Closing Arguments

Closing Arguments

In proposing that 20th and 21st century border-based fiction re-conceptualizes the

significance of 1848, this dissertation is as much political as it is aesthetic. Specifically, the

dissertation has argued that the material configurations of modernity (colonial, imperial, neoliberal,

post-NAFTA) are inseparable from and dependent on a particular set of discursive

constructions in which the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the U.S.-Mexico border are

intransigent, inalterable, and unassailable. Indisputably, the most clear instance of this fact in the

present moment is the frequency, and conviction, with which state and popular discourses

classify human beings as “undocumented,” and as a result legitimize their military pursuit,

prosecution, deportation, and in many instances murder, precisely because these border-crossers

are “breaking the law.” In addition to preserving the U.S. claim to the rule of law, the border is

inextricable from the reproduction of U.S. economic interests and their naturalization as crucial

to a process of modernization which is increasingly transnational. Consequently, the story of

modernity in the U.S. is impossible without the border—in this sense it is vital—and yet it is the

work of truth regimes to regulate the material conditions of the border and its representation in

discourse in ways that undergird, but do not bring to the surface, U.S.-centric epistemologies of

spatiality and history. In other words, the historical and existing patterns of domination staged

through and enabled by U.S. control of the border must always be made to seem the natural order

of things.

While the border has, in this regard, functioned as the privileged domain of U.S.

expansionism and nativism, it has also remained an enduring cultural artifact for U.S., Mexican,

and Mexican-American authors. Importantly, despite its codification in the Treaty of Guadalupe

Hidalgo, and its backing by the full sanction of Anglo common law, for borderlands and

fronterizo authors, the juridical structure of the border—both as the site of state power and as the

basis for popular discourses—is anything but settled. In this regard, by “cultural artifact,” this

dissertation refers to the fact that the urgency of the border for these artists is its potential

distillation of innovative and distinct literary forms. Thus border modernism exhibits subjective

narration and documentary-style reporting; the border neopoliciaco features a collective

protagonist and the revelation of fact rather than the apprehension of a criminal mastermind; in

postmodern border metafiction language games are as trenchant as they are playful; and the

represented worlds of peripheral neo-realism are less stable and plainly intelligible than a series

of disordered impressions. Crucially, however, in elaborating the relationship between aesthetics

and the object of their representational focus—the U.S.-Mexico border—the dissertation

purposefully uses the language of “refraction.” In fact, any suggestion that the colonial

establishment of the border as a geopolitical barrier necessarily resulted in a formalism of the

border subordinates the aesthetic, and in particular fiction, to the crude status of a blunt

instrument. Conceived in this manner, border fiction would be purely reflective, and incapable of

cutting past hidebound tradition and value (in the literary and non-literary sense) to reveal any

meaningful truths. Instead, as the prior analysis has shown, literary form and the border are held

in a dialectical relationship, and in this way create the possibility of meaning-making.

Key among these possibilities realizable in and through border fiction is the recognition

of, and sustained engagement with, peripheral modernities. To be sure, the representation of the

border is contingent on the time and place in which it is imagined, which is another way of

saying that cultural production on the border is imbricated in historical and material conditions.

In this sense, “peripheral modernities” names a series of social and political-economic practices

occluded by a U.S.-centric framework but vital to the experiences of local border communities.

Importantly, borderlands and fronterizo authors refract their distinct versions of modernity not

singularly as the result of political orientation but to strategically alter and re-direct the reaches

of fiction and literary form. Thus, while it designates material practices, as this dissertation has

shown, the term “peripheral modernities” also refers to social imaginaries. Specifically, these

imaginaries foreground the multiple historicities emergent on, and the manifold localities of, the

U.S.-Mexico border. Furthermore, in fictively rendering “peripheral modernities,” borderlands

and fronterizo authors provide a divergent and alternative frame of reference with which to

examine questions of national belonging and territoriality (border modernism); the pursuit of

social justice on a neo-liberalized border (border neopoliciaco); fashioning modes of personhood

in the era of state-security (postmodern border metafiction); and the basic human right to life

regardless of class, gender or ethnic identity (peripheral neo-realism). Significantly, as this

dissertation has proven in its close readings of textual forms, the development of these critical

border-based social spaces is activated and maintained in and through creative orderings of

literary language.

In arguing for the intersections of the legacy of 1848 and literary form, this dissertation

has implicitly and actively drawn on existing trans-border scholarship. While not cited at length

due to their period focus on 19th century texts, the respective of work Kirsten Silva-Gruesz’s

Ambassadors of Culture (2002), Shelley Streeby’s American Sensations (2002) and Anna

Brickhouse’s Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth Century Public Sphere

(2004), provided the critical impetus to theorize a transnational literary archive during the

preliminary stages of this dissertation. Additionally, Jaime Javier Rodríguez’s The Literatures of

the U.S.-Mexican War: Time, Narrative, and Identity (2010) was useful in suggesting the

possible links between 1848 and the present moment. The dissertation also drew actively from

Claire Fox’s The Fence and the River: Culture and Politics at the U.S.-Mexico Border (1999), as

well as Debra Castillo and María Socorro Tabuenca Córdoba’s Border Women: Writing from la

frontera (2002). However, given the historical basis of 1848, in addition to the stylistic emphasis

on a series of literary modes that span three quarters of a century, this dissertation has also had to

invent interpretive frameworks where they did not exist, and in this regard more work needs to

be done.

One area in which the newness of the critical links between literary form and 1848 is

apparent is the textual archive analyzed in this dissertation. To be sure, these texts are not the

first, or only, to explore in meaningful ways what has been termed the legacy of 1848. As the

dissertation has demonstrated, however, the texts were selected not only for their insightful

portrayals of living on the U.S.-Mexico border but in how this thematic engagement modified,

and was itself altered by, the adaptation of conventional literary forms to produce unique borderbased

varieties. Nonetheless, every act of inclusion and classification is necessarily political—it

represents staking out a particular claim whether implicitly or explicitly—and for every text

selected in this dissertation there exists a potential alternative. Without a doubt, one aim of this

dissertation is to develop a line of inquiry which, importantly, is not (and should not be)

restricted to this author, that tracks the conduits between 1848 and modern fiction. In fact, a

desired outcome is that this dissertation generates further research into this area and by doing so

develops an ongoing critical framework. Possible texts which may prove fruitful in this regard

(and which intersects with but is distinct from the future project envisioned below), to name a

few, are Ito Romo’s El puente/The Bridge (2000), Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s Desert Blood: The

Juárez Murders (2005), and David Toscana’s El ejército iluminado (2007).

In addition to expanding the textual archive to develop a more representative sense of

how 1848 continues to be imagined in fiction, a second area for further development is the

critical vocabulary utilized in and foreclosed by the research aims of this dissertation.

Specifically, the historical analysis of how 1848 and the U.S.-Mexico border constitute guiding

epistemes of U.S. modernity is an argument made available through an array of fictional modes.

Yet tracking major developments in these fictional projects has also required the dissertation to

contend with the border’s changing form of appearance. For instance, the dissertation’s focus on

the early 20th century in Chapter One emphasizes both the rise of capitalist markets in post-

Porfirian Mexico as well as the onset of agricultural modernization, each taking place in a

historically specific border setting. Thus, within the first chapter, the very concept of territory, in

addition to its representation in literary forms, is distinct, and as the dissertation moves through

the 20th century and into the 21st, the valences of territoriality are thrown further into relief. In the

border neopoliciaco analyzed in Chapter Two, for example, the U.S.-Mexico border is as much a

domain of state law enforcement agencies, and in this way a juridical rather than strictly

territorial space, as it is about landscape. Moreover, Chapter Three analyzes Tijuana-based

metafiction and what the dissertation names “the spatial logic of postmodernity,” which is the

idea of universal mobility and an increasing sense of borderless-ness in the era of global

capitalism. This focus on the latest stage of capital is also the setting for the novels analyzed in

Chapter Four, which tracks the different modes of border violence in Tijuana-San Diego, and

Cabuche-El Paso-Juárez, respectively. However, despite overlapping historically—the novels

were published six years apart and are both set in the late 20th century—each renders space, and

in particular geography, distinctly. Consequently, while the research aims of the dissertation

remain poised on the literary, the particular arrangement of texts analyzed, in addition to their

individual portrayals of the border, requires a fluid use of the above-named core terms.

A future installation of this research project would thus refine the terminology used to

examine border fiction with a critical attention to questions of space. Key texts in this regard are

Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (1991); David Harvey’s Spaces of Global Capitalism

(2006); and Claudia Sadowski-Smith’s Border Fictions: Globalization, Empire, and Writing at

the Boundaries of the United States (2008). As with the fictional archive, the assembly of critical

texts can never be complete, and the versions signaled here, both in the dissertation’s current

form as well as its future iteration, are no different. Their selection as illuminating the pursuit of

a specialized account of border fiction is less a proscriptive act than a choice animated by their

clarifying potential. Finally, while this dissertation has specifically focused on the literary, an

extended version of the project would perform a comparative reading between “narrativas del

norte,” the most recent form of border fiction produced by Mexican writers, on the one hand,

and the use of the U.S.-Mexico border and border culture in popular U.S. television series such

as The Bridge and Breaking Bad, on the other.

In “Negro y Azul,” an episode from Breaking Bad’s second season, the scene opens

featuring three men dressed in black, in a desert setting, strumming green, white and red guitars.

They sing, “La ciudad se llama Duke/Nuevo México el estado/Entre la gente mafiosa/Su fama se

ha propagado/Causa de una nueva droga/Que los gringos han creado” (“The city’s called

Duke/The state’s called New Mexico/Among the gangsters/The gringo’s fame is inflated/‘Cause

of the new drug created”). As the episode opens, the camera cuts to a political map displaying

the tri-state border of New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. The band is Los Cuates de Sinaloa, and

the song they sing is a narcocorrido. Yet the protagonist of this border ballad, unlike those

featured in Chapter Three of this dissertation, is not a Mexican, but a “gringo” named

“Heisenberg” who has cornered the methamphetamine market. Additionally, this narcocorrido

reverses the typical theme in which drug cartels gloriously commit crime in that it is the “gringo”

who is the agent of violence. To be sure, the series traffics in its share of ethnic stereotypes, yet it

also avoids the dichotomy of Anglo jurisprudence and Mexican corruption. Thus, the appearance

of a narcocorrido, a paradigmatically border form, in what is considered one of the most-watched

U.S. series of all time is more complex than Anglo cultural appropriation. Instead, the

prominence, and significance, of the border and of border cultural forms in U.S. television might

be illuminated when set against narrativas del norte. While nominally referring to literary

production in Mexico’s northern border region, as Diana Palaversich makes clear, this term does

not refer to a “homogenous northern bloc” (“La Nueva Narrativa” 11). Rather, narrativas del

norte update accounts of fronterizo literature, which Palaversich argues peaked in the nineties,

and provide a useful point of comparison with Chicano “Border Writing” (10). Crucially, the

author of this dissertation posits that narrativas del norte are an urgent critical practice not only

because they challenge the model of Northern Mexican writers as in constant opposition with the

center, Mexico’s capital city, as Palaversich observes (24). Instead, they might allow the

development of a critical vocabulary with which to critique and perhaps change power relations.

As the latest of a diverse set of border fiction, narrativas del norte, when set against U.S. visual

culture, might also help re-define the centrality of the U.S., both as an arbiter of political life and

cultural representation, in relation to those living on the south side of the Mexican border.

Finally, the performance of this future comparative analysis might engage areas left unanswered

in this particular dissertation, and crucially, generate new lines of inquiry with which to examine

the border, its art, and citizens.

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