Reconstructing Fertility: Reproducing the Family in
María Luisa Mendoza's El perro de la escribana (1)
Blake Seana Locklin
Texas State University-San Marcos
In María Luisa Mendoza's El perro de la escribana, o las Piedecasas, the narrator, Leona Piedecasas, takes the reader on a convoluted journey through her memories. (2) Her contemplations focus on her family, its houses, and her relationship to both. Despite the progression implied by the chapter titles ("Primera residencia," "Segunda mansión," and so on), her narration moves freely among past and present, city and country, imagination and history. In the last chapter, she equates the construction of her novel with the reconstruction of her ancestral home. She takes her family and its history into herself in order to make them her own, using incorporation to transform oppressive repetition into liberating creativity. She breaks free from the mandatory fertility of her family's past, and instead creates meaning through writing.
In the history of the Piedecasas family, Leona finds a reproduction of repression, which takes the form of an oppressive repetition of both spaces and roles. Throughout El perro de la escribana, the Piedecasas houses mirror the family's characteristics. The chapter titles distinguish nine types of structures: residencia, mansión, morada, hogar, vivienda, domicilio, estancia, habitación, and casa. Leona locates her memories in specific family residences, but she calls all the structures "la misma casa reconstruida infinitas veces" (109). (3) At times the houses appear in a historical progression, while at other moments they coexist and the communication between them is organic and physical: "las casas de los vasos comunicantes que entretejían nuestras propias vidas, en los túneles secretos de tierra adentro, amarrados por cordones umbilicales y enigmas, claves de familia" (91). As the family fortune wanes, the houses become more modest and the family's domestic objects are crowded into smaller and smaller spaces. Nevertheless, in contrast to sterile modern apartment houses, which to Leona's mind have no meaningful connection to the past or to each other, the houses of the family maintain links to each other and to history, allowing the continuity of the family and its internal relations.
Leona finds, in her travels through her past, that the men and women in her family reenact the roles of their ancestors. She encounters generations of men who are intent on maintaining their control of the family by dominating its women. At the same time she also discovers both complicity and subversion on the part of Piedecasas women. She associates the men of her family with patriarchal institutions. In the first sentence, she points out the hypocrisy of the Church and corruption of the aristocracy: "en donde estás Tú, mi Dios, no hay clases ni distingos y uno pobre ¿sabes? prieto y con piojos, todavía es posible ser iguale a Ti, tan blanco Tú, tan rubio y barbado como un aristócrata de las familias aristócratas que transcurren por los gobiernos ensuciándose, embijándose las manos con la podredumbre de la política [. . .]" (13). The platitudes of the Church and the maneuvering of the politicians both aim to ensure the replication of the social order. The second chapter, for example, introduces Leona's irresponsible uncle Regalado Oscura, who has no real interest in the land himself, but resents the indigenous residents, whose claims to land threaten his place in the traditional social order (27-28). In El perro de la escribana, such reproductions of and challenges to the political, social, and economic order matter most in their specific effects on the development of the Piedecasas family.
Leona's criticism of the patriarchal structure of her family focuses on attempts to confine women to a mandatory fertility which will ensure the replication of the family. The Piedecasas concern with replication reduces women to vessels for reproduction; women's fertility is an object which men control and want to reproduce, since repeated pregnancies ensure the continuity of the bloodline. The women return to their father's house to give birth in an anonymous pilgrimage where continuity and numbers take precedence over individuals; it does not matter much who goes, as long as "cada año, una u otra volvían a la casa de Celaya a dar a luz dentro de sus alcobas [. . .]" (25). One of these women, Teresa, dies in childbirth. Her fate resonates throughout the novel, in which images of pregnancy and birth illustrate the dangerous values of the family. Teresa's daughter Pupé is a model woman because of her many descendants (99), and her children serve only to reproduce in turn. As Leona says, "Las mujeres que no casáronse para dar a luz otras mujeres no valen ni así en mi gente [. . .]" (126). It is interesting that in this sentence the role of male descendants, who can carry on the family name, is elided. The specification of giving birth to women here indicates the family's priorities. Women descendants will continue the cycle of births. Thus it appears that passing on fertility itself, to daughters, is even more important than producing new members of the family. The mothers' role is not romanticized; women simply pass on the burden to their daughters. Leona traces the phenomenon in her journey to the past, asserting that, "Cada mujer de mí misma, la que fui, parió los hijos debidos para vestirlos y crecerlos, las hijas paridoras por otras ramas en la maldición multiplicada [. . .]" (119). Daughters thus recapitulate their mothers physically and functionally.
Childless women can find places only on the borders of the family's picture of womanhood. Veneranda, or Vene, for example, earns a role in the family through her religious devotion (99). Amor Von Sternanfelds is more acceptable as Pupé and Vene's foster mother than as a childless woman, but still not seen as completely feminine. Before Teresa's death, Regalado Oscuro refers to his sisters-in-law, including Amor, as "mulas sin gota de leche" (28). Leona describes her aunt more positively as "la delicadeza en la estatura de amazona teutona" (47). Amor cares for and educates her foster daughters, ensuring that at least Pupé accepts the duty of maternity. In this she fulfills part of the maternal role. Nevertheless, not having actually given birth, she is not completely one of the "estirpe de esposas, hijas, nueras y nietas paridoras" of the family (87). The ambiguity regarding Amor's femininity, which is "casi pueril," indicates the marginality of her motherhood (47). Leona's admiration of this aunt as a model suggests issues with which Leona herself must struggle, in particular how to define and reconcile femininity, strength, and fertility.
An image of Pupé nursing her great-grandson indicates both the power of the imposed role and its limits. Pupé herself accepts that she is and will always be a mother; she is willing to nurse her descendants for generations. The picture also suggests the importance of ancestors as source of strength. Yet the continuity reveals an absence. Where is the mother, or even grandmother, of the child at Pupé's breast? These women have abandoned the child, rejecting their maternal role. In this way, the lineage of childbearers weakens.
Those women who accept maternity do so in the service of an increasingly meaningless obsession. In a desperation to maintain the family's presence, concern for numbers supercedes any desire to pass on family culture. The family thus reduces itself to the type of continuity represented by the dogs Dimes and Diretes, who preserve the names, blood, and obedience of their ancestors:
los perros Dimes y Diretes, choznos de muchos otros de iguales nombres, [. . .] mantenidos en familia como si de esa manera, con la estancia de consignas en gritos de ¡no!, ¡sube!, ¡bájate!, regaños o querencias pronunciados todos frente a las jetas de los chuchos penchachos sacerdotales portadores de secretos familiares, se conservara la descendencia, la costumbre, la sangre intacta por lo menos en Dimes y Diretes ya que el apellido a punto debatíase en la vida real [. . .]. (34)
This passage indicates that the family has lost any sense of its own significance or purpose in society; the only goal that remains is to preserve itself unchanging in the form of descendants loyal to empty family traditions. Individuals matter as little as the specific dogs, known only by the names of their predecessors. Since the phrase "Dimes y Diretes," means bickering or gossiping, the names of the dogs suggest not only a nominal continuity but also meaningless communication. Another image, of a woman giving birth in a house that feels like an empty museum, similarly emphasizes the lifelessness of a fertility which only serves to replicate the past. The family has lost its influence in society, no longer having much more importance than Dimes and Diretes. Leona notes towards the end of the novel that even the family's obsession with increasing its numerical strength through enforced reproduction fails as the masses in the streets of the city overwhelm the family's numbers (131). Despite the decline of the Piedecasas family in the face of the world outside the doors of the house, Leona must confront the insistence on repetition which remains a oppressive force in her life.
Besides the focus on reproduction, Leona notes a replication in the actions and characters of family members. The submission and the resistance of women repeat themselves throughout the history of the family, and Leona sees both roles manifested in herself. She remembers her grandmother Escolástica and mother Clara as embodying a passivity which is in itself a repetition of an inherited role. She sees the two women as pictures, framed and frozen in eternal pregnancy. They are submissive and two-dimensional as a result of their narrowly-defined role in life. Escolástica Villasantos is "una madre pasiva y embarazada como retrato" (26). Similarly, Leona remembers her mother Clara as she appears in an old photograph: "sumisa y mansa con la cabeza echada para abajo, atejabanada, melancólica, resignada, [. . .] un regazo quizá embarazado de mí misma" (103). The memories framed as reproductions suggest that Escolástica and Clara, in terms of their role in the family, are reproductions of other women. Similarly, Pupé's maternity replicates that of Escolástica: "Su vida habría de ser espejo multiplicante de hijos como los tuvo su abuela. Su madre si no muriera en el parto" (52). In contrast to these two women trapped within their frames, Leona depicts herself as a woman in control when she describes a picture of herself reading, an apparently passive pose which actually prefigures her own chosen role of narrator and reinterpreter of her family (109).
In Leona's view, Piedecasas women are not simply victims, but often complicit in the family's restrictions. The men build the houses; the women, through surveillance and teaching, control access to them. Leona's great-grandmother Efigenia Cabildo, a woman with three hundred keys, uses her power to confine women to their proper places (87). Leona's mother takes her to mass in the morning to reinforce the family's values of feminine virtue and motherhood (57). Leona's list of those who try to ensure the honor of the young women in her family consists primarily of other women (along with some feminized men of the religious hierarchy): "mamá, nana, profesora, sacerdote, catequista, guía espiritual, [. . .] tías viudas, viejucas [. . .]" (69). Similarly, Pupé, while listening to Leona's stories, lists all the women who should interfere with the heroines' immoral behavior: "las institutrices, primas, arrimadas, fregonas, tahoneras, hilanderas [. . .]" (52). The women on these lists are supposed to manage the behavior of other, primarily young women in the interests of maintaining social order in general and the family's practices in particular.
Nevertheless, while Leona condemns women's complicity in oppression, her narrative is also a rediscovery of the resistances to it. Since the primary force of the oppression lies in the imposition of marriage and childbearing, much of the resistance centers around women's sexuality. Desire, a sin, becomes a way to defy the maternal role. The resistance is an ongoing process in which repeated adultery or subversion of the patterns of dominance in sexual relations matters more than individual action. Amidst the memories of proper women, Leona finds those who participate in both "las juntas copulares católicas semanales y obligadas, y los exultantes quereres clandestinos por la tarde en el cuarto de atrás" (17). In this way, sexual relations in the father's house become the site of both obedience and transgression.
The narration echoes the subtle relationship between acceptance of and challenge to the family values: in almost every scene which mentions sex, a flow between repression and desire recurs, as in the chapter "Sexto domicilio," where, in one sentence, blasphemous thoughts of desire in church lead to a list of guardians charged with ensuring women's purity, and then to fantasies of enjoying forbidden contact while feigning distraction (68-70). Leona's story makes the reality of women's lives more complex than the narrow roles assigned to them, even while describing their resistance as part of the repetitive family history:
No hay que hacer más que amarse, [. . .] en el rito de las Piedecasas, tomada y guiadora, violada y violadora, dulce trampa de mis mujeres vestidas de víctimas, suaves sus ejércitos invasores que cantan quedito, lamen, chupan, succionan, mordisquean, tímidas y castas se dejan sitiar sitiando con la sapiencia de [. . .] la tromba de los arrepentimientos para salvarse y ir al cielo [. . . ]. (90)
The manipulation of roles, in which women can become either the passive or the aggressive partners, implies that the passivity is not necessarily that of victims but rather that of actors who have chosen their parts. The agency of these women undermines male domination while their cynicism on the subject of sin and expiation challenges church authority. Even in this resistance, however, they do not assert individuality, but take part in a recurring ritual.
Leona wants yet another way in which to challenge familial control. She sees herself as a product of her family's repetitive reproduction (of descendants and of roles), but capable of overcoming it through her narrative. Leona's first stories, which she tells her cousins as a child, resemble her family's history in that they follow standard formulas: "y cuya historia iba a concluir invariable en besuqueos y matrimonio entre el muchacho aristócrata y la muchacha en garras" (45). As an adult, Leona begins to see that her family's history includes similarly repetitive plots and typical characters, including herself:
Tías Teresa, Estefanía, Guarda, Fortunata, Gertrudis, Maura y Leona que hablo. Primas Purificacíon, la pura, Veneranda la yerma, hermana Leonor y Leona la que hablo. Historia repetida en los juegos dentro de las casas cuando anochece y se ha ido almacenando en el anaquel de nuestras vidas para ejercitarla a su hora, de grandes, y tener hijos del vientre o contemplar desde la esterilidad el pacto del sexo con los recién nacidos. (91)
Here, she positions herself within the series of her family's women, but the option of contemplation indicates her strategy of reevaluation and transformation. She specifies that such a path is only possible for one who has chosen not to bear children for the family, but she is still part of the "historia repetida" (91). In her chosen role of observer, she is therefore both inside and outside the family.
Finding the balance between insider and outsider has taken up much of Leona's life. She wants to assert her independence from her family, but she must find a way to define herself on her own terms. Part of her narration is an analysis of the limitations of the cosmopolitan identity she constructed in her youth as an alternative to the family. She rejects the sacrifices of maternity customary in her family, but she feels that she has been forced into too narrow a set of choices. For example, she defines herself in opposition to Pupé the mother and Vene the old maid as having married often and for love (99). Rather than accepting a life circumscribed by home, church, and the market, she travels, and even marries, internationally. "[I]gual tomábamos el chocolate caliente que el metro, el avión, el camerino del trasatlántico," she says, insisting on her modernity (101). Still, her supposedly independent identity is fragmented and remains subject to patriarchal definition. The travel itself reveals the problem of her "nombre confundido en las boletos aéreos, los pasaportes con apellidos varios que van variando, Leona de Tal, de Cuál, de Él, de Ti [. . .]" (101). Even her first name retains the mark of the father, as the first letter refers to her father Eleazar's nickname "Él o Ele" (36). In addition, her self-description shows that since she must suppress some of her own feelings in order to maintain her appearance, she is still submitting to standards set by others. Only emotionless can she avoid wrinkles, for example: "que sólo delatan el arrugado mapa de la edad al estrujarse de placer, dolor, miedo o simple curiosidad [. . .]" (67). In the end, rejection is not sufficient; Leona must creatively confront her family.
For Leona, the key to her independence lies in her resistance to motherhood rather than her ultimately unsatisfying rebellions against other aspects of her family's values. She does not choose to enact resistance from within the role of mother, but rather reinvents the fertility her family values by means of narrative and incorporation. (4) Examining herself, she lists the physical and psychic benefits of childlessness. She believes she has aged less than her relatives, "gracias a la yermez estéril, que de algo sirve lo sola sin hijos para la conservación [. . .]" (67). She also insists on her own intelligence, and an energy that the mothers in her family lack. She is "Mucho mejor que las demás, multiparidas, gordas, como si una goma las hubiera borrado, como ojales sin botones, tediosas, sin ideas, ignorantes [. . .]" (67). However, even as she details her superiority to the others, it seems that her potential is denied in the label of childless woman; she needs a way to define and experience "fertility" without submission. A description of Leona's house and self suggests a connection between the absence of children and the presence of her writing materials: "El sol de ahora en mi casa de ahora, vedada a los hijos su dueña que hablo, torpe, atolondrada, con los miedos diarios repetidos en la ruina; soledosa y papelera casa de escribana" (111). Her writing and her solitude are intertwined. As Rosario Castellanos says of Virginia Woolf: "La esterilidad física es el diezmo que [. . .] paga a la justicia a cambio de un instante de beatitude en que el universo se revela a los ojos del contemplador como dotado de sentido, de orden, de transparencia y de belleza. El instante en que la totalidad se deja aprehender y traducir por la palabra poética" ("La mujer ante el espejo" 43). However, through her own narrative Leona tries to assert a more complex relation between children and words than substitution. Although Leona associates her writing with her rejection of maternity, the text argues for a more meaningful idea of fertility than simple production. A replacement of many children with many books would replicate the family's obsession with numbers. Leona's narrative becomes more than the "product" of a writer's fertile creativity. It is rather a testament to her exploration, a journey in which she does not simply find herself, but rather recreates herself with the knowledge she gains.
In order to redefine herself and her family Leona first must confront her nostalgia for a past society which she has herself condemned as cruelly patriarchal. While seeming to contradict her desire for independence from the past, Leona's nostalgia is in fact the key to her narrative strategy, as it encourages her to incorporate rather than simply to reject her family and its history. It enables her to recuperate some positive aspects of the past and note the limitations of a progress which alienates people from their history. When contrasting present and past, she criticizes economic development and the resulting social changes. Separation of labor from the land, for example, seems a loss to her. She describes working in the city negatively: "trabajar en busca de la miserable ganaduría del pan [. . .]" (61).
The city itself becomes the object of nostalgia in the chapter "Novena casa," where she laments the signs of progress. Inside the houses, the inherited furniture of her youth, full of significance for her, has given way to mechanically reproduced "tubos y formaica" and "la peste de mal gusto" (129). Leona's complaints reflect on the modern life she herself leads. For example, the economic and technological developments that enable her to travel to Europe bring intrusive foreigners to the streets of the city: "Hoy suben y bajan autobuses con turistas que nos fotografían desde las ventanillas a nosotros [. . .]" (132). The tourists' desire to reduce Leona to another two-dimensional image recalls the static image of Clara Espino in a photograph; some of the problems of modernity thus echo those of tradition. While Leona has tried to distance herself from that type of replication in her family, the most significant problem she finds in the modern city is the absence of the ties of blood and communication that she had in the past. More than the old aristocratic families themselves, she misses the interactions: "se enlazaron con ellos, se multiplicaron en cientos de vasos comunicantes--venas--niveles de mina" (131). The nostalgia is problematic, given that Leona spends much of the novel criticizing, for example, precisely the kinds of interactions in which family members have participated in the past. The persistence of nostalgia despite her critique of the past makes it necessary for Leona, "la escribana" of the novel's title, to rediscover and rewrite her family history.
Leona attempts through her exploratory narrative to reconnect herself with the past, giving meaning to her nostalgia. She herself identifies her feelings as evidence that she cannot simply ignore her family's past and values: "¿Por qué mi tristecidad enraizada en lo de antes? ese empeño doliente del malogro, porfía en lo que se atrabancó en terrenos y gavetas, cajitas y vitrinas. Uno crece en su circunstancia, en el es un decir, empujada por la historia de los antepasados [. . .]" (111). The image of her aunts as "Tejedoras del tiempo" reinforces her sense of an inescapable association with the past, specifically with her women relatives (84). The fate of women in her family, which involves physical oppression, is passed on through their mandatory maternity. Echoing the centrality of birth in the novel, Leona sees herself as the daughter of all her oppressed women ancestors, thinking of "las mías que me hicieron poco a poco, coito a coito, domadas con palmetazos de severidad y disciplina [. . .]" (86). In the present, she acknowledges that, despite her perception of difference from her cousins, she cannot extirpate herself from their common past, blood, and homes: "Nuestras vidas tan distintas enlazadas por los tubos de la sangre [. . .] por los cimientos de las casas que nos poseyeron" (97). To acknowledge one's past does not necessitate submitting to it, however, but can instead serve as the preparation required to control it. As Rosario Castellanos said of the characters in another of Mendoza's novels, (5) "tanto más trascienden sus limitaciones de lugar, de época, de circunstancia cuanto con mayor acuciosidad se describen esas limitaciones de lugar, de época y de circunstancia. [. . .] son ese gran coro anónimo que [. . .] ha cambiado el rumbo de lo que no era nuestro destino porque era nuestra libertad" ("María Luisa Mendoza" 168-69). Leona too explores her past as a method of transforming destiny into liberation.
She must confront the past and its homes within herself. In the essay "Feminist Politics: What's Home Got to Do with It?" Biddy Martin and Chandra Mohanty explore in another context the problem of acknowledging both the oppression of home and its continuing influence in a woman's life. (6) Martin and Mohanty note that:
Change [. . .] is not a simple escape from constraint to liberation. There is no shedding the literal fear and figurative law of the father, and no reaching a final realm of freedom. There is no new place, no new home. Since neither her view of history nor her construction of herself through it is linear, the past, home, and the father leave traces that are constantly reabsorbed into a shifting vision. (201)
Leona, understanding that she cannot escape the past, transforms it. Her own narrative, weaving among the repetitions of her collective past, brings together the laws of the fathers and the legacies of the mothers to create a complex self able to act productively rather than reactively. Leona's strategy involves not only the reliving of the family's repetitions through her narration, but a repeated gesture of incorporation. With no concern for purity of blood or definition, she erases boundaries and melds times, spaces, memories, and relatives in the furnace of her body.
Such hybridities bring to mind the concept of the cyborg that Donna Haraway presents in "A Manifesto for Cyborgs," first published three years after El perro de la escribana. Although Haraway defines a cyborg at first as "a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction" (65), the significance she attributes to the cyborg goes beyond science and science fiction. Leona does differ from the cyborg in her attitude towards fertility. She is, like the cyborg, "suspicious of the reproductive matrix of most birthing" (Haraway 100). However, where the cyborg may either replicate itself like a fern or regenerate like a salamander (Haraway 66, 100), Leona seeks to oppose stale replication with personal and familial regeneration. Still, her project of self-definition depends on the type of impure processes that Haraway champions: "transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities" (71). In particular, two incorporations allow Leona to take her world into herself and recreate it: she imagines her body as merging with both family houses and the family itself.
The first of these incorporations occurs in the chapter "Octava habitación." Leona integrates her body with the buildings that house it, taking control of the space of repetition. She describes a physical assimilation of various rooms into her body (104-7). The first room is "la solana en el vientre" followed by the image of a pregnant woman and virgin nursing in her "columnas rojas" (104). Other rooms parallel aspects of Leona's development. "[C]uartos deshabitados invadidos de cosas viejas que no usó" recall the importance of such objects to her family's memories in the first chapter (105). "[E]stancias para simplemente dejar ir la vida y el cuerpo" suggest the luxury the family has left behind (106). "Cuartos de tránsito" allude to her years of escape through travel (107). And "Cuartos de techos bajos" duplicate the cheap houses of her family's decline (108). In the rooms she sees various erotic moments in her life including one of her lover’s sucking her breast in a "maternidad de amantes" (106). The eroticized nursing serves as a counterpoint to the first images of pregnancy and the nursing child. Through this process, Leona brings scenes from her life outside the family into the family's spaces, while controlling those rooms in the physical space of her own body. One of the rooms in her body, a "cuarto interior naval," prefigures the next chapter, in which her body itself is a "nave templaria" (105, 118-19). As Magdalena Maíz notes in "Una aproximación al paisaje cotidiano: narrativa femenina mexicana," "El paisaje cotidiano en esta escritura de Mendoza se vuelve un discurso en sí mismo que permite al personaje femenino desprenderse de su entorno para observarlo, aprehenderlo, cohabitarlo y dejarse habitar por él" (353). The various Piedecasas homes are the sites at which Leona's desire for distance from the family intersects productively with her act of incorporation.
In the eighth chapter, the first house of the Piedecasas family is the last space that Leona incorporates. In her final gesture of assimilation in "Novena casa," she again possesses the family's origins. The Piedecasas family begins not with any kind of natural genesis but with a manmade structure. The male ancestors' construction, both literal and figurative, of the original family home and thus of the family itself, prefigures Leona's own effort to reconstruct a new version of the family and its story. In her final incorporation, Leona absorbs her entire history. The starting point, inside a closet, recalls the attempt of the family to keep her within its confines, but she instead takes it into herself. From the closet, she journeys to her origins, making the time, the people, and their qualities her own: "Retorno de puntas a mi origen sin límites ni mojoneras, mezclado el tiempo de mis antepasados con el mío, criada al ritmo de ellos, en sus creencias y alimentos, en su moralidad y su desenfreno" (117). Although she sees herself as actually moving through the centuries, she understands that she already carries her ancestry within her. She becomes hermaphroditic; whereas before she noted her inheritance of the secret double role of the women as both passive and active, here she encompasses both sexes, "entrando en el viaje al pasado en los dos sexos que marcan mi casta, la hombría y la mujerada, poseer y doblarse en la posesión, tomar y ser el objeto mordido [. . .]" (118). Similarly, her hands physically resemble both male and female ancestors and she wears a woman's wedding ring and a man's watch. At the end of her journey she summarizes the identities within and adds a reminder of the physical body which holds them: "Mujer, ave, hombre, madre, abogado, novia, viajero, esclava, virrey, corregidora, minero, adelita, borracho, perdida, niño, niña, la que hablo, atenida a mis rodillas contrafuertes, defendiendo mi nave templaria" (118-119). Like the man on top who wants to possess and take over the woman's body, "hombre que cubre para que no haya mujer fuera de él," Leona ensures there is no Piedecasas outside of her (125). Her identity becomes elliptical, and by arranging herself around multiple centers, she can encompass more of her family. She emphasizes the physicality of this possession in the phrase "los hombres que te habitaron en la sangre" (126); she carries not only their blood, but the men themselves.
The physical incorporations serve as acts of control analogous to her project in the story as a whole: to evaluate and reclaim the past instead of rejecting it. Leona becomes a chronicler of her family who rewrites as she records, taking the history of her ancestors into herself and transforming it. María Luisa Mendoza has said that she wants to "recordar la historia de mi pueblo y de mis antecesores. Por eso soy historiadora [. . .]" (Interview with Bearse 459). (7) Leona, in El perro de la escribana, becomes the patron of her family in the sense of preserving the family history through her writing. However she does not merely record history, she takes control of it. To consider again the transgressions of the cyborg, Haraway postulates impurity as a foundation for strength: "Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other" (94). Leona does this in her narrative when she takes the history of her ancestors into herself and transforms it.
As narrator, Leona recuperates those parts of her past in which she finds strength from among the oppression and complicity, even while admitting that those negative aspects are a part of her as well. Haraway champions the value of holding such oppositions within oneself. The cyborg, she says, is "not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints. The political struggle is to see from both perspectives at once because each reveals both dominations and possibilities unimaginable from the other vantage point" (72). Leona's nostalgia, for example, instead of constituting complicity with the patriarchy, becomes a signal that she should look back constructively. The disturbing facts of Leona's history have value in that she can learn resistance from the oppression instead of denying it. The search for some agency among the victims of her family mirrors her own effort when faced with her past to act rather than reacting.
The narrative as a whole and her two incorporations in particular allow Leona to reinterpret fertility as a meaningful process instead of a self-replicating reproductive object. The final chapter, "Décima nada," sets the boundaries of her narrative while reinscribing the cornerstone of the ancestral home she arrived at in her exploration. The original foundation stones say: "dio principio año 1693" and "ya se acabó 1698" (137). "Tenth Nothing" consists of two sentences, "Dio principio año 1693. / Ya se acabó 1981" (141). The last date marks the completion of the text as well as a line between the past and the future, a cusp from which Leona can start again, not with the purity of a complete rejection of her former life but with the strength that comes from the impure possibilities of all she has explored and her willingness to enact change. Breaking the cycle of repetition, she is ready to construct a new house, family, and self.
(1). I would like to thank Debra Castillo and Jonathan Kay for commenting on earlier versions of this paper.
(2). Magdalena Maiz and Luis H. Peña note that "With the reception given to her novel El perro de la escribana (1982), Mendoza definitely became considered one of the most outstanding and experimental novelists within the panorama of American literature. This, her third novel, is considered her most mature [. . .]" (325-6). Nevertheless, Mendoza's other novels have received much more critical attention than El perro de la escribana. One exception is Maíz's "Una aproximación al paisaje cotidiano," which compares the novel to Rosario Castellanos's Album de familia and Elena Garro's La semana de colores. For contemporary reviews of El perro de la escribana, see Ana María Hernández and Luis H. Peña. Andrea Parada Cangas includes a bibliography of criticism as well as Mendoza's publications in her 1993 dissertation.
(3). All references to the novel are from María Luisa Mendoza, El perro de la escribana, o las Piedecasas (México, D.F.: Joaquín Mortiz, 1982).
(4). In "Killing Priests, Nuns, Women, Children," originally published in 1985, about the same time as El perro de la escribana, Jean Franco notes the limitations of a resistance that ignores the possible strength of home and motherhood even as she traces the disappearance of the "immunity" attributed to them:
Feminist criticism based on the critique of patriarchy and the traffic in women has rightly shed no tears for this liquidation of mother figures whose power was also servitude. Yet such criticism has perhaps underestimated the oppositional potentialities of these female territories whose importance as the only sanctuaries became obvious at the moment of their disappearance. (16)
(5). Con él, conmigo, con nosotros tres
(6). They discuss "Identity: Skin Blood Heart" by Minnie Bruce Pratt, in which the specific circumstances are culturally and historically distinct from Leona's, but the need to confront the past is similar.
(7). See also the more extensive interviews with Alberto Dallal and Beth Miller, which predate the publication of El perro de la escribana.
Castellanos, Rosario. "La mujer ante el espejo: cinco autobiografías." Mujer que sabe latín. 2a ed. México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1984. 41-61.
---. "María Luisa Mendoza: el lenguaje como instrumento." Mujer que sabe latín. 2a ed. México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1984. 165-70.
Franco, Jean. "Killing Priests, Nuns, Women, Children." Critical Passions: Selected Essays. Ed. Mary Louise Pratt and Kathleen Newman. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999. 9-17.
Haraway, Donna. "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s." Socialist Review 15.2 (1985): 65-107.
Hernández, Ana María. Rev. of El perro de la escribana. World Literature Today 57 (1983): 254.
Maíz, Magdalena. "Una aproximación al paisaje cotidiano: narrativa femenina mexicana." Cuadernos de Aldeeu 1.2-3 (1983): 347-54.
Maiz, Magdalena, and Luis H Peña. "María Luisa Mendoza." Trans. Owen Williams. Spanish American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Source Book. Ed. Diane E. Marting. New York: Greenwood, 1990. 316-29.
Martin, Biddy, and Chandra Talpade Mohanty. "Feminist Politics: What's Home Got to Do with It?" Feminist Studies/Critical Studies. Ed. Teresa de Lauretis. Theories of Contemporary Culture 8. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1986. 191-212.
Mendoza, María Luisa. El perro de la escribana, o las Piedecasas. México, D.F.: Joaquín Mortiz, 1982.
---. Interview with Alberto Dallal. "Diálogo que trata de la vida y novelas de la China Mendoza." Revista de la Universidad de México (UNAM) 27.5 (1973): 34-40.
---. Interview with Beth Miller. 26 autoras del México actual. By Beth Miller and Alfonso González. México, D.F.: B. Costa-Amic, 1978. 255-68.
---. Interview with Grace M. Bearse. Hispania 64.3 (1981): 459.
Parada Cangas, Andrea. "Dos cuentistas feministas hispanoamericanas de hoy: Luisa Valenzuela y María Luisa Mendoza." Diss. University of Michigan, 1993.
Peña, Luis H. "María Luisa Mendoza: espacio y escritura." Rev. of El perro de la escribana, by María Luisa Mendoza. Plural 2nd ser. 12-14.136 (1983): 60-62.
---. Rev. of El perro de la escribana. Chasqui 11.2-3 (1982): 74.