Transcultural Translations: Performative Pedagogies
The theme for the group I co-ordinated was: "The intermingling of cultures (métissage culturel) and its impact on Canadian or foreign national identity; past present, and future." In the wake of centuries of migration it is becoming progressively impossible to think in terms of cultural purity or authenticity, although currently revivified national anxieties to produce unified and 'authentic' cultures are on the rise once again. Increasingly, however, it becomes difficult to paper over the fissures and disjunctions as traditions and communities mingle; over the next few generations it will appear absurd to define identity in terms of one or even two cultural traditions. The kinds of people Canadians call 'visible minorities' and the Australian Lebanese critic, Ghassan Hage, calls 'Third World- looking people' and attaching to them a certain history of migration, settlement and apprentice citizenship is increasingly going to seem perverse. In North America there is indeed a growing self-consciously titled genre of 'mixed race' texts which function to illustrate the fact that the essentialisms of an earlier period, invoked by both the dominant and minority groups, what Hage cleverly refers to as a kind of 'ethnic caging' (105-16), are going to become more complicated, if not impossible.1
These concerns bear local as well as global implications. While many debates in a range of disciplines are preoccupied with the effects of globalization, the perspectives or standpoints from which they are conducted are often very local ones. For example, Canada and Canadian cultural debates have long been preoccupied with maintaining cultural autonomy in the face of a perception of US cultural colonization. At the same time, within the borders of the nation, other anxieties proliferate from a range of groups aligned with ethnic, indigenous, sexual and other interests. How will their concerns be maintained in the clash between nationalism and globalization? At times strategic alliances, for example, the networking of Indigenous groups, create multinational cohorts of a different kind from the capitalist monoliths we associate with transnational corporations. As well, the new technologies have facilitated the global communication of very local projects and events. We do well to recall a recent comment made by Patrick Chamoiseau, “But globalization affords us opportunities too. It gives us more freedom, both individually and culturally. It’s easier to be Antillean or Breton or black in a world that is linked up than it was in the old shackles of nation-states. There is no reason for us to abandon this vast electronic network of communication which now hangs over the world to the dominating powers” (137).
The dominant questions which preoccupy the two groups (Brazilian based and Canada based) dealing with the issue métissage/transfer culturel/cultural mingling/hybridity, are what does ‘transculturalism’ as heuristic concept have to offer and what kind of history does it entail? The short answer is, a different one for the Anglophone and Francophone/Brazilian teams.
The Theatre of Theory: Performative Pedagogies
1. Transcultural Improvisations
I would like now to divide the rest of this paper into two sections within the framework of what I am representing as a kind of theatrical performance of theory. This will have some elements of the ‘performative’ (from speech act theory) as expounded by Judith Butler and others but for the most part will draw on broader notions of the theatrical—a dimension that is often marginalized in our academic speculations. In the first section I will be looking at some of the debates around the key terms I’ve mentioned to show how they are animated in interesting ways by a kind of anthropomorphism which reminds me at times of the ways in which the ‘humours’ were characterized in early allegorical texts. The allegorical remains a useful dimension. As well, shadowing this depiction, is an acknowledgment of ‘affect’, an element increasingly of note across many projects in cultural studies. It has been characterized by one researcher as the “cultural history of public emotions.”
The 2002 Transculturalisms Symposium held at UBC brought our first attempts to articulate the themes for our international project.
In trying to define key terms for the project I quickly discovered that, broadly speaking, there were three traditions, Francophone, Hispanic/Lusitanian, and Anglophone, preoccupied by terms such as ‘transculturalisms’, ‘métissage,’ creolization and ‘hybridity’. While the debates about the ways in which cultures and identities are heterogeneous rather than homogeneous have been with us for a while, astoundingly, there was remarkably little awareness of each other’s discussions across the full spectrum (possibly more awareness between Francophone and Hispanic). The Caribbean was one location where such intersections occurred—not surprisingly. Thus a number of Anglophone researchers were familiar with Francoise Lionnet’s derivation of the term métissage from the work of Caribbean critic Edouard Glissant and his concept of braiding diverse cultural forms. In Canada, a term we are more used to encountering in relation to ‘cultural difference’ because it is part of official policy (though less so recently) is ‘multiculturalism’ and I have spent several decades exploring the construction of multiculturalism in various settler cultures, notably Australia and Canada. In Anglophone debates the preferred term has been ‘hybridity’ and the opening panel at the symposium was devoted to accounts of how debates around ‘hybridity’ had differing traditions within the Anglophone, Francophone and Hispanic/Latin American contexts.
Like many, the local team for the project reached for Walter Mignolo's work and his statements over what, following Fernando Ortiz, he calls 'transculturation'. Ortiz (a Cuban theorist) had critiqued Malinowski's notion of acculturation as a process of moving from one culture to another, a process which did not capture the uneven tensions and transmutations Ortiz analyzed within Cuban culture. This was our first awareness of Ortiz and for the most part, in Anglophone contexts, Ortiz is dismissed in a footnote. I finally did unearth a battered translation of Ortiz’s Cuban Counterpoint published in 1947 with an introduction by Malinowski and a prologue by Herminio Portell Vilá. What I found was an interesting dramatisation of a three-way debate. Vilá’s piece, dated 1939, comprised a passionate indictment of US domination.2
Given our awareness of what happened subsequently in those relations, the piece has a poignancy enhanced by history and frames Ortiz’s text in important ways. Recall that Ortiz coined the term ‘transculturation’ in opposition to the more common ‘acculturation’ and this is generously acknowledged as a significant and inevitable development by Malinowski in his introduction.3
Here is Ortiz:
I am of the opinion that the word transculturation better expresses the different phases of the process of transition from one culture to another because this does not consist merely in acquiring another culture, which is what the English word acculturation really implies, but the process also necessarily involves the loss and uprooting of a previous culture, which could be defined as deculturation. In addition it carries the idea of the consequent creation of new cultural phenomena, which could be called neoculturation” (102-3).
Both time and space are implicated in this metamorphosis: space in that the paradigmatic location for the concept is Cuba and time because “The whole gamut of culture run by Europe in a span of more than four millenniums took place in Cuba in less than four centuries” (99). Initially, according to Ortiz, the process of transculturation failed for the Indigenous peoples because, as he put it, the “aboriginal basis of society was destroyed…it was necessary to bring in a complete new population, both masters and servants”(100). But the further dimension of Ortiz’s anaysis of Cuba is to widen its application to the Americas in general, including of course the US. Thus the reciprocal changes accomplished by these minglings is what has become the chief characteristic of his work in its referencing across the decades. Both Canclini and Mignolo refer to Ortiz’s primary contribution in these terms but Mignolo’s characterisation of his work is somewhat troubling and seems inordinately influenced by Malinowski’s initial misinterpretation (Coronil). For instance, “ Ortiz’s concept of transculturation largely contributed to move the discourse on race to the discourse on culture” (Mignolo167) and “The advantage of the term transculturation over mestizaje is not only its power to move us away from racial consideration, but also its ability to invite a second move toward ‘the social life of things’ “ (168). I’d like to test this contention, one which is often cited as shorthand for Ortiz’s contribution.
Vilá’s characterization of “Dona Azúcar and Don Tobaco” alerted me to the allegorical and dramatic elements in Ortiz’s text in relation to his figurative representation of sugar and tobacco in (to me) unexpected ways. Bearing in mind that we are dealing with the broad brushstrokes inherent in a translation, consider the following (quite lengthy) passage. It is constructed in terms of both a nationalist ideology, a racialised one, and is profoundly gendered:
Sugar cane and tobacco are all contrast. It would seem that they were moved by a rivalry that separates them from their very origins. One is a gramineous plant, the other a solanaceous; one grows from cuttings of stalk rooted down, the other from tiny seeds that germinate. The value of one is in its stalk, not in its leaves, which are thrown away; that of the other in its foliage, not its stalk, which is discarded. Sugar cane lives for years, the tobacco plant only a few months. The former seeks the light, the latter shade; day and night, sun and moon. The former loves the rain that falls from the heavens; the latter the heat that comes from the earth. The sugar cane is ground for its juice; the tobacco leaves are dried to get rid of the sap. Sugar achieves its destiny through liquid, which melts it, turns it into, syrup; tobacco through fire, which volatilizes it, converted into smoke. The one is white, the other dark. Sugar is sweet and odorless; tobacco bitter and aromatic. Always in contrast! Food and poison, waking and drowsing, energy and dream, delight of the flesh and delight of the spirit, sensuality and thought, the satisfaction of an appetite and the contemplation of a moment's illusion, calories of nourishment and puffs of fantasy, undifferentiated and commonplace anonymity from the cradle and aristocratic individuality recognized wherever it goes, medicine and magic, reality and deception, virtue and vice. Sugar is she; tobacco is he. Sugar cane was the gift of the gods, tobacco of the devils; she is the daughter of Apollo, he is the offspring of Persephone.
In the economy of Cuba there are also striking contrasts in the cultivation, the processing, and the human connotations of the two products. Tobacco requires delicate care, sugar can look after itself; the one requires continual attention, the other involves seasonal work; intensive versus extensive cultivation; steady work on the part of a few, intermittent jobs for many; the immigration of whites on the one hand, the slave trade on the other; liberty and slavery; skilled and unskilled labor; hands versus arms; men versus machines; delicacy versus brute force. The cultivation of tobacco give rise to the small holding; that of sugar brought about the great land grants. In their industrial aspects tobacco belongs to the city, sugar to the country. Commercially the whole world is the market for our tobacco, while our sugar has only a single market. Centripetence and centrifugence. The native versus the foreigner. National sovereignty as against colonial status. The proud cigar band as against the lowly sack. (Ortiz 6-7)
This is a rich and ‘excessive’ passage and those two paragraphs translate easily into a structuralist schematic which is remarkably anthropomorphized in gendered, racialized and nationalist terms. The logic of oppositionality was not always predictable. However I think it serves to question Mignolo’s (and others’) over-simplified contention that “Ortiz moved from race and culture toward the transculturation of objects and commodities” (169). Coronil suggests that this allegorical move represented Ortiz’s ‘resocialization’ of these commodities, serving to return them to the social world, “Ortiz in effect brings them back to the social world which creates them, resocializes them as it were, and in so doing illuminates the society that has given rise to them” (Coronil xxviii). Underlying the impulse to present Ortiz as the grand, but myopic, ancestor is, I assume, a teleology or evolutionary narrative of theory which is certainly familiar to us.
Mignolo, who believes that Ortiz is insufficiently aware of colonialism and too wedded to nationalism, prefers the term 'colonial semiosis' as registering the "conflicts engendered by coloniality at the level of social-semiotic interactions ... in the sphere of signs" (14). Indeed, Mignolo critiqued Ortiz for not being sufficiently aware of colonialism and the need to privilege the locus of enunciation over the enunciated (the object of knowledge). Mignolo himself is attempting to move away from a concept of 'culture' which he sees as thoroughly compromised by earlier colonial classificatory systems distinguishing between nature and civilization and more recently capitalist commodification. For him:
Transculturation subsumes the emphasis placed on borders, migrations, plurilanguaging, and multiculturing and the increasing need to conceptualize transnational and transimperial languages, literacies, and literatures...Transculturation...infects the locus of enunciation, and not just as a social phenomenon allowing for the celebration of the 'impure' in the social world from the 'pure' perspectives couched in a national language and in 'scientific' epistemology (Mignolo 220).
In short transculturation disrupts national as well as disciplinary borders whereas for Mignolo, Ortiz’s basic premise was to speak from too national a basis. To be fair, this certainly comes through the framing of the 1947 publication but I think I was trying to recover the ambiguity and theatricality in Ortiz’s text which, I believe, destabilized those categories already at this early stage.
If we move to consider the term métissage, another key term for the topic, our group turned to the work of Francoise Lionnet, who has certainly been responsible for transmitting these debates from the Francophone to the Anglophone contexts. In the introductory chapter to her book Postcolonial Representations Lionnet, drawing on the work of anthropologist Renato Rosaldo, speaks of métissage as something which occurs in the 'border zones' of culture.
In those areas on the periphery of stable metropolitan cultural discourses ... there is an incessant and playful heteroglossia, a bilingual speech or hybrid language that is a site of creative resistance to the dominant conceptual paradigms...The global mongrelization or métissage of cultural forms creates complex identities and interrelated, if not overlapping, spaces. In those spaces, struggles for the control of means of representation and self-identification are mediated by a single and immensely powerful symbolic system: the colonial language and the variations to which it is subjected under the pen of writers who enrich, transform, and creolize it (6-7).
For Bakhtin himself, the crucial effect comes with...the moment where, within a single discourse, one voice is able to unmask the other. This is the point where authoritative discourse is undone. Authoritative discourse Bakhtin argues must be singular...(22).
Questions of language are very much at the center of these debates and this quotation echoes Mignolo’s call for identifying the instability within the locus of enunciation.4
Bhabha's work brings psychoanalytic and postcolonial concepts to bear on these linguistic debates (Bhabha in turn acknowledges his precursors in Fanon, Memmi and Ashis Nandy). In other words the notion that colonzer and colonized are locked into a psychic as well as material master slave relationship and what the possibilities for resistance are within that. Bhabha identifies such gestures as sly civility and mimicry which undo, precisely, the univocal nature of authoritative, colonial discourse as well as signalling, I would maintain, the presence of the performative.5
In the wake of his early work Bhabha was criticized for positing that resistances happen only discursively (this critique was usually underpinned by lack of understanding about the Foucauldian meaning of ‘dicourse’ as a discursive regime of knowledge patrolled by institutional power relations). More recently attention has focussed on his notion of the time-lag within modernity (building on the work of Fabian) and the third space--an attempt by him to move beyond those binary oppositions which may see-saw but which leave power structures in place.
Nikos Papastergiadis, a member of our group based in Australia, has worked to bring the Latin American debates into dialogue with those in the Anglophone world in his book The Turbulence of Migration. He begins his chapter by critiquing the all-embracing use of hybridity as "multi-purpose identity kit". Like Young, Papastergiadis takes us through Darwinism and the eugenicist tradition and reminds us that these live on in contemporary theory, for example in the populist notion that intelligence is genetically transmitted (Papastergiadis 174). He then moves to the examples of Mexico and Brazil to examine the ways in which ideas of mixed race are intimately tied to the construction of ideologies of nationalism. He looks particularly at the work of Gilberto Freyre to illustrate the notion that the Indigenous other was perceived as an element to be absorbed or assimilated in order to strengthen the colonizing group's hold on territory. As he puts it succinctly: black wombs; white seed (177). From there he moves to the ways in which this model was to some degree replicated in Modernist aesthetics via the philosophies of Picasso and Max Raphael. The process involved one of commodifying and domesticating the other as 'primitive' via the familiar categories of corporeality and mysticism (these continue to be recognizable moves).
In a segue to analyzing the ways in which hybridity functions within colonialism, Papastergiadis states acutely: "For the non-western to enter the west it must do so in the guise of the cultural hybrid: the non-western westerner." (179). In considering the work of Ashis Nandy, Papastergiadis reiterates his notion of the mutual imbrication of colonizer and colonized in ways that are perhaps more familiar to us through the work of Bhabha. Nandy's concept of rupture and regrouping may also be more familiar to us though Derridean notions of 'brisure' (something Robert Young mentions).
Hybridity studies owe a great deal to the earlier regime of semiotics, notably the work of Bakhtin and Yuri Lotman. The latter is perhaps not so automatically considered in the history of the field. In Papastergiadis’s account, Lotman's notion of cultures as overlapping systems akin to onion layers establishes the model of a 'semiosphere' in a constant state of creolization. The limits of Lotman's work are, once again (as with the writings of Freyre) that the other exists only to be assimilated. Papastergiadis also considers the work of Michel Serres whose notion of the parasite as the third term that disrupts the communicative dyad, is an interesting early formulation of an attempt to move beyond binary oppositions to a third space. Serres' work also introduces the element of 'contamination' or infection, which again echoes the eugenicist model (never very far away) or at the very least the idea of pathologizing any deviation from the binary mode of thinking which has come to be associated with Western epistemology. Papastergiadis considers briefly the work of Fanon and Ngugi as a way of moving to the influential theories of Hall and Bhabha situated within Anglophone postcolonialism. Much depends on how we are to conceive of that place beyond the see-sawing binaries, the third space. Do we see it as counter-authoritative? Is it permeated by Bhabha's notions of time-lag and belatedness, an emphasis on the temporal rather than the spatial? Does the concept of translation adequately capture the sense of violence and regrouping, the production of something else? As Robert Young puts it:
Hybridization as creolization involves fusion, the creation of a new form, which can then be set up against the old form, of which it is partly made up. Hybridization as 'raceless chaos' by contrast, produces no stable new form but rather something closer to Bhabha's restless, uneasy, interstitial hybridity: a radical heterogeneity, discontinuity, the permanent revolution of forms (Young 25).
...the over-exuberant deployment of a notion like hybridity can connote an uncomfortable claiming of heterosis, the inherent biological superiority of 'mixed race.'...However well-intentioned, this eulogy for mixture is problematic. It implies the intermingling of separate streams of blood and genes whose mystical alchemy orchestrates a virtuous medley of mixed cultural practices. Yet such tropes of mixing and blending are predicated on heterosexual reproduction, and an accentuated definition of ancestral loyalty which...is still the genealogy of identity being traced...these metaphors of intermixing only make sense if you hold a notion of purity constant for at least one of the generations prior to that being designated as 'mixed' (9).
Later Parker and Song formulate the anxieties surrounding this attempt to hang on to the components of 'pure' race as "an anxiety that 'mixed race' children will somehow dilute the family blood and lack the readily visible bodily signatures of ancestry" (16). They also discuss the dangers they perceive in Paul Gilroy's recent attempts to constitute a 'post-race' model and remind us of the important work of Etienne Balibar and the notion of 'racism without race' (12). Their introduction ends with the concept of 'intersectionality,' a term which echoes some of the other attempts to formulate a third position which is not a resolution but which maintains the sense of something new being created without the complete submerging or assimilation of the other constituent components (15). A number of the contributions at our recent Symposium indeed tackled the everyday lived realities of hybridity and this appears to be a productive moment to examine these issues which will in turn shift the theoretical grounds from which we draw our interpretive strategies.
Where does this leave us? No easy solutions nor have we identified any über-terms which meet all the qualifications and critiques amassed over the years. For me this exercise has resulted in taking increasing care to understand rather than reify the complexities and specificities of the terms and debates in each of their historical and material contexts. Comparisons need to made, but carefully.
1 See, for example, the excellent collection Half and Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural (O'Hearn 1998)
2 See also Fernando Coronil’s introduction to the 1995 reissue of Ortiz published by Duke UP.
3 Coronil points out that Malinowski subsequently used the term ‘transculturation’ only twice but, significantly, one of these was in his last work. Coronil makes the case that it might be interpreted as Malinowski finally shifting his position from disinterested scientific observer (after the invasion of his home country Poland) to acknowledge his own ‘interested’ location in relation to victims of oppression (Coronil xlii ff.)
4 Interestingly, in his latest magisterial compilation,Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (2001) Young remarks on the fact that “The linguistic and thus cultural effects of colonialism have been much more developed in the Francophone postcolonial theory than elsewhere” (393).
5 And the distinction between the performative and pedagogical (a term akin to Bakhtin’s notion of authoritative speech) is discussed in his important essay “DissemiNation” in The Location of Culture.
6 The collection Hybridity and its Discontents: Politics, Science, Culture, edited by Avtar Brah and Annie Coombes, centres rather more on the dangers of culturalism, or looking at culture in a vacuum, and the importance of theorizing or retaining within theory a notion of agency. Particularly pertinent is the essay by John Kraniauskas comparing Bhabha and Canclini.
7 There are a number of elements in this overly schematic account to which I'd like to draw your attention. The concept of contamination has had an interesting history within aesthetics and is examined in the special issue devoted to it of Third Text # 332 (Autumn 1995). The editor of this special issue, Jean Fisher, has also edited a very useful collection of essays titled (Global Visions: Towards a New Internationalism in the Visual Arts (1994). At a recent conference in Sydney, Australia, I was intrigued to encounter the Electronic Disturbance Theatre of Ricardo Dominguez (and others) and to note how it, in turn, seems influenced by Serres' concept of the parasite. We should also note but don't have time to pursue the influential concept of 'border theory' associated with artist/theorists such as Guillermo Gómez-Pena (Warrior for Gringostroika), Coco Fusco (English is Broken Here) and Gloria Anzaldúa (Borderlands/la Frontera: the New Mestiza).
Anzaldúa, Gloria.1987. Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Aunt Lute Books.
Bernabé, Jean, Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphaël Confiant. 1998. “Créolité Bites.” In conversation with Lucien Taylor. Transition #74, 124-161.
Bhabha, Homi. 1994. The Location of Culture, London: Routledge.
Brah, Avtar & Annie E. Coombs (eds.) 2000. Hybridity and its Discontents: Politics, Science, Culture, Routledge.
Canclini, Néstor G. 1995. Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity. U of Minnesota P.
Gilroy, Paul 2000. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Harvard UP.
Glissant, Edouard. 1989. Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays. U of Virgina P.
Hage, Ghassan. White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society, Annandale, NSW: Pluto Press, 1998.
Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez. NY: Columbia UP, 1982.
Lionnet, Françoise1989. Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender, Self-Portraiture. Cornell.
------ 1995 Postcolonial Representations: Women. Literature. Identity. Cornell.
Mignolo, Walter D.. Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2000.
Ortiz, Fernando. 1947. Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar. NY: Alfred Knopf.
Papastergiadis, Nikos. 2000. The Turbulence of Migration (ch. on 'hybridity), Polity P.
Parker, David & Miri Song. (eds) 2001. Rethinking 'Mixed Race'. Pluto P.
Young, Robert. 1995. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. Routledge.
------ 2001. Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction. Blackwell.