Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Yolanda's Central Violation

"I identify myself in language, but only after losing myself in it like an object. What is realized in my history is not the past definitive of what it was, since it is no more, or even the present perfect of what has been in what I am, but the future anterior of what I shall have been for what I am in the process of becoming"--Lacan

In Julia Alvarez' How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents, Yolanda (the central character) struggles with "losing [her]self in [language] like an object."  Her lover, John's, words seem like "babble" to her, just as her words fail her when trying to establish a loving connection that is not physical (78).  The above quote from Lacan (mind numbing as it is!) simultaneously points to both the future and past--the "future anterior"-- as Joseph Bristow illustrates, to provide "a projective tense that looks in anticipation to both the past and future, to what one will have been and to what one is going to become."

To get a better understanding of this, it helps to quote the first part of Lacan's notion of the "I" in language (and communication in general): "What I see in speech is the response of the other.What constitutes me as subject is my question. In order to be recognized by the other, I utter what was only in view of what will be. In order to find him, I utter a name that he must assume or refuse in order to reply to me."  

Yolanda clearly does not enjoy being called by her various nicknames, especially the Americanized Joe:  "Ay, Yolanda. Her mother pronounced her name in Spanish, her pure, mouth-filling, full-blooded name, Yolanda. But then, it was inevitable, like gravity, like night and day, little apple-bites when God's back is turned, her name fell, bastardized, breaking into a half dozen nicknames—'pobrecita Yosita'—another nickname" (81).  Yolanda has essentially refused to respond to John, as he does not provide her with the recognition she so direly needs: "She could not make out his words....they meant nothing to her. What are you trying to say? she kept asking. He spoke kindly, but in a language she had never heard before" (77).  "The proudly monolingual" John's words are hollow; he equates Yolanda's identity crisis with craziness, the former worsening as a result of the couple's failed relationship, as well as the failure of Yolanda's biggest crutch, words (73).   

Yolanda's fragmented nature, characteristic of all four Garcia sisters, divided between "poet" and "writer-slash-teacher," Dominican and American, Spanish and English, etc., is reflected by the reverse chronology of the narrative.  She must collapse time "to fit in what's left in the hollow of [her] story" (289).  Unraveling time in search of the traumatic event that haunts her dreams--with anticipation of what [she] will have been to what [she] is going to become--Yolanda (re)discovers--as an adult writing her own tale--her cruel act of torturing and maiming a kitten as a child.  The act of creatively relaying her pain via creative literature (yes, I'm saying Yolanda is a shadow of Garcia!), helps Yolanda discover "the violation that lies at the center of [her] art" (290),  terrible pasts, repressed memories, etc., that we all must face in order to seek recognition in ourselves.  Also, the so called "violation" could be a playful nudge by Garcia, meaning that of tampering with the so-called immutable, unified force of inevitability--time.


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