 14 Glissant rejects ‘Being’ as a static, enclosed self-sufficiency in favour of ‘being’ as becoming in relation: “We shall guard against suggesting, parabolically, that beings would be solid and Being volatile nor that a variable mass of beings would assume, in contrast, the infinity of Being. We must, rather, abandon this apposition of Being and beings: renounce the fruitful maxim whereby Being is relation, to consider that Relation alone is relation” (Poetics 170). 15 See Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (University of California Press, 1984). 16 It is possible that this number alludes to the Japanese legend of the 47 rōnin, in which a group of leaderless warriors avenge their lord’s suicide by decree only to be required to do the same. Socorro also refers to herself as “un guerrero japonés contra un enemigo invisible” (12). 17 In Difference and Repetition (1968), Deleuze distinguishes between two processes of individuation: ‘differentiation’—the virtual, continual difference within haecceities—and ‘differenciation’—the coterminous, dissimilar becoming different as actualized process: Regarding Ideas: We call the determination of the virtual content of an Idea differentiation; we call the actualisation of that virtuality into species and distinguished parts differenciation. It is always in relation to a differentiated problem or to the differentiated conditions of a problem that a differenciation of species and parts is carried out, as though it corresponded to the cases of solution of the problem. (207) Regarding cell different/ciation: Everything is even more complicated when we consider that the internal space is itself made up of multiple spaces which must be locally integrated and connected, and that this connection, which may be achieved in many ways, pushes the object or living being to its own limits, all in contact with the exterior; and that this relation with the exterior, and with other things and living beings, implies in turn connections and global integrations which differ in kind from the preceding. Everywhere a staging at several levels. (217) 18 For Homi Bhabha, the dependence of the stereotype on the fixed image of the marginalized is linked to the surveillance of the state, which is constantly both seeing and being seen. Bhabha uses Lacan’s term, the Imaginary, to explain the connection between pleasure and power that is produced in the act of observing the other. The phase in which a child develops the psyche begins with the mirror stage in which she or he identifies the self through seeing and being seen. In this stage, children please themselves with familiar images and the recognition their own image. However, at the same time they find themselves alienated from the image that differs from them, confirming the problematic condition of being distinct from the mother. In this mode of the stereotype, narcissism and aggressivity effectuate a complex identification with the Other, for the Imaginary arises from an understanding of difference and the desire to conceal or negate it in order to avoid a perceived lack. Thus, the tropes of the Imaginary, narcissism and agressivity create an ambivalence in which the narcissistic image is juxtaposed with alienation and the possibility of confrontation (Location of Culture 77). 19 Like Flor de Loto, Dolores is associated with water; she refers to herself as the daughter of Ochum, the queen of rivers and the sky (61). 20 In the Yoruba belief system, twins are endowed with preternatural powers that can either protect or destroy their community, depending on the respect they receive. Thus, the narrators’ account of Dolores’s life is conditioned on her relationship with their multiple incarnations (Cantantes 72). 21 One of the protagonists in Cirilo Villaverde’s Cecilia Valdés, o, La loma del ángel (1839) is the Afro-Cuban musician, José Dolores Pimienta. 221 22 For Beckett’s discusson of Joyce, please see Surreal Beckett: Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, and Surrealism. Routledge, 2017. 23 Deleuze opposes the law (logos) and nomos: “The nomos came to designate the law, but that was originally because it was . . . a mode of distribution. [But it] is a very special kind of distribution, one without division into shares, in a space without borders or enclosure. The nomos is the consistency of a fuzzy aggregate: it is in this sense that it stands in opposition to the law or polis, as the backcountry, a mountaninside, or the vague expanse around a city” (Plateaus 380). 24 For more information on Yoruba and Santería beliefs, please see Mercedes Sandoval’s text: Worldview, the Orichas, and Santería: Africa to Cuba and Beyond. University Press of Florida, 2007. 25 This scene recalls Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot (1953) as a performance of an absurd faith in determinate meaning. 26 I use the word secular from the Latin saecularis, or worldly, to indicate a compassion grounded in the coetaneous practices of multiple ways of being. "of an age, occurring once in an age," from saeculum "age, span of time, lifetime, generation, breed" (The Oxford English Dictionary). 27 The page ‘carirredondo’ suggests another version of Sansón Carrasco in Don Quixote. 28 In Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari describe the rhizome as a multiplicity containing lines of segmentarity “according to which it is stratified, territorialized, organized, attributed, etc.,” and the line of flight or deterritorialization. When segmentary lines explode into a line a flight, there is a rupture in the rhizome, which then undergoes a metamorphosis (9, 21). 29 For Agamben, homo sacer is a life (zoē) banned from political life (bios) due to the paradox of sovereignty: “[T]he sovereign, having the legal power to suspend the validity of the law, legally places himself outside the law . . . ‘the law is outside itself,’ or: ‘I, the sovereign, who am outside the law, declare that there is nothing outside the law.’” In this way, the sovereign proclaims a “state of exception,” in which homo sacer becomes the “originary figure of life taken into the sovereign ban”: the abandonend citizen condemned to a “bare life” (Sacer 15, 83). 30 Said cites Hugo St. Victor, the twelfth-century monk from Saxony: “The man who finds his homeland is sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land” (Exile 185). 31 Agamben explains the difference between chronological time and kairological time this way: “Whereas our representation of chronological time, as the time in which we are, separates us from ourselves and transforms us into impotent spectators of ourselves—spectators who look at the time that flies without any time left, continually missing themselves—messianic time, an operational time in which we take hold of and achieve our representations of time, is the time that we ourselves are, and for this very reason, is the only real time, the only time we have” (Remains 68). 32 In Homo Sacer, Agamben notes his departure from Michel Fouccult’s concept of biopolitics as a development of modernity, when politics demands the institutional capture of human life and individuals are no longer legal subjects but biopolitical capital: “1. The original political relation is the ban . . . 2. The fundamental activity of sovereign power is the production of bare life as originary political element and as a threshold of articulation between nature and culture, zoē and bios. 3. Today it is not the city but the camp that is the fundamental bipolitical paradigm of the West” (181). 33 In an interview with Miriam Chancy, Pérez confirms this view: “Home consists of the bits and pieces of all the people that I love, all the places that I love. So it’s something that exists within me and that’s portable. So ideally, any place can become home, if I have home within myself.” (From Sugar to Revolution: Women’s Visions from Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic (2012). 34 I am aware that I may be criticized for including Díaz’s work in this dissertation after the 2018 accusations that he engaged in sexual misconduct, but I chose to do so after he was exonerated of these allegations. 222 35 In “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940), Benjamin opposes history as a process of progression with an eternal present (nunc stans): “History is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogenous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now. [Jetztzeit]” (261). 36 Beli’s full name is Hypatia Belicia Cabral. Hypatia was a Greek philosopher in late 4th century Roman Egypt, the first notable woman in the history of mathematics. Much like the interruption of Beli’s life by various discourses of power, Hypatia’s life ended tragically when she was assassinated by a Christian mob. 37 This may be an allusion to Joyce’s Ulysses and Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, in which she refuses to be the object of men’s desires by repeating the word ‘Yes’ to affirm her own needs. Also, 1966 marked the end of U.S. military intervention in the Dominican Republic. 38 Sycorax territory is a site of banishment for Caliban’s mother, Sycorax, in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the terrain of an alien slave-owning species in the television series Dr. Who. 39 According to US Legal, although abortion has been legal in the U.S. since 1973, “in no state is unrestricted abortion legal; indeed, virtually all states begin with the presumption that abortion is a crime.” Abortion is illegal in the Dominican Republic. 40 Solomon Grundy is a DC Comics supervillain zombie who was once a murder victim; Gorilla Grod is another DC villain, a gorilla gifted with intelligence by exposure to radiation from a meteorite. 41 Defining Spanglish as “The verbal encounter between Anglo and Hispano civilization,” Ilan Stavans values the multiple Spanglishes of diverse communtities: “Spanglish . . . is the result of the evident clash between two full-fledged, perfectly discernible codes . . . [and] knows no boundaries as it permeates all levels of the socioeconomic system . . . Authors such as John Rechy, Abraham Rodriguez Jr., and Junot Díaz have, unconsciously and otherwise . . . [used] Spanglish as a hybrid street register” (Ma
UBC Theses and Dissertations
Mangrove poetics : writing community in Hispanic Caribbean diasporas O'Regan, Karen Rebecca Denise 2020
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