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Keeping Her Distance: Cisneros, Dickinson, and the Politics of Private Enjoyment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


Critics of Sandra Cisneros have not paid much attention to her career-long advocacy of private enjoyment, possibly because it seems incompatible with the political commitment that is an equally prominent feature of her work. This essay argues that we cannot name Cisneros's politics without first coming to terms with her representation of the pleasures of withdrawing from face-to-face sociality. In the central chapters of her most famous work, The House on Mango Street, Cisneros maps the political salience of private enjoyment by means of a complex evocation and transformation of a poem by Emily Dickinson. Private enjoyment becomes in Cisneros's hands democratically accessible—the technologies of privacy range from writing to self-talk to masturbation—and constitutively insecure. Because privacy signifies not a space into which one might retreat but a point from which one must depart, it is for Cisneros the precondition of new collective formations.

Research Article
PMLA , Volume 116 , Issue 5 , October 2001 , pp. 1334 - 1348
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2001

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