Introduction2

While the argument of this dissertation is informed by the trans-border scholarship

referenced above there are key distinctions that must be highlighted. Due to the fact that the texts

analyzed by Castillo and Córdoba range from 1982 to 1996, they read the 1985 Programa

Cultural de las Fronteras as the crucial historical moment in their study during which the

Mexican government commissioned a “nationalization” effort via “cultural projects,” the

outcomes of which included the proliferation of northern border literature (19). To be sure, the

border literature “boom,” as they term it, must be set within an historical context. Yet this

historicization must be dynamic enough to recognize both the “singularity of events” and the fact

that these are embedded within a broader discontinuous series of socio-historical “emergences”:

the border boom of the 1980s and ‘90s is singular in that it makes immediate the concerns of its

material present. However, accounts of this fiction cannot overlook that such efforts to

nationalize the border are intertwined with earlier patterns of border-making practices (237).9

Otherwise a potential outcome of such periodization is the transmission of a naturalized

conception of the border. In this regard, despite the fact that Castillo and Córdoba

conscientiously advocate site-specific analyses of the border their work risks presupposing the

complex historical production of the border itself. Further, if the border is critically reproduced

as a self-evident reality the vast lifeworlds which their selected texts depict are circumscribed by

a normative historical frame of reference; they can exist only in relation to a reified border

imposed onto them instead of one which is continually negotiated. By contrast, this dissertation

argues that even what appear to be the most avant-garde renderings of the border from both

Mexico and the U.S. mediate its inception in 1848 as a promissory contract as well as the

asymmetries it realized and the set of discourses it engendered. Furthermore, whereas Castillo

and Córdoba’s analysis of trans-border fiction is situated within a 1980s context of

nationalization and pre-NAFTA decentralization, this dissertation examines border fiction in

order to argue that such re-consolidations of the border are actually modern day variations of a

broader and shifting set of the terms of colonial modernity. Additionally, given that the majority

of “short stories and fragmentary texts” they read are published in the 1990s, the account of style

they provide is synoptic in comparison to this dissertation’s construction of an extended analysis

of the forms of border fiction (4). If Castillo and Córdoba realize their trans-border project by

reading contemporary fiction, Rodríguez does so mainly by emphasizing 19thcentury texts.

Indeed, this focus is true of all but the final chapter of his study, in which he reflects on 20th

century works. Moreover, according to Rodríguez, the unifying element across these texts is

 “narratological,” which persists in his study as less a defined term than an implied concept. That

is to say, this term is used not in the sense referring to a text’s organization of formal properties

and their meaning-making capacities, but in a more general fashion designating a text’s theme or

“narrative.” Consequently, given that the critical vocabulary retains a cursory rather than

specialized sense, accounts of the study’s key topics, identity and globalization, are primarily

suggestive. Unlike the account of 1848 via an exploration of dime novels and sensationalistic

literature, a lead first pursued by Shelley Streeby and later adapted by Rodríguez, this

dissertation argues that the imperialist logic underpinning the establishment of the U.S.-Mexico

border in 1848, as well as the technologies by which it was realized and that continue to circulate

in the present day, can actually by gleaned through an analysis of modern fiction. As this

dissertation illustrates, 20th and 21st century works—ostensibly far removed from 1848 as the

crucial moment of border-making—are actually bound up in it thematically and stylistically. In

order to demonstrate how foregrounding 1848 is central to the development of unique borderbased

styles it is necessary to define this latter term.

This dissertation conceptualizes style as the peculiarity of authorial language and its use

in creating narrative structures which mediate the lifeworlds of borderlands and Northern

Mexican communities. In this regard, style names a set of representational strategies that refer

both to technique in the formal sense in addition to the social imaginaries made possible in and

through fiction. Furthermore, this dissertation posits that the many border styles examined below

are not enacted in the service of political or social programmes. Instead, they refract the myriad

experiences of those for whom daily life is defined by the confrontation between their own local

and unique border realities versus the imposition of epistemes, and the materialities to which

they give expression, on the border. In thus defining style, this argument departs from an earlier

model of criticism, namely, the work of Fredric Jameson. Jameson’s landmark study,

Postmodernism; or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, is no doubt a touchstone for analyses

of aesthetic and cultural development. However, his thesis regarding the interrelationship

between aesthetics, on the one hand, and multinational capital as a global system, on the other,

warrants critical revision. According to Jameson, “[w]hat has happened is that aesthetic

production today has become integrated into commodity production generally,” resulting in an

epoch in which “postmodern culture is the internal and superstructural expression of a whole

new wave of American military and economic domination throughout the world” (4, 5). In this

line of thinking, because commodification suffuses the world and its circuits of aesthetic

production, “style” is ‘increasingly unavailable’ or more dramatically “fall[s] along” completely

(16, 15). There can be no denying the force of global capital. Yet, as many scholars convincingly

demonstrate, the intertwined dynamics of modernity, modernization and globalization are neither

homogenizing, however uniform their modes of appearance may seem, nor coeval.10

In contrast to Jameson’s declarations on style, this dissertation adapts the version offered

by Derek Attridge. Style exists, writes Attridge, in the sense that literary works of art constitute

“a performance in which the authored singularity, alterity, and inventiveness of the work as an

exploitation of the multiple powers of language are experienced and affirmed” (136). The crucial

pivot in Attridge’s formulation is not that a work exhibits an original quality, what he terms

“singularity,” or that this newly singular work is “other” to what previously existed (hence

“alterity”) but the way in which these elements coalesce in the instance that style is “performed,”

both in the act of its construction and the experiences of reading it engenders. Therefore, rather

than designating a cosmetic uniqueness individual to this or that work, style refers to the way in

which an author’s selective and ordered use of language changes the way of seeing the world in

question. Moreover, given the vital role of style and the historical interventions it is argued that

border styles perform, the critical vocabulary of James Wood also informs this dissertation. The

“novelist,” Wood states, “is always working with at least three languages.” “There is the author’s

own language, style, perceptual equipment, and so on,” he writes, “there is the character’s

presumed language, style, perceptual equipment, and so on; and there is what we would call the

language of the world” (34, 35). As a point of clarification, not all the texts examined in this

project are novels, yet Wood’s insight on both the layers of fictional language within a text and

its imbrication by the language of its social context is central to this dissertation given its textual

and historical archive. In each chapter, this dissertation shows how style is not a self-contained

attribute within texts, but is emergent in and speaks to its particular border setting. An overview

of the primary texts as well as chapter breakdowns is presented in the following section.

The Styles of 20th and 21st Century Border Fiction

In order to track the reconceptualization of 1848 across 20th century fiction and beyond,

this dissertation analyzes border varieties of modernism, neopoliciaco texts, postmodern

metafiction and neo-realism. Each literary mode variously illuminates how the U.S.-Mexico

border is naturalized, rather than viewed as constructed, through physical and discursive action.

Moreover, this hegemonizing process constitutes the primary and often singular frame through

which critical border issues are perceived. Thus, questions of citizenship, law enforcement and

legality, economic formations, and forms of individual and state violence, are oriented by

frameworks that take for granted the codification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and, by

extension, the normalization of the border as an absolute. Significantly, however, the abovenamed

fictional modes do not simply transcribe the work of truth regimes but create the

possibility of disruption by mediating the historical circumstances in which such epistemologies

are forged. Furthermore, as this dissertation argues, this disruptive capacity, and hence the

potential to generate alternative viewpoints, emerges from the fundamental link between the

style of these modes and their respective positions situated from and about the border. An

overview of their individual stylistic qualities is thus provided below.

Chapter One contrasts the role of border modernism in illuminating both the distinct

forms of appearance as well as the projects of modernity and modernization in John Dos

Passos’s The 42nd Parallel (1930) to those in Américo Paredes’s George Washington Gómez

(1990).11 In George Washington Gómez, colonial modernity is manifested as agricultural

modernization in a small-scale border region (South Texas), resulting in sharply defined intraethnic

conflict and the affirmation of territorial borders. Conversely, in The 42nd Parallel, the

modernizing project undergoes a qualitative and geographic shift whose contours are newly

hemispheric and defined as much by imperial economic hierarchies as by cartography. Linking

these texts is border modernism’s adaptation of representational techniques, in particular shifting

narrative modes and non-chronological structures, centered in 1848 as a foundational moment

that establishes the terms of colonial and imperial modernity. The term “border modernism” is

borrowed from Christopher Schedler, whose elaboration of the concept, as is illuminated in

Chapter One, is over-dependent on a facile opposition with what Schedler names “metropolitan

modernism.” According to Schedler, border modernism is stylistically defined by “oral forms of

expression” and ‘simplicity’ whereas “metropolitan modernism’s formalist approach to art” is

manifested as “‘ornamental’ elaboration.” In addition to its plainness of style, thematically,

border modernism’s exploration of identity is facilitated through “association” with those groups

marked as “other,” whereas in metropolitan modernism identity is synonymous with an internal

psychic space divorced from external material realities (xiii). In contrast to the oversimplification

of literary modernism’s variously political thematics, this dissertation modifies the conception

and application of border modernism in order to develop a stylistic account capacious enough for

the markedly political fiction of John Dos Passos, both in the sense of the prominent role figures

of the “other” play in it, but also its exploration of the link between different social groups, who

claim residence in the metropole, to the marginal and abject socioeconomic space of the U.S.-

Mexico border. Furthermore, this dissertation adapts the term border modernism to show how

Américo Paredes’s prose style moves in ways other than what Schedler calls “simplification”

and “direct statement” (xiii, 2). As a matter of fact, while the authorial peculiarities of Dos

Passos and Paredes results in distinct narrative voices, what defines the prose of border

modernism is breadth and volume. Further, this expansive prosaic quality is intertwined with

border modernism’s effort both to foreground temporal events and nonsynchronous histories in

addition to experiments with narration. Thus, a second key feature of border modernism is its

combination of realist and modernist narrative modes. Modernism’s impulse toward subjectivism

appears in border modernism as the periodic but meaningful portrayal of individual

consciousness through free indirect discourse and focalization; realism’s drive for objectivity is

rendered as contrived impartiality regarding historical detail by reproducing it en masse. That is

to say, while the mass accumulation of detail is enacted in the service of objectivity, ultimately it

is part of a calculated effort to render the text’s assessment of prevailing epistemes.

George Washington Gómez provides a local account of how colonial modernity as

agricultural modernization fundamentally alters the national self-identification and consciousness

of its title character whereas The 42nd Parallel allows for a transnational analysis of how U.S.

control over oil production during the Mexican Revolution re-defines asymmetrical politicaleconomic

relations between the U.S. and Mexico. Set in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas

and its legacy of conflict, long discursive paragraphs detailing features of the landscape, and the

historical processes through which it changed, are characteristic of Paredes’s work. As a matter

of fact, in order to cover such ample historical and territorial domains Paredes’s style must work

beyond the “simple” and “direct.” Thus, representative passages set in the narrative present

describe vast stretches of chaparral (or thick brush), flash back to the battles of the 1915

Seditionist Rebellion which occurred there, and often in a non-linear fashion depict the stages of

Anglo modernization by which it transformed. Paredes does so in order to show the border as

both a symbolic rupture of consciousness and as a territorial site. At the close of the novel the

titular George believes himself to be a class and race apart from “Mexican Greasers” even as he

dreams of joining them in insurrection; and yet he returns to South Texas as part of a

surveillance operation against former high school friends whose political dissidence he fears is a

threat to the border as a territorial divider. John Dos Passos’s fiction, too, displays a formally

innovative and thematically wide-reaching ambition. The difference, however, is the specific

content around which the narrative style is oriented: within the text any hopes for a

transformative politics are countermanded by the rampant commodification overtaking America.

Further, this commercialization accrues beyond national boundaries—and the U.S.-Mexico

border is a key site in this process of an ever-pervasive capitalism. Regarding Dos Passos’s

stylistic focus on massification, Miles Orvell writes, “Given such a world of factitious images, of

mocking sentiments and mocking falsehoods, given the vast linguistic reservoir of American

speech,” the central purpose of U.S.A. is to “rebuild the language.”12 Dos Passos stylistically

registers the intertwined dynamics of aspirations for social change, on the one hand, and the

imposition of production for its own sake, on the other, by writing prose that both reproduces the

vernacular of a working class for whom the latest trends are perpetually out of reach even as it

itemizes for-sale household products all in the same sentence. Moreover, there is even a kind of

formal symmetry between Dos Passos’s habit of compressing two words into a single linguistic

unit and the sense of often useless products saturating the early decades of American life in the

20th century. Dos Passos thus depicts a context where the capacity for social change is diluted by

the spread of market capitalism and its exploitation of language as a technology whose central

operation is to accelerate the process of buying and selling; and in Dos Passos’s text it is

precisely this seizure of language by markets through which capitalist modes of production

within a border setting are reproduced.

After examining The 42nd Parallel (1930) and George Washington Gómez (1936-1940) in

Chapter One, each written across the decade of the thirties, Chapter Two moves on to border

neopoliciaco texts produced in the 1990s. The reasons for this fifty year jump are both archival

and conceptual. As demonstrated above, this time period has been amply covered both in terms

of Chicano and post-nationalist scholarship as well as related developments in Chicano fiction.

By contrast, the intervention of this dissertation is to trace literary-historical connections

extending beyond the abundance of Chicano studies emphasizing Aztlán. In order to show the

varied re-articulations of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo after 1848 beyond these familiar

interventions, it is vital to move across the 20th century rather than stay tethered to one segment

of it; hence the selection in Chapter Two and the remainder of this dissertation of textual modes

produced in the last decade of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.

This dissertation makes the case that border detective fiction provides a viable means of

re-centering 1848. In terms of literary development, the Anglo-American genre of detective

fiction provided the influence for the Latin American neopoliciaco, which in turn was further

distilled into the border neopoliciaco.13 Regarding historical context and their major precepts,

scholars such as Charles Rzepka (Detective Fiction) note that the cultural logic of Enlightenment

modernity, in particular the belief in ratiocination, as well as the ideology of liberal

individualism, are embodied in classic detective fiction. This process is enacted by opposing the

singular mystery-solving talents of a prodigious detective against a rival and equally gifted

criminal. In addition, since its inception in the 19th century, classic detective fiction heavily

emphasized the relationship between the state and ideals of justice. Classic detective fiction,

therefore, is characterized by privileging the exceptional individual (who is potentially

transgressive to the common good if figured as criminal) as well as by rendering the illusion of

harmony between justice and the state given its liberal underpinnings: within the terms of the

genre the state is but a collection of free and consenting, and not coerced and subjugated,

individuals. Moreover, the genre’s character structure aids and abets the idealization of justice

and the state in that every criminal’s act of transgression is ultimately subject to the rule of law

safeguarded by a morally sound detective. Classic detective fiction is thus undergirded by a

duality where state law is always just and crime must necessarily take place outside its

institutions. This harmonization of state institutions and the private individual upholding the rule

of law as the preeminent public interest is later exposed as false by hardboiled varieties of the

genre: crime occurs within official legal systems subverting the notion that transgressions are

possible only outside official channels. As a result, the hard-boiled detective pursues the

criminals populating an urban cityscape as well as corrupt officials. The Latin American

neopoliciaco likewise portrays a corrupt legal system and also incorporates aspects of liberal

ideology, in particular the detective hero as exceptional figure. As Chapter Two demonstrates,

the border neopoliciaco adapts the thematic and character traits of the classic and Latin

American versions of the genre but also makes significant changes to it. Specifically, the border

neopoliciaco adapts the formula where justice and the state are opposed via an emphasis on the

exploitation of neoliberal policies by law enforcement agencies working on the border.

Significantly, however, the border neopoliciaco challenges the core dichotomy of neoliberalism

which is that private interest is the highest public good. Moreover, in addition to exposing the

state as a criminal apparatus, it is precisely the border neopoliciaco’s fundamental critique of

ratiocination that allows for a distinct interrogation of how the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

operates trans-temporally in terms of the material formations of the border and the epistemes by

which these are rationalized. Finally, the account that follows below is not an overview of the

border neopoliciaco in general, but instead deals specifically with the version crafted by Gabriel

Trujillo Muñoz given its emphasis on the border cities of Mexicali and Tijuana; thus the term

border neopoliciaco.

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