11 September 2009

Azade Seyhan

Azade Seyhan writes in Writing Outside the Nation (2000):

"Chicano/a literary and cultural criticism has cast its critical vision on a diverse spectrum of theoretical and imaginative writings from Latin America and from other ethnic and minority cultures in the United States. By situating their literature in a more international and intercultural context, Chicano/a literary theorists subtly state their dissatisfaction with the relatively minor critical attention paid to their cultural production in mainstream academic criticism. Angie Chabram Dernersesian has been a leading advocate of reassessing Chicano/a writing in the context of new critical frameworks and of forging transnational linkages with underrepresented and/or emergent literary traditions. Castillo conceptualizes the new poetics of Xicanisma in a manner analogous to the reconfiguration of cultural legacies in contemporary ethnic and immigrant literatures. ‘We are looking at what has been handed down to us by previous generations of poets,’ she writes, ‘and, in effect, rejecting, reshaping, restructuring, reconstructing that legacy and making language and structure ours, suitable to our moment in history.”

I join Seyhan's advocacy of what I have called Wikcriticism, but I disagree on one major point. I hate the use of the words minor and underrepresented (and even the word emergent, which I am forced to use occasionally, being an admirer of Raymond Williams). We need to decolonize our minds (as the African writers put it). I think that multilingual or interlingual literature is the mainstream, but the so-called mainstream writers and critics just don't know it. In fact, in theory, all literary texts are dialogic or made up of two or more languages (we all learned that from Mikhail Bakhtin!). In the case of monolingual writers, the other language is what linguists would call the idiolect (or the unique kind of language that only one individual speaks or writes); it is the idiolect that interacts with the common or shared language. Again, I use the analogy of physics: the equations of relativity can be applied to everything, but in ordinary events, where we are far from approaching the speed of light, we just ignore the almost infinitesimal quantities involved, but almost infinitesimal does not mean zero. Many critics ignore the idiolect when reading monolingual texts, but the theoretical reality is still there: a writer writes in one language using words from another language. In a multilingual or interlingual text, the reality hits us straight in the face.

1 comment:

  1. "We need to decolonize our minds," as a writer's caveat is a prescription I can agree with. However, if by that is meant unshackling the mind of the nuances of a surrogate language, it could be quixotic. The mind's resources for "adaptation and adoption" may be underestimated. Residues of colonization linger, hence, the incidence of "interlingual" communication (literary, commercial, or digital, etc.)

    It is clear to me now that writing in English (or the "mainstream language of any milieu) even in an environment of "exilic, diasporic, ethnic" expression is a convenient compromise, an expedient choice, if you will. What continues to exist is the writer's ability to re-order his worldview where ever he finds himself creating his art. He will use his most expedient mode of expression.

    Jose Lacaba in his blog "Ka Pete" predicts that English (as many of us learned in schools) will be expunged from the Philippines in a decade from now. Quite dire and I think wistful, but will that country be ready with a language that could link it to the rest of the globe?

    I can see from this vantage point that most languages of extant literature are as "multilingual" as the language users allow themselves an abundance of linguistic resources to express their views of reality. The richest languages prevail.

    The danger that "Wikcriticism" must stir away from is its being stuck in a stagnant pool of linguistic hermeneutics where multilingual interpretations of reality will get in the way of appreciating the "splendours" of the human condition.