Anzaldúa’s Coatlicue State

[a] Pages 63-73, Chapter 4: “La herencia de Coatlicue

[b] This chapter discusses the Coatlicue state, beginning by describing the ambivalent mirror, wihch both reflects and draws on in. Anzaldúa writes, “These seemingly contradictory aspects—the act of being seen, held immobilized by a glance, and ‘seeing through’ an experience—are symbolized by the underground aspects of Coatlicue, Cihuacoatl, and Tlazolteotl which cluster in what I call the Coatlicue state” (64).

Anzaldúa was three years old the first time she was visited by Coatlicue, when she realized there was something “not normal” about her, and that she felts she had a secret sin, “la seña, the mark of the Beast,” that she had to hide (64-65). She describes shame that arises out of being different, and the defense mechanisms that one uses to protect the self. Anzaldúa has “split from and disowned those parts of myself that others rejected,” and she notes that she and her people “blame ourselves, hate ourselves, terrorize ourselves…unconsciously; we suspect that there is something ‘wrong’ with us” (67). Others use addiction to get through tough times. Anzaldúa believes that “We need Coatlicue to slow us up so that the psyche can assimilate previous experiences nd process the changes” (68).

Anzaldúa describes the Coatlicue state thusly: “Coatlicue da luz a todo y a todo devora. Ella es el monstruo que se trago todos los seres vivientes y los astros, es el monstruo que se traga al sol cada tarde y le da luz cada mañana. [Coatlicue gives light to all and devours all. She is the monster that swallowed all living beings and the stars, she is the monster that swallows the sun each afternoon and gives the sun light each morning.] Coatlicue is a rupture in our everyday world. As the Earth, she opens and swallos us, plunging us into the underworld where the soul resides, allowing us to dwell in darkness” (68).

When Anzaldúa (and others) go into depression or rejection of the self, she brings on the Coatlicue state. Her “soul [is] frightened out of the body” (70). One must change: “Every increment of consciousness, every step forward is a travesía, a crossing” (70). This crossing takes one from one state of consciousness to another, adding knowledge as one travels, into new territory after new territory of consciousness. This new “‘Knowing’ is painful because after ‘it’ happens I can’t stay in the same place and be comfortable. I am no longer the same person I was before” (70). If one doesn’t change, one remains a stone: “No hay más que cambiar [There is nothing better than change]” (71).

[c] I was very confused at many times in this chapter, to be honest. I am not sure what was going on early in the chapter, when Anzaldúa realizes that she is “not normal” – its the rajadura, the slice/cut/gash, her vagina? Is she realizing that woman is the Other at the age of three? Is it that this difference is spiritual and she is different from others because of her spirituality and being visited by this Coatlicue state? Is it another difference? Is the rajadura actually purely metaphorical, a cut/wound/mark that Anzaldúa is worried that others can see, but they actually can’t? I am leaning towards metaphor when I re-read: “Their eyes penetrate her; they slit her from head to belly. Rajada. She is at their mercy, she can do nothing to defend herself. And she is ashamed that they see her so exposed, so vulnerable” (65).

I am drawn to her metaphor of Coatlicue, even as I don’t understand it fully. I feel as though there is something wrong with me as a thinker and as a reader that won’t let me access fully what she is getting at (especially when I feel that I understood the previous parts of her book so well). I am hoping for further elucidation. It seems to me a way to get past defense mechanisms, and that when things are at their worsts, this is the way through false consciousness into real consciousness, full consciousness.

[d] I still don’t understand this childhood experience. What, at age two or three, did Anzaldúa discover was different about herself than about others?

[e] When Anzaldúa describes the problem of defense mechanisms, how she has rejected the parts of herself that others reject, how some go into addictions (drugs, talismans, etc.) (67-68), she is describing the process of internalized oppression, and this chapter is almost (or perhaps is) a metaphor for coming out of internalized oppression, for lifting oneself after one hits rock-bottom. Anzaldúa also describes the substantial cruelty and the harm caused by it with her metaphor of teh Rajada, the cut that is caused by others’ rejection of her, the cut “from head to belly” (65). The internalized shame and rejection of portions of oneself are clear psychological harm caused by an oppressive system.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands: La Frontera. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1999.

This entry was posted in Philosophy 599 Ethics of Diversity (Spring 2006). Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Anzaldúa’s Coatlicue State

  1. Danielle says:

    I think I have an answer to your question. Anzaldúa apparently began menstruating at the age of 3, which is extremely rare. And she underwent a hysterectomy later in life, as she suffered problems.

    I hope that helped your understanding.

  2. Michael says:

    Thanks, Danielle. Haven’t thought about that part of the book in years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.