Thoughts on cultural heterogeneity
Prelude to an identity crisis
Simply put, culture alive is always on the run, always changeful.
–Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.1
In the relational diagram of modernity, as in that of the pre-modern epochs, crosspollination is a phenomenon which, as one of the major constituents of cultural regeneration and evolvement, has been a less travelled site in this clime. Consequently, to this day, it remains underexcavated, as such, undertheorized.
If the image of culture having a fixed locus and rigid boundaries had been framed as a resistance against the colonizing forces in the twentieth century, in Bengal, the colonizer, as part of their civilizing mission, had, beforehand, inscribed the social sphere with a monolithic concept of modernism cast around linear history and the rhetoric of 'development' and 'progress'. The issue of culture, thus, can never be made to unhinge from the manipulative grips of such historical travesties arising out of the historical conditions in a given demography.
The history of cultural heterogeneity predates the indentitary preoccupation expressed during the colonial period and in the postcolonial era following the emergence of the European style territorial nation states. Culture perceived as abstracted from the political-historical dynamics, thus, ignores the reality of its processual aspects and the permutation it is constantly subjected to in a given geographical site. The result is a divisive narrative, through which the exogenous and endogenous are never to be aligned, though reality may suggest that traffic of ideas travel back and forth between the two realms. The contact points with other cultures through which a particular culture had organically been formed at the outset as well as gained momentums at various stages of history, is often de-emphasized, if not ignored altogether, to home in on the 'difference', mostly enshrined in a set of 'signifiers' as part the 'politics of recognition'.
Though the resultant monolinear cultural history is summoned to perform nation/state-building, on similar sites we see the juridicopolitical universalism (of European origin) instituting its 'codes' without facing any resistance. Therefore, the paradox of modernity in a society on the margin lies in the throes of the two-way tugs (concerning the position of its ruling elites) between a strong willingness to attain modernization and a moral binding to project a cultural identity.
Intertext as a point of departure
Centering on the hypernym which is 'intertext', one that we have set as our guiding framework, the exploration of the primary sites must include the actors or the hosts in the form of artistic acts and trends and tendencies which foreground the individual's ability to give new and nuanced account of both old or contemporary questions or issues related to life and art. In doing so, they serve as conduits of various parleys capturing the flow and volume of multiple discourses within a given community. Multilayered, multivocal in their construction they are to be considered as intertexts. Julia Kristeva forwarded the trope to lay claim to the relationality which governs the emergence of all kinds of text – be that arising out of art or non-art context. Though aligned with the claim that texts by nature are formed through a process of hybridization, one also must differentiate between the hybrid transmitted in a more or less monolithic, sterile form and the hybrid that remains multivocal, multidirectional all through.
Accordingly, it is imperative that we distinguish the latter form of art or text in relation to its lasting relevance across time and space, thereby lending credence to the fact that they become 'historically legible' (Pamella M. Lee's phrase), which is due to the infusion instituted in such sites of traditional, local, borrowed as well as new metaphors. Additionally, they often occasion 'archetypal moments' having universal appeal. By way of becoming new social or collectivized memory, they successfully initiate an 'opening up of the world' or arrival of 'truth', to use Heiddeger's formulation, which is a feat their producers perform by uniting 'thought' with 'being', to borrow from Marx.
Intertexts are formed within a given social reality, in this sense they are location-specific – always forming a new spatial condition from within a given geography, emerging out of the framework of a geography within a geography. About such a spatial matrix Homi K Bhaba's reflection is foundational to our current discourse: 'This interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy' (Homi K Bhabha, The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994).
The particular form of intertext one may consider as a point of departure from the 'nationalist' as well as 'internationalist' cast of culture, the two fixed loci Bhaba mentions above, is exemplified by its innate capacity to act as what some refer to as the 'third space'. This third cultural, discursive space functions as a repository of inherited discourses, new interjections, projections, reflections besides being a freshly devised form of expression that interlace, through its contours, all of the above into one huge reservoir of voices. And as multiplicity of forms it hovers over and across time and topicality while progressing towards its final deposition. Simultaneity defines its multifaceted construction 'which not only becomes productive of new meanings, social relations and identities, but also disrupts and subverts established entities'.
All intertextual constructs are entrenched in sediments that accumulate over years of interaction, interchanges, appropriation, influence, invention, creation from within a given social milieu. They naturally embed themselves in a multiplicity of thoughts and discourses that emanate from the local geography as well as arrive from other soils. Thus they are formed as a result of a process that is at once vertical and horizontal.
Though, in articulating their true nature, one should be attentive to the fact that such horizontality differs qualitatively from what the cultural onslaught of the colonising/imperialist designs have so far achieved through overshadowing the cultures on the margins with the dominant culture, as part of the project to normalize the population through knowledge and discipline.
Therefore, the creation of intertexts is not merely a result of self-conscious effort by an individual or a society, neither is it a means to attain 'universality' or what many term as 'syncretism' – qualifiers often used to refer to the strategies of self-conscious assimilation of multiple genres to arrive at hybrid art or literary works which may be referred to as synthetic hybridity against the concept of organic hybridity.4 If the former by way of producing a subjectivized account of a given theme is apparently aware of the current age and movements in global cultural productions, the latter is cast as a form of multilayered, multireferential, open-ended text. Organic hybridity, therefore, shows no desire whatsoever for achieving hybridization and is issued forth from the 'liminal’5 spaces where liminal personalities inaugurate their discursive and non-discursive acts resulting in the final forms.
If Pablo Picasso along with Braque, at the turn of the twentieth century, inaugurated new species of art via hybridization, he did so with a certain degree of awareness about the outcome. In contrast, surrealism or Dada's hybridization is forgetful of its own hybrid nature. As such they were responsible for art-events or acts which saw a nonhierarchical coalescing of multiple components drawn from multiple sources giving rise to a process where myriad temporalities/spatialities overlapped.
The surrealist genre operates from within a vast, expansive cultural landscape where conscious and unconscious are easily aligned, and therefore its hybridity is its condicio sine qua non.
A surreal piece of art also achieves such an intertexuality by way of eschewing the monolithic construction of a language of art that results from the modernist constraint of an 'experimental modality' that continuously undermine the symbolism and conceptual gaming an artwork may be based on, in order to lend primacy to the 'form'. What is to be highlighted is that the intertexts that are in discussion here are the ones where form and content cannot be made separate from one another; they 'unite' for the sake of an open-ended, multidirectional dialogue which they set in motion impulsively.
The nature of authorial function varies in these two formats or formulations – one that is formal with its emphasis on the zeitgeist – or the spirit of the age, as such– catholic in spirit, and the other that is processual and organic. Taking a cue from Michel Foucault, we may postulate that in the 'plurality of self' which allows a gap or a scission to appear between art and the artist is through which the latter form of intertext makes its appearance. The authors who co-opt the processual mode making possible 'certain number of divergences – with respect to his [or, her] own text, concepts, and hypotheses,' are the ones who stand for such divagation.
Concurring with Foucault we may also emphasize that works of this nature remain heterogeneous in formation and in its subsequent transformation. If the former is defined as syncretism and is the result of 'subjectivizing interiorization', which proliferated in the early twentieth century, of which Picasso is a prime example, the latter emerged in its full force in the works of Joseph Beuys, Nam June Paik, et al. In Paik's case we even witness a coming together of cybernetics and art. Like those of his contemporaries, his works address the condition of a technologised world, debased from its earlier perches of faith and social values. Paik's world can be dubbed as what many may call, 'self exposure without calculation'. Both Beuys and Paik belonged to the Fluxus band of internationally operating artists whose works redefined the Western cultural topography of the 1960s. The blurring of cultural conventions inaugurated by Dada and Futurism 'was continued by Fluxus artists in correspondence with the changes taking place in the sixties. '
(Pre)historic, pre-modern and modern contexts
People in low-context cultures, on the other hand, tend to compartmentalize their lives and relationships. They permit little 'interference' of 'extraneous' information.
–Mary O'Hara-Devereaux, Robert Johansen in Transcending
Cultural Barriers: Context, Relationships, and Time.
Miscegenation7, or racial admixture, which can be traced back to the early/ancient formation of linguistic and ethnic communities, is what cancels out all claims to racial isolationism, and the sense of purity as well as superiority associated with it. Take for example the formation of the Bengalis, whose emergence as an ethnic-linguistic community is squarely placed in a hybridized climate where the Austric population, by way of crossing the genetic barriers, melded with the Mongoloid groups with the Santal, of proto-Australoid line of descent, being present as a catalyst for such assimilation. Though there exists difference of opinion among ethnographers with regards to which race or language had been of formative influence, all are in agreement that Bengali as an ethnic-linguistic group is of hybrid formation as are races across the globe.
Therefore, culture, both as an upshot of and a catalyst for the very construction of a community, springing as it does from a given geographical location, are gestated in sites within that geography; and such sites are primarily of fluid construction. Informed as a community by its own geo-natural as well as political climate and through a continuous dialogue and mingling with its kin, especially from the neighbouring ethnic bases whose borders had been as fluid as that of the demography of the 'first base', which Homi Bhabha refers to as the 'canonical center', what becomes known as culture in a given location is actually multi-culture or plain multiform.
Therefore, it is safe to deduce that all close-knit, bordered communities and their distinctive cultural formation are a later-day development. And in the modern age it is through the concept of 'returns' to tradition through revivalist impulse and a celebratory mindset in relation to the rural lore, that the desire to rediscover/reframe one's identity is to be discerned. This desire is an upshot of the colonial past and the present-day global imperial presence against which the rhetoric of the countries on the margin are set as they are forced into a position which is often paradoxical. In Bangladesh, this paradox springs out of the voices raised to guard against cultural imperialism and to articulate cultural difference, while as a 'nation state' we are comfortably aligned with the global capital circulation and its attendant ethos of modern Western societies.
Hybridity and the formation of indigenous modernity
In our clime it is due to the exertion of the above-mentioned monolithic, monodirectional vision of culture, that the idea of horizontal expansion is seen with suspicion. Culture seen through nationalist or majoritarian narrative, which is the basis of identity politics, is a culture seen in isolation, abstracted from its relational dialectic, or even aesthetical, processual matrices, through which the very formation of it becomes possible. Whereas, the concept of cultural identity, or the identity of a people, is formed in relation to the national or state-centric identity, as in Bangladesh, where the linguistic frame is employed alongside a smattering of decontextualized rural heritage emphasizing some majoritarian cultural traits and some minoritarian localized religious practices, while in India, our closest neighbour, a number of cultural-religious traits are superimposed on the structure of an otherwise modern, secular state.
In the undivided Bengal, the local initiatives arising out of the protective frame of mind vis-à-vis colonialism had been a way to revive not just our past heritage but the rural cultural essences which we often erroneously perceive to have been lost. Following in the footsteps of the colonizer, who first injected a zeal for a similar search for an identity and nation building into the Bengali social body by way of institutionalized praxes, the locals began their mission to lay claim to identity and culture at the turn of the twentieth century.
It was the fortuitous meeting of minds between Ernest Binfield Havel, the Principal of the Government Art School (founded in 1876-77) in the colonial capital of Calcutta (now, Kolkata), and Abanindranath Tagore, which gave rise to an Orientalist moment in the history of Bengal. Havel, who came to India in 1896, 'determined to direct the Indian youth towards their own heritage,’8 to materialize his goal, invited Abanindranath to join as Vice Principal in 1905 to teach 'the lost language of Indian art' to a select group of students.
Linguistically framed as the Neo-Bengal School, Abanindranath became the earliest progenitor of the style brought into being through appropriating the methods of Mughal miniature, inspired by none other than Havel. Their 'nationalist historicizing' was subsequently bogged down in a fixed frame of referencing to Hindu myths and the historic Mughal and Kangra miniature styles, which we may now see as a form of hybrid art, where the idea of de-Westernization served as the point of departure.
However, it is interesting to note that Rabindranath Tagore, the famous uncle of Abanindranath, who first 'unequivocally' expressed his alignment with the ethos of revivalism soon realized that historicizing alone might not lead to any new fruition of style of cultural-historical relevance.
As we look back at the growing desire to find the locus of 'Indianness' by artists of this region, we discover a Rabindranath, having been informed of the various traditional and modern practices in Japan, China, Germany, France
and England, began his search for a perch from where the New Indian art would emerge.
If at the outset, Rabindranath was preoccupied with the tactile aspects or technical methods, rather than conceptual and rhetorical elements, by the time Kakuzo Okakura, appeared in Calcutta (now, Kolkata) in 1901-1902 to promote his vision of the pan-Asian culture, the poet realized the value of cultural interchange between India and the Far East in terms of how this process may spur the Indian artists to arrive at newer modes of expression. As a throwback to such exchanges, Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose were the first to pick up on the wet-on-wet wash technique used in the Japanese Nihonga, a genre which is actually beholden to the Chinese tradition which is a means of arriving at a condensed and fluid imagery, eschewing Western-style verisimilitude. We may safely say that as Japanese artists Simamura Kanjan and Taikan arrived as part of Okakura's mission, artist of Calcutta began to respond to their works.
If the Bichitra Studio, established at Tagore household, served as a site for Japanese- or Sino-Indian exchanges in the early part of the twentieth century, around the mid 1920s we finally witness the emergence of Rabindranath Tagore, the artist whose work lies at the intersection of multiple references. His diction was more ambitious in its broad sweep of interests. If it started from his encounter with Parisian Avant-Garde and German Expressionism, it came to a full bloom as he arrived at a juncture from where the idea of the 'primitive' received a profoundly admiring notice. 'Tagore's affinity with the European avant-garde was not a form of emulation but simply a parallel approach to artistic primitivism,’9 as Santiniketan, having been a stronghold of the Santals, already came to signify the essence of the 'primitive purity', first romanticized by the Bengal School and later by other modern exponents. It is Rabindranath, an autodidact, in whom the primitive was exteriorized in a rather distinct pictorial diction where the unconscious played a decisive role defining the contours of all imagery. The art he envisioned is where the immediate sense data from the location melded with the references to cultures as diverse as that of Europe, North Africa and Pacific Islands, was also the first fluid encapsulation of the 'Indian modern'. Having inaugurated a unique language of art without mimicking any particular style, Rabindranath's art seems to express its affinity to diverse cultural ties with a primitive's automatic drive, which Freud brought into view through his discovery of the unconscious as its primary motor.
Rabindranth's intertextual mode of expression received little attention at home, while, conversely, revivalism continued to gain grounds amongst the educated middle-class whose battle cry for situated culture was issued forth from Calcutta, the most important urban center of the then undivided Bengal. If the English patrons were responsible for the Orientalist grain of art, which were being produced in the name of revivalism, the Brotochari movement of pre-partition Bengal, on the other hand, sought to mobilize a spectrum of cultural practices – both in new and traditional forms – giving rise to a relatively authentic mode of cultural reclamation. After partition, in East Bengal, in the context of the Pakistan-era imposition of a constricted Islamist framework, the Bengali speakers identified a diffusion of local cultural traits to frame the Bengali identity which, in turn, also lent momentum to the battle cry against cultural imperialism to make way for a 'return to the rural'.
Paradoxically, all such revivalist movements are impelled by nationalist ambition of the urban educated class. Therefore their loci are to be found only in the urban centers, though the focal point of all such revivalism was rural cultural continuity and revivification of some of its endangered and gradually disappearing features. In Bangladesh, there emerged some rural cultural aficionados who launched their own self-examining while they ceaselessly travelled the greater part of the breadth and length of the Bengali-speaking localities. This has resulted in some authentic discoveries. In the province of fine art which mirrors similar zeal for the authentic situated cultural markers, S. M. Sultan and Quamrul Hassan seem to exemplify a new thrust towards an articulation of the social 'self' where the 'other' too has a place in the holistically conceived conceptual framework. The situated thoughts and ethos they generated were easily aligned with some borrowed traits of European culture resulting in their signature imagery which neither smacked of internationalism, nor showed any backward movement towards a past perceived as the storehouse of heritage.
Modernity, made its first appearance in Europe with the emergence of Romanticism in art and literature, where the individual made his/her appearance equipped with zeal for subjective seeing. It took a decisive turn at the second half of the nineteenth century, and at the point of time when Fauvism, Cubism, Abstraction and Surrealism began to spearhead in the early part of the twentieth century, leaving in their wake a world-wide impact, modernism began to inscribe the social sphere with artistic dictions that we have always clustered under the rubric of avant-garde. Redefining the cultural fabric of Europe, the avant-garde began to spill over to the rest of the world from its iconic center, Paris.
However, as we look back and notice the process through which the avant-garde made its initial appearance, we find crosspollination informing the very formation of European modernity as it did in various other ways in their strivings towards a rational social space where science appeared to have gradually debased regimes based on Christianity. By opening itself up to the ancient traditions of Africa, Oceania and Asia the avant-garde assimilated in its body traces of other bodies; and we should also refer to modernity as multimodernity as it manifested itself in several concordant and discordant streams. Thus the modern European art scene became a locus of fluid practices as several layers of traits and tendencies that are beholden to traditions of Japan, North Africa and the Oceanic Islands went into its making.
The primitivizing principle which lay behind both Fauvism and Cubism, brought forth new ideas and novel images, but behind their stylistic innovation there lay the spirit of hybridity that came via a search for the new and the exotic. Though, it is important to note that the frontiers of Japan and Africa were mined to the advantage of the avant-garde, only to see the expansion of the avant-garde through such a sustained act of appropriation. Though it has been mentioned in the previous chapter, we may further emphasize the fact that the multi-plained sculptures of Northern Africa have led to the subsequent development of Cubism, though it found a monolithic expression in Picasso's early works and in oeuvres of Braque's entire career, it soon gave way to diverse forms of artistic innovation.
The enthusiasm for Asiatic and African cultures, and a gradual awakening to their aesthetic quality, won over the European avant-garde as German philosopher, Wilhelm Worringar and art historian Karl Einstein, in their early twentieth century treatises, unravelled the importance of magico-religious art of Africa as well as Islamic art of the East while emphasizing the potentiality of communal ethos rather than individual's subjective
That cultural boundaries collapsed at that point of time in Europe is a fact; one must superimpose that with most avant-garde artists' 'diversionary' praxes which made them stay clear of past European techniques of verisimilitude. The outcome was that their art looked as fluid as that of the primitives.
If Picasso, with his emphasis on geometry aligned with the industrial look so enamoured by the Futurist of Italy, his alignment with the Surrealist around the 1920s and his love affair with Minoan and Greek art even before that, seemed to have helped place his gradually changing practice at the intersection between industrial or geometric look and that which calls for an 'unconscious scanning' of the entire horizon – where the past and the present overlap.
The surrealist coterie of artists stood for such horizon-expanding psychic and physical processes, which, rather interestingly, first made its appearance in the work of Giorgio de Chirico, an Italian painter who chose to remain faithful to the tradition of rendering perspective and volume in somewhat realistic manner.
So, the fact that the new dynamics of art incorporated unfamiliar aesthetic features from lands afar, is not the only proof that crosspollination was at work. The crossing over from one era/time/space to several others testifies more vividly to the collapse of one set of cultural traits into several others through creative regenerations.
From the location where we are at, which is Dhaka, Bangladesh, Borhanuddin Khan Jahangir first introduced the phrase Indigenous modernism to contextualize Zainul Abedin, S. M. Sultan and Quamrul Hassan's hybrid modernity10 – artists who successfully employed Western learning to redefine the contours to their locational practices which were already afflicted by British education. If the impact of Parisian avant-garde considerably trammelled the shores of the Indian subcontinent, it did so at the end of the British rule. However, strange as it may seem, international modernity made its full incursions into the Bengali soil in the wake of the independence of both India and Pakistan, following partition in 1947. Partha Mitter, the famous Indian art historian, maps the sudden upsurge in modernization of the indigenous cultural landscape after the British had left their former colony by focusing on the evolvement along a particular line that runs parallel to the amount of exposure the artists of this clime were to have gradually received of European art.
Yet, it is safe to conclude, that aside from the mimicry that transpires in the name of certain artistic practices, whatever modernist modes of expressions had sprung up in the native soil, their application acquired an indigenous character. And to do justice to a plethora of practices which emerged as cultures of this clime collided with that of Europe and America, one must wake up to the fact that the issue was not who had given a local spin to a foreign diction, but how the process of hybridization finally led to some interesting depositions onto the cultural space. So it is not from the fallouts of such processes that one is to examine and evaluate the new breeds of art, whose instruments are its indigenous hybrid processes and knowledge bases, but from the successful emergence of new artistic dictions.
To make further elucidation, we may cite how Quamrul was inspired by Picasso's disjointed imagery, which he comfortably conjoined with the linear trait he drew from shora paintings used in non-Brahminic Hindu rituals of Eastern Bengal. With Zainul and Sultan we are witness to rather different kinds of hybridization. Inspired as Zainul was by master European naturalists such as Rembrandt, his primary concern was to give salience to the social reality he was a witness to. As for Sultan, the renaissance figuration that informs his non-anthropocentric propositions, which is an exogenous element in his domain, he co-opts it to a different end. His goal was to create a narrative that explicates the struggle of his imaginary peasant population locating them squarely in an easily recognizable topography – the landscape and localities of rural Bangladesh.
To provide a context to such hybrid languages, one must hark back to the social-political climate of pre-partition Calcutta where an artist equipped with superior academic skill such as Zainul unequivocally opted out of the frame set by the Orientalsits. Zainul wanted to see himself in the role of a 'truth teller' – even if it alienated him from the trend which was then enjoying the limelight as the dominant mode of indigenous artistic creation.
His unequivocal position vis-à-vis realism and his commitment to make art as an obstinate witness soon gave rise to genres addressed to the urban middle class on issues of social-political turmoil. Another such artist was Somnath Hore, who was a member of the Communist Party of India in his early life, one who, in his phase, often vented his discontentment over the human-induced disasters such as famine and communal strife. Interestingly, against the backdrop of the revivalist articulation(s), a form of political-social art proliferated in alignment with the early Soviet-era social realism.
Further down this line, we are able to discover that in the post-Partition era, since the very onset, artists of the then East Pakistan, (Bangladesh after independence in 1971) began to perform their acts either in sync or in antagonism with the two divergent tendencies – one that was based on the technique of indigenization and the other on modernising principle mentioned above. While Zainul, Sultan and Quamrul toggled between the two tendencies, often displaying a strong ability to defuse them in an attempt to give voice to the politics of location, there emerged artists in the '60s who veered towards a purist language of abstraction with the only recognizable features manifested in the application of colour and texture.
The thresholds between consciousness and the unconscious
‘And art forms themselves are very often a mixture of several logics.’11 To stabilize this claim by Jacques Rancière we may resort to theories and praxis that informed the cult of Lalon Fakir. One of the most revered inheritors of the Nadia school of devotional cult, though one must also register the fact that he coalesced several strands of thoughts into a unique cultural strand of which Lalon remains the last guiding spirit.
Without going into details of how the paradigm sprang from the earlier cultural and religious trajectories and are linked to the belief system of three different sects, namely shahojia Buddhism, shahojia Vaisnavism, or Baishnabism and Sufi Islam, we may underline the intertextual nature of his devotional songs and that of a string of followers that sprang out of his practice framed around the dialectical relations between self, body and the creator. Written in a language that sources both Vedic, Baishnab and Islamic linguistic traditions to categorize and qualify various states of consciousness, and to elaborate on a subject-position vis-à-vis the idea of the creator and the created as separate but interdependent entities, Lalon's school of thought inaugurates an all new discursive practice.
As he underlines a new position where his brand of body-oriented anthropocentrism collide and coalesce with the canonical and non-canonical formulation of God, body prefigures the conscious self and also becomes the locus of all categories of actions and interpretations. Thus, his line of vision is invested in a system of metaphysics that bases itself on what Farhad Mazhar once defined as the articulation of 'the politics of nonidentity'.
Interestingly, Baishnab, or Vaishanavite school of thought itself is a composite belief system, it becomes so by ‘allowing the free mingling of Islamic spiritual thought in the form of Sufi belief systems, with Hindu belief in a loving and love-demanding deity who would provide redemption to all irrespective of caste or class barriers,’ to quote Nandini Bhattacharya. She further testifies that, '[a]s Hindu upper class, and cast self-fashionings of late nineteenth, early twentieth century Bengal were increasingly veering towards rigid, aggressive definitions of Hindutva, these folk belief systems … could provide a necessary balance.’13 Therefore, the pre-modern construction of faith-based cultural systems in Bengal were inclusive to the point that they assimilated many strands from the dominant faiths, those they primarily seemed to have antagonized.
Accordingly, in art, the hybrid utterances, in which a single voice encapsulating multiple speeches, are made possible through similar assimilation, to draw on the formulation of linguist Mikhail Bakhtin.
To argue his case, Bakhtin, resorts to the English novelist Charles Dickens, in whose novel he detects multivocality and references to voices that lie external to the speaker. 14 A parallel can be drawn with the process of superimposition of the inside with the outside, the individual with collective, or, at the height of consciousness, being with Being, demonstrated by Lalon Fakir's formulation of the 'corporeal self', where the body becomes the primary site of all kinds of devotional and discursive inflections. The fact that the devotional meets the discursive in Lalon and other body-oriented thinkers can also be perceived as a form of hybridity.
Popular culture, hybridity and electronic or media colonization
Popular art forms are the most obvious symbols of cultural cross-fertilization – in them several subcultures overlap. If most modernist cannons display a loyalty towards the idea of authorial signature which is the result of synthesistic evaluation of all the influences or inspirations and, as a rule, bear an epistemological resonance centered on authorial control. Popular art, on the other hand, unabashedly displays the signs of borrowings which makes them look like repositories of various artistic tendencies. The palimpsestic nature of referencing makes many a popular art form defy the high-art logic entrenched in authorial individuation. By being on the crossroads popular art also challenges the notion of 'Other as essentially and fundamentally different — fixed within difference.’
The infusion of pop culture as well as cultural productions that once were of commercial import, once appropriated by the art world, generate a plethora of images that at once reflect and revile consumer capitalism. In what is referred to as the 'postmodern condition' is, thus, related to spatial overlapping as well as displacement of transmission of art and meaning via technological mediation.
The present global capital dispensation plays an important part in it.
Market, in its present hybrid structure, has become a source of images and cultural dialogues that serves duel purposes – of promoting products as well as condemning the sludge of unnecessary communiqué and production. Therefore, the avenues of new media art such as video, blog, website, which ask the navigator to engage just by being there, by just plain making appearance, interfere with other depositions on the traditional cultural loci. The nature of exchanges, which is often unkempt and ungovernable as they are multilayered and linked to various modalities of expressions and staging on the web, simply serve to short-circuit the established norms of perception about cultures with borders.
What many may refer to as 'initial' culture, one that is often perceived as having the capacity to reflect the community, disappears in the landscape of technologically mediated transmissions.
Against the axiomatics of imperialism the subject-position of the neo-colonial space is, therefore, splintered into several other ancillary spaces – the web, and spaces that lead to various forms of virtual (co)habitation.
Thus 'the preconceived notions of isomorphism and border-oriented culture are giving way to the idea of culture as fundamentally fractal and overlapping,’15 creating tensions between the poles of perceptions – one of local and the other of global dispensation. Yet the resultant hybridization is often dictated by imperial ambition which easily translates into plain Americanization and, if seen in the context of the expanding market, as commoditization.
When seen without prejudice, one may find that many a flashpoint leading to cultural renewal reside at cross-cultural thresholds. These culturally defined areas or sites, though emerge from within the physical geographies, often hover over the latter as conceptual cosmologies of peoples and ideas in progression. Through a genealogy of such intersections as well as the movements which lead up to their emergence we may make appear the very nature of crosspollination and outline its movement through history.
It is important to note that the crossculturality this paper throws some light on is performed without any premeditated goal to attain diversity; it apparently makes its appearance in social-aesthetic 'fields of play' where things are to be discovered in their myriad different mixes. As a result of proximity and the negotiations and antagonisms that characterize the relation between various paradigms leading to the simultaneous acts of the search for identity and non-identity, intertexts are formed into being. Therefore, it is in the context of an ever-changing socio-economic and cultural structure, which hardly ever follow a straight line, that we are to understand their sociogenesis and the contours through which we recognize them as part of greater cultural trajectories.
Notes and references
- Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. Seagull Books, Calcutta, 1999.
- According to Charles Tylor nation states make their appearance through the manipulative power of narratives.
- Article on Liminality, Border Poetics, web site accessed at http://borderpoetics.wikidot.com/liminality on 23rd September, 2012.
- It is a ‘hybridity’ which is forgetful of its hybrid processes and goals, and is distant from the kind we discover in fluid and shifting ‘diasporic spaces,’ connected to ‘hybrid subjectivities’, characteristic of the current postmodern, postcolonial, transnational, globalized practices.
- The concept has been introduced by anthropologists van Gennep and Turner, who employ liminality to describe the transitory stage characteristic of rites of passage in various cultures.
- Wikipedia on George Maciunas, a Lithuanian-born American artist who was a member of the Fluxus movement.
- Wikipedia defines miscegenation as the mixing of different racial groups through marriage, cohabitation, sexual relations, and procreation. The term miscegenation has been used since the 19th century to refer to interracial marriage and interracial sex, and more generally to the process of racial admixture, which has taken place since ancient history.
- Partha Mitter, Indian Art, Oxford History of Art. Oxford University Press. 2001. p. 177.
- Ibid. p. 193.
- Borhanuddin Khan Jahangir, Deshojo Adhunikata o Sutan-er Kaaj, (Indigenouus Modernity and Sultan's work), Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, 1999.
- Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics: Jacques Rancière interviewed by Nicolas Vieillescazes, translation by Anna Preger, Naked Punch, webzine, issue 10.
- Farhad Mazhar, Lalon (con)textualized, Depart, issue 1, 2010.
- Both quotes in this paragraph are from Nanadini Bhattacharya's 'Till One Greater Man Restores Us: Colonial Masculinities and Indigenous self-fashioning.' Colonial and Post Colonial Perspectives: Context, Text, Intertext. ed. Krishna Sen, Tapati Gupta, Desgupta and Co. Pvt. Ltd. Kokata, India 2007. p. 179.
- Wikipedia on Mikhail Bakhtin.
- Article on Globalisation and Transnationalism, at Theory + Anthropology, web site accessed at http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29532682/Globali-zation%20and%20Transnationalism, on 12 September 2012.