Aldama, Frederick Luis. Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction.
Frederick Luis Aldama's 2009 A User's Guide to Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction is well worth reading although readers will undoubtedly find a number of its claims controversial and some of them puzzling. The title of its Introduction reveals its basic contribution to both Latina/o and Postcolonial Studies: "Putting the World Back into Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction." Aldama's main contention is that too often poststructuralist and postcolonial critics have indulged in what he calls "textualist idealism" (72) or what I, in defense of idealism, might prefer to call textualist nominalism whereby the assumption is made that through the word games of fiction, novels in particular but not exclusively, the world is changed. Throughout the introduction and the six chapters of the book, Aldama questions and challenges the (merely) "symbolic forms of resistance" (71) in the elision of "word" and "world" that he identifies in the teaching of and the scholarship on postcolonial and Latina/o fiction.
His critique of textualist nominalism that places, he argues, an excessive confidence in a constructivist view of language and culture and in history as a process that can be altered by these published works entails a universalizing humanism. Aldama's neurobiological humanism (some critics might call this species-ism) emphasizes "our universal nature of emotions along with our universal fiction-making capacity" (11). He deploys this claim to make several other critical moves. He explains the power of fiction, via its numerous narrative techniques (21-48), to "organize, frame, and richly texture characters, times, and places" (3) and to enlist readers' universally shared cognitive abilities in empathetically imagining people, scenarios, and situations beyond their own experiences. At the same time, he underscores the limits of fiction to necessarily alter "material reality" (73), "the divide-and-conquer global capitalist system" (102), and its institutions enforcing particular arrangements of that material reality that oppress millions, even billions, of people around the word (the world's poor, for example). On the basis of the distinction he draws between ideas and labor defined as "organized class struggle" for rights, unions, access to education, free medical care, public transportation services, and the "freedom of organization, expression, and representation for all" (74), he argues against the collapse of fiction into reality: "[t]he tasks at hand are to study the aesthetic function of postcolonial and Latino borderland fictional narratives and to avoid confusing their realism (their generic mode) for reality" (4). In dissuading readers, writers, scholars, and critics from what Aldama considers naive notions about assumed continuities between identity, representation, political intervention, and socio-economic transformation, he attempts to accomplish several objectives: 1. to establish a more intellectually honest assessment of both the power and the limitations of fictional narrative with regards to its world or society (re)constituting capacities; 2. to explore the particular strengths of postcolonial and Latina/o borderland narrative techniques for engaging readers in the struggles and resistances of the people and communities evoked through words (and, in the case of comic books, visual images) arranged on pages (3); 3. to posit that and demonstrate how "ethnic-identified fictional narrative (novels, short stories, and comic books, in this volume)" actively engages "with world fictional narrative fictional genres, storytelling modes, and techniques" (2); and 4. to navigate amongst the following colliding and combining factors: the individual uniqueness of their authors' lives and talents, the cultural particularism of the texts produced, the cross-and-transcultural and "transgeographic" (105) elements of these productions, and the species-based "universal capacity for emotion and cognition" (2). Aldama summarizes his ultimate intended critical intervention thus:
Such study must acknowledge as well the contextual and pragmatic dimensions of this fiction-the existence of real-life authors and artists doing the creating and real-life readers and viewers doing the engaging-and acknowledge that while author and reader, artist and viewer are as unique as the full and limitless range of experience our world allows, as a species we share a deep, universal capacity for emotion and cognition. (2)
Applying his intended critical intervention to his own book, I would underscore what Aldama reveals about his own subject formation as a Chicano growing up not in the assumed place of his origin, the Southwestern borderlands or California, but outside the country altogether in London, England: "As a Chicano teen far from homelands (Mexico and California) growing up in a 1980s London..." (1). In London he read literature by Latin American writers, Spanish writers, and British postcolonial writers and attended school in a part of London inhabited by people from the Caribbean, Pakistan, India, and Africa (1). He recounts that his experience of dislocation and cosmopolitanism informed his appreciation of the power of fictional narrative to transcend the particular circumstances of its production and even the particularities of its subject matter as well as its author's identity markers. I would add that A User's Guide to Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction with its studies of works by Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, Zadie Smith, Hari Kunzru, Latino comic book author-artists such as Tejano Judge Margarito C. Garza, Ivan Velez Jr., Richard Dominguez, Fernando B. Rodriguez, Laura Molina, Gilbert Hernandez, Andrea M. Gaudiano, Jaime Hernandez, and Frank Espinosa, and Chicano writers such as Luis Rodriguez and Dagoberto Gilb does indeed create a simultaneously transcultural yet particularizing critical space that furthers, sometimes productively and sometimes puzzlingly, the much needed consideration of multiple kinds of postcolonial literatures in relation to one another-those of the British commonwealth with those of the U.S. borderlands. The book could have gone further in placing these in dialogue with one another, but it does offer readers a start.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2012|
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