Evading the Cultural Solecism


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Please log in from an authenticated institution or log into your member profile to access the email feature. From its modest British origins in the late s and early s, Cultural Studies has developed into an internationally significant academic growth industry. For Williams and Hoggart, as also for Thompson, it was social class that provided the central marker of what we have since come to know as CQ Press Your definitive resource for politics, policy and people.

Remember me? Back Institutional Login Please choose from an option shown below. Need help logging in? Click here. Cultural diversity may even emerge as a system of he articulation and exchange of cul ural signs in certain early structuralist accounts of anthropology. Through he concept of cultural difference I want to draw attention to the common ground and lost territory of contemporary critical debates. For hey all recognize hat the problem of cul ural interaction emerges only at he significatory boundaries of cultures, where mean- ings and values are mis read or signs are misappropriated.

Cul ure only emerges as a problem, or a problematic, at the point at which there is a loss of meaning in he contestation and articulation of everyday life, between classes, genders, races, na ions. Yet he reality of the limit or limit-text of cul ure is rarely heorized outside of well-intentioned moralist polemics against prejudice and stereotype, or he blanket assertion of individual or insti u ional racism - that describe he effect ra her han he struc ure of the problem.


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The need to think he limit of culture as a problem of he enuncia ion of cultural difference is disavowed. The struggle is often between the historicist teleological or mythical time and narrative of traditionalism - of the right or the left - and the shifting, strategically displaced time of the articulation of a historical politics of negotiation which I suggested above.

The time of liberation is, as Fanon powerfully evokes, a time of cultural uncertainty, and, most crucially, of significatory or representational undecidability: But [native intellectuals] forget that the forms of thought and what [they] feed. It is the problem of how, in signifying the present, something comes to be repeated, relocated and translated in the name of tradition, in the guise of a pastness that is not necessarily a faithful sign of historical memory but a strategy of representing authority in terms of the artifice of the archaic. That iter- ation negates our sense of the origins of the struggle.

It undermines our sense of the homogenizing effects of cultural symbols and icons, by questioning our sense of the authority of cultural synthesis in general.

Category: Culture

This demands that we rethink our perspective on the identity of culture. Here Fanon's passage - somewhat reinterpreted - may be help- ful. What is implied by his juxtaposition of the constant national prin- ciples with his view of culture-as-political-struggle, which he so enigmatically and beautifully describes as 'the zone of occult instability where the people dwell'?

These ideas not only help to explain the nature of colonial struggle; they also suggest a possible critique of the positive aesthetic and political values we ascribe to the unity or totality of cultures, especially those that have known long and tyrannical histories of domination and misrecognition. The pact of interpretation is never simply an act of communication between the I and the You designated in the statement.

What this unconscious relation introduces is an ambivalence in the act of interpretation. The pronominal I of the proposition cannot be made to address - in its own words - the subject of enunciation, for this is not personable, but remains a spatial relation within the schemata and strategies of discourse. The meaning of the utterance is quite literally neither the one nor the other. This ambivalence is emphasized when we realize that there is no way that the content of the proposition will reveal the structure of its positionality; no way that context can be mimetically read off from the content.

The implication of this enunciative split for cultural analysis that I especially want to emphasize is its temporal dimension. The splitting of the subject of enunciation destroys the logics of synchronicity and evolution which traditionally authorize the subject of cultural knowledge. It would not be relevant to pursue the detail of this argument here except to demonstrate - via Marshall Sahlins's Culture and Practical Reason - the validity of my general charac- terization of the Western expectation of culture as a disciplinary practice of writing.

I quote Sahlins at the point at which he attempts to define the difference of Western bourgeois culture: We have to do not so much with functional dominance as with structural - with different structures of symbolic integration.

And to this gross difference in design correspond differences in symbolic performance between an open, expanding code, responsive by con- tinuous permutation to events it has itself staged, and an apparently static one that seems to know not events, but only its own precon- ceptions. The gross distinction between 'hot' societies and 'cold', development and underdevelopment, societies with and without history - and so between large societies and small, expanding and self-contained, colonizing and colonized. In other words, the disruptive temporality of enunciation displaces the narrative of the Western nation which Benedict Anderson so perceptively describes as being written in homogeneous, serial time.

Fanon's vision of revolutionary cultural and political change as a 'fluc- tuating movement' of occult instability could not be articulated as cul- tural practice without an acknowledgement of this indeterminate space of the subject s of enunciation. For Fanon, the liberatory people who initiate the productive instability of revolutionary cultural change are themselves the bearers of a hybrid identity.

They are caught in the discontinuous time of translation and negotiation, in the sense in which I have been attempting to recast these words. In the moment of liberatory struggle, the Algerian people destroy the continuities and constancies of the nationalist tradition which provided a safeguard against colonial cultural imposition. They are now free to negotiate and translate their cultural identities in a discontinuous intertextual temporality of cultural difference. The native intellectual who identifies the people with the true national culture will be disappointed.

Evading the Cultural Solecism

The people are now the very principle of 'dialectical reorganization' and they construct their culture from the national text translated into modern Western forms of infor- mation technology language, dress. The changed political and historical site of enunciation transforms the meanings of the colonial inheritance into the liberatory signs of a free people of the future. I have been stressing a certain void or misgiving attending every assimilation of contraries - I have been stressing this in order to expose what seems to me a fantastic mythological congruence of elements And if indeed therefore any real sense is to be made of material change it can only occur with an acceptance of a concurrent void and with a willingness to descend into that void wherein, as it were, one may begin to come into confrontation with a spectre of invocation whose freedom to participate in an alien territory and wilderness has become a necessity for one's reason or salvation.

He sees it as accompanying the 'assimilation of contraries' and creating that occult instability which presages powerful cultural changes. It is signifi- cant that the productive capacities of this Third Space have a colonial or postcolonial provenance. And by exploring this Third Space, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves. Fanon is the purveyor of the transgressive and transitional truth. He may yearn for the total transformation of Man and Society, but he speaks most effectively from the uncertain interstices of historical change: from the area of ambiv- alence between race and sexuality; out of an unresolved contradiction between culture and class; from deep within the struggle of psychic representation and social reality.

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His voice is most clearly heard in the subversive turn of a familiar term, in the silence of sudden rupture: '77k Negro is not. Any more than the white man. It is this palpable pressure of division and displacement that pushes Fanon's writing to the edge of things - the cutting edge that reveals no ultimate radiance but, in his words, 'exposed an utterly naked declivity where an authentic upheaval can be bom'.

The body of his work splits between a Hegelian- Marxist dialectic, a phenomenological affirmation of Self and Other and the psychoanalytic ambivalence of the Unconscious. In his desperate, doomed search for a dialectic of deliverance Fanon explores the edge of these modes of thought: his Hegelianism restores hope to history; his existentialist evocation of the T restores the presence of the marginal- ized; his psychoanalytic framework illuminates the madness of racism, the pleasure of pain, the agonistic fantasy of political power.

As Fanon attempts such audacious, often impossible, transformations of truth and value, the jagged testimony of colonial dislocation, its displacement of time and person, its defilement of culture and territory, refuses the ambition of any total theory of colonial oppression. The Antillean evolue cut to the quick by the glancing look of a frightened, confused, white child; the stereotype of the native fixed at the shifting boundaries between barbarism and civility; the insatiable fear and desire for the Negro: 'Our women are at the mercy of Negroes.

God knows how they make love'; 4 the deep cultural fear of the black figured in the psychic trembling of Western sexuality - it is these signs and symptoms of the colonial condition that drive Fanon from one conceptual scheme to another, while the colonial relation takes shape in the gaps between them, articulated to the intrepid engagements of his style.

As Fanon's texts unfold, the scientific fact comes to be aggressed by the experience of the street; sociological observations are intercut with literary artefacts, and the poetry of liberation is brought up short against the leaden, deadening prose of the colonized world. What is the distinctive force of Fanon's vision?

It comes, I believe, from the tradition of the oppressed, the language of a revolutionary awareness that, as Walter Benjamin suggests, 'the state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a concept of history that is in keeping with this insight. The analysis of colonial depersonalization not only alienates the Enlightenment idea of 'Man', but challenges the transparency of social reality, as a pre-given image of human knowledge. With a question that echoes Freud's 'What does woman want?

An unfamiliar weight bur- dened me. In the white world the man of color encounters difficul- ties in the development of his bodily schema I. I took myself far off from my own presence. What else could it be for me but an amputation, an excision, a haemorrhage that spattered my whole body with black blood? The white man's eyes break up the black m an's fecdy-and in that act of episterrric violence its own frame of reference is transgressed, its held of vision disturbed.

Fanon is not principally posing the question of political oppression as the violation of a human essence, although he lapses into such a lament in his more existential moments. He isjiot.

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It is one of the original and disturbing qualities of Black Skin, White Masks that it rarely historicizes the colonial experience. There is no master narrative or realist perspective that provides a background of social and historical facts against which emerge the problems of the individual or collective psyche. In articulating the problem of colonial cultural alienation in the psychoanalytic language of demand and desire, Fanon radically ques- tions the formation of both individual and social authority as they come to be developed in the discourse of social sovereignty. The social virtues of historical rationality, cultural cohesion, the autonomy of individual consciousness assume an immediate, Utopian identity with the subjects on whom they confer a civil status.

The civil state is the ultimate expression of the innate ethical and rational bent of the human mind; the social instinct is the progressive destiny of human nature, the necessary transition from Nature to Culture. The direct access from individual interests to social authority is objectified in the representative structure of a General Will - Law or Culture - where Psyche and Society mirror each other, transparently translating their difference, without loss, into a historical totality.

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