Shamanic Signifiers in Gloria Anzaldúaand William Burroughs
This chapter investigates what anthropologist Michael Taussig calls “the death space of signification,” or the act of language that “challenges the unity of the symbol, the transcendent totalization binding the image to that which it represents.” Taussig refers to linguistic practices that he saw in the Colombian Amazon in the 1970s and 80s, where shamans were tasked with healing people suffering from the violence and terror of the rubber extraction business. Existentially threatened by neocolonial governance, the shamans ritualized erasure and negativization to break apart the dominant symbols of that governance, interpolating in the gaps of these signifiers new concretions of space, time, being, belonging, and, indeed, political disappearance. Pushing into that pliability, this chapter examines the lateral movement of shamanic technique across neoliberal borderlands into the writings of Gloria Anzaldúa and William Burroughs, two writers whose signal methods of cutting and canceling text were derived from encounters with folk healing. The comparison of this apparently incompatible pair further problematizes our reception of authors who bear different social locations yet encounter comparable challenges in a set of linguistic techniques. Such a reading reframes Anzaldúa’s field-defining mestiza intersectionality as a position not of identity formation but of identity deformation.
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