“The godhead is unstrung “: On Gloria Anzaldúa’s Celebration of the Body and the End of Patriarchy

J. Edgar Bauer, Germany

“Until there is complete Presence there can only be mythology and metaphysics. Meanwhile poetry marks the vicissitudes of the attempt at immediacy.” Lewis Thompson, 1984, p. 54

 1. Indexes of resistance  

U.S. American poet, essayist and cultural theorist of Chicano extraction Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004) once depicted herself as “[a] third world lesbian feminist with Marxist and mystic leanings” (Anzaldúa, 1983a, p. 205. Italics in the original). Accordingly, her writings were highly critical of America’s political landscape and advocated resistance to sexual, racial and cultural assimilation. Anzaldúa’s defiant nonconformity is discernible even at a linguistic level, inasmuch as her texts often include untranslated Castilian, Chicano Spanish, and Amerindian expressions and sentences that constitute hurdles for the English-language readership she primarily addressed (Anzaldúa, 1987, pp.55-61).   As regards the contents of her writings, Anzaldua’s shamanistic self-understanding as a “shape-changer” (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 66) and her full-fledged espousal of “spiritual activism” (Anzaldúa, 2000e, p. 178; Anzaldúa, 2009d, p. 292) have appealed to ethnic minority groups and academic specialists, but have failed to attract the interest of wider audiences. It is thus not surprising that although Anzaldúa’s texts marked the emergence of gender and queer studies in the late eighties and early nineties, their general reception has hardly been commensurate with their emancipatory and theoretical relevancy.

2. “The mark of the Beast”

Among the late twentieth-century critics of the Western conception of sexuality, Anzaldúa took a singular stance. While her intellectual peers were mostly concerned with structural factors—socio-economical or otherwise—that hinder sexual fulfilment, Anzaldúa focus on the sexed body reflects deep autobiographical associations with her experience of pain, suffering and shame. As Anzaldúapointed out, she began having menstrual bleedings when she was three months old due to a rare hormonal dysfunction (Anzaldúa, 2000f, pp. 19, 23; Anzaldúa, 2000g, pp. 78, 92;Anzaldúa, 2000d, p. 169), and her adult life was marred by “very severe menstrual periods” (Anzaldúa, 2009e, p. 78). To alleviate the pain that had become her “normal way of life” (Anzaldúa, 2000g, p. 93), Anzaldúa decided in 1980 to have a hysterectomy (Anzaldúa, 2000g, p. 92). The psychological wounds her illness left behind were however more harrowing than the immediate physical distress. Since “[t]he bleeding distanced her from others” (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 43), she grew up convinced “that something was fundamentally wrong” with her (Anzaldúa, 1987, pp. 42-43), and eventually developed an intense sense of shame “for being abnormal” (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 43). Anzaldúa encapsulated the quandaries of her condition in one of the most personal texts in her entire published corpus: “La vulva esunaheridaabierta / The vulva is an open wound.”…Access Full Text of the Article