Publication Date

April 2015

Advisor(s)

Rachel Ellis Neyra

Major

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality, English

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

This thesis tracks the recreations of This Bridge Called My Back into seven different anthologies from 1981 to 2015 to describe its contributions to feminist and literary discourse. Edited by Cherr’e Moraga and Gloria Anzald’a, This Bridge was one of the first works to unite women of different races and ethnicities under the term “women of color.’ This Bridge was first published in 1981 by Persephone Press, and has now been republished three times by three different publishers. Moreover, Moraga and Anzald’a each produced new anthologies modeled after the original text. That repetition and variation suggests that This Bridge continues to be a relevant and provocative theoretical model for feminists of different generations. Its critique of racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia are certainly relevant today in an age when Americans must be reminded that ’black lives matter.” While a great deal of the work about This Bridge analyzes the anthology in depth, to this day there has not been a historical study of the text that unites all of its iterations in one analysis. My thesis attempts to fill this gap in the scholarship. My contributions to the body of literature about This Bridge Called My Back are historical, situational, and coalitional. In the first chapter, I draw attention to the historical trajectory of This Bridge, and position it the progeny of American black feminist thought since the Civil War. In doing so, I wish to dispel a commonly held assertion that This Bridge was written solely in response to second wave white feminist discourse. Moreover, I perform a close reading of key materials in the 1981 and 1983 editions such as the cover image, title, and prefatory materials to explore the significance of the metaphor “this bridge called my back.” I utilize vocabulary from G’rard Genette’s Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation to enrich my analysis. In the second chapter, I discuss This Bridge’s critical reception and its contribution to the genre of feminist anthologies. Moreover, I analyze This Bridge within the scholarly debates about the nature of theory in the 1980s, synthesizing its theoretical interventions with the work of Barbara Christian, Teresa de Lauretis, and Norma Alarc’n. In the following chapters, I repeat my material analysis that I performed in the first chapter on four different anthologies. In the third chapter, I analyze the Spanish edition, Esta puente, mi espalda (1988) in conversation with Making Face, Making Home/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color (1990). In the fourth chapter, I compare the third edition of This Bridge (2002) with this bridge we call home: radical visions for transformation (2002). The coda, “The Bridge to the Future / La Puente al Futuro,” discusses the newly published fourth edition of This Bridge (2015). In bringing these seven texts in conversation with one another, I view my analysis as a situational contribution to the literature on This Bridge, as I have not yet come across a study that analyzes the entire corpus of works based off of This Bridge. In situating all of these works together, I argue for a reading of This Bridge not as a singular text but as a collection of ’variations on a theme.’ I am indebted in this regard to black theorist James A. Snead’s conception of the importance of “repetition as a figure of black culture,’ which I use in the third chapter to elaborate my idea of ’variations on a theme.’ Borrowing from Snead, I explore the repeating elements from the original text of This Bridge in each of the related anthologies, conceiving of the entire collection as ’variations on a theme,” focusing on the repeating and changing elements in each iteration. This analysis allows me to sketch how these variations on the themes of This Bridge are related to changes within the women of color feminist paradigm. Though much of the original content remains unchanged in each edition, I examine the variations on the original theme of This Bridge by closely reading what G’rard Genette would term “the paratext.” In each chapter, I look at paratexts with different locations, dates of appearance, senders, addressees, and functions. I combine peritextual and epitextual materials from diverse time periods as well as diverse senders. I feel that it is important that I do so because This Bridge is a multiple-voiced anthology. As the paratexts originate from different allographic and authorial sources, I aim to outline the multiple renderings of feminism in each anthology. Though I continue to use the term “paratexts” out of convenience, I come to a different understanding of the paratexts in the third chapter. They are at times the more fertile sites of variation than the text itself. Thus, though Genette defines these materials as servile, I understand the paratexts as important in their own right. I offer not only a different conception of the paratext but also a variation of how books are made: I insist on authors, publishers, editors, readers, and critics who are gendered female, and who use not just pen and paper to create books, but bring their materially embodied experience to every page of the text. By thinking with French literary theory, black feminist thought, and queer of color critique, I perform the coalitional work that the editors and contributors of This Bridge envisioned. In these pages, I draw from G’rard Genette, Patricia Hill Collins, Cynthia Franklin, Barbara Christian, Norma Alarc’n, James A. Snead, and Jos’ Esteban Mu’oz. I synthesize the works of black women, white women, Latinas, queer black men, and queer Latinos with This Bridge. Particularly, in the fourth chapter, I describe the connections between This Bridge and two essays by Mu’oz to outline the coalitional possibilities between queer people of color that Mu’oz, Moraga and Anzald’a envisioned. I draw on these sources to enrich my reading of This Bridge to demonstrate the text’s relevance to many different groups in solidarity. In the end of the thesis, I engage with the newly published (March 2015) fourth edition of This Bridge to predict the text’s utility for a new generation of coalitional feminists of color.

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