Indestructible

Indestructible was a awesome book and also extremely confusing, and disorienting, even more so, I think, than Omaha Bigelow.  One thing I found interesting was the narrative arc.  Are we supposed to find that any change has taken place? The chapters seem to be organized around years of junior high and high school.  Several chapters started with phrases like “Sophomore year I dissected my reservations…” ch.12, or “by my second to last year of school…” ch.13.  or “the spring before I turned seventeen..” The book also progresses in chronological order, starting with her 11th birthday, which I marks the beginning of Cristy’s adolescence, and ending with the the summer before her last year of high school, when she is 17. (so not ending with high school graduation or some landmark like that…) It actually ends with her friend Desiree’s death.

So I would say the book is clearly a coming-of-age novel, in that she talks about her process of growing up and maturing, the lessons she has learned: “growing up happens with each heartbeat…we learn a lesson from every mistake, every apology, every assumption at love…”ch15.  In this sense, it is what I expect from the coming of age novel.  On the other hand, I think it is also different from what one would expect in a coming of age novel.  There is not a climactic moment, there is not a central challenge that she struggles with and then beats.  The story does not provide a clear cut end that says “she has arrived; she is whole; she has made it! She beat her demons!”  It lets you know that she will be continuing this process into the future.

The end of the book reminds you not as much of what she has accomplished but of how she has survived.  Cristy talks about how she learned survival from Desiree.  In addition, the “bright side” that Cristy finds is that “we haven’t self-destructed at seventeen.  We must be doing okay for never having had a normal haircut, a clear conscience, or rich parents.” ch.15.  Her optimism, and her reflections, revolve around not self-destructing, around surviving.  The main point of the ending is “I’m making it in a hostile world, I’m surviving…” This is definitely not your typical narrative of progress and coming-of-age.

I also find it interesting when she contemplates the future.  Cristy says “I knew the sky was the limit to an indefinite number of mistakes, brilliance, girlfriends, boyfriends, delight, and squander.  Success was redefined this time.”  Boundless opportunity is the American dream, so I find it funny when she says the sky is the limit on…mistakes.  These limitless things are not the typical limitless things of the American dream, like property, money, happiness.  The rest of her choices for indefinite are interesting as well. girlfriends and boyfriends, for example.  I think it speaks to her faith, on one hand, that there are endless people out there to forge meaningful connections with.  On the other hand, the excess of girlfriends and boyfriends is I think kind of queer. I think you could say slutty is a kind of queer.  We talk about in class how queer is often an excess or a lack of something.  In this case the stated overabundance of girlfriends and boyfriends is an example of that.  Also interesting: squander? When she is poor, what does she have to squander? That I wondered about.  Brilliance was easy to see in her comebacks to her teachers, and delight in her interactions with friends and enthusiasm about music.

Speaking of squandering, at one point Cristy says, “we’re young. we’re allowed to fuck up sometimes.” Desiree, who knows she will die before 18 says, “it’s not really that way for me..I don’t want to have time to waste.” ch1o.  Knowing that she has more time is a way for Cristy to forgive herself and not judge herself. Or is it a way to sooth cognitive dissonance about the way a creep is treating her and that she still has something to do with him?

Indestructible is a good title for a novel that is about survival.  This book varies from pointed critique to rambling and talking in circles.  Reading for this progressive model, I keep hearing her say, “and then I learned this,” but in reality I find the situations to be quite similar to the previous situations she described. do you think things change over the course of the book? Does Cristy change?  Is there some kind of resolution?

In further reflection on this question, I wanted to contextualize the questions of “is this a coming of age novel?” in terms of previous discussion about “ethnic minority” literature and bildungsroman, or the “genre of the novel which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood.” (wikipedia) I wanted to cite something we read in Trauma in Asian American literature, by Shelley Sunn Wong.  She says:

In the relationship between minority and majority cultures, maturity, and the political and symbolic power that accrues therein, is always assigned to the majority.  Minority culture, or that which is ‘incompletely developed historically’ (Lloyd, 17), is consequently viewed within the terms of a Bildung that can only aspire to, and more ineluctably toward, the valorized maturity of the majority culture. (105)

So when looking at Indestructible as a “minority” text, what does it mean if it doesn’t seem to follow the traditional narrative arc of clearly reaching some type of maturity that was not originally present? Or do you think the protagonist does reach that maturity? Is maturity as defined by “majority” culture inaccessible to the protagonist? Does this book critique middle class white America’s notions of maturity?

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defining, being defined, Rodriguez ch.3

In The Subject on Trial, ch.3 of Juana MarÍa RodrÍguez’ book Queer Latinidad, RodrÍguez writes about Marcelo Tenório’s legal battle to gain political asylum in the U.S.  His applies for asylum after experiencing a violent assault in Brazil.  His assailants attacked him based on his perceived gay identity, among other factors, and his lawyer “filed a claim preventing his deportation from the United States on the grounds that homosexuals are systematically persecuted in Brazil…” (89.) 

I chose to read this chapter because I am currently taking a class called “Psychology and the Law.”  So I was very interested when RodrÍguez said:

The type of language summoned by the BIA speaks to the inextricable linkages between psychiatric and legal discourses.  As Foucault has argued, psychology establishes definitions of the normative and the law regulates its enforcement.  This discursive coupling of criminality and deviance has never been deployed as masterfully as it is in the psycho-legal construction of the homosexual.  Add to this a history in this country of legal, psychosocial, and media depictions that continually criminalize the image of the man of color, and Marcelo Tenório, poor, Black, immigrant, illegal, queer, and male, is inextricably cast as criminal (89.) 

The argument “psychology establishes definitions of the normative and the law regulates its enforcement” is applicable here.  In Tenório’s case they use psychological definitions of “gay” or “homosexual” as a normal, non-deviant identity give Tenório legal rights.  At the same time, the system can work the other way around.  In other words, not only psychology can establish the definition of normative, but the law can too.  Gay rights advocates supported this case and fit it into their own narratives, because they knew that when Tenório won, homosexuality as an identity would be one case closer to mainstream.  Law not only enforces the definitions of deviance and normalcy but also gives them further meaning and clarification.  For example, Rodríguez cites how Alvarez “had to establish homosexual identity as ‘an immutable characteristic’” in order to argue that Tenório needed asylum (89).  So for those gay rights activists whose foundational argument is that gays deserve equal rights because they “are born gay” or “can’t help being gay,” etc. this case is a victory in that it reinforces that as the national understanding of gay identity. 

(Though I am actually confused, because in a later paragraph the Lambda Legal defense and Education Fund apparently “succeeded in constructing sexual orientation not as an essential biological category, but as a complex interplay of sexual practice, desire, identity, and affiliation”(90).  So I am not sure if this implies that in this case they were able to exceed this BIA definition which requires gayness to be an “immutable characteristic.) I guess the definition is adhered to and challenged because on p96 it says “Alvarez succeeds in both legally claiming and theoretically problematizing a fixed homosexual identity as an “immutable characteristic.”

Yet while Tenório’s case is doing the work of defining gayness for activists in the US, the complexity of his case is not recognized.  Gayness is whitewashed.  The school of thought “I was born this way” usually goes with “we are a minority, we deserve equal treatment.”  It seems like this structure of thinking does not allow for intersecting identities, usually.  Because the main assumption behind it is: people who are marginalized because of being gay need to be accepted into the mainstream and treated equally.  It makes no allowance for ways that gayness could intersect with race and class.  It is about “make gay normal,” and it can involve cutting anyone out who seems to contradict that message, or cutting out parts of their story.

Alvarez, and most, choose, or are forced, to fall back on the most accepted way of explaining things.  There is no space to explain how racism and class affected Tenório.  It is also much easier to “rely on the psychological discourse…and an assumed liberalism of a San Francisco-based court” than to “establish the ‘normalcy’ of homosexuality, or attempt to establish why this characteristic ‘out not be changed’” (89.)  In the legal system, each person is forced to fight for themselves or the client they represent (I guess except in a class action law suit), and that means that the most entrenched cultural assumptions (e.g. that homosexuality SHOULD be changed, if it can be) will stay untouched.

On the last note, I saw a link on racialicious to a CNN article involving a man from Indonesia who is seeking asylum in the U.S. because of persecution related to his sexual orientation.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/02/15/gay.man.deportation/index.html