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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Over the Line: Critical Media Technologies of the Trans-American Hyperborder

  • Author(s): Brousseau, Marcel
  • Advisor(s): Raley, Rita
  • et al.

My project argues that the U.S.-Mexico border is an assemblage of medial forms that are communicated in multiple media without superseding one another. For example, the border is, at once, a graphic design on numerous maps; a symbolic construction in copious literary and legal textual media; a series of fences erected in various terrestrial media; a photographic icon in still and moving pictures; an architectural design; a painted figure; the list goes on. As an assortment of medial forms, The U.S.-Mexico border does not refer to the United States and Mexico as the subjects of its mediation, but rather produces the United States and Mexico as subjects, which thereon depend on the border for their subjectivity, as the border depends on the nations for its continued existence. The United States and Mexico cannot be articulated from or with one another without what media theorist Bernhard Siegert calls “concrete practices and symbolic operations” to process their articulation, operations which are ultimately expressed in medial forms, whether lines on maps, untranslatable proper nouns, legal writ, poetic verses, or fences.

In drawing connections between the borders produced in different media, I am examining borders as media systems that correspond to different cultural techniques and produce distinct political subjectivities. To envision this network, I develop the concept of the hyperborder, which I define as a border that extends across media. The hyperborder is a framework that links together different mediated borders, and that proposes and examines epistemological connections between them. The hyperborder is a way of attaining a global and comparative view of borders, while at the same time accounting for their different and irreducible media forms. In this project, I examine border forms primarily in three media: literary media, including poetry and prose; cartographic media, with an attention to different cultural meanings of mapmaking; and infrastructural media, particularly types of fencing.

My methodology for researching and comparing these different media forms combines archival and participatory research. In order to study textual borders—those found in literary and cartographic media—I have relied on archival research carried out at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and in the Special Collections of UCSB’s Davidson Library. My desire to account for the location of media has also compelled me to research media forms in the field, so to speak. My analysis of Indigenous mapping in Chapter Two is informed by conversations that I have had with Jim Enote, director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center at Zuni Pueblo. My analysis of the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Chapter Three is grounded in physical fieldwork at the site of the fence, particularly with Friends of Friendship Park in San Diego and Tijuana.

My combination of archival and participatory research practices allows for a wider view of the border. It also situates my project in numerous academic disciplines and fields, including Comparative Literature, Media Studies, Border Studies, History, Chicana/o Studies, and Indigenous Studies. In developing the comparative framework of the hyperborder, I am making use of the interdisciplinary potential of Comparative Literature, albeit in a way that problematizes the discipline by including what may not be considered “literary” in my comparisons. Although originating in Comparative Literature, my methodology has wandered, through the discipline’s encyclopedic opening, into Media Studies, where I can compare objects like those listed above through concepts like cultural techniques and knowledge systems.

I am mainly applying my Media Studies and Comparative Literature approach in order to intervene in the interdisciplinary field of Border Studies. As an academic specialization, Border Studies leans toward political and social sciences, and often leads to bureaucratic professionalization. My project complements and challenges a social sciences-oriented Border Studies with a humanities-based approach that insists on the media specificity of borders. Similarly, my project is engaged with rethinking the paradigmatic borderlands, as conceptualized by historian Herbert Eugene Bolton in the early 20th century. While my dissertation is grounded in borderlands historiography, my sense of History is directed toward a borderlands of media—toward medial differences, and how they determine boundaries in the symbolic and in the real.

A major assertion in my project is that cultural differences correlate to media operations. I thus pay critical attention to the disciplinary frameworks of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies, and to how their disciplinary stances and social frameworks are articulated with those of History and Border Studies. While older center-periphery historiographies relegated Chicana/o cultural production to regional margins, my project marks how Chicana/o texts address these problematics in media-specific ways.

Finally, as a white, non-Indigenous scholar who examines how subjects are produced through medial borders in literature, cartography, and infrastructure, I consider it ethically important to foreground Indigenous academic frameworks for evaluating border media. In this project I evaluate Indigenous media using Indigenous intellectual traditions, and I also examine the effects of non-Indigenous theory on Indigenous cultural practice.

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