Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Bordering the Psyche: The Human Body as the Ultimate Border

In the beginning of Borderlands/La Frontera, Anzaldua defines a border as “a dividing line,” and it “distinguish[es] us from them” (25). We see borders everywhere based on her definition. On the most basic level, the human body, with all of its parts, can be seen as a border. Besides from housing internal organs, the body also contains the individual’s mental processes and soul (for the sake of argument, both will be combined in the term psyche). As a result, the limits of the body can exert an influence on the psyche and understanding. This effect is seen in both King’s “Borders” and Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera.

In “Borders,” the naïve narrator is a child, and thus is assumed to have a small body. With his small body, there comes a limited understanding of the situation he is in. For example, he is not allowed to declare citizenship on behalf of his mother and himself because he is a “minor” (139). Stella’s disregard for the narrator’s claim stems from the idea that young children (who biologically have smaller bodies than adults) do not have the mature mental capabilities to make a decision or assert a claim. Another instance of the narrator’s “immaturity” is his preoccupation with trivial matters. For example, he repeatedly asks his mother if they’re going to stop at a restaurant. His focus on the trivial shows a simplicity of mind that is often paired with a young body.

In Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera, the body not only influences understanding, but can also limit it. For example, a woman is treated and acts differently than a man because of their different bodies. “Women are made to feel total failures if they don’t marry and have children,” i.e. if they don’t use their bodies that limit their roles to that of wives and mothers (39). Moreover, feelings of shame that are directed towards the body are soon internalized towards the self. Anzaldua mentions that seeing another Chicana, who shares a similar body, could be an anxious experience because of being “afraid of what we’ll see there [the mirror that the similar body creates]” (80). “Shame” and “low estimation of the self” are bound to be the feelings that stem from this experience; both feelings are facilitated by the appearance of the body to its owner, who harbors a sense of shame towards his or her body.

The body is thus seen to restrict one’s psyche because it imposes physical limitations on it. The only way to “free” the psyche is if to lose one’s body. Obviously, there’s a paradox here. However, the closest to losing one’ body is a self-imposed sensory deprivation state that Anzaldua explains (92). Only then when the border of the body is broken can the psyche roam free.

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