With so much emphasis put on it in Gloria Anzaldúa’s “Speaking In Tongues: A Letter To 3rd World Women Writers,” I believe it necessary to pose an initial query before delving into the rest of the piece: namely, what is “writing”? I believe this question to take on added significance in this our time of modernity, where text circulates freely in multifarious form. It has always struck me odd that so much power has been granted to a seemingly ordinary gerund, for we are in the midst of writing all the time. Thinking is an act of writing minus the pen; conversation, an act of writing that lacks a stenographer. When I get coffee in the morning, I “write” to the cashier that I would like it black and without sugar, and when I sleep at night my mind “writes” me to fey places of which I have no recollection upon waking. It then seems to me that “writing” is the most ordinary and pervasive act of the human mind.
Therefore, when writers speak of writing, which they are certainly wont to do, of what they really speak is when writing meets or fails to meet the requirements of a particular literary form. To wit, when I sit down to write, I seek to organize my thoughts against the backdrop of poetry, drama, fiction, letters, or essay. And It is in this clash between thought and form that a feminist criticism can be born. These literary genres are indeed the products of a culture of learning that was forged in the history of patriarchy and forces determined to defend the status quo; it is only in our recent history that the universities have opened their doors for women and minorities.
It is with this in mind, that Anzaldúa’s letters begin to take on significance. Her call is for women (and especially minority women) to challenge these forms, to distort them, to refract their experiences through them. “Through away your abstraction and the academic learning, the rules, the map and compass. Feel your way without blinders. To touch more people, the personal realities and the social must be evoked–not through rhetoric but through blood and pus and sweat” (Anzaldúa p. 173). This appeal to women writers is well founded: How can our literary canon be accurate of our common human experience while nearly excluding half of its participants? Indeed it is necessary to open the cannon and enfranchise all groups to be able to contribute to it. Though, in the above quote, I must quibble with Anzaldúa for using a trope (the metaphor of “blood and sweat and pus”) to argue against rhetoric.
There is a another inconsistency in her epistolary rhetoric, that I would like to touch on, but surely goes beyond the scope of this paper. That is, there is an implicit binary, if a writer (male or female) conceptualizes writing as a fetishized act. “The writing possesses me and propels me to leap into a timeless, spaceless no-place where I forget myself and feel I am the universe. This is power” (Anzaldúa p. 172). To separate oneself from the process of writing, to objectify it and bestow upon it a distant alterity, which once reconnected with provides a sense of completion and power, is, in effect, to “feminize” it, in the manner of Freud’s conception of the Oedipal complex. Here, writing is the mother’s lost phallus, that which will grant wholeness. It seems that Anzaldúa, in condemning patriarchy, has slipped into its logic. In fighting against the suppression of the other as manifested in social and societal relations, she solidifies the concept of the other on an ideological level. I don’t believe this to be sufficient enough criticism to condemn completely her battle-cry, but until the very concept of alterity is extinguished, it shall be a battle cry that needs to be sounded again and again.