Saturday, March 18, 2006

Arc d'X

In the very year of Arc d'X's publication, 1993, I was writing my dissertation. I may have even have noticed it when it first appeared in bookstores. That I can't be certain of, but it is true that I've known of this novel's existence for many, many years. I know that in the past I've even picked it up and read the jacket blurbs and everything. I am now reading it in earnest, though, and it both fascinates and pains me to realize that Arc d'X exactly dramatizes that which I argued in my dissertation and am arguing in the book my dissertation will (I hope) become.

That argument in brief is that narratives of miscegenation from the Americas can be read as tropes of the New World itself: the coming-into-existence of a space (and a people) that was not "supposed" to happen and that, more importantly, so alters the thinking of those in power that the change can only be described as "apocalyptic," in the senses of both "destruction" and "revelation." Ponder for a moment the oxymoronic quality of the term "New World" to see what I'm getting at.

Latin American literature has a long tradition of novels that talk about miscegenation as the foundation of peoples, if not nations themselves. Mexico's version of this story, the figuring of Cortés and his female Indian translator, Doña Marina (also known as La Malinche) as the symbolic parents of the Mexican people (they conceived a child together), is (still) an enormously resonant and complex--and painful--one: in Mexico, malinchista means traitor, a betrayer. But by comparison, canonical American literature, with the notable exceptions of African-American literature and Faulkner, has been reticent on the subject of miscegenation (to be sure, though, non-canonical literature has no shortage of stories on the subject). At any rate, though miscegenation has often figured as a plot device in North American novels, to my knowledge none has ever posited characters of different races as a sort of primal scene of the origins of the American people . . . until, that is, Arc d'X.

The new father (and mother) of our country: Thomas Jefferson and Sally Heming.

More later.

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1 comment:

jmb said...

The idea of the Malinchista must be in the zeitgeist right now, I just read Ask
a Mexican!
and it also mentions this story. Another great read about the miscegenation of the Americas is "Aztec" by Gary Jennings.