Defining borders, defining bodies : insularities, Utopia and other ideal figures in Las Sergas de Esplandián



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While islands have long been a point of literary interest and curiosity, in the 16th century, one begins to see the stubborn application of the island’s geographical structure to non-islands. Recent scholarship on the issue of insularity has placed emphasis on the development of modern literature through the ambiguity of insularity of spaces and the language used to describe them. In the English and Spanish traditions, the focus on insularity in 16th century literature can be tied to the influence of colonialism. Despite widespread popularity in the 16th century, Las Sergas de Esplandián has become little more than a footnote in reference to the name of California. Nevertheless, the geographic elements of Las Sergas deserve closer examination, as they highlight the connection between geographic and literary texts in their portrayal of gender in the early modern period. In this essay I apply border theory to Las Sergas to understand the way in which these elements interact in the early modern period. In many ways, Las Sergas achieves the opposite of Anzaldúa’s intent in her development of border theory, which was designed to highlight that which exists between or outside the hegemonic structure left behind by colonialism rather than re-colonize it, but some of the insular spaces within Las Sergas demonstrate a geographic, linguistic and gendered ambiguity that fits well within border theory.