American Council of Learned Societies
Occasional Paper No. 23

Teaching the Humanities:

Essays from the ACLS Elementary and
Secondary Schools Teacher Curriculum
Development Project


Moving to the Other Side of the Desk:
Teachers’ Stories of Self-Fashioning

Linda Wells

Transforming Canons, Transforming Teachers
Edward L. Rocklin

Shaping the Multicultural Curriculum:
Biblical Encounters with the Other

Lois Feuer


Darlene Emily Hicks

Ms. Higgins and the Culture Warriors:
Notes Toward the Creation of an
Eighth Grade Humanities Curriculum

John G. Ramsay

History and the Humanities:
The Politics of Objectivity and
The Promise of Subjectivity

Eve Kornfeld

Toward a “Curriculum of Hope”:
The Essential Role of Humanities Scholarship
in Public School Teaching

Paul A. Fideler

Works Consulted

Nationalism, History, the Chicano Subject, and the Text

D. Emily Hicks
San Diego State University

Current events in Eastern Europe make it impossible not to be critical of nationalism, and, of course, marxism. I begin my inquiry with the observation that there was an anti-democratic tendency within the Chicano movement which manifested itself in the form of the suppression of alterity, specifically, the otherness of the Chicana lesbian and otherness of experimental art.1 An analysis of this tendency will make it possible to consider a global issue, the relationship between democracy and alterity. I propose that one way to test the premise expressed by Jurgen Habermas and others, that modernity is based on the integration rather than the exclusion of alterity, is to turn to the work of spokespersons of alterity, Chicana lesbians.2 In addition to the work of Marie Collins and Sue Anderson, my methodological approach in this essay draws on work done in cultural studies and particularly in the area of multicultural art, such as Lucy R. Lippard’s Mixed Blessings.3 I will argue that Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of the Dionysian has been repressed in Chicano nationalist and marxist culture. The link between the Dionysian and alterity in the context of democracy has been developed by Gilles Deleuze, Antonio Negri, and Michael Hardt. In a lecture at the University of California, San Diego, Chicano poet Alurista characterized Chicano literature as falling into three phases: 1) The Nascent Period (1965–75); 2) The Assimilationist Period (1975–85); and 3) The Current Period (1985–present).4 In the first, basic social tension was largely related to racial and cultural issues. In the second, class distinctions were dominant. In the third and present period, conflicts over gender issues dominate. I will use Alurista’s categories as markers if not guideposts. They will prove to be both useful and ultimately inadequate; Chicana writing did not just emerge; it has existed all along. Only sexism can be the sufficient, if not the necessary explanation for the exclusion of the discussion of gender issues in the first two periods.

The use I am making of Nietzsche’s categories “Apollonian” and “Dionysian” is merely a starting point to get back to the moment of the theft or appropriation, in both Western theatre and pre-Colombian cultures, the theft of the feminine. It would be more accurate to speak of the pre-Apollonian/Dionysian, or perhaps of the time to which Gloria Anzaldua refers in Borderlands, a time before the division of the various attributes of Coatlicue into “good” and “evil.” 4 In the first, basic social tension was largely related to racial and cultural issues. In the second, class disctinctions were dominant. In the third and present period, conflicts over gender issues dominate. I will use Alurista’s categories as markers if not guideposts. They will prove to be both useful and ultimately inadequate; Chicana writing did not just emerge; it has existed all along. Only sexism can be the sufficient, if not the necessary explanation for the exclusion of the discussion of gender issues in the first two periods.

The use I am making of Nietzsche’s categories “Apollonian” and “Dionysian” is merely a starting point to get back to the moment of the theft or appropriation, in both Western theatre and pre-Colombian cultures, the theft of the feminine. It would be more accurate to speak of the preApollonian/Dionysian, or perhaps of the time to which Gloria Anzaldúa refers in Borderlands, a time before the division of the various attributes of Coatlicue into “good” and “evil”.5 It is the assimilation of female sexuality and Dionysus that makes the discussion so complex. By analogy, the Virgin of Guadalupe may be seen as linked to conservative political forces, as she is in Mexico in the guadalupana movement, or as a many-layered icon who ultimately harkens back to Tonantsín, as she is seen by Anzaldúa and many Chicanas. Similarly, Dionysus, Nietzsche’s appropriation of Dionysus, and Deleuze’s notion of “becoming-woman” may be rejected by feminists on the grounds that men are usurping the feminine, or that the Dionysian can be reclaimed in order to ground it in an older pantheon of female deities, as I am attempting to do in this discussion.

Three passages which deal with modernity, history, and capitalism have captured my attention lately, and I have returned to them compulsively. I believe they contextualize the problems of nationalism and the subject and allow us to enter into the arena of the relationship between democracy and alterity. The first, which refers to the views of French philosopher Michel Foucault, comes from Luc Ferry and Alan Renaut’s French Philosophy of the Sixties:

Contrary to Foucault’s claim, the dynamics of modernity are not essentially that of the exclusion of otherness. The logic of modern societies is rather more like the one Tocqueville describes, namely, the logic of integration sustained by the proposition of the fundamental equality of all man[sic]kind. (90)

I consider this view to be Habermasian. I believe that Gloria Anzaldúa’s documentation of the exclusion of otherness in the borderlands refutes this statement. Habermas’ optimism regarding the “dignity of modernity” and the possibility of a dialogue, in which all parties would be able to begin and end the conversation and give and receive orders, fails to recognize the very real concerns about dialogue addressed by Anzaldúa.6 In which language would the dialogue occur? She lists eight “languages” she speaks, all related to Spanish and/or English, that are found in the U.S.-Mexico region alone. The treatment of the other, poignantly portrayed in such poems as “We Call Them Greasers,” hardly speaks to modernism’s ability to integrate the other.7

The second, from Fredric Jameson, in The Political Unconscious, appears in the context of commentary on Louis Althusser’s anti-teleological formula for history, and its relation to Jacques Lacan’s notion of the Real and Baruch Spinoza’s idea of the “absent cause”:

history is not a text, not a narrative, master or otherwise, . . . as an absent cause, it is inaccessible to us except in textual form . . . our approach to it and to the Real itself necessarily passes through its prior textualization, its narrativization in the political unconsciousness. (35)

Both passages raise issues which would have to be part of an inquiry into the nature of the logic of modern society from the perspective of someone living in the borderlands and would help us to formulate various alternative viewpoints regarding the relationship between democracy and alterity. Whether or not the logic of modern society is based on the exclusion of otherness or the logic of integration, and whether or not we can only know history in textual form, would have to be part of an inquiry into the nature of the logic of modern society. One version of this might go as follows: if we can only know history in textual form, then in order to answer the question about whether or not the logic of modern society is based on the exclusion of otherness, we might want to turn to literary texts about the exclusion of otherness. Certainly, the work of contemporary Chicana lesbian writers is useful here as is the research of Collins and Anderson and their use of the notion of “the generational unit” in order to study the history of the Chicano movement and one of its central figures, Valdez.

Finally, because a theory of the voice of the subaltern may itself be merely a contemporary form of colonialism, it is useful here to consider Gayatri Spivak. She argues, in “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, that Deleuze and Foucault’s insistence on the subaltern’s ability to speak is comparable to the British attempts to outlaw widow suicide in India: “it is another case of white men telling brown men what to do with brown women” (Spivak 305).8 Nevertheless, in the following passage, she accurately explains their model in Anti-Oedipus:

Their suggestion, summarized, is that, since capital de-codes and deterritorializes the socius by releasing the abstract [cf. Nietzsche’s slave logic] as such, capitalism manages the crisis by way of the generalized psychoanalytic mode of production of affective value, which operates via a generalized system of affective equivalence, however spectacular in its complexity and discontinuity. (Spivak 110; brackets added)

Although this may not have been intentional, Spivak’s reference to affect can alert the reader to Spinoza and his discussion of affect in the Ethics. Spinoza’s theory of affects would take us beyond the confines of this paper. Suffice it to say that Spivak is discussing the links that connect us through desire and how, according to Deleuze and Guattari, capitalism manages and controls these connections by reducing their differences to “a system of affective equivalence.” Spinoza’s theory of affects is discussed by the Italian critic Negri in relation to his conception of social organization and liberation grounded not in capitalism but an alternative tradition of democracy, making Spinoza a “savage anomaly.” In Spinoza’s “good city,” inhabitants would have the opportunity to encounter each other in chance encounters which, rather than being unpleasant, might lead to joyful interaction. Spinoza’s model allows for the inclusion of alterity without the homogenization of difference. Deleuze argues that there is a tradition of thought that runs from Spinoza to Nietzsche that does not lead to Hegel’s dialectic and the subsumption of difference. How to bring the voices of the excluded into a discussion of history is what finally brings us back to the cultural production of Chicana lesbian writers and their emergence in this historic moment, that is, to the beginning of this essay. The following pages describe the emergence of an audience for Chicana writing against the background of the activist theatre of Valdez and others, and while doing so, engages in a discussion of the issues of the adequacy of periodization to account for the development of an audience for Chicana writing.

If we shift from a theoretical discussion of democracy and alterity to the concreteness of the classroom using Jean-Paul Sartre’s work, with the reminder that he taught in the lycée there should be nothing unusual about referring to the research of two high school teachers in the United States. Recently Anderson and Collins, who both teach in high schools, asked me how I would teach Anzaldúa’s work, particularly to their Latino high school students, given the homophobia they knew they would face. I had been impressed with their attempts to bring Chicano culture into the high school curriculum in their joint research project entitled “Affirmation, Resistance, Transformation.” They explained that they had not included Anzaldúa in the curriculum yet, but they wanted to do so; furthermore, they had been influenced by her work. In their curriculum project “Team-Based Curriculum: The Emergence of the Chicano,” they look at the 1960s and 1970s from Chicano/a perspectives, while grappling with both historical and pedagogical issues and discussing three alternative pedagogies: constructivism, critical pedagogy and feminist pedagogy. They use the concept of the “historical generation” to frame their work. I believe they have made a significant contribution to gender studies with their project and I am presenting my own research in relation to theirs. Their work may shed some light on the Habermas-Deleuze debates with which I began this essay.9

Collins and Anderson create a curriculum “which allows the teacher to continue to teach the ‘major’ events of the traditional canon of American history . . .” but point out that “the concept of generational units allows the flexibility to examine the response of various cultural groups as well as gender and class groups” (“Affirmation” 4). I found this concept to be very compatible with Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of “minor” or what I would call “border” culture and, furthermore, an appropriate context for Anzaldúa’s work. A generation may not be biologically or geographically homogeneous. Rather, its members can be linked politically and form a collective voice, although their voices are not identical (see Deleuze and Gauttari). While living between cultures, they react to a set of shared experiences, as do Anglos and Latinos living in the U.S.-Mexico border region. Collins and Anderson refer to Marvin Rintale’s definition of generation: “a group of human beings who have undergone the same historical experiences” (“Affirmation” 4). The shared historical experiences Anderson and Collins discuss include: membership in the “baby boom” generation; McCarthyism; the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis; detente; nationalist movements in Chicana, Cuba, Bangladesh, and African nations; Vietnam; political assassinations in the United States; Watts; and Watergate. The responses to these experiences covered in their curriculum include the Black Civil Rights Movement, the Students’ Youth Movement, Women’s Liberation, the Chicano Movement, the American Indian Movement, and the War on Poverty. In thinking about shared historical experiences, I found it useful to return to the work of Ernst Bloch, “Nonsynchrony and its Dialectics.” Bloch argues that we do not all experience a given historical period in the same way. For example, not everyone experienced 1968 the same way in which many French students and intellectuals did. Anderson and Collins underscore the importance of highlighting “difference within difference” in their discussion of the 1960s. Although they do not yet include Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga in their curriculum, they have laid the groundwork for doing so: the Chicana lesbian is the quintessential example of “difference within difference.” It is in the context of this emphasis on alterity that I can introduce Nietzsche’s categories.

I would argue that the Dionysian allow for alterity and that the Apollonian dominated the Dionysian in the early days of Chicano theatre, but that the tension between cultural nationalist and marxists reveals that the Dionysian/Coatlicuan conflict was present. That is, there was a space for the Dionysian among some cultural nationalists, particularly in relation to pre-Conquest culture, a space that did not interest most Marxists. Nevertheless, it is not until recently, in the work of the “new generation” of Chicana writers, that the Dionysian has been allowed to emerge. I hope to uncover some of the rhizomatic relationships that connect form and content, “the traditional” and the experimental, and the Dionysian and the Apollonian in relation to contemporary Chicana writing. The contribution of conceptual art to the encouragement of formal experimentation among Chicana writers, and the demise of both Chicano nationalism and marxism have coincided with the outpouring of literary production from and audience support for Chicana writers. Despite the limitations placed on gender definition imposed by the historical antecedents of Chicano/theatre, including commedia dell’arte, carpa, and morality plays, and the forms favored by Valdez, the acto, the mito, and the corrido, new genres and reworking of older genres have emerged to allow for new forms of gender definition in theatre. This “new generation” connects women of different ages and sexual preferences, spanning 20 years. Whereas some of the younger writers are getting recognition in their twenties, their older sisters are getting the recognition they deserve in their forties. To make the point as strong as possible, my premise is that Moraga’s work is not only more relevant than Valdez’s, but it has been, for the last 15 years, more useful in considering democracy and its relation to alterity.

Moraga has written about sexism in the Chicano movement in Loving in the War Years. Regarding the early period, during which youth and students of the Chicano movement developed a separatist, cultural nationalist philosophy, Collins and Anderson describe “the utopian ’El plan espritual de Aztlan,’” adopted in March 1969 at a conference in Denver, Colorado: “It called for the reclamation and control of lands stolen from Mexico (the U.S. Southwest), anti-Europeanism, an insistence on the importance and glory of brown-skinned Indian heritage and an emphasis on humanistic and non-materialistic culture and education” (“Affirmation, Resistance, and Transformation in Chicano Culture”: Appendix). This important document did not address gender issues.

The situation is further complicated by the splitting described by Anzaldua: “The male-dominated Azteca-Mexica culture drove the powerful female deities underground by giving them monstrous attributes and by substituting male deities in their place, by splitting the female Self and the female deities” (27). I cannot overemphasize this point.

In order to understand the dominance of gender issues in the current period, it is helpful to consider their past exclusion by examining: 1) three major elements within Valdez’s work, the acto, the mito, and the corrido, 2) the influences of such figures as Bertholt Brecht, and 3) some of the historical antecedents of Chicano theatre, including Italian commedia dell-arte, carpa, and morality plays. What traditional forms have been recuperated and reworked in order to explore gender issues? Despite the aesthetic decisions made by Valdez and many Chicano artists, there is no need to assume that formal experimentation will result in depoliticization. As Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano points out, “most recently, the lesbian Chicana emerged as desiring subject in a non-narrative form that showed the class and cultural construction of gender and sexuality” (148–49). Why was this not possible in the acto or the mito?

The most overtly political and didactic form used by Valdez was the acto, not surprisingly, it is somewhat limited both in terms of its depth of analysis of feminist issues and its openness to experimental element. The common drudgery and difficulties suffered by men in low-paying jobs and housewives were presented in parallel. In defense of the acto, Huerta notes that the high cost of living, unemployment, and inadequate housing made early Chicano theatre closer to the acto than to Ibsen. More contemporary Chicana feminists go further than both the acto and Ibsen: Anzaldúa and Moraga write about deeper spiritual, sexual and creative processes in women. The problem with the early actos is that the daily conflicts that become the scenarios of early actos all had one solution in common: “Join the union.” Unfortunately, joining the union was not an adequate solution to gender issues. The union does not appear in Moraga’s plays Giving up the Ghost and Shadow of a Man.

Unlike the acto, the mito is a form more amenable to a serious treatment of gender issues. Huerta writes: “To Valdez, the acto portrays the Chicano through the eyes of man, while the mito sees the Chicano through the eyes of God” (97). Note that neither sees through the eyes of the Chicana; nevertheless the spirituality in the mito brings us closer to the Dionysian/Coatlicuan.

The corrido is another prominent form in Valdez’s work; unlike the acto and mito, it forms an integral part of Mexican culture. Just as the musical form of the cumbia embraced the issue of AIDS in Tijuana in the mid-1980s, there could conceivably be feminist corridos in the future. Collins and Anderson have students write their own corridos.

Having looked at three major elements in Valdez’s work, the acto, the mito, and the corrido, I now want to address briefly the influence on his work of such figures as Bertholt Brecht. As Goldsmith Barclay relates in his essay on Brecht and Chicano theatre, “certain theatrical forms,” that is, non-didactic forms, were rejected by El teatro Campesino because some campesinos said they could not understand them. One wonders if women farmworkers were asked.

What experimental currents existed alongside of, although perhaps out of sight from, Chicano teatro? Moraga began writing Loving in the War Years in 1976. As Moraga explains, her sense of Chicana identity grew out of her growing sense of lesbian identity. Given the attitudes about homosexuality that were prevalent in the Chicano movement during the 1970s, this is not surprising. Nor is it surprising that she found alternative forms in which to write, which did not include the acto or the mito: none of Valdez’s work to date has addressed the situation of the lesbian Chicana.

We can return to commedia dell’arte, carpa, and morality plays to continue to explore the constriction of gender in various theatrical forms which have influenced Chicano theatre. The multiplicity of forms found in carpa, which includes vignettes, songs, and dances, forms linked mainly by the fact that they could be performed under a tent by a travelling troupe, make carpa a genre that is conducive to the discussion of contemporary issues, including gender issues. Like the “slices of life” in the PBS production of Valdez’s Corridos, “slices of life” continue to be part of the work of contemporary Chicana lesbian comedians/performance artists such as Monica Palacios and Marga Gomez Both Palacios and Gomez use humor to explore gender issues. “Slices of life” and the telling of stories are also combined in the work of the Native American performance group Spiderwoman Theatre.

The prescriptive attitudes toward gender roles in morality plays make this a rich form for reworking in a contemporary context. Although written during the Nascent period (in 1973), in El Jardin, Carlos Morton does look at gender in a provocative manner. As Huerta explains, “the premise of the play is ‘What if Adam and Eve were Chicanos and God a rich early Californian?’” (196). What remains intriguing about the play is the way in which the relation between a man and a woman is negotiated in the context of racism and the Church. When performed by Diana Contreras in 1992 at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego, the strength and eroticism of Eve was strikingly contemporary and closer to Chicano lesbian writers in its interrogation of gender construction; it did not merely reiterate a simple virgin/whore dichotomy.

The urgency of the United Farm Worker’s situation in the late 1960s, the influences of marxism and Chicano nationalism, and the lack of recognition of gender construction as a crucial part of political analysis resulted in a truncated Dionysian/Coatlicuan in Chicano theatre of the Nascent Period. In other words, there was a suppression of alterity within the Chicano movement. For example, in San Juan Bautista, Chicanos dressed for the Day of the Dead celebrations, using images that evoked the carnivalesque, in Mikhail Bakhtin’s sense, and the Dionysian, in Nietzsche’s sense. However, the context for these images was Apollonian; it was the use of theatre to teach and to politicize. The didactic overpowered the Dionysian. It was not until Chicana feminism and conceptual art on the West Coast, from the Bay Area to Mexico City, entering from Brazil, not just Europe, freeing the Latino/a artist from Western logic and European neocolonialism, that a force as visually strong as the didactic art of Chicano murals and early teatro campesino could successfully counter these forms. We can compare the Day of the Dead celebration of the Nascent Period, in which gay and lesbian identity was not addressed, to the Day of Dead Celebration in San Francisco in 1956, for example, when the gay and lesbian communities joined forces with Chicanos in the Mission District to create a parade of stunningly beautiful floats containing altars memorializing those who had died of AIDS.

It was only after the convergence of “folk ritual” and the “secret history of women” as it informed the work of women linked to both overtly political and conceptual art, that the Dionysian could again be freed in the work of Latinas such as altarista and critic Amalia Mesa-Bains. As Ramón Saldivar writes:

no study of Chicano narrative . . . would be complete without a consideration of the most vibrant new development in Chicano literature, the emergence of a significant body of works by women authors in the 1970s and 1980s. (172)

He adds, “Chicana writers are . . . building an instructive alternative to exclusively phallocentric subject of contemporary Chicano narrative” (Saldivar 175).

In conclusion, feminist pedagogy and gender studies can play an important role at the high school level; conversely, research generated in the classroom can be illuminating in the context of current debates in gender studies and in the global discussion of democracy, our understanding of modern societies, and the analysis of capital logic. In “After Aztlán . . . A New Generation of Latino Writers,” the final lesson of Collins and Anderson’s curriculum, students read Cisneros, Latina/o poets of the nineties, and other contemporary work. They are encouraged to meet muralist Judy Baca and to visit the art gallery and community center Self-Help Graphics. The research of Collins and Anderson, particularly the use of the notion of “generational unit,” is preparing the way for the creation of a curriculum in which the work of contemporary Chicana writers can be understood. With the fracturing of the paradigms of cultural nationalism and marxism in the border region, Chicanas find themselves relating to Aztec culture and to Aztlán in a new way. While developed in the high schools, the project of Collins and Anderson will have far-reaching implications for the teaching of Chicana writers at the university level. Their work can contextualize the introduction of Chicana lesbian writers at the university level, and, one hopes, at the high school level. Their research is being carried out, not insignificantly, on the West Coast, which can no longer be seen only in relation to the East Coast, or even to the north/south division between the United States and Mexico, but instead as part of a global Pacific Rim recentering. As such, it opens up new ways of thinking about how cultural groups may function in relation to one another in a multicultural classroom. The rejection of cultural nationalism by contemporary Chicana writers may serve as a paradigm for different rhizomatic connections linking culture, nation and gender in other border regions. It is a call for the necessity to go beyond both a cultural nationalist politics and aesthetics. It is an opportunity to reconsider the relationship between democracy and alterity.


1. This essay is part of a work in progress; it is also the basis of a chapter of a book entitled Nietzsche and Performance to be published by the University of Minnesota Press. Parts of it and/or a related essay, “Foucault’s Ventriloquism: Can the Subaltern Speak?,” which will also appear in the book, have been presented at a reading at the University of California at Riverside, 10 February 1993, and at a Cultural Critique conference at National University, San Diego, 26 February 1994. This work will be presented in July 1994 in Germany at a conference on border culture in the context of Eastern Europe and in a special issue of Diacritics on Latin America (forthcoming). [return to text]

2. This formulation of the relationship between modernity and alterity appears in Ferry and Renaut. It is my view that it is a Habermasian formulation. In his introduction to Observations on “The Spiritual Situation of the Age,” Habermas distinguishes himself from the New Right: “The New Right warns against the discursive dissolution of values, against the erosion of natural traditions, against the overburdening of the individual, and against excessive individualism. Its adherents want to see modernization restricted to capitalist growth and technical progress while at the same time wishing to arrest cultural transformation, identity formation, changes in motivation and attitude — in short, to freeze the contents of tradition. By contrast, we must again bring to consciousness the dignity of modernity, the dimension of a non-truncated rationality” (15). Habermas is also the author of Knowledge and Human Interests. [return to text]

3. Anderson and Collins are Los Angeles area high school teachers. They both participated as post-secondary fellows in 1992–93 in the UCLA workshop of the ACLS Program in Humanities Curriculum Development. Currently, Collins is continuing her research as a Ph.D. candidate. [return to text]

4. Alurista was the editor of the seminal Chicano journal Maize. [return to text]

5. As Anzaldúa explains in Borderlands, the female deities were driven underground by Azteca-Mexica culture: “They divided her who had been complete, who possessed both upper (light) and underworld (dark) aspects. Coatlicue, the Serpent goddess, and her more sinister aspects, Tlazolteotl and Cihuacoatl, were ‘darkened’ and disempowered much in the same manner as the Indian Kali” (27). [return to text]

6. Habermas writes this in his introduction to Observations on “The Spiritual Situation of the Age.” Seyla Benhabib has written about the ideal speech situation in her essay “The Utopian Dimension in Communicative Ethics.” [return to text]

7. This poem can be found in Borderlands (134–35). [return to text]

8. Since the publication of this essay, I have been told that Spivak has adopted a more pro-Foucault position. I want to thank Jim Merod for bringing this to my attention. [return to text]

9. In my essay “Focault’s Ventriloquism,” I address both the Habermas-Deleuze debates and Spivak’s attack on Foucault and Deleuze. [return to text]