Introduction3

In terms of style the narrative voice in Trujillo Muñoz’s texts facilitates the interrogation

of neoliberal epistemologies which is crucial to the project of the border neopoliciaco. This voice

is laconic in its narration and thus crime scenes, despite the types of violence committed, are

described in no greater detail than the layout of a city or the interior of its buildings. The terse

depictions, however, do not constitute indifference and in fact the narrator operates within a

register of distinct but interrelated dispositions. Thus it is suggested, ironically, that the best way

to avoid looking like a “fucking tourist” is to wear sunglasses in crowded spaces irrespective of

the weather (Mezquite Road 41); potential suspects are viewed not with the cool detachment of

an impartial eye but cannily envisioned as belonging to “a scene from ‘The Godfather’”

(“Tijuana City Blues 13); and a widow’s account of her late husband’s life and death is wryly

labelled a “hagiography” rather than identified as reminiscence (Mezquite Road 21). Further, if

the attitude of Trujillo Muñoz’s narrator is frequently cynical toward people and the world in

which they live, the idiolect of this voice can be described as Español de la frontera.

Specifically, the narrator’s border Spanish is a mix of pop culture references, pochismos

(Anglicization of conventional Spanish) and folk sayings. As a matter of fact, this stylistic

peculiarity is made possible through a genre that by definition is centered on mixture. Thus,

Claire Fox notes that the “novela neopoliciaco” is “a hybrid combining various strains of left

populism and existentialism with elements of investigative journalism, crónica, realism, and pulp

fiction” (166). This border speech, however, is not restricted to Trujillo Muñoz’s narrator but is

also characteristic of dialogue across both texts. Yet more importantly, this dialogue is assigned

an authoritative interpretive function in his version of the border neopoliciaco. In a sense, this

feature of the border neopoliciaco where dialogue is the site of disclosing case facts is a

carryover from hard-boiled detective fiction by authors such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond

Chandler and Ross MacDonald.14 However, despite the active use of dialogue in their work,

these authors constructed private eyes that also narrated the crimes they detected,15 and this

marks a crucial difference between the hard-boiled and the border neopoliciaco. In Trujillo

Muñoz’s texts the narrative is comprised of dialogue and the reporting of an unnamed narrator

but never the use of first-person and especially not a detective who also narrates.

The readings in Chapter Two are framed by what this dissertation terms the “Neo-Private

Eye” not in reference to an autonomous detective but rather as a figure for the grassroots pursuit

of justice and its necessarily conditional relationship to the private-public within the late ‘90s

border setting. Specifically, given that Trujillo Muñoz’s neopoliciaco texts are set within the

context of NAFTA, the private eye Miguel Ángel Morgado’s resolution of crime must occur

within a social formation lauded by its practitioners as the apex of economic modernization and

privatization even while border communities decry its outcomes. As a result, however much his

detection mediates a critique of the neoliberal, Morgado must also maintain a working if fragile

partnership with its representatives. Thus, by detailing Morgado’s investigation of fifties era

urban legends, in particular the rise of a “Third World Las Vegas,” “Tijuana City Blues” offers a

critique of how the mythification of present-day Tijuana as essentially lawless and violent

obscures the historical production of the border through acts of colonial- and imperialism.

Moreover, as the reading of this text illuminates, the discursive ruse that private individualism is

the highest public good effectively re-produces the border beyond the purely territorial by

inscribing contemporary border cities within U.S.-centric teleologies of development. If “Tijuana

City Blues” provides a critique of economic progress narratives, Mezquite Road shows how U.S.

and Mexican state law enforcement agencies serve a key role in protecting and thus sustaining

neoliberal ideologies. Within this latter text Morgado’s resolution to a homicide case on the

border requires his provisional link to law enforcement as well as private border groups that

operate outside the law. In thus portraying Morgado’s investigation, Trujillo Muñoz shows that

in spite of the egregious breakdown of the private-public dichotomy at the core of neoliberalism

it is precisely this ideology that subtends the asymmetrical relationship into which the U.S and

Mexico are configured. Therefore, by delineating the complex network of state agencies and

border citizens in Mexicali Mezquite Road illuminates how the persistence of the border as a

state-sanctioned, and thus legal, geopolitical divider is reinforced, paradoxically, by flouting the

law.

Following the border neopoliciaco, Chapter Three analyzes Instrucciones para cruzar la

frontera (2011) in which Luis Humberto Crosthwaite adapts the postmodern strategies of parody,

metafiction and pastiche in order to show how the normalization of borders as unobstructed

transit points conceals the racialized logic of securing border zones. Given that in Instrucciones

border-crossing is always provisional and site-specific, this dissertation draws on Linda

Hutcheon’s conception of “historiographic metafiction,” which she defines as texts that “are both

intensely self-reflexive and yet paradoxically also lay claim to historical events and personages”

(5). While Crosthwaite adapts these strategies, the postmodernism of Instrucciones is distinctly

crafted and thus results in a border postmodernism: the prose is ludic but not whimsical;

eccentric yet oriented by the collective; self-reflexive but historically situated. No doubt

Crosthwaite’s text calls attention to its own fictionality through elements such as ostentatious

typography and author-reader duels yet never as a mere language game.16 Instead, allegorical

“death of the author” scenarios and absurdist lists about navigating Customs protocols

consistently foreground the challenges of crossing the border, through legal or clandestine

means, for local Tijuanenses. In addition to parody, Crosthwaite also uses the literary strategy of

what Hutcheon terms “double-encoding,” which is the re-creation of ideological structures and

their formal conventions in order to subvert them. As a result, while the text portrays conditions

in which the geographic space of multinational capital is flattened out and borders are less

barriers than metaphors it does so in the service of a historical critique. Thus the accent falls on

border in “border postmodernism” not only because, as important as it is, Crosthwaite’s text

emphasizes the difficulties of south-to-north crossing from the perspective of Tijuanenses.

Rather, it is the way in which the metafictional strategies in Instrucciones mediate a historical

context where the very presence of human life is perceived as a threat so imminently real,

however imagined it may be in reality, that capital punishment actually becomes a rational

measure precisely because of the U.S. claim to “security.”

Crosthwaite’s border postmodernism shows how much more narrowly restricted the 21st

century border becomes as a result of national security as an epistemology. Specifically,

Crosthwaite’s adaptation of postmodernist literary strategies to the border, in particular Tijuana,

illustrates the way in which national security is no longer registered as nativist paranoia that the

border will be overrun by droves of Mexicans, the fear of the title character in George

Washington Gómez. Rather, in the 21st century, jingoism and xenophobia move from the level of

structures of feeling and crystallize into material formations by undergirding the interrelationship

between social imaginaries and legal ordinances. In this way, national security becomes a

dominant paradigm, or episteme, whose concrete expression is the government sanctioned

fortification and surveillance of the border. Ironically, however, this monitoring and regulation

of territorial space occurs in an historical context where territoriality no longer obtains: global

capital has so drastically shortened the distance between two points that a once-physical

landscape is now envisioned as a “worldwide web of spatial threads” (Murphet 130). Therefore,

Crosthwaite’s text details Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and the consequences

of racially motivated border policing initiatives such as Operation Gatekeeper,17 on the one

hand, and virtual cities and metaphorical borders on the other. By doing so, Crosthwaite

challenges the postmodern claim of universal mobility across abstract borders; 18 instead the

border in Tijuana is material and real, and crossing it, illustrates Crosthwaite, can be a fatal

endeavor.

As is true of the literary conventions and the respective texts which adapt them in the

preceding three chapters, this dissertation views the novels in Chapter Four less as paradigmatic

instances of, than selective engagements with, the stylistic category “neo-realism.” The reason

for this is that, as Robert Rebein argues, neo-realism as a “monolithic” and thus singular form

simply does not exist; there is instead a “common core of techniques” whose varied applications

inform the term’s meaning. Further, the prefix indicates that while an array of postmodernist

literary strategies emerged in the postwar era, “the vast majority of American fiction published

since 1945,” notes Rebein, “has remained unabashedly realist in its rendering of character,

setting and time” (30). Phrased another way, neo-realism draws on its 19th century precursors

even as it borrows contemporary representational strategies, some of which may be

postmodernist, in order to imagine and mediate the lived experiences of the 20th century and

after. In fact, this focus on experience is vital to neo-realism as a set of representational

techniques. Moreover, as is detailed below, the neo-realist version of experience is registered by

foreclosing the possibility of narrative resolution. Thus, in addition to Rebein’s assertion that a

key trait of the neo-real is “a recognition of character as the sine qua non of the fictional

enterprise” (30), neo-realism is also characterized by its commitment to “experience,” which

Kris Versluys specifies is “the novelistic simulacrum of the real-life variant,” which,

significantly, cannot be totalizing because it is always provisional and in this way incomplete.

(Versluys 8, 9). Further, this aesthetic re-creation is undergirded by the principles of

“verisimilitude” and “plausibility,” in particular by constructing an imagined world where “all

the strictures of the experiential world apply” (8). Therefore, in this regard both Paul Flores’s

Along the Border Lies (2001) and Ana Castillo’s The Guardians (2007) adapt neo-realist

strategies: narrative structure in each is fundamentally organized around character, each details

the external world in order to accurately render the time and place their respective characters

inhabit, and in contrast to Instrucciones para cruzar la frontera where language is often nonreferential,

language in both operates mimetically though, as is detailed immediately below, this

function is not synonymous with ‘reflection.’

In order to mediate the actual historical context of the U.S.-Mexico border both in terms

of the material processes of drug trafficking, immigration and abduction, and the way these

realities come to be perceived, mimesis in Along the Border Lies and The Guardians must be

articulated as refraction. Despite the fact that its proponents convincingly show that realist fiction

does more than aspire to hold a mirror up to nature an enduring, and reductive, account still

maintains that realism is fundamentally premised on reflecting human life.19 However, this

ascription of a purely reflective quality to neo-realism is incongruent with the use of language in

the respective novels of Flores and Castillo. Language in these texts is not premised on imitation

for its own sake but on an aesthetic re-creation as the basis for interrogating the way in which

select experiences, and the discourses around them, are variously occluded by truth regimes or

naturalized as realities. In particular, language is oriented by a depiction of the San Diego-

Tijuana region in Along the Border Lies and the southwestern corridor of Cabuche-El Paso-

Juárez in The Guardians. While the lifeworld of each is fundamentally distinct, the unifying

characteristic is the fictional resistance to closure rendered most acutely through character

experience. Specifically, non-chronological structures and shifting narrative modes foreclose the

possibility of narrative resolution and in doing so reveal how analyses of border violence are

predicated on a major conceptual flaw by perceiving the U.S.-Mexico borderline as a stable

territorial referent.

Along the Border Lies depicts character experience of the San Diego-Tijuana border zone

as out of order and devoid of an endpoint in order to stage a narrative impasse and thus suggest

the consequences of privileging the border as space rather than also attending to the temporalities

that circulate through and across it. In terms of character and organization the novel tracks the

intertwined narratives of the Mexican-American Alfredo and the Tijuanense Miranda. Neither

the accounts of Alfredo’s shooting spree, evocative of contemporary U.S. border militias, nor

Miranda’s exploitation of family connections to, and the material processes of, NAFTA in what

is currently known as drug-running by “narco-juniors,”20 provide definitive endings. As a matter

of fact, while Along the Border Lies thematically links the narratives of Alfredo, Miranda, and to

a lesser degree Miranda’s boyfriend Edgar, the text defers the resolution of their plotlines to a

more ambiguous conclusion. On the one hand, the characters are linked in that Edgar’s friend

provides Alfredo and his fellow cadets weapons with which they shoot and kill Mexicans

crossing into the San Ysidro canyon, one of whom, the text implies, is Miranda’s cousin. On the

other hand, the end of Alfredo’s story features him vowing to fight pending criminal charges;

Miranda, unaware of how her cousin died, fears she is the target of a cartel-sanctioned execution

and elopes north; and Edgar, whose subsection punctuates the novel, fretfully sits in his

apartment waiting for a police raid he is sure will come but that readers never actually see.

Ultimately, the text’s intersecting but ambiguous narratives illuminate the consequences of

assenting to the episteme that the U.S.-Mexico border is a fundamentally and singularly

territorial divider between nations. That is to say, the text mediates how space is reductively

equated with physical land, excluding the possibility of social space, so that the non-spatial

dimensions of border violence, portrayed in the novel as identity conflicts, prescriptive gender

roles, sociocultural imbalances and so on, are within the present-day non-literary context

excluded completely and impossible to locate. In doing so, the text shows that if the border is

conceptualized purely as a spatial divider capable of bisecting lived realities, then violence is

reified as internal to border communities rather than understood as epiphenomena of interrelated

systemic processes.

Whereas Flores’s novel exhibits a resistance to closure in terms of plot resolution, in

Castillo’s multi-perspectival text this takes the form of a limited interpretive capacity. In peculiar

ways, each character is linked to local forms of border violence which they cannot grasp in the

U.S. towns of Cabuche and El Paso and Juárez in Mexico. Paradoxically, and significantly, it is

precisely these individual accounts which constitutes their shared experience and on a broader

level registers the systemic and transnational dimensions of border violence. That is to say,

individually the narrative explanations of border violence are inconclusive, but read as a

composite they actually foreground how state and popular discourses that overemphasize and

misconstrue space undergird the prevailing belief that border violence is endemic to Mexico. In

order to do so, Castillo draws on four distinct linguistic registers that belong to the novel’s main

characters. By thus constructing an imagined world inhabited by characters where the object of

their description, border violence, is in excess of their descriptive and analytic capacity, Castillo

shows the problem of viewing the U.S.-Mexico border through a singularly territorial frame of

reference. Ultimately, this pressure applied to territoriality suggests an alternative vocabulary

with which to revisit the paradigm that border violence is intertwined at both the individual and

state levels.

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