Beyond the “Posts”
- Author: Hwang Junghyun
- Publish: Feminist Studies in English Literature Volume 22, Issue3, p33~58, Dec 2014
This paper examines Jessica Hagedorn’s postmodern novel
Dogeatersas a possible mode of critical engagement with the unavoidable reality of postmodernity. The text’s postmodern literary techniques reflect the cultural conditions of its own production, while the narrative addresses the questions of (neo)colonial history and subjectivity in our contemporary world of accelerated border-crossings. Hagedorn employs the strategy of disidentification as a means to reconceptualize the modern subject as the transnational intersubject, co-formed through the dialectics across global capitalist space and neocolonial time. The text, woven with characteristically postmodern literary devices, opens up the very contradictory space of postmodernism itself. As a self-reflexive mimicry of the postmodern conditions of production, it brings to the fore the conflict between the mimicked images of the First World and realities of the Third World.
Jessica Hagedorn , Dogeaters , Asian American literature , postmodernism , postcolonialism , transnationalism , subjectivity , disidentification
The mixed reception of Jessica Hagedorn’s 1990 novel
Dogeatersis illustrative of the ambivalent nature of the text as a postmodern/postcolonial cultural product. While some scholars in the US acclaimed the work as artistically enacting the conditions of postmodernity, others criticized it for “its exoticization of Philippine culture” and “its celebration of an upper-class, apolitical, cosmopolitan identity” (Balce 56). The world since then continues to be characterized and determined by the postmodern culture of consumption and transnational capitalism, and Hagedorn’s text still defies a simplistic classification either as being collusive with global capital and neocolonial relations or as being potentially revolutionary, both politically and sexually. For all its controversial limits and possibilities as a postmodern work of art, the novel is in the final analysis a chronicle of the ongoing detrimental effects of (neo)colonialism in the Philippines. As E. San Juan, Jr. admits, the author after all “seeks to render in a unique postmodernist idiom a century of US-Philippine encounters” (118). Dogeaterscan be regarded as Hagedorn’s struggle with postmodernity itself as an unavoidable reality and her way to critically engage with it. The postmodern techniques employed in the text reflect the very cultural conditions of its own production, but the primary concerns of the narrative are the questions of history and identity—histories of (neo)colonial encounters and possible forms of agency for the Philippines in the increasingly transnationalizing fields of intersubjective and international relations. In doing so, Hagedorn employs the strategy of disidentification as a means to reconceptualize the modern Cartesian subject as the transnational intersubject. The intersubject, according to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, is always already an embodied being in the world, co-formed in the complex fields of relations with other subjects. In other words, Hagedorn critically portrays the ways in which modern Filipino subjects become constructed as the Cartesian subjects, interpellated by the Marcos-era Filipino nationalist and US-centered neocolonial/global capitalist regimes of power, and by having Rio and Joey, the two primary first-person narrators, self-consciously disidentify with such hailing, she ultimately brings the process to the reader’s critical attention.
Critics who find Hagedorn’s novel problematic are mainly concerned with its postmodern mode of representation. They are worried that postmodernism’s tendency to destabilize any prescribed social meaning will return as a boomerang to foreclose any positive engagement with the concrete historical world. Delineating postmodern literary techniques employed in
Dogeaters, San Juan, Jr. calls attention to the text’s de-historicizing effects:
Represented as a cinematic spectacle, the Philippines of the novel could be any Third-World society floating in the familiar image-world of America, unmoored from specific historical contexts. Embedded in “a rich multilayered discourse” and empowered by “the capitalist principle of repetition,” he argues, this work of the “culture of repetition” reduces “even parody, satire, and irony to aspects of a relativistic and redundant cosmos,” against which any intimation of resistance can only be “a stylized gesture of protest” (126).
Similarly, Myra Mendible sees Hagedorn as a kind of native informant, as it were, who displays her characters for the scrutinizing gaze of the Western reader: They are “the object of scrutiny, the exotic spectacle presented for our information and knowledge, the natives as imagined (theorized) by the ‘nativist’” (292). The novel as a postmodern enactment of spectacle is ultimately self-undermining because in “creating a space for repressed or marginalized histories by destabilizing the epistemological bases of power,” it also denies “those histories any credibility” (301). In dissolving all claims of knowledge into the world of simulacrum, according to her, it simultaneously dismisses the feasibility of a coherent subject to make any meaningful engagement with history and culture.
As Louis Althusser laid out, social hegemony is ensured by the reproduction of the conditions of production, which include both the productive forces and the existing relations of production. In this light, the above two critiques are pertinent in warning against postmodern “culture of repetition” reproducing dominant social relations, especially, in the form of US-normative pluralism, which celebrates differences in cultures and lifestyles while obscuring the real social relations of domination and subordination. Due to uneven development, however, a totalizing reproduction of hegemony is impossible and, as San Juan, Jr. himself acknowledges, “[c]onjunctural opportunities” can be seized in gaps, fissures, and cleavages opened up in the field of negotiating positions; hence, “the ambiguous, equivocal effect” of
Dogeatersremains potentially revolutionary (128).
Other critics, on the other hand, propose postmodernism as a useful tool to critique modernist agendas and to articulate transnational cultures. Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan read postmodernism as the symptom of postmodernity, illuminating the ways in which “a culture of modernity is produced in diverse locations” (5). As “cultural expressions” of “scattered hegemonies,” postmodern works of art problematize the mystification process of Western culture as “modern” and “original” and simultaneously disrupt the reification of non-Western cultures as “primitive” and “traditional” (7). Similarly for Lisa Lowe, postmodern writing can be “decolonizing” (103) through “horizontal” or “metonymic” contagion that ruptures the “vertical” or “metaphorical” hierarchization, exploring instead an alternative to the developmental narrative of the realist novel (115).
Also, contrary to the critical suspicion about postmodern denial of history and agency, some scholars find in
Dogeaterspossibilities of political resistance to nationalist, neocolonialist, and global capitalist relations. For Viet Thanh Nguyen, Hagedorn’s text proposes “the possibility of political revolution as a sexual revolution also” by placing the queer body as the subject of the anti-dictatorial movement (138). Juliana Chang argues that excessive performances of femininity such as masquerade and hysteria are symptoms of neocolonial relations, which in turn points to an excess, the subaltern feminine, whose reproductive labor is disavowed only to enable sexual labor for the military-tourist industries (655). Stephen Hong Sohn also locates the deployment of queer sexuality within the circuits of transnational capital and neocolonial relations in Marcos-era Manila.
Still other critics suggest that we read Hagedorn’s text “beyond” and “between” the meta-narratives of postmodernism and postcolonialism in order to explore the possibilities of political agency as well as to expose the violence of colonial rationality. For Kristen Twelbeck,
Dogeatersinsists on “the necessity” of constructing a historical consciousness and a strategic identity while “discerning the motivations and historical circumstances behind this necessity” (427). For John Hyland, similarly, the postcolonial discourse of “hybridity” can disclose “the very violent histories” of colonial modernity that produced hybridity itself by shifting the critical focus from “textuality” to “performance,” from “written” to “embodied culture” (5-6). Both critics argue that Hagedorn employs a strategy of “disidentification” to go beyond the postmodern spectacle or to “circumscribe an indeterminacy that thrives on the illusion of incoherence” (Hyland 8). In fact, Dogeaterscompels the reader to refuse to identify with the postmodern image-text it presents by filtering it through the distancing, disidentifying the double consciousness of Rio and Joey, the two first-person narrative voices.
If the bildungsroman represents the narrative regime of identity or “a cultural institution of subject formation” (Lowe 103),
Dogeaterscan be characterized as an “inverted bildungsroman,” a narrative of failed identity or disidentity. In a racist society, in David Lloyd’s notion of “an inverted bildungsroman,” racialized individuals attempt but cannot fully assimilate into the public sphere. This experience produces a “consciousness that revolts,” and “it reveals the insistence of splitting rather than the fulfillment of a developed Subject” (Lloyd 85, qtd. in Dokko 256). Both Rio and Joey, rather than “progressing” from innocence to experience, split off or take flight from the prescribed neocolonial identity to become a nomadic global traveler and an anti-government guerilla fighter, respectively. Disidentification, in this sense, is an effect of alienation that creates a third space to rethink existing contradictions for alternative possibilities. “Disidentification,” as Lowe puts it, “expresses a space in which alienations, in the cultural, political, and economic senses, can be rearticulated in oppositional forms,” and this space allows for “the exploration of alternative political and cultural subjectivities” (103, italics added). The strategy of disidentification, in other words, is fundamentally dialectical, and it opens the way to a radical reconceptualization of the subject as intersubjects, always already interconnected within a historical and material horizon. In Dogeaters, I would argue, Hagedorn strives to envision nothing less than alternative subjectivities for the postmodern/postcolonial Philippines as transnational intersubjects, co-formed through dialectics across subjects/nations and over histories.
The interpellation of the subject by the socialization process is premised upon the Cartesian idea of identity whereas for Merleau-Ponty, disidentity is inherent in and constitutive of subjectivity itself. The Cartesian subject is disembodied reason, which simply contemplates an objective world from outside of it, presupposing the correspondence between an independently existing reality and its meaning supposedly garnered “scientifically” and “objectively” by the knowing subject. The Cartesian subject presupposes the opposition between the subject and the world, and this opposition actually assumes the sameness between the two because the subject believes he can construct the world/the other as he knows it. This is how the ideology of subject formation in general proceeds, and Hagedorn illustrates how modern Filipino subjects get constructed according to Marcos-era nationalism and US neocolonialism. But her first-person narrators are quite conscious of this process and deliberately disidentify with it. The process of their critical distancing or disidentification is made possible because Rio and Joey always see themselves and others around them in relations to one another, in the complex field of inter-relations; that is, their subjectivities are formed always as intersubjectivity.
For Merleau-Ponty, subjects are always intersubjects. They are not disembodied reason but bodily beings living in the world, and as embodied beings, they have to use their bodily perceptions to perceive not only the outside world but also themselves: I hear myself speak, so I am both the subject that speaks and the object that is heard by myself. Also, this process of self-perception occurs in space and time, and it entails a time lag as I come to myself not only from inside but also from outside. When I hear myself speak, for example, do I hear it from inside or outside? When I hold both my hands, am I touching or being touched? I am an object-body perceived by my sensory organs from outside while I am the subject that perceives it from inside. I almost simultaneously speak and hear myself, which happens in a circle of time and space—a circle that never closes into a circle. So there is this splitting/time lag between myself as the object-body perceived from outside in and my inner self-perception, and this splitting occurs over time in the realm of the material world. Through this process, the human subject comes into existence, or she is formed as intersubject—always in the world, in relation to other subjects and over the passage of time.
In Merleau-Ponty’s words, the subject is “destined to the world” (xii): the subject is the
embodiedbeing conditioned to inhabitthe world, whose consciousness is necessarily mediated by bodily perceptions in constant interaction with the world; as being-in-the-world, human perspective is constrained by space and time, and since the world being always the social world, consciousness is inevitably determined by history and culture as well. As the bodily-being inhabiting the world, the perceiving subject is itself object to be perceived, and in the process of the subject-perceiving-itself-in-the-world, there is a lag, slippage, or a circle that is almostbut never completely closed. This splitting creates a span of time and space, opening the subject into the world. This noncoincidence in the process of myself-perceiving-myself is, in Laura Doyle’s words, “the pivot of my-existence-in-the-world, the split second when existence happens”; this constitutive incommensurability is the existential condition in which “I am from the start outside myself and open to the world.”
This slippage inherent in the constitution of subjectivity enables the self to place herself in relation to other subjects as intersubjects, and this self-consciousness of oneself as an object in a complex field of relations allows the subject to see and possibly resist the interpellation. This opening in the moment of self-relation, when the subject perceives herself perceiving, can be exposed to invasive others—stipulations of racist society, for example—alienating the subject’s self-relation and triggering tormented self-consciousness and distorted self-perception, even self-loathing. This is how Merleau-Ponty’s intersubjective phenomenology, according to Doyle, is embedded in W. E. B. Du Bois’s notion of “double consciousness” and Franz Fanon’s notion of “third-person consciousness”—“this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” In a dialectic inversion, however, the alienated subject is simultaneously enabled to situate herself within the onto-social relations, see the contradictions between self-relation and the intrusive world, and possibly choose to resist and disidentify with the interpellation.
As outlined in the beginning, the bifurcated critical receptions of
Dogeaterswere tied to the opposing views about postmodernism either as a pessimistic progression of totalization and Americanization or as an optimistic process of hybridization and diversity. The debate on postmodernism reflects a similar impasse of binarism in discussions about the overarching transnational phenomena called globalization. As Fredric Jameson defines it, globalization is “an untotalizable totality which intensifies binary relations between its parts—mostly nations, but also regions and groups, which, however, continue to articulate themselves on the models of ‘national identities’” (xii). It is a totality that almostbut never completely reproduces itself by intensifying binary oppositions, and it may be useful, as Jameson suggests, to return to Hegelian dialectic to uncover the “ultimate contradictions behind them” or maybe within them:
The Opposition between Identity and Difference is premised upon the idea of the Cartesian subject insisting upon the sameness from the other whereas Opposition unveiled as Contradiction points to Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the intersubject constituted out of the inherent slippage or contradiction of identity and nonidentity. Transnational intersubjectivity opens up this chasm of incommensurability to place subjects and nations in dialectical relations across global capitalist space and neocolonial time. In
Dogeaters, Rio and Joey perceive themselves as intersubjects: they place themselves and others around them in relational and historical perspectives, and their intersubjectivity is transnational in that their relational/historical perceptions are situated in US-Philippines transnational relationships. Rio and Joey, in this sense, are intersubjects conscious of transnational and transhistorical entanglements of power.
Hagedorn dramatizes in
Dogeatersmultiple levels of contradictions largely deriving from incongruities between postmodern cultural space and postcolonial socio-political reality. The text is built on continuously emerging and interweaving contradictory sites in which identity is punctured by difference, linearity disrupted, and totality shattered into collage images. Written in “the English mixed with Spanish and Tagalog” claimed “as our own” in order to conquer the “trilingual nightmare,” and composed of “fragments of overheard dialogue, newspaper clippings, found historical documents, soap opera plots, the script for a radio melodrama” (Hagedorn, “Conference” 148), the narrative of Dogeatersproblematizes the nature of representation in which truth is blurred with gossip and history is merged with fiction. Moreover, in textualizing characteristically postmodern literary devices like the episodic structure with shifting points of view, disparate images, and dissimilar narratives, the text opens up the contradictory space of postmodernism itself. As a self-reflexive mimicry of the postmodern conditions of production, it brings to the fore the conflict between the mimicked images of the First World and realities of the Third World.
Narrative enactments of contradictions in representation are further developed by a web of intricate characterization. Vicente L. Rafael argues that the US colonization project under President McKinley’s rhetoric of “benevolent assimilation” was a homogenization process of transforming “the native races into a people,” of producing and reassembling their differences into a totality (196). The novel, however, reveals the “untotalizable totality” (Jameson xii) inherent in the colonial project: it displays the process of neocolonial subject formation only to disrupt it with disidentifying double consciousness. The coherent subject that identifies with the hailing of neocolonial injunctions becomes re-conditioned as a socially encircled intersubject, co-formed through the horizontal dialectics across the field of plural relations. Rio and Joey double-consciously observe Pucha and Romeo, respectively, identify with neocolonial spectacles only to disidentify with them in disgust, rupturing open the mystification process of neocolonial subject formation.
The novel opens with a scene of Rio and her cousin, Pucha, in the Avenue Theater—“Foremost! First-Run! English Movies Only!”—with
All That Heaven Allowsplaying in which Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman act in the “perfect picture-book American tableau” with “a garish baby-blue” sky and “ethereal wads of fluffy white cotton” clouds (3). Pucha complains about Jane Wyman for being “corny” and not good enough for her beloved Rock. For her, the fictional world of cinema blurs into reality; hence, she wails, “I dunno what Rock sees in her” (4). Rio, four years younger but always feeling older than her cousin, snaps back in her “driest tone of voice,” “It’s a love story” (4). Here, Pucha’s identification with the spectacle of the Hollywood cinema is ruptured by Rio’s wry observation. Putting Pucha and herself-observing-Pucha in the field of relations, Rio returns the gaze of spectacle and disidentifies with the neocolonial interpellation. At the same time, Rio and Pucha are re-positioned as socially encircled intersubjects, co-formed through horizontal dialectics as Rio self-consciously observes Pucha identifying with the neocolonial hailing.
A similar dialectic informs the interrelationship between Joey, the other first-person narrator, and Romeo, a working-class Filipino who avidly watches local films, feeding on the dream of himself becoming a movie star someday. Like Pucha, Romeo faithfully mimics the spectacle of neocolonial subjectivity. They never meet in person, but Joey watches Romeo perform on a TV talent show, finding him “pretty cute, but corny”: “Romeo whoever-he-is starts belting out ‘Feelings,’ only he sounds like he’s saying ‘
Peeling.’ He’s trying very hard, and he’s making me sick” (76). Romeo lacks self-consciousness of himself-perceiving-himself in the field of relations, and this alienation from self-relation allows his existential opening to the world usurped by neocolonial intruders. His inability to grasp himself in relations eventually costs him his life. Accidentally embroiled in the national politics of the Marcos-era Philippines, he is shot dead and framed as the assassin of Senator Avila, the leader of the anti-dictatorial movement. Joey also happens to be at the site of assassination, but he survives because he is always conscious of his position within the complex terrain of subjective players.
The dialectics of subjectivities occur not only across horizontal space but also over time since persons as a whole are perceiving subjects that make contact with the world and simultaneously, they are “
temporalbeings, beings who interact with their worlds in these ways over time”:
The neocolonial construction of a unitary Filipino national identity, disrupted when positioned in circumferential dynamics of intersubjects, is further ruptured when cast in historical perspectives. Multiply-interpellated modern Filipino identities are symbolically traceable in Rio’s and Joey’s family genealogies, which reflect centuries of colonial legacies from Spanish to American.
Rio’s family represents the white mestizo high society of Spanish and American descent. Her paternal relatives claim to be “direct descendants of Christopher Columbus,” while her paternal great-grandfather, allegedly Chinese from Macao, is discreetly silenced. Her maternal grandfather was from “somewhere in the Midwest” and her mother’s grandmother was an “illegitimate and beautiful offspring” of a Spanish missionary and his Filipina lover (238-9). Out of this nexus of colonial histories, Rio’s father, Freddie Gonzaga, is (trans)formed into a neocolonial subject with “flexible citizenship” (Ong 19): “a ‘guest’ in his own country,” he believes in “dual citizenships, dual passports, as many allegiances to as many countries as possible at any one given time” (7). Along with the Gonzagas, Severo Alacran, another Spanish mestizo with “flexible” capital, represents the postcolonial Filipino elites who collaborate with the authoritarian state and transnational capital: Alacran owns “
The Metro Manila Daily, Celebrity Pinoy Weekly, Radiomanila, TruCola Soft Drinks, plus controlling interests in Mabuhay Movie Studios, Apollo Records, and the Monte Vista Golf and Country Club,” and “SPORTEX, a futuristic department store” (18).
Rio’s present consciousness, inseparable from these past memories, is co-formed as part of “a continuing life history” (Matthews 60). In the end, Rio becomes a transnational nomad, “anxious and restless, at home only in airports,” constantly “fly[ing] around in circles” in her “futile attempts to reach what surely must be heaven” (247). Pucha, in fact, accuses her for “mix[ing] things up on purpose,” “trying to prove” something, and suggests that “if I were you,
prima, I’d leave well enough alone” (249). Mendible interprets the desire to “leave well enough alone” as a corresponding desire “to forget history” by “deferring the ‘truth’ of any historical or cultural knowledge claims” (300). But it is Pucha who expresses this desire to forget history, and Rio represents precisely the opposite desire for meaning, restlessly striving to reach “heaven” with “that crazy imagination of [hers]” (249). She is a transnational intersubject, constantly reformulating herself in the dynamic field of spatio-temporal relations.
On the opposite side of Rio’s elite status, Joey represents the underside of the neocolonial Philippines. He is a hybrid of an unknown African American GI and a Filipina “whore-mother,” Zenaida. Embodying the “excess” of the neocolonial state, his mother committed suicide in the river, “a watery grave black with human shit, every dead thing and piece of garbage imaginable” (42). She is simultaneously the “mother of a whore” and a “whore of a mother” (203), who not only reproduces illegitimately (Joey) but also reproduces illegitimacy (military prostitution): “her reproductive labor is disavowed as illegitimate; yet this disavowed labor enables the reproduction of sexual labor for the military-tourist industries” (Chang 655). Himself a surplus product of the neocolonial state and transnational capital, Joey is co-constituted as part of the “continuing life history” (Matthews 60).
Unlike Romeo, who always wanted to be looked at but never learned how to observe and critically read the world, Joey watches out, always conscious of his neocolonial genealogy. He performs as the racialized queer body, double-consciously seeing himself as the fetishized object of the neocolonial gaze of his First-World clients such as Neil, a white American GI, and Rainer, a German film director. Always perceiving himself as concurrently the object being perceived in the intersubjective neocolonial relations, he constantly assures himself that “[he’s] in control,” and that “[he’s]
nobody’s slave” (45, italics original). In the end, Joey also becomes nomadic like Rio. After having witnessed Senator Avila’s murder, he becomes a fugitive and joins the anti-government guerrilla force in the jungle, drifting into the state of namelessness. He is continuously in flight, refusing to accept any fixed notion of identity; rather, he is a nomadic subject constantly co-formed and revised as the fields of interrelations shift.
Rio’s deliberate making-up of stories indicates her desire to create her own history as a Filipino American; Joey desperately holds onto his personal history in order to survive; in this vein, as Twelbeck puts,
Dogeatersinsists on “the necessity of constructing a historical consciousness” (427). Also, in a similar sense, hybridity—the trope of the master narrative of the “posts”—can be contextualized within concrete history. As “a figure of the entanglements of encounter” within the specific history of the modern Philippines, hybridity can expose the “systemic violence” of “colonial rationality,” allowing us to think about “difference” in concrete terms and account for the more material aspects of violence (Hyland 5). And it is precisely this systemic violence that Hagedorn chronicles in her novel by unveiling the ways in which hybrid identities continue to take shape in the forms of coercive politico-cultural regimes and sustain the neocolonial relations of domination. Filtered through the two first-person narrative perspectives of Rio and Joey, the workings of neocolonial rationality are exposed with their material consequences on display, urging the reader to pay attention to the third space, the slippage between identity and nonidentity, and recast the Cartesian/(neo)colonial subject in the dialectics of transnational intersubjectivity.
The contradiction inherent in Identity/Difference dichotomy is further played out as Hagedorn tackles postmodernism itself as a problematic mode of social critique. She professes what critical end she had in mind in writing the novel:
“[B]rainwashed from infancy” by “the Spaniards with their imperialist Christianity” and “the Americans with their pseudo-rescue missions and insidious media,” she confesses she was taught to take whatever was “Made in the U.S.A.” as superior and Filipinos as “inherently lazy, shiftless, and undependable,” whose only talent is for “mimicry” (“Conference” 147). As her resistance to “the empire of white supremacy,” Hagedorn appropriates or
mimicsthe very strategies of the master discourse of the “posts” only to recast the formative rationality of colonial subjectivity in the relational field of intersubjectivity.
Reflecting the conditions of its own production,
Dogeatersmimics the postmodern simulacrum of spectacle, where characters seem to readily recognize themselves in the dominant images manufactured by the media and religion. Rio’s Lola Narcisa, her “shriveled brown” (17) Filipina grandmother, weeps with servants at “the inevitable, tragic conclusion” of a radio melodrama, Love Letters(11), and there is always a lesson to be learned, “always a painful one”: “Just like our Tagalog movies, the serial is heavy with pure love, blood debts, luscious revenge, the wisdom of mothers, and the enduring sorrow of Our Blessed Virgin Barbara Villanueva” (12). The religious image of Virgin Mary is reactivated in the media image of the Filipina actress, indoctrinating people, especially women, with the ideology of suffering and resignation as virtuous and redemptive. They are portrayed as spectators who dream their realities, not recognizing their own desires but identifying them with media and religious images. They are produced by the postmodern spectacle as the neocolonial subjects whose only desire seems to “sleep” as insinuated by the “Eye-Mo Eyedrops” commercial sponsoring the radio drama (211).
This mimicked self-image of Filipina women as obedient, well-disciplined, neocolonial subjects is evoked, however, only to expose the cracks and fissures inherent in the molded subjectivity. These pious women, Lola Narcisa and the servants, are the marginalized even within the peripheral Philippines, and their sacrosanct image-world reveals itself alienated from their reality— indeed a simulacrum for which the original never existed. These conflated images of Christian iconography and pop cultural idolatry mediate female subjugation, preaching “the virtue of passive suffering” and sanctifying oppression with the “promise of empowerment,” but Hagedorn “usurps and exploits” them, especially in the “Kundiman” chapter, to conjure up “sacred images of woman as a figure of redemption and hope” and to “defame the name of the Father and impugn the rule of the patriarchy” (Mendible 301-2).
Hagedorn begins the final chapter of her novel with a parody of the Lord’s Prayer by evoking the figure of the Mother in the place of the Father, and ends it with another twist to the Hail Mary:
The Mother’s will has not been realized and her kingdom failed to materialize; instead, she has been “defiled, belittled, and diminished” by what was overwriting this prayer to the Holy Mother—the patriarchal rule of the Father. The mother figure evoked is not Holy Mary, who is simultaneously a virgin and a mother and whose empowerment comes solely from “the fruit of [her] womb, Jesus”; rather, she is the “mother of revenge” and her blood is “menstrual, ephemeral, carnal,” and “eternal” all at the same time, carrying literally “the fruits” of the natural world in her womb instead of the son of God. The mother figure, in other words, evokes a fertility goddess as “awesome, powerful, transcendent” (Mendible 302), in the pre-patriarchal, pre-Christian phases of religious worship. Moreover, her image is contradictory— “sacred and profane, defiled and revered, sacrilegious and sacrosanct,” and Hagedorn, in this way, “not only rewrites classical patriarchal hagiography but also blasts apart the discourse of the modern, rational, secular subject” (Chang 659). Far from the docile subject, faithfully mimicking the sanctioned image and shouldering the burden of “beautiful suffering and insane endurance” (251) of neocolonial subjectivity, the evoked figure of the mother reveals the insistence of splitting, the constitutive incommensurability in which our embodied-being-in-the-world exists, revolting against and disidentifying with the injunctions of sameness.
As such, Hagedorne’s
Dogeatersportrays the on-going process of subject formation in our postmodern cultural and neocolonial capitalist regimes of power. Dwelling on the site of contradiction between Identity and Difference, it plays with the postmodern notions such as repetition and mimicry, hence unstable/disrupted/deauthorized subjectivities and deferred meanings, and recasts the contradictions of the postmodern cultural deployment into the neocolonial realities of the Third World. Read as a critiqueof postmodernism and neocolonialism as the author herself professes, Dogeatersis much more than “a stylized gesture of protest” as San Juan, Jr. indicts. As he is rightly concerned, playing in the minefield of postmodern simulacra requires from both the author and the reader a constant vigilance not to lose the grip of material reality. Nevertheless, in order to resist and critique contemporary sociopolitical phenomena, it can be a useful tactic to acknowledge and engage in the “unavoidable necessity of participating in the very activity that is being denounced precisely in order to denounce it” (Owens, qtd. in Mendible 301).