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Healing from Awakened Dreams: Anzaldúa as Individual and Collective Witness

  • Cassie Premo Steele

Abstract

Healing from the effects of traumatic history begins with reconstructing and witnessing, as we have seen with regard to Sexton’s and Lorde’s writing. Now we will examine Anzaldúa’s writing, which shows how witnessing is necessary on both individual and collective levels. As we saw in chapter 3, Anzaldúa’s writing demonstrates the ways in which traumatic history continues to affect the inheritors of that history both individually and collectively. In this chapter we will first examine the individual level of witnessing through a close reading of Anzaldúa’s poem, “that dark shining thing,” in which memories are turned from problems into solutions in the presence of a witness who mutually experiences these reconstructions. Then, we will explore Anzaldúa’s poem, “Matriz sin tumba o [Womb without tomb],” as an enactment of collective witnessing. In this poem, Anzaldúa serves as a shaman, one who witnesses to the destruction of a culture, in order to bring about healing for the people.

Keywords

Traumatic History Traumatic Memory Creative Force Traumatic Violence Autobiographical Essay 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See Anzaldúa’s interview with Ann Louise Keating, “Writing, Politics, and las Lesberadas: Platicando con Gloria Anzaldúa,” Frontiers 14:1 (1993): 105–130, p. 112. Cited in text as Anzaldúa 1991.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    Bessel A. van der Kolk and Onno van der Hart, “The Intrusive Past: The Flexibility of Memory and the Engraving of Trauma,” Trauma: Explorations in Memory, ed. Cathy Caruth (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995): 158–182, p. 176.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    See her “Embodied Memory, Transcendence, and Telling: Recounting Trauma, Re-establishing the Self,” New Literary History 26 (1995): 169–195, p. 176.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Ada Burris, M.D. “Somatization as a Response to Trauma,” Victims of Abuse: The Emotional Impact of Child and Adult Trauma, ed. Alan Sugarman, Ph.D. (Madison, WI: International Universities Press, Inc., 1994): 131–137, pp. 133 and 135.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Root, “Reconstructing the Impact of Trauma on Personality,” Personality and Psychopathology: Feminist Reappraisals, ed. Laura S. Brown and Mary Ballou (New York: The Guilford Press, 1992): 229–265, p. 238.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    The term “soul” here is used with reference to one of Anzaldúa’s influences, James Hillman, particularly in his Re-visioning Psychology (New York: Harper and Row, 1975).Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    In his seminal work on collective memory, Maurice Halbwachs writes, “One witness we can always call on is ourself” (22). While this is true for ordinary experience, what makes traumatic experience different is precisely the absence of an internal witness during the event itself. See Collective Memory, trans. Francis J. Ditter, Jr. and Vida Yazdi Ditter (New York: Harper and Row, 1980).Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    “Truth and Testimony: The Process and the Struggle,” Trauma: Explorations in Memory, ed. Cathy Caruth (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995): 61–75, p. 66.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Ana Louise Keating reads this poem as one that “graphically illustrates the highly emotional, terrifying nature of this encounter with the self-become-other(ed)” in her “(De)Centering the Margins?” in Other Sisterhoods: Literary Theory and U. S. Women of Color, ed. Sandra Kumamoto Stanley (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1998): 23–43, p. 32.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Lawrence Langer notes that Holocaust survivors’ testimonies tend to carry the most anguish over issues of guilt, what one did and did not do that caused one’s survival in the face of others’ deaths. See Langer, Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    See “Trauma and Aging: A Thirty-Year Follow-Up,” Trauma: Explorations In Memory, ed. Cathy Caruth (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995): 76–99, p. 83.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    “Metaphors in the Tradition of the Shaman,” Conversant Essays: Contemporary Poets on Poetry, ed. James McCorkle (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990): 99–100.Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    Culbertson, p. 177. The connection between trauma and shamanism is also made by Joan Halifax in Shamanic Voices: A Survey of Visionary Narratives (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1979), p. 5.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    See Markman and Markman, p. 4–5. Also see Vicki Noble, Motherpeace: A Way to the Goddess (San Francisco: Harper Press, 1983), p. 4.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    Amos Segala, “Literature nahuatl,” Cuadernos Americanos 6:24 (Nov.–Dec. 1990): 9–29, p. 12.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    Maria Montes de Oca Rickes, Mediating the Past: Continuity and Diversity in the Chicano Literary Tradition, Ph.D. dissertation, (University of South Carolina, 1991), p. 97–98.Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    All citations in this paragraph are from “La Prieta,” in This Bridge Called My Back, ed. Anzaldúa and Moraga (New York: Kitchen Table Press, 1981): 198–209.Google Scholar
  18. 22.
    Anzaldúa herself never uses the term “hysterectomy” but Ana Castillo does, in “Un Tapiz: The Poetics of Conscientización,” in The Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (New York: Plume, 1995): 163–179, p. 172.Google Scholar
  19. 24.
    See Erich Neumann, The Great Mother: An Analysis of an Archetype, trans. Ralph Manheim (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), p. 77.Google Scholar
  20. 25.
    For more on Tlazolteotl, see Todorov, The Conquest of America, trans. Richard Howard (New York: HarperPerennial, 1992), p. 231; and Markman and Markman, The Flayed God: The Mythology of Mesoamerica (San Francisco: Harper, 1992), pp. 166–167.Google Scholar
  21. 27.
    For more on these aspects of Tlazolteotl, see Gene S. Stuart, The Mighty Aztecs (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1981), p. 137; and Tey Diana Rebolledo, Women Singing in the Snow: A Cultural Analysis of Chicana Literature (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995), pp. 51 and 68.Google Scholar
  22. 29.
    From J. E. Circot, A Dictionary of Symbols, 2nd ed., trans. from the Spanish by Jack Sage (New York: Philosophical Library, 1971), p. 233.Google Scholar
  23. 31.
    The origins of shamanism are addressed by Mircea Eliade in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. William R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964), p. 333.Google Scholar

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© Cassie Premo Steele 2000

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  • Cassie Premo Steele

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