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De lo m?s lindo y de lo m?s pobre: Transnational Borges and Sandra Cisneros


This dissertation examines the influence of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges on the writings of twenty-first century Mexican American author Sandra Cisneros, as well as how reading her work helps us better understand overlooked elements of his writings, including marginality, gender roles, sexuality and the rights to self-definition, agency and self-expression of women and women writers. Though Cisneros is one of the most popular women writers in the United States, the first Chicana writer to be published by a major New York publishing house and an important influence for a new generation of writers, she has been dismissed by many critics as not a serious writer, or primarily a testimonial writer. By linking her writing with Borges, I present her as a United States descendent of the Latin American literary tradition that gained worldwide acclaim during the so-called Latin American literary boom of the 1960s. This dissertation departs from representations of Cisneros as solely a Chicana writer linking her instead to a north-south transnational, transborder literary tradition.

As we shall see in this dissertation, for decades Borges has been a literary companion at Cisneros’s side. From Cisneros’s interviews, we know that she had first read Borges beginning in high school in the late 1960s; her most recent publication, a collection of essays entitled A House of My Own (2015) features references to Borges as a major influence on her work. In a 2015 interview, Cisneros said that Borges “me dio permiso para combinar mitos y sue?os y cuentos de hadas en mis cuentos.” T.S. Eliot, speaking on literary relationships across time in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” asserts, “the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past” (Sacred Wood 50). This dissertation will also examine how reading Cisneros—both her fictions and essays in which she directly references her readings of Borges’s work—in turn alters the way we read Borges. Additionally, it considers how themes raised in this early twentieth-century Argentine male writer’s work develop and change in Cisneros’s late twentieth and early twenty-first century Mexican American female imagination. These themes include gender role reversal during the advent of feminism and the emergence of women in the workplace in the twentieth century; popular and marginalized cultures; personal and collective identities; cultural hybridity and bilingualism.

This dissertation is comprised of four thematic comparative chapters that contribute to new understandings of both Borges and Cisneros. CHAPTER ONE begins the dissertation with the influence of the poetry and prose in Borges’s Dreamtigers (1964) on Cisneros’s highly acclaimed The House on Mango Street (1984). CHAPTER TWO has an urban studies focus through the literary representations of two Latin American capitals, Buenos Aires in Borges’s “Fundaci?n m?tica de Buenos Aires” (1923) and Mexico City in Cisneros’s Caramelo (2002). CHAPTER THREE is a reconsideration of Borges’s female-centered writings, including his translations of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928) and A Room of One’s Own (1929), through Sandra Cisneros’s writings and feminism. CHAPTER FOUR assesses elements of Buddhist spirituality in Cisneros’s twenty-first century writings gained in part through Borges’s writings on Buddhism near the end of his life. The dissertation will demonstrate that Borges remains Cisneros’s most important literary maestro with his influence felt in her poetry, fiction, and essays from adolescence in the 1960s through her recent A House of My Own (2015).

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