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Transcultural Grafti

Diasporic Writing
and the
Teaching of Literary Studies
Internationale Forschungen zur
Allgemeinen und
Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft
In Verbindung mit
Norbert Bachleitner (Universitt Wien), Dietrich Briesemeister (Friedrich Schiller-Universitt
Jena), Francis Claudon (Universit Paris XII), Joachim Knape (Universitt Tbingen), Klaus Ley
(Johannes Gutenberg-Universitt Mainz), John A. McCarthy (Vanderbilt University), Alfred Noe
(Universitt Wien), Manfred Pfister (Freie Universitt Berlin), Sven H. Rossel (Universitt Wien)
herausgegeben von
Alberto Martino
(Universitt Wien)
Redaktion: Ernst Grabovszki
Anschrift der Redaktion:
Institut fr Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft, Berggasse 11/5, A-1090 Wien
Russell West-Pavlov
Amsterdam - New York, NY 2005
Transcultural Grafti
Diasporic Writing
and the
Teaching of Literary Studies
Cover: Lneburg, Hinter der Slzmauer/Wendische Strae; photo: Russell West-
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for permanence.
ISBN: 90-420-1935-2
Editions Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam - New York, NY 2005
Printed in The Netherlands
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Literaturwissenschaft wird ab dem Jahr 2005 gemeinsam von Editions Rodopi,
Amsterdam New York und dem Weidler Buchverlag, Berlin herausgegeben.
Die Verffentlichungen in deutscher Sprache erscheinen im Weidler Buchverlag,
alle anderen bei Editions Rodopi.
From 2005 onward, the series Internationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinen
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Editions Rodopi, Amsterdam New York and Weidler Buchverlag, Berlin. The
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Table of Contents

PREFACE: Transcultural Graffiti 11


1 Classrooms in transcultural texts
Transcultural texts in the classroom 27

2 Postcolonial bricolage 41


3 Genetic Translation:
Blls translation of Patrick White 61

4 Csaires Bard:
From Shakespeares Tempest to Csaires Une Tempte 81

5 Teaching Nomadism: Inter/Cultural Studies in the Context of
Translation Studies 97


6 Triangulating the Self:
Turner Hospital, Hoffman and Sante 115

7 Bura 137


8 Listening to Indigenous Voices:
The Ethics of Reading in the Teaching of
Australian Indigenous Oral Narrative 155
Acknowledgments 9


9 (Mis)Taking the Chair:
The Text of Pedagogy and the Postcolonial Reader 175

10 Writing the Disaster:
New York Poets on 9/11 187

CONCLUSION: What is your name? 201

Bibliography 227

Za moju enu
i moja sina

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Much of the work in this book emerged directly out of seminars with students in the School
of European Studies at Cardiff University (1995-97), the Department of English at the Uni-
versity of Cologne (1997-98), the Department of Translation Studies at the University of
Applied Sciences in Magdeburg (1998-2000), in the School of Cultural Studies at the Uni-
versity of Lneburg (2000-02), and the Department of English at the Free University of
Berlin (from 2002 on). I am grateful to these groups of students not only because they
stimulated my thinking and spurred me on to new formulations of my thoughts in response
to their responses, but also because their presence formed the pedagogical situations which
are also the central preoccupation of this book.
I am especially grateful to the two colleagues with whom I have co-taught seminars
documented more or less extensively here: Richard Aczel, whom I worked with in a Co-
logne-Berlin creative writing seminar in Winter Semester 2004-2005, and Paul Carter, who
came to Berlin as a visiting Professor in Summer Semester 2005 to co-teach a seminar on
Postcolonial Performativity.
I wish to think the editorial staff of the following journals for permission to reproduce
material which appeared in an earlier form in Literatur in Wissenschaft (2002) and
Anglistik: Mitteilungen des deutschen Anglistenverbands (2005) (chapters 9 and 8 respec-
tively). For permission to use chapters which appeared in a number of earlier publications I
am grateful to Stefan Herbrechter, editor of Cultural Studies: Interdisciplinarity and Trans-
lation (Rodopi, 2002) and Matthias N. Lorenz, editor of Narrative des Entsetzens: Knst-
lerische, mediale und intellektuelle Deutungen des 11. September 2001 (Knigshausen &
Neumann, 2004) (chapters 5 and 10).
Much of the production process of the manuscript was managed by *Tjane Hartenstein,
who juggled chunks of undigested text, grappled with several recalcitrant computer pro-
grammes, and designed the cover image. Ernst Grabovszki in Vienna was infinitely patient
in his work on the final version of the book.
All translations, when not otherwise acknowledged, are my own.

All this would make no sense whatever without Tatjana and Joshua. To them, my fellow

Lneburg, Hinter der Slzmauer/Wendische Strae
Photo: Russell West-Pavlov

Transcultural Graffiti

Deutschland ist nur eine Illusion Germany is only an illusion, reads the graffiti slogan,
a sort of public postnational text, which adorns the cover of this book.
The slogan was sprayed on the wall of a brothel in the north-German town of Lneburg.
I biked past it twice daily during the two-year period in which I taught at the university
there. My bike route took me through the towns red-light district on my way to and from
work. At one pole of my daily trajectory was the rather dilapidated seventeenth-century
house where I rented a crooked room under the roof; at the other pole was the university
campus on the outskirts of the city a barracks complex built for the Wehrmacht, then
requisitioned by the British occupation forces during the Cold War, and finally converted
into a pleasant campus in the mid-1990s. Between these two antipodes, there was the centre
of what had been for several centuries one of Germanys most prosperous medieval salt
towns some of it now perfectly restored after years of neglect, some of it, like the red light
district, still seedy and run down.
The spray-canned slogan which greeted me each day on my way to and from the univer-
sity thus occupied a median space between two exemplifications of the citys respective
roles across a thousand years of history the once-ostentatious burghers residence in the
centre of the erstwhile salt-metropolis, the army barracks witnessing to the towns Cold
War isolation close to the former East-West border and to the subsequent shift of regional
reference points in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Victor Burgin has written evoca-
tively of this sense of shifting parameters in post-cold war places: The generation of Euro-
peans to which I belong grew up in a world of fixed borders, of glacial boundaries: frozen,
it seemed for eternity, by the cold war. Now, in the time of thaw, borders everywhere are
melting, sliding, submerging, re-emerging. Identities national, cultural, individual are
experiencing the exultant anxieties that accompany the threat of dissolution.
My daily
peregrination from medieval city centre turned tourist-town, to city limits, once on the mar-
gins of the West-German realm of Wohlstand [wealth] and now a regional node within an
increasingly unified but also increasingly complex Europe, were symptomatic of this new
sense of volatile identities.
My own oscillations between public and private, between professional and domestic,
traversed the towns diminutive red-light district, itself an embodiment of one of the oldest
forms of human commerce, the brothel being the archetypal lieu de passage or lieu de
brassage. The brothel as public-private space, prostitution as the professionalization of
intimacy these oxymorons, blurring categories we once might have taken as mutually
exclusive, show how apposite a site that whorehouse wall was for the graffiti which embla-

1 Victor Burgin, In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1996), 155.

zoned it. For the national space is the public space par excellence, but it is also a space
which defines the private identity of its citizens, endows them with a nationality and usually
a national language. It marks boundaries, dictating where its citizens belong and do not
belong, regulating their movements between the two domains, and intervening in their lives
even when they quit its realm of jurisdiction but itself straddles the public and the private
in a manner which curiously contradicts these dual terms own predication upon borders.
The graffiti on the brothel wall brashly declaring the illusory character of the nation re-
minded me forcefully, each time I cycled by, of the temporal, temporary nature of space.
The perfectly preserved half-timber old town of Lneburg remains as a memorial to the
citys late-medieval wealth and power as a producer of salt a major northern European
industry until it was sidelined by the salt pans of Provence. The area fell into insignificance
for several centuries, becoming truly marginal after the Second World War when, with the
erection of the wall dividing the capitalist Federal Republic of Germany from the socialist
German Democratic Republic, the town found itself relegated to the hinterland along the
iron-curtain. The NATO High Command, moreover, earmarked the entire area as
scorched-earth territory to be laid waste by low-intensity nuclear warfare in the event of a
Warsaw-pact invasion. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Lneburg reinvented itself as a
regional centre and attractive, affordable alternative to nearby Hamburg, whose two institu-
tions of higher education offered educational openings to young people in East and West.
Lneburg, its punning city arms including a waning-waxing crescent moon (luna), can thus
function as a focalizer for the fluid character of spatial identities and the plasticity of what
we call the national.
Germany is only an illusion, its fuzzy spray-can script a testimony to the haste of its
author and the ephemeral character of its declaration, bespeaks the fluctuations of national
spaces from centre to margin and back again. The flickering quality of this writing, ap-
plied in pressurized, vaporized form, exposed to the wind and weather, and inevitably at
some point subject to erasure, whether by natural or willed means, gives concrete force to
what the message actually says. National identity is not a given. It is the result, constantly
evoked and re-evoked, of a textual process, a construct driven by performative acts of iden-
tification. The slogan on the brothel wall, if it is still there, states not national identity, but
rather its contrary, national illusion.
Let me make myself clear: I am not embarking here upon an anti-German discourse. I
have made Germany my home and live happily there, abiding by its laws and making my
living in state employ. The nation as a pragmatic structure regulating the lives of its citizens
is one I participate in and benefit from. In contrast, the nation as an imagined community
is a discursive construct which pervades and enshrines the necessary institutional and bu-
reaucratic structures with which it is all too often mistakenly equated. It is no more and no
less than a collage of myths, always deserving of a modicum of scepticism.
The slogan lays bare, by its very mode of enunciation, the functioning of national call-
ing and by the same token, its ineluctably illusory nature. This country is called Ger-
many, its inhabitants are called Germans. But the calling is never complete. It may produce
brief echoes, but if the echoes are not to subside, the call must be repeated. National identity
is based upon constantly re-iterated illocutionary acts, acts of speech whose enunciation
carries out and gives body to what they say. The illocutionary speech act illustrates what it
says in the moment of saying it but only in the moment of saying it. An illocutionary

speech act thus remains illusionary, calling up a shimmering mirage which is incapable
of enduring. Whence the ever necessary to re-call the sense of the national and of belong-
ing to the national.
Germany is an illusion does precisely the opposite, drawing attention to the illusory
nature of the illocutionary act. Its illustrative force lies in its pointing to its own ephemeral
character, to the provisional, unmonumental quality of its mode of enunciation. What could
be more ephemeral and passing as a surface of inscription than the rough-cast wall of a
brothel? Graffiti does not engrave. It is not grave or serious in the style of more deeply
incised inscriptions. Graffiti is a diminutive form, little writing, a minor genre, one made
up of short-lived textlets. Its very insubstantiality brings forth the insubstantiality of the
national, that set of spatial identity rules by which we all play but which have no other va-
lidity than within the bounds of the game.
The texts in this book can be regarded as similar textlets. They emerged in many cases
out of a teaching situation, summarize the synthesis of my reading and reflection, and the
discussions which took place in seminars with students in the School of European Studies at
Cardiff University, the English Department of the University of Cologne, the Department of
Translation Studies at the University of Applied Sciences in Madgeburg, in the School of
Cultural Studies at the University of Lneburg, and the Department of English at the Free
University of Berlin. In all cases the teaching situations themselves were illocutionary
situations, performative exercises in the exploration of foreignness and cross-cultural com-
munication, with the discussion between teacher(s) and students from European and non-
European countries taking place in the lingua franca of English. The writing which arose
out of these seminars, that of the students as well as those of my own texts gathered here,
may possess a similar status to that of the graffiti slogan I have commented above: they are
engagements with the question of writing, identity and belonging in the contemporary space
of the nation, a space which in our era has become increasingly porous and at the same time
constantly reconstitutes its borders in new ways in response to the steeply rising flows of
people across the boundaries of the national space. My European classrooms, generic
catchment areas for students of foreign languages and literatures and exchange students, all
archetypal border-crossers, became microcosms of the modern transcultural universe, with
its selective mobility and partial lifting and partial reimposition of borders.

Blackboard negative

Germany is only an illusion is printed on the cover of this book in negative. It thus ap-
pears as a parodic blackboard, an indexical sign of the classroom half way between the
institution I taught in and the outside world beyond its walls: the town, the home. The
blackboard as projection screen for pedagogical fantasies, as the surface upon which tradi-
tionally, pedagogic practices have crystallized in written form, the site upon which peda-
gogy as an ephemeral process, subject to erasure and re-inscription, is acted out but also
the blackboard as one wall of the classroom, the focus and of the learning process but also
the line of its constitutive borders, the boundaries which makes the classroom a classroom,
and behind which the non-classroom begins, invisibly but powerfully. What would the

classroom be without boundaries, without a demarcation line separating it from the world in
which the knowledge acquired was later to be applied?
To print Germany is only an illusion in negative is to make a gesture which mutely ad-
dresses the relations between ground and figure, between text and surface of inscription,
between inner and outer, between the classroom and its other. Projecting Germany is only
an illusion on a brothel wall in white writing on a black background is to employ a visual
chiasmus so as to cast the blackboard-image beyond the boundary which it customarily
constitutes, to make evident the environment within which the educational system is em-
bedded, indeed which it forms through its operational practices. To place the blackboard
beyond the walls of the classroom positions the teaching-space in the world with which it
never ceases to communicate whilst repressing that communication in the interests of its
own self-definition. It makes the classroom visible as a practice and not simply as an inci-
dental detail in the researching and teaching of literary studies.
This ostention of the classroom is a necessary gesture because the space of student-
teacher interaction so often falls out of sight in postcolonial literary studies. A volume such
as Teaching Post-colonialism and Post-Colonial Literatures (1997), edited by a Danish
group from the University of Aahus is notable for its quasi-blanket neglect of the classroom
teaching context. Most considerations of the teaching of literature stop short at the institu-
tional end of the teaching process, dealing with the difficulties of refashioning the canon,
broadening university syllabi and designing new courses; few deal with the nuts-and-bolts
business of making postcolonial literatures accessible and relevant through the teaching
process with students groups in universities around the world.
Another volume, Rethinking
English (1994), published by Oxford India, uses a photograph of Ania Loomba teaching a
group of Indian students as its cover illustration, but likewise includes little reflection upon
the dynamics of teaching English in Indian classrooms.
The practice of teaching as one of
the central pillars of the academic profession, for many academics whether by choice or
because of institutional factors the central aspect of the job, is consistently neglected by
literary studies.
Intense debates have been conducted over the position of postcolonial theorists with re-
gard to political practice. The best-known example is Edward Said as a member of Palestin-
ian council.
For many of us, however, our most worldly practice in the field of postcolo-
nial studies is teaching. Spivak focuses explicitly on the transactions in the classroom as
that most practical aspect of our trade, or doggedly reminds us to get back on the track of
our feminist teacher.
Outside in the Teaching Machine (1993) repeatedly focuses upon the

2 Anne Collet, Lars Jensen and Anna Rutherford (eds), Teaching Post-colonialism and Post-Colonial Litera-
tures (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1997). The contributions by Susan Gingell and Velma Pollard do ad-
dress classroom interactions (160-73); the papers by Russell McDougall and Sue Hosking, and Betty
Thgersen look at student responses to course innovations (174-99).
3 Svati Joshi (ed.), Rethinking English: Essays in Literature, Language, History (Delhi: Oxford University
Press, 1994).
4 Bart Moore-Gilbert, Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics (London: Verso, 1997), 164.
5 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Burden of English, in Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (ed.), The Lie of the Land:
English Literary Studies in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992), 299; How to Teach a Culturally
Different Book, in Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean (eds), The Spivak Reader: Selected Works of Gayatri
Chakravorty Spivak (New York: Routledge, 1996), 252.

classroom situation of the postcolonial critic.
Bart Moore-Gilbert comments that Spivaks
work is notable for its consistent concern with the practices (as well as politics) of peda-
gogy, an area which is rarely addressed in any detail in the work of Said (or, indeed, of
There are other signs that the common elision of this most practical aspect to
our trade is no longer so absolute. I think of Elaine Showalters Teaching Literature (2003)
or Eve Kosofsky Sedgwicks Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (2003).

Sedgwick writes, in the introductory pages of her book,

At the same time, one of the cumulative stories told by Touching Feeling may be of a writers decreasing sense
of having a strong center of gravity in a particular intellectual field. Such encounters as those with mortality
and Buddhism, which shape the last two chapters, have some slip-slidy effects, for better or worse, on the
strong consciousness of vocation that made a book like Epistemology of the Closet sound confident of its inter-
vention on contemporaneous scenes of sexuality and critical theory. By contrast, the work Ive done in parallel
with Touching Feeling over the past decade has included several editorial experiments in collaboration; a po-
etry book; the extended, double-voiced haibun of A Dialogue on Love; a lot of cancer journalism; and increas-
ingly, the non-linguistic work of textile art. At the same time, my classroom life has grown consistently more
textured and relaxed. While Ive struggled to make room in Touching Feeling for a sense of reality that would
exclude none of these elements, Ive also had to ungrasp my hold on some truths that used to be self-evident
including the absolute privilege of the writing act itself.

This is of course an autobiographical narrative, but I think it can also stand as representative
for a pedagogical turn in literary studies, as the previous marginality of teaching begins to
be cast into question. The relationship between research and teaching, one of centre and
periphery, has not been reversed so much as transformed. In an earlier epoch, one where the
Humboldtian vision of the university still commanded some credence, research was pre-
sumed to inform teaching directly. In senior seminars, students would partake of professors
current explorations. Sinking standards of general knowledge and mastery of traditional
academic discourses among undergraduates and the increasing specialization of research in
literary studies has put paid to that notion. What increasingly happens, however, is that
teaching impacts upon research. Some research texts are couched in an explicitly pedagogi-
cal form, with questions at the end of chapters and so on, as in John McLeods excellent
Beginning Postcolonialism (2000).
Of more interest than the mere addition of pedagogical
apparati into the interstices of the literary critical text is the idea of the research project in
which possible pedagogical implications are integrated as a central element from the outset.
Literary studies in written form consistently forgets the classrooms where it is ex-
pounded, and the classroom in turn habitually forgets its own position within the world.
Literary studies tends to ignore the fact that the statements made within its bounds are po-
sitioned and not universally valid, and that one of the principal sites in which literary stud-
ies are anchored is the university seminar. In her work on teaching English studies in a
postcolonial context, Spivak makes the classroom visible by posing various classrooms
against each other typically, the English-language English Literature classroom in post-

6 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine (London: Routledge, 1993).
7 See Moore-Gilbert, Postcolonial Theory, 77.
8 Elaine Showalter, Teaching Literature (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2003); Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching
Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, NC.: Duke University Press, 2003).
9 Sedgwick, Touching Feeling, 2-3.
10 John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000).

Independence India and its neighbour in which Indian literature is taught in the vernacu-
Placing the one classroom up against the other casts into question their assumptions
about the self-evidence of their pedagogical discourse and their capacity to ignore the con-
text in which they operate.
The places from which we speak are paramount in determining the validity of what we
say. The teacher, so often embodied as a static figure engaged upon a monologue, is not a
given entity, but a social construct predicated upon the space in and from which he more
frequently she speaks. It is for this reason that I have stressed my own involvement in
the spaces arranged around my opening slogan. The pedagogic discourse produced in the
university classroom adjacent to the old town quarter where the graffiti slogan was to be
found, the writerly discourse produced in the current fabric of a Berlin existence, are all
anchored in a network of places, and in the texture of a transcultural history.
Autobiographical anecdote of the sort I have employed here may, on the one hand, serve
to reinforce the impression of substantiality conveyed by the first-person discourse; it may
equally, on the other hand, point to the contingency, the historical and geographical em-
beddedness of that voice, to its production within a framework of temporal and cultural
influences which make it what it is. As Stuart Hall comments,

Of course, the I who writes here must also be thought of as, itself, enunciated. We all write and speak from
a particular place and time, from a history and a culture which is specific. What we say is always in context,
positioned. I was born into and spent my childhood and adolescence in a lower-middle-class family in Jamaica.
I have lived all my adult life in England, in the shadow of the black diaspora in the belly of the beast. I
write against the background of a lifetimes work in cultural studies. If the paper seems preoccupied with the
diaspora experience and its narratives of displacement, it is worth remembering that all discourse is placed,
and the heart has its reasons.

If I stress the positioned nature of the texts published in this book, it is to underline the
positioned nature of pedagogical discourse in general. It is to ask in what ways the transcul-
tural classroom is not a neutral space of learning, but positioned as part of a network of
discourses of the national, of the national language and culture. (The conflation of the na-
tional space and of the national language, and the inculcation of that language through the
national educational and educative system has been explored thoroughly by theorists such
as Anderson and Balibar.
) To stress the autobiographical is to show that a place of enun-
ciation is a place of enunciation. The singularity of the site of speech, its limitation through
the article which constrains articulation, its a-ness, is at once a negative factor and a posi-
tive one. To acknowledge the positionality of pedagogical discourse is to make space for
the notion that there is no outside of discourse and no outside of power, that is, that what we
say in the classroom is part of a real-world context. It follows, then, that the place of peda-
gogical speech is not universal position, but one which must always be relativized, placed
in a context of other positions. On the other hand, to pin down pedagogical talk to its place
of enunciation allows that site to become a place of responsibility. Such responsibility is

11 See Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Burden of English, in Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (ed.), The Lie of the
Land: English Literary Studies in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992), 275-99.
12 Stuart Hall, Cultural Identity and Diaspora, in Jonathon Rutherford (ed.), Identity: Community, Culture,
Difference (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990), 222-3.
13 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1983); Rene Balibar, Les Franais fictifs: Le
rapport des styles littraires au franais national (Paris: Hachette, 1974).

both assigned and limited by the place which I occupy, by my place on a network of rela-

This double aspect of positionality, one the one hand, the singularizing impulse which
lays bare the context of the pedagogical undertaking, and on the other, the possibilities
inherent in the site of pedagogical enunciation, defines the two directions I wish to explore
in the remaining sections of this book. On the one hand, I will attempt to lay bare the net-
works of power-knowledge in which pedagogical discourse, and in particular the dis-
course of literary studies, is implicated in the present-day academy. On the other, I will
attempt to suggest ways in which the contextuality of textual pedagogy makes available
productive possibilities for a teaching practice which is genuinely engaged in its environ-


In this book I alternate between the terms postcolonial, transcultural and diasporic
literatures. This is in part in order to take cognizance of the differing cultural contexts out of
which literary texts arise, some of them genuinely postcolonial, others having no direct
colonial past or postcolonial present to speak of, but being produced out of similar condi-
tions of geographical displacement, linguistic rupture and cultural hybridization. The term
postcolonial has increasingly come under fire in recent years.
The post ignores ongo-
ing colonial or neo-colonial mentalities and structures, and the term itself tends suggests
a spurious homogenization of the multifarious differences within across the once-colonized
world. Postcolonial is often now subsumed into to the terms transcultural or diasporic,
though these terms in their turn may be dangerously anodyne, eliding the brutal power
relations and the conditions of naked exploitation which continue to mark the movements of
populations and the meetings or collisions of cultures in the contemporary world. Rather
than entering into debates around definitions, however, I choose to mark these terms as
problematic and still provisional, and use them in this book sous rature and as appears
most appropriate in the specific contexts.
The register of these texts is varied. Some respect the established protocols of academic
writing, proceeding step by argumentative step, others are less cautious and consciously
oriented towards a more essayistic mode. My aim has been to oscillate between the known
and the unknown, between forms and writing which conform to the canon of academic
writing, and genres which can be understood as assays testing other contexts and audi-
ences. The essay, it seems to me, in a manner not dissimilar to graffiti, is a modest, context-
bound literary form which is responsive to its moment and to hints of novelty, rather than to
the monumental confirmation of the already-read.
In this manner, I hope, this book may

14 See Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethik (1949; Mnchen: Christian Kaiser Verlag, 1988), 247-9.
15 See for instance Vijay Mishra and Bob Hodge, What is Post(-)colonialism?, Textual Practice 5: 3 (1991),
399-414; Anne McClintock, The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term Post-Colonialism , Social Text
31/32 (Spring 1992), 84-97.
16 On the essay form see Edward W. Said, The World, the Text and the Critic (London: Faber & Faber, 1984),
26, and Theodor W. Adorno, Der Essay als Form, Philosophie und Gesellschaft: Fnf Essays (Stuttgart:
Reclam, 1984), 5-32.

be able to participate in the forms of re-iterative performativity to which I constantly return
forms which, in deviating by degrees from the template which they partly follow, may
produce new statements and new knowledges.
Having opened this introductory chapter with an example of performative graffiti, the
rest of this book explores a number of literary texts which address questions of pedagogy
from different angles in a colonial, postcolonial or transcultural context. In this way, I hope
to render explicit the illocutionary character of my own writerly discourse and point to-
wards its further implementation in the readers own context and within recipients literary
or pedagogical practices. Subsequent sections deal with a set of interlocking issues in ap-
proximate thematic bundles: translation, autobiography, indigenous writing and performa-
tive teaching.
Part one, Positions, explores the meaning of teaching postcolonial, transcultural or di-
asporic literatures in the classroom. I approach this problem in chapter 1 by reading novels
which narrativize the educational process, thus creating a self-reflexive loop when read in
the classroom. In chapter 2 I ask about the sort of knowledge that is produced in this way,
suggesting that the seminar is a situation in which a minor knowledge is generated, a
context-bound and heterogeneous knowledge which is akin to the work of bricolage
evoked by Lvi-Strauss. Positionality in these sections has two meanings: on the one
hand, it refers to the self-reflexive action of reading with an awareness of the place, the
institution in which one reads, and its broader connections; on the other hand, it signifies a
sense of what can be produced from within the position in which I find myself, and as a
specific result of that position. In both cases, I attempt to foreground the particular texture
of the place in which literature teaching is carried out, rather than eliding it in misguided
desire to attain pure, unsituated knowledge.
Part two addresses questions of translation. I assume that the problematic of translation is
endemic to all transcultural and diasporic literature, even when it is not explicitly thema-
tized. Moreover, I posit that translation also underlies the pedagogic undertaking in the area
of postcolonial or transcultural studies: teachers of these disciplines in the English-speaking
academy may often be monolingual, but certainly the writers they discuss, and in many
cases their students are most definitely polylingual, and thus work in the interstices of sev-
eral languages on an everyday basis. In chapter 3 I read Heinrich Blls 1957 translation of
Patrick Whites Australian Genesis-narrative The Tree of Man (1956), asking to what extent
it can be understood as part of an archaeology of Australian Studies in Germany. I inter-
rogate this area of new English literatures within the European academy as a discipline
which is generated by desire, by a will to truth in the Foucauldian sense rather than by a
notion of objective scientific knowledge. Chapter 4 reads Csaires adaptation of Shake-
speares Tempest, Une Tempte (1967), as an example of aggressively marginal, indeed
anthropophagic translation. Chapter 5 again turns to Australian-German translation, exam-
ining the 1997 German translation of Robert Dessaix Night Letters (1996), thus proposing
contemporary answers to some of the questions of collective desire and national cultural
imaginary posed in chapter 3.
In part three I shift from collective forms to interrogate a more individualized genre, that
of autobiography, in order to scrutinize the structures of subjectivity as encoded in transcul-
tural or diasporic writing. Chapter 6 takes up these issues with the help of the postmodern
notion of triangulation, a narrative technique which foregrounds the role of the interval in

semiotic processes, and whose functioning I examine initially with reference to novels by
the Australian-Canadian writer Janette Turner Hospital, such as The Last Magician (1992)
and Oyster (1996). This signifying space in narratives of selfhood is exemplified in two
recent diasporic autobiographies, the Polish-Canadian-American Eva Hoffmans Lost in
Translation (1989) and the Belgian-American Luc Santes The Factory of Facts (1998). A
brief theoretical excursus places the notion of triangulation in the context of postmodern
theorization. In particular I am interested in the notion of performativity, a concept which
corrects the structuralist and post-structuralist negation of agency, stressing the role of
agency in the maintenance and transformative inflection of structures over time. The notion
of performativity also foregrounds the inherent novelty of speech acts and discursive par-
ticipation, thus furnishing a theoretical tool apposite to the risk society in which we live.
History itself, especially from the diasporic perspective, means constant reconfiguration of
individual subjectivities and collective identities. This engagement with autobiographical
writing and its avatars is motivated by the sense that any transcultural literary pedagogy
must confront and speak to the subjective element in the teaching process. A transcultural
literary pedagogy which is not equipped to address and sympathize with the diasporic life
narratives of students and teachers alike is doomed to failure. This issue is elaborated fur-
ther in chapter 7, in which I look at notions of continuity and discontinuity, and borders and
community, in Marica Bodrois collection of stories Tito ist tot (2002) in the context of
literary teaching in a new European Union which now includes a number of Eastern Euro-
pean countries.
Part four is devoted to Australian indigenous issues, which, as an expatriate Australian
university teacher here, the autobiographical comes to the fore, but with political over-
tones I feel myself obliged, in view of the bloody history of my nation, to make a central
area of my teaching. Indigenous people in Australia resist being assimilated to the multi-
culturalist agenda, claiming quite rightly that all other groups are immigrants thereby
giving the teaching of indigenous texts a novel turn, in which (Australian) students and
teachers engage with the literature of a land in which they are still in some way interlopers.
In this section I am particularly interested in the notion of interpellation as a literary strat-
egy in the service of political transformation in the narrative voice as a mode of address to
a majority reading public. In chapter 8 I concentrate on the act of listening in the literary
classroom. Focussing on the oral narratives of the indigenous story-teller Paddy Roe and
the ways in which they question the very configuration of the didactic situation, I suggest
that in approaching these narratives, and by extension all indigenous literature, white Euro-
pean readers may profitably take up the position of uninitiated listener. I use the notion of
listening in conjunction with the apparently opposed notion of performance, which I
take to be an existential acceptance of a discursive structure imposed by the text itself.
Part five returns specifically to the self-reflexive thematization of pedagogical issues in
diasporic or transcultural literature, in particular focussing on texts which thrust learning
into the foreground. Chapter 9 reads a fictive educational autobiography by the Guyanese-
British writer and academic David Dabydeen, The Intended (1991), suggesting possible
ways of activating this text in the classroom situation. To this end, I mobilize the Lacanian
concepts of Symbolic, Imaginary and Real. Chapter 10 looks at the concern for learning
from history in recent American poetry written in the wake of the 11 September 2001
terrorist attacks on New York World Trade Centre. This reading turns to European readers

and asks to what extent they themselves may be able to learn from this 9/11 poetry in ways
similar to those it proposes for the American people.
The conclusion draws all these themes together. In an extended meditation upon a semi-
nar, theatre workshop and stage production which took place in Berlin in 2004 I address as
an interrelated complex the issues of translation, autobiography, indigenous languages and
performativity as a pedagogical principle. The Berlin project re-translated and adapted a
radio play by the British-Australian writer and cultural historian Paul Carter, What is your
name (1986), and culminated in the multilingual theatre production What is your name/Wie
its dein Name (2004). Translation is both the subject of Carters piece and its principle of
construction, drawing as it does upon early settler transcriptions and translations of the
indigenous languages of Western Victoria. The radio play was subject anew to translation,
both generic (in its adaptation for a stage production) and lingual (ending up as a perform-
ance in English and German, with some Polish and Russian elements). Autobiographical
traces were at work in the authors inscription of his own personal trajectory in his oeuvre,
and in the student reflections upon the play which make up some of the voices in my own
collage-text. The final stage production of What is your name/Wie ist dein Name as theatre
provides, by default, a useful heuristic device which facilitates a retrospective re-reading of
all the texts dealt within in this book as instances of diasporic performativity.

Autobiographical collage

In a recent creative writing seminar entitled Writing Oneself as Another co-organized
by myself and Richard Aczel from the University of Cologne, a group of visiting Cologne
students and their hosts from the Free University of Berlin took part in a day-long writing
exercise spread across the inner-city Berlin suburb of Prenzlauer Berg. In the course of that
freezing December day, each student progressed through a series of four designated cafs
there are no lack of them in this artist-student-yuppie neighbourhood working on a narra-
tive made up of four short episodes. A certain number of parameters (theme, narrative per-
spective, setting) were fixed in advance. A further constraint was the fairly short period of
time allotted to each caf, as well as the time necessary to track back and forth across Pren-
zlauer Berg between the various cafs. But the most challenging aspect of the writing exer-
cise was that at each caf, the students would meet with pre-assigned partners, swap the
story they brought with them, and continue writing the next instalment ... of a story whose
prior episodes had been written by others. At each meeting they thus inherited a composi-
tion whose constitutive elements had originated elsewhere, and to which they were to add
something of their own, but which would nonetheless continue the story thus far. Their
activity was thus an exercise in creative writing bricolage which produced a collage of
highly idiosyncratic and often very personal texts. Astonishingly, out of these montages of
four students hastily scribbled pieces remarkably subjective and quasi-autobiographical
texts emerged. This exercise was an experiment in (autobiographical) collage in- and out-
side of the classroom by a group of mobile writers from all over Europe. In this book I
employ both graffiti and collage texts as a figure of the writing of transcultural identity,
both individual and collective (in the context of these two concepts, graffiti and collage, the
distinction between collective and individual, public and private, is constantly blurring

anyway), and its pedagogical implications. In the empirical assay in Prenzlauer Berg we
tried to perform these various notions in a concrete way literally, by writing on the move
from caf to caf in one of the greatest of European exile cities. In this book these ideas are
embodied conceptually and, as the reader will discover, visually.
Collage can function as a metaphor for the diasporic autobiography par excellence. Col-
lage, the juxtaposition of experiences, of languages, of people which are torn out of their
organic native context and thrown into new places, is the perfect figure for the exile ex-
perience. The life of the exilic writer is a collage of cultural micro-texts which are patched
together into an uneven and barely linear narrative. The diasporic autobiographer works
with a collection of transnational graffiti which somehow or other add up to a messy al-
most-whole a text which cannot hide its ill-knitted seams, its welding welts, its cut-and-
paste method of construction. In a treatise on citation, Antoine Compagnon weaves a
fantasy about his own life as an activity which ends as it begins, alternately struggling and
with paper, scissors and glue, creating new texts from the cut-out fragments of other texts.

The psychoanalyst of skin, Didier Anzieu, recounts a not-dissimilar anecdote from a ther-
apy with a small boy. The therapy process was crowned with success when the child, re-
hearsing and re-writing early postnatal experiences of epidermal deprivation, tore a large
sheet of adhesive drawing-paper from the consulting-room wall. He then stripped naked and
asked the therapist to cut the adhesive paper into small strips and glue it together on his
skin. In this way, the paper covered his entire body except for the eyes. This process was
repeated over several therapy sessions, thus generating a material correlative for the recon-
stituted narrative of selfhood.
What better example of auto-bio-graphical collage perform-
ance a concrete bricolage could one imagine?
Sterne in Tristram Shandy jocularly declared that of all the several ways of beginning a
book which are now in practice through the known world, I am confident my own way of
doing it is the best ... for I begin with writing the first sentence and trust to Almighty God
for the second.
Every beginning is a leap into the unknown, an act without a guarantee, a
step which moves away from that which already is towards that which can only be brought
into being by the inaugural gesture of beginning. No beginning is entirely cut loose from
the history which precedes it, yet at the same time, that history never entirely determines its
subsequent direction. Performativity takes what is and makes something new, for every re-
iteration of the given is by definition different from that which it re-iterates. Every begin-
ning is thus a translative, transformative gesture. Every theatrical performance, Gerald
Siegmund has pointed out, is an inaugural event, one in which that which is performed [das
Dargestellte] only emerges in the moment of its performance [erst im Moment der Darstel-
lung entsteht].
The actor on stage always translates from theatrical tradition, from previ-
ous performances, from a script, but that which is performed is none the less absolutely new
and thus inherently risk-filled. Diasporic writing is by definition a performative strategy

17 Antoine Compagnon, La seconde main, ou le travail de la citation (Paris: Seuil, 1979), 15-17.
18 Didier Anzieu, Le Moi-peau (Paris: Bordas, 1985), 65.
19 Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67; Harmondsworth: Penguin,
1985), 516.
20 Gerald Siegmund, Theater als Gedchtnis: Semiotische und psychoanalytische Untersuchungen zur Funktion
des Dramas (Tbingen: Gunter Narr, 1996), 61, 58-9.

because it is always going in search of brave new worlds, reaching beyond the known and
the established code.
The broad thesis of this book is that cultural work, and even more so, transcultural work,
does not express something already present. Far more, it assembles and collates material
from various cultures in their moment of meeting. The teaching of such cultural collage in
the classroom should equip students with the means to reflect upon and engage in cultural
bricolage in the present day. Identity is not expressed in the act of writing, far more it is
constituted by the materials we assemble and the principles of collation we employ to put
those materials together.
Refusing to assume ahead of time that it knows the appropriate
knowledge, language, or skills, [performative risk pedagogy] is a contextual practice
which is willing to take the risk of making connections, drawing lines, mapping articula-
tions, between different domains, discourses and practices, to see what will work, both
theoretically and politically.
It is, then, performative, doing something actively with the
linguistic materials at hand to make something happen in language. It is performative by
virtue of taking extant structures, and re-working them via a process of re-iteration and
combination with other structures so as to produce novelty. Literary texts both perform such
operations and provide models, I try to show in this book, of the broader societal forms of
performative translation and transformation in the transcultural or disporic world.
The manner in which texts work can be taken as a metonymy of the way in which our
constitutive individual and social narratives are constructed. By operating such transfers
(text to social context) we can release fully the didactic force of literature, one which allows
us to become writers in the broadest sense, crafting the broader textual fabric of our exis-
tence in the modern day world.
In our contemporary society, which increasingly confronts
us with novelty and the unknown, both in our everyday interpersonal encounters, and in the
shape of our existential trajectories, narratives of bricolage and bricolage narratives are
the stuff of which we and our lives are made. One of the major responsibilities of a contem-
porary literary pedagogy is to train us to meet these challenges in creative and innovative

21 See Pam Gilbert, Writing, Schooling and Deconstruction: From Voice to Text in the Classroom (London:
Routledge, 1989).
22 Lawrence Grossberg, Introduction: Bringin it all back home Pedagogy and Cultural Studies, in Henry A.
Giroux and Peter McLaren (eds.), Between Borders: Pedagogy and the Politics of Cultural Studies (New
York: Routledge, 1994), 18.
23 See Robert Scholes, The Rise and Fall of English:Reconstructing English as a Discipline (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1998); Bill Readings, The University without Culture?, New Literary History 26: 3 (Sum-
mer 1995), 465-92.


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Classrooms in transcultural texts
Transcultural texts in the classroom

The eighteenth-century novelist Samuel Richardson, commenting not uncritically upon the
view that literary amusement should be considered as little more than the vehicle to the
more necessary instruction, epitomized an attitude with which we are unfamiliar today.

Our de-pragmatized approach to literature stresses the autonomy of the literary artefact and
frees of it of the strictures of an earlier didacticism. The rejection of such moralizing in-
strumentalism since the nineteenth century has caused us to lose the habit of considering the
potential didactic value of literature. Whence the potential difficulties which may arise upon
reading a text in which an author such as Chinua Achebe imagines the novelist as a
This thought is to a large extent inimical to us today.
I propose, however, an alternative solution to this dilemma, which is to reverse the for-
mulation. Might a teacher pose as a novelist in the same way, perhaps, as Paulo Friere
would have us think of the teacher as politician and artist?
With the help of this chiastic
gesture, which would make of the seminar an espace romanesque, a novelistic space,
may become possible to reflect upon a didactic role for literature in new ways. The teacher
as novelist would not be a reductive, finger-wagging reader of literature, but a reader
among readers whose role would be to re-write the text, to endow it with new dynamism,
to perpetuate its own active re-writing of the symbolics of social and political life.
In order to reflect on such possibilities more concretely, I explore in this opening chapter
a further chiasmus of the type I have just evoked. What resonances might be generated by
reading in todays classrooms texts which in turn have pupils in colonial classrooms reading
colonial texts? In the chiastic gesture which is thus sketched out, the (post)colonial class-
room in the text is reconfigured as the (post)colonial text in the classroom. This chiastic
flourish suggests another attendant reversal. The chiastic gesture I carry out here is related
to the one executed in the previous chapter, in which the colours of the graffiti-photograph
were reversed so as to place the graffiti, symbolically, within the classroom, and the class-
room, via this parody of the archetypal blackboard-text, back on the street. In imagining the
texts read below in the classroom situation, I ask them to comment upon the context of their
application. To place these classrooms-in-the-text in a classroom is to create, willy-nilly, a
self-reflexive relationship of critical allusion in which the texts cannot but interrogate our

1 Samuel Richardson, Clarissa, Or, The History of a Young Lady (1747-8; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), 36.
2 Chinua Achebe, The Novelist as Teacher, Morning Yet on Creation Day (London: Heinemann, 1975), 42-5.
Hereafter NT.
3 Paulo Friere, Der Lehrer ist Politiker und Knstler: Neue Texte zu befreiender Bildungsarbeit, trans. Horst
Goldstein et. al. (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1981).
4 See Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes (Paris: Seuil, 1975), 173.

own teaching practices and the uses to which they are put in a First World and/or neo-
colonial framework.

The novelist as teacher the teacher as novelist?

Achebes text, when read in a classroom situation, speaks directly into that context. He
begins, Most of my readers are young. They are either in school or college or have only
recently left. And many of them look to me as a kind of teacher (NT 42). Rejections of
didacticism of a Brechtian or Zdanovian variety are irrelevant here, for Achebe simply
posits a state of affairs in such a way, implicitly, as to question the insouciance with which
literature is frequently produced and consumed in the American-European West. He goes
on to tell two stories which instantiate the notion of the novelist as teacher. The first con-
cerns a

reader in Ghana who wrote me a rather pathetic letter to say that I had neglected to include questions and an-
swers at the end of Things Fall Apart and could I make these available to him to ensure his success at next
years school certificate examination. This is what I would call in Nigerian pidgin a how-for-do reader and I
hope there are not many like him. But also in Ghana I met a young woman teacher who immediately took me
to task for not making the hero of my No Longer at Ease marry the girl he is in love with. I made the kind of
vague noises I usually make whenever a wise critic comes along to tell me I should have written a different
book to the one I wrote. But my woman teacher was not going to be shaken off so easily. She was in deadly
earnest. Did I know, she said, that there are many women in the kind of situation I had described and that I
could have served them well if I had shown that it was possible to find one man with enough guts to go against
custom. (NT 43)

Achebe continues: I dont agree of course. But this young woman spoke with so much
feeling that I couldnt help being a little bit uneasy at the accusation (for it was a serious
accusation) that I had squandered a rare opportunity for education on a whimsical and frivo-
lous exercise (NT 43). I suggest that the double image of the readers who demand some
sort of didacticism from him a pupil in the final phase of high school on the one hand, and
a socially engaged teacher on the other, may be worth taking more seriously than Achebe
appears to do so in this brief text.
Achebes momentary hesitation is of course a staged one. He refuses to countenance the
sort of didacticism this teacher demands of him. But the rest of the text implicitly continues
to engage with the problem posed by readers expectations of a didactic stance. Achebe
makes no clear statement regarding this matter, except to castigate his fellow Africans for
our acceptance for whatever reason of racial inferiority (NT 44). What is left hanging
in the air, deliberately so, one suspects, is a third possible writer-reader-configuration, one
which furnishes an alternative teacher-role to the novelist and a learner-role to the audience.
Achebe rejects two approaches to the text. However, the second approach is already
more forceful, one not to be shaken off so easily. The implicit climactio at work here
suggests that were he to have continued this catalogue of readers, a third one may have been
much closer in her or his demands than the two presented here. What might a hypothetical
third didactic reader demand of the author? One might extrapolate two aspects of an alter-
native textual didacticism from the two figures Achebe rejects. First, this alternative reader
would approach the text as a process of question and answer, regarding literature as a

catalyst for a process of interrogation, as a form of critical dialogue. Secondly, this alterna-
tive reader would show up possibilities of going against custom, would query the relation-
ship the text entertains with its environment, and would interrogate the modelling character
of the literary text.
It is not by chance that Achebe notes, Writing of the kind I do is relatively new in my
part of the world and it is too soon to try and describe the complex of relationships between
us and our readers (NT 42). The writer-reader-praxis relationship which Achebe implicitly
posits but significantly fails to propose is mutely present as a utopian possibility to be ex-
plored in the wake of the reading-experience. The Novelist as Teacher can thus be under-
stood as a perlocutionary literary speech-act, one which aims to trigger a societal event
beyond itself, a societal event which it refuses to articulate except in a merely gestural form
precisely because that event can be provoked but not predicted.
To read this text in the classroom, however, is to endow it with an additional layer as a
literary speech-act. As soon as this text, with its staging of author-teacher/reader-student
relationships, is inserted into a classroom context, it takes on an illocutionary quality. The
performative aspect of the speech act is not posited somewhere in the future, beyond the
moment of the speech act itself, but is executed in the very moment of its enunciation. To
activate such a text in the reading process is to embark upon such an illocutionary action.
The texts I will read here are all implicitly concerned with English as a language of peda-
gogy and as a language of imperial hegemony. To the extent that they are all written in
English they constitute themselves as self-reflexive acts. The critical tenor of the stories
they recount cannot fail to impact upon their own form as literary texts in English. At the
moment that they are activated in the pedagogic situation, a similar self-reflexive relation-
ship is triggered with regard to the classroom situation in which they are read. The peda-
gogic content of the texts, their accounts of childrens experiences of the colonial class-
room, implicitly alludes to the situation in which they are read and discussed as part of a
school or university curriculum. In this manner that they become illocutionary acts of liter-
ary expression, speaking into the classroom situation in which they are placed at the very
moment of speaking of the classroom situation inserted within the fabric of their fictional or
semi-fictional world.
It is not as if this is something that is initiated by the texts themselves. Rather, it is the
act of placing such texts in a classroom situation which creates a set of connections which
in turn bring forth unexpected meanings. If meaning is relational, as de Saussure and Jakob-
son after him insisted, then relationships of contiguity are crucial in producing textually-
generated knowledge.
The place in which we read a text determines to a large extent the
interpretations that we produce in our encounter with a text. In the present context, the
classroom situation merely serves to highlight the educational thematics inherent within the
text, thus facilitating a range of meanings not often foregrounded within postcolonial stud-
Given the massive implication of education in the colonial and anti-colonial processes,

it is ironic that education is by and large regarded, to all intents and purposes, as a by-

5 Roman Jakobson, quoted by Nicholas Ruwet, preface to Jakobson, Essais de linguistique gnerale (Paris:
Seuil/Points, 1970), 8: Je ne crois pas aux choses, mais aux relations entre les choses.
6 See Gauri Viswanathan, Masks of Empire: Literary Study and British Rule in India (London: Faber & Faber,
1990); Robert Young, Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001).

product of the postcolonial field. On the contrary, it ought properly to be acknowledged as a
central productive factor. One of the major innovations of Saids work in Orientalism
(1978) was to make clear connections between power and knowledge in the colonial con-
text. In later works he demonstrated to what extent that nexus continues to operate today.

The same ongoing nexus is barely acknowledged in the field of education, however.
Postcolonial studies are produced, primarily, in universities, whether in the West or the
non-West. But the principal recipients of this knowledge, students, are usually not acknowl-
edged in postcolonial work. Spivak bluntly says: Let me spell it out here. Postcoloniality in
general is not subsumable under the model of the revolutionary or resistant marginality in
metropolitan space.
To think otherwise is to believe that postcolonial transformation, to
the extent that it can take place in connection with Western institutions of higher education
at all, is a process which occurs between teachers and the social context, eliding the fact
that apart from the rare occasions when university teachers also pose as public intellectuals,
their political action is mediated via the students they teach. To that extent, postcolonial
studies frequently suppresses its own most immediate location which is not primarily that
of late capitalism, as Hall has suggested,
nor simply that of the privileged institution as a
whole, as Spivak intimates. Rather, it is that of the classroom.
When postcolonial texts are placed in a space in which they can speak of the school, a
peculiar dynamic arises. Just as the form in which the texts are cast impacts upon their
content, so their content, in turn, impacts upon the form of their pedagogical production.
Here, as Lukcs has said in paraphrasing Hegel, form and content make up a dynamic unity,
so that content is merely the transformation of form into content, and content the transfor-
mation of form into content [Hegel bestimmt diese Einheit [von Inhalt und Form] so, da
der Inhalt nichts ist als das Umschlagen der Form in Inhalt, und die Form nicht als das Um-
schlagen des Inhalts in Form ].
The process of interaction between form and content
which takes place within the text may be logically extended to encompass its reception in a
social context. To that extent, the form-content structure of the literary text finds a homo-
logue in the form-content structure of the teaching situation: the content of teaching of
postcolonial and transcultural texts, one which is about the broadening of cultural para-
digms to include marginalized voices, the rejection of the hegemony of a single master
culture, ought ideally to be accompanied by a similar process within the pedagogical pro-
gramme through which the texts are discussed and debated. The consequences of such a
process are momentous. To render explicit the positionality of pedagogy is to move out-
wards from the classroom, thus focussing upon the macropolitics of pedagogy. But such a
shift also assumes a move back inwards again, to examine how those broader practices are
embedded in the classroom, thus implying a focus upon the micropolitics of pedagogy.

7 See Edward W. Said, Orientalism reconsidered in Francis Barker et. al (eds), Europe and its Others (Col-
chester: University of Essex, 1985), I, 14-27.
8 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Poststructuralism, Marginality, Postcoloniality and Value, in Peter Collier and
Helga Geyer-Ryan (eds), Literary Theory Today (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990), 228.
9 See Stuart Hall, When Was The Post-Colonial? Thinking at the Limit, in Iain Chambers and Lidia Curti
(eds), The Post-Colonial Question: Common Skies, Divided Horizons (London: Routledge, 1996), 242-60.
10 Georg Lukcs, Kunst und objektive Wahrheit (Leipzig: Reclam, 1977), 85. See also Peter V. Zima, Literari-
sche sthetik: Methoden und Modelle der Literaturwissenschaft (Tubingen: Francke/UTB, 1991).


What does it mean then, to read postcolonial texts which speak of colonial classrooms,
with a view to reflecting upon our own classrooms? Let us read some extracts from con-
temporary transcultural texts which deal with the classroom as a place of power relations
and thus ask us to consider the sorts of knowledge produced in our own teaching situations.
First and foremost these texts are concerned with the often brutal imposition of English as
the imperial language. They are thus inevitably self-reflexive, not only with regard to the
language they themselves are cast in, but regarding to their rapport with the pedagogical
context in which they are frequently read, that is, English, Anglistik, Etudes anglaises
and so forth. What these texts inevitably do is oblige us to think of the dense network of
linguistic relationships in which our teaching takes place a network made up of national
languages, subordinated dialects, perhaps regional or minority languages, and increasingly
today, immigrant or ethnic languages. This linguistic fabric is never neutral. It is always
overlaid with a latent or patent hierarchy of linguistic significance sometimes enforced by
officially sanctioned systems of penalties.
In an article entitled Imperialism of Language: English, a Language for the World?,
The Nigerian writer Ngg wa Thiong reflects upon

the process of alienation from our own languages with the acquisition of the new one ... I have told of instances
of children being punished if they were caught speaking their African languages. We were often caned or made
to carry plaques inscribed with the words I am stupid or I am an ass. In some cases, our mouths were stuffed
with pieces of paper taken from the wastepaper basket, which were then passed from one mouth to that of the
latest offender. Humiliation in relation to our languages was the key.

This humiliation is carried out in ways which are strikingly concrete. Language is treated as
if were a thing. The process of punishment for the usage of indigenous languages and the
inculcation of the imperial language are undertaken in ways which are strikingly corporeal.
The imperial language is first and foremost a language which is imprinted on the body in
the form of blows or in the form of a textual burden which the colonial body must bear.
Most intriguing is the complex play of meanings at work in stuffing the pupils mouths with
paper from the waste-paper basket.
The waste-paper stands for the indigenous language in two ways. First, as waste, it is a
concrete metaphor for the fate of the indigenous language under colonialism. That language
is the waste-product of colonialism, to be discarded upon the arrival of European civiliza-
tion and culture. Secondly, the paper displaces the shameful indigenous languages, literally
usurps the other languages by filling the cavity of the mouth. The mouth is a space once
inhabited by the native speech, a space which the natives are effectively prevented from
reclaiming by the presence of the new occupier. The material which does the work of this
concrete metaphoricization is itself significant. Paper is the material carrier which stands for
the English language: the form of written language takes precedence over oral communica-
tion. A print-oriented European linguistic regime thus asserts its hegemony over the native
linguistic universe. If that universe continues to exist, it is only upon the terms set by the
master language. The waste-paper is passed from mouth to mouth, thus performing a cruel

11 Ngg wa Thiong Imperialism of Language: English, a Language for the World?, Moving the Centre: The
Struggle for Cultural Freedoms (Oxford: Currey, 1993), 32-3.

parody of the native language as a medium of communication among the natives. What is
effectively said is that any communication which passes among the natives independently
of the imperial rulers is waste, rubbish, and will be punished, just as its concrete representa-
tion itself is a form of punishment. At the same time, even the material by which this nega-
tive, punitive figuration of the subordinate native communication is given expression is an
off-cut of the imperial education system a system which is always already working to
marginalize, indeed eradicate the native languages. But the off-cuts, the fragments, I will
suggest on numerous occasions in this book, may be the raw material out of which much
genuine learning is tailored.

Colonial interpellation

The manner in which the imperial language is imposed upon the colonized body is ex-
emplified in a harrowing text by the New Zealand writer Patricia Grace. In Graces novel
Baby No-Eyes, an elderly narrator Kura tells of taking her younger cousin Riripeti to the
local primary school for the first time. The little girls experience of school is placed under
the inauspicious sign of the interrogation (a colonial scenario to which I will return in the
epilogue of this book) from the outset:

Who is this? the teacher said when she saw Riripeti sitting on the form. ... Who are you and where are your
manners, coming in and sitting down as if you own the place?

The demand for a name is imposed in English upon a child whose first language is and
continues to be Maori. When the girl does not reply, the demand is reiterated signifi-
cantly, in written form.

After play the teacher turned Riripeti around and asked her for her name but Riripeti wouldnt say it. Instead
she smiled and smiled and moved her eyes from side to side. So the teacher asked Dulciue, who was the eldest
in our class, what Riripetis name was. But then the teacher became angry with Dulcie too because she
wouldnt speak the name slowly and loudly enough. The teacher gave Dulcie a piece of paper to take to
Riripetis family. Full name, date of birth, English name, it said. ... I took the paper home and the next day gave
it back to Dulcie to give it to the teacher. It gave Riripetis name, date of birth and her English name, Betty.
(BNE 32)

Who is this? or What is your name?, to take the title of Paul Carters radio-play and
performance piece which will be discussed in the conclusion below is the archetypal form
of colonial interpellation in which a European appellation draws the colonized subject into
the Western linguistic system.
Interpellation, a term coined by the French theorist Althusser to describe the workings of
ideology in its creation of subjects, can be adapted in this context to help understand the
operation of the colonial school system. Ideology, in Althussers concept, does not merely
obscure individuals understanding of the social conditions under which they live, it actu-
ally constitutes them as social subjects tout court and thus determines the very conditions of

12 Patricia Grace, Baby No-Eyes (London: Womens Press, 1999), 31. Hereafter BNE.

their experiencing their environment.
Similarly, the colonial system of interpellation con-
stitutes the colonized individual as subaltern and subjected, as, for instance, in the turn of
phrase British subject.
The English name, inscribed in written form as part of the colonial archive, integrates the
colonized subject first of all into the language and secondly into an institutionalized system
of educational selection and correlated sanctions. Riripeti, however, eludes the grasp upon
her that the pedagogical system attempts to exert through the demand for a name uttered in
its own linguistic terms. She does not respond to the call: Riripeti could speak some Eng-
lish. Of course. We all could. But Riripeti had not heard words like the words she was now
hearing. Go and stand in the corner until you learn better manners, the teacher said, but
Riripeti didnt know what she was being told to do (BNE 31). Not knowing is the condi-
tion of possibility of learning but in the colonial system it is always already a stigma. The
first half of this paradox, I will intimate, is the basis for a postcolonial risk pedagogy in-
volving students and teachers alike.

The subject at fault

The system of colonial interpellation assumes that the colonial subject is in the wrong.
To be a colonial subject is to be at fault. For the colonial subject to reply to the called issued
to her by the educational system is to be, from the outset, in the wrong, as will become
evident in a text by Jamaica Kincaid which I will interpret below. The very invitation to
enter the imperial linguistic system is predicated upon the notion that the native linguistic
system is moribund and backward. This judgement weighs down upon Riripeti from the
very moment of her address by the teacher. But how was she to know she was bad? She
had said no words that would make her bad, given no answers to be wrong (BNE 32). As
Slavoj iek has pointed out, what Althussers famous scenario of interpellation ignores is
the role of guilt in the work of ideological interpellation. Interpellation, illustrated in Al-
thussers parable of the policeman calling Hey, you there! to the citizen on the street,

a guilt which ... weighs most heavily upon those individuals who have nothing on their consciences. That is to
say, in what precisely consists the individuals first reaction to the policemans Hey, you there!? In an incon-
sistent mixture of two elements: (1) why me, what does the policeman want from me? Im innocent, I was just
minding my own business and strolling around ...; however, this perplexed protestation of innocence is always
accompanied by (2) an indeterminate Kafkaesque feeling of abstract guilt, a feeling that, in the eyes of Power,
I am a priori terribly guilty of something, although it is not possible for me to know what I am guilty of, and for
that reason since I dont know what I am guilty of I am even more guilty; or more pointedly, it is in this
very ignorance of mine that my true guilt consists.

The interpellation issued by the school system foresees Riripetis potential eluding of that
call, as it were, declaring her guilty in the very act of calling to her. To respond to that call

13 See Louis Althusser, Idologie et appareils idologiques dtat, Positions (Paris: Editions sociales, 1976),
122-34; the original publication of Idologie et appareils idologiques dtat was in La Pense 151 (June
1970), 3-38.
14 Slavoj iek, The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality (London: Verso, 1994), 60.

is to accept that a priori guilt, and not to respond is to confirm that self-same guilt in an-
other manner. To remain ignorant in the eyes of the system not to respond in the language
which it deems appropriate is to remain at fault. To enter the system, that is, to allow
oneself to be drawn into its linguistic frame of reference, is to accept that one was at fault,
whence the necessity of correction to accept that one might always be at fault, but also to
entertain the distant possibility of escaping from that state of fault.

The map of England

Similar structures of ascribed ignorance crystallize in the classroom situation described
in a short text by Jamaica Kincaid, On Seeing England for the First Time.
When I saw
England for the first time, I was a child in school sitting at a desk. The England I was look-
ing at was laid out on a map gently, beautifully, delicately, a very special jewel ... When my
teacher had pinned this map up on the blackboard she said, This is England and she said
it with authority, seriousness, and adoration, and we all sat up (OSE 32). The notion of this
image as the real, as the origin of meaning, is coeval with its position on the blackboard as
focus and pattern for the knowledge internalized by the colonial subjects:

We understood then we were meant to understand then that England was to be our myth and the source
from which we got our sense of reality, our sense of what was meaningful, our sense of what was meaningless
and much about our own lives and much about the very idea of us headed that list. (OSE 32)

As a figure of pedagogical action this short anecdote is revealing. What is being taught is
elsewhere. The blackboard does not function as a reflective site giving back the pupils own
reality so as to reinforce a self-referential systemic coherence. On the contrary, it functions
to demonstrate that meaning is located in another place, to be accessed, to the extent that
this is possible at all, by the pupils as aspirants to another superior reality.
The blackboard is the site of white writing to be imitated by the colonized subjects
from the non-white world: And when my teacher showed us the map, she asked us to study
it carefully, because no test we would ever take would be complete without this statement:
Draw a map of England (OSE 33-4). Drawing a map of England is obviously not in
itself relevant to all the other academic subjects the pupils may be tested on. Rather, it con-
stitutes a test of a more general nature, one which frames all other testing. It possesses a
broader significance, one which relates to the nature of the test itself. To test is to assume
the existence of such lacunae in the person tested. Indeed, to test is to posit the existence of
such lacunae, for it is sure that the grand majority of those tested will not come out with full
marks. The test thus generates ignorance: the testing situation always assumes that igno-
rance is present, otherwise there would be no need to test for knowledge so that as long as
the testing imperative is maintained, the student will always be assumed to be inadequate.
Thus the test itself, as one of the central instruments of the school system, is an illocution-
ary statement which performs and reinforces the absences at its heart, thus providing a
concrete embodiment of a mode of colonial power/knowledge.

15 Jamaica Kincaid, On Seeing England for the First Time, Transition 51 (1991), 32-51. Hereafter OSE.

Edward Said, in his autobiographical Out of Place (1999) confirms such structures: Be-
ing and speaking Arabic were delinquent activities at VC [Victoria College, Cairo], and
accordingly we were never given proper instruction in our own language, history, culture,
and geography. We were tested as if we were English boys, trailing behind an ill-defined
and always out-of-reach goal from class to class, year to year, with our parents worrying
along with us.
Here too, the pupil is constructed from the outset as incomplete, with the
test as a mode of inculcating incompletion. The colonial student is interpellated, in this way,
as a guilty subject, a subject always already negated by the system of knowledge in which
she or he is invited to participate.
The inadequacy of the pupil is merely the logical concomitant of the broader cultural
logic embedded in the command, Draw a map of England:

I did not know that the statement Draw a map of England was something far worse than a declaration of war,
for in fact a flat-out declaration of war would have put me on alert, and again in fact, there was no need for war
I had long ago been conquered. I did not know then that this statement was part of a process that would result
in my erasure, not my physical erasure, but my erasure all the same. (OSE 33)

Drawing the map is a purely reproductive activity which makes an implicit statement about
the status of the knowledge possessed by the artist-imitator. It is a statement about place
about here as a non-place, because the map of here is negated by the command to draw
England and not Jamaica. By drawing the map of England, the colonial pupil implicitly
participates in the erasure of the map of home. To reproduce assumes that the place of re-
production is secondary, that the original is elsewhere. The imperative to reproduce dis-
places the here and now. It directs the pupils gaze away from their own situation, just as
the gaze towards the blackboard stifles transversal modes of communication. To that extent,
it functions as an ideology, generating non-knowing about the real, in the form of actively
productive knowledge about the ideal.
If the reiterated command Draw a map of England, in its very reiteration, assumes the
inadequacy of the pupils and the subordinate, non-real nature of the place they inhabit, then
there is no way of escaping the colonial ideology. The test posits the quasi-inevitability of
not being able to draw the map (the ignorance of the colonial subject), and simultaneously,
assumes that the successful completion of the task will re-affirm the superiority and priority
of the metropolitan centre thus acknowledged by the students. The colonial situation thus
asserts itself as global, from the very moment of its pedagogical performance in the class-
What spaces emerge for the colonial subject to think otherwise? Kincaids reply is
oblique, her realization coming only years afterwards: I did not know very much of any-
thing then certainly not what a blessing it was that I was unable to draw a map of England
correctly (OSE 33-4). What poses as ignorance, the ignorance assumed by the colonial
pedagogic system and confirmed and perpetuated by the system of testing is assumed,
taken on, appropriated unwittingly as the only possible place for the colonial subject. To
draw the map badly is to assume, willingly, the status of ignorance, but by the same token,
to forge that status anew. Ironically, it may also signify the capacity to demystify the mythi-

16 Edward W. Said, Out of Place: A Memoir (New York: Knopf, 1999), 186.

cal, far-away England, to scratch the template, as the narrator eventually does when she
visits England:

The moment I wished every sentence, everything I knew, that began with England would end with and then it
all died, we dont know, it just all died was when I saw the white cliffs of Dover. I had sung hymns and recited
poems that were about a longing to see the white cliffs of Dover again. At the time I sung the hymns and re-
cited the poems I could really long to see them again because I had never seen them at all, nor had anyone
around me at the time. ... The white cliffs of Dover, when finally I saw them, were cliffs, but they were not
white; you would only call them that if the word white meant something special to you; they were dirty and
they were steep; they were so steep, the correct from which all my views of England, starting with the map be-
fore me in my classroom and ending with the trip I had just taken, should jump and die and disappear forever.
(OSE 40)

The cliffs constitute the material physical outline of the England, the intersection of land
and sea which provide the contours of the symbolic template drawn by the colonial pupils.
The white cliffs are the original upon which the white writing on the colonial blackboard is
predicated. This moment, however, reveals that the originary white is not white, that the
copy is merely a copy, that the reproduction demanded in the classroom is nothing but re-
production of a tawdry non-original. To be unable to draw a map of England correctly
(OSE 34) releases the student from the burden of mimicry so eloquently explored by
Homi Bhabha.
It replaces an imperial relationship posited upon a spurious metaphoricity
(to be a British subject) by a set of metonymic, transversal relationships which facilitate
other perspectives upon the colonial world. Reading Kincaids text in a contemporary class-
room might encourage students and teachers to readjust their focus in such a way as to
make visible new perspectives of this sort.

Transversal communication

Riripetis misdemeanour is not her own fault, but is produced by the teachers oversight:
The teacher didnt notice Riripeti marching into school with me, and was busy writing on
the blackboard when I stood Riripeti by Tihi at the little childrens table. I was the one who
told her to stand there (BNE 31). It is the teachers failure of attention, diverted as it is by
the central pedagogical exercise of writing on the blackboard, which allows Riripeti to slip
between the interstices of the identificatory system, thus triggering a process of interpella-
tion which is from the outset accusatory and punitive.
The blackboard is the absolute focus of the classical classroom. It is at once the place of
authoritarian writing, the site where script as a black and white system of signification is
displayed to be faithfully copied by the pupils. It is the place where the teacher stands,
slightly raised, exercising a function which is at once exemplary and surveying. The black-
board is what is always before the pupils, in that it focalizes their gaze in the process of
learning, turning them into individuals submitted to an abstract pedagogic regime, rather
than a group, and in the sense that it concretizes a knowledge which precedes them and
which they can only ever reproduce. The blackboard is thus the authoritarian origin, the

17 Seee Homi Bhabha, Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse, The Location of Culture
(London: Routledge, 1994), 85-92.

template which dictates the shape of knowledge and the mode of its imposition. It is thus
paradoxical that to produce this archetypal black-and-white writing, the teacher must turn
her back upon the class, thus relinquishing the power of surveillance which accompanies
and underwrites the authority of script. At the very moment that blackboard-writing
emerges it too, one presumes, must be copied from somewhere a space becomes avail-
able in which other forms of communication become possible, communication which cuts
across or short circuits the single vector of the pupils docile gaze: the teacher was busy
writing on the blackboard when I stood Riripeti by Tihi at the little childrens table. I was
the one who told her to stand there (BNE 31; emphasis mine). The production of repro-
ducible school-knowledge in turn produces a blindspot in the colonial pedagogic system.
The single axis of classroom attention (surveillance-exemplar-reproduction) may thus po-
tentially be destablized by modes of communication which are transversal, and which meld
the group of children rather than atomizing them into docile subjects: I wanted to call out
to her but speaking wasnt allowed. (BNE 31). This alternative economy of communica-
tion, with an attendant economy of learning-at-loggerheads, in fact functions all the time
below the threshold of the teachers scrutiny: we had ways of sending messages to each
other with our faces, ways of ... guessing the teachers mind, knew which lies were the right
ones to tell (BNE 33; emphasis mine). In the colonial classroom, transversal communica-
tion is a powder-keg. In a postcolonial pedagogic context, perhaps it should be understood
as a valuable educational resource.

Translation in the classroom

These narratives of colonial classrooms are the products of a postcolonial discursive
space. I have read the texts by Ngg, Grace and Kincaid with the contemporary classroom
in mind, as a place where the content of the texts may resonate productively with the form
of the secondary, meta-narration, that of the pedagogic situation itself, in which any taught
text is couched. In the classroom, many discourses, whether those of the teacher or those of
the students, interact and at times compete. In many of the postcolonial and transcultural
classrooms in which we teach, this multiplicity of discourses may be doubled by a plurality
of languages, spoken or unspoken. The polydiscursive classroom is also a polylingual class-
room. Translation is a figure which may helpfully describe a situation where these dis-
courses and languages interact with each other in the pedagogic context. The translative
operation is one latently at work in most classrooms but seldom acknowledged. Its elision is
no accident. Translation is not a neutral activity. Its constitutive poles, source and target
language, are almost without exception caught in a force-field of power relations. This
becomes evident when one asks, for instance, which languages are taught in schools, or in
universities which train teachers in those languages, and which languages are merely spo-
ken in the community. To read the texts such as those addressed above in the classroom is
to undertake an interpretive-translative activity which might thereby highlight other forms
of translation structuring the pedagogic situation. It is to pose questions of difference rather
than of hierarchy in the interrelationships between languages in the classroom.
In a democratic classroom in which a diversity of languages and modes of discourse are
accommodated, translation would become the normal mode of exchange. The classroom

would inculcate translation as a primary personal, social and vocational skill. Ngg wa
Thiong imagines such a situation in the text entitled Imperialism of Language:

the different languages should be encouraged to talk to one another through the medium of interpretation and
translation. Each country should encourage the teaching of language from the five continents of the earth.
There is no reason why each child should not master at least three languages as a matter of course. The art of
translation and interpretation should be an integral subject in schools ...

It would be easy to accuse of Ngg of idealism here, except that some of what he suggests
is simple sociological fact in many societies where children grow up polylingual by default.
Ngg is merely suggesting that the educational system take cognizance of this state of
affairs and respond to it in a manner which would be both pragmatic and creative by plac-
ing the optimization of socio-linguistic givens on the syllabus. Nggs putative idealism is
further tempered by his recognition that the dominant cultures in the contemporary world
are generally not polylingual or choose to ignore the polylingual strata in their midst: it is
sad to note that in the English education and in English culture generally, the art of transla-
tion does not enjoy the same status as the other arts.
Other theorists have also noticed this
phenomenon. Laurence Venuti writes: The marginality of translation reaches even to edu-
cational institutions, where it is manifested in a scandalous contradiction: on the one hand,
an utter dependence on translated texts in curricula and research; on the other hand, a gen-
eral tendency, in both teaching and publications, to elide the status of translated texts as

Were Nggs suggestions to be taken seriously, however, the result would be one which
would democratize the linguistic relationships latent in most contemporary classrooms, and
would also transform the classroom space. Sigrid Luchtenberg has examined the ways in
which schools may implicitly acknowledge the polylingual reality of their pupils as a col-
lective group (for instance by the presence of books in several languages, or of examples of
pupils work in which accompanying texts are in the relevant ethnic languages) or the man-
ner in which translation can play a vital role in the learning process (for instance in trans-
versal ethnic language use as a mutual mode of assistance between pupils).
This class-
room would question the dominance of monolingualism (be it that of English or of another
language) and the dominance of monologic vectors of communication and their attendant
hierarchized classroom spaces. Translation would emerge in this context not as the subser-
vient processes of conversion between major and minor languages, between original and
faithful copy, but as a productive process of socio-linguistic transformation and innovation.
This productivity would not be that of power relations of the sort generated and perpetuated
in the colonial classroom, but rather, a form of empowerment.
It is clear that no classroom situation can elude power relations, as the teachers at a
workshop in Frankfurt pointed out to me when I presented some of the above material to

18 Ngg, Imperialism of Language, 39-40.
19 Ngg, Imperialism of Language, 40.
20 Lawrence Venuti, The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference (London: Routledge, 1998),
21 Sigrid Luchtenberg, Interkulturelle Kommunikative Kompetenz: Kommunikationsfelder in Schule und Gesell-
schaft (Opladen/Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1999), 101, 91.

them for discussion and debate.
However, these inevitable power relations can be accom-
panied, tempered and diverted by relationships of empowerment. There is no clear dichot-
omy between power and empowerment, just as there is no outside of power. Far more,
these various modalities of pedagogical relationship exist coterminously at various levels
(the immediate teacher-pupil-pupil relationships, the construction of syllabi, the examina-
tion and assessment systems, vocational pressures outside the school, and so on) which
intersect in the classroom. Power and empowerment are fluctuating factors which inter-
twine continuously with one another within the social dynamic of the classroom. Power and
empowerment are productive relations of force and the product of relations of force at the
same time. As Spivak writes, the creation of dialogical relations of translation between
English-language and vernacular literary syllabi and their corresponding classrooms

may not be altogether as impractical as it seems, at first glance, to the embattled local teacher. I am speaking,
after all, of disturbing the arrangement of classroom material as well as our approach to them. Predictably, this
would be against the interest of the student, who would have to sit for an examination that expects ferocious
loyalty to a colonial curricular arrangement. ... Can one share the dilemma with the students while preparing
them for the regular exam papers? A time-honoured strategy of politicization through pedagogy. The counter-
argument here is the cynicism of students in a demoralized society, where English learning does not occupy
centrestage; also the difficulty of learning the language for those students who would be most susceptible to
such politicization. ... Alas, the answers to that one are to be lost or found, or lost and found, in the transactions
in the classroom.

Spivak rightly points out that it is possible to conduct learning processes in a hybrid manner
both subservient in so far as they are directed to the reproduction of examinable knowl-
edge, and subversive in so far as they produce knowledge which eludes the regime of re-
production. The chiasmus inherent in the serv (as in servile) and the vers (as in trans-
versal) is a significant one, because chiasmus assumes a point where the process of cross-
ing produces an intersection, a meeting place where the values being reversed converge,
however briefly, with one another.
Mikhail Bakhtin claimed early on in the twentieth century that there are various sorts of
dialogism: on the one hand, an organic form which arises out of meetings between the natu-
ral multiplicity of dialects, idiolects and languages; on the other hand, an intended dialo-
gism, a linguistic or dialectal hybridity which is deliberately mobilized as a strategy against
hegemonic monologism. Dialogism is itself a hybrid construct, as Robert Young has
pointed out in his reading of Bakhtin.
The same hybridity holds good in the classroom.
The classroom is a hybrid space, criss-crossed by institutional relations of power and less
regulated relations of empowerment, of modes of reproductive, examinable knowledge and
of novel, unruly forms of knowledge arising out of the teaching situation itself. To some
extent, these overlapping forms of power/empowerment and subservient/subversive knowl-
edges are already at work in the transcultural classroom. Their organic hybridity thus
mirrors a similar multiplicity of knowledge vectors and language realities in the classrooms

22 Teachers Forum at the Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of New English Literatures,
Transcultural English Studies, Wolfgang-Goethe-University of Frankfurt/Main, May 2004. Thanks to Hanno
Egner and Susi Reichl for inviting me to present material in this context.
23 Spivak, The Burden of English, 299.
24 See Robert J. C. Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (London: Routledge, 1995),

described transcultural texts read above. To read these texts in todays classrooms is, hope-
fully, to mobilize an intended hybridity, a deliberately triggered engagement with the dis-
cursive and socio-linguistic realities in the classroom so as to generate a form of leverage
which will open up creative, innovative spaces in the school and university systems.

Postcolonial bricolage

Rubbish is ubiquitous in Mathare. In this slum quarter of Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya,
rubbish strews the streets. It is out of the battle against rubbish and its scion disease that a
collection of photos taken by children from Mathare, and published as Shootback, has de-
veloped. The American-Hong Kong photographer Lana Wong was commissioned to do a
photo-reportage on children from a slum social project which combined sporting activities
with voluntary clean-ups. I started hanging out with these kids, watching young boys and
girls play football barefoot on dusty pitches covered with litter and stones. I photographed
their weekly community clean-ups and listened to their peer counsellors tell friends about
the dangers of drugs and AIDS.
Following her first contacts with the youth, Lana Wong
and the social worker Francis Kimanzi began a project with thirty youth aged twelve to
seventeen, equipping them with plastic 35mm cameras and a roll of film a week. The resul-
tant photos and accompanying texts, some of them taken from the kids project journals,
some of them direct commentaries on the photos, create a text-image collage whose tenor is
often wryly humorous, sometimes poignant, and sometimes shockingly brutal.
Rubbish is present in almost every photo in Shootback. Litter lies everywhere, blown
into corners or piled up mountainously. Indeed, much of Mathare appears to be constructed
of rubbish, from the home-made footballs to the make-shift shacks of the slums. In a short
text entitled Home, Beldine Achieng (age 14) writes, The Mathare houses are made of
cheap materials like sticks, stones, polythene papers, rags and metal tins. To stick them
together they use mud. The biggest house is 8 by 8 feet, where a family of seven to ten lives
and one room is partitioned by bed sheets. Apart from that the slum looks good. Another
sardonic text by Mohammed Dahir (age 17) comments upon a shack apparently constructed
of cardboard, sticks, old clothes, plastic sheeting and string, with the brief gloss: Can you
imagine if it rains what will happen?
The kids use of the plastic point-and-shoot cameras is homologous to the principles
upon which the slum environment itself is constructed. They take scenarios and vignettes
from their everyday world and converts them into a heterogenous but powerful assemblage
of visual elements and textual support. They take rubbish literally, they take photos of
rubbish, of real rubbish and make of it a vivid form of almost magic realism out of it. The
thirty kids from the Shootback project are not professionals, their equipment is rudimentary
and their skills more or less self-taught. What they produce is photography from the mar-
gins, from the rubbish heaps, which, facilitated by the coordination of project leaders and
sponsorship funds, has gained international coverage. Their photography is inevitably jux-
taposed, even by the young shootbackers themselves, with mainstream photography from

1 Lana Wong (ed.), Shootback: Photos by Kids from the Nairobi Slums (London: Booth-Clibborn, 1999), epi-
logue (no pagination). Subsequent citations given without page references.

the rich world: There is no difference between us and other photographers, writes Collin
Omondi (age 17). The only difference is that they shoot and we shoot back. The shoot-
backers are the curators of a creative process on the margins, based in everyday experience,
utilizing what otherwise counts as the material refuse of civilization. The exploitation of
rubbish as the basis for artistic work, both and the level of form and of content, serves as a
leitmotif in this more theoretical chapter on the pedagogy of literary teaching.

Rubbish in the transcultural/postcolonial classroom

The German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin could not have known about the slums of
Nairobi. But the Berlin of the inter-war years in which he wrote offered similar glimpses of
young peoples creativity. In his collection of anecdotal fragments published in 1928, Ein-
bahnstrae (One-Way Street), Benjamin, in a charming and perspicacious comment on
children, elevates the rubbish-dump to a site of cultural significance. He describes the way
in which children go about creating their own toys out of the rubbish they themselves find
on building sites happily independent of the careful thought well-intentioned adults give
to the construction of playthings of their behalf:

Pedantisch ber Herstellung von Gegenstnden Anschauungsmitteln, Spielzeug oder Bchern die sich fr
Kinder eignen sollen, zu grbeln, ist tricht. Seit der Aufklrung ist das eine der muffigsten Spekulationen der
Pdagogen. Ihre Vergaffung in Psychologie hindert sie zu erkennen, da die Erde voll von den unvergleich-
lichsten Gegenstnden kindlicher Aufmerksamkeit und bung ist. Von den bestimmtesten. Kinder nmlich
sind auf besondere Weise geneigt, jedwede Arbeitssttte aufzusuchen, wo sichtbar die Bettigung an Dingen
vor sich geht. Sie fhlen sich unwiderstehlich vom Abfall angezogen, der beim Bauen, bei Garten- oder Haus-
arbeit, beim Schneidern oder Tischlern entsteht. In Abfallprodukten erkennen sie das Gesicht, das die Dingwelt
gerade ihnen, ihnen allein, zukehrt. In ihnen bilden sie die Werke der Erwachsene weniger nach, als da sie
Stoffe sehr verschiedener Art durch das, was sie im Spiel daraus verfertigen, in eine neue, sprunghafte Bezie-
hung zueinander setzen. Kinder bilden sich damit ihre Dingwelt, eine kleine in der groen, selbst. Die Normen
dieser kleinen Dingwelt mu man im Auge haben, wenn man vorstzlich fr die Kinder schaffen will und es
nicht vorzieht, eigene Ttigkeit mit alldem, was an ihr Requisit und Instrument ist, allein den Weg zu ihnen
sich finden zu lassen.

[To busy oneself with the production of objects designed for children darwings, toys or books is foolish.
This has been one of the stuffiest activities of pedagogues since the Enlightenment. Their ignorance of psy-
chology prevents them from realizing that the earth is full of the most incomparable objects of childish atten-
tion and activity. And the most specific. For children have a particular tendency to seek out every place where
visible work with things is happening. They are irresistably attracted by the rubbish that arises out of building,
gardening or domestic work, out of carpentry or sewing. In these waste products they recognize the face that
the world of things turns to them, and to them alone. In these products it is not so much the world of the adults
which is reflected. Rather, through childrens play, these products place materials of great variety in a new and
abrupt relationship to one another. In this manner, children create their world of things, a smaller one in the
great one, themselves. It is the norms of this miniature world of things that one must bear in mind if one wants
to create things for children, and does not prefer to let their own activity, with the accountrements and instru-
ments that belong to that agency, guide them towards those things.]

Benjamin preaches against the stuffy efforts of pedagogues determined to understand the
labyrinths of child psychology and thereby invent appropriate learning materials. Children

2 Walter Benjamin, Einbahnstrae (1928; Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1955), 21-3.

do not need this. Children, Benjamin points out, possess their own creativity, one which is
fixed upon the material world and its treasures. They have a sharp eye for the off-cuts, the
left-overs from adult work, and out of these materials they produce their own incompara-
ble playthings.
Just as it is superfluous to model learning materials on the putative psychology of chil-
dren, Benjamin suggests, so children do not follow the work of adults when creating their
playthings, but rather, respond to the dynamic of those objects themselves. What children
make on these rubbish heaps and building sites are thus not copies of things in the adult
world, but original artefacts in their own right. What emerges out of childrens mania for
collection is not subservient reproduction, but exploratory production. The rubbish heap
is a place in which creativity ensues by generating relationships between things, transver-
sal connections which are metonymic in character rather than metaphoric: they do not
imitate (nachbilden) the work of adults (their constructs are the most incomparable ob-
jects den unvergleichlichsten Gegenstnden) so much as place materials of great variety
in an abrupt relationship to one another. I take this anecdote of childrens creative assem-
blage of rubbish and off-cuts as an extended metaphor for what may emerge in the transcul-
tural and/or postcolonial classroom. It can function less as a site of education as reproduc-
tion, in Bourdieus sense of the term,
as a potential space of production of something
new. The transcultural classroom ought to create forms of knowledge which generate con-
nections between the various languages, in the widest sense of the word, which may be
spoken there between diverse sectors of the students own experience and the material
which the classroom puts at their disposal. The rubbish (Abfall) which litters the postcolo-
nial or transcultural classroom is that which is marginal, excentric, neglected, that which
does not conform to functionalist notions of education and thus falls below the threshold
of visibility or relevance.
Despite its possible marginality, the rubbish of the transcultural/postcolonial class-
room, if it does not offer technologies for reproducing the world, may suggest possibilities
of intervention transversal intervention in the world of which it is a part. Classrooms
are in the world, and what goes on there has consequences which are rarely considered, and
then generally only in pragmatic, instrumental terms. Much of what occurs in the teaching
process is simply consigned to the realm of Abfall, of the marginal and insignificant. But if
we direct our attention towards the events which are marginal, discarded, we find ourselves
in the realm of transversal metonymy, where meaning is generated by relations of associa-
tion and contiguity, and less by notions of identity and essence.
The relationship of the classroom to its larger world is inherently a metonymic one. This
rapport may be thought of as synecdochic, and thus as a form of metonymic dialogue with
the social context: Ive come to realize that the classroom is a microcosm of the world; it is
the chance we have to practice whatever ideals we may cherish, remarks Jane Tompkins.

The fact that the relationship between classroom and world is not a metaphoric one endows
it with a degree of autonomy. What Adorno says of art may well hold good for the class-
room in which art is discussed: Kunst ist die gesellschaftliche Anthithese zur Gesellschaft,

3 Pierre Bourdieu, La Reproduction (Paris: Minuit, 1970).
4 Jane Tompkins, Pedagogy of the Distressed, College English 52 (1990), 655, quoted in Showalter, Teaching
Literature (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2003), 131.

nicht unmittelbar aus dieser zu deduzieren
Art is the societal antithesis of society, but
not immediately to be deduced from society. Art, and in my analogy, the classroom, is
inherently societal, but because it is art and the classroom a forum for its debate, the class-
room can never concur absolutely with its environment nor the processes which happen
there be deduced from or read off society. The classroom thus constitutes one instance
of what Foucault has named heterotopias, spaces on the margins of society which model
and to some extent may mirror society but which are partially extracted from its workings
and thus also form distorting mirrors.
In these heterotopias, society can be both modelled
and critiqued; the relationship is not that of metaphoric imitation in miniature, but of meto-
nymic transversal modelling. Such modelling assumes both imaging the contours of the
surrounding world, albeit in reduced scale, and sketching alternatives. The heterotopia is
thus a space which accommodates experimentation and creativity.
In one of his famous polemical rallying cries for a new educational paradigm, Paulo
Freire declares that Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of
A teacher intent on fostering acts of cognition will also, of course, impart
elements of a body of pre-existing knowledges, givens, curricula, but more impor-
tantly, will facilite the production of new knowledge, previously un-known ways of under-
standing the world. The classroom in which such acts of cognition occur is a non-
hierarchical space which admits of transversal communication and a multiplicity of lan-
guages and dialects interacting with one another. Out of this interaction, unforeseeable
knowledges will arise which may at first glance appear trivial, minor, but whose signifi-
cance in the postcolonial or diasporic order of things is unparalleled.
The heterotopic classroom is, to return to Benjamins anecdote, a realm akin to the
Dingwelt of his youthful building-site or workshop collectors, a small world within in the
great world, a microcosm of a late-modern sort. This world is thoroughly situated inside the
larger societal paradigm, and never claims to be free of those paradigms. Its relationship to
the world is one of ambivalence, at once trammelled and engaged. Its underlying position-
ality is evident from the outset. And it is that positionality which endows the classroom
with its significance and the agency of its actors, whether students or teachers.

Classroom bricolage

Indeed, if the classroom I have been discussing is a literary classroom in which post-
colonial texts are studied, then the texts themselves may be isomorphic, as suggested above,
with the classroom space in which they are read and debated. The model of a minor litera-
ture, a term coined by Deleuze and Guattari to describe a minority literature written in a
majority language (the German-speaking Czech literary tradition in which Kafka wrote, for

5 Theodor W. Adorno, sthetische Theorie (1970; Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1990), 19.
6 Michel Foucault, Des espaces autres, Dits et crits 1954-1988, ed. Daniel Defert and Franois Ewald (Paris:
Gallimard, 1994), IV: 752-62. English translations: Of Other Spaces, trans. Jay Miskowiec, Diacritics 16:1
(Spring 1986) 22-7; Different spaces, trans. Robert Hurley, in Michel Foucault: The Essential Works, ed.
James Faubion (London: Allen Lane/Penguin, 1998), II: 175-85.
7 Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972), 53.

), has frequently been applied to describe postcolonial literatures emerging within
the mainstream of global English. This assumes the stability and centrality of the domi-
nant literary tradition, an assumption which may be valid in economic terms of the produc-
tion, distribution and consumption of literary texts on the global print market, but method-
ologically is more than problematic. None the less, Deleuze and Guattaris concept provides
a useful analogy for me in what I call a minor literary interpretation the interpretation
carried out by the minors who make up our student groups, and whose interpretive results
are often regarded as being of little value, except when they concur with the results which
we teachers envisage as the correct ones. What goes on in the transcultural classroom may
turn out to be minor in the sense that Benjamins childrens constructions are minor.
This notion of minority in connection with the creative assemblages put together by
kids in the playground suggests further analogies with the work of Claude Lvi-Strauss, in
his book entitled La Pense sauvage (translated as The Savage Mind).
Lvi-Strauss begins
on a polemical note, taking umbrage at the very concept of savagery. He focuses on the
putative lexical inadequacy of so-called primitive peoples and their ascribed inaptitude to
think in abstract terms, suggesting instead that what is read in the West as captivity in the
concrete world can also be gauged positively as an attention to the detail of things (PS 11,
13; SM 1, 3). Implicitly, he is taking to task a developmental model, one which moves from
the concrete to the abstract, from the specific to the general. In spatial terms, this means
moving away from the place where one is, towards a non-place a place of forgetting,
where the positionality of our thought is subject to amnesia.
Lvi-Strauss goes on to dispute on the one hand the simplicity of so-called primitive
thought, and on the other, the absence of such modes of thought in our world. The apparent
inadequacy to express abstract thought is refuted by the fact that mythical thought draws
upon objects from the natural world for its figures and symbols to create highly complex
cultural constructs a process which is not as foreign to our everyday world as one might

Dailleurs, une forme dactivit subsiste parmi nous qui, sur le plan technique, permet assez bien de concevoir
ce que, sur le plan de la spculation, put tre une science que nous prfrons appeler premire plutt que pri-
mitive: cest celle communment dsigne par le terme de bricolage. de nos jours, le bricoleur reste celui
qui uvre de ces mains, en utilisant des moyens dtourns par comparaison avec ceux de lhomme de lart. Or,
le propre de la pense mythique est de sexprimer laide dun rpertoire dont la composition est htroclite et
qui, bien qutendu, reste toute de mme limit; pourtant, il faut quelle sen serve, quelle que soit la tche
quelle sassigne, car elle na rien dautre sous la main. Elle apparat ainsi comme une sorte de bricolage intel-
lectuel Comme le bricolage sur le plan technique, la rflexion mythique peut atteindre, sur le plan intellec-
tuel, des rsultats brillants et imprvus. (PS 30)

There still exists among ourselves an activity which on the technical plane gives us quite a good understanding
of what a science we prefer to call prior rather than primitive, could have been on the plane of speculation.
This is what is commonly called bricolage in French. ... in our own time the bricoleur is still someone who
works with his hands and uses devious means compared to those of a craftsman. The characteristic feature of
mythical thought is that it expresses itself by means of a heterogeneous repertoire which, even if it is extensive,
is nevertheless limited. It has to use this repertoire, however, whatever the task in hand because it has nothing

8 Gilles Deleuze and Flix Guattari, Kafka: Pour une littrature mineure (Paris: Minuit, 1975), ch. 3.
9 Claude Lvi-Strauss, La Pense sauvage (1962; Paris: Plon/Pocket, 1990); English translation: The Savage
Mind, trans. John and Doreen Weightman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966). Hereafter PS and
SM respectively.

else at its disposal. Mythical thought is therefore a kind of intellectual bricolage ... Like bricolage on the
technical plane, mythical reflection can reach brilliant unforeseen results on the intellectual plane. (SM 16-17)

The bricoleur or handyman is he who uses what comes to hand. His material is mixed, but
limited, its repertoire dictated by the resources of the here and the now. As in many fields of
artistic creation, material or formal constraints do not affect the level of complexity of the
artefact produced. Rather, the opposite holds true: the more rigid the constraints placed
upon the artist one thinks, for instance, of the constraints of highly formalized prosodic
rules the more condensed and complex the artistic work may prove to be. The limited
range of symbolic and figural materials available may similarly generate a converse and
proportionate density of internal structural relations in the mythic work.
Lvi-Strauss contrasts the handyman with the engineer, that apogee of twentieth-century
modernism. This comparison of the two is based on a double concept, on the one hand, a
spatial, and on the other, an instrumental or material one. The engineer steps outside the
boundaries of the task to be carried out, and fetches the materials necessary to complete it
from other domains. The handyman remains within the space imposed by the task, and
makes do with the material emerging directly out of the immediate environment.
Two long quotations from Lvi-Strauss will make these distinctions clear. First the ques-
tion of spatiality:

lingnieur cherche toujours souvrir un passage et se situer au-del, tandis que le bricoleur, de gr ou de
force, demeure en dea, ce qui est une autre faon de dire que le premire opre au moyen de concepts, le se-
cond au moyen de signes. Sur laxe de lopposition entre nature et culture, les ensembles dont ils se servent
sont perceptiblement dcals. En effet, une des faons au moins dont le signe soppose au concept tient ce
que le second se veut intgralement transparent la ralit, tandis que le premier accepte, et mme exige,
quune certaine paisseur dhumanit soit incorpore cette ralit. Selon lexpression vigoureuse et difficile-
ment traduisible de Peirce : It addresses somebody. (PS 33-4)

the engineer is always trying to make his way out of and go beyond the constraints imposed by a particular
state of civilization while the bricoleur by inclination or by necessity remains within them. This is another
way of saying that the engineer works by means of concepts and the bricoleur by means of signs. The sets
which each employs are at different distances from the poles on the axis of opposition between nature and cul-
ture. One way indeed in which signs can be opposed to concepts is that whereas concepts aim to be wholly
transparent with respect to reality, signs allow and even requite the interposing of a certain amount of human
culture into reality. Signs, in Peirces vigorous phrase, address somebody. (SM 19-20)

Secondly, Lvi-Strauss addresses the question of the toolkit used by the two forms of intel-
lectual operation, that of the mythic bricoleur as opposed to that of the engineer:

Le bricoleur est apte excuter un grand nombre de tches diversifies; mais, la diffrence de lingnieur, il
ne subordonne pas chacune delles lobtention des matires premires et doutils conus et procurs la me-
sure de son projet: son univers instrumental est clos, et la rgle de son jeu est de toujours sarranger avec les
moyens de bord, cest--dire un ensemble chaque instant fini doutils et de matriaux, htroclites au sur-
plus, parce que la composition de lensemble nest pas en rapport avec le projet du moments, ni dailleurs avec
aucun projet particulier, mais est le rsultat contingent de toutes les occasions qui se sont prsentes de renou-
veler ou denrichir le stock, ou de lentretenir avec les rsidus de constructions et de destructions antrieures.
Lensemble des moyens du bricoleur nest donc pas dfinissable par un projet (ce qui supposerait, dailleurs,
comme chez lingnieur, lexistence dautant densembles instrumentaux que de genres de projets, au moins en
thorie); il se dfinit seulement par son instrumentalit, autrement dit, et pour employer le langage mme du
bricoleur, parce que les lments sont recueillis ou conservs en vertu du principe que a peut toujours servir.

Chaque lment reprsente un ensemble de relations, la fois concrtes et virtuelles ; ce sont des oprateurs,
mais utilisables en vertu doprations quelconques au sein dun type. (PS 31)

The bricoleur is adept at performing a large number of diverse tasks; but, unlike the engineer, he does not
subordinate each of them to the availability of raw materials and tools conceived and procured for the purposes
of the project. His universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with
whatever is at hand, that is to say with a set of tools and materials that is always finite and is also heterogene-
ous because what it contains bears no relation to the current project, or indeed to any particular project, but is
the contingent result of all the occasions there have been to renew or enrich the stock or to maintain it with the
remains of previous constructions or destructions. The set of the bricoleurs means cannot therefore be de-
fined in terms of a project (which would presuppose, besides, that, as in the case of the engineer, there were, at
least in theory, as many sets of tools and materials, or instrumental sets, as there are different kinds of pro-
jects). It is to be defined only by its potential use or, putting this another way and in the language of the brico-
leur himself, because they are always collected or retained on the principle that they may always come in
handy. ... They each represent a set of actual and possible relations; they are operators but they can be used
for any operations of the same type. (SM 17)

The work produced by the process labelled here as bricolage produces a meaning which is
not detached from the matrix of its production,
to quote the writer-artist Paul Carter, but
on the contrary displays its intimate and ongoing connection with that natural environ-
ment. This is so because its materials never cease to signal their allegiance to the environ-
ment from which they are taken. It is equally connected to its matrix of consumption, or, in
the sense Eagleton gives to the term, in its context of (re)-production.

I have quoted at length from Lvi-Strauss because the notion of concrete thought and of
bricolage provides another very fruitful analogy for the postcolonial/transcultutal class-
First, because an insidious hierarchy of modes of thought is implicitly combated by this
concept. That which is foreign to the West is rehabilitated in its own specific mode of crea-
tive thinking. The non-West in its mode of mythic reflection is set on the same level of as
Western thought with its engineer mentality indeed, traces of the structure of concrete
thought may be discernable in the West as well. Scepticism about a developmentally-
influenced hierarchy of thought is highly apposite to the classroom, on the one hand be-
cause school pupils or university students are assumed, structurally, to be intellectually
less-developed, in need of pedagogic assistance; and on the other hand, because such
pedagogical condescension may be doubled by cultural superiority when the classroom
includes a heterogeneous mix of languages and cultural spheres.
The second reason for which this analogy may be fruitful for the postcolo-
nial/transcultural classroom is the implication in Lvi-Strauss bricolage concept that less
is more. The modesty of means may produce surprisingly sophisticated results on the level
of cultural production. This may be a productive way of regarding the processes which
occur in the classroom.
The classroom is a bounded space literally, quite often with an inflexible internal con-
figuration made up of tables, chairs, blackboard, and so on which imposes a limited num-
ber of teaching materials and teaching strategies. To a large extent these are chosen neither

10 Paul Carter, Material Thinking: Collaborative Realisation and the Art of Self-Becoming (Melbourne: Mel-
bourne University Press, 2004), preface.
11 See Terry Eagleton, Marxism and Literary Criticism (London: Methuen, 1976), 65 and passim.

by the students nor (to a lesser extent) by the teachers. Texts are often imposed by a canon,
or a course structure, or a teacher they are seldom chosen by students. Similarly, assess-
ment modes or writing exercises are generally imposed by teachers, and are taken from a
restricted palette accepted by the institution. Likewise, teaching strategies are almost always
the result of teachers decisions, who in turn select from a limited range of alternatives they
themselves have learnt or experienced themselves in their time as students. The other re-
sources which are at hand, resources often neglected in considerations of the pedagogic
project, are the students and teachers own experience, creativity, imagination and their
immediate mood or attitude. These are materials which are givens over which none of
the participants may have much control, and which are therefore analogous to the materials
and instruments of the bricoleur.
The teacher may appear to be an engineer and certainly the pedagogic task oscillates
between inculcating knowledge and facilitating autonomy or self-development, be-
tween maximizing out-put and consolidating identity, between technology and self-
reference, to take the terms coined by Luhmann and Schorr, or between proficiency and
productivity, to take those of Hasalek.
But teachers, I suggest, are as much involved in a
process of bricolage as their students. Together, they are participants in a process in which
the resources at hand are placed under numerous limitations, but in which the creative yield
that they may render up is all the more generous by virtue of those strictures. I am not argu-
ing here, to take one pedagogical example, for a restriction of the canon so as to turn back
the clock after several decades of exhilarating exploration of previously unknown and mar-
ginalized authors. Rather, I am arguing for something akin to the tradition of close reading
which focuses upon a deliberately delimited segment of text so as to intensify the creative
thus interpretation produced. If we imagine the classroom as a cordoned-off space in which
a number of imposed texts literary, pedagogical, experiential, personal-affective are
available to be worked with in a creative manner, then it may be possible to allow it to
release its full potential as a space of creative thinking in ways not hitherto suspected.

Postcolonial collage

If the postcolonial or transcultural bricolage that occurs in the classroom is a genuine
possibility for understanding the pedagogic process in our times, what exactly may emerge
out of this form of bricolage? If the classroom is a space in which diverse materials texts,
experiences, languages, interpersonal dynamics are assembled to produce a construc-
tion, what it its precise nature?
Paul Carter speaks of the contemporary Australian reality as a collage-situation in which
languages and cultures collide with each other to create a patchwork society. He claims

in a postcolonial society (which means in Australia a migrant society) ... collage is the normal mode of con-
structing meaning. Everyday speech does not flower out of any deeply held and mutually shared unconscious

12 Niklas Luhmann and Hans Eberhard Schorr (eds), Zwischen Technologie und Selbstreferenz: Fragen an die
Pdagogik (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1982); Kay Halasek, A Pedagogy of Possibility: Bakhtinian Perspec-
tives on Composition Studies (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999), 179.

grammar but is patched together from heterogeneous lexical, syntactic and grammatical sources that are gener-
ally reproduced imitatively, without any sense of context. In this context to use collage as a compositional
technique is no longer to borrow a radically disruptive tool: it is merely to imitate things as they are and, whats
more, to mirror them without any obvious addition of meaning.

Carter specifically opposes contemporary forms of postcolonial collage to the early twen-
tieth-century utilisation of collage by Dada artists such as Arp or Schwitters or Modernist
writers such as Eliot, Joyce or Pound. For the Modernists, collage existed as a way of chal-
lenging the status quo, breaking it apart so as to lay bare its cultural bankruptcy, and by the
same token, to create something radically new. What they enacted was a form of brico-
lage, working as they did with texts of everyday life newspapers, photos, letters, tickets,
official forms, and so on whose synthetic dynamic was supposed to point towards a lost
totality, one only accessible by harnessing the askesis of fragmentation. Carter, however,
proposes a notion of collage which offers no synthesis and corresponding totalization:

For the Modernists, collage was a disruptive device, a mechanism for undermining bourgeois modes of repre-
sentation and tradition. It existed in a dialectical relationship with these notions. ... To reinvigorate collage it is
necessary to place the emphasis, not ... on its synthetic power, but on the logic of its fragmentation. ... Rather
than recompose disparate realities, the goal of this collage is to decompose them further ... (LNC 186-7)

The synchronic reality of a society constructed along the principles of postcolonial collage
eschews the achievement of some overarching meaning. For Carter, todays Australia is a
society without a language in common, in which the assumption of ultimate equivalence
has to be ... dethroned (LNC 190, 191).
In the same way, diachronically, the history of such societies evinces neither a grand
teleology nor the availability of origins upon which such a teleological narrative could be
founded. To read the history which culminates in the present a present whose cross-
section, in miniature, can be found in the transcultural/postcolonial classroom is not to
arrive at an origin which makes sense of the heterogeneous linguistic and cultural fragments
gathered there. This putative originary history is constituted, literally when one reads
texts from the early contact period as a process of bricolage, collage:

Many of the colonial sources for our history begin as quotations. ... Aboriginal phrases, literally translated to
illustrate a grammatical point, yield expressions so incongruous that their meaning must be assumed to lie
somewhere else, in a contact history that has not been reproduced. ... these sources begin as noise, as utterances
whose original eloquence has already been lost. [They] do not allude metonymically to a lost, but presumably
more eloquent, context of understanding. Beneath and behind them spreads a widening cone of silence, of hos-
tility and mutual incomprehension. (LNC 188)

I transfer the notion of postcolonial collage from the broader social context in which
Carter uses it, so as to juxtapose it upon Lvi-Strausss concept of bricolage, which I have
likewise taken out of its anthropological context to place in the classroom. What conse-
quences does this double conceptual abuse have for the teaching process? If the postcolo-
nial classroom is thus a site of collage and of bricolage, as I have been intimating, what
is the nature of the knowledge attained there? In other words, to extend the implications of

13 Paul Carter, Living in a New Country: History, Travelling and Language (London: Faber, 1992), 186-7.
Hereafter LNC.

this node of questions, in what ways may postcolonial studies effectively be influenced by
its teaching?
We commonly understand the learning process as a linear affair, governed by an origin
and a goal. The origin is an extant body of knowledge, which determines a teleology, an
acquisition of that knowledge to be attained by the students. This process is linear and syn-
thetic. It also depends upon a notion of language within the classroom as the transparent
medium of the transmission of knowledge.
What happens, however, when the materials available in the classroom are understood
within the terms of bricolage and collage that is, as the constitutive fragments en-
dowed by a transcultural situation, fragments which admit of no final, totalizing reconcilia-
tion? What happens when the multiple languages present in the classroom deflect and inter-
fere with the transparent transmission of knowledge, becoming themselves the object of
discourse? And what happens, more importantly, in a pedagogical space in which the very
notions of cultural loss or cultural hybridity, notions central to postcolonial and transcul-
tural studies, are seriously taken on board and allowed to pervade the very fabric of the
teaching situation? These apparently rhetorical questions address a crucial issue, one ad-
dressed above in slightly different phrasing, in my concern with the manner in which the
content of postcolonial texts might possibly inflect the form of their teaching. The same
issue recurs here, namely in the way in which the reality of the postcolonial situation, or in
other words, the content of postcolonial studies, are allowed to impact upon the form taken
by the teaching of those studies. In other words, if the epistemological implications of post-
colonial studies are not held at arms length, but are truly reflected upon by their practitio-
ners with regard to the context where they are most intensively propagated the classroom
a postcolonial pedagogy would emerge whose assumptions and aims would be disturbing
and disruptive in the same way that postcolonial movements have been elsewhere.
In the classroom, the bricolage process of teaching, a process which corresponds to the
broader fabric of a collage society and a literature itself engendered in the process of
postcolonial collage, must logically resist notions of linear progress towards some grand
synthesis which draws all the fragments together in a new unity. This consequence of pur-
suing postcolonial studies in the classroom, however, must inevitably go against the grain
of the academy. A significant article by Heinz Antor entitled Postcolonial Pedagogy, or
Why and How to Teach the New English Literatures, originally delivered to the annual
conference of the German association of university teachers of English in 1999, is represen-
tative of the tensions which bedevil the contemporary teaching of university postcolo-
nial/transcultural studies.
It is in part the fact that this article so patently displays its posi-
tionality, its affiliations to the university context and the work of university teachers, that
makes it a valuable site for examining the dilemmas dogging postcolonial pedagogy.
On the one hand, Postcolonial Pedagogy, or Why and How to Teach the New English
Literatures is a clear index of the trend mentioned above towards the theorization of peda-
gogics in relation to the teaching of literary studies. It is especially significant because it is
one of the few German contributions to the nascent area of postcolonial/transcultural peda-

14 Heinz Antor, Postcolonial Pedagogy, or Why and How to Teach the New English Literatures, in Bernhard
Reitz and Sigrid Rieuwerts (eds), Anglistentag 1999: Proceedings (Trier: WVT, 2000), 245-62. All further
references in the body of the text following the abbreviation PP.

gogy, and thus can be seen as initiating an important debate within the European literary
Antors article is a laudable gesture towards acknowledging the classroom as one of the
most significant sites for the exploration of postcolonial studies. Postcolonial literary cul-
ture is produced and consumed outside the academy, often by people who have studied it
during their passage through the university sometimes in cognizance of its more theoreti-
cal sides, sometimes in refusal of that theoretical impulse.
Postcolonial theory, in turn, is
pursued by researchers in articles and conference papers; but one primary locus of post-
colonial studies is and will remain the school classroom and university seminar room. Post-
colonial studies as a field of knowledge is far more dependent upon the classroom than is
generally acknowledged. Indeed, the pedagogical context may, alongside the literary mar-
ket, be one of its primary areas of cultural intervention. David Dabydeen and Nana Wilson-
Tagoe suggest as much when they write, in a teachers manual entitled A Readers Guide to
West Indian and Black British Literature:

We are particularly interested in promoting an appreciation of these literatures in secondary schools, thereby
reaching a large readership of young minds who are the futures writers, scholars, workers and next-door
neighbours. Our immediate society and larger world are irrevocably multi-racial: the appreciation of literature
can be a crucial activity in deepening peoples understanding of each other, of combating ignorance and the
violent injustices that spring from ignorance.

It is because the classroom is a significant multiplicator in the diffusion of postcolo-
nial/transcultural knowledge that such texts are of central importance for postcolonial stud-
On the other hand, Postcolonial Pedagogy, or Why and How to Teach the New English
Literatures also bears witness to the difficulties of allowing the full consequences of post-
colonial studies to be explored in the classroom. As a representative statement on the way
in which postcolonial studies are taught at university level, this article evinces a number of
paradoxes which are indicative of deep structural aporia in the contemporary teaching of
postcolonial studies.
In response to the crucial question, Why teach the New English Literatures, the first re-
ply given is Because they are there, that is, because they now form part of the extended
canon of English Literature: One of the simplest and most obvious answers to the question
of why we should teach postcolonial cultures and the New English literatures issuing from
them is that we must do so because they are there, because they exist, and very importantly
and successfully so (PP 246). Such an answer skirts around uncomfortable questions of the
ongoing dominance of the university canon and the mainstream English-language literary
market place. This response forgets that the postcolonial literatures are not simply there, but
are produced through and through, from authorial creative practice, via publishing and
distribution strategies, through marketing campaigns, to the construction of university syl-
labi productive factors which, ironically, were dealt with in a paper given by Graham
Huggan on the same 1999 conference panel, and later published as a chapter of The Post-

15 See James Wood, The Slightest Sardine, London Review of Books 26: 10 (20 May 2004), 11-12.
16 David Dabydeen and Nana Wilson-Tagoe, A Readers Guide to West Indian and Black British Literature
(London: Hansib Publishing/Rutherford Press, 1988), 9.

Colonial Exotic (2001).
Postcolonial literatures and postcolonial studies are not merely
there, just as the Occident is not just there either (to appropriate the phrasing of Edward
Rather, they are a process of ongoing production, a field of continual skirmishes
and struggles for ascendance. This is a commonplace of the research in the area of post-
colonial studies, but in the classroom this topos is often forgotten. Readers and introductory
works inevitably tend to reify knowledge, taking it out of context and casting it into com-
modified forms such as the hypostatized extract, or the standardized quotation and catch-
phrase. Some degree of simplification, of schematization, and of unification that is, of
imposition of thereness is necessary in order to teach an area of studies at introductory
level, but the risk run by this variety of pedagogical strategic essentialism is of closing
down possibilities of productive dialogue in the classroom not so much at the level of
theory, perhaps, as in the classroom dynamic itself. The risk, in other words, is that of a
performative betrayal of the import of postcolonial studies.
In many university classrooms, I suspect, transcultural/postcolonial studies are assumed
to be constituted by a stable body of concepts and exemplary texts susceptible of the same
pedagogic strategies of transmission as other more traditional areas of teaching. An exam-
ple of this stance is to be found in the procedure espoused by the article under discussion
here, and indeed enacted in its own step by step analysis of the question at hand. This
analysis assumes the givenness of the area of study as a precondition for its transmissibil-
ity. Each section maps out the contours of the discipline and then turns to the students as the
final recipients of this pre-packaged product. In the expositional structure of the essay, the
students become the subordinate topic:

As teachers of postcolonial cultures and of the New English Literatures, we should make our students aware of
the complex and intimate interrelations between these two inseparable sides of the politics of postcolonial stud-
ies [(post)colonial discourses and the material, historical contexts in which they are embedded] in order to raise
our students awareness of the political dimension of what they do when they read a postcolonial text and in
order to enable them to place themselves in the discussion we have delineated here. Only thus can they pursue
their studies as critical and emancipated and responsible cultural and political agents rather than as mere play-
ers in an intellectual glass bead game. (PP 253)

In this conception of postcolonial pedagogy, an intriguing spatial metaphorics is in opera-
tion. A discussion is delineated, and then students place themselves within in. This spa-
tiality assumes the stability of the discursive locus and its availability for a group of new-
comers. It is true that postcolonial studies as a domain of academic work does have a prior
history. Historicity, however, militates against notions of stability. Contemporary spatial
theory assumes that space is never a stable pre-existing site, but that it exists to the extent
that it is configured by and for a group of spatial actors. Similarly, the discussion which
constitutes postcolonial studies exits as a topic, as a commonplace only through the
ongoing discursive activity of postcolonial discursive agents. The discussion goes on be-
cause our students take part in it not only because our students take part in it, for they are
by no means the only discursive actors sustaining the ongoing debate called postcolonial
studies, but none the less also because they take part in it. The only thus which concludes
the long quote above must then be radically revoked. Rather, a dialogue can be said to be

17 Graham Huggan, The Post-Colonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins (London: Routledge, 2001).
18 Edward W. Said, Orientalism (1978; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), 4.

set up between students other projects for critique, emancipation and responsibility, and
the postcolonial debate, in which they may or may not choose to intervene as cultural
agents already active in their own right.
The logical concomitant of the temporal order of precedence enacted in Antors article
(disciplinary field of knowledge before student recipients) is a synchronic hierarchy of
agency in the classroom. The syntax of this exposition is revealing. We as teachers are to
make our students aware. The underlying structure of this pedagogy assumes the passivity
and ignorance of our students, whereas in fact experience suggests that the teaching process
is massively dependent upon the participation of students and their active cooperation; it
also depends upon the possibility of entering into dialogue with the knowledge they already
possess and the experience they have already acquired, which in many areas will be far
more sophisticated to that of their teachers. Hasalek notes that much current educational
theory including critical pedagogy ... ... often overlooks students coauthorship of peda-
gogy. Like meaning, which is constructed between and among individuals within a particu-
lar cultural context, pedagogy is enacted not by a teacher alone but in consort with stu-
From the outset, Friere reminds us, his [the educators] efforts must coincide
with those of the student to engage in critical thinking ... His efforts must be imbued with a
profound trust in men and their creative power. To achieve this, he must be a partner of the
students in his relations with them.

How should we resolve the dilemmas I have sketched above in my reading of a text
which is exemplary in its positional expression of hegemonic attitudes to the teaching of
postcolonial studies in parts of the European academy? The answer, precisely, is not to
resolve such a conundrum. Rather, it would imply taking on board some of its more uncom-
fortable consequences in the classroom. Once we acknowledge on the one hand that post-
colonial studies predicate an unstable contact zone and the concomitant hybridity which
emerges from that zone as the driving force for cultural and intellectual production, and on
the other, that postcolonial studies as a field of academic enquiry is also constantly in a
process of transformation, it becomes possible for the postcolonial classroom to be imag-
ined in new ways.
It becomes a contact zone traversed by multiple lines of encounter between teachers
and students, between various languages and cultural groups which may collide and over-
lap in contradictory ways and in various persons. Postcolonial studies itself becomes a site
of debate in the classroom. The classroom is not a marginal, subsidiary site where postcolo-
nial studies is talked about as if it were elsewhere. Rather, postcolonial studies as an ongo-
ing process of critical reflection which is located in schools, universities, conferences, writ-
ing workshops, is enacted, performed, perpetuated in every classroom in which it is
discussed. To that extent, it may also be inflected and transformed by a classroom discus-
sion. The classroom is integral to postcolonial studies it is hard to imagine this field of
academic enquiry without students reading postcolonial texts, buying postcolonial-studies
readers, sitting exams, writing essays and one place where it can undergo innovation.

19 Hasalek, A Pedagogy of Possibility, 179.
20 Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 49.

Edward Said has pointed out the manner in which theory travels, moving from one
context to another and undergoing transformation in the process.
One of the places
through which postcolonial theory travels is the postcolonial classroom and there is no
reason why it should not be transformed by its passage through pedagogic spaces around
the world. Thinking about the classroom as one of the spaces traversed by a mobile and
fluid body-of-theory-in-process assumes, however, that the classroom as a locus and as
topos that is, as an embodied, emplaced set of performative commonplaces has been
thought through thoroughly enough to allow it to be conceived of as a site connected to
other nodes of postcolonial praxis and not merely as a reified and isolated place without a
context. The difficulty of thinking in this manner is borne out by Postcolonial Pedagogy, or
Why and How to Teach the New English Literatures. This representative statement pays
lip service to positionality, but at the same time evades, for instance, one very concrete
aspect of the positionality of postcolonial theorists-cum-teachers: the question of careerism
in postcolonial studies which have been dealt with so caustically by Aijaz Ahmad.
questions do in reality raise an array of potentially explosive issues. How might it be possi-
ble, for instance, to unlearn the inherent dominative mode, as the article suggests post-
colonial studies asks us to do (in the words of Edward Said
), in a university system as
hierarchical as the German academy? To take this agenda seriously would inevitably mean
dethroning the priority accorded to the paradigms and classifying labels we ... use in order
to analyze the texts we have selected for the classroom (PP 248) and which define both the
content and form of a one-way transmission of ostensibly given concepts. It would mean
according a new significance to texts and students. Both would then be allowed to define
our teaching as cultural actors in their own right. Texts, as codifications of postcolonial
knowledge, and students, as curators of (often transcultural and postcolonial) knowledge
would enter actively into dialogue with the field as an ongoing and fluid debate.
Let me suggest, in what follows, two possible axes of transformation of the field of post-
colonial studies which might possibly be triggered by a re-orientation of postcolonial peda-
gogy to the students as participants. The first potential axis of transformation could be that
of adapting postcolonial studies for a non-English speaking European context. It is com-
monly acknowledged that there is not a postcolonial world or a postcolonial culture. Rather,
the various loci of socio-political transformation in the wake of the colonial era whether
in ex-colonies such as African or South-East and East-Asian nations, in ex-settler colonies
such as Canada or Australia, or ex-metropolitan centres such as London or Manchester
have brought forth very diverse forms of culture. In the process of encountering those cul-
tural forms, postcolonial studies has itself been subject to considerable transformation.
Whether postcolonial culture can be adapted, for instance, to the German-speaking context,
is a hotly debated issue at the present time. The answers which have been suggested by

21 Edward W. Said, Traveling Theory, The World, the Text, and the Critic (London: Faber & Faber, 1984),
22 See Aijaz Ahmad, In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (London: Verso, 1992).
23 Edward Said, Dialogue with Raymond Williams, appended to Williams, The Politics of Modernism: Against
the New Conformists, ed. Tony Pinkney (London: Verso, 1989), 181.

German-speaking theorists are complex and controversial, not to say conflict-ridden.
rising debate goes hand in hand with the slowly receding amnesia regarding Germanys
own colonial past in Togo, South-West Africa and New Guinea. It also accompanies with
the recognition that the absence of a strongly visible colonial past does not impede the pres-
ence of social structures and strategies which are neo-colonialist, or may parallel those to be
found in other nations with a colonial heritage. Such analogies have been suggested by
members of my seminar groups. As we discussed some of the texts read above, some of my
own students those enrolled for teaching degrees talked about their experiences of
teaching rounds. Salient in some of their accounts were for instance attempts at teaching
German literature in junior high schools in Kreuzberg, a Berlin inner-city area in which
school classes frequently have a majority of children speaking languages other than Ger-
man. These student contributions, however mundane and prosaic they may appear, consti-
tute a genuine inflection of the field of postcolonial knowledge in that they insert the lin-
guistic and cultural and literary concerns of postcolonial studies into a context in which
they are rarely envisaged, and in so doing, transform that field.
A second potential axis of transformation is linked to the entrance of thirteen Eastern
European countries into the European Union in 2004. To what extent these countries might
possibly be described as postcolonial in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet empire is a
moot point. Certainly some, though by no means all, imperial traits of the Soviet system
in its dealings with its satellites and allies displayed affinities with those of a colonial sys-
tem. The imposition of control via military coercion, the transformation of the economic
base of the countries in question, and the development of a subaltern dissident culture were
shared with the colonial system; the analogies are limited, however, and should not be ex-
cessively strained. None the less, it is worth entertaining the comparison, even if only pro-
visionally, so as to look at the field of postcolonial studies from a different perspective.
Indeed, it is the differences between the current contextualizations of postcolonial studies
and the contours of postcommunist Eastern Europe which make modifications of the field
possible in the first place. Increasing numbers of students in Berlin come from Eastern
European countries to complete a degree in a city which has traditionally constituted East-
ern Europes gate to the West.
Their gaze upon postcolonial studies, directed at this field
of reflection from an unaccustomed standpoint, promises further productive challenges to
the extant paradigms structuring the discipline. It would be highly informative, for instance,
to read Marica Bodrois Tito ist tot [Tito is dead] (2002) through a reading grid akin to
one which would ask questions about colonial, postcolonial and neocolonial configurations
of culture and literary production, a task I consider in chapter 10 below.
Written by a
young German-Croatian author, this collection of short prose pieces, whose title alludes to
the break-up of the Yugoslavian state in the 1990s, deals with issues of economic migra-
tion, cultural deracination and civil war. Clearly it is a postnational and transcultural text,

24 See for instance Paul Michael Ltzeler (ed.), Der postkoloniale Blick: Deutsche Schriftsteller berichten aus
der Dritten Welt (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1997); Hito Steyerl and Encarnacin Gutirrez-Rodrguez (eds),
Spricht die Subalterne deutsch? Migration und postkoloniale Kritik (Mnster: Unrast, 2004).
25 See Gerd Mattenklott and Gunda Mattenklott, Berlin Transit: Eine Stadt als Station (Reinbek bei Hamburg:
Rowohlt, 1987); Fritz Mierau (ed.), Russen in Berlin: Literatur Malerei Theater Film 1918-33 (Leipzig: Rec-
lam, 1991).
26 Marica Bodro[0]i, Tito ist tot (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 2002).

its stories being rooted in the Germany of the Gastarbeiter period, the Yugoslavia of Tito,
and the Croatian regional identity of the erstwhile Venetian province of Dalmatia. To what
extent it may be a productive exercise to read the text with the help of the borrowed analyti-
cal instruments of postcolonial studies is a question which can only be answered performa-
These students, then, may contribute to giving a new inflection to postcolonial studies
which changes the contours of that body of theories and texts. I opened this chapter by
suggesting an analogy, that of the teacher as novelist. The intention was to stress similari-
ties between the cultural agency of the writer and that of the teacher. Now that I have ar-
rived at the close of this meditation on the teaching of postcolonial texts and postcolonial
studies in the classroom, it should have become evident that this analogy requires some
modification. The teacher as novelist must be replaced by the teacher-learner as novelist.
This hybrid identity straddles the sites of teacher and students respectively. Indeed, it im-
plies that both identities are in themselves hybrid, that an acceptance of the hybridizing of
hierarchies which is central to postcolonial studies brings with it the hybridizing of identi-
ties within the classroom. Seen in this way, both teachers and students are teacher-learners,
contributing various sorts of knowledge to an ongoing debate which we know as postcolo-
nial studies (work in progress).


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Genetic Translation:
Blls translation of Patrick White

The Soviet literary theorist and semiotician Lotman once suggested that the elementary act
of thinking is translation.
His statement is rich in implications. It asks us to think about
basic cognitive processes as cognates of linguistic processes. It also demands that we as-
sume that thought is always already boundary-crossing, going beyond the limits of what is
known to supplement its extant resources. It also implies that we should give more attention
to the maligned art of translation, an operation which is generally accorded a secondary
place in literary production, as Dominique Aury and more recently Lawrence Venuti have
whereas its is increasingly acknowledged that both diachronically
and synchronic-
ally translation possesses a crucial role in the formation of cultures. In the words of the
translation theorist Itamar Even-Zohar, I conceive of translated literature not only as an
integral system within any literary polysystem, but as a most active system within it.
pre-eminent activity is evinced in the translation episode I examine in this chapter: the rare
occasion of one future Nobel Prize winner translating the work of another.
In this chapter I investigate Heinrich Blls reworking of a text whose opening ostenta-
tiously signals itself as an originary gesture: Patrick Whites Australian Genesis-novel,
The Tree of Man (1956). I follow here Even-Zohars dictum to the effect that in the way
their source texts [for translation] are selected by the target literature, the principles of se-
lection [are] never ... uncorrelatable with the home co-systems of the target literature.
translation, undertaken by Heinrich Bll ten years after the end of the Second World War in
a Cologne still carrying massive scars of the Allied bombing which destroyed ninety per
cent of the city on the Rhine, cannot but have been motivated by the seductive opportunity
of appropriating a textual representation of genesis. Whites novel begins with what white
Australian society understands according to the invidious pioneer myth as its own inaugural
acts of settlement: clearing the bush and building a house. Whites text, without admitting
it, is thus about the elided pre-history of settlement: in the Australian context, that of trans-

1 Yuri M. Lotman, Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture, trans. Ann Shukman, Intro. Umberto
Eco (London: I. B. Tauris, 1990), 143.
2 Dominique Aury, preface to Georges Mounin, Les problmes thoriques de la traduction (Paris: Gallimard,
1963), vii; Lawrence Venuti, The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference (London: Routle-
dge, 1998), 88.
3 See Peter Burke, Kultureller Austausch, trans. Burkhardt Wolf (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 2000); H. O.
White, Plagiarism and Imitation during the English Renaissance: A Study of Critical Distinctions (Cam-
bridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1935).
4 Itamar Even-Zohar, The Position of Translated Literature within the Literary Polysystem, in Lawrence
Venuti (ed.), The Translation Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 2000), 192.
5 Even-Zohar, The Position of Translated Literature within the Literary Polysystem, 192-3.

portation, transplantation, translation, and transformation. His genesis is not an origin, but
constitutes itself as one by forgetting the sorts of geographical and cultural traffic which
characterized Whites own early life, shuttling with his family between metropolitan Lon-
don and rural New South Wales. Bll, I suggest in this chapter, was intensely interested in
the ideology-laden and patently fallacious notion of a new beginning, but at the same time,
could only appropriate this particular instance of genesis by means of translation. The very
act of translation, I attempt to show, foregrounds the contradiction inherent in creating a
copula between genesis and new beginning. A beginning which is new must by definition
have predecessors and cannot but carry their traces, faint as they may be, and is to that
extent only ever partially novative. In this way, Blls translation project, ambivalent in its
own relationship to its imperfectly de-nazified context, pointed towards the ambiguities of
Whites own transfer of European Modernist avant-garde pretensions into postwar suburban
Australia. My contention in carrying out this analysis is that translation is never a pure or
innocent undertaking, but that conversely, it is motivated by passion. Only when transla-
tion, which I take a figure for cultural translation in a broader sense, admits its passion, can
it deal with its own impurity and optimally be what it always already is.

The cultural politics of translation

The notion of cultural translation was coined by anthropologists and has recently experi-
enced a novel currency among literary theorists.
In what follows, I suggest that Whites
genesis-narrative offered Bll a counterfoil for his own dream of a new beginning after the
war. But this new beginning was a depoliticized would-be caesura which echoed much of
the censoring of history which was going on in Germany at the time. Blls motivated, if
not deliberate, mistranslations thus gave expression to a particular vision of Germany in the
first decade after the war; Blls programme can be regarded as working back upon Whites
own dubious cultural agenda.
As a whole, this episode can be understood as a forerunner to the contemporary recep-
tion of Australian literature and culture in Germany. It may offer some hints as to the mys-
terious transformation of Australia, from a place experienced for instance by Jewish refu-
gees before the Second World War as a sterile and philistine banishment,
to a privileged
receptacle of contemporary German utopian fantasies.
Heinrich Blls 1957 translation of The Tree of Man, initially entitled Zur Ruhe kam der
Baum des Menschen nie (later editions of the translation were endowed with the more logi-
cal title Der Baum des Menschen) is at first glance an object lesson in the perils of cultural
mistranslation. Blls work is peppered with hair-raising mistakes. White himself was furi-
ous to find digger, the slang name for the Australian soldier in the First and Second World

6 See Thomas Owen Beidelman (ed.), The Translation of Culture: Essays on E. E. Evans Pritchard (London:
Tavistock Publications, 1971); Sanford Budick and Wolfgang Iser (eds), The Translatability of Cultures: Fig-
urations of the Space Between (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996); Maria Lcia Pallares-Burke, Nsia
Floresta: O Carapuceiro e Outros Ensaios de Traduao Cultural (Sa Paulo: Editora HUCITEC, 1996).
7 See Volker Elis Pilgrim, Doris & Herbert Liffman (eds), Fremde Freiheit: Jdische Emigration nach Austra-
lien: Briefe 1938-1940 (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1992).

War, an appellation so ubiquitous it needs no inverted commas, translated as Goldgrber.

This mistranslation was rapidly corrected. Others which were not rectified were Blls
Thermometer for Whites termaters (tomatoes); Bll appears to have extrapolated
somewhat desperately from the context in which the word is used, that of a discussion about
a the vicissitudes of the vegetable patch during a drought (BM, 117; TM, 106). Whites
bloke was transformed into Blls Rindvieh, probably an (un)educated guess based on
the assumption that bloke was a derivative of bullock (TM, 189; BM, 211). White was
obviously quite aware of Blls predicament, though he showed little sympathy for the
plight of an amateur translator attempting to come to grips with the literary representation
of idiomatic, rural Australian English; he wrote to Frederick Glover in March 1957, Also
had a row with the German translator of The Tree of Man, who sounds as though he is try-
ing to change what he is incapable of translating ...
Relations between White and Bll
deteriorated: I think he is really trying to work it so that his translation with appear without
my having looked at it, White complained to Huebsch in June 1957.
White did not see
the second half of the text in translation. In August he complained: The German Tree of
Man is supposed to come out this month under the incredibly German title of Zur Ruhe kam
der Baum des Menschen nie! ... They sent me the proof so late it was impossible to get the
corrections back to them to please the printer, so that probably it has been printed mistakes
and all, and there were a number of ludicrous ones, since the translator, and arrogant indi-
vidual and novelist called Heinrich Bll, would not consult me until the end.
The result
of this strained author-translator relationship was that White refused to allow Bll to take
on the translation of Voss
ironically, a text whose hero is a fictionalization of the Ger-
man explorer Leichhardt.
Why pay so much attention to this anecdote of an early and rather grumpy encounter be-
tween two future Nobel Prize winners? According to Whites biographer David Marr,
Blls translation of The Tree of Man won the distinguished Wupperthal prize for transla-
tion in 1957.
I have not been able to find any confirmation of this claim nor indeed trace
the existence of such a prize. Be that as it may, Marrs claim suggests that Blls translation
is not merely to be fobbed off as an incompetent piece of work, but should be taken seri-
ously and scrutinized beyond the somewhat limited criteria of an accomplished or poor
It may well be more productively regarded as an active strategy of cultural
transfer, and more generally as an index of a form of cultural politics.

8 See David Marr, Patrick White: A Life (London: Jonathon Cape, 1991), 323. The reference is to Patrick
White, The Tree of Man (Ringwood, VIC: Penguin, 1961), 205ff; the mistake is no longer to be found in Pat-
rick White, Zur Ruhe kam der Baum des Menschen nie, trans. Heinrich Bll (1957; Kln: Kiepenheuer &
Witsch, 1973), 226ff. Hereafter TM and BM respectively.
9 White to Frederick Glover, letter of 24 March 1957, in David Marr (ed.), Patrick White: Letters (London:
Jonathan Cape, 1994), 115.
10 Marr, Patrick White: A Life, 324.
11 White to Ben Huebsch, letter of 19 August 1957, in Marr (ed.), Patrick White: Letters, 120-1.
12 See Marr, Patrick White: A Life, 324.
13 See Marr, Patrick White: A Life, 324.
14 See Helmut Schrey, Grenzflle einer literaturimmanenten Landes- und Kulturkunde: Die Romane des Austra-
liers Patrick White, in Franz Kuna and Heinz Tschachler (eds), Dialog der Texte: Literatur und Landeskunde
(Tbingen: Narr, 1986), 463-86; Hilary Heltay, Patrick Whites Romanwerk, Akzente 19 (1972), 518-39.

In this immediate context, the history of the [German] present, to take Foucaults ge-
nealogical turn of phrase, can be found in part in German writers search after 1945 for a
new and uncontaminated mode of literary writing. In Blls diagnosis of German society
and its literature in his 1964 Frankfurt University Poetics lectures (Frankfurter Vorlesun-
gen) the immediate postwar moment was taken up by a Suche nach einer bewohnbarer
Sprache in einem bewohnbaren Land
[search for a habitable language in a habitable
country]. At a moment of cultural exhaustion and neediness, a culture goes in search of
resources beyond its own boundaries. Translation comes to the fore, suggests Even-Zohar,

(a) when a polysystem has not yet been crystallized, that is to say, when a literature is young, in the process
of being established; (b) when a literature is either peripheral (within a large group of correlated literatures)
or weak, or both; and (c) when there are turning points, crises, or literary vacuums in a literature. ... The dy-
namics within the polysystem creates turning points, that is to say, historical moments where established mod-
els are no longer tenable for a younger generation. At such moments, even in central literatures, translated lit-
erature may assume a central position. This is all the more true when at a turning point no item in the indige-
nous stock is taken to be acceptable, as a result of which a literary vacuum occurs. In such a vacuum, it is
easy for foreign models to infiltrate, and translated literature may consequently assume a central position.

If we read translation metaphorically, as symptomatic of a broader cultural sentiment, this
was a verdict reached by Bll himself: Die Deutschen und ich mache da keinerlei gesell-
schaftlichen Unterschied warten auf Gebundenheit, finden aber nur Gesellschaft, kein
Vertrauen; es ist nicht Zufall , dass sie so viel reisen, anderswo Humanes und Soziales
suchen, den Alltag anderer Lnder bewundern (FV 39). [The Germans and I make no
social distinctions here are waiting for cohesion, but find only society, not trust It is
not by chance that so many of them travel, looking for humanity and sociability, admiring
the everyday life of other countries.] Blls comment on the Germans propensity to travel
provides a neat concrete figure for the cultural tendencies which he himself would instanti-
ate in his translation of White.
Lotman has provided a typology of the stages of the phase of reception in processes of
cultural dialogue. Lotmans typology describes the interactions between two cultural sys-
tems. In a first phase, imported texts in the other language are already regarded as possess-
ing a superior cultural value. In the second phase, the two systems restructure each, via
processes of translation, imitation, adaptation. This phase itself evinces an initial desire,
within the receiving system, to emphasize the new (the imported culture), to break with the
past, and a re-discovery and re-valorization of the tradition of the receiving culture. In a
third and final phase, the total annexation of the content of the imported culture allows the
foreignness of the imported texts and their once-admired and envied forms to be left to one
In one of his tangential comments on the business of translation and his own rela-
tionship to translation, Bll implicitly situated himself, and by extension German literature
in general, within the early phase of humble appropriation:

15 Heinrich Bll, Frankfurter Vorlesungen 1964, in Essayistische Schriften und Reden II: 1964, in Bernd Balzer
(ed.), Bll Werke (Gtersloh: Bertelsmann, 1980), VII, 53. Hereafter FV.
16 Even-Zohar, The Position of Translated Literature within the Literary Polysystem, 193-4.
17 Yuri M. Lotman, Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture, trans. Ann Shukman, Intro. Umberto
Eco (London: I. B. Tauris, 1990), 146-7.

Nach der Lektre dieser Erzhlung wurde mir bewusst, dass die deutsche Nachkriegsliteratur als Ganzes eine
Literatur der Sprachfindung gewesen ist, ich wusste auch, warum ich oft lieber bersetzte als selbst schrieb:
Etwas aus einer fremden ins Gelnde der eigenen Sprache hinberzubringen, ist eine Mglichkeit, Grund unter
den Fen zu finden. (FV 61)

[After reading this story, I became aware that the German literature of the postwar period in its entirety is a lit-
erature in search of a language, and then I knew why I often prefer to translate than to write myself: carrying
something from foreign terrain into the territory of ones own language is a way of finding ground under ones
own feet.]

Blls metaphors of foreign terrain and of ground under the feet, like his notion of a
habitable language in a habitable land, is a metaphor pertaining directly to the shattered
urban fabric of postwar Germany and to its literary landscape. Translation poses one liter-
ary-linguistic territory against another, and envisages its activity as a carrying-over, liter-
ally bertragung in German.
For Bll, translation functioned as process of appropriation not dissimilar to the utopian
suspension of relationships of private property and generalized theft reigning in the months
immediately following the cessation of hostilities in 1945:

Die Voraussetzung, unter der einer nach dem Krieg zu schreiben anfing, war die Voraussetzung vlliger
Gleichheit, die sich als vorbergehend erwies. Vielleicht wird, was zwischen 1945 und 1950 hier geschehen ist,
einmal wirklich geschrieben werden, nicht in Andeutungen und Einzelheiten verzettelt, sondern als groer
Roman: dass es diese einmalige Situation der Gleichheit gab, a posteriori betrachtet, alle Bewohner dieses
Landes besitzlos waren, alles besitzend, was ihnen unter die Hnde geriet: Kohlen und Holz, Mbel, Bilder,
Bcher. (FV 75)

[The conditions under which one started to write after the war were conditions of absolute equality, conditions
which turned out to be merely temporary Perhaps one day someone will really write the history of what
happened here between 1945 and 1950, and not merely in hints and details, but as a great novel: that there was
this unique situation of equality, as it now appears in retrospect, all the inhabitants of this country were without
possessions, and in possession of everything they could get their hands on: coal, wood, furniture, pictures,

It is no chance that in Blls list of portable good thrown into circulation on the postwar
black market, books are emphasized by their terminal position. In a situation of ubiquitous
scarcity, one took whatever one could get ones hands upon; in a parallel situation of liter-
ary poverty, translation enacted an analogous relationship of appropriation.
To that extent, translation as an act of cultural exchange instantiates the shifting and
processural relationships between peripheral and major literary systems. In translation as a
pivotal undertaking which marks the gear-shifts between various phases in the cultural
standing of a literary system, it is possible to perceive moments in which attitudes of sub-
mission or abjection are mixed with an active appropriation of the other system. This mo-
ment of appropriation is exemplified in the significance of Blls 1962 translation of J. D.
Salingers Catcher in the Rye for his own novel Ansichten eines Clowns (1963). It has been
often remarked that Blls character Schnier has many similarities to Holden Caulfield.

Whence, perhaps, Whites attribution of arrogance to his translator Bll,
an ascription

18 J. H. Reid, Heinrich Bll: Ein Zeuge seiner Zeit, trans. Gabriele Bonhoeffer (Mnchen: dtv, 1991), 178.
19 Whites letter of 19 August 1957 mentions an arrogant individual and novelist called Heinrich Bll (Marr,
Letters, 120-1).

which may be indicative of a distorted but not entirely inaccurate sense of the abject-
parasitical-aggressive relationship of a marginal literary system to its dominant partner. The
polysystems approach to translation is resolutely target-language orientated and functional-
ist in its tenor. It none the less does not neglect the inter-systemic power relationships la-
tently at work in the act of translation evinced here in the interpersonal relationships be-
tween translators.
German writers found themselves confronted with a literature in ruins (the phrase is pi-
rated from Blanchots book on writing in the wake of catastrophe
) matching their country
in ruins: Adornos famous remark to the effect that to write poetry after Auschwitz was
barbarism stands for the sense of exhaustion of the literary language.
In this context, the
inaugural moment in a literary text took on a central importance. It is thus anything but a
coincidence that Bll chose to translate a text which so ostentatiously celebrates the found-
ing moment of settlement. The pioneers arrival in the bush coincides with the inauguration
of the text; that is to say, sujet and fabula both commence at the same moment, in turn caus-
ing a coincidence of real and fictional time. The text itself functions as an instance of tem-
poral deixis, the writing and reading process enacting the moment of cultural genesis or re-
generation they dramatize in fictional form. The inevitable interval between writing and
reading is itself minimized by the ostentatious overlapping of sujet- and fabula-
commencement. Given the gravity of this textual incipit, it is no chance that Blls transla-
tion carefully filters out elements likely to disturb such an Arcadian moment. Traces of an
inaugural violence are edited out of the German text, with Whites tearing the bush apart
becoming the more pastoral roden, a volley of leaves (TM 16) being replaced by
Geprassel (BM 19). The work invested to support the carefree nature of that genesis narra-
tive, ironically, is in direct proportion to its fraught character.

Genesis and ideology

In Blls translation work, the genesis motif is patently ideological. The appropriation of
Whites genesis narrative is a direct literary objective correlative of the societal and politi-
cal Stunde null [zero hour, caesura] which was announced in West Germany after 1945.
In translating Whites bush genesis, Bll was in some way at least complicit with the
collective desire in West Germany to subscribe to a myth of a new beginning, to wipe the
slate clean and begin from zero which often involved closing ones eyes to a myriad of
continuities between Nazi- and post-war German society and its institutions.
The White
translation constituted Blls version of the Kahlschlag [clear break] in post-war writing
in Germany. A closer look at his writing, however, shows that there was no more of a clear
break between pre-war and post-war writing as there was between pre-war and post-war
politics. In reality, Blls own writing evinces a clear continuity: his pre-war literary exem-

20 Maurice Blanchot, Lcriture du dsastre (Paris: Gallimard, 1980), 127.
21 Theodor W. Adorno, Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft, Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft I: Prismen, Ohne Leitbild
(Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 2003), 30.
22 See for instance Norbert Frei, Vergangenheitspolitik: Die Anfnge der Bundesrepublik und die NS-
Vergangenheit (Mnchen: dtv, 1999).

plars bourgeois, middle-brow, sentimental literature remained his models in the years
after the war.

To that extent, the translation of White was appropriate, because it too subscribed to a
genesis mythology, that of a peculiarly Australian Stunde null better known as the myth
of terra nullius with its own repressed continuities: the ongoing presence of an erased
and marginalized indigenous people. The Australian Genesis which White evokes, the
paradise upon which, in his text, suburban corruption would gradually be imposed, is
equally a myth of origins. This origin reposed upon the notion of the ostensibly virginal
Australian bush. But the pre-history of that landscape, often erased under the patina of
White settlement, occasionally comes to light in inadvertent turns of phrase, as in Whites
1948 novel The Aunts Story: Someone had called [the house Mero], and no one in the
district remembered why. It had been accepted along with the other exotic names, Glouces-
ter, Saumarez, Boscobel, Habilah, Richmond, and Martindale, that have eaten into the
gnarled and aboriginal landscape and become a part of it.
White settlements relationship
to the indigenous landscape we can read the text against the grain, and take aboriginal
and the eating literally, disrupting the repressive force of the terms aestheticizing and
metaphorical usage in the text was violently parasitical.
The violent appropriation of the land is evinced by the history of the novelists own fam-
ily and their presence in the Hunter Valley near Sydney, the area which provided the model
for The Aunts Story. Patrick Whites great-grandfather James White settled land in the
Hunter Valley. The area had been blocked to white settlement for many years by the con-
vict settlement at the mouth of the valley. When that penal settlement was dissolved, white
settlers moved in, driving out and massacring the indigenous Kamilaroi people. In the
newly seized region, they found perfect grazing ground, the savannah landscape developed
by the indigenous practice of firing the undergrowth to create an open, lightly wooded ter-
rain ideal for hunting kangaroos.
Thus the myth of origins celebrated in the opening chap-
ters of The Tree of Man was based upon the repression of what came before a repression
within the literary text which was related to a literal, violent erasure of traces of the prior
occupants and custodians of the land.
This erasure is alluded to obliquely, and doubtlessly without intention, in Whites first
postwar novel, The Aunts Story. It is also touched upon, once again in an oblique manner,
in The Tree of Man itself, in an episode following upon devastating floods. The floods wash
away the structures of white civilization and, apparently, allow the sudden resurgence of a
prior social-order with its names, names which no-one wants to acknowledge. Its not
known how or why the district in which the Parkers lived got its name, but it was about the
time of the floods that the official voice began to refer to it as Durilgai. And this meant
fruitful, a friend of Mr Armstrongs who was a professor, or something, said (TM 99).
The name Durilgai is imposed, according to the narrative voice, from above academics
instantiating a resented authority which interferes in local history thereby supplanting the
original one coined by the White settlers: Her expression withdrew into her face when
strangers mentioned the official word, and she continued to refer to their district by the
names of those people amongst whom the land was parcelled out (TM 99). The parcelling-

23 Reid, Heinrich Bll, 73-6.
24 Patrick White, The Aunts Story (1948; Ringwood, VIC: Penguin, 1963), 21.
25 Marr, Patrick White: A Life, 15.

out, however, alerts us to the new gridding of the land, one both linguistic and legal, proba-
bly reposing upon a violent dispossession of the indigenous inhabitants. Rather than a pe-
dantic imposition from above, we are most likely witness to the resurfacing, in Whites
fiction, of a repressed or displaced indigenous name.
That this name transgresses a barrier
of repression is indicated by Whites comment: But the people who lived in that district
were disinclined to use their name, anyway for a long time, as if something was expected of
them that they could not, or did not care to, fulfil (TM 99). Any Australian post-Mabo
reader cannot but hear in this passage an echo-in-advance of later indigenous claims for
compensation after two centuries of dispossession.
In the inaugural moments of The Tree of Man, where possession is marked by a violence
which gestures mutely towards a prior process of conquest whose nature cannot be articu-
lated, Bll inadvertently puts his finger on the elided events by transforming the white
silence which reigns after the brutal work of carving out a clearing in the bush (one is
tempted to read Whites silence) (TM 16) into a weies Schweigen (BM 19). Schweigen
is both silence and the verb to be silent, thus adding an active intention not audible in the
English expression. Blls translation, when read back against Whites own construction of
a fragile genesis, thereby offers a more explicit figure of the return of the repressed upon
which White Australia is founded, a breaking of what W. E. H. Stanner in 1968 called the
great Australian silence, a cult of forgetfulness practised on a national scale.

The absence of houses

The post-war moment as it is imagined in Blls utopian appropriation of The Tree of
Man is paradisiac, but it none the less carries traces of the devastation wreaked by the war.
The most obvious evidence of the war was to be seen everywhere in German cities with
their gutted, gaping houses. In Blls translation of Whites text, there emerges a curious
resistance to habitation. Bll transforms Stans preliminary lean-to made of bags and
saplings (TM 9) into a Sitz mit einer Lehne (BM 11). Are we again confronted with a
simple case of the translators inadequate linguistic resources, or is Blls intention also to
minimize the signs of dwellingness in the early chapters to superimpose the cataclysmic
landscape of postwar German upon the possibility of a Genesis narrative in an untouched
Australian landscape? Similar translation strategies, intentional or otherwise, are evinced on
several occasions in subsequent pages. After the description of the house Stan Parker
builds, Bll in his translation (BM 20) deletes: Seen through the trees, it was a plain but
honest house that the man had built (TM 17). In a later episode in which Stan and Amy
Parkers immigrant friend and farmhand, the old German Fritz, is driven away by the anti-
Hun sentiment of the local townspeople, Amy is struck by a sense of desolation: So she
hung there crying for the lost world. Now that the structure of her life was shaken, full
misery smote her... (TM 194). Blls translation runs thus: Sie hing da und weinte; denn
eine Welt war fr Sie untergegangen. Nun, da das Haus ihres Lebens erschttert war, fiel

26 See Paul Carter, The Road to Botany Bay (London: Faber & Faber, 1987), 320-52.
27 W. E. H. Stanner, After the Dreaming: The 1968 Boyer Lectures (Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Commis-
sion, 1969), 25.

das Elend mit ganzer Macht ber sie (BM 216). If it is Amys house which collapses, it
is in part Fritz she is crying for, so that the old German becomes an internal refugee whose
homelessness mirrors the fate of Blls post-World War II compatriots.
Here it would seem that Blls translation is anything but random, that over and above
the difficulties of translation evinced in mistranslations such as lean-to Lehne, he
consistently focuses on aspects of postwar German society which are projected into the
transferred Australian context in the process of translation. Blls own comments confirm
this, as in the Frankfurter Vorlesungen, when he claims dass es in der deutschen Nach-
kriegsliteratur kaum Schilderungen von Sesshaftigkeit, kaum ein Buch gibt, in dem Nach-
barschaft, Heimat als vorausgesetzt gelten knnen. Nirgendwo wird Nachbarschaft als
etwas Dauerhaftes, Vertrauenerweckendes geschildert. Unsere Literatur hat keine Orte
(FV 53, 55, 57) [that in postwar German literature one finds hardly a single description of
setteldness, that there is hardly a book in which neighbourhood or homeland could be taken
for granted Nowhere is neighbourhood described as something durable or trustworthy.
Our literature has no places]. The recreation of a literary landscape, a habitable country
pieced back together by the means of a reconstructed and now-habitable language, for all
the paradisical traits it might display, seems to preclude the presence of houses. In this, Bll
concurs with Adorno, writing only a few years earlier:

Eigentlich kann man berhaupt nicht mehr wohnen. Die traditionellen Wohnungen, in denen wir gro gewor-
den sind, haben etwas unertrgliches angenommen: jeder Zug des Behagens darin ist mit Verrat an der Er-
kenntnis, jede Spur der Geborgenheit mit der muffigen Interessengemeinschaft der Familie bezahlt. Das
Haus ist vergangen. Die Zerstrung der europischen Stdte ebenso wie die Arbeits- und Konzentrationslager
setzen blo als Exekutoren fort, was die immanente Entwicklung der Technik ber die Huser schon lngst
entschieden hat. es gehrt zur Moral, nicht bei sich selber zu Hause zu sein.

[In fact, it is now impossible to inhabit a place. The traditional dwellings in which we grew up have acquired
something intolerable. Every trace of comfort is them has been paid for betrayal of knowledge, every trace of
shelter has been paid for by the stuffy self-interestedness of the family. The house is past. The destruction of
the European cities just like the work- and concentration camps merely continue as executors what the imma-
nent development of technology had already long ago decided. It now belongs to moral behaviour, not to be
at home in ones own house.]

In this context, translation with a view to the conditions of the target literature rather than to
some notion of fidelity to the source literature can be understood in terms of what contem-
porary urban restructuring cynically refers to as creative destruction.
This term would
seem to be peculiarly apposite given the literary, social and urban wasteland for which Bll
translated Whites Genesis narrative. Despite Blls patent desire to appropriate that pris-
tine beginning from another continent, the rubble-landscape into which he translated
Whites text nonetheless left its marks upon the text in its German avatar.

28 Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflexionen aus dem beschdigten Leben (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp,
1951), 55-8.
29 See Eric Klinenberg, Neo-Catastrophism, London Review of Books, 9 October 2003, 36-7.

A failed utopia

It is perhaps the curiously marked absence of dwellings in the inaugural pages of Blls
Australia which points to the limitations of the translators attempt to project a literary
Stunde null, and beyond that, to the translators increasingly sober assessment of such an
aspiration in postwar West Germany. The moment of Blls translation of Whites Tree of
Man was significant in that it marked a transition from an earlier period of utopian moral-
ism to an awakening political commitment. Blls utopian aspirations were at their most
intense during the period from 1945-49, before the currency reform which introduced the
German Mark and triggered the German postwar economic miracle. At this time, he envis-
aged a form of democracy based not upon a common political consensus, but rather a com-
mon poverty and concomitant ethical purity, a democracy based upon moral reform rather
than political revolution. His hope for a new society in the almost anarchistic tabula rasa
situation immediately after the war was rapidly disappointed by the currency reform and the
establishment of an American-inspired capitalist economic system in the West zone.
the wake of his shattered early postwar hopes, Bll slowly transformed his apolitical stance.
The Tree of Man translation both celebrated the possible pristine new beginning in a new
country ostensibly without the sort of history that West Germany was desperately trying to
forget. But the same translation also reflected Blls gradual abandonment of his previously
apolitical stance. In 1957, Bll gave up his allegiance to conservative CDU party, and in-
creasingly entered into the realm of political engagement, albeit while retaining a strongly
Christian-moralist tenor in his public gestures. In 1958 he signed an anti-nuclear weapons
manifesto. In 1959 he was involved in foundation of Germania Judaica library in Cologne
with a view to documenting Jewish history in Germany. In November 1960 he participated
in a declaration of solidarity with French writers who had publicly defended the right to
civil disobedience to the Algerian war. November 1960 also saw Bll protesting alongside
Gnter Grass, Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Martin Walser against Adenauers plans to
establish a state-controlled television channel, Deutschland-Fernsehen. None the less,
Blls politics still arose out of his religious values, and continued, at least initially, to
evince a strong existentialist-pietistic streak. Thus 1956 saw him launching a critique of
West-German prosperity and decadent moral values on the occasion of the Woche der
Brderlichkeit [Week of Fraternity]. In the same year, he visited Poland and was optimis-
tic about Gomulkas regime but above all enthusiastic about Polish workers Catholicism,
as evinced in his Brief an einen jungen Katholiken (1958) [Letters to a Young Catholic]. He
was bitterly critical of Catholic Churchs role in Nazi Germany, a role which he saw con-
tinuing in Adenauer period. This critique of the church would climax in the publication of
Ansichten eines Clowns [Views of a clown] in 1963.

Both temporally, and in the texture of Blls gradually evolving political ethos, 1957 and
the Tree of Man translation mark a turning point. The translation functions as a symptom of,
indeed perhaps as the instrument of an axiological shift in Blls cultural politics in the
words of the translation theorist Henri Meschonnic as an operateur de glissement cul-

30 Reid, Heinrich Bll, 58-61
31 Reid, Heinrich Bll, 147-9.

[operator of a cultural gear-change]. Zur Ruhe kam der Baum des Menschen nie
constituted a last gesture of a provincial moral ethos which was beginning to be acknowl-
edged by its proponent as bankrupt. Bll translated the story of the utopian early days of the
Parkers settlement at Sarsparilla as a nostalgic gaze back upon the new-start-that-could-
have-been and perhaps as an elegiac admission of the impossibility of such a utopian origin.
Here, Bll is eminently faithful to the spirit of his source-text. Whites narrative recounts
the progressive loss of the rural idyll as Stan and Amys bush paradise is overtaken by the
suburbs of fibro-cement houses (TM 394). Their elemental values are gradually crowded
out by the materialism of their daughter Thelma Forsdyke and philistine suburban
neighbours (whose ilk White would caricature and excoriate in the characters of Mrs Jolley
and Mrs Flack in Riders in the Chariot [1961]). Just as White could only situate his still
pure Australian landscape in an earlier age, just as his own myth of the Australian land-
scape was located out of reach in his childhood memories, so Bll as translator at once
celebrated and mourned a utopia never established.

Blls strategic mistranslation

In the Frankfurter Vorlesungen, Bll gave a defence of what he called provincialism as
the best way of creating a habitable cultural space in the ruined landscape of postwar Ger-
man society: Es sieht ganz so aus, als wre Provinzialismus fr eine gute Weile unsere
einzige Mglichkeit, vertrautes Gelnde zu schaffen, Nachbarschaft zu bilden, wohnen zu
knnen. In solchen Auseinandersetzungen klrt sich einiges, werden immer wieder von
neuem das Sprachgelnde und das soziale Terrain berprft (FV 57). [It really does look
as if provincialism may be for some time our only chance to create trustworthy territory, to
form neighbourhood, to live somewhere. In such conflicts much can be clarified, again
and again the linguistic and the social territory are checked out]. It is perhaps no coinci-
dence that Blls Irisches Tagebuch [Irish Diary], which had been published as a regular
column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from 1954 on, appeared in book form in
1957, the year of the White translation. In Ireland, Bll found the ideal organic community
based upon moral values of the sort he had hoped to see emerge out of the material impov-
erishment of the immediate postwar period. Similarly, I would suggest, he found in Patrick
Whites Tree of Man, at least in its early sections, a concomitant organic community still
rooted in the soil and in simple rural values a realm in which Life was benevolent and
simple on many evenings (TM 55). In Whites language, however, Bll found a literary
medium which sat awkwardly with his own literary politics. His literary horizons had been
formed by the sentimental bourgeois literature of his youth, a literature which would con-
tinue to form his principle stylistic points of reference until the end of the 1960s. It is the
radical contradiction between what Bll found in Whites narrative, the language in which
that narrative was couched, which may explain much of Blls translation practice.
Bll rejected out of hand Whites modernist diction. His translation consistently reworks
Whites often perplexing sentence structures. Under the translators pen, Whites oxymo-

32 Henri Meschonic, Pour la potique II: pistmologie de lcriture: Potique de la traduction (Paris: Galli-
mard, 1973), 306.

ronic metaphors, whose purpose is to suggest the hidden correspondences between dispa-
rate domains of existence, are reduced to similes, where the like functions as a mediating
instance which loosens the immediacy of the link suggested. Whites ellipses, which work
to suggest a layer of meaning beyond language, are made explicit, and their polysemy
tamed. Bll deletes altogether some episodes which blur the boundaries between reality and
illusion, the material world and the world of fantasy. Examples of sections which disappear
altogether from Blls translation are the lightning episode, and the second appearance of
Madeleine, both in chapter 9 (TM, 125/BM, 137; TM, 127/BM, 139).
Furthermore, Bll toned down the epic, transcendent quality of Whites narrative. The
recurring stress placed by White upon the naked fact of being, and by extension, the prob-
lematic character of existence, is resolutely erased from Blls translation. Whites Here I
am, a phrase spoken during the rains as an expression of frail humanity posed against the
immense force of nature (TM, 72) becomes Hier erreichst Du mich nicht (BM 78). The
similarly bleak Solidity is not, which leaves the verb to be vulnerable and eroded, is
watered down to a mild statement to the effect dass es keine Bestndigkeit gibt (BM 80).
Whites closing So in the end there were the trees (TM 480) is reduced to So standen am
Ende nur noch die Bume da (BM, 536). When one reads what Bll in his Frankfurter
Vorlesungen had to say about the epic, his translative practice is to a large extent clarified:

Die Worte Epik und episch klingen so vertrauenserweckend, getragen, fast wie etwas, in dem man sich
huslich niederlassen oder, wie ein Modewort sagt, ansiedeln kann. Man sollte vor zeitgenssischen Roma-
nen Schilder aufstellen: hier darf nicht gesiedelt werden, niederlassen verboten, sich nicht darin einrichten. Wer
Grund unter den Fen haben will, mu viel mehr haben, als Literatur und Kunst ihm je werden anbieten kn-
nen. (FV 75).

[The word epic [as noun and adjective] sound trustworthy, stable, almost like something in which one could
set up house in, or as a trendy experession has it, where one could settle. One ought to put up in front of con-
temporaryr novels signs saying Forbidden to settle, No setting up house here. Whoever wants ground under
the feet needs far more than literature and art will ever be able to offer him.]

The epic, for Bll, meant the non-modern, the still-intact, and thus the still-habitable. In
linguistic terms, this meant a return to provincial linguistic practices (accessability, con-
ventionalism) within literary production, in radical opposition to the anti-bourgeois modern-
ism of Whites prose.
Surprisingly for one with Blls religious affiliations, but less puzzlingly in the light of
his evident aversion to genuinely epic language, the translator rejected the frequent Biblical
intonations of Whites style. Thus the necessary acts of the day (TM 72) become flattened
in Blls notwendige tgliche Handlungen by the replacement of the slightly archaic geni-
tive with an adjective (BM, 77). Whites biblical note imports a transcendent element into
the banality of such everyday acts, a transcendence which Bll refused, possibility be-
cause the everyday for him possessed no banality but was the site of reassuring regularity
and down-to-earth simplicity. Typically, the end of the text emblematizes the way in which
Bll refuses Whites strategy of seeking the transcendent in the monotony of the Australian

He pointed with his stick at the gob of spittle.
That is God, he said.
As it lay glittering intensely and personally on the ground. (TM 476)


Er zeigte mit dem Stock auf den Speichelflecken.
Auch das ist Gott, sagte er.
Der Speichel lag glitzernd auf dem Boden, ein selbstndiges Gebilde. (BM 532).

Here all Blls defence mechanisms against Whites modernist style can be seen at work at
once. The archaic gob of spittle is regularized. The blunt That is God is rendered less
absolute by the addition of the relativizing Auch. The elliptical form created by a para-
graph break in the middle of what would otherwise read like a run-on sentence is cancelled
by the restoration of a simple S-V-O structure. Bll replaces Whites jarring personally by
the more logical selbstndig, and transforms the perplexing adverbial form into a mere
adjunct substantive.
All these strategies culminate in a will to elide language as an ostentatious practice point-
ing up its own unruly resistance to bourgeois common sense and asking to be confronted in
its own right. Bll text evinces a blanket refusal to embrace a meditation upon language
itself. Whites They had to tell all that they knew, all that they had done, for fear that silen-
ce might discover nothing (TM 187) becomes Sie muten alles erzhlen, was sie wuten,
alles, was sie getan hatten, weil sie frchteten, da sich im Schweigen ihre Leere offenbaren
wrde (BM 208). Whites oddly archaic and oxymoronic formulation, discover nothing,
is toned down by Bll, who personalizes and thus disarms nothing, and eradicates the
ambivalence of discovery in its hesitation between archaic and modern senses. The alien-
ation effect with regard to language and its possible aporia is personalized, reduced to an
immediate human characteristic. Blls strategy with regard to language is symptomatic of
a more general tendency evident in his work, to ascribe evil to persons rather than struc-
tures, and to seek salvation within the refuge of personal relationships, rather than in con-
fronting political situations.
Blls translation of White thus depends upon strategic mistranslation as an instrument
which filters out elements which would disturb his vision of provincial moral solidity. To
that extent his appropriation of Whites text provides a curious reverse instance of what
Philip Lewis has termed abusive translation a mode of rendering the foreign text which
amplifies its textual unevenness and resistance.
Blls translation is abusive in exactly
the inverse manner. Bll desired Whites pure, orginary province, but without the modernist
veneer White provided to give it a sheen of transcendence. He sought to co-opt Whites
content, but not Whites form. In particular he was resistant to Whites linguistic alienation
effects (a modernist throwback which the discontented Anglo-Australian intellectual
wielded against what he perceived to be the mediocrity of Antipodean suburbia), effects
which doubtless signified for the war-weary translator nothing more than alienation tout
It is significant that Bll imagined literary production, and its subsidiary activity transla-
tion, not as an experimental, potentially transgressive transformation of the underlying
material of social life, but in line with his sthetik des Humanen [Aesthetics of Human-

33 Philip E. Lewis, Vers la traduction abusive, in Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe & Jean-Luc Nancy (eds), Les Fins
de l'homme: partir du travail de Jacques Derrida (Paris: Galile, 1981), 253-61; The Measure of Transla-
tion Effects, in Joseph F. Graham (ed.), Difference in Translation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985),

ity]. Translation was something arising out of petit-bourgeois trades (he himself had learnt
such a trade as an apprentice bookseller before the war). Bll considered writing as a
Handwerk, slotting it thereby into a resolutely lower middle-class aesthetics of accessible
pragmatism. With visible concern, Bll wrote that Mit der rasch fortschreitenden Mechani-
sierung verschwinden ganze Gruppen von Handwerken, mit ihnen ihr Wortschatz, die Na-
men fr ihr Handwerkzeug, ihre Kleider, ihre Lieder. Vergleichen und sammeln. By exten-
sion, he suggested, jede bersetzung ist eine Bereicherung der eigenen Sprache, sie
erweckt Wortbereiche zum Leben, die in der eigenen zu verkmmern drohen, nie vorhan-
den waren oder nicht mehr vorhanden sind (FV 38, 37) [With the rapid progress of mech-
naization whole groups of crafts disappear, and with them their vocabularies, the names of
their tools, their clothing, their songs. Compare and collect. Every translation is an en-
richment of ones own language, every translation awakes areas of language which may be
dying away in ones own language, which are not or no longer available]. The bourgeois
character of what Bll strives for is revealed by what he doesnt do, omissions which be-
come evident in the continuation of the statement just quoted: jede bersetzung ist eine
Bereicherung der eigenen Sprache Worte sammeln, Syntax studieren, analysieren,
Rhythmen ergrnden (FV 37-8) [Every translation is an enrichment of ones own lan-
guage collect words, study and analyze syntax, understand rhythms]. Irene Hinrichsen
has demonstrated that Blls Tree of Man translation neglects precisely these aspects of
Whites prose, systematically discarding his rhythms and syntactic structures.
translation practice consistently, and one may surmise, deliberately annihilates the form and
fabric of Whites text. It may well have constituted an enrichment of the literary field, but it
most certainly contributed nothing to the literary language of its time. In contrast, Later
translators have dealt with Whites prose in a more appropriate manner, claims Helmut

Die deutsche Fassung von Riders in the Chariot (von Curt und Maria Prerauer) beruht nach den Angaben der
bersetzer selbst auf dem Prinzip, die Spannungen der Whiteschen Sprachen unerschrocken in die deutsche
Diktion zu bertragen und den Schwierigkeiten nicht durch Umschreibung oder Nivellierung auszuweichen,
sondern die Diktion des Originals zu folgen, um die Verbindung von Stil und Gehalt auch im Deutschen zu er-

[The German version of Riders in the Chariot, translated by Curt and Maria Prerauer, is based, according to the
translators, on the principle of fearlessly transporting the tensions of Whites language into German diction,
and not to swerve away from the difficulties of this task via paraphrase or flattening-out, but rather, to follow
the diction of the original, so as to preserve the links between form and content in the German translation.]

Paradoxically, however, in his repudiation of experimental form, Bll also implicity ral-
lied against Whites elitism. Rather than a literature which advertised its difference from the
diction of everyday life and disdainfully marked itself off as the domain of a cultural elite,
Bll imagined a literature which, like a church, was geffnet, fr alle brigens ich
glaube nicht, dass Literatur Einweihung erfordert (FV 41) [open, for everyone, by the
way I do not believe that literature demands initiation]. Curiously, in his resistance to

34 See Irene Hinrichsen, Der Romancier als bersetzer. Annemarie und Heinrich Blls bertragungen englisch-
sprachiger Prosa: Ein Beitrag zur bersetzungskritik (Bonn: Bouvier, 1978).
35 Helmut Schrey, Grenzflle einer literaturimmanenten Landes- und Kulturkunde: Die Romane des Australiers
Patrick White, 538.

Whites avant-garde aesthetic and his Antipodean modernism aprs la lettre, Blls transla-
tion technique evinces an unexpectedly democratic streak. This attitude is displayed explic-
ity in the Frankfurter Vorlesungen: Die Voraussetzung, unter der einer nach dem Krieg zu
schreiben anfing, war die Voraussetzung vlliger Gleichheit, die sich als vorbergehend
erwies: jeglicher Avantgardismus, jeder Rckgriff auf revoltionre Literaturformen wren
lcherlich gewesen; es ist sinnlos, Brger erschrecken zu wollen, wenn keine mehr vorhan-
den sind (FV 75) [The conditions under which one started to write after the war were
conditions of absolute equality, conditions which turned out to be merely temporary: every
sort of avant-garde writing, every appropriation of revolutionary literary forms would have
been ridiculous; it is pointless trying to shock the bourgeois when there are none left].
Blls well-known ignorance of Modernist literature resulted, paradoxically, in his resolute
attempt to create what, in the last analysis, was a democratized Tree of Man.
Whites attempt to deal with rural and later suburban Australian reality is a response
to his own cultural elitism and his sense of having relegated himself to a cultural desert
upon returning to Australia from Britain:

It was the exaltation of the average which made me panic most, and in this frame of mind, in spite of myself,
I began to conceive another novel. Because the void I had to fill was so immense, I wanted to try to suggest in
this book every possible aspect of life, through the lives of an ordinary man and woman. But at the same time I
wanted to discover the extraordinary behind the ordinary, the mystery and the poetry which alone could make
bearable the lives of such people, and incidentally, my own life since my return.

Whites project can be seen to be exemplified in his characters Stan and Amy, whose exis-
tential being is located both above and below the quotidian mediocrity which he so feared.
Whence the speechlessness and the transcendence attributed to Stan: If a poetry sometimes
almost formed in his head, or a vision of God, nobody knew, because you did not talk about
such things, or, rather, you were not aware of the practice of doing so (TM 66). Blls
work on Whites style consists of smoothing the ruptures of the text so as to bring the nov-
elistic discourse back into the median domain of everyday language. As mentioned above,
Bll re-adjusted Whites fragmentary sentences to make of them normal phrastic units; he
consistently deleted Whites inaugural Ands; his translation often renders explicit what is
left implicit in Whites text, thus relieving the reader of the task of engaging with the enig-
matic or telegraphic character of Whites prose; and the poetic force of the text is attenu-
ated: Whites often shocking and anomalous metaphors are scaled down to similes medi-
ated by a bridging like.
Simon During has argued that Whites version of cultural critique, namely an elitist at-
tack on Australian suburban ordinariness, was tolerated for so long because it contributed to
the preservation of an illusion of the homogeneity of that ordinariness. From the 1960s
onwards, it became increasingly clear that the suburban quotidian actually concealed a
myriad of differences differences which Whites complicity in the construction of a
monolithic notion of middle-class mediocrity helped to elide. During suggests that neither
metaphorical, metaphysical writing, nor the moral alternative, genuinely suggests solutions
to the tensions of Australian society in transformation. White, he claims, cannot be appro-

36 Patrick White, The Prodigal Son, in Ken Goodwin and Alan Lawson (eds.), The Macmillan Anthology of
Australian Literature (London: Macmillan, 1990), 375.

priated as source of productive cultural myths.
Whites cultural critique reposes to a great
degree upon the culpabilization of everyday life, and in particular of its representative
members, women (reduced, in his cruel satire, to the physicality of labour inside their
stays, dark[ness] at the armpits and rocking and mocking [TM 282]). Whites anachro-
nistic avant-gardism, a version of high Modernism transplanted from a Europe where it had
long since been superseded, thus targeted individuals, at the cost of remaining blind to
broader social shifts. To that extent, his aesthetic became partly instrumental in the mainte-
nance of the Anglo-Australian cultural consensus aesthetically and socio-politically its
opposite and equally anachronistic in relation to the real dynamics of postwar Australian
Paradoxically, Blls democratization of White, his re-insertion of precisely those mid-
dle-class values which White rejects, can be understood as a covert critique, albeit an apo-
litical one, of Whites elitism. Bll reveals Whites elistism, however, at the cost of losing
the potential political edge in Whites use of language. The merit of Whites analysis is to
lay bare the political edge of the language of the everyday. This is in stark contrast to Blls
lack of interest in political language except to say that it has lost its meaning: Das Voka-
bular der groen Welt ist so nichtssagend wie das der Politik: in eine sthetik der gespro-
chenen Sprache eingeordnet, wrden ein Flickschuster und eine Marktfrau Knig und K-
nigin Man hat mich mit einiger Herablassung oft einen Autor der kleinen Leute genannt:
peinlicherweise empfinde ich solche Einschrnkungen immer als Schmeichelei (FV 38-9)
[The vocabulary of the larger world is as banal as that of politics: placed within an aesthe-
tics of spoken language, a shoemaker or a market woman would range with a king and a
queen Ive been patronizingly called an author of the ordinary man on the street: Im
embarrassed to say that I always take such put-downs as a compliment]. Whereas Whites
attack on the banality of suburban speech implies a political critique of middle-brow lan-
guage, to declare political speech meaningless, as Bll does, is to retreat from the political
stage and to leave its largely conservative actors to their own devices. To all intents and
purpose, the ostensibly apolitical domain of the lower middle-class from which Bll came
and to which, at the period of the White translation, he was still committed, remained all the
more political by dint of the invisibility of its political affiliation. In the field of the writers
aesthetic, the same phenomenon can be observed. It is instructive to compare Blls notion
of war as absurd, with Anna Seghers more incisive perception of war as part of capitalist
Blls attempt to create a bewohnbare Sprache is a liberal, middle of the road,
politically centrist attempt to deal with political forces which it finally can only leave intact.
Thus one myth (Whites elitist genesis) is transformed into another myth (Blls lower-
middle class apolitical community utopia).

Myth today

The primary mode of reception of Australia (and more recently of Australian Studies) in
Germany (and in the German academy) has been that of myth. To the extent that it instanti-

37 Simon During, Patrick White (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1996), 98-100.
38 Reid, Heinrich Bll, 68.

ates both an avatar of the mythologization of Australia in Germany and of the deconstruc-
tion of Australian self-mythologization, the episode of Heinrich Blls translation of Patrick
Whites Tree of Man can be read as an expanded dialectical image la Benjamin
longing to the history of Australian-German cultural relations.
Germany has at times functioned as a projection screen for Australian self-imagination,
as in Henry Handel Richardsons Maurice Guest (1908), or more recently in Anna Funders
Conversely, images of Australia have consistently informed German fantasies
of its own outside, from Therese Hubers fictional epistolary novel Abentheuer auf einer
Reise nach Neu-Holland [Adventures on a Journey to New-Holland] (published serially in
the womens journal Flora in 1973-4
) through to Wim Wenders film Bis ans Ende der
Welt [Until the End of the World] or the enthusiastic reception of the fraudulent Mutant
Message from Down Under (luridly entitled Traumfnger in its German translation). The
recent history of German immigration to Australia is a case in point. The imaginary fabric
underpinning real immigration has modulated from 1930s and 1940s Jewish refugees sense
of banishment to a remote cultural wasteland in which they were received with barely dis-
guised hostility,
via a pragmatic acknowledgement of Australias potential for starting
anew in a place remote from the rubble of postwar Europe, through 1980s immigration as
political protest (environmental destruction and the threat of nuclear apocalypse), to 1990s
lifestyle immigration. Blls translation of The Tree of Man can be read, as I suggested
above, as undertaking an unintentional deconstruction of Whites no less unintentional
contribution to a homogeneous Australia.
To that extent it can also be understood as a proleptic critique of German utopias of the
antipodes a critique which is simultaneously entangled with the idealized end of the
world transported back to Germany even at the moment of disillusionment. Blls transla-
tion and its anti-idealistic politics are particularly apposite at the early 2000s moment of
writing. The Tampa episode, when the Australian government refused landing rights to a
Norwegian container ship which had rescued a boat-load of refugees, and the scandal of the
privately managed internment camps for illegal refugees at Woomera, the erstwhile rocket
range and nuclear-weapons testing-ground in outback South Australia, has badly dented
German fantasies of Australia. The application of the epithet concentration camp in the
German press to the Woomera internment camps is symptomatic of a narcissistic wounding
undergone in recent years by the German collective imaginary. Australia no longer serves
as the anaclitic projection screen for German fantasies, the idealized (literally antipodean)
antithesis to its own past. At that moment, Australia fails to function as the upside-down,
back-to-front mirror image offering an escape-route from postwar Germanys sense of
shame. Abruptly, the elements to which it has now ceased to offer a redemptive alternative
are re-imposed, in an almost punitive gesture, upon the erstwhile paradise.

39 Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, ed. Rolf Tiedmann (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1983), I, 576-8.
40 Henry Handel Richardson, Maurice Guest (London: Virago, 1981); Anna Funder, Stasiland (Melbourne: Text
Publishing, 2002).
41 Therese Huber, Abentheuer auf einer Reise nach Neu-Holland, in Flora: Teutschlands Tchter geweiht, 1
(1793), 241-74; 2 (1794) 7-43, 209-75.
42 See Volker Elis Pilgrim, Doris & Herbert Liffman (eds), Fremde Freiheit: Jdische Emigration nach Austra-
lien: Briefe 1938-1940 (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1992).

A version of this process in miniature was dramatized in an Australian Studies seminar I
gave at the University of Lneburg in 2002. Roughly a third of the sessions were devoted to
indigenous issues and aimed to give a sober picture of Australias dealings, past and pre-
sent, with its indigenous peoples. Members of the seminar reacted initially with absentee-
ism, passivity and lethargy, and later with openly expressed dissatisfaction and bitter disil-
lusionment this last term being meant literally. By stressing brutal realities of living
black in contemporary Australia, it would seem that I had deprived my students of a cher-
ished fantasy image of the fifth continent. The seminar enacted the loss of an idealized objet
petit-a lautre de lAllemagne, Australien. This seminar provided a synecdoche, I
suggest, of a broader collective phenomenon of dis-illusionment regarding a fantasized
Returning to Benjamin, Blls translation from half a century ago can be understood as a
dialectical image, one which is dialectical precisely because proleptic, linking past and
present, 1950s and the 2000s. It is dialectical also to the extent that it participates both in
idealization and in its deconstruction. In its own adaptation of Whites Genesis-narrative
(spanning both Paradise and Expulsion, Creation and Fall), Blls translation looks forward
from its own moment through the various phases of German fantasizing about Australia,
from pragmatism via idealization to disappointment.
A significant blind spot in German-speaking Australian Studies is the failure of the dis-
cipline to reflect its own implication in collective fantasies of Australia as idealized or ex-
coriated Other. English studies as a whole has begun to reflect upon its own history,
whether in the metropolitan, colonial or settler-colonial context.
Heinrich Blls transla-
tion (idealization and critique) provide a pre-history of the present, in the Foucauldian
sense, of the later ascendancy of utopian images of Australia in Germany. In speaking of
genealogy as a counter-memory, Foucault evokes a mode of scientific knowledge which
is not afraid to admit its own entanglement with the history which it investigates:

[C]ette histoire effective ne craint pas dtre un savoir perspectif. Les historiens cherchent dans toute la me-
sure du possible effacer ce qui peut trahir, dans leur savoir, le lieu do ils regardent, le moment o ils sont, le
parti quils prennent, lincontournable de leur passion. Le sens historique, tel que Nietzsche lentend, se sait
perspective, et ne refuse pas le systme de sa propre injustice. Il regard sous un certain angle, avec le propos
dlibr dapprcier, de dire oui ou non, de suivre toutes les traces du poison, de trouver le meilleur antidote.
Plutt que de feindre un discret effacement devant ce quil regarde, plutt que dy chercher sa loi et de sy
soumettre chacun de ses mouvements, cest un regard qui sait do il regarde aussi bien que ce quil regarde.
Le sens historique donne au savoir la possibilit de faire, dans le mouvement mme de sa connaissance, sa g-

[This effective history is not shy of being a pespectival knowledge. Historians tend to try their utmost to erase
everything in their discipline which may betray the place from which they gaze, the moment in which they find
themselves, the loyalties they have, the inevitability and undeniablity of their passion. Historical sense, such as
Nietzsche understands it, knows itself to be perspectival, and does not deny the system of its own injustice. It
gazes from a specific point of view, with the clear intention of appreciation, of saying yes or no, to follow the
traces of poison and search for an antidote. Rather than feigning a discrete self-effacement with regard to the

43 See Chris Baldick, The Social Mission of English Criticism, 1848-1932 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987);
Gauri Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India (1989; London: Faber,
1990), and John Docker, In a Critical Condition: Reading Australian Literature (Ringwood, VIC: Penguin,
44 Michel Foucault, Nietzsche, la gnalogie, lhistoire Dits et crits II, 150

objects of its gaze, rather than taking its law from the object and allowing its movements to be dicated by that
object, it is a gaze which knows where it gazes from just as it knows that it gazes. Historical sense opens up the
possibility, in the very movement its of self-knowledge, of carrying out its own genealogy.]

Foucaults comments on the admission of subjectivity in (and into) ostensibly objective
scientific research foreground, in his words, the undeniable passion which underpins the
academic undertaking. Desire and the place and history of history are inextricably linked
according to this perspective.
Roland Barthes and others have also reminded us of the extent to which desire propels
academic research. Barthes opposes the discourse of scientificitity, that of the Law, to the
discourse of desire, a discourse which places writing and its anti-pragmatic, self-reflexive
dynamics, in the foreground. This mode of writing obeys his precept, namely, that [l]e
travail de recherche doit tre pris dans le dsir
[Research work should be implicated in
desire]. However, desire is at stake not only in the mode of writing, or in the decision to
make ones communication writerly rather than merely utilitarian and content-based, but
also in the choice of the field of research. David Dabydeen regards desire as a motor in
university studies and research from a clearly sceptical, not to say jaundiced, point of view:

Courses on [West Indian] culture are considered sexy, they are swamped by eighteen to twenty-one-year-old
white undergraduates who come seeking excitements other than intellectual. Some have black lovers, or have
smoked marijuana. All have danced to Bob Marley. The richer ones have lain under the sun of Barbados.
Speaking generally, they attend West Indian Literature classes because they find their own culture jaded, lack-
ing frisson and danger. To be a West Indian Literature student is to be cool, hip and sub-cultural, like the sub-
ject of their enquiry, the blacks who inhabit the ghettos of Kingston or Brixton.

In a rather more positive vein, Stephen Muecke, in an imaginary Dialogue with a Post-
Graduate Student Wanting to Study Aboriginal Culture, writes:

But before we talk about your field, I would start to question one thing, and even incorporate it into your thesis
eventually: your desire. In post-colonial theories, psychoanalytic paradigms are often used to interrogate just
this situation. Your desire for the other, what form does it take? To begin with there is the lure of the exotic, the
other culture as exotic.

Here, Muecke appears to concur with Dabydeen. In the long run, however, Mueckes view
of desire in academic research, be it undertaken by teachers or students, is more complex:

In this model, a centre-periphery ratio is set up, an anthropological model which takes the European as central,
but really only makes it visible through the contrast with the exotic. ... Or you could take your desire as histori-
cally loaded, guilt-ridden. Do you want to study Aboriginal culture to extirpate that guilt, or display it? ... Are
you punishing yourself, or going to find the people who will do it to you? ... Lets keep in mind that you are
going to embark on a thesis, a piece of writing in a university. ... Your desire is located there too, to gain a
qualification, eventually a job, to write and to know. Desire in relation to the Other is perfectly okay. You just
have to ask how your desire might work for or against your thesis work, or for or against the work of the

45 Roland Barthes, Jeunes chercheurs, Essais critiques IV: Le Bruissement de la langue (Paris: Seuil, 1984),
46 David Dabydeen, Teaching West Indian literature in Britain, in Susan Bassnett (ed), Studying British Cul-
tures: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 1997), 135.
47 Stephen Muecke, Textual Spaces: Aboriginality and Cultural Studies (Kensington, NSW: University of New
South Wales Press, 1992), 198-99.

Desire has been excluded from research and its reflection until now. But it probably moti-
vates far more than we suspect. Blls translation may also provide elements of genealogy
in the Foucauldian sense of contextualizing a discipline in time, place and an network of
passions of Australian studies in Germany, in that it sounds the bedrock of desire and
projection which informs German imaginations of Australia. What would be the appearance
of an history of an Australian studies which would admit its passion? It would mean think-
ing about the worldliness of texts, about their participation in the historical moments in
which they are located and interpreted, in Saids words.
It would mean acknowledging,
in Walter Benjamins sense, not only the historicity of the object studied, but also the his-
toricity of the intellectuals interest in that object that its own historicity is formed by its
interest, and by the interested act of drawing the object in its pastness into the dynamic of
the present:

Man sagt, da die dialektische Methode darum geht, der jeweiligen konkret-geschichtlichen Situation ihres
Gegenstandes gerecht zu werden. Aber das gengt nicht. Denn ebenso sehr geht es darum, der konkret-
geschichtlichen Situation des Interesses fr ihren Gegenstand gerecht zu werden. Und diese letzte Situation
liegt darin beschlossen, da es selber sich prformiert in jenem Gegenstande, vor allem aber, da es jenen Ge-
gendstand in sich selber konkretisiert, aus seinem Sein von damals in die hherer Konkretion des Jetztseins
(Wachseins!) aufgerckt fhlt.

[It has been said that the dialectical method is concerned with taking account of the concrete historical situation
of its object. But that is not sufficient. Because it is equally important to take account of the concrete historical
situation of an interest in the object. And this latter situation is constructed in such a way that the interest in the
object is preformed in the object, but above all, that in its interestedness it concretizes the object, dislodges it
from its existence in the past and advances it to the higher concretness of the now (and its acuteness!).]

48 Edward W. Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (London: Faber & Faber, 1983), 4.
49 Benjamin, Das Passage-Werk, I, 494-5.

Csaires Bard:
From Shakespeares Tempest to Csaires Une Tempte.

In her milestone text Reading Shakespeare Historically, Lisa Jardine contrasts her experi-
ences of teaching Renaissance studies, and Shakespeare in particular, to students at the
universities of Cambridge and London:

At Cambridge it was never easy to ask the question, Does Shakespeare matter? Teaching there at the very
heart of British high culture, one took entirely for granted in ones teaching the centrality of his plays to a lit-
erature course. I could assume that my students would claim familiarity with the entire corpus of works
(including the poems). Most of my students had already formed opinions on the worth of the major plays in the
Shakespeare canon, and would confidently offer views as to the relative merit of specified passages of blank
verse. It was, in fact, extremely difficult to coax students into confessing ignorance on any point of textual de-
tail in a play under consideration such was their expectation that as elite students they ought to be able to
master Shakespeare.
My London students, by contrast, are quite comfortable confessing ignorance of all but a small number of
Shakespeares plays (Hamlet, Lear, Othello, their set texts for their A-level examination), and voluble in their
willingness to admit that they have difficulty in construing the lines on the page. Most important of all, they re-
quire persuading that the study of Shakespeare is as important as I persist in insisting it is.

What Jardines anecdote demonstrates is the varying degrees of complicity between the
institution, with its canonization of certain literary texts or authors, and student recipients in
universities of differing degrees of proximity to the circuits of political, economic and cul-
tural power. Students from the civic universities of London (established in the nineteenth
century and clearly less tightly enmeshed in the structures of worldly power than Oxbridge)
are correspondingly less readily prepared to pay obeisance to the grand icons of cultural
hegemony than their counterparts at the nations two oldest universities. Bearing this in
mind, a pedagogy which on the one hand takes cognizance of the hegemonic status of
Shakespeare but on the other is also concerned to explore alternative perspectives upon the
Bard may profitably take as a starting point students own complicity or otherwise in the
canonization of the canonical text of European literature par excellence. In what follows I
suggest that this questioning of the centrality of a European literary text may be profitably
pursued by comparison with one of its non-European avatars.
In this chapter I wish to address the question of the canonization European culture and its
destabilization by writers from beyond European shores by looking at a concrete example
of translation: the 1969 adaptation of Shakespeares Tempest produced by the Martiniquan
writer Aim Csaire, Une Tempte.
It is for this reason that I choose to read, rather than

1 Lisa Jardine, Reading Shakespeare Historically (London: Routledge, 1996), 3.
2 All references are to Aim Csaire, Une Tempte (Paris: Seuil/Thtre, 1969), hereafter UT, and William
Shakespeare, The Complete Works, ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Oxford: Clarendon Press/Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 1988).

European Tempest adaptations such as Audens The Sea and the Mirror (1944) Libue
Monikovas Caliban ber Sycorax [Caliban on Sycorax] (1990) or Marina Warners Indigo
Csaires Une Tempte. Csaires rewriting of Shakespeare can, I think, stand as an
example of how the centrality of Europe and its literary canon can be subverted from out-
side, drawing on the latent centrifugal forces inherent in the central text itself. This specific
case study examines one of many reworkings of The Tempest, but remains significant given
the persisting dominance of Shakespeare as epitomizing European culture, and the symp-
tomatic character of attempts to confront that dominance. As Helen Gilbert observes, Writ-
ing back to The Tempest is by no means new; in fact this project has become so widespread
in postcolonial literatures that it would seem politically pass were it not for the bardola-
try that continually revalidates the imperial canon while excluding more local texts.
will argue that Csaires appropriation of Shakespeare and questioning of his cultural cen-
trality is so successful because the Martiniquan dramatist knows how to exploit the subver-
sive potential in the Bard himself. Translation in this form traduces the dominant text
because it harnesses the forces of discontent at work in that text from the outset.
Lisa McNee has approached Csaires Shakespeare adaptation from the point of curric-
ula demands, seeing in it the opportunity of introducing students to a postcolonial text on
the back of the canonical Shakespeare original. Shakespeares Tempest often figures on
Great Literature courses common in the broad but relatively superficial undergraduate
degrees in liberal arts in the American university system. Within the narrow confines of
such courses there is little scope for going beyond the established canon. McNee suggests
that one may be able to smuggle in the postcolonial with the help of such related but de-
rivative texts such as Csaires Tempest-adaptation.
My concern here is slightly different.
I am interested in teasing out the pedagogical implications both of the canonical reach of
the Shakepearean text, and the subversive, anti-canonical potential inherent in that text
itself a potential which the centrifugal force of Csaires traducing of the authoritarian
Western text succeeds in bringing to light.

Cultural hegemony in Une Tempte

The problem of cultural hegemony is immediately manifest in Csaires Tempte. As
soon as one attends a performance of the play, or opens a copy of the script, one is con-
fronted by relations of colonial and postcolonial dependence embedded in the very subtitle
of Csaires drama: Daprs Shakespeare. Adaptation pour un thtre ngre (UT 7)
[Adapted from Shakespeare for a black theatre]. The subtitle announces first a relation of
dependence, and only secondarily a process of change. From the outset, it would appear, the
play conforms to a certain history of derivative, secondary types of non-Western cultural

3 W. H. Auden, The Sea and the Mirror in Collected Longer Poems (London: Faber & Faber, 1968), 199-253;
Libue Monkov, Caliban ber Sycorax: Nach Shakespeare und Arno Schmidt, in Unter Menschenfressern:
Ein dramatisches Men in vier Gngen (Frankfurt/Main: Verlag der Autoren, 1990), 29-62; Marina Warner,
Indigo, or, Mapping the Waters (London: Chatto & Windus, 1992).
4 Helen Gilbert, Sightlines: Race, Gender and Nation in Contemporary Australian Theatre (Ann Arbor: Univer-
sity of Michigan Press, 1998), 29.
5 Lisa McNee, Teaching in the Multicultural Tempest, College Literature, 19/20 (1993), 195-201.

production, parasitic upon Europe. The universal figure of Shakespeare casts his shadow
over the particular and local thtre ngre. It would thus seem justified to ask whether
Csaire, in appropriating Shakespeare as his model, albeit in order to displace the Bards
cultural centrality by means of a new setting and insertion in a new cultural paradigm, has
not simply confirmed stereotypes of the marginality and parochiality of Third World litera-
Certainly similar criticisms have been made before of Csaire, notably in the context of
his concept of cultural regeneration under the banner of la Ngritude, in particular by
Maryse Cond. In an important interrogation of Csaires ethic, she asked whether the crea-
tion of a black aesthetic did not in fact imply the assumption of a cultural paradigm itself a
function of the colonial relationship that of the Negro, a concept created by the West, she
claimed such that the process of liberation was hindered rather than accelerated by the
model chosen.
The tenor of this criticism was taken up in the specific context of the Tem-
pest adaptation by other writers such as Georges Ngal, who asked in 1970 whether, si
Shakespeare est toujours aux cts [de Csaire] celui-ci a-t-il vraiment russi introduire
son univers dans lle de Prospero? [whether, if Shakespeare is always alongside Csaire,
whether the latter has really succeeded in introducing his universe into Prosperos island?]
Ngal accuses Csaire of having fallen into the trap of an imitation trop pouse du drama-
turge lisabthain [a too exaggerated imitation of the Elizabethan dramatist] which pre-
vents the adaptation from escaping from the influence of its model.
This is, however, an
objection which the play itself goes some way to answering. It is namely in the plays active
harnessing of elements of transformation already at work in Shakespeares earlier drama, in
order to enact an ongoing process of change, I would suggest, that Csaires text evades
recuperation by an immobilizing European cultural paradigm.
Responses to Csaires creative and iconoclastic translation of Shakespeare can be di-
vided into two groups. The first consists of the critical reception of the play in the years
immediately following its first production in 1969. The second belongs to a set of revision-
ary readings of the cultural impact, particularly in the Third World, of Shakespeares Tem-
pest. The problematic of assimilation and recuperation, however, has received no adequate
treatment in either of these categories of critical responses to Une Tempte. The first group
tends to work with an inadequately problematized and analysed version of Shakespeare, a
version of the classic which serves merely as a foil for Csaires reworking, and thus re-
mains intact as an exemplar of Western cultural hegemony. The second group, broadly
speaking, concentrates on the diachronic contrasts between respective reappropriations by
Third World writers, playwrights and poets of the Caliban/Prospero duo, necessarily giving
scant attention to Csaires appropriation of Shakespeare, the emphasis being upon a con-
testatory tradition with its own coherence. Once again, the Shakespearean text tends to
remain curiously inert in this configuration.
In so far as the critics have neglected, till now, to present an alternative version of
Shakespeare in their examination of the particular Csaire-Shakespeare dynamic a version
of Shakespeare that has been developed coherently elsewhere in literary studies by critics

6 Maryse Cond, Ngritude csairienne, ngritude sehgorienne, Revue de littrature compare, 48: 3-4 (Juil-
let-Dcembre 1974), 413.
7 Georges Ngal, Aim Csaire: De Shakespeare au drame des Ngres, Cahiers de littrature et de linguistique
applique, 2 (1970), 179.

working with new historicist and cultural materialist models
they have failed to address
one half of a dialectical relationship between Shakespeares and Csaires texts. A closer
examination of the truly dynamic nature of this intertextual relationship can, I think, do
much to counter accusations of assimilation or recuperation in Csaires artistic practice,
thereby contributing to a more accurate picture of oppositional cultural practice in the Car-

The critics Bard(s)

The problems inherent in the extant analyses of the Csaire-Shakespeare dynamic are of
two orders. The first is the tendency to leave Shakespeare unanalysed, to use the
Shakespearean text, in reading Csaire, as a mere label in opposition to which Csaires
strategies are read off. Even as detailed and thorough a reading of Csaires modification to
the Shakespearean text as that of Grard Durozoi identifies countless elements of Shake-
speares drama merely in order to demonstrate Csaires novelty but without articulating
the links which make of those elements of the original a functioning whole productive of
social meanings.
This (wholly understandable) bias in Csaire criticism gives rise to the
second problem, an apparent readiness to take for granted the ahistorical, extra-contextual
status of Shakespeare, his unmatched universality to quote one reading of Csaires
Shakespeare adaptation.
Georges Ngal, typically, comments that Shakespeare est un
prtexte. Cest du drame des Ngres quil sagit
[Shakespeare is a pretext. The real topic
is the drama of the negroes]. Such a move, in foregrounding the political context of the
Csaire rewriting, displaces Shakespeare from the analysis altogether, in a sort of Bloomian
patricide which, paradoxically, simultaneously confirms the universal status and authority
of the literary Father to the extent that no alternative reading of paternity is offered. Thomas
A. Hales claim that il nest point besoin davoir lu la Tempte pour comprendre sa
[Csaires] version de la piece [one does not need to have read The Tempest to understand
Csaires version of the play] this lack of interest in offering readings of Shakespeares
Lilian Pestre de Almeidas brief mention of Shakespeares wit functions merely as

8 With regard to The Tempest, the most notable examples of this critical trend are Francis Barker and Peter
Hulme, Nymphs and Reapers heavily vanish: the discursive con-texts of The Tempest, in John Drakakis
(ed.), Alternative Shakespeares (London: Methuen, 1985), 191-205; Jonathon Dollimore and Alan Sinfield
(eds), Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism (Manchester: Manchester University Press,
1985); Stephen J. Greenblatt, Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture (New York/London:
Routledge, 1990); Stephen Orgel, Shakespeare and the Cannibals, in Marjorie Garber (ed.), Cannibals,
Witches and Divorce: Estranging the Renaissance (Baltimore/London: The Johns Hopkins University Press,
1987), 40-66.
9 Grard Durozoi, De Shakespeare Aim Csaire: notes sur une adaptation, LAfrique littraire et artistique,
10 (1970), 9-15. Durozoi does identify a conservative, view of history in Shakespeares play (14-15), but it is
a purely inert model, not one that is productive as Csaires is deemed to be.
10 Robert P. Smith, Jr, and Robert J. Hudson, Evoking Caliban: Csaires Response to Shakespeare, CLA
Journal, 35: 4 (June 1992), 398-99.
11 Ngal, Aim Csaire: De Shakespeare au drame des Ngres, 173.
12 Thomas A. Hale, Sur Une Tempte dAim Csaire, Etudes Littraires, 6: 1 (Avril 1973), 24.

the counterpoise to Csaires verbal creativity.
Similarly, she notes the ambiguity of the
Shakespearean text and the rich multiplicity of its codes, but declares her intention not to
probe further in that direction.
Her rendering of these ambiguities reveals an attitude
similar to that of Ngal, in a commentary upon Csaires Une Saison au Congo, where he
describes Lumumba as un tre shakespearien: le grotesque, le pathtique se ctoient sans
se gner...
[a Shakespearean being: the grotesque, the pathetic rub elbows without em-
barrassment]. Such a characterisation arises out of a concept of literature according to
which the work of art is an artefact which reconciles opposites, harmonizes conflicts, re-
maining thus at safe distance from the turbulence of social and political life.
Shakespeare, in these readings, continues to figure, albeit implicitly, as the poet of per-
ennial human questions and universal values, a status which he possesses unchallenged
across European culture. Daninos claims, in his analysis of the Csaires play, that Shake-
speare voque mtaphoriquement les passions qui agitent le coeur de lhomme en tout
temps et en tout pays et qui rendent sa vie si tumultueuse [Shakespeare evokes metaphori-
cally the passions which sway the heart of man in every age and in every land and which
make his life so tumultuous], and sees in the original text a purely metaphysical, and thus
ahistorical problematic.
Durozois attribution to Shakespeare of lambition de synthtiser
sur scne le sens total de lhistoire [the ambition of synthesizing on stage the total mean-
ing of history] is symptomatic of this trend.
Such readings neutralize the historicity, the
instability and productive possibilities of the Shakespearean text, thus eliding one half of
the rewriting operation which Csaire undertakes in conflictual partnership with his prede-
cessor dramatist. Even a critic such as Eric Robert Livingstone, who indicates his awareness
of recent re-appraisals of The Tempest, does not integrate such analyses into his own read-
ing of Csaire.

One reading of Csaires adaptation, that of Joan Dyan, is notable for its insistence upon
the way in which Shakespeares text is reinvented by Csaires, such that the latters text
takes its place in a process of continuing complications of Shakespeare. Dyan draws atten-
tion to Shakespeares subversive decentering of power and legitimacy and of his [grasp
of] the full irony of the colonial experience, but in such a way as to reinforce the reifica-
tion under which the Shakespearean text labours in these analyses.
The decentering de-
scribed remains ahistorical (decentered for whom? in the context of which cultural para-
digms of otherness? against the background of which colonial practices?) and purely imma-
nent, produced by an academic reading of the text, but hardly grounded in a real process of
work upon the linguistic strategies which legitimize colonisation. The question of the politi-

13 Lilian Pestre de Almeida, Un puzzle potique: introduction lanalyse des jeux du langage dans Une Tempte
dAim Csaire, Prsence Francophone, 14 (1977), 124.
14 Lilian Pestre de Almeida, Le jeu du monde dans Une Tempte, Revue de littrature compare, 51 (1977),
15 Georges Ngal, Le thtre dAim Csaire: une dramaturgie de la dcolonisation, Revue des Sciences Humai-
nes, 14 (1970), 634.
16 Guy Daninos, Une Tempte de Csaire ou le prlude dune nouvelle renaissance, La Licorne, 9 (1985), 153.
17 Durozoi, De Shakespeare Aim Csaire: notes sur une adaptation, 14.
18 Robert Eric Livingstone, Decolonizing the Theatre: Csaire, Serreau and the Drama of Negritude, in J. Ellen
Gainor (ed.), Imperialism and Theatre: Essays on World Theatre, Drama and Performance (London/New
York: Routledge, 1995), 192.
19 Joan Dayan, Playing Caliban: Csaires Tempest, Arizona Quarterly, 48: 4 (Winter 1992), 140, 129, 128.

cal moment in which and for which the Shakespeare text was produced is consistently
elided in the context of the Shakespeare-Csaire relationship, thus flattening out what is in
fact a dialectical process of productive instability.
This discrepancy is all the more surprising in critics speaking of a postcolonial dramatist
who relentlessly obliges them to address his own political context and engagement. Ngal
says that Lintention de Csaire est donc visible: le cri de Caliban contre Prospero est celui
du Ngre dress contre lOccident. Prospero, cest lOccident, Caliban, le Ngre. Mais
derrire celui-ci se profile limmense cortge de tous les sous-dvelopps du Tiers-Monde
placs face ce mme Occident...
[Csaires intention is clear: Calibans cry against
Prospero is that of the Negro rising up against the West. Prospero is the West, Caliban the
Negro. But behind this latter can be seen the immense mass of the underdeveloped Third
World confronting this same West.] Hale provides more specific contextual indices for
Csaires dramatic aesthetics, reading them in the light of criticisms made of Csaire in the
Assemble Nationale for his supposedly inadequate display of gratitude for gift of Western
a paternalist, colonialist ascription already modelled in Shakespeares drama.
Une Tempte has likewise been read in the context of Martiniques continuing dependence
upon France and the political ambiguity inherent in that situation, and Csaire himself
pointed towards the Black American allusions in the play. Such contextualization is how-
ever absent with regard to the Shakespeare of Csaires rewriting, an absence, I will argue,
which elides the productive mainspring of the process of rewriting undertaken by Csaire.
The elision of the productive complexity of Shakespeares Tempest, the tendency to ac-
cept implicitly the unquestioned status of the play as a cultural artefact immune to critical
scrutiny, when addressing the issue of its adaptation for a Caribbean context, is deeply
problematic. For the sacrosanct character of Shakespeare as a cultural icon has played a role
by no means negligible in the maintenance of the ideologies underpinning colonialism in its
nineteenth- and twentieth-century manifestations.
Several studies have shown how much
the triangle Caliban, Ariel and Prospero has been entangled with the development and
maintenance of European imperialism throughout four century-long history.
The elision of
Shakespeare as an object of analysis in the discussion of Csaires Tempte implies (para-
doxically, in the context of a play which energetically contests colonial hegemony) the
acceptance as paradigmatic just that universal standing which was so energetically con-
tested by non-European critics of the West. Such claims to universality justified the teach-
ing of Shakespeare on the curriculum of colonial schools as a bearer of values reinforcing
the acceptance of colonial ideology. To leave unquestioned the ideological employment of
Shakespeare is tantamount to tolerating the ongoing import of foreign values into the subal-
tern culture by the colonizing power.

20 Ngal, Aim Csaire: De Shakespeare au drame des Ngres, 171.
21 Hale, Sur Une Tempte..., 33-5.
22 See Cartelli, Prospero in Africa: The Tempest as Colonial Text and Pretext and Marion F. OConnor, Thea-
tre of the Empire: Shakespeares England at Earls Court, 1912, in Jean E. Howard and Marion F.
OConnor (eds), Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology (London: Routledge, 1993), 68-
99, 99-115.
23 Trevor Griffiths, This Islands mine: Caliban and Colonialism, Yearbook of English Studies, 13 (1983),
159-80; Alden T. Vaughan and Virginia Mason Vaughan, Shakespeares Caliban: A Cultural History (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

The ideologically laden character of such universal values such as the opposition of
nature and culture or chaos and order as they appear in discussions of this version of
Shakespeare can be illustrated by an example from the prominent critic Frank Kermode. He
states that

Caliban is the ground of the play. His function is to illuminate by contrast the world of art, nurture, civility ...
Caliban represents ... nature without benefit of nurture; Nature opposed to an Art which is mans power over
the created world and over himself; nature divorced from grace, the senses without the mind ... he is a natural-
ist by nature, without access to the art that makes love out of lust; ... he is born to slavery and not to freedom,
of a vile and not of a noble union; and his parents represent a vile natural magic which is the antithesis of Pros-
peros benovelent Art.

Kermodes assumption that values such as nature and culture function on a universal,
non-specific plane elides the political character of the oppositional relations he accepts as
structuring the plays meanings, and the real import of such structures in the culture of
imperialism. G. Wilson Knight is more explicit in speaking of Britains colonizing, espe-
cially her will to raise savage peoples from superstition and blood-sacrifice, taboos and
witchcraft and the attendant fears and slaveries, to a more enlightened existence. Little
ingenuity is needed to find correspondences with Prospero, Ariel and Caliban.
These are
the types of mechanism that go unquestioned when, for example, Ngal uses a supposedly
Shakespearean critical terminology of harmonious coexistence of opposites which sits
uneasily alongside the same critics clear exposition of the manifestly political content and
militant intention of Csaires dramatic writing. The implicit assumption of the unproblem-
atic status of the Shakespearean text evident in the extant critical reception of Csaires
Tempte is a strange capitulation to European cultures claims to universal validity, a ca-
pitulation paradoxical among critics explicitly concerned to privilege the particularity of
their own cultures over against the imposition of cultural norms from Europe. Moreover,
this reading of Shakespeare elides an important aspect of the dynamic generating Csaires
own critic of Western culture and his dynamic privileging of Third World cultural heritages
celebrated by Ngritude and its avatars.
Such a reading of Shakespeare neglects the possibility that Csaires own situation as a
writer in a very specific context led him to a perception, perhaps only partial, perhaps intui-
tive rather than historically or theoretically elaborated, but nonetheless crucial for his own
response to Shakespeare, of the Renaissance dramatists own particularity. Csaires rendi-
tion of Shakespeare draws attention to the points where Shakespeares text is anchored in a
set of strategies themselves responding to the contradictory demands and pressures of an
historical context. Indeed, I will attempt to show that Csaires text, in its difference from
Shakespeares, is generated out of those very points of contradiction; that the twentieth
century politicized version of Shakespeare gains its creative impulse from a sensitive read-
ing of the points at which Shakespeares drama is not universal, but rather intensely particu-
lar, and thereby unavoidably political.
Csaires own reading of The Tempest reveals a very different appreciation of Shake-
spearean drama from that of most of his critics: Jai essay de dmythifier la Tempte ...

24 Frank Kermode, Introduction, The Tempest (London: Methuen, 1964), xxiv-xxv.
25 G. Wilson Knight, The Crown of Life: Essays in Interpretation of Shakespeares Final Plays (London:
Methuen, 1952), 255.

En relisant la pice jai t frapp par le totalitarisme de Prospero ... Je minsurge lorsquon
me dit que cest lhomme du pardon. Ce qui est essentiel chez lui, cest la volont de puis-
[I tried to demystify The Tempest. Re-reading the play, I was truck by Pros-
peros totalitarianism. ... I cant stand it when Im told that he is man of forgiveness. Whats
central in him is the will to power.] It is hardly surprising that Csaire as a Dput for
Martinique and as the author of two plays about colonial and postcolonial power struggles,
La Tragdie du Roi Christophe and Une saison au Congo, should have been sensitive to the
imbrication of the dramatic text in relations of power. Csaire as reader (and subsequently
as an adaptor of Shakespeare, I hope to show) brings the question of power back into under-
standings of the Elizabethan dramatist.
This may appear to be a platitude today, but is startlingly contemporary, when one con-
siders what Shakespeare criticism was saying as a general rule in the 1960s. Listen to Anne
Barton, for example, praising Prosperos ethics of pardon: Prospero stands, through much
of the play, as a successful substitute for heaven. As a judge of good and evil, handing out
reward for the one and punishment for the other, he is accurate and scrupulously fair. This
is the way the gods should act.
In contrast, Csaires reading of The Tempest produced a
Prospero who, in opposition to the moral high-ground occupied by Shakespeares character,
proclaims unashamedly, Cest mon humeur Je suis la Puissance [Thats my whim I
am Power], and implements that power by means of an arsenal anti-meutes [counter-
insurgency weapons] (UT 46-47, 77). Such a reading, rather than distorting Shakespeare,
as critics claimed upon seeing Csaires play, liberates the latent conjunction between spec-
tacle and power in what Shakespeares Prospero with apparent euphemism, but also surpris-
ing directness, refers to as My potent Art (5.1.50).
In this context, an alternative genesis of Csaires adaptation of Shakespeare needs to be
proposed. Csaires Tmpete harnessed, indeed was generated by the fact that it identifies
the way the original play was grounded in the conflicts and contradictions of a highly poli-
ticized context. A reading of that context can help to appreciate to what extent Shake-
speares text was an unstable artefact, rather than the satisfyingly dramatic resolution of
disparate destinies and political strife which traditional criticism has seen in the play. Just as
Csaires earlier plays, La Tragdie du roi Christophe and Une Saison au Congo, arose out
of historical conflicts, and were themselves polemical interventions in an ongoing history,
so Une Tempte is triggered by Csaires identification of a conflict structuring Shake-
speares dramatic art in The Tempest. It is the presence of conflict, and its concomitant, the
possibility of transformation, which generate the anti-canonical transformation which
Csaires play both embodies and thematizes.

The Tempest at the Jacobean Court

Let us go back to Shakespeares Tempest and to the context in which it would have been
received by an early seventeenth-century audience. The multiple facets of The Tempest are

26 Le Noir, cet inconnu. Entretien avec Aim Csaire par Lucien Attoun, [Les Nouvelles littraires, 17 juillet
1969], cited in Thomas A. Hale, Les Ecrits dAim Csaire: Bibliographie commente (Montral: Les Presses
Universitaires de Montral, 1978), 464-5.
27 Anne Barton, Introduction, The Tempest (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), 44.

condensed in the wedding masque presented by Prospero for the two young lovers. In this
performance-within-the performance, the audience is presented with an image of its own
docile acceptance of the values advanced by the play. Prospero constantly reminds Miranda
and Ferdinand of their duty to observe codes of chastity. Prosperos subsequent harping
upon chastity during the masque performance, echoed by the masques enactment of the
successful struggle between turbulent desire (Venus and Cupid) and chaste wealth and
harmony (Iris and Ceres), aims to curtail the distractions of desire between the young spec-
tators, in favour of attention towards the performance, in which the audience sees itself
reflected as co-operating in the production of social order rather than anarchy. Miranda and
Ferdinands docility as an audience is in itself a display of social docility in which poten-
tially turbulent desire is channelled into the productivity of docile social relationships. The
young couples obedient attention thus confirms Prosperos power as master of ceremonies,
as a producer of socially potent performances of ideological interpellation. Prosperos
masque performance of a contract of true love (4.1.133) effectively embodies his power-
ful strategies to enact my present fancies as he himself says (4.1.121-2).
The early seventeenth-century audience watching this play-within-the-play would thus
have been offered a dynamic portrayal of their own response to the play, which, it is im-
plied, will be equally docile. The Tempest was performed at the court of James I of England
in 1611 and in 1613 on the occasion of the strategic marriage of James daughter Elizabeth
to the most powerful Protestant prince of North Europe, the Prince Elector of the Palatinate.
In this context, the play presented the audience with dramatized and performed attitudes of
docility towards royal power, together with the performance of the acceptance of such atti-
tudes. Prosperos god-like omnipotence as king of the island reflected Jamess own claims
to divine authority, from well before his accession to the English throne onwards, in par-
ticular in his treatise Basilikon Doron (1599). In the figure of Prospero as peace-maker and
reconciler of enemy factions audiences would have detected allusions to James achieve-
ment of peace with Spain shortly after his accession to the throne. The spectators would
have also understood Prosperos strategies of diplomatic reconciliation as an allegory of
Jamess aspirations to unify Scotland and England in a single British nation. Yet if the play
harnessed the political potential upon Jamess brief popularity as the engineer of an alliance
between England and the most important Protestant prince on the continent, it also alluded
to James loss of his recently deceased son Henry, popular with the English people for os-
tensibly displaying a militant Protestantism in a way his father the king did not. The play
gestures at Henrys very recent death, by suggesting that that just as Alonso regains, at the
moment of the discovery of Ferdinand and Miranda in the grotto, the son he initially
thought to have lost in the shipwreck, so the marriage of Elizabeth and Frederick compen-
sated for the much lamented loss of Prince Henry. Thus the marriage permitted James to
appear as the executor of his deceased sons plans for a grand Protestant alliance, but one
based on diplomacy rather than military undertakings. Equally, the felicitous tale of the
happily resolved shipwreck was replete with references to the Virginia plantations, a project
supported by Henry with the design of establishing a Protestant counterweight to Spanish
activities in the Americas.
Once again, it was the father who was presented as achieving

28 Graham Parry, The politics of the Jacobean masque, in J. R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring (eds), Theatre
and Government under the Early Stuarts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 93, 104.

aims acceptable to the Protestant party rallying behind the son, by means of diplomatic
methods favoured by the father. The play thus offers various positive images of James, at
the same time as presenting a figure of audience acceptance of an ideology of approbation
of the sovereign.
However, Prosperos production of the marriage masque comes to an abrupt end as he is
reminded of Calibans imminent uprising. More importantly, The Tempest terminates with a
curious epilogue in which Prospero, addressing the audience, admits his powerlessness as
controller of theatrical reality: Gentle breath of yours, my sails | Must fill, or else my pro-
ject fails | Which was to please (Epilogue, 11-13). Just as the abrupt termination of the
Prosperos masque is accompanied by a meditation upon the illusory character of theatrical
representation, so Prosperos transgression of the frame of the theatrical universe, when
he acknowledges the presence of the audience, constitutes a reduction of performance to
mere spectacle. The ideological interpellation which Prospero so masterfully wielded ap-
pears, at the moment when he addresses the real audience, to be a less than certain
achievement. The audience, it seems, possesses a greater degree of agency than hitherto
apparent from the plays figuration of spectator coercibility. This is abundantly clear in
Prosperos statement that the plays action cannot be closed unless the audience grants its
approval; that is, the goal of Prosperos machinations, his ultimate reinstatement as Duke of
Milan, which constitutes the narrative closure of the drama, is entirely dependent upon
audience ratification. If Prosperos masque portrayed the audience role as one of docile
acceptance of an aesthetic of flattery of royalty, the closing lines of The Tempest radically
destabilize such functions and transfer power back to the spectators. Shakespeares play
thus offers the audience a spectacle of flattery of the sovereign before whom it was per-
formed. Yet at the very moment of including a figural indication of audience response
within the ideological spectacle, so as to enact interpellation at work, it necessarily drew
attention to the merely spectacular, and thus illusory nature of the theatrical representation.
From the very moment of presenting the audience with a figure of its own docile consump-
tion of ideology, the play revealed its dependence upon audience cooperation in what tran-
spired to be a contractual relationship.
This instability in The Tempest points to tensions around the person of James I which
had been increasingly evident since his accession to the throne in 1603 upon the death of
Elizabeth. As a Scot, he was regarded with suspicion, and his policy of ostentatiously lav-
ishing favours on a small group of Scottish courtiers did not help matters. James soured the
general population by his grudging participation in, or complete absence from public cele-
brations such as his royal entry to London upon his accession to the crown, or the funeral
procession for his highly popular son Henry, withdrawing from the public eye not unlike
the ill-advised Prospero prior to the loss of his dukedom (1.1.70ff). Jamess diplomatic
endeavours to make peace with Spain made him into a supporter of the Catholic cause in
the eyes of many who desired a more militant association with the Protestant states on the
continent. James had increasing difficulty persuading Parliament to grant him funding for
his lavish spending, and after the failure of his efforts to gain monies for the celebrations
around creation of Prince Henry as Prince of Wales in 1610, he effectively ruled without
Parliament from 1611 to 1621 reigning alone not unlike Prospero on the island.

29 J. L. Kenyon, Stuart England (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1983), 68.

tensions would become particularly acute as Jamess son Henry, especially since becoming
Prince of Wales a year before the first performances of The Tempest, increasingly began to
be associated with the radical Protest party at court. When James married his daughter
Elizabeth to the Protestant Elector of the Palatinate, Frederick, some of these conflicts were
allayed. However, with the eruption of the Overbury affair in 1616 and the execution of
Ralegh in 1618 Jamess public image would be irretrievably damaged. The Tempest is thus
a devious drama, simultaneously flattering the king and winking at factions at court, and
large sectors of the wider population, who did not favour what they perceived as temporiz-
ing and pro-Catholic policies. Shakespeare appears to have been writing for the multiple
public Sartre declared to be the motive force behind political theatre, and which was cer-
tainly present in the court of James and the theatre-going public.
Clearly, far from repre-
senting simply a figure of pardon and justice, Prospero is a ruler whose power is deeply
ambiguous, his diplomatic talents hiding a will to power which in turn masks his uncertain
command of his subjects approval. Shakespeares play portrays both the will to power at
work in the process of colonization, the coercive role of theatre in the maintenance of
power, and the inherent instability of such power.
Csaire, it seems, sensed the contradictions in Shakespeares play, and worked to fore-
ground them, having Prospero describe, for instance, le spectacle de ce monde de demain:
de raison, de beaut, dharmonie, dont, force de volont, jai jet le fondement (UT 67)
[the spectacle of this world of tomorrow a world of reason, beauty, harmony, for which,
by dint of my will, I have laid the foundations]. The harmony achieved by diplomacy, but
belied by strategies of power, and in turn undermined by the illusory character of spectacle,
are all present in this one statement by the master of the island. As Lilian Pestre de Almeida
has commented, Csaire explicite, tant lambivalence [renders explicit, stripping away
the ambivalence] in Shakespeares play
but in such a way as to amplify conflict, rather
than to resolve it. In other words, the half-hidden Shakespearean contradictions between
spectacular power and the spectators power of veto are levered wide open by Csaires
rewriting of the earlier text, to display a fully developed crisis of power: Puissance! Puis-
sance! Hlas! Tout cela se passera un jour comme lcume, comme la nue, comme le
monde. Et puis quest-ce que la puissance si je ne peux dompter mon inquitude! allons!
Ma puissance a froid (UT 71) [Power! Power! Alas! All this will pass away one day like
froth, like clouds, like the world. And what is power if I cant vanquish my uneasiness!
Come! My power is cold]. Prosperos famous meditation upon the illusions of theatre, and
indirectly, upon the illusions of the spectacles of power, is compressed by Csaire into a
realization that power itself is an illusion, an impossible goal.
Subversion of the image of the powerful king of the island is operated in Shakespeares
play by means of the interrogation of theatrical convention, by overstepping and thus dis-
solving the frames of theatrical illusion.
This tactic is taken up by Csaire when he too
foregrounds the artifices of theatrical performance by opening Une Tempte with a distribu-
tion of roles. The production of the play becomes part of the performance, as the Meneur du
jeu nominates various actors to play the parts of the respective characters. This replies to
Shakespeares Prospero, by usurping the power of the master of the island. For where Pros-

30 See J.-P. Sartre, Quest-ce que la littrature (Paris: Gallimard/Ides, 1984).
31 Pestre de Almeida, Le jeu du monde dans Une Tempte, 94.
32 See Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama (London: Methuen, 1980), 87-8.

pero rais[ed] [a] sea-storm (1.2.178), it is Csaires Meneur du jeu who proclaims Mais il
y en a un que je choisis: Cest toi! Tu comprends, cest la Tempte. Il me faut une tempte
tout casser (9). [But theres one that I choose: you! Understand, this is a Tempest. I want a
tempest to smash everything]. The Meneur du jeu, clearly outside of the fictional world of
play and yet on the stage, orchestrates a tempest removed from the control of Prospero.
Prosperos power is broken from the very beginning of the performance, in an iconoclas-
tic move which seizes upon the relativization of theatrical illusion emergent only at the
close of Shakespeares play. Furthermore, the distribution of roles demonstrates the arbi-
trary character of social power and status, undermining in advance Prosperos racist gener-
alizations about les sauvages (UT 72) [the savages]. In this way, Csaire takes up Shake-
speares signalling of the fragility of the theatrical undertaking, itself a function of political
contradictions within the Jacobean audience, in order to turn these contradictions back upon
the racial power relationships which Shakespeare appears to have implicitly cast into ques-
tion in an earlier context. The process of rewriting is a performative demonstration of a
process of accelerating political change.
Prosperos admission of dependence upon the audience dismantles the entire perform-
ance of power which has gone before. This collapse of illusory power, however, is prefig-
ured shortly before the close of the play, when the beneficent white magician admits to his
hearers the assembled nobility of Milan and Naples, This thing of darkness | I acknowledge
mine (5.1.278-79). Caliban is thus objectified and demonized, yet simultaneously, Pros-
pero, in assuming ownership, also reveals Calibans central role in the reconstruction of his
ducal identity, just as he had earlier acknowledged that his island kingdom reposed upon
Calibans labour: We cannot miss him. He does make our fire, | Fetch in our wood, and
serves in offices | That profit us (1.2.313-15). This fleeting admission of the masters de-
pendence upon the slave can perhaps also be read as a an avowal of the constructed nature
of the stereotypes of primitive exoticism, and a recognition of the extent to which images of
alterity were implicated in English identity in the Jacobean age. What appears to be a mar-
ginal slip in the dramatic narrative of Prosperos power is seized upon, however, by
Csaire, to become the central axis of Une Tempte. It is this relationship, with its deep
complexity, which becomes the focus for audience identification in a drama conceived, as
Csaire explicitly states, pour un thtre ngre (UT 7). The instability here resides in the
stalemated struggle between Prospero and Caliban, where the colonial master remains on
the island, in contrast to his Shakespearean predecessor, to overcome the seed of doubt
sowed in his own capacity to master the underling, a seed sowed by Calibans unbending
will to resistance. Csaire has Prospero say: Eh bien moi aussi je te hais! | Car tu es celui
par qui pour | la premire fois jai dout de | moi-mme (UT 90) [Well, I hate you too!
Because its because of you that I doubted myself for the first time]. Csaire shows that
This thing of mine is not just the slave as an object to be possessed, but the colonial rela-
tionship which structures the very identity of the oppressor, making it impossible for the
latter to abandon power without a loss of selfhood. It is this deadlock which contributes to
the durability of the colonial relationship, such that the end of Csaires play offers no reso-
lution or termination of colonial power. Rather, very much in a Brechtian mode, the play
leaves the audience to identify with a situation which is their own, that of an unfinished
process of decolonization and incipient neo-colonialism. Csaire has said, Le thtre rem-
plira sa fonction sociale, non seulement en faisant voir, mais aussi en faisant comprendre et

prendre conscience. Cela rejoint les ides de Brecht. Mon thtre a une fonction critique. Il
doit inciter le public juger
[Theatre will fulfil its social role not only by making people
see, but also by making them understand and become aware. This links up with Brechts
ideas. My theatre has a critical function. It should force the public to think critically].
Csaire performs Shakespeares Ariels verbal complaint: Is there more toil? Since thou
dost give me pains, | Let me remember thee what thou has promisd, | Which is not yet
performd me (1.2.2243-45). It is curious that most critics claim that Ariel is granted his
freedom at the end of The Tempest, whereas in fact, a close examination of the text reveals
a rather different state of affairs. The last we hear of Ariel is Prosperos promise of free-
dom, on the proviso of another act of obedient service (5.1.243, 253-55): effectively, this
constitutes yet another deferral of freedom. Once again, this ambivalence in Shakespeares
portrayal of Prospero is amplified by Csaire into the durable continuation of the struggle
between colonizer and colonized. Audience identification, in Csaires harnessing of the
points of contradiction of Shakespeares text, is no longer directed towards the spectacle of
power and harmonization of conflicts, and the request for ideological ratification, but rather,
towards critical identification with a political struggle which retains its relevance for the

Anthropophagic aesthetics

It should be evident by now that Csaires appropriation of Shakespeare, far from being
a case of assimilation which brakes the process of anti- and post-colonial transformation,
takes its impetus from the moments of contradiction present in Shakespeares drama, them-
selves indices of social and political tensions structuring the earlier context of production. A
more appropriate model of cultural transformation is called for than the model of simple
adaptation which serves most of the criticism on the Shakespeare-Csaire relationship.
This model of adaptation tends to leave intact the authority of the prior, originary term of
the transformative relationship, as was evident in the acceptance of the ahistorical status of
Shakespearian drama. Rather, we need a model of intertextual re-working which takes ac-
count of the corrosive effect of re-writing, as in Kristevas model of negativity
or more
appropriately in this context, the theory of anthropophagic literary productivity formulated
by the Brazilian writer Oswaldo de Andrade.
Assimilation, a term generally used to
denote the elision of the subaltern culture, gains in this context an ironical and unexpected
twist of meaning!
In this conception of literary production, the Third World writer devours the works of
other writers in order to transform them completely, just as the digestive process breaks

33 Csaire quoted in Pierre Laville, Aim Csaire et Jean-Marie Serreau: Un acte politique et potique, Les
Voies de la cration thtrale 2 [Paris: Editions du CNRS, 1970], 240).
34 See Julia Kristeva, La Rvolution du langage potique: Lavant-garde la fin du XIXe sicle: Lautramont et
Mallarm (Paris: Seuil, 1974), 102.
35 Leyla Perrone-Moiss, Anthropophagie, Magazine Littraire 187 (Septembre 1987), 47-50; Susan Bassnett,
Comparative Literature: A Critical Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), 153-54. See also Lilian Pestre de
Almeida, Dfense et illustration de lanthropophagie: Le point de vue priphrique, in M. a M Ngal et M.
Steins (eds), Csaire 70 (Paris: Editions Silex, 1984), 123-139.

down and transforms food. This literary cannibalism negates the objects it digests, precisely
in order to avoid the trap of assimilation, recuperation, or reproduction of models of de-
pendence: it recognises the necessity of devouring in order not to be devoured. Such a
model, I think, is adequate to take account of Csaires radical rewriting of Shakespeares
Tempest, and of the way in which it eludes a relationship of cultural dependency upon its
predecessor. Calibans injunction to Stephano and Trinculo, to seize [Prosperos] books
(3.2.90) has been well heeded by Csaire.
For his adaptation of The Tempest constitutes in many ways a destruction of the original.
Csaire reported that Jean-Marie Serreau ... ma demand si je voulais faire ladaptation.
Jai dit daccord, mais je veux la faire ma manire. Le travail termin, je me suis rendu
compte quil ne restait plus grand-chose de Shakespeare.
[Jean-Marie Serreau asked me
whether I wanted to undertake the adaptation. I said, Ok, but I want to do it my way. When
Id finished the job, I realized that there wasnt much Shakespeare left.] In the light of an
anthropophagic aesthetics, Csaires there wasnt much left sounds like a well-satisfied
culinary evaluation!
European critics, whose responses to contestatory, Third World reappropriations of The
Tempest include a history of identifying such rewriting of the originals with error or as
philistine, were perhaps not entirely unperceptive in their sense that Csaires version of
The Tempest betrayed Shakespeare.
For they were confronted with a play which refused
to be subordinated to the master text, which resisted subaltern assimilation to the authority
of the prior model. Une Tempte does this, however, not by simply displacing the earlier
text, as in Georges Ngals reading of the Shakespeare-Csaire relationship, thus ironically
leaving the master-text unanalyzed and thus intact. Rather, Csaires reworking of Shake-
speare is a productive form of destruction, liberating latent forces of contradiction in the
earlier Tempest which conservative criticism has often laboured to conceal. It is significant
that in Csaires Tempte, there is no rendition of Calibans You taught me language, and
my profit ont | Is, I know how to curse (1.2.365-66). Contra-diction is not repeated, as a
form of slavery to a master text, but rather released and reoriented in the performative pro-
duction of novelty. Calibans linguistic counter-attack is no longer stated, it is simply en-
acted, from the very moment he comes on stage with his cry of freedom in Swahili, Uhuru
(UT 24). Literal quotation of Calibans curse would hardly be appropriate in a text where
the process of cursing, the appropriation of colonial language in order to turn it against the
slave master, is dispersed through the whole text, indeed, is the text.
It is this ostensive, performative character of oppositional transformation which makes
Csaires theatre not just a celebration of liberation projects, but in its relationship with one
of the iconic texts of European culture, already embodies a process of transformation via
usurpation. It is precisely in its engagement with that prior model, and foregrounding of that
engagement, that Csaires version of Shakespeare becomes a producer of cultural and
political change. I have suggested that it was by virtue of identifying the points at which the
Shakespearean text betrayed its own implication within a conflictual political situation, that
Csaire was able to generate an aesthetics of transformation. In other words, it was via an

36 Un pote politique: Aim Csaire interview par Franois Beloux, [Magazine littraire, 34 (Novembre
1969)], in Hale, Les Ecrits dAim Csaire: Bibliographie commente, 466.
37 Rob Nixon, Caribbean and African Appropriations of The Tempest, Critical Enquiry, 13 (Spring 1987), 558;
Hale, Les Ecrits dAim Csaire: Bibliographie commente, 462-3.

iconoclastic act of recognition of a particular, rather than a universal, canonical Shake-
speare, that Csaire triggered a process of subversive literary production. Une Tempte
itself is based in particularity: it is replete with references to contemporary race struggles.
Indeed, the title of the play, Une Tempte, rather than being an act of modesty, an admis-
sion that Csaires Tempte no longer had much in common with that of Shakespeare, as he
brashly proclaims its singularity, and makes the exercise a repeatable one. The
indefinite article posits the potential existence of an infinite series of singularized Tempests,
each one based in a particular political context to which it would constitute a strategic re-
sponse. This, indeed, encapsulated the theatrical aesthetic espoused by Csaire and Jean-
Marie Serreau: each production involved substantial alterations to the plays performed,
often in function of audience response, evolving political circumstances, or the suggestions
of the actors.
This particularity has made Une Tempte age quickly, as some critics have
But the selfsame singularity also underlines the fact that the play resists any
attempt to recuperate it for an apolitical politics of universal values of the sort Shake-
speare once stood for.

The Bard and border pedagogy

If, as I have been suggesting, Csaire harnesses the latent centrifugality of Shakespeares
theatre to create a postcolonial aesthetics which is perennially anticanonical, reading such
theatre in the school or university classroom might potentially be an equally unsettling
experience. To that extent, it may well be that Csaire thereby also liberates centrifugal
forces in the educational institution itself. Abdul R. JanMohamed suggests that all peda-
gogic institutions are potentially heterotopic in Foucaults sense of the term: they are
bounded, liminal spaces which reflect, support, engender, but also distort, contradict, or
interfere with other parts of society. They are discrete realms in which society undertakes
the formation of subjectivity, agency, systems of value, regimes of truth. Pedagogical insti-
tutions are thus deeply invested spaces for hegemonic and counterhegemonic contestations.
JanMohamed states:

As such, pedagogic institutions are sites where borders are constantly drawn and redrawn borders that define
epistemic, ethical, cultural, social, political, economic, gender, racial, and class spaces and that legitimate and
valorize them positively or negatively. The pedagogic apparatuses will thus produce some subjects who are
content to remain within the prescribed borders and others who will violate them, reluctantly or willfully, pain-
fully or with pleasure, or, in practice, with complex, overdetermined combinations of affects.

38 Interview par Franois Beloux, in Hale, Les Ecrits dAim Csaire: Bibliographie commente, 466.
39 Pierre Laville, Aim Csaire et Jean-Marie Serreau: Un acte politique et potique, 255 ff; Livingstone,
Decolonizing the Theatre: Csaire, Serreau and the Drama of Negritude, 196; Thomas A. Hale, Dramaturge
et public: La nature interactive du thtre dAim Csaire, Aim Csaire ou lathanor dun alchimiste: Actes
du premier colloque internationale sur loeuvre littraire dAim Csaire (Paris: Editions Caribennes, 1987),
40 Nixon, Caribbean and African appropriations of The Tempest, 577; Livingstone, Decolonizing the Theatre:
Csaire, Serreau and the Drama of Negritude, 196.
41 Abdul R. JanMohamed, Some Implications of Paulo Freires Border Pedagogy, in Henry A. Giroux and
Peter McLaren (eds), Between Borders: Pedagogy and the Politics of Cultural Studies (New York: Routledge,
1994), 248.


To teach Csaire in relation to Shakespeare in such a border institution is to situate oneself
in a decentering, decanonizing action, and thus to engage upon an interrogation of the cul-
tural icons which secure the discursive fabric of cultural power. Situating our literary teach-
ing on the borders between centre (Shakespeare) and periphery (Csaire) allows us to make
those borders visible, to become aware of the ways in which they traverse the pedagogical
institution itself, and to offer choices to students and teachers alike regarding the positions
which they in turn take up, both inside the classroom and out.

Teaching Nomadism:
Inter/Cultural Studies in the Context of Translation Studies

Translation has been at the heart of some of the most momentous interdisciplinary innova-
tions in the social sciences in the twentieth century. Lacans translation of Freud using the
instruments of structuralist linguistics produced a novel theory of subjectivity; Lvi-Strauss,
similarly wielding Saussurian linguistics, resulted in a translation of traditional ethnogra-
phy; and Marx found himself translated by Althusser in a further application of the notion
of structure. Translation figures in all these cases as a metaphor for the transgressive hy-
bridization of disciplinary boundaries which produces radically new possibilities of knowl-
edge and critique in the social sciences. Translation in the broadest sense is an operation
which establishes continuity across a space of discontinuity, making heterogeneity produc-
tive for intellectual pursuit.
Anglo-American cultural studies is itself a case in point, as it has grown out of a fruitful
dialogue between literary studies and studies of popular culture, with linguistics, psycho-
analysis and ethnology being co-opted as powerful analytical instruments. The translative,
interdisciplinary operations at work in the genesis of cultural studies as a new disciplinary
area are perhaps symptomatic, in a sense, of what Homi Bhaba discerns as the operations of
translation in the very object of cultural studies enquiries, suggesting that all forms of
culture are in some way related to each other because culture is a signifying or symbolic
activity. The articulation of cultures is possible not because of familiarity or similarity of
contents, but because all cultures are symbol-forming and subject-constituting, interpella-
tive practices. Bhabha goes on to specify that by translation he primarily means a proc-
ess by which, in order to objectify cultural meaning, there always has to be a process of
alienation and of secondariness in relation to itself. In that sense there is no in itself and
for itself within cultures because they are always subject to intrinsic forms of transla-

Translating cultural studies

In this chapter, I wish to give this translative turn in cultural studies a further interdis-
ciplinary revolution by confronting Anglo-American cultural studies with a double transla-
tion on the one hand into the specific pedagogic context of teaching translation studies,
and on the other, beyond its own national sphere into the European context.

1 Homi Bhabha, The Third Space, Interview by Jonathon Rutherford, in Jonathon Rutherford (ed.) Identity:
Community, Culture, Difference (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990), 209-10.

This project involves a number of translative steps. The first is that of explicitly situat-
ing cultural studies in a concrete pedagogic context, an increasingly prominent issue of
discussion among cultural studies theorists, as the Internet discussion group cspedagogy
indicates. This first translation implies an ethical task which can be helpfully elucidated
with reference to some of the underlying principles of Lvinas philosophy of alterity.
Three aspects of Lvinas philosophy of the Other are pertinent in the context of teaching in
institutes of higher education. First, the notion that Selfhood does not contain its own ori-
gin, but is preceded and founded by an an-archic Other.
Secondly, that the Other questions
my existence, that the face of the Other person casts into question the self-sufficiency of my
existence, and imposes upon me a responsibility which is not of my choosing.
And thirdly,
that the duo of self and Other, with the potential dilemma of moral responsibility for an
Other whose action is immoral, needs to be complemented by responsibility for a Third
Party [le tiers].
Translated in a manner perhaps too cavalier and inadequate to do justice
to the complexity of Lvinas philosophy, but in a way which, I hope, nonetheless remains
faithful to the spirit of his ethical undertaking into the context of tertiary teaching, it is the
students who found our teaching practice and in the last analysis provide its raison dtre.
The faces which confront me in the classroom impose upon me a responsibility to address
their immediate present as learners and their future as prospective graduates.
What increasingly intrudes upon the teacher-student duo is the employment market and
the demands of the subsequent profession. This situation has led academics such as Ansgar
Nnning and Andreas Jucker, in a recent paper on the teaching of English studies in Ger-
many, to suggest that the content of tertiary teaching should be dictated more by the needs
of students than by the teachers own research.
Here I would like to suggest that the
teacher-student relationship functions as a sort of transfer relation in which the reciprocal
translation of apparently quite heterogeneous discourses into hitherto autonomous domains
transpires to be highly fruitful. Where some teachers have written of generic conflicts aris-
ing from the translation of the imperative of professional orientation into the classroom
space with its pedagogical imperative, I would like to stress the complementarity of the
two genres,
suggesting that the needs of students for a later entry onto the employment
market can fruitfully guide our teaching practice.
This does not mean slavishly subordinat-
ing our teaching to a set of narrowly pragmatic criteria, but rather, responding to the ethical
imperative to find out market uses for the skills imparted by a critical and even oppositional

2 Emmanuel Lvinas, Autrement qutre ou au-del de lessence (Paris: Livre de poche, 1990), 125.
3 Emmanuel Lvinas, Totalit et Infini: Essai sur lextriorit (Paris: Livre de poche, 1990), 203-77, Emmanuel
Lvinas, Humanisme de lautre homme (Paris: Livre de poche, 1987), 50 ff.
4 Interview with Lvinas in Franois Poiri, Emmanuel Lvinas Qui tes-vous? (Lyon: La Manufacture,
1987), 97, 101.
5 See Ansgar Nnning and Andreas H. Jucker, Anglistik/Amerikanistik 2000: Pldoyer fr einen studentenori-
entierten Kurswechsel, Anglistik: Mitteilungen des deutschen Anglistenverbandes 10:2 (1999), 169-92.
6 See Arkady Plotnitsky, Complementarity: Anti-Epistemology after Bohr and Derrida (Durham: Duke Univer-
sity Press, 1994).
7 Peter Cowley and Barbara Hanna, Is There a Class in this Classroom?, Australian Review of Applied Lin-
guistics [Special Issue: Teaching Language, Teaching Culture] Series S, 14 (1997), 119-34. Many thanks to
Barbara Hanna for giving me access to her work, some of it not yet published.

The reason why this apparent clash of genres in reality manifests complementarity is that
operations of translation in fact form a common denominator which establishes a contin-
uum linking the classroom, professional contexts towards which the classroom can con-
stantly refer, and the culture in which teaching practices are inserted. Taking translation
seriously as a unifying figure across a range of pedagogic, professional and cultural prac-
tices means responding to the ethical imperative to abandon what Appadurai calls the kind
of illusion of order that we can no longer afford to impose on a world that is so transpar-
ently volatile.
In other words, the corrosive and creative confrontation with Alterity per-
vades the form, content and function of what I shall call an inter/cultural studies informed
by translative processes at every level. This chapter argues that the notion of nomadic
thought proposed by Rosi Braidotti as an adaptation of Deleuzes concepts of nomadism
and the nomadic war-machine is an apposite one to take account of the transformations
wrought by pedagogical responses to encounters with foreign cultures.
Translation can be
understood here as a broad process, the key to which is the learning of nomadic thought.
The suggestions in this chapter arise out of my own experience of taking up a teaching
position in a German University of Applied Sciences ostensibly to provide technical trans-
lation students with cultural competencies corresponding to their technical translation skills.
This aspect of their training was clearly seen within the department as subordinate to the
technical skills imparted, as the area-studies positions, reserved for English, Spanish,
French and Russian native speakers respectively, were pegged lower down the pay scale
than the technical translation professorships. Such an attitude was also shared by the stu-
dents themselves, who, understandably, were vigorously resistant to theoretical or non-
technical teaching.
Two challenges were contained in this situation: to allow the intrusion
of the professional world into the academic space of cultural studies so as to produce new
stimuli for that discipline; and to offer students a range of critical perspectives which simul-
taneously would break apart a relatively narrow insistence upon instrumental technical
skills and equip them for the genuinely ubiquitous cultural processes at work in the transla-
tion profession.
The underlying dynamic of the translation act itself, however, can offer the basic model
for a form of cultural studies with both responds to the clearly expressed needs of students
and asks them to confront a series of questions about the location, constitution, and rele-
vance of cultural practices within their profession. Indeed, I would suggest that cultural
studies, with its claim for the interlocking of cultural process, cultural practice and the con-
struction of subjectivity, provides the theoretical basis for a personal interpellation of the
translation student in her or his very identity as a translator.

8 Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1996), 47.
9 Rosi Braidotti, Introduction: By Way of Nomadism, Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference
in Contemporary Feminist Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 1-40.
10 See Ansgar Nnning and Andras H. Jucker, Orientierung Anglistik/Amerikanistik: Was sie kann, was sie will
(Rienbek: Rowohlt, 1999), 138.

Boundary breaking

In order to unfold the full pedagogic potential inherent in cultural studies when interro-
gated in an intercultural context, however, a degree of transgression of disciplinary bounda-
ries is necessary. Though schematic, the gestures of disciplinary iconoclasm which follow
are intended as ways of responding to the translation of the teaching context into that of
intercultural professions and vice versa. The first gesture consists of radicalizing area stud-
ies (or Landeskunde as it as known within the German-speaking university system). This
discipline is generally seen as a supplement to language teaching as such, and consists of
the transmission of a body of knowledge regarding the politics, geography and institutions
of the culture being studied, as well as ostensibly typical quotidian cultural practices. Three
questions can be asked about this approach to the teaching of culture. A first question is that
of the utility of such knowledge. How is this knowledge to be implemented, what is its
place in an increasingly practical thrust of language teaching, in my case, the training of
technical translators?
A second question is that of the definition of cultural configurations
underlying such an approach, one in which culture is regarded as static, homogenous, and
restricted to institutional or political traditions or some reified aspects of high culture or
typically English/German/French/Spanish characteristics. This questioning comes from
the direction of cultural studies, which problematizes assumptions of the homogenous and
static character of culture, as well as highlighting the complex interactions of high culture,
popular culture and political structures. Thus Annalie Knapp-Potthoff vigorously criticizes
the (diachronically) static and (synchronically) speciously representative character of cul-
tural knowledge for students of a foreign culture.
The third question is that of the relation-
ship between cultures which is constitutive of the act of acquiring knowledge of another
culture. This question is of course particularly present in the context of a translation degree,
where it is impossible to avoid drawing attention to the processes of transmission linking
cultural activities of various national or language areas. How then do students situate them-
selves in relation to the other culture? Is the other culture seen as a homogenous entity held
at a critical distance and regarded by a homogeneous group in the classroom?
Or is the
process of observation itself reflected as a practice carried out within a cultural space no
less heterogeneous than the culture being studied?
My second gesture against disciplinary boundaries is that of the radicalization of cultural
studies, following a lead suggested by Paul Gilroy in the opening sections of The Black
Atlantic (1993). There, he claims that cultural studies has been dogged in its emergence as a
radically critical interdisciplinary pursuit by its clinging to a national (English) paradigm.
This maintenance of national boundaries as the defining framework for cultural studies
constitutes a blind spot which elides the inherently syncretic and hybrid influences contrib-
uting to the construction of modern British society, in particular that of Black slaves trans-

11 See Martina Liedke, Angelika Redder and Susanne Scheiter, Interkulturelles Handeln lehren ein diskurs-
analytischer Trainingsansatz, in Angewandter Diskursforschung, eds. Gisela Brnner, Reinhard Fiehler and
Walther Kindt (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1999), Vol. 2: Methoden und Anwendungsbereiche, 155.
12 Annalie Knapp-Pothoff, Interkulturelle Kommunikationsfhigkeit als Lernziel, in Annalie Knapp-Potthoff
and Martina Liedke (eds), Aspekte interkultureller Kommunikationsfahigkeit (Mnchen: iudicum, 1997),
13 Peter Cowley and Barbara Hanna, Teaching Cultural Skills, Unpublished Paper, 1999, 6.

ported across the Atlantic. It suppresses the cross-cultural origins of radical politics in Brit-
ain, and the on-going syncretism of much compound cultural production in contemporary
British society. Closer to the activity of cultural studies itself, it also forgets the role of
English-speaking outsiders in contributing to the development of conceptions of English-
ness (Carlyle, Swift, Scott, Eliot) to which one would have to add contemporary names
such as Williams, Hall, Bhabha and Gilroy himself. I want to develop the suggestion,
writes Gilroy, that cultural historians could take the Atlantic as one single, complex unit of
analysis in their discussion of the modern world and use it to produce an explicitly transna-
tional and intercultural perspective.
We need to couch the parameters of our programmes
for learning and research increasingly in inter/cultural terms, partly in response to the
mounting recognition of the significance of translation processes in the reciprocal constitu-
tion of cultural identities, as Susan Bassnetts recent work stresses,
and partly in response
to the increasing intensity of cross-cultural contacts in the contemporary world.
Out of these two radicalizing moves, I wish to propose a hybrid pedagogical area which I
term inter/cultural studies one which interrogates cultural identities across a dialectical
reflection upon foreign cultures and the students own culture, working on the assumption
that national cultures, in a postmodern and global era, increasingly constitute each other in
processes of reciprocal if not symmetrical translation.
The diagonal bar within in-
ter/cultural studies points towards the difference, heterogeneity and articulation at the heart
of such a discipline, and its inherently composite character as a bricolage of several al-
ready available models. Not so much the didactic content of the material studied, as the
very form of this reflexive dialectic (the inter of inter/cultural studies) embodies a transla-
tive operation. Culture itself is always a hybrid entity, always constituted in a process of
border-crossings. Furthermore, individual identities are also caught in processes on ongoing
translation and reciprocal modification; in the context of my own teaching practice, an
awareness of identity-as-translation is crucial for the professional identity of intercultural
communicators such as translators. In the realm of translation, the capacity to deal with
differences between languages is predicated upon a subjective configuration which sits
easily with ambiguity and multiple realities: The polyglot, suggests Braidotti, also knows
intimately what de Saussure teaches explicitly: that the connection between linguistic signs
is arbitrary. Thus the polyglot becomes the prototype of the postmodernist speaking
subject; struck by the maddening, fulminating insight about the arbitrariness of linguistic
meanings and yet resisting the free fall into cynicism.

Epistolary translation

To offer a rough idea of what teaching inter/cultural studies in the context of translation
studies might look like, Id like to take a detour by way of a text used in a recent seminar in

14 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic as a Counterculture of Modernity, in Kwesi Owusu (ed.), Black British
Culture and Society: A Text Reader (London: Routledge, 2000), 449.
15 Susan Bassnett, From Comparative Literature to Translation Studies, Comparative Literature: A Critical
Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), 138-61.
16 Nnning and Jucker, Orientierung Anglistik/Amerikanistik, 139-40.
17 Braidotti, Introduction: By Way of Nomadism, 14.

Magdeburg, in order to propose a reading of Robert Dessaixs 1996 novel Night Letters,
translated into German as Briefe aus der Nacht (1997).
It contains nightly letters written
to a friend in Melbourne by an Australian traveller suffering from an incurable disease.
Alongside the several translators who figure in the narrative, the novel as a whole offers an
image of translation in the spatial sense as it is ostensibly a collection of letters, and in the
literary and cultural sense as it constantly has recourse to much transmitted and translated
texts (the Gospels, Dante, Mann, as well as Lermontov and Tolstoy
) to weave the fabric
of its own symbolic work. One intertextual element which embodies transmission and trans-
lation is the recurrent narrative of the Annunciation, which is parodied early on to describe
the Chinese-Australian doctors informing the narrator of his disease. This parodic version
of the Annunciation the narrator wryly observes that there was no point in my murmur-
ing virum non cognosco, of course (NL 6) is one element in a thematic strand con-
cerned with death and disease, contamination, sexuality as a threat to hegemonic order, and
homophobia. A later translation of the Annunciation is the narrators account of a visit to
Giottos chapel in Padua, containing the painters representation of the event, on the Feast
of the Annunciation (NL 209). Padua, significantly, is also the place where narrator cele-
brates heresy as a form of productive translation, opening up dogma, always centrifugal,
leading beyond ready-formed answers to persistent questions a rogue genetic mutation
that makes the species multiply (NL 231). Thus this second perspective on the Annuncia-
tion figures a iconoclastic mode of translation of news, itself translated into many different
versions, not the last of which is Dessaixs own irreverent version of it. The Venetian St
Marks lion also figures a similarly double figure of translation. The narrator is plagued by
recurring dreams of being pursued by a lion and faced with the choice of running away
from it, or being torn to pieces by it. Towards the end of the novel, the dream changes, with
the narrator springing onto the lion, and riding through the jungle on the creatures back
(NL 272). Once again, the evangelists feline mascot embodies the narrators nemesis, until,
by appropriating prior textual models as a mode of transmission, it is transformed into a
resolution of the problem of mortality. The writer is no less mortal than before, but is able
to ride irreverently on the back of the literary works of the past. This positive appropriation
of the lion is never definitive, but needs to be constantly reasserted: in the last chapter, the
view of the Venetian lions motivates the narrator to move on (NL 271).
What is at stake for Dessaixs terminally ill narrator is the transformation of selfhood
through a mode of story-telling based upon translation and transmission both as textual and
spatial principles. He comments, I needed a story, probably because the story of my own
life is in danger of petering out in a series of incomplete sentences, the main thread well and
truly frayed (NL 153). Against this image of phrasal disintegration as an expression of the
incipient extinction of the self, Dessaixs novel offers images of forms of travel that cannot
end because they have no end, and of a selfhood that cannot be obliterated because it is
always already in flux. Thus the narrator fantasizes about an aimless, unpredictable journey
lacking telos and terminus, based upon the desire to be, of course, not to have (NL 13-14).
The narrator yearns for travel in the old sense ... travelling to whet your appetite, to pique

18 Robert Dessaix, Night Letters (Sydney: Pan/New York: Picador, 1996), hereafter NL; Briefe aus der Nacht,
trans. Wolf Koehler (Frankfurt/Main: Krger, 1997; Frankfurt/Main: Fischer, 1999), hereafter BN.
19 See Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover, Aids as the Ultimate Real of the Writer: Robert Dessaixs Night Letters,

your hunger, not to satisfy it (NL 213 ). Here, travel challenges and thus reworks selfhood.
Here the transmission of the self through time and space is to be understood as a constant
process of interrogation, just as translation can be construed not as reconstituing, but rather
questioning an original, opening up novel aspects of the original instead of closing them
down. In this view of travel, the famed Marco Polo is a failed traveller: Theres no sign at
all that his thinking changed about anything he left Italy as an Italian teenager and re-
turned to Italy twenty years later as Italian as hed left it. Nothing he saw seems to have had
the slightest effect on his medieval Italian view of the world. ... he just started at the begin-
ning and ended at the end all very linear. ... Essentially, ... what Im saying is that Messer
Marco Polo had not been anywhere (NL 246-7). This impoverished stability of the self in
conjunction with the absence of a true voyage and a true narrative reverses the principle set
down earlier in the novel by the rather fanciful story of an amulet which is sent from place
to place, successively surviving its various possessors and senders who one after another
die in a colourful variety of ways (NL 47-54). Selfhood is ephemeral, a mere vehicle for the
amulet and the narrative it generates. The amulet passes via its respective owners just as a
text passes from translator to translator, the whole translation history thereby making up a
global picture of what the translation has meant for various generations. The self merely
articulates one of the translative fragments whose mystical sum total Benjamin saw as mak-
ing up true speech. A similar example of translation as a governing metaphor for subjective
global existences would be Eva Hoffmans autobiography, Lost in Translation, which em-
ploys the writers profession as a metaphor for the entire pattern of her life, ceaselessly
characterized by nomadic, cross-border movements.
This mode of selfhood, I would ar-
gue, is one of the underlying principles of education for work in an intercultural context
But lest this all sound too idealist, it is worth underlining that Dessaix novel is entirely
aware of the material aspects, and in particular the costs of translation. If the novel is con-
cerned on the diachronic axis with the subjects fight against death, predicated upon a ques-
tioning of a stable selfhood, it is equally concerned on the synchronic axis with translation
as a dangerously transgressive activity. One of the metaphors of translation which structures
the novel is that of contamination or infiltration. Dessaix writes: The streets around the
Roman ghetto were gated shut as well, but in Rome Jewishness could quite easily leak out
into the city without canals defilement of the Christian body could not be completely
prevented. In Venice at night the ghetto was a sealed-off island. Christians were safe from
the polluting sensuality of the Jew. ... All foreigners, in fact the Armenians, the Turks, the
Albanians were segregated like lepers. At night (NL 131-32). Venice is a contradictory
city, both protected by its island status, and made vulnerable by its canals. Venice embodies
this paradoxical mixture of water as vehicle for traffic, the basis of the citys wealth, and of
the corpus criss-crossed with canals which make of it an open body vulnerable to infection.
According to this simile, translation is both a means of material gain and a transgressive
threat to be strictly policed. Translation as a form of transgression is brutally punished in
two episodes of the novel. In one story told to the narrator by a German professor staying in
the same hotel in Venice, the Renaissance courtesan Camilla gains such power to seduce
her lovers, members of a noble Venetian family, that they eventually orchestrate a gang

20 Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language (London: Vintage, 1998).

rape to punish the courtesans symbolic infiltration of the Venetian establishment and the
affective (if not effective) power she wields (NL 167-8). The same movement of brutal
ejection of a foreign body is rehearsed when the professor himself is beaten up by the staff
of the Venetian hotel he stays in every year, late one night upon returning from a gay club
(NL 198-201). It is precisely this event which motivates the narrator to move on from Ven-
ice, tempering his new-found optimism with a sober appraisal of his own prospects in the
city. These novelistic images of retribution levelled against translation as a contamination
of infiltration point to a real history of political consequences of translation. Lawrence
Venuti documents the potential disruptive force of translations with the example of
Jeromes translation of the Bible from the Hebrew; Christopher Hill describes the caution
evinced by seventeenth-century translators into English and the real threat to absolutist
authority posed by their work.
More recently, Anthony Pym has listed the names of
twelve literary translators whose work has earned them political persecution, imprisonment
or death, while journalists investigating the activities of Serbian militia in Kosovo have
reported threats against the Serbian interpreters charged with betraying too much informa-
tion to outsiders.
All intercultural transactions take place within a configuration of power
relations, with the result that communication between cultures and its individual representa-
tives is seldom symmetrical or equally balanced; such asymmetry will be vigorously de-
fended by those bound to profit from it.
This omnipresence of attempts to control translation is enacted in Dessaixs novel by the
framing introduction and notes written by the letters editor, a certain Igor Miasmov. His
intervention within the text, in his own account, is one of radical censorship: references to
matters of no conceivable interest to anybody apart from close acquaintances (details of
menus and railway timetables, complaints about ... rates of exchange, amorous encounters
and the like) have been omitted from this edited version. What Miasmov claims to have cut
are, precisely, the everyday aspects of translation or transaction digestion, transport,
monetary exchange, love. More radically, Miasmov claims to have standardized the defec-
tive English of the narrators foreign interlocutors in the letters reported speech: As a non-
native speaker myself, I considered I was ideally equipped to make the necessary sensitive
adjustments (NL ix). Once again, tangible evidence of the process of intercultural transla-
tion is suppressed, in a gesture which I take to be symptomatic of some form of projection
of an immigrants impulse to elide his own intolerable foreignness. (Miasmovs deep impli-
cation with the semantic and moral contamination he attempts to extirpate is revealed in his
own name, etymologically a mix of Russian and the Greek for pollution.
But let us return from the text-immanent level to the real processes by which a transla-
tion is produced and distributed in other words, the material and professional context to
which inter/cultural studies should always be oriented. In Wolf Koehlers German transla-
tion of Night Letters (1997), which was studied in the recent seminar in Magdeburg, the
process of editorial intervention is radicalized even further. Miasmovs end-notes are both

21 Lawrence Venuti, Translation and the Formation of Cultural Identities, in C. Schffner and H. Kelly-Holmes
(eds), Cultural Functions of Translation (Clevedon, PA: Multilingual Matters, 1995), 19-20; Christopher Hill,
Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution Revisited (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 27ff.
22 Anthony Pym, Pour une thique du traducteur (Arras: Artois Presses Universit/Presses Universitaires
dOttawa, 1997), 11-12; Bruno Schirra, Die Gruel der Frenkie Boys, Die Zeit, 2 December 1999, 19.
23 See Vladiv-Glover, Aids as the Ultimate Real of the Writer: Robert Dessaixs Night Letters.

censorious and censoring, where, to cite only one of many examples, Miasmov notes the
excision of passages of bad taste (NL 202), but they are at least gathered discretely at the
conclusion of the three parts of Dessaixs text. In the German translation, however, the end-
notes become marginal notes which actually bite into the substantial sections of the text.
(Their position in the margins of the German text also works to elongated them, with the
result that the notes intrude into proportionally more text). In this way, the control instance
is made immanent to the text flow, in contrast to the distance and thus relatively weak ac-
tion of the end-notes of Dessaixs original. This typographical aggression is a tangible anal-
ogy of the translation strategy undertaken by Koehler throughout the text, which is to
weaken the parts of the text where the English directly refers to the disruptive force of
translation. Thus when the narrator disputes the agency of a naked sexual drive motivating
cultural activity, suggesting rather that culture is simply driven by layers upon layers of
cultural encoding reminiscent of the endless productivity of the translation process, Khler
replaces Dessaix the desire to fuck (NL 188) with the trivialized and harmless pimpern
(BN 216). Likewise, the narrators visceral reaction to the discovery of the gay professor
being beaten up by his own hotel staff (I felt quite shaken NL 269) is watered down by
the German into the mildly surprised Ich war ziemlich platt (BN 300). Even more discon-
certing is the translators decision to cut the most brutal sections of the description of the
retributive pack rape of the courtesan Camilla (NL 167-68/BN 194-95). Thus Koehler con-
sistently intervenes at the points where the English text insists upon underlining the trans-
gressive force of translation by couching that activity or its punishment in explicitly sexual-
ized terms.

Cultural imaginary

Despite a plethora of other translation howlers of an elementary kind, and a generally
stilted style, the translation appears to have sold quite well in Germany, progressing from
the hard-cover version published by the Krger Verlag to a paperback put out by the pres-
tigious Fischer Verlag in Frankfurt. I suspect the reason for this is that the book foregrounds
two exotic sites of European escapist fantasy, Venice and Australia. In a Germany in the
midst of a slow but steady economic downturn, political disorientation with neither Left nor
Right offering any genuine political programme, and hovering uncertainly between a
clearly exhausted Welfare State and a plunge into truly Neo-Liberal deregulation, such sites
of enshrined collective fantasy offer a welcome alternative for imaginary investment. For a
nation reluctant to deal with issues from the Nazi era such as massive damages to be paid to
former forced-labour workers, or the current necessity of adapting unwieldy immigration
policies to the urgent needs of the high-tech industry, Koehlers translation offers two con-
venient sites of projection which he is careful not to let Dessaixs original subvert. Amus-
ingly, Dessaix appears to have anticipated this, remarking that as an Australian, you are a
kind of blank to other people, I usually find, and so of little interest to them until they have
written on you (NL 46).
Contemporary Australia, however, has much more in common with the ambivalences of
the Venice of the novel than would appear to fit the innocuous tourist images that the Ger-
man translation proffers. The novel vigorously resists such nostalgic images of Australia:

Quite untypically for me, images started to cross my mind of bushland outside Melbourne
thickly wooded hills scarcely stepped on in millennia, escarpments gazed at but never
climbed, views out across valleys with no house or road in sight, cockatoos squawking
somewhere up behind you in the trees. ... I was getting irrational and maudlin (NL 122). In
contrast, Venice, in Dessaixs narrative, functions as a decidedly unflattering mirror for
todays Australia: an island nation, a paradise, an open-ended multicultural society but
one whose government actively maintained a policy of destruction of the fabric of indige-
nous society and culture by removing children from their parents through to the 1970s; one
which is reluctant to follow through the full consequences of the 1992 Supreme Court rul-
ing rejecting the terra nullis doctrine and thereby establishing a legal basis for Aboriginal
land claims, and still refuses to make a representative gesture of apology and reconciliation
for almost two centuries of genocide directed at the indigenous population; and which is
constantly tightening immigration legislation and culpabilizing and now interning asy-
lum seekers. Dessaix remarks: on the one hand, Venice sent Marco Polo to Cathay and
Sumatra, inspiring Columbus to sail west and discover the Americas; traded with India,
Egypt and England; was home to multitudes of Germans, Dalmatians, Armenians, Turks
and Persians; yet on the other hand it was a closed society, riddled with spies and double-
agents, which locked up its foreigners at night for fear of contagion (NL 129-30). Venice is
both open and closed, welcoming to outsiders, yet controlling and sanctioning them, thus
offering a parable of modern Australia. It is also a parable of Koehlers translation strategy,
simultaneously ushering in this symbolic bearer of foreign places, and yet concerned to
suppress its strangeness.
This attempt on the part of the translator to purify the foreignness of the text is sub-
verted, however, by the form in which the translator presents himself in the dedication.
Koehler docilely translates Dessaixs enumeration of his debts, inexplicably deleting the
acknowledgement of the study used as the source of information of courtesans in Renais-
sance Venice, and rather oddly transplanting Dessaix dedication to Peter Timms into the
acknowledgments. Furthermore, Koehler replaces the Dante version cited by Dessaix with
the corresponding German translation at which point it abruptly becomes difficult to
know who precisely is speaking in the acknowledgements. For Koehler was most certainly
not funded by the Australia Arts Council, and Dessaix did not cite Dante from the transla-
tion by Herman Gmelin. Yet the same textual voice records this debt to prior sources,
whether financial or textual (NL vi/BN 5). It is precisely in the recording of a translative,
intertextual debt to the foreign (text) that Koehler betrays his project of purifying and con-
trolling the foreign bodies with which he comes in contact. If the notes, alongside other
paratextual elements, are one of the privileged sites of the pragmatic aspect of textuality, its
action upon the reader, in the Dessaix/Koehler acknowledgements, another aspect of
paratextuality comes to the fore: that of the closure of the text, its self-sufficiency or con-
versely, its lack of hermetic boundaries, and with that, the issue of the status of subjectivity
and subjective identity within intercultural transactions.

What Dessaixs novel makes clear is that the synchronic contact between cultures and
translation, and the diachronic process of translation and transmission presume a certain
degree of contamination, permeability, perversion, distortion, which inevitably encounter

24 See Grard Genette, Palimpsestes: La littrature au second degr (Paris: Seuil/Points Essais, 1992), 10-11.

resistance, rejection, ejection and retribution. This is the wider political context in which the
translation as an individual or subjective undertaking needs to be understood. Thus Des-
saixs text places subjective strategies of translation within a double national context of
residual resistance to the translation processes inherent in a rapidly changing globalized
world. The text thereby sets up individual and collective parameters for translation as a
practice of the postmodern world. Dessaixs novel suggests that our world is one where
boundaries continue to exist, but are increasingly frequently crossed; and that a new subjec-
tive hybridity is not only the inevitable result of border-crossing, but more radically, its

Manifesto for inter/cultural studies

Inter/cultural studies must work at two levels at once. On the one hand, this pedagogic
undertaking must offer students an understanding of the strategies of translation which
structure the globalized postmodern world in which we live. Whence the relevance of Ap-
padurais concept of Cultural studies conceived [as] the basis for a cosmopolitan (global?
macro? translocal?) ethnography. Such a discipline would help students to appreciate the
complex interactions of texts and cultural forms across the world and the places in which
they are produced and consumed: To translate the tension between the word and the world
into a productive ethnographic strategy requires a new understanding of the deterritorialized
world that many persons inhabit and the possible lives that many persons are today able to

On the other hand, cultural phenomena of contamination and permeability at the collec-
tive level carry with them similar experiences at the individual level, much written about in
recent years under the heading of experiences of cultural hybridity anchored in the individ-
ual migratory subject. Inter/cultural studies in the context of translation studies has the task
of better equipping translation students for work in the area of cross-cultural relations, and
this means addressing not just collective cultural structures and their instability, but also
crucial issues of subjectivity. Dessaixs novel suggests that the sort of decentering of sub-
jectivity integral to the poststructuralist thought upon which cultural studies depends does
not signal the death of selfhood, but far more, a flexibilized and radicalized mode of indi-
vidual agency freed of what Lacan called the alienation and servitude of the Imaginary. For
students of foreign cultures, this means confrontation with a certain degree of questioning
of their own culture-bound subjectivity: thus Jrgen Kramer states that our appropriation
of a foreign means of signification (like the English language) does not leave ... us un-
touched, ... [it] is a hermeneutic process in which we expose our own cultural identity to
the contrasting influence of the foreign language and culture.
In a rather different context,
Bhabha has suggested that the possibility of producing a culture which both articulates
difference and lives with it could only be established on the basis of a non-sovereign notion
of self. ... It is only by losing the sovereignty of self that you can gain the freedom of a

25 Appadurai, Modernity at Large, 51-2.
26 Jrgen Kramer, Cultural Studies in English Studies: A German Perspective, in Michael Byram (ed), Culture
and Language Learning in Higher Education, Special Issue of Language, Culture and Curriculum, 6:1
(1993), 27-45.

politics that is open to the non-assimilationist claims of cultural difference.
For politics,
read here: the translators professional work on the borders between cultures.
But what does this mean in pragmatic terms? If the structuralist and poststructuralist de-
centering of subjectivity implies that cultural structures transcend individual subjectivities,
providing the very conditions of existence within which individual subjectivities are consti-
tuted, at the same time, however, such cultural structures cannot exist outside of subjective
bearers of structures, whose agency maintains and perpetuates those structures within
The subject is like Lvi-Strausss bricoleur, obliged to construct an existence from
the materials at hand; yet the subject can also work as an second-order bricoleur, rework-
ing the structures within which it comes to being. As Peter Cowley and Barbara Hanna
comment, Part of our job as we see it is to teach our students to cut and paste, to engage
with a complex system in evolution, rather than perceiving culture as a finished master-
piece, to be at best forged, at worst admired from afar. Effective language and culture
teaching is not just about teaching generic rules, but showing how and where rules can
usefully be broken.
Recognition of the heterogeneity, open-endedness, the process-
determined character of cultures, all standard topoi of cultural studies, needs to be matched
by a similar acceptance on the part of students of their own power to act provisionally, to
take risks, to engage in an open-ended manner with open-ended intercultural space, to see
their own action as a process interlocking with culture as a process. Thus opening up col-
lective and individual cultural entities to contaminating translation is not merely a risk, but
the very qualification for a translators optimal performance and exercise of her or his
professional skills.
Foucaults notion of technologies of the self, or Keupp and his colleagues projects of
Identity-work or Identity-construction helpfully describe the meeting point of the crea-
tive appropriation of new social forces to remodel the shape of subjective experience and
action in a risk-bound postmodern age not to make the self infinitely flexible in Sennetts
sense, but to capture the possibilities inherent in working on the borders of, the overlaps and
spaces between cultures.
If, as Wolfgang Welsch suggests, postmodern identities are
made up of fragmented and disparate elements whose coherence is assured by processes of
transition and translation, then teaching cultural processes as cross-border processes
would appear to take on a broader significance in the field of cultural studies. The plurality
competencies which Welsch sees as a necessary element of postmodern processes of iden-
tity construction are equally central to the translators professional skills.
This means that
postmodern projects of identity are not merely philosophical speculations but rather, en-

27 Homi Bhabha, The Third Space, 212-13.
28 See Alain Lipietz, Warp, Woof and Regulation, in Georges Benko and Ulf Strohmeyer (eds), Space and
Social Theory: Interpreting Modernity and Postmodernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 250-84.
29 Peter Cowley and Barbara Hanna, Is There a Class in this Classroom?, 120.
30 Michel Foucault, Les techniques de soi, Dits et crits 1954-1988, eds. Daniel Defert and Franois Ewald
(Paris: Gallimard, 1994), Vol. 4: 1980-1988, 783-813; Heiner Keupp and Renate Hfer (eds), Identittsarbeit
heute: Klassische und aktuelle Perspektiven der Identittsforschung (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1998); Hei-
ner Keupp et. al., Identittskonstruktionen: Das Patchwork der Identitten in der Sptmoderne (Reinbek: Ro-
wohlt, 1999); Ulrich Beck, Risikogesellschaft: Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne (Frankfurt/Main: Suhr-
kamp, 1986).
31 Wolfgang Welsch, Vernunft: Die zeitgenssische Vernuftskritik und das Konzept der transversalen Vernunft
(Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1995), 845-47.

tirely apposite responses to changing social conditions, and one of the necessary qualifica-
tions for successful performance on todays local-global market.
It should be stressed, in order to avoid misunderstanding, that the task of inter/cultural
studies is not to provide some sort of a therapy, or to mould personalities. Quite rightly,
Knapp-Potthoff notes that some students possess a set of personal qualities flexibility,
tolerance, curiosity about other cultures which make them excellent intercultural commu-
nicators, but that an academic discipline cannot and should not aim to inculcate such per-
sonal qualities.
Rather, the role of inter/cultural studies, via the study of texts, cultures and
their borders and boundaries with neighbouring cultures, and the insertion of collective and
individual agents in those inter/cultural spaces, is merely to offer strategies for learning and
action. Which strategies are appropriated by students, and how subjective configurations are
modified, however, are questions which it is not the teachers prerogative to determine.

In the teaching of the profession of translation today, inter/cultural studies becomes in-
strumental in offering not only strategies, both linguistic and textual, for dealing with alter-
ity, but also, in the very form of its pedagogical project, making available a models of sub-
jective configurations which students can appropriate for themselves, and which the suc-
cessful acquisition of instrumental translation skills in fact implicitly presupposes. In Lvi-
nas Totalit et infini, to return to the meditations of the opening lines of this chapter, the
author states that La diffrence absolue, inconcevable en termes de logique formelle, ne
sinstaure que par le langage
[Absolute difference, inconceivable in terms of formal
logic, only finds a place in language]. Translation would thus appear to be a privileged site
of the confrontation with and the negotiation of difference, both in the form and content of
operations whose dimensions are both individual and collective, linguistic and social. In
this general context, the notion of translation possesses a paradigmatic significance for the
modes of existence of subjects acting and working within increasingly hybridized cultures
in our late-modern times. Translation, as an operation which is always already at work in
the constitutional hybridity of culture as process, and thus is inherently a dynamic force in
the disciplinary identity of cultural studies itself, continues, in the contemporary moment, to
demand interdisciplinary re-configurations of our ways of knowing, and of wielding knowl-
edge both within the university and beyond its walls.

32 Annalie Knapp-Potthoff, Strategien interkultureller Kommunikation, in J. Albrecht, H. W. Drescher, H.
Ghring and N. Salnikow (eds), Translation und interkulturelle Kommunikation (Frankfurt/Main: Lang,
1987), 425-27.
33 Claus Gnuztmann, English as a Global Language: What does it Mean?, Neusprachliche Mitteilungen, 51:3
(1998), 135.
34 Lvinas, Totalit et infini, 212.
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Triangulating the Self:
Turner Hospital, Hoffman and Sante

In a story by Jorge Luis Borges, the detective Lnnrot investigates three mysterious mur-
ders committed at three equidistant points in time and at three equidistant places. A myste-
rious letter informs him that these three locations form the perfect vertices of a mystic
equilateral triangle.
Lnnrot makes the mistake of extrapolating a fourth murder at the
abandoned Villa Triste-le-Roy. Arriving at the appointed time and place, he discovers that
he himself is to be the victim. The triangle, interpreted correctly as the precursor of quad-
ratic symmetry, seals his own fate. Had he resisted the seductions of symmetry, and been
content with trichotomy (C. S. Peirce), he would have survived. These numerologies may
appear trivial at first sight as trivial as the strange paragrammes pursued by de Saussure
in his old age but are indicative, I would suggest, of a not-negligeable preoccupation with
the topographies and topologies of sceptical thought. The avatars of such caustic intellec-
tion range from the fiction and fables of modernism to their postmodern theorizations. In
this context, Borges postmodern parable of triangulation possesses an exemplary signifi-
cance in understanding the configurations of knowledge in our time.

Triangulation Life or death

One of the characters in Janette Turner Hospitals Outback Australia sect-novel Oyster

writes in her clandestine diary:

... the Apocalypse kids have been arriving in droves, and most of those are still here. ... When I say here, I do
not mean in the town itself, though individual kids surface briefly from time to time, then vanish again. They
always come into town in threes. They watch each other. I barrelled up to one such little trinity the other day
and asked them why. The triangle is the most stable of forms, they said, and points in all directions to God.
Triangulation, I told them, is a slow and most painful form of death.
They did not even smile. They are terribly earnest. (O 84).

In Turner Hospitals apocalyptic narrative, the trinity, the triad, and triangulation become
figures of an oppressive, mortiferous authority personified in the crazed sectarian leader
Oyster. This form of triangulation is an avatar of the notion of triage, the social Darwin-
ist notion of selective extermination in times of disaster central to Turner Hospitals earlier

1 Jorge Luis Borges, Death and the Compass, trans. Donald A. Yates, Labyrinths (Harmondsworth: Penguin,
1976), 112.
2 Janette Turner Hospital, Oyster (London: Virago, 1996), 84. Hreafter O.

novel The Last Magician.
In Oyster, the final triage refers to the collective suicide com-
mitted by the members of the sect upon the eve of Armageddon (O 422). Oysters interpre-
tation of the scriptures and the social structures and strategies which arise out of that read-
ing reek of a hermeneutics typified by Julia Kristeva as la grille de toute pense
thologique de la croix chrtienne la triade hgelienne et jusqu la biffure de Heideg-
[The grill of all theological thought from the Christian cross to the Hegelian triad
through to Heideggers erasure.]
At the same time, however, another character, the erstwhile surveyor Jess, offers an al-
ternative account of triadic interpretation:

I am setting this down because I am trying to understand my own difficulties and because I want some future
reader to understand (if I am ever able to reach a future reader) why this disturbing story is sometimes frag-
mented and dispersed by shifting filaments of moisture in the upper air, and by variable atmospheric densities,
and by rifts in time.
I want you to understand why the telling is complicated ....
Time is a trickster, and so is space, but the air above an ocean or a desert is more devious than either of
these. The air in such places is bent. ...
The air is a conjurer who likes to juggle both space and time: the things themselves, as well as your perception
of the two.
You probably know this. (O 7)

Turner Hospitals use of second person narrative directly addresses the reader as a partici-
pant in what one might call, parodying Gadamer, the hermeneutic triangle. The triangula-
tion described here is that of the narrator-narration-narratee trio, evoked in an illocutionary
gesture which constructs that threesome in the moment of narration itself. This second per-
son mode of address implicitly raises the question of the productive relationship created in
the act of reading a literary text. Triangulation as a narrative strategy implying risk and
uncertainty thus configures a further triad: space and time ... themselves, as well as your
perception of the two. Triangulated knowledge is a knowing knowledge. It is a doubled,
self-reflexive knowing which is aware not simply of its own contingency and polyvalence,
but more significantly of the narrative processes which make it so.
For a writer who frequently invokes Heisenbergs uncertainty principle and Bohrs the-
ory of complementarity, both of which entertain the possibility of two mutually exclusive
theories of matter being true, it is no surprise that these two versions of triangulation can
exist side by side. One simplifies and stabilizes knowledge understood as a given entity,
while the other complicates and destabilizes modes of knowing construed as ongoing proc-
esses. Sectarian triangulation is a repressive mechanism, structured so as to defend dogmas
rather than to place them under a critical light. Turner Hospital, in contrast, posits a compet-
ing notion of literature which sees the text giving rise to forms of knowledge closer to the
open-ended processes envisaged by her narrator Jess: I am not writing propaganda, or
didactic art. I simply want to stir my readers to feel that they do have to reach a political
stance, but Im not in the business of telling them what that is.
Triangulation as it is
dramatized and practised in Turner Hospitals novels ought to function as an unstable, pro-

3 Janette Turner Hospital, The Last Magician (London: Virago, 1992), 90-1, 254. Hereafter LM.
4 Julia Kristeva, : Recherches pour une smanalyse (Paris: Seuil/Points, 1978), 302.
5 Christine Hamelin, Novelist as Urgent Quester: An Interview with Janette Turner Hospital, Australian
and New Zealand Studies in Canada 9 (June 1993), 107.

vocative, non-coercive form of enlivening knowledge. The reading triad leaves the position
of the reader open to all and sundry, and makes available a stance allowing both passionate
involvement and critical distance.

I take the figure of triangulation as worked out in the transcultural novels of Janette
Turner Hospital, in particular The Last Magician (1992), and in two transcultural autobiog-
raphies by Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation (1998) and Luc Sante, The Factory of Facts
(1999) as exemplary for a postmodern mode of knowledge which comes to the fore in con-
temporary writing novelistic and autobiographical about the transcultural experience.
The centrality of such experience is made explicit by Turner Hospital herself: My life is
nomadic and international, so it figures that I am going to observe movement across bor-
ders, but I never have a sense of thinking out my subject matter.

Turner Hospitals explicit opposition of propaganda, or didactic art and her sense that
my readers ... do have to reach a political stance evinces a central dilemma of a politicized
literary pedagogy. In this chapter I suggest that the notion of triangulation as it is figured by
Turner Hospital, Hoffman and Sante, offers a potential solution to this dilemma, one
sketched by literary works whose subject and form figure a double engagement with late
modern transculturalism. My reading explores in the first instance the nature of triangula-
tion as a postmodern epistemological paradigm across Turners The Last Magician. I then
go on to look at triangulation in Hoffmans Lost in Translation and Santes The Factory
of Facts as a strategy of transcultural negotiation assessed by these two autobiographers
respectively in negative and positive terms. In the closing sections of the paper I suggest
that triangulation figures in such texts because it is ubiquitous in postmodern thought
itself. Reviewing a number of postmodern theories which evince triadic structures, I finally
transfer the notion of triangulation to the classroom, so that the teaching of such texts can
give pedagogical form to their literary content.

Triangulation an exemplary postmodern literary strategy?

In an age of modern and postmodern fragmentation, in which over-arching structures of
meaning appeared to be no longer adequate to describe the lived chaos and incoherence of
reality, the principle of collage or assemblage offered an apposite means both of represent-
ing reality and of re-creating it for the Dada artists of the Weimar republic, Dadaland
constituted a new and semi-autonomous reality. Hans Arp wrote In 1915 Sophie Taeuber
and I made in painting, embroidery and collage the first works derived from the simplest
forms. ... These pictures are REALITIES themselves, without meaning or cerebral inten-
Meaning, if it is to be generated at all by the collage construct, can no longer arise
out of some organic, total context. If there is to be meaning in this radically new environ-
ment, it must take as its starting point the disruption, explosion, fragmentation, chance

6 See Julian Cowley, Violent Times: Janette Turner Hospitals Art of Memory and the History of the Pre-
sent, in Sarah Sceats and Gail Cunningham (eds), Image and Power: Women and Fiction in the Twentieth
Century (London: Longman, 1996), 178-79, 181-82.
7 Hamelin, Novelist as Urgent Quester , 106.
8 Hans Arp quoted in Sabine Eckmann, Collage and Assemblage als neue Kunstgattung DADAS (Kln: Buch-
handlung Walter Knig, 1995), 85.

meeting. The basic principle of collage is the juxtaposition of more or less heterogeneous
materials so as to produce a meaning from their encounter. Janette Turner Hospitals own
fiction is replete with instances of literary collage, containing as it does citations from and
allusions to Beckett, Boticelli, chaos theory, Chaucer, Dante, T. S. Eliot, Henry James, John
Ford, Milton, Monty Python, Salgano, Shakespeare, The Wanderer, Titian, to name only
the most prominent examples.
Her fiction is thus a spatial collage which enacts a reverse
explosion (C 279), a large-scale textual collision of fundamentally disparate objects. Her
work is a sort of untruth, a composed or discomposed artifice (C 68).
Turner Hospitals artist figures are marginals. So is their art. In Borderlines the title is
pregnant with significance one character dismisses A marginal comment, to which the
other rispostes, I wish they wouldnt keep quoting it (B 18). The citation is, by definition,
marginal, even if the interface between fragment and host-text runs through the body of the
text rather than along its periphery. Professor Koenig in Charades works at the borders, at
the junctions of astrophysics, particle physics, cosmology (C 18). Another alter ego, Lucy
in The Last Magician, remarks sardonically, Marginal notation is my style (LM 71).
Turner Hosiptals most clearly drawn alter-ego artist figure is Charlie Chang, the Chinese-
Australian expatriate photographer newly returned to Sydney after years of voluntary exile
in New York. Like many other characters, Charlie Chang is a master of metonymy. His
work consists primarily of photomontages whose central signifying operation is based not
upon metaphor showing the world the way it is but upon metonymy putting things
next to each other to make a mute statement: Space. That is what the apartment celebrates:
the mysterious quality of space, and the way it draws attention to single objects placed
judiciously within it, and the way these isolated objects, in turn, give space a form
(LM 46). Charlies collage art, and its various avatars in Turner Hospitals fiction, produce
meaning by a process of combination and juxtaposition, according to the metonymic axiom
enunciated by Nietzsche: Denken ist ein Herausheben Thinking is emphasis, a prizing
No element possesses meaning on its own account, but only by virtue of being
forced into the proximity of some other element. It is the contrast between them, suddenly
crystallizing out of their unexpected contact, which makes meaning spring forth.
Just as the meanings produced by collage, however, are not inherent in the elements, but
dependent upon their co-elements in the work, so also they are not inherent to the work
itself, but dependent upon the presence and activity of an observer. Collage-art is meto-
nymic not only in its mode of construction, but also, more importantly, in its mode of
reception and interpretation.
Both Charlie in The Last Magician and Jess in Oyster are taciturn characters whose re-
serve provokes others to colonise silence with their unburdenings Silence, Charlie
said, seduces a wall or a boulder, or perhaps as a rock cavern in the breakaways, hol-
low, receptive, capable of the infinite absorption of sound, a black hole that gave nothing

9 These allusions are to be found in the following passages: Beckett (LM 52), Boticelli (LM 48, 59), Chaos
theory (LM 89), Chaucer (Turner Hospital, Charades [London: Virago, 1983], 202; hereafter C), Dante
(LM 3, 87; Turner Hospital, Borderline [London: Virago, 1990], 167, 171; hereafter B), Eliot (LM 95, 114),
Henry James (C 19), John Ford (C 137), Milton (LM 35), Monty Python (LM 52), Salgano (LM 47), Shake-
speare (LM 182), The Wanderer (C 140, 143, 169), Titian (LM 12).
10 Friedrich Nietzsche, Die nachgelassenen Fragmente: Eine Auswahl, ed. Gnter Wohlfart (Stuttgart: Reclam,
1996), 30.

back (LM 83, O 165). Faced with an apparently impassive silence, the garrulous reveal
themselves. The listener is at once intercalary surface (like Koenig for Charade) and careful
observer not unlike the art-works of Turner Hospitals fictions, which make of the specta-
tor, faced with the artefact as projective surface, an observer of her or his own interpreta-
tions. Similarly, in Oyster, Jesss surveying instruments emit high pitched signals which are
bounced off the far-away geographical feature and returned to the receiver (O 158).
Charlies artwork are messages which represent the throwing down of a gauntlet (LM
31). Like his enigmatic Chinese riddles, his photographic collages oblige the hearers or
spectators to create a meaning out of the rebus with which they are confronted, a meaning
of their own making: I recognize, therefore I grant meaning (B 171). Meaning is con-
structed in the act of viewing in activating the works own juxtapositions, and in reading a
meaning off the meeting of the fragments. Charlies photo-montages offer various potential
meanings which are never directly stated, but which the spectator must assemble her- or
himself: There is no order, no sequence ... The sequence is determined by the viewer, a
magician of sorts, who must shuffle the crossed destinies and read the cards. Meaning is in
the eye of the beholder (LM 243). As Charlie is wont to say, though the words are Lucys,
It is written: the water that flows into the earthenware vessel takes in its form (LM 85). In
an age of suspicion,
one charry of essentialist, absolute ascription of meaning to the
work of art, the business of meaning is delegated to the consumer. Henceforth, only the
meaning constructed performatively by the viewer is susceptible of objective description.
Once the spectator has put together the fragments offered by the work of art, the riddle-
teller or artist can record the meaning produced out of the interaction between art, spectator
and artist-observer. The best answers, the safe answers, are riddles, Charlie notes (LM
169) because they relieve the art-work and the critic of the burden of determining mean-
ing. The art-work and the critic are orchestrator and scrutineer respectively, but no longer
postulators of meanings. With the arrival of collage as an artistic method, accompanied by
the artist-observer and the spectator-constructor, we are in the domain of triangulation as
the hallmark of a new epoch of artistic truthfulness.
The references to Hamlet in The Last Magician are no coincidence, pointing as they do
towards an age-old triangular mode of dramatizing indices of guilt.
Charlie without his
camera is described as being like someone alone on a stage; like Hamlet (LM 32). With
his camera he may also be a late-modern Hamlet, not alone, but in the company of the play-
ers and King Claudius, supervizing the performance of a play entitled The Mousetrap,
whose action is to provoke a reaction in the king, one that Hamlet will scrutinize for signs
of guilt. This mechanism provides the template for triangulation as a means for assessing
guilt. Hamlet says to Horatio:

I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot,
Even with the very comment of thy soul
Observe my uncle. If his occulted guilt
Does not itself unkennel in one speech,

11 See Nathalie Sarraute, Lre du soupon: Essais sur le roman (1956; Paris: Gallimard/Ides, 1978).
12 For The Last Magicians obsession with Hamlet, see LM 71; Art thou there again, old mole?, LM 70, refers
to Hamlet 1.5.162; What a piece of work is man, LM 116 refers to Hamlet 2.2.316). References to William
Shakespeare, The Complete Works, ed. Stanley Wells & Gary Taylor (Oxford: Clarendon Press/Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 1998).

Tis a damnd ghost that we have seen,
And my imaginations are as foul
As Vulcans stithy. Give him heedful note.
For I mine eyes will rivet to his face,
And after we will both our judgements join
In censure of his seeming. (Hamlet 3.2.88-97)

In keeping with these highly mediated means of ascertaining of juridical truth, Charades
detective-like quest for her own past is carried out by filtering her questions across others
reactions. She uses Koenig as a sounding board to try out her various hypothetical narra-
tives of her own origin: Yes, I could tell you a story, she says. By way of explication.
Its something I more or less have to do all the time, for myself. Like marking my position
on a map, you understand? (C 29). Similarly, Robinson Gray tacitly admits guilt when
confronted by Lucys juxtaposition of photos of Gabriel, of Sheba with Cats hair clip, and
of herself at Cedar Creek Falls. So you know, says Gray (LM 233, 339), producing, by his
own implicit confession, the potential knowledge to be gained from the photos mute or-
chestration of contiguity and suggestion of causal connection.
The allusions to Hamlet make the performative aspect of triangulated meaning patently
clear. These triangulated truths, based on collages or their interpersonal derivatives, are
examples of produced knowledge, artifices in the literal sense of the word: What we ob-
serve is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning (Heisenberg,
quoted in C 288). These knowledges are not anchored in any supportive paradigm outside
of the moment of their own production. No metaphysical guarantees are available to un-
derwrite them. There is no outside of the context of knowledge, just as there are few narra-
tors in Turner Hospitals fictions who do not exist in media res.
As Lucy says, the teller
inserts herself into the tale (LM 71).
If such knowledge is resolutely contextual, performative, and thus ever-new, it is a
knowledge then which is typically that of the explorer, the traveller, the diasporic, the expa-
triate. Triangulated knowledges constitutive narratives are constructed with spatial means
(I meant it as a figure of speech, actually. Synecdoche, snaps one character C 158), they
are told obliquely (B 82). The mode of knowledge obtained along such circuitous routes is
a rhetorical, performative, experimental one, whose insights are contextual, provisional, and
subject to further narrative exploration. As Charade lectures her professor-lover, Errare, to
wander, right? And by extension to make mistakes. But thats the human condition, isnt it.
Not to mention the best pedagogical method the meandering, mistake-making self (C
The virtue of triangulated knowledge is that it is mediated. It does not claim to access its
objects directly, and thus installs an interval in the very process of production of knowl-
edge. As one of Turner Hospitals characters says, Instinct is instinct. Its not noble, its
not right or wrong. Index finger dipped in the puddle of wine, she drew tangles. But
were not shackled to it afterwards. Theres a space. And after the space, one can reassess
(B 56). The mode of knowledge here is instinct, ostensibly an unmediated because non-
rational mode of knowing. But instinct has come into its own in our post-modern, highly
suspicious but also highly somatizing age. It stands on the same foot as triangulated knowl-

13 See Janette Turner Hospital, Letter to a New York Editor, Meanjin 47:3 (Spring 1988), 562.

edge because it freely admits its entanglement in subjectivity, its mediation via the opacity
of the body. Like the intersecting gazes of triangulated knowledge, instinct involves a
mutual engagement of bodies with each others somatic idioms. But this entanglement,
paradoxically, is also a freedom. For such knowledge is tentative, etymologically both a
tenter and a tter, an ongoing and fallible process of never-completed exploration. Triangu-
lated knowledge is never absolute, never final, but bears, indeed demands constant re-
hearsal. Triangulated knowledge, because it integrates a third term, escapes from a claus-
trophobic closure of the dyad. The intercalary element prises open a space in which a proc-
ess of revision can take place. It is for this reason that triangulated knowledge is relevant to
the pedagogical process, offering as it does a model of teaching and learning which is both
flexible and resilient enough to do service in the uncertain age in which we live.
But before returning to questions of pedagogy, I wish to embark first of all upon a read-
ing of the two diasporic autobiographies I promised to examine at the beginning of this
chapter, Hoffmans Lost in Translation and Santes The Factory of Facts. My intention
here is to triangulate their presentation of triangulation against that of Janette Turner Hos-
pitals fiction. The previous sentence may appear overloaded or precious, but it attempts to
give linguistic form to the constant self-scrutiny of triangulated knowledge, its compulsion
to return to the scene of intellection and interrogate conclusions, to look for ways of mobi-
lizing what has been attained as soon as it coagulates into dogma. Furthermore, it drama-
tizes the impulse to performance inherent in triangulated knowledge, its own knowing ad-
mission that its achievements are never complete, that they demand reassertion and recon-
firmation ad infinitum. Triangulated knowledge is restless knowledge, it persistently re-
traces its own tracks so as to move forward again. This knowledge is not teleological, for it
knows that it can never arrive.
The same goes for Turner Hospitals characters. They are expatriate Australians, Cana-
dians, Americans, like herself. Each one of their existences, like that of Felicity in Border-
line, is a multiple-exposure life (B 16). Collage is the principle upon which these life
narratives are constructed, both in their content and in mode of composition. Transcultural
life-collage inherently imposes a process of triangulation as one experience follows upon
and is contrasted with another, in turn being succeeded by a third which emerges out of
their difference only to be taken up in further juxtapositions and contrasts. The transna-
tional existence can be understood as an existential collage in which various cultural ex-
periences are superimposed upon each other, giving the transnational subject an acute sense
of the contingency of the erstwhile cultural imperative and a concrete grasp of Saussures
notion of the arbitrariness of the sign, in Rosi Braidottis formulation.

One senses that this is the way in which Turner Hospital conceives her own nomadic ex-
istence, the creative process by which her novels are written, and the model she proposes
for modes of social interaction in the shifting society in which we now live. Thus the mode
of knowledge explored in her fictions is linked to her own biographical trajectory, from a
childhood in Brisbane, Australia, to postgraduate study in the US and Canada, and finally to
a Chair of Creative Writing in an American university. There is an ironic hint at the skewed
gaze which results from collage life-trajectories, as one of her character complains, Who

14 Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 14-15.

could say what the years in India had wrought? And then Australia. Now how could any
place so remote not do harm? You acquired a very unreliable view of the peripheral in those
countries, they said. You give it undue importance (B 115). In this novel, Borderlines, it is
the peripheral life, the life lived under the sign of liminality and metonymy, which gener-
ates a permanently jaundiced perspective upon orthodoxies. Such cross-cultural trajectories
create diasporic subjects who, like Major Miner in Oyster, [listen] for faultlines (O 243).
Such persons habitually think in terms of double-exposure and juxtaposition.
Turner Hospitals diasporic path has been one which links geographical mobility, a
patchwork pedagogical career, and an ongoing writing process. My contention is that her
fictions, although they do not announce themselves as autobiographies, mobilize the same
dynamic fusion of experiential fabric and frank fabulation as does any autobiography, and
that this common ground is increased by an intense metatextual self-awareness. Above all, I
pay attention in what follows to Hoffman and Santes autobiographies consciousness of
their own status as collages generating triangulated epistemologies.

Disawowing Triangulation

One of Eva Hoffmans childhood fantasies, recounted in her autobiographical Lost in
Translation, is of an invented language which would take in everything, which would in-
clude the whole world. There is a hidden rule even in this game, though that the sounds
have to resemble real syllables, that they cant disintegrate into brute noise, for then I
wouldnt be talking at all. I want articulation but articulation that says the whole world at
This is a childs attempt to find a super-language, one that gathers up all other
languages. The episode is situated in her unspoiled childhood universe, before her family
emigrates from Poland for Canada. It is significant, however, that in the midst of this child-
hood fantasy of absoluteness the youthful Eva realises that her imaginary language must be
made up of recognizable elements. Even this all-encompassing language is itself a collage
of fragments, elements taken from the world beyond the fantasy. Eva is a bricoleur, a
constructor of imaginary universes out of pieces of the real. It is the articulation of one
recognizable element upon another that makes her language a genuine language and yet
she none the less desires a harmonious whole, a mega-language whose faultlines would
evince connection but not separation just as its outer boundaries would mark the horizons
of the real rather than the limits of its own capacity to signify reality. This desire is a fore-
runner and concomitant of Hoffmans constantly reiterated wish that the fragments of her
diasporic self, the collage of her own history, add up to a whole. The narrator, whose migra-
tory trajectory passes via inner exile as a member of the Jewish diaspora in Poland, Can-
ada and subsequently the US, cannot deny the fragmentariness of her experience. She per-
sists, none the less, in trying to recuperate a whole, undivided self out of those fragments.
She never ceases to shrink from the idea of a purely constructed self, whose unitary whole-
ness is at best a pragmatic function necessary for everyday life an organizing process

15 Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language (1989: London: Vintage, 1998), 11. Hereafter

which suppresses disturbing noise rather than constituting an essential attribute of self-
There are moments where this fragmentariness is accepted, be it merely provisionally:

And what is the shape of my story, the story my time tells me to tell? Perhaps it is the avoidance of a single
shape that tells the tale. ... instead of a central ethos, I have been given the blessings and terrors of multiplicity.
Once I step off that airplane in Houston, I step into a culture that splinters, fragments, and re-forms itself as if it
were a jigsaw puzzle dancing in a quantum space. If I want to assimilate into my generation, my time, I have to
assimilate the multiple perspectives and their constant shifting. ... Perhaps it is my intolerance of those, my
cherishing of uncertainty as the only truth that is, after all, the best measure of my assimilation; perhaps it is in
my misfittings that I fit. ... From now on, Ill be made, like a mosaic, of fragments and my consciousness of
them. (LT 164).

Ironically, Hofmans own diasporic trajectory, which shatters her sense of self-unity, coin-
cides with a generalized rejection of the unitary narratives of American mid-century
certainties a rejection which the author condemns as the easy luxuries of a generation of
rebels who have never known genuine uprooting and exile. None the less, it is in her mis-
trust of linear narratives, born of being an immigrant, that Eva best assimilates to late-
modern American society. Under these circumstances, an epistemology arising from a
culture that splinters, fragments, and re-forms itself as if it were a jigsaw puzzle, character-
ized by multiple perspectives and their constant shifting, is all-pervasive in Hoffmans
text, but always endowed with a highly ambivalent value. Triangulation, the mode of
knowledge emerging from techniques of juxtaposition, is coloured by both the blessings
and terrors of multiplicity. Triangulation is everywhere, but is permanently disavowed.
Triangulation is a process which disturbs the status quo, destroys the narrators sense of
harmonious integration into her immediate environment. It occurs when the subject, carry-
ing the burden of a diaspora history, abruptly sees her or his emplacement from outside
and by the same token, sees it alongside other possible contexts. Abruptly the one becomes
two, and then three. Triangulation signals a radical loss of innocence, a process, for the
narrator of Lost in Translation, neither welcome nor pleasant:

I fit, and my surroundings fit me. The only thing is that in the midst of a conversation about the latest clashes
between the PLO and the Christian militia in Lebanon, or the fin de sicle Viennese revival, as we lift our
wineglasses to each other in a moment of affirmation and cameraderie, I lift off a little too high, to a point from
which the room becomes only a place in which I happen to be, where Ive found myself by some odd accident.
A voice, almost unconscious, keeps performing an inaudible, perpetual triangulation that process by which
ancient Greeks tried to extrapolate, from two points of a triangle drawn in the sand, the moons distance from
the earth. From my removed, abstract promontory, this Upper West Side apartment looks as surreal as a large
foreground object in a Magritte painting. Weightlessness is upon me; I am here, feeling the currents of conflict
and warmth, but from that other point in the triangle, this is just one arbitrary version of reality. The room de-
materializes slightly. Nothing here has to be the way it is; people could behave in a different manner; I could
look different, flirt differently; I could be having entirely different conversations. Not any specific conversa-
tions; the other place in my mind no longer has any particularity. Its just an awareness that there is another
place another point at the base of the triangle, which renders this place relative, which locates me within that
relativity itself. (LT 170).

The burden of migration is to know that that there is another place. It gives the knowing
subject a sudden perception of the limitations of any given context, precisely because that
context itself gains a context. Triangulation generates multiplicities, parallel perspectives
which, once triggered, are no longer susceptible of restraint, and are liable to unbalance the

most harmonious of moments: in a moment of affirmation and cameraderie, I lift off a little
too high. The narrators sudden weightlessness deprives her of a place to stand, of ground
under her feet, renders her abruptly bodenlos, ground-less, to cite the title of Wilm
Flussers exemplary migrant autobiography.
Integration cedes to accidence, etymologi-
cally related to the Latin cadere, to fall. This subject falls into a situation, and falls out
of the organic, complete world which others inhabit. Triangulation places this place in
relation to another, relativizes it. Abruptly its meaning is generated not from within, but
from without, by virtue of its coincidence, its falling together with another dissonant place
abruptly visible from the narrators perspective.
It is curious that this process of distancing is the work of a voice, almost unconscious,
[which] keeps performing an inaudible, perpetual triangulation. This voice is one of the
several competing voices which inhabits the narrator, voices which maintain ongoing ar-
guments with each other and accompany the narrator-voice with which the reader is most
intimately in contact. Thus the fictional subjectivity dramatized by the autobiography is
itself presented as a triangular process of unruly conversation. To that extent the autobiog-
raphy does not merely report on the experience of triangulation, or potentially heal the
unpleasant rifts between self and environment, but is actively engaged in the production of
selfhood-as-triangulation. In this ever so knowing autobiography, self-knowledge itself
appears to be a form of triangulated knowledge.
Where does this ambient sense of unease come from? Hoffmans narrator finds herself
embarked upon ceaseless triangulation, but in the course of the narrative is never com-
pletely reconciled to this mode of perception. Paradoxically, she cannot accept this collage
existence, with its attendant rifts in perception and metonymic mode of knowing the world
and knowing the self perhaps the only linguistic form available for migrant self-
expression. This possibility, however, is constantly warded off. Triangulation is almost
always understood, in Hoffmans text, as an aberration, as a pathological condition which,
though it cannot be eradicated, ought not to be accommodated:

Does it still matter, in these triangulations, that my version of reality was formed in Eastern Europe? It is well
known that the System over there, by specializing in deceit, has bred in its citizens an avid hunger for what
they still quaintly call the truth. Of course, the truth is easier to identify when its simply the opposite of a lie.
So much Eastern European thinking moves along the axis of bipolar ideas, still untouched by the peculiar edgi-
ness and fluidity created by a more decentered world. Perhaps Im not quite equal to the challenge of postmod-
ern uncertainty. (LT 211)

The text indulges in complex equivocations, reluctantly admitting that stable meanings may
be impossible whilst actively expressing its dislike of such a notion and all the while
constructing this agonistic to-and-fro in the very medium of alienation, the new language.
The public self which is patently constructed out of the linguistic fabric of its own loss is
nevertheless posited somewhere else: For my Polish friends, an identity, or a character, is
something one simply has (LT 263). And the narrator continues to yearn for a means of
self-expression which would obliterate the giddiness of triangulation. She dreams of the
possibility of seeing

16 Vilm Flusser, Bodenlos: Eine philosophische Autobiographie (Frankfurt/Main: Fischer, 1999).

our polarities within some larger, more capacious terms, and resolv[ing] our antitheses within a wiser synthesis.
I could see that were both as the phrase echoes from my childhood just human. Its that face that I keep as
a beacon in my furious mono-dialogues and my triangulations. I want a language that will express what the
face knows, a calm and simple language that will subsume the clangor of specialized jargons and partial vi-
sions, a language old enough to plow under the superficial differences between signs, to the deeper strata of
significance. (LT 212).

Here the text evinces a clear nostalgia for a pre-post-structuralist vision of meaning-making,
in which the putative slipperiness of signs points nevertheless to a bedrock of stable signifi-
It may well be, however, that the wholeness the narrator aspires to is as illusory as the
paradise of a childhood Poland somehow lost in translation but which even then was
scarred with a sense of impending loss, be it embedded within that past moment or pro-
jected back upon it from the vantage point of a life in exile: suddenly, time pierces me with
its sadness. This moment will not last. With every step I take, a sliver of time vanishes. ...
How can this be, that this fullness, this me on the street, this moment which is perfectly
abundant, will be gone? (LT 16).
The very act of casting the past self in the mould of the autobiographical genre con-
demns it to loss. The subtitle of the autobiography, A Life in a New Language encodes
that bio-existence in a form which embodies displacement, loss, arbitrariness from the out-
set. The narrators entry into English is one in which the Saussurean arbitrariness of the
sign is experienced as an agonizing, somatic process:

I am becoming a living avatar of structuralist wisdom; I cannot help knowing that words are just themselves.
But its a terrible knowledge, without any of the consolations that wisdom usually brings. It does not mean that
Im free to play with words at my wont; anyway, words in their naked state are surely among the least satisfac-
tory of play objects. No, this radical disjoining between word and thing is a dessicating alchemy, draining the
world not only of significance but of its colors, striations, nuances its very existence. It is the loss of a living
connection. (LT 107)

The very act of writing the self and its history in English would appear to constitute an act
of self-imposed and self-destructive triangulation, one which permanently opens up a
wound in a once-organic sense of I-ness, and fragments a once secure and enveloping
universe into parallel territories. What the autoboiography does, thus, collides constantly
with what it expressly claims to want. This perverse denial of its own patently obvious
mode of operation displayed in every page of the text persists to the very close of
Hoffmans narrative. In triangulating Turner Hospital and Sante (in the section which fol-
lows) against Hoffman, I attempt to recuperate Lost in Translations actual mode of being,
albeit against its will, for a pedagogical project of triadic thought.

Triangulation embraced

In contrast to Hoffmans autobiography, which persistently returns to the notion of tri-
angulation only to disavow it all the more vigorously, Luc Santes The Factory of Facts
mentions the word only once. Paradoxically, however, the operations described by triangu-
lation are foregrounded and acknowledged as central elements of the subjectivity enacted
in his text.

Whereas the very fabric of Hoffmans text, its English language medium of composition,
can only ever partially be re-inscribed in service of a re-constituted organic selfhood, Sante
embraces the fragmenting force of English from the outset, without displaying any need to
deactivate it. Sante does not regard the English language as the instance which brutally
cleaves his ostensibly organic childhood identity, but appears to assume that such an iden-
tity, from the very moment of its codification in autobiographical genre, should delight in
the corrosive force of the linguistic medium. Accordingly, The Factory of Facts opens by
turning out serial versions of a potted autobiography. The first chapter (Rsum) contains
nine successive autobiographemes, all beginning with variations upon the standard auto-
biographical opening: I was born on May 25, 1954, in Verviers, Belgium, the only child of
Lucien Mathieu Amlie Sante and Denise Lambertine Alberte Marie Ghislaine Nandrin.

Each rsum recounts a diasporic destiny. The variations are generated by the textual
factory as each version deviates more substantially from the preceding one. By the time the
reader has reached version nine, the tenor of these texts has become positively hallucina-
tory. The first chapter thus constitutes a chain of textlets, diasporic graffiti which give
concrete expression to Lacans notion of subjectivity as a sliding chain of signifiers subject
to repeated but only ever fleeting arrest. At the instant of arrest we have a self, consti-
tuted in a conglomerate of signs, momentarily fixed, but soon to become fluid again pend-
ing the next moment of fixation.
Santes mini-CVs succeed each other at short intervals like a 35-mm film slowed down
to the point where the individual frames become distinguishable from one another. The
living self is decomposed into its constituent textual variants. Each successive contrast
reminds the reader that no single version of a personal history is definitive, but that a self is
merely reflected, indeed constituted, in the textual fixing of an assemblage of facts. The
initial air of authority endowed by the inaugural sentence and its precise originary dating is
relativized by the second, and increasingly dispelled by the third, fourth, fifth, and so on.
Each gap between the textual blocks frames, and thus limits, these vignettes of a migrant
life. By the same token, however, the gaps also connect them to each other, forcing one
version up against another. The intervals of white paper between the text-blocks, like the
framing headers, footers and margins of the text, mediate between them, in the same man-
ner as do the frayed edges of the fragments of a collage, however minimal or imperceptible
they may be. In the meeting of two textual blocks, triangulation, the barely mentioned
active principle at work in Santes text, is made manifest in visual form.
In each case it is the continguity of the text-block with its neighbour which banishes its
licence, minimal and fleeting as it may be, to speak with authority of a life. As soon as it is
placed in the proximity of another block its scope is immediately narrowed. Any meaning
which it may enunciate has to share the same space as its neighbour. Indeed, the two mean-
ings cannot but be read in conjunction with each other. Any meaning either of these two
enunciations may possess now arises, at least in part, out of their difference, that is, out of
their common border. Meaning, in Samuel Becketts pithy formulation, does not emerge
from words, but from between them: The experience of my reader shall be between the
phrases, in the silence, communicated by the intervals, not the terms, of the statement.

17 Luc Sante, The Factory of Facts (New York: Vintage, 1998), 3. Hereafter FF.
18 Samuel Beckett, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic
Fragment (London: John Calder, 1983), 49.

Rsum stresses the performative quality of triangulation. It is the liveliness of the
bios, its self-creative character, which means that no life-narrative can ever be definitive
until its closure just as no narrative of a life can ever exhaust its own ongoing generativ-
ity. Only a text which is performative, which is embedded responsively in the open-
endedness of temporality, can approximate the subjectivity to which it gives expression,
and in giving expression, perpetuates. To that extent, any autobiography which pretends to
be adequate to a life is by definition a lie; and only an autobiography which lays bare its
mendacity can be remotely faithful to the fluidity of the subject-in-process it claims to
speak for ... and speak forth. Closure therefore can only be arbitrary and premature. Santes
ninth and final autobiographeme closes with the words, We grew increasingly warm as
we slept (FF 3). This terminal phrase alludes to that uncanny precursor of death, sleep,
harnessing the shadowy presence of mortality to put an end to these mini-CVs potentially
endless self-spawning, while nodding at the factitiousness of such a cut warmth is the
most immediate somatic index of life, the sign that thermodynamic entropy has not yet
gained the upper hand. Reluctantly, the chapter accepts closure, knowing full well however,
that its work will be carried on again shortly.
Which one of these CVs is true? What way do we have of knowing if any of them is
true? We are helped little by the fact that they all obey a common chronological imperative,
commencing as they do with a virtually unvarying formula, I was born in 1954.... This
constitutes a common originary point, from which the successive CVs deviate with increas-
ing violence. This structure merely confirms the traditional assumption that the date of birth
of an individual founds the truth of the existence flowing out of that point in time. Accord-
ingly, there is a lingering suspicion that the first narrative, which gives birth to all the oth-
ers, is the truest one. By the same token, however, the growing sense of frustration gener-
ated by these narratives, the sense of being mocked by the author, must also cause the
reader to question the very notion of the summary CV.
It becomes increasingly obvious that these serial micro-narratives do not evince an inco-
herent, randomizing process of chaos, but on the contrary, are driven by a strong structural
logic.Tthe further progress of the text demonstrates that the various stories are fabricated
out of fragments of family history, details of his own life, both real and fantasized. The
second rsums Belgian Congo narrative (FF 3-4) is derived from the successful entre-
prises undertaken by the narrators fathers cousin Alphone Faniel (FF 24); the childs
Congo illnesses echo the childhood illnesses of the first years in New Jersey after arrival in
the US (FF 89); the dissipated lifestyle of CV number four is a mlange of fantasized star-
letdom and real drug dabbling (FF 18-19, 31). Thus the collection of CVs at the beginning
of the book is a deliberate and conscious bricolage made up of available biographical
material in the same way as the dream recounted in the subsequent chapter (Cargo) is an
unconscious bricolage of textual materials.
This subject himself is a linguistic bricolage. Speaking from outside himself, in the third
person, he comments, He doesnt yet have a language. He has two tongues: one is all quiv-
ering, unmediated, primal sensation and the other is detached, deliberate, artificial. To give
a full account, he would have to split himself in two (FF 264). Even at the moment of writ-
ing, this split continues to bedevil his sense of selfhood: I can cross the border between
English and French, although I cant straddle it (FF 269); as a child, he needed a good hour
to shift between school English and home French, during which time he was incapable of

speaking either the one or the other (FF 254-5). Binary oppositions, however, are eschewed:
I knew the doings of two continents and could appreciate them lightly and without undue
investment. From trying to be two things at once, I had go on to resolve the conflict some-
where in the middle of the scale (FF 21-2). But the tentative median means of moving
beyond binaries is succeeded by a more radical triadic means later in the text.
His notion of a language-self is entirely governed by metonymic figurations:

I suppose I am never completely present in any given moment, since different aspects of myself are contained
in different rooms of language, and a complicated apparatus of air locks prevents the doors from all being flung
open at once. Still, there are subterranean correspondences between the linguistic domains that keep them from
stagnating. The classical order of French, the Latin-Germanic high-low order of English, and the onomatopoeic
peasant lucidity of Walloon work on one another critically, help enhance precision and reduce cant. They are
all operative, potentially. Given desire and purpose, I could make my home in any one of them. I dont have a
house, only this succession of rented rooms. That sometimes makes me feel as if I have no language at all, but
it also gives me the advantage of mobility. I can leave, anytime, and not be found. (FF 284-5)

Santes account of himself stresses the unrelenting mobility of subjectivity. This self is
constantly on the move, its mobility and fluidity such that the notion of a split, albeit one
which can be bridged, makes little sense. This self exceeds the impoverished duality of the
split personality, it is a threesome-plus. French interacts with English interacts with Wal-
loon, with the focus of this polyglot consortium shifting from one hearth to another. From
each of these foci, it is possible to interact with the other two. These nodes work on one
another critically, help enhance precision and reduce cant. From each linguistic reference
point it is possible to triangulate to the others.
But is triangulation there in Santes text? The term is mentioned once, in passing, al-
most as an aside the metonymic resonances of this word by now being perfectly obvious
in a reach of the family history to one side of the narratives more direct paternal and
maternal affiliations:

My godfather was engaged [by the Americans in Verviers at the end of 1944], not that he spoke English, but
since he had a command of French, Dutch, German, Walloon, and Plattdeutsch, he could figure it out by trian-
gulation. (In 1969, when my parents and I were visiting, he proudly showed us his U. S. Army translators
manual, marked Classified; when pressed to speak some English, he thought for a while and then exclaimed,
Fuck! My father blanched; my mother didnt understand.) (FF 100)

At the centre of the godfathers translative activity is a blank space, that of the absent lan-
guage which he is logically hired to translate. His translation activity works around that
absent centre, locating its terms always in reference to others not immediately related to it
just as there no immediate filial relation to a godfather but whose proximity marks out its
contours. This translation activity weaves a web of cognates but never directly enunciates
that pregnant core at the centre of the cocoon. This translation activity is resolutely meto-
nymic, the metaphorical moment of translative equivalence (English term = German term,
for example) is eschewed. There is a sliding along what Hoffman would call the base of
the triangle, with the apex, the English term, being gestured at, but never uttered. Does not
the autobiography do just this? The factory of facts generates facts, but never really gives
us the real.
What of truth, then? This question is important given that I am attempting to transfer the
notion of a bricolage-based triangulation from postmodern autobiography to the post-

modern classroom. The binary code of truth and untruth which, according to Luhmann,
constitutes the horizon of selection for the educational and scientific systems, is inherently
destablized in the literary classroom. What sort of truth is produced from triangulation,
and how can it be implemented in the pedagogical process?
Let us treat the diasporic autobiography, very crudely, as a literary work which attempts
to recuperate an earlier life in another language. The truth it aspires to is that of the linguis-
tic past. But Sante freely admits that he lost half a language through want of use and even-
tually, in [his] late teens, even lost French as the language of [his] internal monologue (FF
32). The preoccupations are similar to those of Lost in Translation. However, [h]astening
on toward some idea of the future, I only half realized these losses, and when I did realize I
didnt disapprove, and sometimes I actively colluded (FF 32). His life project, and by im-
plication the text in which that project is recounted, turns away from the past. I began a
project to reinvent myself, acknowledge no bonds or ties or background, pass myself off as
entirely self-made (FF 31). This is a version of truth which is constructive, not re-
constructive. It is not the recovery of the past which is aspired to a project which is pat-
ently impossible, the past being, precisely, past but rather, its reconstruction or recreation
for present and future use. There is no metaphorical relationship between the histo-
riographical text and the substance of history. The constructive work of the autobiographi-
cal text, far more, is metonymic, existing in a causal, utilitarian relationship to its historical
But how can the veracity of this account be vouched for, or even ascertained, if the mi-
metic, metaphorical relationship between historiographic signifier and historical signified
no longer holds? Once again, the only possible mode of verification is a metonymic one,
based frankly upon the mediated mode of triangulation. In other words, the text which con-
structs the past is itself subject to critical reading, reading which in turn constructs that text
within a critical discourse. This constant process of triangulation is posited silently by a text
such as Santes Factory of Facts it performs triangulation almost without mentioning the
term, in stark contrast to the anxious reiteration of the t-word in Hoffmans Lost in Trans-
lation. Santes text willingly participates in a quiet cultural ambiance which is all about it,
pervading autobiography, fiction and theory of the late modern alike.

Tertiary Thought

If postmodern thought also evinces many instances of tertiary thought, it is perhaps be-
cause it shares many of the preoccupations and follows the behests of postmodern writing.
Autobigraphy, fiction, theory these types of texts should be understood as metonymies of
one another, existing in a network of allusive intertextual productivity. Both theories and
fictions, in this ficto-theoretical collage concept, are versions of each other, as the title of a
book by Maud Mannoni, Theory as Fiction, suggests.
A brief exploration of a number of
examples of ternary thought in contemporary theory will reveal the salient features which
are common to triangulation in literary and theoretical texts. Triangulation implies an

19 Maud Mannoni, La Thorie comme fiction: Freud, Groddeck, Winnicott, Lacan (Paris: Seuil, 1979).

ontology of meaning which emphasizes construction rather than essence, process as an
open-ended historical event, and in consequence, the malleability of meaning.
If we return to the earliest prefigurations of contemporary semiotics, two figures are no-
ticeable in their preoccupations with tertiary modes of meaning-making. Saussure suggests
that the sign is composed of two further elements, a signifier and a signified. Peirce proffers
an alternative model for the sign, consisting of a representamen (the sign itself), the object
(for which it stands), and the ground (the capacity in which the sign functions, whether
iconic, indexical or symbolic). Both theories are trichotomous, but in very different ways.
Peirces triadic sign is activated by someone, an interpretant. Whereas Saussures sign is
arbitrary, determined by social convention, Peirces sign is not merely embedded in social
mores, but constantly interacting with them and being produced by them. A sign or repre-
sentamen is something that stands to somebody for something is some respect or capac-
Saussures social context is present in shadowy form around about the sign (figured
iconically in the infamous tree given as an example for the two-part sign), whereas for
Peirce, the social fabric, focused in the ground as the concrete, real-world form taken by the
sign, and in turn activated by an interpretant, is part of the sign as an ongoing semiotic
process. Even at this nascent era of semiotics, then, semiosis is conceived of as the work of
semiotic trichotomies (Peirces term), and thus as a process open to permanent change
because mediated through and itself mediating social contexts.
In Lacans triadic structure of psychic modes of functioning, semiosis is also an inher-
ently social mode of production of the self. The Real is the One, the undifferentiated realm
in which reality is not filtered but bombards the unprotected subject, culminating in psycho-
sis. The Imaginary is the Dual, the mendacious symbiosis of the subject and its illusory
reflection in the infamous mirror stage and its life-long avatars. The Symbolic goes be-
yond the One and the Dual, taking the subject into the realm of its truth, a truth which is
always mediated, always inaccessible except via the opacity of language. Lacanian psycho-
analysis operates by the means of an intervention in the patients flow of free associations,
imposing a cut (whence the etymological resonance of analysis) in the stream of significa-
tion, and thus causing meaning to crystallize in the same way that the jagged edges of a
collage cause meaning to coalesce abruptly.
Lacanian psychoanalysis is a deictic activity, pointing rather than asserting, obliging the
analysand to complete the interpretative process. It is a mere montage, a metonymic con-
struction rather than a metaphoric instruction. To that extent, the analyst as sujet suppos
exits, leaving the analysand with the responsibility to choose an interpretation, one
which is invested with no final authority, and to decide upon the existential consequences
for her- or himself. Here the dilemma of the pedagogue, torn between technology and
self-reference is settled absolutely in favour of the latter option. The analysts intervention
is indexical, it merely posits a triangular relationship between discourse, analysand, and cut
so that in the moment of fixing the flow of signifiers, they come to represent something
for somebody. The cut takes us into the Symbolic, reminding us that meaning is socially
constructed, in no wise permanent but necessitating permanent rehearsal. This form of

20 Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers ed. Charles Hartshorne, Paul Weiss and Arthur W. Burks (Cam-
bridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931-58), II, 135.
21 See Jacques Lacan, Les Quatres concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse (Paris: Seuil, 1973), Ch. XVIII,
Du sujet suppos savoir, de la dyade premire, et du bien, 209-20.

analysis is performative, harnessing and intervening in the construction of selfhood through
desire which structures the subject from the outset.
A very different theory of meaning, one which has also been applied to the individual
subject, but which also depends upon a central notion of division or differentiation, is
Luhmanns sociological systems theory. Systems sort phenomena in the world so as to
categorize them as part of a system or a non-system (environment). Based upon an
inaugural division, much like a cut in the Lacanian sense, phenomena are divided up into
here and there according to a binary code of selection appropriate to the system in ques-
tion. Each cut, however, must be made available to the system which it has inaugurated by
an act of observation which integrates it, self-reflexively, into the systems coherence. In
the fictional terms of Janette Turner Hospital: Once, when I asked Charlie why he took
photographs so constantly, so obsessively, why he collected other peoples photographs,
why he scavenged in second-hand shops and bought, by the shoe-box full, old cracked
brown-and-cream records of other peoples past, he said, So Ill see what Ive seen
(LM 36). Or, in the more abstract terms adopted by Luhmann: We can conceive of system
differentiation as a replication, within a system, of the difference between a system and its
environment. Differentiation is thus understood as a reflexive and recursive form of system
Luhmanns triadic system thus consists of an ongoing series of cuts which dis-
tinguish system and environment, and then an act of observation which records and saves
that cut as a system-reinforcing event. The system is dependent upon self-reference to
maintain itself, in a process which resembles the constant productivity of triangulations in
Pieces trichotomic semiosis, or Lacans analysis.
Paradoxically, the self-reference of analysis in the Symbolic order, or systemic-
differentiation is merely the reverse side of systemic dependence upon alterity which makes
the subject (an organic system linked to a psychic system, according to Luhmann) or social
system a desiring machine existing by virtue of its capacity to link to other machines:
Des machines des machines, avec leur couplages, leurs connexions. Une machine-organe
est branche sur une machine-source: lune met un flux, que lautre coupe
made of machines, with their couplings and their connections. An organ-machine is linked
up to a source-machine: one feeds, the other cuts off]. For Luhmann, the social system
exists by virtue of its capacity to find Anschlumglichkeiten, possibilities of connection,
in its environment. Binary codes of selection determine which connections are likely to
reinforce systemic coherence, and observation furnishes the pre-conditions for the next
round of connections. As long as the system continues to find information which can be
integrated in an ongoing self-referential process, it will not fall prey to entropy. Likewise,
for Lacan, analysis aims to integrate the subjects constitutive dependence upon alterity,
which permanently erodes the Imaginary, into the Symbolic system. The movement is al-
ways a triadic one, shifting constantly from the binary, via a connection which is both sub-
jective (self-referential) and social (other-referential) to the tertiary.
The triadic process is always other-oriented at the very moment of being auto-referential.
The subject desires the desire of the other, runs Lacans lapidary formulation: this is both

22 Niklas Luhmann, The Differentiation of Society, trans. Stephen Holmes and Charles Larmore (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1982), 230-1.
23 Gilles Deleuze and Flix Guattari, Capitalisme et schizophrnie: LAnti-dipe (Paris: Minuit, 1972), 7.

the condition of its existence and the mark of its mortality.
This may mean that the subject
exists only as long as it is recognized by the other, but in the reading of Ren Girard, it also
can be taken to suggest that the subject desires the other that the other desires. All learning
is imitative, and the learning of desire is no less so. Freud observed the curious imitative
phenomenon he called affective infection.
Show me whom I should desire! is the cry
of Barthes lover.
Desire attaches itself to those objects which are desired by others. Para-
doxically, imitative desire initially appears to be a dual, metaphorical mode of mimesis
but this is deceptive. For the act of mimesis passes via the mimed other towards a third
instance, that object of the others desire. The Oedipal structure is one primordial manifes-
tation of mimetic desire. Ironically, this means that the subject follows the desires of its
own rivals the hated father, for instance. Desire, then, is constructed around a model
which at the same takes of the character of an obstacle, thus intensifying the desire for that
which the concurrent also seeks. Desire thus creates its own defeat, thereby perpetuating
itself and guaranteeing its character as desire.
As in any Luhmannian system, the precon-
dition of systemic self-perpetuation is the constant threat of entropy and systemic collapse.
Between these two extremes the process of self-constitution mediated via alterity operates
by a process of ceaseless triangulation.

Triangulation in the classroom

What is the relationship of all this to the classroom? How does triangulation as a fic-
tional or theoretical construct, as a process of (self-)knowledge in the late-modern world,
relate to our students and their life-paths, and to our common teaching-learning enterprise
in the pedagogical context? Gayatri Spivak, in a lapidary and suggestive essay on transla-
tion, suggests that the translator should pay attention not only to the content and the form of
the text to be translated, to its logic and its rhetoric, but also to a more unpredictable, dan-
gerous, third aspect of textuality: Post-structuralism has shown some of us a staging of the
agent within a three-tiered notion of language (as rhetoric, logic, silence). We must attempt
to enter or direct that staging, as one directs a play, as an actor interprets a script. That takes
a different kind of effort from taking translation to be a matter of synonym, syntax and local
Spivaks three part model makes room not only for the regularity of the text as a
transmission of information and its irregularity as a rhetorical that is textual construc-
tion, but also for what falls between these two poles, silence, contingence:

The relationship between logic and rhetoric, between grammar and rhetoric, is also a relationship between so-
cial logic, social reasonableness and the disruptive figuration in social practice. These are the first two parts of

24 Jacques Lacan, Ecrits I (Paris: Seuil/Points, 1970), 146.
25 See Sigmund Freud, Die Traumdeutung, in Gesammelte Werke (Frankfurt/Main : Fischer, 1999), II/III, 155;
Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse in Gesammelte Werke (Frankfurt/Main : Fischer, 1999), XIII, 96, 104.
26 Montrez-moi qui dsirer Roland Barthes, Fragments dun discours amoureux (Paris: Seuil, 1977), 163-4.
27 See Ren Girard, Critique dans un souterrain (Paris: Livre de poche, 1986), 10-13; Des choses caches depuis
la fondation du monde: Recherches avec Jean-Michel Oughourlian et Guy Lefert (Paris: Livre de poche,
1986), 401-21.
28 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Politics of Translation, in Lawrence Venuti (ed.), The Translation Studies
Reader, 399.

our three-part model. But then, rhetoric points to the possibility of randomness, of contingency as such, dis-
semination, the falling apart of language, the possibility that things might not always be semiotically organized.
(My problem with Kristeva and the pre-semiotic is that she seems to want to expand the empire of the mean-
ing-ful by grasping at what language can only point at.) Cultures that might not have this specific three-part
model will still have a dominant sphere in its traffic with language and contingency.

This triadic model of translation takes account of something maverick in language, some-
thing which goes beyond the mere disruptive value of the Kristevan paradigm of the semi-
otic erupting within the symbolic. Perhaps Spivak is pointing to something which
Kristeva, for all her dependence upon Lacan, neglects in her dualist adaptation of Lacanian
theory, the third term in Lacans triad: the Real, that which falls outside of representation,
the black hole. Implicitly, Derrida is posed against Kristeva. For Derridas notion of dif-
france, explicated in a seminal text with recourse to the example of the intervals between
words which make language function (the silence between and around words in Spivaks
), makes space for something that exceeds the vagaries of language and its
regulation or deregulation.

Kristevas theory is situated in the tension between law and transgression, a binary mode
entirely germane to the post-1968 context in which her work on revolutionary semiotics
took place (La Rvolution du language potique [Revolution of Poetic Language] was pub-
lished in 1974). But such a binary configuration is less relevant to the present era, in which
a generalized unease, a sense of radical insecurity, has displaced the old political convic-
tions. Kristevas later work, notably Les nouvelles maladies de lme (The New Maladies of
the Soul] (1993) registers much more acutely an all-pervasive late-modern sense of living
on the edge: her privileged figure for the new societal dis-ease are borderline conditions
along the frontiers between neurosis and psychosis. What characterizes these disorders is
not the tension between the symbolic and the semiotic, between ordered representation
and its pre-symbolic other, but a more fundamental incapacity to represent.
What is ab-
sent from Kristevas semiotic theory of the 1970s but has increasingly gained her attention
in the more recent work of the 1990s is contingence, the axiological silence which more
and more we must address in our contemporary classrooms.
In this risk society where inherited ethical frameworks and received paths of action no
longer hold good,
learners need above all to acquire the wherewithal to make decisions
which do not rely upon fixed codes of conduct, but which triangulate from the provisional
givens of the immediate context, givens which themselves may be dependent upon other
shifting parameters. They must learn to become not engineers (in Lvi-Strauss sense of
the words) of their own existential destiny, relying upon erstwhile grands rcits which are
no longer available, but bricoleurs making do with the fragmentary stories and mini-
paradigms furnished by the immediate environment.

29 Spivak, The Politics of Translation, 404.
30 Spivak, The Politics of Translation, 399.
31 See Jacques Derrida, La diffrance, Marges de la philosophie (Paris : Minuit, 1972), 5, 13.
32 Julia Kristeva, Les nouvelles maladies de lme (Paris: Fayard, 1993), 15-20.
33 See Ulrich Beck, Risikogesellschaft: Auf dem Weg in eine andere Modern (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1986).

In the classroom we are contracted to transmit encoded knowledges, techniques in the
words of Luhmann and Shorr.
But we are also educators in the etymological sense of the
word, forming subjects or offering them techniques of selfhood so as to facilitate their
own existential choices in an era of utmost uncertainty. Within the classroom, itself consti-
tuted by the tension between transmission of techniques and the learning of self-
referential autonomy, teaching and learning must seek new pedagogical axes in keeping
with an increasingly de-regulated world.
Triangulation is a mode of knowledge which facilitates self-constitution in a manner ap-
propriate for the present day. It is precarious, modest, constantly self-revising, aware of
others and not enamoured of its own reflections. It employs reflection via the resisting
other, the mediator, as a means to return to itself disillusioned but by the same token
enlightened. In the literary classroom, the diasporic text may be one of these resisting oth-
ers so necessary to the process of triangulation. In a passage in Lost in Translation, Hoff-
man furnishes an example of a narrative of exile by an expatriate American, and thus gives
a glimpse of the way in which pedagogical triangulation may function:

my particular kind of alienness serves me well, for I soon discover that triangulation is a more useful tool in lit-
erary criticism than it is in real life. As I read, I triangulate to my private criteria and my private passions, and
from the oblique angle of my estrangement, I notice whats often invisible to my fellow students. ... Reading
The Ambassadors requires a torture of concentration, but a glimpse of Strether coming ashore in France and
registering the ever-so-minute changes of light and smell and facial expression and angle of objects delivers a
thrill of recognition, and I want to write Henry James a thank-you note for catching the ineffable with such ex-
actitude. (LT 183-4)

In education, Hoffmans habitual triangulation comes in handy. This is disavowed, as so
often in Lost in Translation, on this occasion by writing it off as pure coincidence the per-
fect accord of the reifying techniques of 1960s New Criticism with the narrators analytical
triangulation. Her polarization of literary-pedagogical triangulation and real-life triangula-
tion is ingenuous, however, for the dislocation worked by exile allows her to read differ-
ently, the text read itself being triangulated off against her own experience.
This process is no less apposite for our own late-modern times: we live in a risk society
in which the lives of most people resemble that of diasporic subjects, in which frameworks
and guidelines are changing and provisional. What Edward Said says about the median
position of the exile can be generalized today to include others whose marginality is a figu-
rative rather than literal: The exile ... exists in a median state, neither completely at one
with the new setting nor fully disencumbered of the old, beset with half-involvements and
half-detachments, nostalgic and sentimental on one level, an adept mimic or secret outcast
on another. This median position affords the exile a double perspective on the world:

Because the exile sees things both in terms of what has been left behind and what is actual here and now, there
is a double perspective that never sees things in isolation. Every scene or situation in the new country necessar-
ily draws on its counterpart in the old country. Intellectually this means that an idea or experience is always
counter-posed with another, therefore making them both appear in a sometimes new and unpredictable light:

34 Niklas Luhmann and Karl Eberhard Schorr (eds), Zwischen Technologie und Selbstreferenz: Fragen an die
Pdagogik (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1982).

from that juxtaposition one gets a better, perhaps even more universal idea of how to think, say, about a human
rights issue in one situation by comparison with another.

Out of this median/double perspective a triadic posture emerges, that of the diasporic intel-
lectual whose privileged position allows her or him to triangulate in the contemporary
cultural context and thus to attain unusual insights on and perceptions about the world we
live in. Said has more recently acknowledged the elitist character of this privilege, but the
figure of marginal thought may none the less serve as a heuristic device. It may well be that
the gift of triangulation serves not merely a critical cultural project championed by the
humanities since the 1960s, but other projects equally germane to our present times.
William Paulson has questioned the dogma of humanities teaching in many Anglo-
American universities as the inculcation of critical knowledge.
One new direction may be
the establishment of a self-critical discourse in teaching, one that triangulates its own
epistemological process. Knowledge would thus include the self-referential observation of
the process by which knowledge is acquired. This meta-pedagogical level of discourse
would not say which knowledge is right, for that would be to convert this knowledge into
mere transmission rather than leaving it open-ended. Rather, this meta-pedagogy would
engage a debate about how we decide what to do with knowledge, how to evaluate it, sift it.
Such a direction would admit that academic discourse is not transparent, but is a place of
production, the site of an ongoing process in which something untoward occurs. This sort of
discourse would enable us, if I may misquote Turner Hospitals character Charlie Chang, to
learn what we have learned.
This mode of meta-learning would subject learning to a process of observation so as to
frame and objectify the initial act of cognition. The subject-object knowing would be super-
seded by a subject-object-interpretation mode of cognition. The act of knowing is taken up
by a second-level act which allows a space, an interval to emerge, that of critical distance.
A theorist such as Peter Zima claims that Brechtian Verfremdung, as an exemplary form of
the cognitive-critical role played by art in the era of modernism, has today lost the stable
site from which it could unmask ideology: all that is left to it is to cater to aesthetic enjoy-
ment or to figure as provocation without truth content.
Accepting that there is no out-
side of textuality, or of the power mechanisms of late capitalism, for that matter, triangulat-
ing pedagogy would afford a new form of the critical distance upon which, according to
Fredric Jameson, left cultural politics and left pedagogy has traditionally depended and
which ostensibly has been abolished in the cultural space of postmodernism.
The meta-
level of learning what one has learnt via triangulation, far from delivering the pedagogic
process up to a relativistic mise-en-abyme without end, would provide a critical instance
within the vertiginous alternatives of postmodernism. It would renew aesthetic and peda-
gogical critical distance by installing a refraction of disparate vantage-points within the

35 Edward W. Said, Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (New York: Vintage, 1996), 49, 60.
36 William Paulson, Literary Culture in a World Transformed: A Future for the Humanities (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 2001).
37 Peter V. Zima, Modern/Postmoderne: Gesellschaft, Philosophie, Literatur. (Tbingen/Basel: Francke/UTB,
1997), 255.
38 See Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 1992), 48;
Ross Chambers, Room for Maneuver: Reading (the) Oppositional (in) Narrative (Chicago: Chicago Univer-
sity Press, 1991), xi-xx.

shifting and multiple outlooks of contemporary culture. This mode of knowledge would
offer no final answers, no dialectical synthesis or resolution of contradictions, but rather an
open-ended dialogue and experimentation: a mode of knowledge which would be resolutely
postmodern, following Hutcheons anti-dialectical characterization of the concept.
gulated knowledge would be a weak knowledge
As Lucy in The Last Magician says,
All I can do is feel my way, advancing, retreating, positing theories, testing, rejecting,
going in circles and always covering new ground. Everything I say is provisional. ... I spin
my webbed translations as I go (LM 85).

The university pedagogical context may be witness to a form of triangulating composi-
tion constructed out of autobiographical fragments of students own ongoing life projects,
their own oblique perspectives borne of frequent experiences of displacement, however
insignificant or cataclysmic these may have been, and the sounding board of literary texts.
What might result is a process exemplified in an anecdote told by the Bulgarian-Australian
scholar Sneja Gunew. At a conference on mtissage, her colleague Elspeth Probyn, an
expatriate Canadian, triangulated her relationship to the Australian Aboriginal Reconcilia-
tion movement with a poem written by her own grandmother in which she spoke from the
position of a First Nations woman in Canada spuriously, presumptuously, it is implied.
In an afterthought redolent of the interval opened up by triangulation, Gunew remarks:
These days would be difficult to conceive of such an act, but within the ideologies of that
era it carried the pathos of someone trying to position herself in another cultural milieu.

39 Linda Hutcheon,, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction (London: Routledge, 1988), x.
40 See Gianni Vatttimo, LAvventure della differenza (Milan: Garzanti, 1980), 9-10.
41 See David Callahan, Acting in the Public Sphere and the Politics of Memory in Janette Turner Hospital,
Tulsa Studies in Womens Literature, 15:1 (1996), 74-76, 79-80.
42 Sneja Gunew, Haunted Nations: The Colonial Dimensions of Multiculturalisms (London: Routledge, 2004),


Za Tatjanu i Joshua

Perplexed visitors to Berlin often ask, But where was the wall?
Their puzzlement is justified. After the reunification of Germany in 1989-90, the Berlin
Wall was rapidly dismantled and traces of the thirty-year division of the city removed.
Today, only a few sections of the wall are still intact. The course of the wall is marked in
many places only by a discrete line of cobblestones in the pavement.
But the other reason for visitors bafflement is that the Wall never existed. There was
never one Wall, but rather, a complex and multiple system of barriers designed to make it
almost impossible for citizens of the German Democratic Republic to escape to the West.
There were in fact three walls (in the ultimate version of four stages of development): the
first concrete wall, topped with a round pipe to prevent escapees climbing over, a second
wire fence down the middle of the death-strip, and then a third wall of concrete slabs back-
ing onto the built up areas in East Berlin. Of all this, only faint traces remain.
Where was the Wall? There never was one.

A break and no break

In the same way, it is paradoxical that it is the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989
which emblematizes the end of the Cold War paradoxical because the Berlin Wall was
not, strictly speaking, a part of the iron curtain which cut a swathe across Europe, from the
Baltic to the Adriatic, for almost half a century.
Instead, the Berlin Wall was a loop drawn around West Berlin, creating an island deep
within the socialist East. Poland was only hundred or so kilometres away. West Berliners
referred to the rest of the Federal Republic as West Germany, thus taking cognizance of
the fact that they themselves did not belong to it.
When the Berlin Wall fell, then, it did not signal the end of the great East-West dichot-
omy for the simple reason that there never was one. The Berlin Wall, displaced as it was
from the main axis of Cold War stand-off, underscored the fact that there were several divi-
sions in the Europe of the Cold War, and not merely one monolithic divide.
Berlin itself was a precocious sign of the internal fragmentation and subsequent forma-
tion of virulent micro-identities which have followed all over Europe as the legacy of 1989.
West Berlin, long before the first barbed-wire barricades were erected, was a tear in the
fabric of the German Democratic Republic, a sign that its political and economic structures
were fraying ineluctably: in the years before the Wall was built, fifteen percent of the disaf-
fected GDR population had already left the country via West Berlin.
The virulent proliferation of fanatical political, regional or religious identities and the
brutal conflicts which ensued after 1989 should therefore have come as no surprise, for this

proliferation was already inscribed, symbolically at least, in the complexities underlying the
apparent polarization of the Cold War era. The disintegration of the Soviet Union, Yugosla-
via and Czechoslovakia were the most obvious political signs of this sudden resurgence of
metatstases of division which had survived, if they had not exactly been preserved by, the
permafrost of the Cold War.
The dichotomization of Europe into East and West hid a multitude of differences and,
paradoxically, continuities. The caesura of 1989 was a major historical rupture and at the
same time, no rupture at all.
What does it mean, then, to write in the wake of a rupture which was not a rupture?
The fallacious character of such breaks is the subject of Marica Bodrois 2002 collec-
tion of short fictions, Tito ist tot [Tito is dead].
The title suggests that the end of the social-
ist epoch is the central caesura with which her work is concerned, but the text itself is more
complex. That rupture is overdetermined in her fiction by its being overlaid by a number of
other caesuras which recur, in various guises, in the texts: the death of the grandfather, the
end of childhood, the narrators departure from Dalmatia (the region of Croatia on the Adri-
atic coast whose centres are the harbour cities of Split and Dubrovnik), exile from the lan-
guage of childhood and arrival in the German language. These moments of caesura are not
necessarily chronologically coeval with one another. The author herself, for instance, left
Yugoslavia in 1983 for the Federal Republic of Germany (she now lives in Frankfurt/Main
and Paris); Tito died in 1980, Croatian secession occurred ten years later. The isomorphism
of these various instances of caesura is thus textual, with the post-Tito era, the break up of a
formerly harmonious village culture, hatred between former neighbours, the war, exile in a
new country, the learning of a new language, and the texts own concern with the evocation
of a irretrievable past and its memories all standing for what comes after.
Bodrois concern is always to examine phenomenon of caesura along two axes, that of
time and that of space, in the same dense textual complex. By condensing the before-and-
after and the here-and-there she is able to deal simultaneously with the connected phenom-
ena of memory and diaspora. Dalmatia, childhood and the summer run together in an ele-
giac whole:

Damals, als der Sommer sich seinem Ende zuneigte, schwebten die abendlichen Schatten ber dem Tal. Der
Blick erhob sich ber die Blue der Blumen und war auf der Suche nach einem Ort, von dem aus es dem Bet-
rachter mglich gewesen wre, diese heimatliche Gegend zu verlassen und anderswo ein anderer zu sein.
das war das Ende der Unschuld. Hier nahm das Misstrauen seinen Anfang es war das Ende ihrer Kindheit.
Es kam ihnen nicht in den Sinn zu trauern. Wozu, etwas Neues wrde kommen. (TT 151)

[Back then, as the summer came to an end, the evening shadows passed across the valley. My gaze climbed
above the blue of the flowers and searched for a place, where it would be possible for the observer to leave this
native region and to become someone else, somewhere else. ... it was the end of innocence. Here, distrust
raised its head ... it was the end of their childhood. It did not occur to them to be sad. What was the use? Some-
thing new would come.]

Drawing upon the double resources of commemoration and exilic nostalgia, Bodroi is
able to interrogate the narrative paradigms with which contemporary societal story-telling
constructs the presence and absence of the past, and the proximity and distance of the for-

1 Marica Bodroi, Tito ist tot: Erzhlungen (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 2002). Hereafter TT.

eign. The short texts in Tito ist tot are diasporic graffitis in the true sense of the word,
pieces sometimes as short as four or five pages, which engage with the theme of exile: exile
from the past, from ones own childhood, from the mother tongue. They are written in
German, rather than in the lilting Dalmatian dialect of Croatian which is hinted at by the
proper nouns. They engage with the turbulences of the post-socialist era in a series of ele-
giac evocations of the past in an exilic mode which is both temporal and geographical. The
pedagogical interest of these texts for a German-speaking student audience rests upon the
fact that they actively form a bridgehead from the German present (social, linguistic and
geographical) into the emigrant past (once again, social, linguistic and geographical) in a
manner which is for many German-language readers with a diasporic background acutely
present and relevant.

The past is past

Bodrois language is often that of an intensely sunlit magical realism. The world of the
mountains and valleys running down to the Adriatic coast, the light, the heat, the sounds of
cicadas in the olive trees, are described in a paradisiac mode: Alles badet im Licht der
Erinnerung, so hell wie jenes Zimmer meiner trumerischen Kindheit (TT 114) [Every-
thing is bathed in the light of memory, as hell as that room of my dreamy childhood].
Childhood is an Edenic garden in many stories literally (for instance TT 106) from
which the adult narrator is in permanent exile.
Using the simile of an old photo which corrodes the vividness of the living persons, the
author captures the sense of the present ceding to the past and being gradually lost to sight:

Die Farben beginnen zu verschwimmen, lsen sich auf, eine Schwarz-weie Welt mit einem leicht gelblichen
Einschlag tritt dem Betrachter entgegen. Hier verlieren sich die Konturen der abgelichteten Gestalt, das Kopf-
tuch der Tante beginnt zu schweben und hakt sich an der Linde. Die Sense fllt herunter und beginnt zu rosten.
Der karierte Rock verliert seine Karos. (TT 54)

[The colours begin to blur, dissolve, a black-white world with a light yellowish tint meets the observer. Here
the contours of the photographed figure are worn away, Aunts head-scarf begins to float and gets caught in the
linden tree. The scythe falls to the ground and begins to rust. The chequered skirt loses its checks.]

But the loss of the past is not merely an inevitable process of mortality or temporal ero-
sion. It is also a politically driven process in which the past is deliberately forgotten or
erased, as the war destroys old allegiances and constructs new ones: Jeder war neutral
geworden, ohne Geschichte, ohne Biographie; merkwrdig genug, das dabei ein nationales
Gedchtnis bewahrt wurde (TT 14). [Everyone had become neutral, without a history,
without a biography; it was very strange that at the same time, a national memory was
being preserved]. The native land is increasingly described as a region of silence, as a
region of repression, following the decisive moment of caesura, the cut of censorship,
both collective and individual:

Lcken gibt es im Leben viele, Stellen, auf denen man nicht laufen, nicht stehen bleiben, ber man nicht reden
kann, Stellen, die sich nur zum behutsamen Gleiten eignen, zu Orten werden, die ohne Bilder sind und Men-
schen beherbergen, die ohne Erinnerung Leben. Still ist es dort, an diesen Orten, unheimlich, leise regt sich das

herbstliche Blatt. Alle haben gesehen, keiner sagt etwas, Bltter sind Gefahr, Bltter bewegen sich. Sie reden,
direkt in die Gesichter der Menschen. Aber die Menschen schweigen, schauen in sich hinein, finden nichts, ge-
hen nach auen, frchten die Bltter und senken den Blick, bilderlose Augen, Linienmnder, wollen nichts sa-
gen, schweigen, schweigen sich tot (TT 103-4)

[There are many gaps in life, place where one cannot walk, or stop, about which one cant talk, places which
can only be skated over carefully, which becomes places without images housing people who live without
memories. Its quiet in these places, uncanny, only the movement of autumn leaves can be heard. Everyone has
seen something, no one says anything, for leaves are dangerous, leaves move. Leaves speak, directly in peo-
ples faces. But the people remain silent, look into themselves, find nothing there, go back out again, fear the
leaves and drop their gaze, with imageless eyes, lined mouths, refuse to speak, remain silent, remain silent till

In a text so much concerned with the places of childhood, it is no surprise that the past,
whether forgotten by chance or forgotten by intention, is described in terms of taboo territo-
ries, of places to be avoided. The autumnal leaves rustling in these no mans lands give
voice to what has been consigned to these forgotten corners of the landscape. Leaves, of
course, allude here also to the leaves of a book, leaves whose task it may be to retrieve
these mute voices and make them audible once again.

Silence in Eden

This lost Eden, however, turns out to have been a region of silence before the caesura
too. The author constantly employs epithets such as Sprachlosigkeit, Stimmverlust,
Schweigen (TT 81, 103, 104) [Speechlessness, loss of voice, silence, taciturnity].
Paradise was a region without language precisely because, in the garden before the fall and
the subsequent exile, everything was still present too present. Language only intervenes
where the thing itself, its referent, is absent. In Eden, the perennial gap between word and
referent has not yet opened up, so that language, as the emerging possibility of otherness, is
still unavailable. Everything is subjugated to the reign of sameness and identity-with-
Self-evidences, Selbstverstndlichkeiten in German, are things that are so obvious that
they need no explanation. Selbstverstndlichkeiten are things that understand themselves
and thus can dispense with language. Already known to everyone, they need not be spoken
out loud. In Bodrois stories, a newcomer like the young woman who comes to her hus-
bands village when he leaves to work abroad as a Gastarbeiter finds herself enveloped in a
strangely mute world: Wie die anderen Frauen bernahm auch Katerina Jadnovna wortlos
ihre Aufgaben, sammelte Holz, wute nichts von den Gefahren, schwieg und betete (TT
38). [Like the other women, Katerina Jadnovna wordlessly took up her tasks, gathered
wood, knew nothing of the dangers, was silent, and prayed]
Here, in this putative Paradise, silence is coeval with death. A woman who has been bit-
ten by a snake and survives is deemed to be a witch, and to suffer the consequences: Ein-
vernehmlich hatte man sich, ohne ein Wort miteinander zu wechseln, darauf geeinigt, in
ihrer Person die Auferstehung einer altbekannten Hexe auszumachen, was einem Begrbnis
bei lebendigem Leibe gleichkam (TT 40-1) [By common accord, without exchanging a
word, one agreed to recognize in her person the resurrection of a well-known witch, an

arrangement which amounted, socially, to being buried alive]. Such systems of unspoken
consent are closed, they admit of no modification, they allow no novelty, because such
transformation would rip apart the adherence of thing to itself which renders language su-
perfluous. Where words are spoken, they are often linked to curses or superstition lan-
guage in its function of stifling statis: Lange Zeit glaubte ich, das Erbe meiner Kindheit
wrde in einem einzigen Wort mnden, in jenem Fluch meiner Mutter, der mit Blindheit
prophezeite (TT 17) [For a long time I believed that the heritage of my childhood would
flow into a single word, into the curse laid upon me by my mother, who prophesied blind-
ness for me]. Language, here, turns in upon itself, reproduces the already-known, con-
demns the world of things to a death-like identity with what already was.
Only in the world of language, the world of exile from things themselves, can the new
emerge, and with it liberation from the static world of tradition. If, in Bodrois texts, the
mother often stands for a principle of immobility and hermetic linguistic closure, it is the
father who embodies mobility and novelty: Vater war damals auf Reisen. Er kam einen
Tag nach dem Begrbnis verwandelt zurck ... Vater war ein anderer geworden (TT 113)
[Father was away at that time. He came home one day after the burial. ... Father had be-
come a different person]. Under the paternal regime of absence, words become the bearers
of novelty: Sie gingen fort und erschienen mir in neuer Gestalt, kamen oft in einem un-
vermuteten Zusammenhang mit einem neuen Namen zurck (TT 121) [They went away
and appeared to me in a new form, often coming back in an unsuspected context and with a
new name].
Departure, although the price is high, is the condition of renewal and transformation. It is
for this reason that the text is sown with intimations of the narrators own departure, and
with explanations of the necessity of departure.

Die erste Sehnsucht nach Ferne versuchte ich im Wipfel unseres Mandelbaumes zu stillen. (TT 112)

[I tried to lay to rest my first homesickness for a far-way land in the crown of our almond tree.]

Die Fremdheit erschreckte und verlockte mich, sie war ein Versprechen. (TT 141)

[The foreign scared me and beckoned to me, it was a promise.]

Often departure is the single possibility of existential survival in the closed world of tacit
tradition: Immer klarer wurden ihr die Gesetzte dieses fluchbehafteten Dorfes, und dieses
Niemandsland htte sich endgltig ihrer bemchtigt, wenn sie sich nicht dazu entschlossen
htte, ber Nacht fortzugehen (TT 42). [The laws of this accursed village became more
and more clear to her, and this no mans land would have vanquished her, had she not made
the decision to escape in the night]. Departure would appear, at first glance, to perpetuate
the losses which this collection of stories is concerned to palliate. Do these texts merely
explore their own condition of existence, the irretrievable moment before the rupture which
makes them a necessity? In their obsession with departure, do not the stories simply select
the moment of separation which renders their linguistic activity a painful recuperative ne-


No, for in Bodrois stories, the break is never a break; that would be merely to repro-
duce the logic of agonistic identities which have ceaselessly been replicated since the end of
the Cold War. Rather, the break is understood as a fluid transition which maintains links
with what has been left behind. As in Simone Weils epithet, Every separation is a link.

The authors privileged narrative tone, a lyrical magical realism, insists upon the possibility
not of recuperation but of reinscription of the past. Language is the fluid medium by which
this reinscription, a median form situated between loss and recuperation, is achieved. Thus
loss is cushioned but not erased by the activity of narration:

Nur Tante Morgenrot kehrt nicht zurck. Ihre Stelle auf dem Bild wird nicht ausgefllt. An diese Stelle setzt
das Kind ihre Gesichte. Unter der Linde sind Lichtsprengsel zu sehen, kleine rundliche Windungen, die sich
hier und da verlieren, um wieder aufzutauchen und das Kind an sich selbst zu erinnern. (TT 5)

[Only Aunt Aurora does not return. Her place in the photo is not filled. In this place, the child sets her story.
Under the linden tree there are bursts of light to be seen, small round spirals which disappear here and there
only to reappear and to remind the child of themselves/of itself.]

The story which the child sets in the Aunts place does not replace her, it triggers a process
of the reconstruction of the past, a reconstruction which is a new start, a continuation, a loss
and a gain, a disappearance and a reappearance in which the pasts self and the childs as
well the German formulation is ambivalent here in the ascription of selfhood is re-
Bodrois narrator speaks of her mothers constant pain, of a closed uncomplaining
world in which her mother lives, a world which is that of childhood. The realm of this lost
childhood must be abandoned because it stands for silence and immobility:

Die roten Schrunde an der Hnden meiner Mutter erinnerten mich an den Karst, jene Landschaft, in die sie sich
allabendliche vertiefte, an die Verlufe von Wasseradern unter den Hgeln, die sich in der Erde den Weg zu ei-
ner Quelle, einem See oder einem Flu bahnten. Im Krper der Mutter war alles abgedichtet, keine schaute
jemals in ihn hinein. Das weiche Fleisch war abgeriegelt, es gab keine lichte Stelle, durch die hindurch man in
das innere Gehuse zutritt erhalten knnten. Die roten Stellen an den Hnden, dachte ich eines Tages, waren
die einzigen Tore ins Krperinnere. Hier stand man am Eingang zum vergessenen Land meiner Mutter, befand
sich in der Zwischenwelt von Krper und Schmerz, die einen Kampf auf ihren Kuppen ausfochten. (TT 71)

[The red scabs on my mothers hands reminded me of the limestone landscape in which she buried herself in
the evenings, on the path of the watercourses under the hills, watercourses which made their way underground
to a spring, a lake or a river. ... In my mothers body everything was closed up, no-one could see in. The soft
flesh was tightly closed off, there were no gaps through which one could gain entry to the inner casing. The red
spots on her hands, I thought one day, were the only gates to the inside of her body. Here one stood at the entry
to the forgotten land of my mother, found oneself in a half-way world between body and pain, which fought a
battle on the outermost peaks.]

2 Quoted in John Kinsella, Links, in Peter Porter (ed.), The Oxford Book of Modern Australian Verse (Mel-
bourne: Oxford University Press, 1996), 272. See also Jacques Derrida, De la grammatologie (Paris: Minuit,
1967), 96, on the term brisure, and a collection of images by Grard Titus-Carmel, 25 variations sur lIde
de la Rupture (1970), in Littrature et idologies: Colloque de Cluny II, 2-4 avril 1970 La nouvelle critique
39 bis (1970), 86-91.

Not only the body of the mother, but the body of the landscape of childhood are closed,
hermetic worlds already at the period being recounted, and now doubly lost to the adult
In contrast to this closure, however, is the childs own experience of pain. The same
story tells how a glass jug dropped onto a stone floor shatters and deeply gashes her foot.
The gaping wound is plugged with tobacco and the child is wrapped in oiled newspaper to
reduce the fever. It is the viscosity of oily paper, a concrete image for the fluid mediation of
language, which bridges the gaps of the gaping flesh and later, of exile:

Jemand hebt mich hoch, andere Hnde kommen dazu, legen mich wieder ab. Es hat keinen Sinn, wird gesagt.
Zeitungspapier raschelt, wird auf meinen Bauch gelegt, das Fieber wird schon fallen, wird von derselben
Stimme fortgesetzt. Zeitungspapier raschelt erneut, wird auf meinen Bauch gelegt, das Fieber wird schon fal-
len, wiederholt die Stimme. l ergiet sich, ganz kalt, ber das Zeitungspapier. Fast hre ich, wie sich das Fett
einsaugt und in den Buchstaben verschwindet. Wo bin ich? Hnde rollen mich ins gelte Zeitungspapier ein, es
soll das Fieber wegzutzeln. Man balsamiert mich, denke ich, weil ich tot bin. Es ist kalt, dann wieder warm.
Wieder rollt man mich herum, die Zeitungspapier wird tapetengleich abgezogen. Es ist ganz trocken geworden,
flstert eine fremde Stimme. Wieder lgerusche, das Befeuchtung der Zeitung, das Rollen des Krpers.
Es folgen Schlaftrunkenheit, deutsche Wrter, ein Hausgeflster, schne Fremde, wohliger Schlaf.
Es war die Zeit, da ich an die Wunde im Fu schon lange nicht mehr gedacht und auch den Tabak, der zu mei-
ner Fleisch geworden war, vergessen hatte. Wir waren in ein Land gezogen, dessen Sprache ich noch nicht
sprach, die mich aber eigenartig umsplte, als schwmme ich in einem Bassin voller wundersamer Tne. Ich
wei nicht warum, vielleicht, weil ich die Sprache von frher kannte, habe ich sie von Anfang an gefhlt und
mich an das Einrollen des Krpers in Zeitungspapier und die fremdschwebenden Worte, die mir schn waren,
erinnert. (TT 75-6)

[Someone lifts me, other hands help, lay me down again. Theres no point, says someone. Newspaper rustles, is
laid on my stomach, the fever will go down, the same voice continues. Newspaper rustles again, is laid on my
stomach, the fever will decrease, the voice repeats. Oil is poured, very cold, over the newspaper. I can almost
hear how the fat is soaked up and disappears into the letters. Where am I? Hands roll me up in the oiled news-
paper, its to get rid of the fever. Theyre mummifying me, I think, because Im dead. Its cold, then warm
again. ... They roll me over again, the newspaper is peeled off like wall-paper. Its dried out, whispers a foreign
voice. Once again the sound of oil, the wetting of the newspaper, the rolling of the body.
And following that, the sleep-drunkenness, German words, house-whispers, a pleasant foreignness, the
well-being of sleep.
Later on was a time when Id not thought about the wound in my foot for a long time, and had forgotten the to-
bacco which had become part of my flesh. We had moved to a country whose language I did not yet speak, but
which washed around me in a strange way, as if I was swimming in a pool of wonderful sounds. I dont know
why, perhaps because I knew the language from earlier on, but I felt the language from the very beginning and
remembered my body being rolled up in newspaper and the foreign-floating words, words which were pleas-

Past and present, here and there, are enveloped in a poetic continuum evoked by the Wo
bin ich? which looks forward to the later exile into the already familiar German language.
The narrators weil ich tot bin takes up the rupture encapsulated in the books title and in
all the other isomorphic ruptures of the stories, binding them with the medium of language
itself. German is a foreign language, but because it was the language which, blended with
the newspaper-bandages and the oil-balsam, it is already present before the departure. Thus
it can smoothe over the rupture of the childhood world. Rather than representing a barrier of
ignorance, the as-yet-unspoken language forms a fluid transition from one land to another.

German as a phonic continuum plugs the gash of exile in a manner similar to the tobacco
and oil, it is the mode of transition at a musical, sensual level, rather than at the level of
semantic exclusion (or conversely, mastery).
The splintering glass jug thus cedes to a more fluid mode of transition in the story. The
rupture of the glass figures the loss of one identity and its inflexible container larmure
enfin assume dune identit alienante, qui va marquer de sa structure rigide tout son de-
veloppement mental
(the armour, at last put on, of an alienating identity which will mark
with its rigid structure the subjects entire mental development, in Lacans scathing
phrase). The shattering of that singular version of selfhood opens up new possibilities of
self-exploration, as in the broken mirror of a later story: Ich stehe da, geduldig, und schaue
durch die Gltte aller Spiegel hindurch, dringe zu den Sprngen vor. Dann renne ich hinein,
in den Spalt, in die Membran der neuen Lcke TT 142 [I stand there patiently and look
through the silvering of all mirrors, I penetrate to the cracks. Then I run through, into the
crack, through the membrane of the new gap.] The shattering of the glass jug figures the
emergence into the world of negotiable and shifting identities grounded in the social fact of
multiple and intersecting languages. It is another textual instance of rupture equated with
the moment of exile and the discovery of a new language not one which is experienced
only as a permanent and painful loss, but as a transition to a new, richer mode of existence.

Transformational grammar

Language itself is a generative resource which, when used as a mere tool of communica-
tion, must be disciplined for the sake of semantic accuracy. But once released into the po-
etic domain, language reveals manifold riches whose pragmatic utility may be limited, but
whose powers of mediation between discrete realms of experience are all the more intense
precisely because they are not limited by semantic delimitations:

Im Sportunterricht, als mein Blick wieder einmal auf das Herz und die Wade fiel, habe ich das Wort Mutter-
merkmal leise, unmerklich ging es mir ber die Lippen. Die Kinder haben gelacht und das merk aus dem Wort
weggeschafft und mich ausgelacht. Aber es half nicht, das volle Wort kehrt immer wieder zu mir zurck, und
im stillen sagte ich es mir vor, sprach es in mich hinein. In der vibrierenden Wiederholung hrte es sich mehr
und mehr wie ein Denkmal an. So kam ich, die letzten drei Buchstaben im Ohr, auf das andere, hnliche Wort,
Grabmal, and sagte mir, da an meiner Wade, vorne, unter dem Knie, an der Stelle des Herzens, ein Grabmal
entstnde. (TT 76-7)

[In sport lessons, as my gaze fell again on the small heart and my calves, I said the word Muttermerkmal [a
condensation of Muttermal, mole, and Merkmal, characteristic], it slipped across my lips quietly and barely
perceptibly. The children laughed and took the merk out of the word and laughed at me. But I couldnt help it,
the full word returned again and again to me, and silently I repeated it to myself, repeated inside myself. In the
vibrating repetitions it sounded more and more like Denkmal [monument]. In this way, with the last three let-
ters ringing in my ear, I came to the other, similar word, Grabmal [grave], and said to myself that on my calve,
at the front, under the knee, a grave had emerged.]

3 Jacques Lacan, Le Stade du miroir comme formateur de la fonction du Je, in crits I (Paris: Seuil/Points,
1970), 94.

The child suffers from an excess of meanings the extra syllable and semantic unit is
laughed out, put away, but returns persistently. It is the ostentatious and irresistible play
upon Muttermal, mole, and Merkmal, characteristic, which make the mole as sign, a
signal, a monument to the mother. Language is the place where meanings flow together,
celebrating the mother, lost forever, of necessity, but still present in the bodyliness of body
and the bodyliness of the language. The full word is not an aberration, it stands for the
excess of meaning which semantically ordered language keeps under control, and which
comes to supplement the inevitable absences in language when word and referent are torn
apart. Muttermerkmal celebrates the Edenic fullness which must be left behind, but which is
hidden in language itself when it is allowed to unfold its hidden potential, its fluid re-
sources, when it slips quietly over the lips. It is in the repetition of the word, a repetition
which erases the semantic content of language and foregrounds its material, phonic quali-
ties, which creates a plenitude of language in which the lost past can be reinscribed as a
Denkmal, a material monument which remains tangibly present neither lost irretrievably
nor absolutely recuperated, but reinscribed in an ongoing creative process. Even the grave
which evolves out of this fluid transition from one word to another is not a marker of death,
but of death as the moment of transition from one state to another.
This idea is contained in the very title of the collection, Tito ist tot, whose phonic oscilla-
tions are clear when represented thus: /ti:toisto:t/. Out of the declaration of death, of cae-
sura, a fluid enunciation, a linguistic Denkmal, a Grabmal in the non-disjunctive sense of
the concept, emerges. The answer to the loss of the past is language as a fluid, musical
medium which can bridge the gaps without having to be of the one or the other identity:
Der Wind is leise, sanft, fast kein Wind, nicht zu vergleichen mit der heimatlichen Bora.
Myrna schaut in die Weite, leise tnt die Sprache ihrer Kindheit zu ihr hinber, Stze, Wr-
ter, das Gesicht des Vaters bewegen sich auf sie zu, als stnde sie inmitten jener Jahre wie
in einem breitgefcherten Garten (TT 105) [The wind is quiet, soft, almost not a wind at
all, not to be compared with the Bora of her homeland. Myrna looks into the distance, qui-
etly the language of her childhood, sentences, words, the face of her father, all sound over
to her, as if she was standing in the midst of those years as in a variegated garden].
This point is made in a parable-like passage which recounts the childs musings over the
contrails which criss-cross the summer skies:

Am Firmament entdeckte ich eine weie Spur, die sich ber die gesamte Lnge des Horizonts zog. Schon oft
hatte ich diesen Himmelspfad gesehen und ihn mit den fernen Geschossen meiner Gedanken in Zusammenhang
gebracht. Die racketenartige Linie teilte den Himmel in zwei Hlften. In dem anfangs kleinen Raum, der sich
zwischen ihnen auftat, erschienen Vogelflgel und Tiergesichter. Die Geschosse, vor denen ich mich frch-
tete, soll es tatschlich gegeben haben. Sie flogen nicht in die schwarzen Lcher des Universums, wie ich es
mir vorgestellt hatte, sie landeten in anderen Stdten, Lndern und Kontinenten. Die Menschen stiegen aus und
gingen los, bewegten sich auf fremder Erde wie auf dem eigenen Maisfeld. Nie warteten sie auf ihre Seelen,
die sie in Drfern, auf Wiesen, in Wldern, an Ksten und auf den Meeren vergessen hatten. Die Geschosse
mehrten ihre Macht und zerschnitten weiterhin die Blau meines Kindheitshimmels, an dem ich mit der Zeit
immer mehr zu nhen und zu flicken hatte. (TT 90-1)

[In the sky I discovered a white trail which crossed the whole length of the horizon. Id already seen these sky
tracks often and in my imagination connected them with faraway projectiles. The rocket-like lines divided the
sky into two halves. In the space, at first small, which appeared between them, birds wings and animal faces
appeared. ... The projectiles, which I found fearsome, apparently did exist. They did not fly into the black holes
of the universe, as I had imagined, but rather, landed in other cities, countries and continents. People got out

and walked away, they moved on foreign earth as if it were their own cornfield. They did not wait for their
souls, forgotten in villages, meadows, forests, on the coasts and on the seas. The projectiles increased their
power and continued to slice up the blue sky of my childhood, which, in the course of time, I had to sew and
darn more and more often.]

The text oscillates between caesura and connection. The contrails which cut the sky in two
reveal themselves as intermediate spaces with their own creative potential. These putative
signs of division are in fact symptoms of travel, traces of transition. The lines across the sky
increasingly slash the intact fabric of the childhood idyll, rupturing the umbilical cord
which links it with the motherland and the mother language. But their signification is not, in
the last analysis, a destructive one, for they bring the narrator closer to the discovery of a
new world and a new language. It is this new language, with its capacity to multiply a sub-
jects possibilities of meaning-making, despite all the experiential handicaps of the linguis-
tic newcomer, which embodies creative generativity, that which makes humans human.
This function of language as a poetic bridge between past and present, between loss and
recuperation, between homeland and exile, as performed in Bodrois stories, provides a
model of fluid mediation which is the texts principle pedagogical intervention in our
present social and political context. These texts point out that any break which is under-
stood as a break merely belies the continuities which it hides and which then fester into
antagonisms; while any notion of rupture which admits the inevitable continuities between
apparently discrete entities, whether temporal (before and after) or synchronic (here and
there, us and them) will be better equipped to deal with and integrate, rather than violently
reject, the inevitable connections which underpin historical and social existence.
In many of Bodrois stories, it is the narrators grandfathers death which marks the
end of childhood. This moment is (textually) isomorphic with the historical caesura of
Titos death, which ripples through the social landscape like an earthquake triggering mul-
tiple seismic shocks in its wake:

Noch spter begriff ich, wie deutlich sein Krper [des Grovaters] das Unglck vorausgefhlt haben mu, denn
schon bald sollte wieder ein Krieg ausbrechen und nicht nur diejenigen trennen, die sich haten, schlimmer:
auch jene, die sich liebten. Warum das so war? Weil der Krieg niemand und nichts verbindet.
Ich hrte im Dorf, Tito htte die Menschen gezwungen, miteinander zu leben, und jetzt wrden sie Rache ben.
Es gabe viel, deren Herz auf beiden Seiten schlug. Dennoch oder gerade deshalb haben die Huser gebrannt
(TT 10, 13)

[Even later, I understood how clearly [Grandfathers] body sensed the coming catastrophe in advance, for soon
another war would break out, separating not only those who hated each other, but worse, those who loved one
another. Why was it that way? Because war links no-one and nothing.
In the village, I heard that Tito had forced people to live alongside one another, and now they were going to
take their revenge.
There were many whose hearts beat on both sides. In spite of that or precisely because of that the houses
were burning.]

It is in the tension between togetherness and apartness, between entanglement and polariza-
tion, that all of Bodrois texts take up their task. They show that respect for others indi-
vidualities rests upon an awareness of interconnectedness, and that a too simplistic empha-
sis upon the integrity of the self or a group and its individuality can only be upheld at the

cost of repressing or destroying the intertwined fabric of social interaction. Equally, exile
from the past is never complete; any historiographic theory of absolute rupture will simply
collapse into a masked legitimization of repetition. The aesthetics of fluidity and linguistic
mediation which Bodroi proposes ostensively in her narratives is to be taken seriously as
a mode of interpretation which may productively enhance our awareness of the connections
and the intervals which together form the topography and the archaeology of social life.
It is along two axes, that of time, loss or recuperation, and that of the social geography of
exile and foreignness, that the stories in Tito ist tot undertake their explorations. Both axes
are present in the title: the death of the ruling figurehead triggers the end of a political era
and the outbreak of latent conflicts. In the diasporic destiny, both of these axes are crucial
for the understanding of self in relation to a homeland abandoned for elsewhere and in
relation to a new social and linguistic environment. Poetic language can function as a me-
diator along both axes, encouraging attitudes of transition in place of caesura and transla-
tion in place of polarization.

Border pedagogy

Poetry makes nothing happen, Auden famously wrote (In Memory of W. B. Yeats),
repudiating a political function for poetic language. Doubtless he was right in an immediate,
empirical sense. Yet the poetic function may radically modify the manner in which we
perceive our environment, whether as a realm of antagonistic lobbies or as a space of fluid
mediations, whence a wider range of perceived modes of intervention in that context. The
poetic function cohabits the linguistic world with other functions of language, all of them
being inextricably intertwined. Once again, to make a choice between the two would be to
fall into the old trap of excessively dichtomized thinking (Lebendige machen | alle den
Fehler, da sie zu stark unterscheiden wrote Rilke in the first Duino Elegy The living all
make the mistake of distinguishing too sharply). None the less, the qualitatitive differences
between these various modes of working with language may mean that they offer them-
selves for enhanced implementation in the repertoire of interpretative strategies we employ
in our understandings of the current world.
Here, I submit, lies the pedagogical import of a text such as Bodrois Tito ist tot.
Whether for German-speaking students or non-native students of German this text offers a
route into the phenomenon of the bridge-text in contemporary German-language culture.
Bodrois texts strive in der Lcke zu leben, Brcke zu sein [to live in the gap, to be a
bridge] (TT 104). Tito its tot is a text which straddles the border between here and there,
between present and past, between a diasporic existence in the present and a native land

Following page:
Remains of the Berlin Wall, Lieenstrae, Humboldthain
Photo: Russell West-Pavlov
Katel Gomilica, Dalmatia, Croatia
Photo: Russell West-Pavlov


which can only be reinscribed in the language of displacement, and which thus definitively
resists recuperation. To that extent it can speak directly to the sensibilities of many German-
speaking students whose relationship to the language is mediated by varying degrees of
foreignness. Such a text, by virtue of its insistent occupation of a fluid median space be-
tween several cultures, furnishes an exemplary text for the teaching of a literary border

Tito ist tot is of particular interest because it declares itself, from the outset, to be a post-
1989 text. It is a text which only makes sense in a Europe in which East and West are con-
stantly blurring into each other and whose implicit task is to make sense of that Europe.
For a teaching practice like my own which is positioned in the midst of the complex
changes which have followed upon the events of 1989 in Eastern and Western Europe it
constitutes an exemplary text. Based in Berlin, such a pedagogical practice, once it declares
its inherent positionality, must be a diasporic border pedagogy between several literary
cultures. Berlin is both East and West. This is not because it continues, in many ways, to be
a divided city, though the course of the wall is often difficult to make out a decade and a
half after its demolition. On the contrary, it is because the city has always represented the
interpenetration of Western and Eastern Europe. This is all the more so today, since the
entry of the Eastern European countries into the EU.
Tito ist tot both acknowledges the borders and their porosity and thus articulates the dou-
ble principle which underpins all social life and a fortiori diasporic and transcultural social
existence. In the acceptance of a chiasmic intertwining of togetherness-based-upon-
otherness and alterity-integrated-into-commonality lies the immediate relevance of the
textual aesthetic proposed by the collection.
My own response to Bodrois Tito ist tot is a bridge-text too. If my meditation upon
her text has been primarily written in Berlin, I compose its closing lines, however in Katel
Gomilica, on the Dalmatian Adriatic coast, borne by the interwoven stands of German,
English and the melodic intonations of the Dalmatian language. The Adriatic littoral is a
median space, bounded by the island-ribboned sea and the steep bluffs of the coastal moun-
tains. Beneath the peaks of Kozjak and looking out towards the islands of iovo and Bra,
the tressed languages of English, German and Dalmatian bridge the distance, without dis-
avowing or erasing it, between the cultures, and I hope, will continue to do so between the
generations, those present and those yet to come.

4 See Peter McLaren, Multiculturalism and Postmodern Critique: Towards a Pedagogy of Resistance and
Transformation, in Henry A. Giroux and Peter McLaren (eds), Between Borders: Pedagogy and the Politics
of Cultural Studies (New York: Routledge, 1994), 192-222.
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Listening to Indigenous Voices:
The Ethics of Reading in the Teaching of Australian Indigenous Oral Narrative

In a 1987 text entitled Reading the Country, an indigenous Australian story-teller from the
Kimberley in the far North-West, Paddy Roe, addresses his white readers: You people try
and dig little bit more deep you bin digging only white soil try and find the black soil
The metaphors of black and white soil and of the lands interiority resonate
profoundly this remarkable textual collage composed of Paddy Roes stories about his land
and people, the Moroccan painter Krim Benterraks paintings of the Roebuck Plains area,
and the white academic Stephen Mueckes rhizomatic analyses of nomad semiotics. But
perhaps of even greater significance is not the content of Paddy Roes admonition to white
readers, but its mode of addressivity.
Paddy Roes texts in the volume are transcriptions
of stories presented in a format designed to highlight their orality, following the practice of
an earlier volume of his stories, Gularabulu.
His injunction to dig deeper and to discover
another dimension to the land assume a preparedness on the part of white readers to be
receptive to what he has to say that is, a readiness to listen to the voice of the indigenous
speaker. In this chapter I explore some practical approaches to implementing the notion of
listening in the university literature classroom and examine the theoretical implications of
such attempts, taking Paddy Roes Gularabulu as my concrete textual example.

Listening as an ethical activity

The notion of listening is one which occurs frequently today in connection with indige-
nous cultures. In the context of Canadian First Nation people, Jordan Wheeler writes bit-
terly of non-indigenous Canadas inability to listen:

Beyond the style of Aboriginal literature and the reluctance of misconceptions to change, there is another rea-
son that the aboriginal voice still goes unheard. The dominant society doesnt know how to listen. Grandfathers
and grandmothers of First Nations across Canada always tell their grandchildren the old ways. One of those old
ways is the art of listening. When someone was telling a story, when a visitor came through camp, whenever
anyone had anything to say, you listened. ... It was the respect afforded to anyone who wanted to speak. ... The
right to be heard relies upon people who want to listen.

1 Paddy Roe in Krim Benterrak, Stephen Muecke & Paddy Roe, Reading the Country: Introduction to No-
madology (Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1984), 168.
2 See Steven Connor, The English Novel in History 1950-1995 (London: Routledge, 1996), 9-10.
3 Paddy Roe, Gularabulu: Stories from the West Kimberley, ed. Stephen Muecke (Fremantle: Fremantle Arts
Centre Press, 1983). Hereafter G.
4 Jordan Wheeler, Voice, in Per Brask & William Morgan (eds), Aboriginal Voices: Amerindian, Inuit and
Sami Theater (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 39-40.

In an Australian context, listening is an equally powerful metaphor of receptiveness to in-
digenous discourses. Listening as an active mode of openness to the land and its stories,
themselves understood as part of the spiritual agency of the land, is stressed by the indige-
nous storyteller Bill Neidjie:

Listen carefully, careful
and this spirit e come in your feeling
and you will feel it ... anyone that.
I feel it ... my body same as you.
I telling you this because the land for us,
Never change round, never change.
This story e can listen careful
and how you want to feel on your feeling.
This story e coming through you body,
e go right down foot and head, fingernail and blood ...
through the heart
And e can feel it because ell come right through.

Likewise, Kim Scotts True Country opens with the following injunction: You listen to
me. Were gunna make a story, true story. You might find its here you belong. A place like
In similar vein, in the preface to Paddy Roes Gularabulu, Stephen Muecke con-

The texts in this book are thus the means by which Paddy Roe has attempted to communicate a picture of the
life of his people. He has attempted to give you pleasure in reading, a reading which is more like listening. In
listening to him speak, you should listen for the techniques he uses to tell a story; nothing is deliberately hid-
And in listening you should also try to hear what he is saying: ... that as long as his people can speak out
clearly, their culture will live on. (G ix)

According to Steven Connor, we are witness to the development of notions of voice as
the proper expression of selfhood and as the selfs inalienable property since the seven-
teenth and eighteenth centuries. In recent years, such notions have flowed into politicizing
concepts of the (de)privation of voice.
In the Australian context, there is a long and very
specific history of the suppression of indigenous voices, from the denial of the right to give
evidence in court (until as late as 1884 in Queensland
) to the withholding of voting rights
as a result of the non-recognition of citizenship until 1967. Anthropology has long elided
the indigenous voices upon which it depends by erasing the names of individuals who have
provided information, concealing their identity under the generic term of the native infor-
mant. Recent anthropological work such as Deborah Bird Roses Dingo Makes Us Human

5 Bill Neidjie, Story About Feeling, ed. Keith Taylor (Broome, WA: Magabala Books, 1989), 19.
6 Kim Scott, True Country (Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1993), 13.
7 Steven Connor, The Ethics of Voice, in Dominic Rainsford and Tim Woods (eds), Critical Ethics: Text,
Theory and Responsibility (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), 220-37. A cogent critique of such privative dis-
courses, and one which intersects with my discussion below of Isabelle Stengers work, is launched by Rey
Chow, Listening Otherwise, Music Miniaturized: A Different Type of Question about Revolution, in Simon
During (ed.), The Cultural Studies Reader, 2
ed. (London: Routledge, 1995), 463-4.
8 C. D. Rowley, The Destruction of Aboriginal Society (Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin, 1972), 127-28.

is notable for its concern to eschew such strategies of silencing, and prints statements by her
collaborators among the Yarralin people in a different typographical format, giving their
names at each citation.

These questions of the theft of voice across a spectrum from political to textual
voices need to be placed within the larger context of complex questions of cultural theft in
general which has increasingly come to preoccupy lawyers working together with Austra-
lian indigenous communities. Joseph Wambugu Githaiga succinctly summarizes the issues:

The protection of indigenous folklore and knowledge has become a pressing issue both within Australia and
abroad. This has been due to the development of a lucrative international trade in indigenous heritage, which
has seen most of the economic benefits diverted to non-indigenous persons and institutions. For example, in
Australia, the indigenous arts and crafts industry has a turnover of almost $200 million per annum, but indige-
nous people only receive about $50 million of this return. Similarly, the global pharmaceutical and agrochemi-
cal industries generate billions of dollars annually from products developed with indigenous knowledge, but
hardly compensate indigenous peoples for their valuable contributions. For indigenous people the graver and
more reprehensible consequence of the commercialisation of their heritage is the denigration of their cultures
through the use of heritage in culturally inappropriate ways.

In less polished language, one of Kevin Gilberts indigenous interlocutors, Horry Saun-
ders, puts it thus:

We are losin all our identity, our culture, you know? ... And the only one making a fortune out of us is these
gubs, whites. Its not the black man, mate. Theyre usin us for their trade, their tourist trade, their export trade.
This old watsername here. Ive been sour on him for years n years. Gets blacks printin his boomerangs for
him. Hes got an export trade to America n Japan n stamps Made by Australian Aborigines on his stuff.

In this chapter I wish to address such questions in the very specific context of teaching
Australian indigenous literature within the German university. My concerns are thus spe-
cifically local and pedagogical. It may appear that the political issues mentioned above have
little relevance to the German academic context. It is however worth bearing in mind that
historically, German anthropologists and missionaries were intensively engaged in the re-
cording and preservation of traditional indigenous, but also the expropriation of artefacts
and of indigenous knowledge.
In a recent novel by Stephen Gray dealing specifically with

9 Deborah Bird Rose, Dingo Makes Us Human: Life and Land in an Aboriginal Australian Culture (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1992).
10 Joseph Wambugu Githaiga, Intellectual Property Law and the Protection of Indigenous Folklore and Knowl-
edge, E Law - Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law 5: 2 (June 1998), Paragraph 3. URL:
11 Kevin Gilbert, Living Black: Blacks Talk to Kevin Gilbert (Ringwood, VIC: Allen Lane/Penguin, 1977), 33-4.
12 See Barry Hill, Broken Song: T. G. H. Strehlow and Aboriginal Possession (Milsons Point, NSW:
Knopf/Random House, 2002); Felicity Jensz, Moravian missionaries contribution to ethnological studies in
Victoria, both then and now, in Walter Veit (ed.), Strehlow Research Institute Occasional Papers, Special Is-
sue: The Struggle for Souls and Science: Constructing the Fifth Continent German Missionaries and Scien-
tists in Central Australia, forthcoming 2004; Christine Stevens, White Mans Dreaming: Killalpaninna Mis-
sion 1866-1915 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994); Walter Veit, In Search of Carl Strehlow: Lutheran
Missionary and Australian Anthropologist, in David Walker & Jrgen Tampke (eds), From Berlin to Burde-
kin: The German Contribution to the Development of Australian Science, Exploration and the Arts (Kensing-
ton: University of New South Wales Press, 1991), 108-34; Walter Veit, Carl Strehlow, Ethnologist: The
Arunta People and Aranda Tribes in Australian Ethnology, in T. Finlayson & G. McMullen (eds), The Aus-

the theft of indigenous culture, The Artist is a Thief, a German anthropologist claims to be a
better custodian of indigenous culture than the indigenous people he meets at the outback
community. He plans to publish his findings in book form, a typical instance of Western
appropriation of indigenous cultural goods.
The author claims that this highly unflattering
portrait was based upon a real encounter during his own legal work with indigenous com-
munities in Northern Territory.
This admittedly quasi-fictional character is, notably, both
a (doctoral) student and, given the customary organization of doctoral education in German
universities, quite probably a teacher. It is not insignificant that Australian indigenous
speakers clearly target universities as one of the sites in which they seen cultural expropria-
tion at work, as a declaration by the Nyoongah spokesman Robert Eggington indicates:

Whereas on multiple fronts varying interests have infiltrated the Sacredness of our Culture for the purposes
of Desecration and Control, these interests reflect Anthropological Studies, Scientific Research, White Con-
sultants, Eco Tourism, Students Studies ...
Whereas Non-Aboriginal people, Wadjalla (white) Academics, Intellectuals and Theorists have enforced
their Images based on Their Value Belief Systems distorting the reality of Our Traditional Values and Way of
Life. ...
Whereas Academic Institutions supported by Statutory Bodies mimic, duplicate and exploit Sacred Signifi-
cant Traditional Art Symbols and meanings for recreational School Art Programs, encouraging Non-Aboriginal
expressions creating alien story concepts.

Lecturers teaching Australian indigenous studies within German universities are con-
stantly confronted with the issue of expropriation and the resultant alien story concepts. A
large number of students interested in studying indigenous culture speak enthusiastically
about Morgan Marlos Mutant Message from Down Under (in German, Traumfnger), a
text which falsified indigenous cultural knowledge (at immense profit to its author) while
making claims to cultural authority conferred by tribal elders.
All these factors mean that
the German university classroom is not a neutral space far removed from the political ques-
tions arising out of contemporary Australian indigenous cultural politics. Indeed, such is-
sues are implicit in all pedagogic discourse about indigenous culture (in a similar context, a
critic such as Spivak constantly underlines these ongoing connections
). They must be
faced up to and dealt with in class, perhaps at the risk of integrating elements of politische
Bildung [political education] into the ostensibly apolitical space of English studies.

tralian Experience of Germany (Melbourne: Monash PS, 1994), 77100. Many thanks to Felicity Jensz for her
expertise in this area.
13 Stephen Gray, The Artist is a Thief (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 2001), 87-9, 204-7.
14 Personal communication with Stephen Gray.
15 Robert Eggington, Jangga Meenya Bomunggur (The Smell of the White Man is Killing Us), in Anne Brew-
ster, Angeline ONeill & Rosemary van den Berg (eds), Those who Remain Will Always Remember: An An-
thology of Aboriginal Writing (Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2000), 132-3.
16 See Stephen Gray, In Black or White, or Beyond the Pale?: The Authenticity Debate and Protection for
Aboriginal Culture, Australian Feminist Law Journal 15 (December 2001), 105-6. I am grateful to Stephen
Gray for sending me a copy of this article.
17 See for instance Gayatry Chakravorty Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues, ed.
Sarah Harasym (New York: Routledge, 1990), 20-1; Reading the World: Literary Studies in the Eighties, In
Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (New York: Routledge, 1988), 95-102; Outside in the Teaching
Machine (London: Routledge, 1993).

A pedagogy of listening?

The most pressing issue, it seems to me, is not merely to address these questions as part
of a bundle of broader issues in which indigenous cultural issues are embedded, but to go a
step further and begin to interrogate the ways in which the very form of the pedagogical
structure of Australian literary and cultural studies in the university context, both at teacher
and student level, may have to respond to the challenges issued by outspoken indigenous
critics. Specifically we may need to scrutinize the ways in which pedagogical discourse is
complicit with or reproduces the discursive forms which are involved in the expropriation
of indigenous cultures. It is relatively easy to change the content of pedagogical discourse,
as the transformation of the canon in English studies over recent decades has shown. This is
so because power structures in the academy are at their most effective when located else-
where in the forms of pedagogic communication, for instance. As Foucault has suggested,
Discursive practices ... are embodied in technical processes, in institutions, in patterns for
general behaviour, in forms for transmission and diffusion, and in pedagogical forms which,
at once, impose and maintain them.
It is perhaps at this level that we need to pursue our
enquiry if we are truly to respond to the demands of indigenous writers regarding the man-
ner in which we deal with their work. How, in the broadest sense, are we to talk about in-
digenous texts without falling prey to the high-handed forms of discourse which have often
characterized Western discourse about native cultures? How do our classroom voices (lit-
eral, discursive, metaphoric) interact with the voices of indigenous writers, poets, drama-
tists, storytellers, essayists (again, literal, textual, discursive, metaphoric)?
At this juncture, however, as intimated at the beginning of this chapter, I wish to shift the
focus of the discussion from speech and voice to listening. This itself is a displacement
motivated by the sort of considerations already mentioned above. Rather than discussing
indigenous voices, which would entail reproducing the extant structures of discoursing upon
indigenous subjects as the objects of a Western academic discourse, it may be more helpful
to shift the terms of the debate to a critical interrogation of our own discursive practices.
For even a politically enlightened discourse upon the Other may ultimately result in
speaking for the several generations of indigenous writers since the 1960s who have am-
ple access to public discourses and the skills to articulate themselves there. (Ken Gelder and
Jane M. Jacobs point out the pitfalls of a contemporary anthropology which, for instance, in
its scrupulous respect for indigenous prohibitions, comes to imagine ... an ethnicity that is
all too coherent so coherent, in fact, that you need not bother to consult with it.
More productively, a self-reflexive enquiry about our own discursive practices with re-
gard to indigenous cultural production could reveal the ways in which it is underpinned by,
perhaps is secretly dependent upon, the communicative acts of the indigenous speaker or
writer. This would effectively invert the hidden exploitation-at-a-distance inherent in some
politically correct criticism, putting the onus back upon academic discourse to acknowledge
its debts rather than projecting them upon the other. In the words of Stephen Muecke, we

18 Michel Foucault, History of Systems of Thought, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays
and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), 200.
19 Ken Gelder and Jane M. Jacobs, Uncanny Australia: Sacredness and Identity in Postcolonial Australia (Mel-
bourne: University of Melbourne Press, 1998), 100-1.

are challenged to [f]ind the place where [our] discourse is only made possible by its rela-
tionship to the other.

To ask such questions is to introduce a moment of hesitation in the process of discursive
production which customarily kicks in as soon as literary critical discourse confronts a text
it takes as its object of analysis. Such a moment of delay might enable us to explore the
ways in which reading alters or interrupts the very economy of the same that the other
interrupts. In this way, literary criticism, as a response to this textual interruption, might be
said to have an ethical content.
Precisely this interruption of the economy of the same as
embodied in academic discourse on the other (be it a text, the culture from which the texts
arises, or the subjects who produce that text) could be focussed in the activity of listening.
Emmanuel Lvinas suggests an understanding of language not as a vehicle of the communi-
cation of concepts, but primarily as the relation which installs the revelation of the Other a
linguistic relationship which assumes the mutual strangeness of the interlocutors, a trauma-
tism of astonishment in which a community of terms is radically lacking.
In this concep-
tion, language does not in the first instance further understanding between discourse
partners, but is far more the site of the discovery of difference. This seems to me to offer a
productive concept for theorizing the approach of white students and teachers to black Aus-
tralian texts.
In an early reading of the biblical moment of the revelation of the law to the Hebrews,
Lvinas detects a response which is ethical because it is based upon a relationship which is
revelation of the other and the creation of an obligation before any form of the selfs mas-
terful intellection comprehends the other. His formulation for this relationship is that of an
inversion of the customary terms of dealing with revelation: faire avant d entendre,
doing before understanding.
Lvinas concept anticipates on Lyotards notion of the
event and the manner in which it disturbs regimes of knowledge: when an event occurs ...
something happens which disrupts the pre-existant frame of reference, so that we dont
know how to understand it, at the time.
The literary event forces us to read ahead of the
old, familiar interpretative paradigms, moving towards towards an unforeseeable future
rather than towards a knowledge which is already known. I propose this inverted, il-
logical figure of doing before understanding as a metaphor for the activity of listening:
an active (do-able) approach to the other discourse which initially suspends the impulse to
comprehension in favour of an receptive stance towards the text a text which cannot, or
should not, despite what Lvinas refers to as the temptation of knowledge,
be too hastily
domesticated with the help of the habitual literary critical technologies.
Put in prosaic

20 Stephen Muecke, Textual Spaces: Aboriginality and Cultural Studies (Kensington, NSW: University of New
South Wales Press, 1992), 204.
21 Jill Robbins, Altered Reading: Levinas and Reading (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), xxiv.
22 Emmanuel Lvinas, Totalit et infini: Essai sur lextriorit (1971; Paris: Livre de poche, 1990), 70-1.
23 Emmanuel Lvinas, Quatres lectures talmudiques (Paris: Minuit, 1968), 67-109.
24 Bill Readings, Introducing Lyotard: Art and Politics (London: Routledge, 1991), 106.
25 Lvinas, Quatres lectures talmudiques, 74.
26 Gadamers notion of the hermeneutic circle suggests itself here as a further theoretical tool to think around the
encounter with indigenous texts. However, just as Lvinas criticizes Martin Bubers ethical theory in I and
Thou for establishing a specious equality between the ethical subject and the other (Martin Buber et la
thorie de la connaissance, Noms propres [1976; Paris: Livre de poche, 1987], 23-48), so I find Gadamers
notions of the dialogue or question and answer between the interpreter and the text (Hans-Georg Gadamer,

terms, we should perhaps learn to listen before we speak when dealing with texts from other
This suspension of the critical faculty should not be confused with some sort of aban-
donment of selfhood to a totalitarian instance, as is demanded of the subjects of authoritar-
ian regimes or religious sects; rather, here, it is a matter of relinquishing, at least in part,
what is very clearly our position of cultural power.

The white listener

In what follows I turn to selected excerpts from several stories from Paddy Roes Gu-
larabulu in order to look in more detail at the precise manner in which these oral texts, in
their formal structure, demand that one generate new modes of pedagogic communication
in approaching cultural alterity. In the transcriptions, Roe and Muecke are concerned to
represent something of the fundamentally dialogic ground of oral texts,
and therefore
strive to retain signs of the intersubjective context of the narration. Thus Stephen Muecke,
as Paddy Roes listener, is frequently present within the story text, albeit in brackets and as
the enunciator of minimal interjections. What is performed in these oral texts is not only the
priority of indigenous culture but also the subordinate role of the white listener. Stephen as
Paddy Roes interlocutor is the embodiment of the implied reader as listener and as
learner. The necessity of translation underlines the dependent character of the listeners
position. Dialogue, in stories such as Mirdinan, quoted below, is never equal, but places
the listener in a secondary, non-knowing situation:

Ngalea means thats his
He had power in his
In him you know
In his belly
Maban maban (Stephen: Ngalea belly) yeah --
(Sings) mudjariii ngaleaa (Stephen: Why, why belly?) yeah
an tali minma, walbaru ridjanala tali minma thats telephone everybody bin ringin up to hang this man
(Laughs) (Stephen: Minma) on the telephone (Stephen: Minma, man?) eh?
(Stephen: Minma is man) yeah (Stephen: Is it?) (G 14)

As a white Australian academic whose scholarly work has been done almost exclusively in
the area of oral narrative studied from the angles of sociolinguistics, discourse analysis,
semiotics and cultural studies, Stephen Mueckes position within the texts of Gularabulu
very clearly instantiates his own injunction, quoted above, to [f]ind the place where your
discourse is only made possible by its relationship to the other.
Literally, within the nar-

Wahrheit und Methode: Grundzge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik, 2
. Ed. [Tbingen: J. C. B. Mohr,
1965], 344-60) less than helpful, as I do not think they adequately respect and conserve the strangeness of the
text. In the context of reading indigenous literature, Gadamers hermeneutic theory does not sufficiently de-
stabilize the Western tradition of interpretation as savoir-pouvoir. I refer however to Richard Aczels alterna-
tive reading of Gadamer in Understanding as Over-Hearing: Towards a Dialogics of Voice, New Literary
History 32: 3 (Summer 2001), 597-617, in particular 605-8.
27 Muecke, Rumsey and Wirrunmarra, Pigeon the Outlaw: History as Texts, 86.
28 Muecke, Textual Spaces, 204.

rative situation itself, the position of the listener would be impossible without the relation,
subjective and linguistic, to the narrating other. Were Paddy Roe not to narrate, Stephen
Muecke, as the representative of white Australians, would have nothing to record and noth-
ing to transcribe.
they didn know I
they didn know me he say I gonta fly
gonta (Laughs) turn into eaglehawk
thats when he kept that inside here
in his, maban in his belly you know
(Stephen: Mm) so thats all (Stephen: Thats a beauty that one) and that man name is --
(Stephen: I got im Mirdinan) ahh Mirdinan (Stephen: Yeah Mirdinan) Mirdinan yeah (G 15)

Here it is significant that Stephen actively assumes forms of Aboriginal English in order to
express his acquired understanding of the story and its intricacies: I got im. Participation
in the discursive situation means, to a certain extent, taking up the discursive forms which
are offered to oneself as a non-indigenous person, it means accepting modifications to ones
own language, modifications which within standard Australian English can only be con-
ceived of as lack or inadequacy. What is actively dramatized in the interwoven discursive
threads of Paddys and Stephens speech in the last line quoted here is a close and assenting
exchange in which Mirdinans name is passed back and forth between the discourse part-
ners. Stephens I got im signals not so much an instance of appropriation, but more im-
portantly a linguistic renunciation in one code so as to facilitate an emergent linguistic re-
ciprocity in another, and, in the last analysis, a minute vignette of a potential cultural give
and take.
Paddy Roes you know (in his, maban in his belly you know ) functions as a ubiqui-
tous balise de discourse (discourse marker) and as a phatic gesture which is crucial to the
situational, dialogical structure of oral narrative. But it also refers to the knowledge dynam-
ics of the oral narrative situation dramatized and transmitted more broadly in Mueckes
transcripts: that of a dialogue between black indigenous and white immigrant Australians,
in which various forms of cultural knowledge and cultural power are experimented with.
The you know refers explicitly to elements of the narrative which the white listener can-
not always understand, but into which she or he may be initiated by the indigenous narrator,
or, at one remove, by Muecke the textual editor (via the endnotes or glossary for instance),
upon whom knowledge has been conferred by Paddy Roe. The you know thus points,
performatively as well as denotatively, to the dialogical situation per se, in which a rela-
tionship of non-knowledge and knowledge is played out between black and white Austra-
This relationship is addressed in a more complex performative form in a further story,
Donkey Devil. During the war, Paddy Roe gets drunk and makes his way home together
with two friends. The two companions, having been left behind by Paddy, are frightened by
a strange animal with donkey ears and a bushy tail. The three go back together the next day,
but can find no traces of donkey tracks:

so dey
next mornin they tell me
We show you dis track dey tell me
All right I say

we walk riiight up to that place nothing only two man track running [where the two companions had run away
in fright at the sight of the donkey devil]
no donkey nothing
no nothing
now where they first see this donkey in the, (Rasping starts) under that tree
thats the place they bring me
right up to that one
but noo track nothing (Laugh) --
soft ground (G 50)

This episode is followed by a second event, some five or six weeks later, which evinces the
same structure. This time it is Paddy Roes wife and her friends who are out on a fishing
expedition. They too sight the donkey devil, flee in terror, and bring the narrator, who was
absent at the time on an early shift at the local ice factory, to the site of the incident:

... so I grabbed my spear iron spear
tommyhawk in belt
put my tommyhawk in my belt (Young Girl: Nothing there)
naul karli karli
an iron spear we off
to show me this place, huh!
I see these three old woman you know (Laugh)
I see their track
where they fall down everyside you know they get scratch blood everywhere in their arm
all right
so we went right up there an have a look oh all wet ground
cant miss seeing the track
Where youfella seen im?
Here hes layin down
Wheres the track I tell-im
nothing no track nothing
ah that made me think back now that other thing this other two bloke seen
Ahh this is only, mus be devil I tell-im
Something live in this country you know I tell-im
Aah all right they say this never worry them no more
so we come back couldnt find his track (G 54-5)

Between story 1 and story 2, Paddy Roe himself figures as a learner. The experiences re-
counted in story 1 the absence of tracks subsequent to the sighting of the mysterious don-
key allow him to interpret the parallel phenomena in story 2. We too find ourselves in a
learner position: it is only after the second story has been completed that we attain the sort
of knowledge which Paddy Roe has already attained before he commences his narrative, a
knowledge whose cumulative character structures its bipartite tension. Our lack of knowl-
edge is foregrounded by the contrast with Paddy Roes great-granddaughter, who also fig-
ures in the story as a listener. She, unlike us, is a listener who has evidently already heard
the story numerous times, as she persistently interrupts the narrator and anticipates the end-
ing: Nothing there (G 53-4).
What the great-granddaughters interruptions foreground is the fact that this story is
about not being able to read. The cornerstone of the narration is a double absence: first, that

of the narrator himself as an eye-witness at the sighting of the donkey devil, and then sub-
sequently, the absence of readable traces of the donkeys passage, despite the availability of
perfect conditions: soft ground, wet ground: noo tracks nothing (G 50). Absence, the
nothing that is, in Wallace Stevens formulation,
is the crucial semiotic element in this
story diptych. The presence of the sacred, as in the Christian narratives of the resurrection,
is marked by absence as the driving force of the semiotic process.
Reading, in this con-
figuration of the semiotic process, is something that happens out of a context of lack. Once
we too have been initiated via the act of listening, and have become familiar with the ab-
sences of the text, we too will be in a position, with Paddy Roes great-granddaughter, to
elucidate and activate the lacunae of this text: Nothing there. Yet this presupposes the
crucial narrative rite de passage which is the experience of not knowing. That absence of
knowledge, in the context of indigenous narrative, is one which has to be accepted first of
all, in order to access the knowledge which is made available by the indigenous narrator.
This principle is valid within the narrative itself: it is the doubling of absence which
leads Paddy Roe to his conclusion:

nothing no track nothing
ah that made me think back now that other thing this other two bloke seen
Ahh this is only, mus be devil I tell-im (G 55)

But absence as the precursor of knowledge is also the principle which governs the narra-
tives extra-diegetic process of reception by the white reader. Willingly and consciously
entering the experience of ignorance is a faire which precedes an entendre, to take up
Lvinas terms once again. Placing this faire before entendre involves a voluntary re-
nunciation of the customary power relations governing the production of knowledge, with
the result that new forms of knowledge, forms which are accompanied by new social rela-
tions of knowing, may also come into being. Stephen Muecke, the representative white
(academic) listener included in Paddy Roes texts, ruminates in a later work, No Road, on
the way in which the habitual power of white (academic) discourse might be productively
subjected to hindrance:

When Blanchot wrote, Weak thoughts, weak desires: he felt their force, he made me think about working
with the weakest parts of my work in order to preserve vulnerability and danger. These are often the start of
something new, because the old is always the confident step, the almost clichd, the acceptable. So on re-
reading a first draft, or looking at a sketch, I would concentrate on that almost imperceptible feeling that says
theres something wrong here. What does Paddy Roe say?

Wheres the track? I tell-im
Nothing no track nothing
Ah that made me think back now ...

29 Wallace Stevens, The Snow Man, Selected Poems (London: Faber & Faber, 1965), 15.
30 See Louis Marin, Du corps au texte: Propositions mtaphysiques sur lorigine du rcit, in Claude Chabrol &
Louis Marin, Le Rcit vanglique (Paris: Aubier Montaigne/Editions du Cerf/Delachaux & Niestl/Descle
de Brouwer, 1974), 75-90.
31 Stephen Muecke, No Road (bitumen all the way) (Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1997), 159.

Listening in the classroom

If we take seriously the implications of the dialogical situation dramatized in the Gu-
larabulu texts, it would appear that listening, in both its literal and metaphorical forms,
might possibly operate as an appropriate mode of response to literary texts inherently resis-
tant to the imposition of our interpretative strategies. What might this faire, this doing
which relegates knowledge, generally regarded as the primary goal of the learning process
in the university, to a secondary, ulterior position, mean in practical terms in the literature
classroom? In what follows, I attempt to make concrete the notion of listening with refer-
ence to the oral mode of storytelling preserved and foregrounded by Paddy Roes stories, as
they have been made available in Gularabulu.
Teaching Paddy Roes texts in the English Studies classroom produces one massive ini-
tial reaction among students: incomprehension. The non-literary formatting of the texts is
unfamiliar, unless one regards them as something akin to a drama script, but the term
story is not conducive to this genre-typographical transfer. The transcription methods
favoured by Roe and Muecke which employ the line as the basic unit of discourse, with
pauses rendered by dashes of various lengths do not necessarily render themselves imme-
diately accessible via a silent reading. Paddy Roes Aboriginal English is already a chal-
lenge for the white Australian speaker of English, not to mention the baffled German uni-
versity student. Finally, the stories themselves, often a blend of traditional myth and con-
temporary trustori (true story) are resistant to the interpretative strategies with which
school and university education equip students.
This incomprehension may be salutary in the first instance. It drives home the concrete
reality of such abstract concepts such as linguistic variety, cultural specificity and radical
epistemological difference. However, listening itself as a practical strategy may offer
some relief from the (instructive) experience of perplexity when faced with the radical
alterity of the indigenous oral narrative. Help comes from several quarters, and is not with-
out pedagogical value, saving the encounter with these texts from the danger of becoming
purely frustrating and thus unproductive.
The first form of assistance, it is important to note, is inherent in the refractory form of
the stories themselves, paradoxical as this may seem. They are narrated in Paddy Roes
Aboriginal English rather than in the local Nyigina language. Aboriginal English functions
here as a bridging language, linking not only various indigenous peoples across Australia,
but also indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. The stories in Gularabulu are thus under-
pinned by Paddy Roes pedagogic brief, namely, to make indigenous culture available to
others. In the introduction to the volume Roe is quoted as saying, This is all public, | You
know (it) is for everybody: | Children, women, anybody. Muecke comments, when he says
that the book is for everybody, he is also including white people, thinking that they might
be able to see us better than before (G i). The white readers difficulty in accessing the
text in Gularabulu, one might surmise, may not merely be a result of its otherness. That
difficulty may be generated by the intentional communicational form in which they are
couched, and may thus function not as an effet pervers of that intention but rather, as an
integral component of their communicative mission.
The second, more concrete help in listening understood literally this time is furnished
by the existence of a CD-ROM of Gularabulu which combines German versions of Paddy

Roes stories with a small selection of original versions of Paddy Roe himself telling his
stories in unadulterated Aboriginal English. The CD oscillates between Paddy Roe neat
and Karl Merkatzs deliberately sanitized versions of the stories. There is no attempt to
reproduce the oral context or texture of Paddy Roes narrative in the German version, as the
cover slip explains:

Sie ist als Adaption, als ein kulturelles Pendant gegenber dem Original zu verstehen, das Gemeinsamen im
Verschiedenem nachsprt, und auch erkennen lt, denn es htte wohl wenig Sinn gemacht, den Versuch zu
unternehmen, Paddy Roe zu imitieren bzw. die Geschichten getreu dem aboriginischen narrativen Stil in einer
anderen Kultur wiederzugeben.

[This version should be understood as an adaptation, as a cultural supplement in relation to the original, one
that goes in search of a common ground across the cultures, and also admits that there would be little sense in
trying to imitate Paddy Roe or to reproduce the stories faithfully in the style of indigenous narration within an-
other culture.]

It is precisely the gap between the domesticated German versions and Roes own voice
which highlights the integral otherness of his cultural production. The Gularabulu CD thus
leaves Paddy Roes oral narration intact and unique, thereby legitimizing its own transla-
tional practice. In this way the CD simultaneously offers students accessible audio-
translations of Paddy Roes stories at the same time as giving a tangible sense of the em-
pirical reality of Paddy Roe as a storyteller.
The third form of help comes from the text of Gularabulu itself. It can be regarded as a
script for performance in a classroom situation. This appears to be part of the intention
behind the transcriptions of Paddy Roes texts, whose aim, Muecke has suggested in con-
nection with other similar exercises, is to render the oral text in such a way that it can eas-
ily be re-presented or performed in something like its oral-dramatic form.
The availabil-
ity of such a script enables a mode of student participation in which Paddy Roes dis-
course is reactivated in its oral form, obliging students to confront the difficulties of a radi-
cally other form of English and storytelling format, but at the same time making the dia-
logical dynamics of oral narrative immediately evident in a manner which is not possible in
a mere silent reading of the text. Here listening functions as a reconstructive mode of
reception somewhat akin to Richard Aczels notion of the readerly reception of textual
Indeed, receptiveness to the voices of the text assumes a form of ventriloquism
in which the reader intones the voices of the text according to his or her historically situ-
ated reading.
Jau, commenting on Gadamers dialogue of text and reader, remarks that
der Interpret [mu] den Part des andern erst selber inszenieren ..., damit der Text zum
Sprechen kommen, auf eine gestellte Frage antworten und am Ende as eine Frage an mich
verstanden werden kann
[The interpreter must first perform the part of the other in order

32 Hubert Heine, cover notes, Gularabulu: Mythen und Legenden aus den West Kimberleys. Karl Merkatz liest
Paddy Roe. David Hudson on didgeredoo. CD, Wakuword/GEMA Austria, 2000.
33 Stephen Muecke, Alan Rumsey and Banjo Wirrunmarra, Pigeon the Outlaw: History as Texts, Aboriginal
History 9: 1-2 (1986), 81-100, here 84.
34 Richard Aczel, Hearing Voices in Narrative Texts, New Literary History 29: 3 (Summer 1998), 467, 475-6,
35 Aczel, Understanding as Over-Hearing, 607.
36 Hans Robert Jau, sthetische Erfahrung und literarische Hermeneutik (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1982), 679.

to let the text speak, respond to a question and in the end be understood as a question to
me ]. The voices listened to in this performative situation are our own in the first instance.
However, they are othered by their submission to parameters set by the text and its source
culture to which an indirect, second-degree form of listening becomes possible in the
moment of performance. This mode of involvement in the (re)production of an oral text, a
mode of active approach to the text which necessarily precedes understanding but none
the less demands action a faire avant d entendre can thus result in the empirical
recognition that one cannot understand everything from another culture, but that this does
not preclude a genuinely exciting and enriching engagement with that culture. Such insights
can be gained in a practical manner in the context of the classroom via the hands-on en-
counter with indigenous texts which foreground their orality. These texts thus demand a
performative engagement with the dialogical situation akin to that in which they were origi-
nally crafted and avatars of which they inevitably call forth upon each new activation by
The act of re-presentationor making quasi-present again of the oral-dialogical dy-
namic of the text in its oral-narrative form can contribute significantly to the generation of a
new pedagogical style.
To examine, in a performative mode, the indigenous oral text in a
classroom situation involves approaching such literature in its formal aspects with a view to
interrogating the social relations that such a narrative situation, in all its literal force, can
create. To embark upon a faire which entails investing effort in the production of the dia-
logical group dynamic which such textual forms assume is by definition an exercise in the
ethics of reading. The textual form itself is one direct instigator of this ethical interrogation.
Some recent work on the ethical aspects of literature and reading has ignored ... the various
problematizations of narrative and narrative form problematizations that have been very
precisely postmodernist, that could not have emerged without the modern novel in novel
theory from 1960 onwards.
Paddy Roes stories draw partly though by no means exclu-
sively upon traditional narrative methods, but the cultural juncture which has made their
publication possible in the unconventional form chosen by Roe and Muecke is certainly a
postmodern one, and the questioning of narrative assumptions which they mobilize is
equally one which concurs with many of the literary-critical iconoclasms of postmodern
and poststructuralist theory.
In other words, the very form of indigenous oral literature
possesses the capacity, when taken up in an active dramatic mode, to question the Western
individualist assumptions which govern not only our reading, but also our teaching and
learning strategies. This is principally so because the priority given to the knowing subject
in reading, teaching and learning is profoundly questioned by the encounter with texts such
as Paddy Roes Gularabulu. To this extent they achieve something like the displacement of
the audience, here an academic audience in its masterful parasitical-devouring relation to

37 At this juncture I eschew an engagement, for my purposes of little help, with recent debates around voice,
presence and representation pursued since Jacques Derridas La Voix et le phnomne: Introduction au
problme du signe dans la phnomnologie de Husserl (1967; Paris: PUF/Quadrige, 1998). See however Ac-
zel, Understanding as Over-Hearing, 598-600, and Commentary: Throwing Voices, New Literary History
32: 3 (Summer 2001), 703-6.
38 Andrew Gibson, Postmodernity, Ethics and the Novel: From Leavis to Levinas (London: Routledge, 1999), 11.
39 See Stephen Muecke, The Scribes, Meridian 14: 1 (1985), 41-8.

the work, which Lyotard identifies as one of the effects of the postmodern work of art as

One result which cannot but ensue from a performative encounter with such texts is the
exorcism, in part at least, of illusions of the teachers role as the omniscient sujet suppos
No white (Australian) teacher such as myself can honestly take up a position of
pouvoir-savoir when speaking of texts such as these, but must join her or his students in a
community of relative ignorance. The prospect of a teacher taking up a public stance of
ignorance is alarming for some students, but can lead to some very illuminating meta-
pedagogic discussions when addressed directly as part of the classroom dynamic and con-
nected back to the texts themselves.

Meetings with the other

In the context of reading or listening to Australian indigenous narratives, Isabelle
Stengers meditations on the pitfalls of post-Enlightenment tolerance offer fruitful ave-
nues for reflecting upon the ethics of listening-reading, and it is to her recent work in the
philosophy of science that I turn in concluding this chapter. In Pour en finir avec la toler-
ance, the last volume of her Cosmopolitiques series,
Stengers contends that the benefits of
being modern, that is, the capacity to demystify and demythologize the world, also bring
with them an attendant arrogance: the assumption that by virtue of our Enlightenment scep-
ticism, we occupy a higher moral ground which gives us the right to make judgements
about others ostensibly primitive beliefs (PFT 8)
or, in the context of this chapter, the
right to assume that our understanding of indigenous texts is adequate for us to issue criti-
cal judgements in keeping with the customary practices of Western academic discourse.
Enlightenment knowledge, Stengers implies, is deeply complicit in relations of power.
She suggests that the capacity to gain scientific knowledge about others whether they be
the other peoples studied by anthropology or other objects in the sense of parts of the natu-
ral world such, for instance, as neutrons is defined by demands [exigences] which are
placed upon the object of investigation. Modern science, however, has forgotten that these
demands are also accompanied by all too often elided obligations. Such obligations are
determined in the first place by the dependence of the experimenter upon the object of in-
vestigation (PFT 44), and by the generally repressed human contact which allows knowl-

40 See Jean-Franois Lyotard, Rudiments paens: Genre dissertatif (Paris: UGE-10/18, 1977), 237.
41 See Jacques Lacan, Les Quatres concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse (Paris: Seuil, 1973), Ch. XVIII,
Du sujet suppos savoir, de la dyade premire, et du bien, 209-20.
42 Isabelle Stengers, Pour en finir avec la tolrance: Cosmopolitiques VII (Paris: La Dcouverte/Les empcheurs
de penser en rond, 1997). Hereafter PFT.
43 As an an example of such presumption, Kwame Anthony Appiah quotes a text in which the message is that
this Baule diviner, this authentically African villager, does not know what we, authentic postmodernists, now
know: that the first and last mistake is to judge the Other on ones own terms. And so, in the name of this rela-
tivist insight, we impose our judgement: that Lela Kouakou may not judge sculpture from beyond the Baule
cultural zone, because he, like all the other African informants we have met in the field, will read them as if
they were meant to meet those Baule standards. (Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial, in
Diana Brydon (ed.), Postcolonialism: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies [London: Routledge,
2000], I, 88).

edge to be produced in the first place (PFT 9). The oral narratives included in Gularabulu
lift the customary repression on both these aspects of knowledge production, foregrounding
both the dependency and the intersubjective context of narration. Generally, however,
knowledge is often produced under a one-sided set of conditions, a situation which Stengers
pithily summarizes as judging without meeting the other (PFT 14, 42). This epithet per-
fectly describes the dynamic involved in academic literary criticism, whose objects of
judgement are for the most part dead; when they are still alive and met in the flesh, they
often shoot back, to the great discomfort of the academics targeted. Modern knowledge thus
often disqualifies the objects of investigation from moral claims to the status of knowers in
the very knowledge-relationships which they are instrumental in producing (PFT 16). This
imbalance determines the power relations at play in the very act of producing knowledge.
Stengers suggests that the risk which inevitably accompanies the placing of experimen-
tal demands upon the objects of investigation be complemented by an acceptance of the
risks of obligations towards these selfsame objects who, by the same token, become
subjects capable of posing questions to the investigator (PFT 10, 54). She proposes vari-
ous ways of listening to the objects of study, of allowing space for their rights (a con-
crete example is the rights of animals used in scientific experiments) (PFT 129). In the act
of listening to Paddy Roes stories, the risk entailed by the white listener is the very real
one of admitting irremediable ignorance with regard to the other culture. The very form of
Paddy Roes texts generate a risky situation in which his texts cannot be objectified by
academic discourse, but, on the contrary, actively cast into question the power and compe-
tence of the discourse holders. Roes stories generate moments when our sense of our
selves and our relation to the logos is interrupted and put into question.

Such risks should not be eradicated. But they can be rendered more productive for both
partners in the encounter by including in the process of production of scientific knowledge
diplomatic procedures in which negotiations between investigating subjects and experi-
mental subjects are carried out on a reciprocal basis (PFT 135). This is all the more so, she
suggests, when we are dealing with human groups directly affected by the knowledge pro-
duced about them (PFT 14) a question of particular relevance in the context of indigenous
Australia. In Paddy Roes stories, I would suggest that the texts persistent performative
thematization of the place of the white listener, embodied in the dramatization of Mueckes
listener role, provides a diplomatic protocol facilitating other non-indigenous listeners
access to the texts with an attitude of suspended knowledge.
In this chapter, I am interested in possible ways of destabilizing academic commentary,
by a mode of performative meeting of the other which places a dependent, un-knowing
faire prior to a masterful entendre. Such inversion of the traditional sequence of knowl-
edge-production cedes primacy to the other as the guarantor and custodian of any knowl-
edge to which the knowing Western self might aspire. This subversion of habitual modes of
knowledge-production eschews a mode of investigation of the other to which Stengers
explicitly attaches the epithet of the disqualification of the object of study (PFT 136-7). In
the context of literary studies, it is the practice of critical commentary which most per-
fectly embodies modes of disqualification. Foucault has detailed the ways in which
commentary refuses to accept the text on its own terms, constantly endowing it with a

44 Robert Eaglestone, Ethical Criticism: Reading After Levinas (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), 175.

latent meaning behind its manifest content thus contributing, principally, to the self-
perpetuation of the commenting institution (the school, the university, literary criticism)
which is itself dependent upon the maintenance of the text as a canonical artefact.

Stengers is particularly interested in the disqualifying functions of commentary in the
pedagogical context (PFT 136-7). Commentary, one can plausibly suggest, cements the
disqualification of the text in its manifest content, the disqualification of the texts author(s)
in their capacity to deliver a complete meaning, not to mention the disqualification of
students as opposed to highly qualified teachers as possessors of the technology of com-
mentary. By placing both teachers and students in the position of secondary un-knowers, an
engagement with indigenous oral texts such as Paddy Roes Gularabulu stories subverts the
pretensions to superiority inherent in the practice of commentary and allows other forms of
pedagogical relationship to emerge. It potentially provides a response to what Edward Said
and Raymond Williams have called the need to unlearn the inherent dominative mode in
university discourse.
Putting the faire of active listening before the entendre inherent in
the practice of commentary may trigger an interruption of Western academic discourse
and its complicity in colonial and neo-colonial structures which have borne down upon and
continue to bear upon Australian indigenous peoples.
Such a shift in the focus of classroom teaching would necessarily direct a critical gaze
upon the process through which knowledge is produced, allowing educators to ask
how questions involved not only in the transmission or reproduction of knowledge but
also in its production.
Deciding to listen (literally) to Australian indigenous texts would
put paid to modes of teaching in which presentation [is] a (mere) supplement to inquiry
in other words, in which the form of teaching is believed to be immaterial to the knowledge
attained and would oblige us to acknowledge that every pedagogical exposition, just like
every reading, adds something to what it transmits.
For it is only out of new relations of
the production of knowledge that new knowledge, in the last analysis, can be produced
the goal to which educational institutions, after all, have never stopped claiming to aspire.
This production of unknown rather than known knowledge
would seem to be an ap-
propriate educational and ethical goal to aim for in the context of an encounter with cultures
foreign to our own.

45 See Michel Foucault, Naissance de la clinique (1963; Paris: PUF/Quadrige, 1988), xii-xiii; LArchologie du
savoir (Paris: Gallimard, 1969), 39-40.
46 Edward Said in conversation with Raymond Williams, appended to Williams, The Politics of Modernism:
Against the New Conformists, ed. Tony Pinkney (London: Verso, 1989), 181; Edward W. Said, Orientalism
(1978; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), 28, quoting Williams Culture and Society 1780-1950 (1958).
47 David Lusted, Why Pedagogy?, Screen 27:5 (1986) 2-3.
48 Gregory L. Ulmer, Applied Grammatology: Post(e)-Pedagogy from Jacques Derrida to Joseph Beuys (Balti-
more: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), 162.
49 See Jean-Franois Lyotard, La Condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir (Paris: Minuit, 1979), 97.


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(Mis)Taking the Chair:
The Text of Pedagogy and the Postcolonial Reader

In his well known Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, the American
critic Jameson reaffirms the politically didactic and pedagogic value of art.
Such a belief in
the cognitive and pedagogical significance of political art and culture is rare today. How-
ever, despite the dominant critical culture which insists upon the a-teleological autonomy of
the cultural sphere, there are some literary works today which stress their own interest in
pedagogical processes.
The Intended, a first novel published in 1991 by the Guyanese-British academic, poet
and novelist David Dabydeen one of the better known young black writers such as Ben
Okri, Hanif Kureishi, Caryl Phillips or Michelle Roberts is just one such text. The In-
tended is a Bildungsroman in all the possible senses of the word.
It is a novel about a so-
cially ambitious young man from Guyana, determined to succeed in the industrial West. It
is about the development of a new, self-assured identity based on becoming somebody.
And it is literally about education as a fast-track to professional prominence in the sixties
and seventies educational boom. As a literal Bildungs-roman which consciously exam-
ines the imbrication of language, literature and education in contemporary postcolonial
societies, it has much to say about the way in which literature might be taught in an age of
globalization and immigration.


It is no coincidence that Dabydeen opens his semi-autobiographical debut novel by
speaking of the regrouping of the Asian diaspora in a South London schoolground (I 5).
The Intended places education at the centre of its postcolonial quest structure. The young
protagonist spends the entire length of the novel writing essays on Conrad, Milton, Shake-
speare and Chaucer for his approaching A-Levels. By the end of the novel he has been
offered a place at Oxford, and the last lines of the text see him climbing into the cab to go
up to university.
Education fulfills three principal structural functions within the narrative. First, educa-
tion is the vehicle by virtue of which the narrator-protagonist aims to extricate himself from
the condition of poverty and abandonment in which he is caught as a Caribbean youth in

1 Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London/New York: Verso,
1992), 50.
2 David Dabydeen, The Intended (1991; London: Vintage, 1993). All references in the text to this edition fol-
lowing the abbreviation I.

care in the South London suburb of Balham. Secondly, education is the means by which he
also intends to escape from the shame and formlessness of being black so as to become
somebody, two polarized terms which the text persistently reiterates: I wished I were
important, somebody (I 121); be somebody, some recognisable shape, not a lump of
aborted, anonymous flesh (I 198). Thirdly, within the subsidiary narrative of adolescent
sexuality and love, education articulates and informs the ways in which sexual relationships
are filtered through cultural concepts; various forms of knowledge, carnal and otherwise,
guarantee access to feminized, idealized whiteness as the embodiment of Englishness.
In Dabydeens highly ironic novel, however, this version of education as the door
through which the immigrant enters white society is subjected to constant and corrosive
scrutiny. In my reading of a central passage of the novel in which the process of reading
English literature in a postcolonial context is wittily dramatized, I will suggest that Daby-
deens own professional interest (as a professor of Caribbean Studies at Warwick Univer-
sity) in a libertarian literary pedagogy motivates his questioning of traditional usage to
which literary texts are put in the classroom. By an intensely concrete mise-en-abyme of its
own status as a postcolonial text, Dabydeens text can point to alternative approaches to the
implementation of literary texts in the classroom.
It is curious that Dabydeens novel never describes a British secondary school from in-
side. Dabydeen is clearly more interested in the processes which are initiated in schools and
which take effect in the minds and lives of pupils outside the school in everyday life. Thus
it is significant that his adolescent characters do not rehearse their reading practices within
the policed context of the classroom
but within the non-regimented space of the boarding
house room where the narrator lives after fleeing the boys home where he has been placed
by his father. Thus Dabydeen stresses the extent to which the literary practices he focusses
upon are part of the processes of subjectification, as Foucault has described the soft coer-
cion of subject-formation in modern societies.

Shaz would come round each Sunday to gain guidance for his A level literature exam. ... Joseph would tag
along now and again and listen to us analysing Conrads Heart of Darkness. The two of them sat on the bed
and I, the professor, took the chair. (I 94)

In the almost colonial mimicry of the classroom situation outside of the classroom, read-
ing becomes implicated in a set of hierarchical practices structuring not only the text itself
but its exegesis within the education system. Subject positions are offered in relation to the
text which situate the respective characters as master readers (the professor) or as subaltern
readers (students): I had great skill not only in spotting an important image, but in connect-
ing it up with other images in the text. Shaz was full of admiration, though it was really a
simple task once you discovered the trick of it (I 94). The text itself, unlocked according to
what the narrator disparagingly describes as a mechanical trick (I 163), offers an illusory
sense of mastery upon which selfhood is founded.

3 See Alison Lee and Bill Green, Pedagogy and Disciplinarity in the New University , UTS Review: Cul-
tural Studies and New Writing 3: 1 (May 1997), 1-25.

Reading English

Reading is clearly a central component of a life-narrative which the protagonist goes on
to fulfill as the novel progresses:

I had essays to compose ... books to be read, exams to take, a future to chart out. (I 160)

I wanted to be somebody and the only way to achieve this was to acquire a collection of good examination re-
sults and go to university. Everything was planned: I would try for top grades in my three A levels, then Id
do a B.A. degree at Oxford or Cambridge and then a Ph.D. I would write books, and one day become a celeb-
rity, or writer. (I 113)

I suddenly long to be white, to be calm, to write with grace and clarity, to make words which have status, to
shape them into the craftsmanship of English china, coaches, period furniture harpsichords, wigs, English any-
thing .... (I 197)

Ensconced at the heart of English, in the University Library in Oxford, the narrator rumi-
nates: I am no longer an immigrant here, for I can decipher the texts, I have been exempted
from the normal rules of lineage and privilege ... (I 195). Clearly the reading and re-writing
of narratives founds a narrative of a writing self attaining English respectability. In the act
of internalization, those narratives produce an individual. The full complexity of Daby-
deens text resides, as we will see in due course, in its addition of a third level of self-
reflection in which a further narrative by an immigrant writing self cunningly undoes the
hard-won cohesion attained by Dabydeens narrating alter ego.
In the context of a semi-autobiographical novel in which selfhood is attained by identifi-
cation with English both as a highly literary language (embodied in the narrators constant
essay-writing I 83, 84, 89, 123, 198, 160, 202, 211), its canonical literary works, and the
national people whose cultural values it encodes, Lacans reformulation of Freuds phases
of early psychic development are particularly helpful in accounting for the critical potential
of Dabydeens Bildungsroman. I employ Lacans Imaginary and Symbolic not merely as
formative phases in the early life of the speaking subject, but rather to denote modes of
insertion within and identification with language which vie with each other throughout the
subjects life.


In his spurious professorial mode, the narrator is caught in the Imaginary, reflecting
himself not in the proverbial pre-verbal mirror, but in an Edenic relationship to a suppos-
edly fully present and adequate language and the persona derived from that mode of lan-
guage. In accord with Lacans exposition of the mirror stage, the young immigrant takes on

4 See Jacques Lacan, Le Stade du miroir comme formateur de la fonction du moi, Ecrits I (Paris: Seuil/Points,
1970), 89-97; in English: Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Tavistock Publications, 1977), 1-
7. Particularly to be recommended is Bertrand Ogilvies clear exposition in Lacan: La formation du concept
du sujet (1932-1949) (Paris: PUF, 1987).

a persona which manifestly exceeds the social and cultural capital he possesses at this mo-
ment of his life not unlike his spending money that only adults could possess (I 183).
If the Imaginary is a stage which continues to structure many aspects of adult subjectiv-
ity it is logically also a form of identity which never ceases to be vulnerable to deflation
through the resurgence of the Symbolic. In Dabydeens narrative this happens through the
recrudescence of Josephs questioning: he, an inveterate criminal, keeps breaking in to the
most burglar-proof of institutions reminding me of my dark shadow, drawing me back to
my dark self (I 195-6). It is appropriate, then, that it is Joseph who punctures the happy
narcissism of the professorial image: Joseph, however, was not as impressed as Shaz by
my critical skills, and would not hesitate to interrupt with his own interpretation of things
(I 95). In a corporeal, haptic gesture which speaks volumes, Joseph snatched Heart of
Darkness from my hand (I 98).
Joseph constantly ruptures the plenitude of the narrators specular self-affirmation, pro-
posing other interpretations which are far in excess both in their extravagance and their
exteriority with regard to the parameters of Leavisite criticism of the narrators insipid
interpretations of the text. The narrators Imaginary is under constant threat from Josephs

convoluted questions which my training in theme-and-imagery spotting didnt equip me to answer me fully.
They were daft questions, like what was the colour of the Congo water, what colour was the ivory when it was
dug out of the burial ground, do steam ships grow black all over because of the soot, why was the old white
woman in the Companys office wearing a white bonnet and knitting black wool, what colour were the ele-
phants from which they got white ivory, why did the dying black man have a piece of white thread around his
neck, did I think that the green parasol of the chief accountant was like the green of the jungle, and why was
the Russian trader dressed like a harlequin, in clothing patched in blue and red and yellow and scarlet and
brown? This last question was intriguing. Why indeed had Conrad suddenly introduced a kaleidoscopic burst of
colour in the novel, after a narrative of black, white and green? I began to glimpse some sense in Josephs en-
quiries and for the first time I turned to him with a question, dropping all the pretence of being a teacher. (I 99)

Josephs interpretative code is clearly inadequate to achieve anything in the wider world
(peering at the text, Joseph is unable to decipher the words I 98), while the narrators is
a series of socially recognized but facile tricks. The Symbolic consists in the relativizing
clash or dialogue of interpretative codes which allows them to become visible as mere sup-
ports for identity. In a moment of somewhat despondent lucidity, the narrator candidly
admits to learn[ing] to read the world through novels (I 183-4). Seen in this sober light,
telling stories about the self, and telling the self through stories are clearly vital, if contin-
gent, subjective functions of the Symbolic.


The Symbolic is at once the domain of lack (a symbol stands in for something absent)
and of constraints (access to and participation in language is closely regulated and con-
trolled by sanctions of various sorts) yet it is also the condition of social belonging (words
are the symbolic currency with which subjects participate in the everyday exchanges of
social life). In the dialogue with Joseph, we gain a glimpse of an identity which in the proc-
ess of being negotiated within language but without the illusion of closure and completion

offered by a blind identification with the canonical texts of English culture the narrators
spurious secur[ity] in the knowledge of great literature (I 119).
Dabydeen insistently focusses upon academic language as instances of these tensions.
The narrators constant rehearsal of the essay as a mode of constrained, sanctioned, subal-
tern use of language serving self-formation contrasts significantly with Patels unconven-
tional essay-writing method in the A-Level exam. Patel relies upon flowery, ornamental
non-Western narrative units written by his uncle and wielded with aplomb by himself, to
allow him to make the educational system work for him. Traversing the challenge of an
unknown middle passage which would end in familiar moonlight [one of the Oriental text
blocks he brings into the exam] he is successful in manoeuvring out of a tight spot im-
posed by the hurdles of a foreign school system (I 11-12). Patel moves not in the narcissis-
tic Imaginary, but in the pragmatic Symbolic of language as a markedly disparate set of
codes which structure social operations.
What is particularly problematic regarding the Imaginary is that the closure of self-image
necessarily reposes upon the repression of aspects of the self which do not conform to that
illusory and partial identity. Dabydeen clearly regards Conrads text as one which is
unlikely to offer the young immigrant reader a subject position which corresponds with her
or his social situation. In the event, The Intendeds narrator appears to resolve this dilemma
by eliding the potential identification with the colonized peoples of the text. This entails a
schizoid splitting of the reading self which Dabydeen has Joseph disturb with one of his
(un)timely questions: But what bout the way he talk bout black people? Joseph per-
sisted ... What black people? I asked uncertainly (I 97-8).
This splitting is also manifest in the relationship the narrator entertains with feminized
England, the motherland to which the colonial subjects come home.
The narrators
girlfriend Janet, his Intended (I 243), whose importance the title underlines, represents a
pure idealized England (I 167-8),
just as Kurtzs Intended is the guiding ideal which justi-
fies and motivates the colonial undertaking (what redeems it is the idea only
). When
Marlow returns to England, he refuses to tell the Intended of Kurtzs sordid end. For Daby-
deens narrator, he himself is the darknesss, the blackness which threatens Janets gen-
teel Englishness (I 169) rendering him impotent, so that he so that he can only enter
embodied, feminized Englishness through the person of the sluttish Monica, whom he de-
spises. Janet is quite aware of this mechanism, contradicting his illusions of purity (I 242),
and mischievously farewelling him with a make sure you get in this time before his Ox-
bridge interview (I 205). If the Imaginary involves a distorting mirroring of self, then it is
significant that Janet interrupts the narrators narcissistic self-mirroring: I caught my re-
flection in the water, waving, mocking. Another face appeared, and I looked up to see Janet.
Dreaming again, she laughed gently (I 115).

5 See Stuart Hall, Ethnicity: Identity and Difference, Radical America 23:4 (1989), 17.
6 Dabydeens Disappearance (London: Cape, 1993) engages explicitly with the association made in The In-
tended between Janet and pure English countryside (I 116), suggesting that the intact rural values are a mere
facade and that English culture is only sustained by oppositional cultural contrasts. The novel implies, how-
ever, that such constitutive borders are crumbling like the coastal cliffs the Guyanese engineer protagonist is
contracted to shore up.
7 Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness and Other Tales (Oxford: Oxford University Press/Worlds Classics,
1990), 141.

Significantly, the ambivalence of the Conradian novella, which can only situate a non-
white reader on the wrong side of the colour line, or demand that she or he develop a split
consciousness within the reader-position offered, is turned inside out by Dabydeens text:
The Intended transforms a schizophrenic reading position into a hybrid, polyphonic one. At
the level of its own literary discourse, the novel offers a reversal of this splitting, in the
creation of a polyglot discourse which moves between the disparate registers of Caribbean
Creole, Black English, and literary diction.
Dabydeen opts, at the level of the text, for the contingent fluidity of the Symbolic.
is most insistently figured in the episode where the narrator receives two letters simultane-
ously. The significance of the letter for Lacan is notorious,
and Dabydeen is equally inter-
ested in letters as the suggestive womb of identity (I 194-6, 235). One letter, formal,
offers him a place at Oxford, the other is haphazard ... in a struggling English ... the verb-
tenses mixed up so that I couldnt figure past from present from future, from his mother in
Guyana (I 213). In this collision of letters, the subjects Imaginary is dissolved: I hold
both letters in my hand and state into the mirror, wondering how I have changed, whether
they would recognise me if I suddenly appeared in New Amsterdam, rattled the gate and
called out in my English voice (I 214). This polyphonic linguistic identity is the positive
version of the narrators depressed sense that I am not English enough: a piece of pidgin,
not knowing where the past ended, where the present began, not knowing how the future
was to be made (I 217). Dabydeens novel multiplies the languages of identity so as to
eschew impoverished illusions of the selfs unicity.
Whence the hybridizing process employed in The Intended, which oscillates between
English and Creole, between Balham in South London and Albion Village in Guyana, be-
tween childhood and adolescence, often with barely perceptible transitions. Dabydeens
text, at its enunciative discourse level, foregrounds the Symbolic aspect of postcolonial
subjectivity, which the insecure adolescent, caught in an alienating pursuit of the Imaginary,
cannot yet accept. The fluid transitions allow us to appreciate that identity within the Sym-
bolic is based upon metonymy, upon a process of contiguous identifications with overlap-
ping and successive fragments of culture, rather than upon metaphor, upon a fixed equation
of selfhood with a cultural entity itself attributed stability and coherence. The Symbolic
remains fluid because each cultural fragment is accepted as a mere symbol, hollowed out by
its inadequacy to describe a complex reality. In the same way, the fluid transitions of the
text are metonymies for the plural identifications through which a transcultural subject is
constituted. The text as syntagmatic succession of episodes also mimics the performative

8 If we were to apply this typology rigorously, we would have to place Joseph in the position of the Real, losing
hold of a mirror image of himself altogether (I 100), moving progressively via an increasingly abstract visual
or filmic language (I 133-4) which will later be reappropriated and recoded in the texts own linguistic work
through a phase of mystical negative-theology (I 133-4), to autistic formlessness and babbling (I 198).
Joseph commits suicide by self-immolation (I 196).
9 Jacques Lacan, Le sminaire sur La lettre vole and Linstance de la lettre dans linconscient ou la
raison depuis Freud, Ecrits I, 19-75, 249-89; in English, Seminar on The Purloined Letter , in The Purloi-
ned Poe: Lacan, Derrida and Psychoanalytic Reading, ed. John P. Muller and William J. Richardson, trans.
Jeffrey Mehlman (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), 28-54; The agency of the letter in the
unconscious or reason since Freud, Ecrits: A Selection, 146-78. See also Serge Leclaire, Psychanalyser: Un
essai sur lordre de linconscient et la pratique de la lettre (Paris: Seuil/Points, 1975); Philippe Lacoue-
Labarth and Jean-Luc Nancy, Le titre de la lettre: Une lecture de Lacan (Paris: Galile, 1990).

character of subjective identity as one vignette is succeeded by another in an ongoing proc-
ess which constructs the subject while offering possibilities of recursive self-constitution. It
is for this reason that the form chosen by Dabydeen, that of autobiographical fiction, is not
merely the literary genre typically chosen by an apprentice novelist, but rather, a form
which underlines fictiveness of selfhood the constructed and constructable character of
its narratives. All identity is to some extent fictive, woven together out of the episodic
fragments a life affords its bearer.
It is no coincidence that this strategy is triggered, both within the text and within Daby-
deens own autobiographical accounts,
through the discovery of Old English. This lan-
guage dislocates the naturalness of English as the nexus of linguistic custom, academic
discipline, national identity and cultural capital, and makes room for a radical otherness at
the heart of English(ness). This in turn facilitates the resurgence of Guyanese English as a
co-bearer of a postcolonial cultural identity, and enables the recognition and reinstatement
of these aspects of the narrators selfhood within a pluralized and differentiated english
and English-speaking culture.
At this point it becomes possible to assess the full import of Dabydeens dramatization of
English Lit as a factory for producing colonial, neocolonial and postcolonial subjectiv-
ities. Whereas English as an academic discipline was originally created to educate Indian
civil servants in colonial values,
here, the function of the discipline, first as a school and
then as a university subject, is reversed. English, embodied in the person of the Guyanese-
Indian immigrant boy, returns home. The postcolonial peregrinations of English thus
perform an ironical re-enactment of the disciplines nineteenth-century passage to the me-
tropolis, with the very same hybridizing results of the post-World War Two influx of New
Commonwealth people to the UK.
The conscious mise-en-abyme of Conrads Heart of Darkness as a school text, echoed in
the novels ironic title, points to the ways in which pedagogic texts influence experience
outside the classroom, articulating but also distorting the terms in which subjects position
themselves in relation to others, and in relation to the culture(s) which those others em-
It not by chance that Dabydeen chooses Heart of Darkness, with its multiple narra-
tive frames and their dramatization of the scene of narration,
as the site of his own
dramatization of the activation of the text in group reading and discussion. What that mise-
en-abyme demands, moreover, by its reflective/distorting procedure, is a reflection upon the
connections between teaching literary texts, the transmission of cultural codes and the con-
texts in which that transmission occurs, and the possibilities of contestation available in that
context. As Dabydeen wrote in an earlier text arising from his own involvement in teacher-
training, and in which a vitriolic dismantlement of the ideology of Heart of Darkness is to
be found, he is particularly interested in promoting an appreciation of [African and Carib-

10 David Dabydeen, On Not Being Milton: Nigger Talk in England, in Tibisiri: Caribbean Writers and Critics,
ed. Maggie Butcher (Sydney/Aahus: Dangaroo, 1989), 122-3.
11 See Gauri Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India (1989; London: Faber,
12 See Sigrid Luchtenberg, Identity Education in Multicultural Germany, Journal of Multilingual and Multicul-
tural Development 19: 1 (1998), 51-63.
13 See Edward W. Said, Conrad: the presentation of narrative, The World, the Text, and the Critic (London:
Faber, 1984), 90-110.

bean] literatures in secondary schools, thereby reaching a large readership of young minds
who are the futures writers, scholars, workers and next-door neighbours.
The Intended
carries this conviction of the social contextualization of literature into the diegetic fabric of
Dabydeens own literary production.

Story and discourse

The traditional concept of story and discourse, inaugurated by Shklovsky, which gen-
erated contemporary theories of narrative levels, distinguished between events as chrono-
logically ordered and/or causally connected (story, fabula) and their artistic ordering in the
text on the page (discourse, sujet).
This is analogous to Genettes distinction between
histoire and discours/rcit. Genette, like Rimon-Kenan, also supplements these two levels
with a further level, that of narration as enunciation. Mieke Bal also adds a third level of
narration as enunciation, but it already encompasses the words on the page, as does Princes
category of narrating or Stanzels notion of mediation by the teller or reflector, whereas
for Genette and Rimon-Kenan, the enunciative act commences beyond the material text,
presumably in the moment of its activation and reception by a reader.
The lack of consen-
sus regarding the precise point at which story shades over into discourse, and at which dis-
course in turn modulates into enunciation gives me my mandate to extend the process of
text production inherent in the theory of narrative levels beyond the domain of the text itself
into that of its reception and debates about its meaning. I would argue that none of the loca-
tions proposed by these various theoreticians in themselves are exclusively valid, but that
together they go to make up a collective theoretical recognition that what is discourse in one
context can become story, the raw material for a discourse located at a superior level of
narration, in another context with that discourse in turn furnishing the building blocks for
a further site of narrative performance. Thus this slippage in the location of story and dis-
course embodies the very possibilities of unlimited productivity within a social context that
I detect in the theory of narrative levels.
Let us follow the successive levels of text production in Dabydeens novel. The Congo
story-line, or fabula in the Shkolvskian sense, makes up the raw story-material which is
worked up into Marlows sujet, itself a genuine instance of discourse, and indeed, a mi-
metic representation of narrative enunciation. This discourse, however, is merely the
story which is encompassed by and constitutes the basis for the frame-narrators dis-
course. His discourse in turn becomes the story for Conrads narrative discourse in
Heart of Darkness as a global work. In Dabydeens The Intended, Conrads fictional dis-
course becomes literally the story which the young teenage protagonist is reading for
his A-Level exams. The Guyanan immigrants story in turn is worked up into the fabric of
Dabydeens narrative voice as discourse. To continue this chain of productive transforma-
tions, the reader transmutes Dabydeens discourse into the story being constructed in the

14 David Dabydeen and Nana Wilson-Tagoe, A Readers Guide to West Indian and Black British Literature
(London: Hansib/Rutherford Press, 1988), 103-16, 9.
15 Viktor Shklovsky, Theory of Prose, trans. Benjamin Sher (Elmswood Park, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1990).
16 Monika Fludernik, The Fictions of Language and the Languages of Fiction: The Linguistic Representation of
Speech and Consciousness (London: Routledge, 1993), 60-4.

active process of reading. This reading-discourse itself can become the story-basis for
distanced, critical reflection upon the text and its social significance. Here we have moved
well beyond the customary boundaries of the story/discourse distinction, but in the last
analysis, the concept itself demands this sort of infinite extension away from the core story.
A rather looser but analogous process of successive levels of production of meaning can
be detected in the texts thematization of reading as an educational practice. Reading (in
particular the technique of close reading for theme and imagery) is taught in the protago-
nists school but is then transported into the extra-curricula context of the bedsit-debates
carried on with Shaz and Joseph, and is thereby subject to a process of transformative pro-
duction. This story is in turn transformed within the discourse of Dabydeen as writer
(and, more shadowily, as educator and teacher-trainer). Dabydeens own discourse be-
comes the story-material for students (many of them teacher-trainees) and their debate in
the context of university seminars; a further concentric circle of transformative textual
practice is constituted by their future professional practice as teachers of English in high
schools. Once again, these levels of textual practice as productive practice which poten-
tially run against the grain of the reproduction of hegemonic structures, can be extended

Epistemological jolt

If one thinks of story and discourse as successive concentric rings in an onion-like
text system, the mise en-abyme technique, with its multiplication of isomorphic subject
positions at the respective narrative levels of the text, implicitly invites a replication of the
same isomorphism at the next systemic levels, that of reader and context.

I. Story (text) [Narrative] discourse (text)

II. Story (act of reading) Discourse (reading in context)

All the elements reflected upon in the text the writing process, the educational process,
ethnic identity, the polyphonic character of the protagonists subjectivity to the extent that
they are doubled within the text itself, must necessarily be doubled within the text-context
relationship. The mise-en-abyme structure does not fictionalize the readers, in a chiastic
movement suggested by Borges,
but it does open up their experience to a process of re-
inscription within the teaching context.
The act of transferring from one level to another, however, inevitably involves an epis-
temological jolt which encourages a dissonance within the process of replication. This is
all the more so that an autobiography offers inherent possibilities of identification its narra-
tive voices. Contemporary literary theory warns of the dangers of a too-easy identification
with the models offered by the text;
but identification, or love of literature is what com-

17 Jorge Luis Borges, Magias parciales del Quijote , Otras Inquisiciones (1937-1952) (Buenos Aires: Sur,
1952), 58. In English, Partial Magic in the Quixote, Labyrinths, ed. Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby
(Penguin: Harmonsdworth, 1976), 231.
18 See Andy Mousley, Renaissance Drama and Contemporary Literary Theory (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), 6.

pels most young readers to read, and has an important role in the teaching process, and
therefore should be treated with the utmost care and respect. The inaugural moment of
identification ensures access to the text and the positive engagement of readers imaginary
(and of course Imaginary) faculties, upon which all subsequent reading operations are de-
In a second movement, the self-reflective and self-problematizing process implied by the
texts mise-en-abyme generates possibilities of lucidity and dis-identification. The group
learning context provides further potential for the questioning of Imaginary structures; thus
small-group discussions feeding back into a plenum can reveal the immense heterogeneity
of the students own cross-cultural experiences.
In the context of reading a text such as
Dabydeens The Intended, this might mean, for example, asking about students own ethnic
backgrounds going back two or three generations, so as to dispel the frequent illusion of a
culturally homogeneous learner community; it could mean exploring the ethnolects in-
cluded within the apparent unicity of the students own (national) maternal language, and
so on.
Paradoxically, a Bildungsroman of this sort can function as a focus for student self-
mirroring, but equally as a disruption of such specularity. The text may serve as a focalizer
offering students the possibility of gaining a heightened awareness of their own place in the
Symbolic order constituting the broader context of learning (the university, the particular
region, the society and the nation). Autobiographical work within the pedagogic context
also offers remarkable potential for reflection upon the imbrication of context, subjectivity
and the learning process.
Such processes can be exemplified in Barbara Kortes comments
on teaching postcolonial literatures in contemporary East Germany:

English literature can be rewardingly discussed with an awareness of the students specific cultural context
not only because students, when addressed in their personal concerns, tend to be more active participants than
they might otherwise be. In reunited Germany the post/colonial English literatures appear to have gained a par-
ticular cultural transferability that can be exploited to make students aware of processes currently reforging
German cultural identity, thus also revealing some general mechanisms of identity formation.

Dabydeens text obliges us to acknowledge the multiplicity of languages or ethnolects
which mould the subjectivities of students and no less of teachers today. Derrida has
pointed out that language as something other than a transparent canal of communication
remains a taboo topic in schools. Certainly the multiplicity of languages which inform stu-

19 Such work has been hinted at in a different context, by Luce Irigaray, speaking of a pedagogical imperative to
combat mirror images so as to avoid the traps of fusional relationships: Jouer avec les phnomnes en miroir
et les phnomnes de symtrie et dasymtrie (notamment droit-gauche) pour rduire les projections ou les
engloutissements dans lautre, les phnomnes dindiffrenciation avec lautre: quil sagisse de la mre, du
pre, du futur partenaire amoureux, etc. (Luce Irigaray, Je, Tu, Nous: Pour une culture de la difference [Paris:
Livre de poche, 1992], 55); Play with mirror phenomena, with symmetrical and asymmetrical phenomena
(particularly left-right) to minimize the chances of being projected into or devoured by the other, and of indif-
ferentiation with the other: whether the mother, the father, future lover, etc. (Je, Tu, Nous: Towards a Culture
of Difference [London: Routledge, 1993], 49).
20 See Stefan Rogal, Schul-Spuren: Mglichkeiten Biographischen Lernens im Pdagogikunterricht (Baltmanns-
weiler: Schneider-Verlag Hohengehren, 1999).
21 Barbara Korte, Teaching Postcolonial Literatures in Germany, The European English Messenger 9:1 (Spring
2000), 29.

dent subjectivities and inevitably structure their learning processes frequently remain ig-
nored in the German school and university system.
Paying attention to the languages of
the classroom as a subjectivity producing factor would involve a notion of pedagogy which
draws attention to the process through which knowledge is produced. Such a notion
would address how questions involved not only in the transmission or reproduction of
knowledge but also in its production.
Dabydeens examination of the interaction of lan-
guage and subjectivity in a transnational postcolonial learning context would put paid to
teaching in which presentation [is] a (mere) supplement to inquiry and implies that every
pedagogical exposition, just like every reading, adds something to what it transmits.
It is
worth asking which innovative subject-positions this focus upon the classroom as a produc-
tive place might enable. To what extent could the dispersal of illusory monolinguistic he-
gemony, for instance, allow students to take up reader- and interpreter-positions on a par
with or beyond the teachers traditional position as subject supposed to know? In this way,
the Imaginary of moncultural self-knowledge (both individual and collective) would to be
questioned by the excess produced in the classroom an excess capable of creating new
social relations with a localized Symbolic.

22 See Sigrid Luchtenberg, Interkulturelle Kommunikative Kompetenz: Kommunikationsfelder in Schule und
Gesellschaft (Opladen/Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1999), 78-81.
23 David Lusted, Why Pedagogy?, Screen 27:5 (1986) 2-3.
24 Gregory L. Ulmer, Applied Grammatology: Post(e)-Pedagogy from Jacques Derrida to Joseph Beuys (Balti-
more: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 162.
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Writing the Disaster:
New York Poets on 9/11

Disaster ruins everything while leaving everything intact Le dsastre ruine tout en
laissant tout ltat With these words, Maurice Blanchots posthumously published
Lcriture du dsastre opens its long meditation on the writing of catastrophe.
words have been echoed by Wolfgang Fritz Haug more recently in discussing the terrorist
attacks on the New York World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001: Nothing is new and
everything has changed Nichts its neu, und alles its anders.
Haugs quote operates an
apparently significant but in fact spurious chiastic reversal of Blanchots statement, which
merely serves to underline the force of the implicit citation: namely, that plus a change,
plus cest la meme chose. If 9/11 was initially heralded as marking a caesura in world poli-
tics, then a more sober mood quickly superseded it, with the realization that the terrorist
attacks appeared to have reinforced rather than questioned the balance of global power
hitherto. It has become increasingly clear that change and radical stasis hang in the balance
in the wake of the catastrophe of the Twin Towers in September 2001.
This chapter asks to what extent the maintenance of the status quo or its radical trans-
formation are figured in the American poetry written in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I
pursue this enquiry in a somewhat roundabout manner, interrogating in the first instance
what I regard as being the preconditions for transformation or its refusal, namely, the ac-
knowledgment of ambivalence on the one hand and its repudiation in the form of rigidly
dichotomized thinking on the other. Following upon a reading of New York poets with an
eye to their ways of dealing with duality (whether by admitting ambivalence or persisting in
dichotomy), I then turn to the possibilities of learning from history which they entertain in
their poems. My meditation on post-9/11 American poets thus interrogates the capacity of
poetry to write disaster in such a way as to avert its potentially tragic repetition a repeti-
tion already apparent in the succession of bomb attacks in Bali, Djerba, Istanbul and
Bagdhad in the several years which have followed. I conclude by extrapolating some of the
implications of the struggle between ambivalence and dichotomy to this chapter itself as a
meta-writing of disaster and by implication, I ask about our response to 9/11 as Euro-
pean spectators upon the attacks, and as readers of the poetry of that catastrophe.

1 Maurice Blanchot, LEcriture du dsastre (Paris: Gallimard, 1980), 7.
2 Wolfgang Fritz Haug, High-Tech-Kapitalismus: Analysen zu Produktionsweise, Arbeit, Sexualitt, Krieg und
Hegemonie (Hamburg: Argument, 2003), 199.

Hidden histories

What is striking about the collection of poetry that I analyse, Poetry after 9/11,
is the
constant preoccupation with doubleness which marks the anthologized poems. A number of
the poems evince doubleness in their typography (Brown, Ash Wednesday, 2002, PA 9;
Schultz, Free Mercy, PA 50) or are included as pairs: Bill Kushners two poems Friends
and Civilization form two long columns side by side, thus mimicking the twin towers
themselves. Verbally, the same duality is in evidence. Eliot Katzs When the Skyline
Crumbles cannot decide upon an appropriate nomenclature for the towers, oscillating be-
tween World Trade Centre # 1 and Twin Tower 2 (PA 23). A poem by Tony Towle is
quite simply entitled Diptych (PA 47). This conscious mimesis of the towers doubleness
forms some sort of a homage, though inevitably an ambivalent one, as David Lehmans
prologue-like poem from 1996 acknowledges (I never liked the World Trade Centre. |
When it went up I talked it down | As did many other New Yorkers PA xv).
Far more haunting, however, are the poems which deal with duality as an absence, as in
Nancy Mercados Going to Work: On their daily trips | Commuters shed tears now ... |
Rush to buy throwaway cameras | To capture your twin ghosts (PA 55). It is the paradoxi-
cal character of this undertaking taking a picture of what is no longer to be seen, of the
present which was | before and around ... in the shape of an absence (Kraus, (We) Prome-
nade, PA 51) which illustrates best the dilemma which is addressed most profoundly in
the 9/11 poems I read in this chapter. For in their spectral absence, I propose, the twin
towers abruptly come to figure the cause of their own destruction.
The attacks on the twin towers can be understood as a brutal response from militant and
fanatical activists from a non-Western world in which western nations, and in particular the
US, have not ceased to intervene since (and despite) the demise of European colonialism
after World War II. To that extent the absence of the twin towers provides an uncannily
displaced figure of the absence of American foreign policy interventions beyond its shores
within the American public sphere. Richard Crockatt comments that

Americans rarely see American power at work, with the consequence that foreign relations are perceived to be
something that happens to America as a result of the actions of others rather than arising from the actions of the
United States on others. To the extent that America is a world unto itself, by virtue of its size, geographical lo-
cation, social diversity, and economic dynamism, it is often insulated from the reactions that its activity in the
world arouses.

The situation of Americans with regard to their nations impact upon the world is similar
to that of the British in the aftermath of their nations imperial might, as jocularly summa-
rized by Rushdies stammering character Mr. Sisodia: The trouble with the Engenglish is
that their hiss hiss history happened overseas, so they dodo dont know what it means.

The invisibility of US political, economic and military action upon the wider world is
evinced in 9/11 itself. The 11
of September 2001 has virtually erased, or perpetuated the

3 Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians (eds), Poetry after 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets (Hobo-
ken, NJ: Melville House, 2002). Hereafter PA.
4 Richard Crockatt, America Embattled: September 11, Anti-Americanism and the Global Order (London:
Routledge, 2003), 8.
5 Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (London: Vintage, 1998), 343.

erasure, of an earlier 11 September: that of 1973, when the Chilean Parliament was bombed
during the CIA-aided coup dtat which installed Pinochets regime.
It is the elision of
such relations of geo-political causality which goes to explain, according to Crockatt, the
sense of shock and bafflement expressed by Americans at the intense hatred of the United
States that these attacks displayed. He goes on to note that rather than enabling Americans,
whether people or policy-makers, to revise their notions of the USAs place in the world,
to the extent that the attacks were perceived to have come out of the blue, arguably they
reinforced rather than displaced the perceptual gap ... regarding Americas relations with
the outside world.

In contrast to this persistence in the elision of the US image abroad, Nancy Mercados
spectral towers reach towards making tangible an image of the absent cause which may be
surmized as having in part motivated the attacks. Her poem provides a verbal formulation
of something which is plainly felt to be unheimlich in Freuds sense: that which is integral
to the self but which is perceived as foreign because it has been cast into a foreign space.

D. Nurskes poem October Marriage enacts this sense of alienation: Huddled before the
news, | we touch the screen | our bombs rain on Kandahar | we cant feel them ... (PA
87). The terrorist actions of 9/11 can be understood, in part at least, as the return of a
repressed foreign policy which can only be experienced as unheimlich precisely because
it has been always exercised away from home. One striking index of this return home of
the spatially repressed is the use of ground zero to refer to the wreckage of the towers.
The first use of the term, according to the OED, was by the New York Times in 1946 to refer
to the point of impact of an atomic bomb (OED, Ground, def. 18a). The current usage
brings home to the site of its minting the jargon coined to describe the bombing of Hi-
roshima and Nagaski. Likewise, phrases from the non-West describing the effects of the
Western economic system on emergent economies (Mxico es una ciudad post-
) abruptly resurged in the apocalyptic landscape where the World Trade Cen-
tre had once symbolized Western economic power. In a similar manner, Eliot Katzs poem
When the Skyline Crumbles declares, After years of U.S. missiles flying into outward
shores, | a decade after 100,000 Iraqis cruise missiled to death under Father George | The
war has now come home ... (PA 25). This poem, with its linking of outward shores and
home, the foreign and the familiar, operates a ghostly double vision akin to that of
Nancy Mercado, thereby envisioning the absent presence of the US in the world, and
opening up critical perspectives upon American agency in the future global community.
I have chosen to read poems from Johnson and Merians anthology of New York poets,
Poetry after 9/11, because it seems to me that this literary genre in particular is most apt to
write the disaster. Poetry puts pressure upon the limits of language, tries to articulate
things which cannot be articulated by modes of verbal expansiveness, but which are better

6 This point I owe to Simon Jones whose guest I was in Barcelona at the end of 2003 and whose engaged re-
sponses contributed much to the development of this chapter. Thanks also to Cristina Riba de Castillarnau for
inviting me to Alins in the first week of 2004, where a substantial part of the thinking for the chapter was done.
7 Crockatt, America Embattled, 8.
8 See Sigmund Freud, Das Unheimliche, Gesammelte Werke (Frankfurt/Main: Fischer, 1999), XII, 248.
9 Jos Emilio Pacecho on photographs by Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, in Lejandro Castellores (ed.), Mapas Abier-
tos: Fotografia Latinoamericana 1991-2002, Exhibition Catalogue, Palau de la Virreira, Barcelona & Funda-
cin Telefonica, Madrid (Barcelona: Editores Lunweg, 2003), 178.

captured by modes of compression. Poetry employs condensation and displacement, the two
primary operations of the unconscious and of dream language.
The poetic undertaking
condenses otherwise dispersed domains of language so as to associate them within high-
density polysemic complexes.
For this reason, poetry is perhaps ideally equipped to deal
with the failure of language which, according to Ulrich Beck, has ensued in the wake of

Wenn aber alle diese Begriffe falsch sind, wenn unsere Sprache angesichts dieser Wirklichkeit versagt, was ist
dann eigentlich geschehen? Niemand wei es. Aber wre es in diesem Fall nicht mutiger zu schweigen? Auf
der Explosion der Twin Tower in New York folgte eine Explosion des geschwtzigen Schweigens und des
nichtssagenden Handelns. Dieses Schweigen der Wrter mu endlich gebrochen werden, darber drfen wir
nicht lnger schweigen. Wenn es gelnge, das Schweigen der einzeln Begriffe wenigstens zu benennen, den
Abstand zwischen Begriff und Wirklichkeit zu vermessen und umsichtig Verstndnisbrcken in das Neuartige
der Wirklichkeit, die aus unseren zivilisatorischen Handlungen hervorgeht, zu schlagen, wre wahrscheinlich
nicht viel, aber doch einiges gewonnen.

[However, if these terms are false, if our language fails in the face of this reality, what has actually happened?
No one knows. But would it not be, in that case, more courageous to remain silent? The explosion in the Twin
Towers in New York was follwed by an explosion of garrulous silence and empty-worded action This si-
lence of the words must be broken at last, we can remain silent no longer on this issue. If we were at least able
to identify the silence of the individual terms, to measure the gap between the term and reality and then care-
fully to build bridges of understanding into the novelty of this reality which would precede our action, then we
would have not achieved a great deal, but something at least.]

The inflated rhetoric which characterized the public discourse around 9/11 contributed
merely to oversimplify and thereby obscure the real issues, according to Beck. What is
needed is a language which by virtue of its concentration and taciturnity is more adequate to
express complex interrelationships than the hollow rhetoric which followed upon 9/11.
This is the role of poetry: the production of polysemy by virtue of the compression of
language. Let us take as a comparison a volume of poems such as Jas Singh and Tom
Spencers America on Fire! which doggedly reiterates jingoistic platitudes:

Under a shall of religions promises
An evil malefic manifestation
Of an odious ogre attacked the world.
He has struck America.

Such poetry resists acknowledging the unheimlich character of 9/11 and opts for the main-
tenance of perspectives based upon a purely domestic, heimlich view of the world. This

10 See Sigmund Freud, Die Traumdeutung, in Gesammelte Werke (Frankfurt/Main: Fischer, 1999), Vol. II/III,
11 See Jurij M. Lotman, Die Struktur des knstlerischen Textes, trans. Rainer Grbel, Walter Kroll and Hans-
Ebehard Seidel (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1973), 24, 128-49.
12 Ulrich Beck, Das Schweigen der Wrter: ber Terror und Krieg: Rede vor der Staatsduma Moskau, Novem-
ber 2001 (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 2002), 11-12. For earlier instances of such tropes see George Steiner,
Language and Silence: Essays 1958-1966 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), and of course Blanchot,
Lcriture du dsastre: Le dsastre d-crit (17)
13 Jas Singh and Tom Spencer, America on Fire! A Poetic Tribute to the Memories of 9-11-2001 (Harrisburg,
PA: Cameo, 2001), 27.

poetry remains resolutely within the limits of language and thus neglects the critical func-
tion of the poetic impulse. No complexity or polysemy is admitted to the sphere of lan-
guage, and by the same token, no ambivalence or double-vision is allowed in the national
self-image upheld by these poets. In contrast, the interest of Poetry after 9/11 lies in the fact
that with few exceptions it includes poems which opt for complexity rather than simplifica-
tion. To that extent, it instantiates a genuine process of engagement with the events of 9/11.

The poetry of ambivalence

The simplifying impulse to be found in a volume such as America on Fire! is none the
less acknowledged in Poetry after 9/11. Typical sentiments which are rehearsed in these
poems are the sense of the USA as a victim (Stock, What I Said, PA 34); the frequently
reiterated sense of being physically vulnerable (the Twin Towers are personified and en-
dowed with eyes in Nurskes October Marriage, PA 88, and in Moustakis How to Write
a Poem after September 11
, PA 95); of being the object of hate (do they hate me for it |
do they hate me is the tortured question of Ostrikers The Window, At the Moment of
Flame PA 86); of having ones back against the wall (Martin, This Message Will Self-
Destruct in Sixty Seconds, PA 7); of America being the casualty of its own tolerance and
openness (Lima, Good Morning America, PA 43). Conversely, there is a sense of the
terrorists not playing fair, employing deceit (the implication being that we would always
play fair) (Dunn, Grudges, PA 3); of being fundamentalist fanatics (this is an attribute
which is never ascribed to the self) (Inez, The Sceptic, PA 36); of having recourse to
archaic modes of belief which belie envy of our modernity (Frank Limas Good Morning
America: In a single, envious denouncement from the Middle | Ages our blue skies be-
came grey and acrid yellow like their speeches to | The deities of the desert [PA 43]).
These attitudes can be characterized as examples of what Melanie Klein labelled splitting:
the process of sifting out ambivalent sentiments and projecting the negative elements onto
Such functions, understood as societal rather than as individual psychic strategies,
describe a process of projection which ironically imitates the expulsion of knowledge of
American foreign policy out of the national self-image, into an elided foreign space. Posi-
tive attributes (albeit negated by tropes of vulnerability) and negative attributes are teased
out and distributed between self and other. The enactment of such sentiments is an impor-
tant moment in this anthology, because it indicates the ability not only to acknowledge the
reality of an hitherto elided geo-political elsewhere but also to acknowledge ones com-
plicity precisely in those conservative discourses which occur close to home (I shall return
to this issue at the end of the chapter). This ability to acknowledge ones own ambivalence
provides the basis for the complex engagements with Americas politics dramatized in the
The drawing aside of the veil is driven by the admission of ambivalence. In Stephen
Dunns poem Grudges, which rehearses the sense of devastation triggered by the terrorist
attacks and the novel sense of danger under conditions of clandestine terrorist warfare, the
central stanza of the poem strikes an odd tone: Yet who among us doesnt harbour | a

14 See for instance Melanie Klein, Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963 (London: Virago, 1990), 5-12.

grudge or secret? So much isnt erasable; | it follows that almost anything can occur (PA
3). In a poem which stages much-repeated tropes of outrage and puzzlement at the others
behaviour, the centre of the text admits that those others do, after all, have good reasons
(a grudge) to pursue their subterfuge (secret). If the poems own extremities attempt to
drive self and other apart, its core stubbornly re-asserts their uncanny similarity. A sudden
common ground is established between victims and attackers in the midst of simplifying
polarizations a common ground which ensures that the reader meet[s] oneself coming
from another | dimension, in the formulation of another poem in the collection (Fried,
Early, Late, PA 59). Significantly, in Grudges, it is the impossibility of erasure which
equates historical wrong and its maverick consequences with a process of indelible inscrip-
tion. The poem thereby links the historically inscribed memories which drive terrorist ex-
tremism, a logic which is admitted as being generic to all human beings, with its own at-
tempt to re-inscribe the current discourses of accusation and self-justification. This poem
writes its own ambivalence, refuses to erase the uncomfortable sense of commonality with
the despised and feared other, and thus counters the processes of splitting endemic to
discursive explosions in the wake of 9/11.
Another poem in the collection works to stress the impossibility of erasure and thereby
refute the processes of historical and spatial repression underlying simplistic versions of
Amaricas self-image. Anne-Marie Levines Four November 9
approaches 9/11 by way
of a displacement, making no mention of the event. The speaker was born on 9 November
11/9 in American shorthand, a perfect chiasmus of 9/11. The poem places in parallel the
authors own birthday in 1938, the same date as Kristallnacht, and three other 9 Novem-
bers: the proclamation of the Republic in Berlin (1918), Hitlers Munich Putsch (1923),
and the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989). The speaker, only discovering the first of these omi-
nous parallels upon her fiftieth birthday, ruminates,

So there I was, and even more than that here I am,
quite surprised, not to mention still unprepared,
and quite unable to avoid thinking about both at once.
The reminders since then have been constant and grim.
Coincidence: the visible traces of invisible principles. (PA 53)

The poem, working by chiasmus, has recourse to an analogy, and an uncomfortable one at

it was not a joke, and it was evidently not a thing
to be remembered or told,
because I was not made aware of the coincidence
of my birthday until several months before my 50
which coincided with and was commemorated and announced as,
the 50
anniversary of Kristallnacht.

The line-ends, which prise apart the constituent elements of the thing | to be remembered
and the coincidence | of my birthday respectively, are matched by the obsessive, insistent
doubling of coincidence/coincided and commemorated/announced. Thus the chiastic
inversion of the figures of the date of the Twin Towers attacks, an operation which both
underlines and elides similarity, exposes the manner in which disparate historical events
may coincide with one another in an uncanny manner. Underlying similarities are sug-

gested, though not made explicit. Most importantly, the speaker is forced to engage upon an
ambivalent discourse: she is quite unable to avoid thinking about both at once. Chiasmus,
then, throws up coincidences which would otherwise have remained hidden: Coincidence:
the visible traces of invisible principles. The poem takes effects (visible traces) and
causes (invisible principles) and submits them in turn to a sort of inversion. Displacement
makes 9/11, the trace of a repressed foreign policy, invisible, so as to make the principle or
cause of that event (politics) visible. If chiasmus is the rhetorical figure of entanglement par
excellence, this chiastic poem suggests the manner in which repressed histories in foreign,
far away places may be linked in uncanny ways with the nations own more overt histories.
Similar processes of entanglement are suggested in Daniel Goetschs What Keeps Ani-
mals Sane?: We forget | household vices can be that worldly serious, | just as we forget
how foreign America really is, | so strange and national (PA 52). Here household vices,
that which is heimlich, reveal themselves as worldly, and that which is homely, America,
the national, reveals itself as foreign, unheimlich, strange in the sense of trange(r).

The same process is gestured at in Bill Kushners Civilization:

this like civilization or
what? We watch our hands, fingers knotting, twisting, for
something hidden. Everything
you say you say with a grin
probably makes sense
in some other world. (PA 12)

These poems, with their concern to trace something hidden through the knotting of os-
tensibly disparate histories and worlds, point towards the ambivalences which can muddy
the specious clarity of a political historiography built upon forgetting. Such poems also
stand symptomatically for the working of the volume as a whole, in its impulse to compli-
cate Americas relationship with the world, displacing memory into the places and events it
has chosen to forget.
Once ambivalence has been admitted and repression at least partially lifted, it becomes
possible to explore the complex, multiply-imbricated realities to which these poems point.
The world economic order, neo-colonialism and subsequently the globalizing transnational
economic system, which has superseded and outdone the colonial system in its capacity for
efficient exploitation of the non-West, is shown up by Shelley Stenhouse in Circling: Its
so strange to be caught | in history, to be making history after just making loads | of unused
imaginary money ... (PA 18). In the days after 9/11, the imaginary gives way to the real,
the poet suggests. The reality, however, may have been different all along: the Imaginary
(in the Lacanian sense of an illusory but persistently active [national] self-image) has been
making history all along. It is merely its invisibility which renders it apparently imagi-
nary. Like Lacans mirror stage, the Imaginary is forgotten, but remains intact as the
natural mode of selfhood, driven by illusion, paranoid vulnerability and an underlying
In its constant, unnoticed agency, this imaginary Imaginary and the

15 These imbrications are teased out in Julia Kristeva, trangers nous-mmes (Paris: Fayard, 1988), 269-71.
16 Jacques Lacan, Le Stade du miroir comme formateur de la fonction du Je, crits I (Paris: Seuil/Points,
1970), 94-7.

ghastly Real it generates
maintains its status as the national unconscious. It is the
strangeness of this discovery, its unheimlich character Freud comments on the un as
the marker of repression
which signals the disturbing lifting of repression.
Many poems explore the nature of this military-industrial imaginary which has had
such an impact on the world since 1945. Cruises missiles on Iraq and bombs on Kandahar
are documented in several poems already quoted (Katz, When the Skyline Crumbles [PA
25]; Nurske, October Marriage [PA 87]). The inside/outside synchronicity of the global
military-industrial-economic complex is described by Alicia Ostriker in The Window, at
the Moment of Flame:

And all this while I have been playing with toys
a toy superhighway a toy automobile a house of blocks

and all this while far off in other lands
thousands and thousands, millions and millions

you know you see the pictures
women carrying bony infants

men sobbing over graves
buildings sculpted by explosions

earth wasted bare and rotten
and all this while I have been shopping ... (PA 86)

The window, at the moment of the explosion, looks out into a globalizing world previously
gone unnoticed. The couplets stand for the Twin Towers, as so often in this collection, but
also for the manner in which the towers, at the moment of their collapse, abruptly give way
to a pluralized national-global perspective upon the world. The same function is taken up by
the couplet terrible hubris, | terrible debris in Hugh Seidmanns New York (PA 40).
Here, the imperfect rhyme suggests connections which can best be implied by the conden-
sation of poetic language.

Repetition or redemption?

What perspectives for the future, beyond the immediate aftermath of 9/11, are proposed
by the poems in the New York anthology? A complex answer to this question is suggested
by Vicki Hudspiths Nodding Cranes. On the one hand, my disaster has become a con-
struction site | A reconstructive epicentre of trucks || And nodding cranes (PA 32). Here,
ground zero, the site of an attack which is also acknowledged as the epicentre of a com-
plex chain of historical cause and effect, becomes the locus of a process of construction
and reconstruction, an open-ended site pregnant with potentially alternative futures. On
the other hand, Hudspiths final line ominously mentions the plans I have to rebuild my

17 See Slavoj iek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (London: Verso, 2002); Jean Baudrillard, La Transpa-
rence du mal: Essai sur les phnomnes extrmes (Paris: Galile, 1990).
18 Freud, Das Unheimliche, 259.

disaster (PA 33). Both possibilities, that of alternative futures and endless repetitions of the
present, are entertained by many of the poems in the volume.
The notion of history as repetition emerges frequently in the collection. Hugh Seidman
picks up a frequent trope of repetition (9/11 as an avatar of Pearl Harbour), playfully alien-
ating it and placing it in cautious brackets: (The Airbus 300 | has struck Belle Harbour)
(New York, PA 41). History repeats itself, as is well known, in the form of farce, but as a
farce with serious consequences: mainstream TV helped lubricate Americas war machine
hosting Flat Earth hawks urging 80% towards retaliation (Katz, When the Skyline Crum-
bles, PA 24). Tony Towle, in Prospects, dramatizes the very logic which moves from the
misrecognition of history to the tropes of polarization and accusation: the imps of haphaz-
ard historicity | subjected the skyline to the whims of religious psychopaths (PA 46). His-
tory is misread as haphazard, allowing a similar absence of causal logic to be ascribed to
the terrorists. The result is an endless spiral of retaliation. This circular process is examined
in Ross Martins appropriately entitled This Message Will Self-Destruct in Sixty Seconds:
If Ive done this right | youre leaning up against | a granite wall ... (PA 56). The poem
rehearses the inculcation of a paranoid message of threat which creates its own enemies and
unleashes a retaliatory fury upon a putative attacker: If Ive done this right youll believe
in the threat evoked by the discourse of menace. The last lines read:

... hurry up before its too late
man listen to me Im telling it to you
like its your only chance they are
coming man theyre right behind you
they are right on your freakin tail.
Go. (PA 57)

The obsessive structures of the diction, its emphasis upon discursive performance, under-
lines the productive capacity of a propagandistic mode which calls up the disasters it most
fears, or wants citizens to fear. Whence the rhetorical question posed by Patricia Spears
Jones: In what cinemas are the dreams of mass destruction | so dear as ours? Her poem
All Saints Day, 2001 has the projections of a paranoid self mirror and reply to the selfs
own fears, confirming and thus reinforcing them: Shall we watch the shadows watch us
back (PA 70). Baudrillards fantastical suggestion to the effect that the Twin Towers re-
sponded to the terrorists suicide attack by their own suicide is corroborated by these self-
fulfilling prophecies which construct history as a circular, self-propelling cataclysm.

The anthology proposes alternatives, means of dealing with history which stress com-
plexity and the concomitant possibility of making choices, as in Eliot Katz The Weather
Seems Different:

We are all getting older, we have realized this year its time
to get serious about ducking deaths temporary wings
Time to get our 10-dimensional affairs in order, between your
big toe and its chipped nail
there is a fire-breathing vulture just waiting for the dimensional wall
to collapse even for a millisecond

19 See Jean Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism and Requiem for the Twin Towers, trans. Chris Turner (London:
Verso, 2002), 7-8, 47.

History repeats itself but sometimes as a young student pilot
unsure how to create an effective farce
My dear, the vulture escaped for my 45
birthday last night
it was in our bedroom pecking below the sheets
It has eaten us alive and regurgitated us back into this world
time will tell whether we are healthier than before (PA 28)

In this poem, the vulture which eats at the subjects liver as punishment for hubristic over-
reaching regurgitates that modern-day Prometheus, thus giving him a second chance. His-
tory has repeated itself as farce, now it is time to ascertain whether anything has been learnt
from this repetitorium. Only by confronting our 10-dimensional affairs in all their com-
plexity does it seem possible to move forwards. Similarly, Vicki Hudspiths Nodding
Cranes refuses an easy eradication of the catastrophe:

I am protective of my disaster, do not want to let it go
And if all the pieces are swept away
How will I measure
What I know (PA 32)

Knowledge is precious, it is a wound which should not be anaesthetized by simplistic for-
The anthology makes no pretence to offering ready solutions. Even the most stringent
critic must grapple with the complexity and pain of history. Thus Sharon Kraus writes, The
writer | is a harsh critic and herself somewhat fends off the present which was | before and
around ((We) Promenade, PA 51). Nonetheless, the majority of the poems resist the no-
tion that Knowledge can only look | back over her shoulder (Hadas, Sunday Afternoon,
PA 94), positing a poetic mode capable of utilizing the concentrated resources of poetic
diction in the hope of averting a future cataclysm of the order of 9/11.

Poetry and pedagogy

In her poem Four November 9
, already quoted above, Anne-Marie Levine writes:

So there you are and here we are, on my birthday,
and all of this is to say what Gertrude Stein has already said,
what can I teach you about history history teaches.

It is not a simple matter, the birthday, or the telling. (PA 54)

The poems in Poetry after 9/11 militate against the recourse to simple notions of com-
memoration and simple notions of telling. History should be told in a manner which es-
chews the easy formulae of polarization and stereotyping. The role of literature is patently a
pedagogic one, as Fredric Jameson has recently stressed.
Its pedagogical brief is not in the

20 Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London/New York: Verso,
1992), 50.

first instance, to change the way we act, as Brecht suggested,
but rather, to change the
way we think and perceive, thus in turn offering a different matrix for action: The goal of
teaching such a thing as literature is epistemic: transforming the way in which objects of
knowledge are constructed.
Poetry instructs us that history may teach.... teaching us, by
its very mode of enunciation the compression of multiple relations into high-density tex-
tual structures that historical causality is complex and overdetermined.
Such poetry, to the extent that its very form bears a pedagogic burden, has profound im-
plications for the manner in which we approach it as teachers and students. By virtue of the
fact that it thematizes the issue of learning, it cannot but speak to our own institutional
situation in the very moment of our appropriation of these texts. In so far as this poetry
contains a self-reflexive element pointing to its potential context of reception, it demands a
self-reflexive turn on the part of its receivers us, as teachers and students of transnational
literary texts.
For it would seem appropriate to regard these texts not merely as exemplars of the emer-
gent American literature of the twenty-first century, but also as transcultural literary arte-
facts. Eliot Katz writes in When the Skyline Crumbles, it was clear this horror was going
to be planetfelt (PA 23). The same can be said for his poem and the anthology of which it
is a part my own exegesis of that anthology confirms the planetary dimensions Katz an-
ticipates. I would suggest that these texts are true forerunners of a glocal literature, at once
specific and local and global in their relevance. If these texts are indeed transcultural, then
they ask to be embedded as much in their context of reception, applied in the words of
Hans-Georg Gadamer,
just as they are embedded in their specific context of production,
New York.
In this context, application means taking upon ourselves the same element of complex-
ity which the poems insist upon introducing into Americas self-images. Critics such as
Baudrillard and Haug have stressed the fact that in 9/11 America has been targeted as the
representative instance of the Western capitalist world
that is, as the epicentre of a
system of which we too are a part. Poets in the New York anthology concur with this
judgement. Nancy Mercado in Going to Work underlines the need to read 9/11 synecdo-
chically, To turn New York City | Into a breathing map | To display the curvature | Of our
world (PA 55). This curvature is implicitly opposed to the simplifying thought of Flat
Earth hawks (Katz, When the Skyline Crumbles, PA 24) but also to a widespread ten-
dency among left-leaning European critics to see a purely American phenomenon, and to
elide the involvement of their own societies in the complexes which led to 9/11. It may well
be worth asking whether European responses to 9/11 have not participated in the sort of
splitting which some of the New York poets excerpted in this article identify and anato-
mize. It is possible that the causalities behind 9/11 constitute the repressed exterior of our

21 Bertolt Brecht, Schriften zur Literatur und Kunst I, in Gesammelte Werke (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1976),
XVIII, 17: Die Marxisten [sind] die einzigen, die auf Fragen wie: Was willst du mit deinem Roman errei-
chen? Antwort geben. | Welche nderung im Verhalten der Leser willst du erreichen?
22 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Burden of English, in Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (ed.), The Lie of the Land:
English Literary Studies in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992), 281.
23 See Hans Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode: Grundzge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik, 2
(J. C. B. Mohr/Paul Siebeck: Tbingen, 1965), 291-2.
24 Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism, 11; Haug, High-Tech-Kapitalismus, 209.

own social reality no less than that of the American populace the Real that the liberal
West as a whole is reluctant to admit.
There are a number of poems which ventriloquize dichotomizing, conservative dis-
course in the wake of 9/11 in order to subject it to ironic distancing via its encoding and
estrangement in poetic form. Norman Stock in What I Said dramatizes the hysterical,
hyperventilating language of 9/11 rhetoric:

its impossible to understand its impossible
to do anything after this and what will any of us do now and how will we live and how can we expect to go on
after this
I said and I said this is too much to take no one can take a thing like this
after the terror yes and then I said lets kill them (PA 34)

The repeated I saids function similarly to distancing inverted commas,
while fore-
grounding the public-discourse character of such topoi. Such discursive strategies presup-
pose, however, the readiness to participate in such discourses, to say yes, yes to the
text, in the words of Spivak, if only in order to say no, in other words to perform it, if
only against the grain.
To assume such a discourse is to acknowledge that even the
standpoint of critique is not outside discourse or outside power (as Derrida and Foucault
have pointed out
), but that it is to a certain extent implicit in such structures and can only
effectively intervene in their functioning if it concedes the reality of its own complicit
The cybernetician Anthony Wilden has stated that the complexity of feedback must
match that of the system being controlled, according to a principle of requisite diversity.

In an age of increasingly complex global systems, we need models of reality endowed with
adequate complexity in order to facilitate appropriate modes of intervention. This maxim
applies equally to the objects of this analysis, American discourse on 9/11 and its poet-
critics, and to ourselves as European readers of those critiques. Complexity means includ-
ing the positionality of literary criticism the notion that You have to position yourself
somewhere to say anything at all
in the critical equation. A pedagogy of complexity
needs to eschew the simplifying assumption that we can read such texts without acknowl-
edging our own implication in the issues they address. The ambivalence entailed by such a
stance is encapsulated in Hugh Seidmans words in New York, already quoted above: I
read over my lines | (terrible hubris, | terrible debris) (PA 40). The connection between
hubris and debris is held at arms length in the act of bracketing off but at the same time,
is ostentatiously embedded within the poets own discourse, indeed, embraced, by the cup-
ping form of those self-same brackets. It is the act of reading which serves as the precondi-
tion for that tension between bracketing-off and embracing, and as the site upon which that

25 Jacqueline Authier, Paroles tenues distance, in Bernard Conein et. al. (eds), Matrialits discursives (Vil-
leneuve dAscq: Presses Universitaires de Lille, 1981), 127-42.
26 Spivak, The Burden of English, 289.
27 See Jacques Derrida, Lcriture et la diffrence (Paris: Seuil, 1967), 59, 412; Michel Foucault, Pouvoirs et
stratgies, Michel Foucault: Dits et crits 1954-1988, ed. Daniel Defert and Franois Ewald (Paris: Galli-
mard, 1994), III, 424-5.
28 Quoted in William Paulson, Literary Culture in a World Transformed: A Future for the Humanities (Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 120-1.
29 Stuart Hall, Ethnicity: Identity and Difference, Radical America 23: 4 (1989), 18.

struggle can be dramatized and reflected. As European academics, literary critics or stu-
dents we do not perhaps participate in the military-industrial complex in quite the manner
scrutinized by Chomsky in his classic analysis of the American universities of the 1960s.

None the less, in analogy with Spivaks contention that In the field of ethno-cultural poli-
tics, the post-colonial teacher can help to develop this vigilance [for systemic appropria-
tions of the social capacity to produce a differential that is one basis for exchange into the
networks of cultural [or] class or gender-identity] rather than continue pathetically to
dramatize victimage or assert a spurious identity, I would concur with her proposal to
embrace and acknowledge ambivalence. The teacher and the student says no to the
moral luck of the culture of imperialism while recognizing that she must inhabit it, indeed
invest it, to criticize it.
I suggest that we can best respond to 9/11 poetry by interrogating
our own perhaps ambivalent place within the global political and economic system. Within
that process, it may well be instructive to scrutinize our own responses to New York poets
reactions to 9/11, asking whether we evince the same dichotomizing perspectives which
they take to task, or whether ambivalence is the hallmark of our self-reflexive reading.

30 Noam Chomsky, American Power and the New Mandarins (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969). I should add,
however, that one not-infrequently-chosen employment option for my generation of languages graduates from
Melbourne University in the mid-1980s was to work with the Australian Army Defence Signals Directorate,
translating monitored information to be handed on to the American intelligence services. From Korea to Iraq,
Australia has a long history of participation in American military operations.
31 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Poststructuralism, Marginality, Postcoloniality and Value, in Peter Collier and
Helga Geyer-Ryan (eds), Literary Theory Today (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990), 228.
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What is your name?

The resistance we often encounter upon reading a poetic text may produce surprising re-
sults. It may, if we persevere, lead us to grant attention to other aspects of the text than the
immediately and transparently communicative. The experience of being refused easy access
to the meaning of a text may, after the initial sense of perplexity and frustration, allow us to
become attentive to material aspects of the text to its structure, to its phonic or musical
constitution. Finding the route to semantic understanding barred may, if we are prepared to
search for a moment, open up other paths, ones that are guided by what Roland Barthes
once called the grain of the voice.

But where does that leave us? Once off the beaten track of semantic decipherment,
where are we likely to end up? Does the pursuit of other paths than that of meaning sig-
nify being on the wrong track, being embarked upon trajectories which will merely prove
to be dead ends or does it mean following alternative routes which may open up quite
different vistas to those offered by the main road (this is the ambiguity which Heidegger
teases out of the German term Holzweg both forest path and wrong turning, to pun on
another sylvan metaphor from Heideggerese
). To explore alternative modes of translation
to that of semantic equivalence is a ubiquitous strategy in moments of cross-cultural con-
tact. The translation acts undertaken upon such occasions may possess unsuspected simi-
larities with the reading of resistant poetry and their own maverick poetics of translation,
in translation. Much of the meaning of poetry is not carried on the semantic plane, and in its
carriage into another language demands work on other levels at the same time. Much of this
work is not guaranteed by the institutions and apparatuses which protect and guide semantic
translation (dictionaries, thesauri, lexica, academies, schools) but requires that we launch
out into the unknown, guided only by the desire to communicate and by the others re-
These forays into the undergrowth of extra-semantic translation are symptomatic of the
tenor of our present day life in post-industrial Western society, indeed, in post- and neo-
colonial global society. Increasingly today our whole existence as zoon semiotikon, as
meaning-making beings, depends upon our proficiency in the domains of pragmatics and
paratextuality. These previously marginal competencies are more and more significant in
our contemporary risk society which expects of its members ever higher levels of ambi-
tion and achievement at the same time as providing ever lower levels of security.

1 Roland Barthes, Le Plaisir du texte (Paris: Seuil/Points, 1982), 104. The notion of grain of the voice was of
course taken up in the collection of interviews of the same title. See De la parole lcriture, Le Grain de la
voix: Entretiens 1962-1980 (Paris: Seuil, 1981), 9-13.
2 Martin Heidegger, Holzwege (Frankfurt/Main: Klostermann, 1972), 3.

The risk of translation in the transcultural world is the subject of a 1986 radio play by the
Australian cultural theorist, writer and artist Paul Carter, What is Your Name.
The piece
was workshopped and then performed on stage, in the presence of its author, in Berlin in
The WIYN project gathered together a group of students in a project seminar at the Free
University of Berlin which ran for five weeks in April and May 2004. The seminar was by
definition an exercise in transcultural communication, as the group included two teachers
from the UK/Australia and Australia/Germany, and students from Germany, Australia, the
UK, Portugal, Russia and Poland. At the same time, a student theatre group under the direc-
tion of Marieke Zwilling re-worked the extant radio script as a multilingual stage produc-
tion which was performed to full houses at the Berlin off-theatre Theaterdiscounter on 1-3
June 2004. Their work was preceded by the production of two new translations of Carters
extant script into Russian and Polish, with a view to a multilingual performance timed to
coincide with the impending entry of Eastern European states into the EU. The final stage
production took place primarily in English and German, but also contained elements in
Russian and Polish.
The seminar and performance groups overlapped to some extent, and Carter was present
in both situations, co-teaching the seminar with myself and in a consultant capacity with the
performance group, so that both the theoretical reflection and the performance workshop
tended to feed into each other.
The meditations that follow are the result of intensive dialogues with Paul Carter and
with the student members of the seminar and the performance group. Where some sort of
copyright exists, I acknowledge it; much, however, of what I say is my translation of the
ambient discourse circulating among the participants in the project over a period of more
than a year. This discourse continues as the WIYN project generates further ramifications
and as a number of participants in the group pursue their involvement via MA theses or
other research projects stemming from the Berlin project. WIYN was a project in the true
sense of the word a throwing out, or forward, which created, and continues to create the
future in unforeseeable ways by being projected into it from the present a risky but crea-
tive step into the realm of textual and cultural novelty.

The imperative of translation

WIYN in its original 1986 radio-play form is a sequence of 23 short episodes in which
three unidentified voices alternate in a dense and allusive or elusive pattern of inter-
twined phrases. The recurring scenario, however, is that of the interrogation sometimes
that of early white settlers in colonial Victoria, Australia, trying to find out the name of a
potential indigenous labourer or newcomer to a mission-station reservation sometimes
that of a police cell in Mexico city shortly before the 1985 earthquake. The title What is
your name epitomizes the imperative to translation, the demand to divulge information in a
form legible for a target culture, an imperative which has furnished the underlying episte-
mological figure of colonization. The title summarizes the repeating, cyclical situation

3 Paul Carter, What is Your Name, unpublished annotated script, November 2003. Hereafter WIYN.

which underlies the radio drama two speakers bullying, cajoling, threatening attempt to
extract information from a third.

3. Mr Hatchers no theologian.
2. An atheist by birth.
3. He doesnt want a confession.
2. We wouldnt be kicking you in the balls.
3. If it was just a question of filling in a form.
2. Age, family, background: we can make it up.
3. But you.
2. Thats different.
3. We couldnt have you going round spreading stories.
2. Just talk: thats all youve got to do.
3. Let us in to your little world.
2. Look, when they dig us out.
3. Because this will all come to an end.
2. Id like to think something of you survived.
3. Your name, say. (WIYN, section 10)

Here, translation is both translation out of (the extraction of information from an other
source culture, personified by the interrogated victim), and translation into the target
culture, epitomized in the process of re-naming:

1. No.
2. Ah! Ah! No-ah.
3. Here, Noah, here, Noah.
1. Who are you calling Noah?
2. That is your name.
1. My name? All right.
3. Everybody has one.
3. Name?
1. Noah.
3. Noah? Weve got a hundred Noahs.
2. Absalom.
3. Achilles.
2. Alexander Luck.
3. Sahib, Samson, Solomon Grundy.
2. Jacob, Peter, Stephen Duck.
3. But no nobodies.
2. Mr McGuinness and myself, wed suggest.
3. You know.
2. Nobody.
3. To distinguish you.
2. Just for the record. (WIYN, sections 1 and 8)

Carter builds upon the Australian colonial missionaries custom of re-baptizing indigenous
people with civilized European names. But the act of asking the others name (only then
to erase it) may not only be the first utterance of an interrogation. The question What is
your name? may equally be the opening gambit of dialogue, acquaintance, indeed friend-
ship. Carters piece thus evinces a complex of tensions between self and other, between
source and target culture, between interrogator and prisoner, between annihilation and dia-

logue, between the known and the unknown. It is this irreducible tension between the two
poles of communication which give the play a quasi-universal import. This universality,
however, is not that of a vague, ahistorical validity, but consists in the implicit imperative
towards translation which the piece itself persistently enacts, explicitly pointing out specific
concretizations of its dynamic:

1. What is this place?
2. Buntingdale Mission Station [in Western Victoria].
3. Treblinka.
2. The Old Bailey.
3. My school playground.
2. The interview room, Tullamarine [Melbourne International Airport].
3. You name it.
2. The Mandelbaum Gate.
3. Mexico City, December 6th, 1985, the City Prosecutors office.
2. The font.
3. The fence.
2. The grave.
3. To come in.
2. To get out.
3. You cant do it without names. (WIYN, section 2)

The scope of WIYN is inherently translative, its own interrogative form performing the
constant striving towards otherness, a striving both desiring and aggressive.
WIYN has never ceased to generate new versions of itself. WDR (West German Radio)
Cologne broadcast a German translation (Wie its Dein Name) in 1990. A Mauritian creole
translation (Quel nom toi?) was produced for a Prix futura submission by Philippe Tanguy.
The Berlin project generated Polish and Russian versions entitled Jak masz na im and
o (Kak tvoj imja), translated by Marta Wojtkiewicz and Natasha Klimina respectively.
The rehearsal process itself gave rise to a modified German version of the script by Erik
Schmitt and Folke Renken which stemmed from the actors own dissatisfaction with the
1990 WDR translation. WIYN dramatizes the terror of translation, in the authors own
words, which has characterized much transcultural contact in the colonial and postcolonial
Equally, it equally memorializes the desire of dialogue which is no less powerful as
a motor of cross-cultural communication.
In the interval between these two impulses, the
oppressive and the creative, lies the risk of communication.

Next page:
Graffiti Panels, What is your name/Wie ist dein Name,
Theaterdiscounter, Berlin, June 2004
Photo: Paul Carter
From Brough Smyths The Aborigines of Victoria (1878)

4 Paul Carter in the programme notes for the June 2004 performance of What is your name/Wie ist dein Name at
Theaterdiscounter, Berlin-Mitte.
5 Carter, Desire of Dialogue: Radio Writing and Environmental Sound, in M. Thomas (ed.), Uncertain
Ground: Essays Between At and Nature (Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1999), 143-60.


Indeed, the risky undertaking of communication which can be traced forward through
WIYNs numerous avatars up to the present day and beyond but also backwards through
its predecessors. Many of the lapidary phrases which make up the perplexing but poetically
entrancing exchanges of WIYN are citations from phrasebooks collated by the early white
settlers of Western Victoria.
These phrasebooks align transliterations of what the settlers
heard their indigenous interlocutors saying, followed by literal translations marked by a
dislocated syntax, and then the clean versions. The Berlin performances of WIYN wove
fragments of these translations into their textual fabric. This process was mimed, visually
and concretely, by integrating a series of graffiti panels hung on the back wall of the stage.
The panels were successively re-inscribed re-translated in the courses of the three eve-
ning performances.
Thus WIYN is constructed, literally, as a translation of earlier attempts at translation
attempts whose own duality (asyntactic and syntactic) betray an ambivalent desire, on the
one hand, to imitate the native, to contaminate the target-language with the syntactic
(dis)order of the foreign tongue, and on the other, to drag that strangeness into the repres-
sive order of the target language. Both impulses are enacted in the mocking syntactic disar-
ray delighted in by speakers 2 and 3, which both deflect speaker 1s pitiful pleading, but
also imitate the dishevelled word order of the poignant Hungry I:

1. Drink. Hungry I.
2. Hungry you?
3. What sort of a name is that?
1. Give me some bread.
2. I will not.
1. Give me bread, I am hungry.
2. I will give you stick.
1. This is hand of mine.
3. We will stick to you give not.
1. Nothing? What have I done to you?
2. I have what done to you? (WIYN, section 6)

Translation, whether willed or not, is a dangerous business: not only the translated meaning,
but the person of the translator her- or himself, is placed in jeopardy in the moment of
cross-cultural contact. The turbulent crossing between the coasts of two cultures makes the
traveller vulnerable, open for dialogue, but also open to the desire of violence, hers or his
own, and others. The exchange Just talk: thats all youve got to do. | Let us in to your
little world. | Look, when they dig us out (WIYN, section 10) epitomizes the ambiguity of
translation: the let us is is both a request for linguistic enlightenment and a gesture of
colonization; the Look, when they dig us out which immediately follows reveals that the
interrogators, like their victims, are condemned to translation, one which is doomed to fail
for at no point do they, or we, discover the name of the figure from whom it is demanded:

2. We all know what you will say.
3. But the words: But the words: it would be more than my lifes worth to let you die saying nothing.
2. So, Mr Nobody, your real name.
3. No tongue in your head? (WIYN, section 10)

6 Carters principal source is Robert Brough Smyths The Aborigines of Victoria (Melbourne: Ferres, 1878), 2 vols.

Like the master and slave in Hegels scenario, interrogator and victim are bound to each
other in a fatal partnership in which hegemony generates unending suffering but without
ever guaranteeing its own triumph.
Translation is a risky business, always threatened with failure. The hegemonic forms of
translation in our culture privilege modes of semantic transportation which eliminate noise.
Such modes produce a copy from an original at the cost of silencing what cannot be other-
wise accommodated or transformed in the process of translation. This suppression of noise
is also crucial in the creation and maintenance of authority, both textual and political, for
noise hints at the absence of control and the loss of command. Translation processes such as
naming therefore aim to create an authoritative text which elides the untranslatable. Inevita-
bly, colonial naming aims to erase those maverick elements which escape its grasp and
which thus remain outside of the colonial institution.
This mode of translation is eschewed by the text of WIYN. Carters text deliberately rein-
troduces noise, gestures ostentatiously towards that which cannot be captured. It makes
room for that which returns to haunt the translation process, reminding it of its limitations.
To that extent WIYN may be laying bare the mendacious clarity of the early settler phrase-
books. It is impossible to know whether the colonists really understood the meaning of
what they were attempting to translate. There are more than enough amusing anecdotes of
white settlers or explorers complete misunderstanding of what indigenous people told
them. Indeed, it appears that even the attempt to transcribe the indigenous languages may
have been inflected by the listeners own native British dialects, so that what is to be read in
the phrase books may effectively be as much a variation of Scots or Geordie as of the in-
digenous language it is supposed to represent. In other words, noise was intruding con-
stantly from the language in which the process of communication was being conducted.
WIYN points us back to the texts behind its translations and these in turn point us back to
the moments of linguistic interrogation of the natives, interrogations which cannot ever
have been very easily differentiated from the seizure of their land whence the harrowing
resonances of Let us into your little world.
At every stage of regress we have only a further process of translation, indeed of prob-
able mis-translation. At no moment do we reach bedrock, a layer of meaning which is the
thing translated prior to the subsequent transformations undergone. It is virtually impossi-
ble, for instance, to know the real nature of the indigenous languages translated by the
settlers, and thus measure the degree of their translative success or otherwise, for these
languages have been lost lost in the processes of cultural expropriation and annihilation
which went hand in hand with the occupation of land and the attendant destruction of the
economic, and spiritual basis for indigenous society.
The text of WIYN thus posits as irretrievable the indigenous languages at it origin (I
place this term sous rature because WIYN questions the very notion of a retrievable, origi-
nary truth; the only origin that can possibly be spoken of in this context is simultaneously
an end, a catastrophe). This, however, is highly problematic. On the one hand, it is to ac-
knowledge that loss without attempting to embellish it. On the other hand, it is to remain
complicit with it, awarding the white translations of the indigenous languages pride of place
while perpetuating their suppression of the indigenous source languages. If the translitera-
tions and translations stand in place of the indigenous languages, claiming a metaphoric
status, one that arrogates identity and equivalence, they effectively displace those predeces-

sors. The structural homology with the entire process of colonization and dispossession is
Colonial and neo-colonial processes have wreaked such havoc across the non-Western
world that in many cases, translation in its broadest sense as the creation of derivative
relations of continuity across cultural boundaries, or of archival transmission across time
has become impossible. Often, in the postcolonial context, no translation is possible. In
many cases, to misquote Lacan, il ny a pas de relation translationelle, there is no transla-
tional relation. One of the students actors remarked during the academic seminar that in
WIYN, theres nothing to get there is nothing behind the text to be excavated, extracted,
recovered. Thus WIYN is a text which documents the translation process and its failures,
thus refusing to suppress the noise, the graffiti of translation, which inevitably accompa-
nies the passage from one cultural space to another.
Paradoxically, however, in the absence of clear lines of translation, noise becomes the
carrier of translation. Noise, in the form of phonic material, echoes, resemblances, puns,
often bridges gaps in ways that semantic equivalence is clearly inadequate to do. This form
of translation does what much first contact communication did. The others words are not
understood, but none the less played with, repeated, tried out, tried on, turned this way and
that, given back, just as any objects in the process of barter establish protocols of inaugural
meeting. Take the following cluster of exchanges:

2. You play ball with us . . .
1. Ball?
3. Ball, bull, bowl, bat.
2. What shall we play at first?
3. We will play at ball.
1. The first created man and woman were told not to go near a certain tree in which a Bat lived.
2. Hit it.
3. Take care of the stumps.
2. Take care now.
1. One day, however, the woman was gathering firewood, and she went near the tree in which the Bat lived.
3. Out, youre out.
2. Come back.
3. All done play. Dark now. Come on, come on.
2. Sit down.
1. And then the Bat flew away, and after that came death.
2. Sit down.
1. Yes, all sit round. Stop, just stop.
2. You play ball with us . . .
3. And well play ball with you. (WIYN, section 11)

The words are exchanged just as the ball is thrown from one actor to another an exchange
which is ludic, but also laden with menace.
Given the lacunary character of the text and the absence of something behind it, the ac-
tors workshopping WIYN had no choice but to embark upon their own process of transla-
tion, recasting the text in a performance framework with which they could actually work,
using the resources they had at hand. Such a translation of the WIYN text was bound to
betray its original premisses, but this of course was also pre-programmed into those self-
same premisses: mistranslation is inevitable, indeed, is the only form of translation possi-
ble. In contexts where every translation is only a mistranslation, we have simply the obliga-

tion to translate and the responsibility to take responsibility for the translations we make.
Translational ethics are an ethics of bricolage, or, in the words of Laclau, postmodern
ethical bricolage.

In the German actors translation (undertaken by Erik Schmitt and Folke Renken) of the
passages just quoted, a different chain of phonic echoes is triggered by the threatening
Schlimmer, Schlinger, Schlanger (worse, [hangmans] noose, snake). The snake pro-
vides a Christianized equivalent of the bat in the indigenous narrative, one that assimilates it
to a Garden-of-Eden scenario, in keeping with the assimilatory and syncretic cultural prac-
tices of the missionaries. There is no direct translation of the mock homonyms (bat and
bat) in the English version. Rather, what is translated is the very principle of assonance,
imitation, phonetic play and productivity. Erik Schmitt wrote later:

The main question which came up during the translation work was: What are the terms/images which spring to
mind when you mention a certain word? In our example of scene 11 we realized that all of our attempts to
translate the word bat literally were fruitless. But by shifting the myth of creation to the centre of attention we
immediately got different results, by using terms such as serpent and apple. We picked up the new picture
and went on working with it.

A Russian translation by Alina Gromova produced echoes of ball in the word bolno
(pain), bolet (ill), but also boleshnik (fan), functionally related to bita (Bat) and bit
(to hit). These examples of associative translation lay bare the contingency which inflects
the translation process at a semantic level, while a different logic emerges at the material
level of discourse. This logic only reveals its haunting power when its productivity is taken
seriously, when such a translation is produced, performatively. The act of performance sets
the text at zero, as it were, forces it to behave as it were once again caught in the moment of
composition. Performativity strips the text of its acquired status as static product and en-
dows it with the risky open-endedness of an earlier phase of its existence.
Some texts cannot be understood or translated in the traditional sense of semantic
transfer. They must simply be performed, produced in a concrete context, and thus trans-
lated in a contextual, relational sense. A text like this has to be acted out in the case of
WIYN, produced on stage. The WIYN text was exemplary in that it offered itself for literal
theatrical production, thus making concrete the very notion of the performative. This is not
the translation of semantic mastery, but a translation which takes the translator with it,
which engages her or him in a project, a process with an uncertain outcome.
Risk is integral to the diasporic situation, a risk which can only be engaged with perfor-
matively. It is perhaps for this reason, in the last analysis, that the mode of translation which
seemed most appropriate for the WIYN Berlin project was that of performance. For perfor-
mative pedagogy is, by definition, risk pedagogy, a pedagogy which regards every class-
room situation as new, and as site of production of novelty. Such novelty can only be ap-
proached via the performative, by regarding pedagogical discourse as a series of speech acts
in which each reiterated utterance is a new enunciation. A postcolonial drama about inter-
rogation as the originary colonialist speech act thus demands translation and renewal. Judith
Butler suggests that the gap that separates the speech act from its future effects has its

7 See Jacob Torfing, New Theories of Discourse: Laclau, Mouffe and iek (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 280-3.
8 Erik Schmitt, Reflections on the WIYN project, unpublished assessed work, Free University of Berlin,
English Department, July 2004, 4. Hereafter RWIYN.

auspicious implications ... The interval between instances of utterances not only makes the
repetition and resignification of the utterance possible, but shows how words might,
through time, become ... recontextualized in more affirmative modes.
Performance is a
potentially renovatory undertaking, renewal is a performative process. The pedagogic pro-
ject of studying a contemporary Australian text dealing with transcultural communication
could thus best be undertaken by translating it actively, by translating from text to speech
and gesture, from radio play to stage production, from the 1980s Australian to the German
context at the moment of the historical entry of the Eastern European states into the Euro-
pean Union in May 2004.

Peformative pedagogy as triangulation

The Berlin WIYN project consisted of three principle elements: a relatively traditional
university seminar, a performance workshop, and a theatre performance. The project was
thus triadic in form and configured in such a manner as to allow an interaction, both ongo-
ing and also retrospective, between the respective parts and the respective modes of trans-
The seminar involved a comparatively traditional approach to texts. The sessions focus-
sed on primary texts such as Paul Carters WIYN script as well as a selection of his other
writing from The Road to Botany Bay (1987) onwards, and secondary texts from Said to
Spivak. What made the seminar unique, however, was the presence of the author as co-
teaching visiting professor on the one hand, and the opportunity to participate actively in an
episode of culture-in-process on the other. The student participants and myself had the
rare privilege of witnessing a renowned cultural theorist recapitulating his work of the last
two decades at the same time as continuing, in discursive and often poetic modus, to elabo-
rate a still-developing poetics of colonial naming and first-contact dialogue. Carters own
performance as a teacher in the seminar thus amounted to exposing the sinuous twists and
turns of creative thought in action. But it also pointed beyond the boundaries of the class-
room to the rehearsal rooms at Theaterhaus Mitte. The seminar thus dramatized a theoreti-
cal discourse about a literary text which was at the same time a creative discourse propel-
ling a productive process culminating in a theatrical performance several weeks later. In
this way, Carters own interventions blurred the boundaries between the seminar and the
theatrical production, not only because the author was present in both contexts, contributing
with a ceaseless flow of ideas, but also because the theatrical production, too, was a per-
formative process, a process of producing something which did not exist in that form be-
The translation process was particularly important in this context. Translation exercises
constitute a traditional pedagogical method for the teaching of languages one which may,
in the context of language pedagogy, suppress the performative and contextual aspects of
language use, suggesting that language competence merely involves transformation one
bounded set of statements into another set of statements whereas in fact the dynamic en-
gagements of cultural and linguistic contexts are infinitely more complex. But translation

9 Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997), 15.

offers other more interesting insights in a pedagogical context. Translation may entail a
performative aspect which liberates the potential creativity inherent in language rather than
steering it along the well-paved routes of semantic equivalence. A translation exercise in
one of the final sessions of the WIYN seminar required students to take several lapidary
phrases from the any one of the four-language versions of the play-script and connect them,
on the basis of imitative, phonic resemblance, with other phrases in other languages. What
ensued was a collage process based not upon translation in the received sense of the word,
but upon poetic factors such as phonic, rhythmic, intonational and alliterative similarities.
This exercise constituted a playful performative rehearsal of first contact communication
dramatized in WIYN, and of the process by which the script and subsequent performances
had themselves been constructed in successive phases of collage-assembly.

Performing the performative

The second element of the three-part project, the theatre workshop, was a concrete exer-
cise in culture as a process. The notion of culture as something which is not given, but
which emerges out of an encounter, is the central preoccupation of Paul Carters theoretical
work. In the Australian colonial context, this has been a double-facetted process reflected in
two main phases in Carters writing. The first phase explored the constitutive meeting be-
tween travellers and the land through which the Australian landscape came to be. The narra-
tives of the discovery of Australia by white settlers do not describe a land and already
there. Their narratives do not comment upon an extant history and its already-mapped
space, but rather, both history and space are constituted by their own progress through it:

It was the names themselves that brought history into being, that invented the spatial and conceptual co-
ordinates within which history could occur. For how, without place names, without agreed points of reference,
could directions be given, information exchanged, here and there defined? Consider those most beautiful of
Australian names, names like Cape Catastrophe, Mount Misery, Retreat Well and Lake Disappointment. These
names do not merely confirm Fields argument, that the logic of association breaks down in Australia: they also
defy it, asserting the possibility of naming in the absence of resemblance.

Naming is inaugural, it arises out of self and movement, not out of resemblance. Names
generate history, they do not follow it mimetically. Names create a place rather than de-
scribing what they find upon arrival. It is the travellers intention, according to Carter,
which forms space: phenomena enter the travellers narrative only in so far as they align
themselves with the direction of his desire (RBB 77). Here Carter is following Merleau-

nouvelle conception de lintentionnalit ... Lespace nest pas le mileu (reel ou logique) dans lequel se dispo-
sent les choses, mais le moyen par lequel la position des choses deviennent possible. je ressaisis lespace
sa source, je pense actuellement les relations qui sont sous ce mot et je maperois alors quelles ne vivent que
par un sujet qui les dcrive et qui les porte.

10 Paul Carter, The Road to Botany Bay: An Essay in Spatial History (London: Faber & Faber, 1987), 46. He-
reafter RBB.
11 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phnomnologie de la perception (1945; Paris: Gallimard/Tel, 1976), 281-2.

[new conception of intentionality Space is not the real or logical environment in which things are arranged,
but rather, the means by which the arrangement of things becomes possible. ... I am rethinking space at its ori-
gin, I am thinking of the relations which are implied by the word space and I realize that these relations live
only by a subject which describes and carries them.]

Space is constituted anew by the performative acts of travelling, gazing, writing: Lan-
guage, like travelling, gives space its meaning. It does not report the world: it names it
(RBB 175).
It is tempting to meditate upon Carters work as an oblique exercise in autobiography.
Carter was born in the UK and educated at Oxford before immigrating to Australia in the
early 1980s. Read in this light, The Road to Botany Bay would appear to constitute an ex-
tended attempt on the part of its author to inscribe himself within a textual history of other
prior explorers of the Australian landscape. Thus Carters own text may well manifest the
existential necessity the traveller feels to invent a place he can inhabit of which its author
writes (RBB 47). An extended soliloquy on the installation Raft, a construction of planks
made together with the artist Ruark Lewis, strongly evinces this impulse. The raft of 294
wooden beams inscribed with St Pauls Acts of the Apostles 27 and 28 in Greek, Latin,
German, English, Arrernte and Diyari commemorated the last raft-borne journey of the
dying missionary Carl Strehlow from Hermannsberg to Horseshoe Bend in Central Austra-
lia in 1922.

As the son of an evangelical missionary, who had come to see in the Aranda intuition of the interconnectedness
of all things a conception of love curiously missing from Lutheran preaching and practice, perhaps [T. G. H.]
Strehlow [Carls son] felt that this story had a personal meaning. In this story travellers from a distant country
did not impose themselves upon the land; instead they were welcomed and embraced. And being embraced
they were changed: the travellers became divers, and submerged in the amorous waters of Ntarea, were bap-
tised and given new life. Perhaps this was an allegory about living in a new country: instead of colonising it, of
travelling lightly like the migrant aware the ground is not given.

Paul Carters text focuses upon Saul/Pauls experience of conversion and subsequent travel
as recorded in Acts in such a way that the autobiographical resonances of the Raft commen-
tary are unmistakeable.
This model of a spatial history, a space whose history is that of its narration, provides the
template for Carters second phase of reflection. This phase concentrates upon the configu-
ration of first-contact encounters. Here it is the meeting between settlers/invaders and the
indigenous inhabitants of the Australian continent which are constituted without recourse to
some extant grid of meaning. Like naming, first-contact communication is radically inaugu-
ral. Nothing precedes it. Again, the process of articulation is recursive, for lack of any other
resource. Where the naming of places articulated the process of their discovery rather than
miming some other landscape, the protocols of inaugural settler-native encounters could not
have recourse to any pre-existing common language. There was none. It had to be invented
in the moment of contact. The only resource available was the other, the interlocutor:
communication between colonisers and colonised was both expressive and imitative, aris-
ing from the echoic mimicry both parties resorted to in order to make sense of each other in
the absence of a language in common. Phonic resemblances leading to comic, or occasion-

12 Paul Carter, Translation: On Salvaging Words, Carrying Meanings, Paul Carter and Ruark Lewis, Depth of
Translation/The Book of Raft (Burnley, VIC: NMA Publications, 1999), 22-109.

ally tragic, sequels are a staple of colonial history.
Much of the imitation, the gesturing,
which constituted the first-contact encounter was a performance put on in the absence of a
common language. ... Contact depends, not on playing the game, but on setting up the rules
of the game. It consists in improvising, and not merely rehearsing, the means of dialogue,
the gestures, the sounds.

Both the inaugural meetings with the country and with its inhabitants, in Carters poetics
of the Australian colonial period, are performative, inventions of a relationship which was
not there before performative acts in the sense that they did not describe a given, but pos-
ited a new reality, and thus remained eternally open-ended. Nothing guaranteed their valid-
ity, neither a prior system of references, nor their future perpetuity. Nothing predicted their
outcome of such meetings either, whether peaceable or belligerent.

At some point, ... Aborigine and European must have entered into imitative dialogue. The European must have
mimicked the Aborigine and the Aborigine must have repeated the European. The two parties must have ad-
vanced towards one another, if only to satisfy their curiosity about the origin of their own echoes. At some
point, and perhaps widely, the utterance Cooee [must have signified an intention to enter into friendly rela-
tions, to occupy common ground. But in European accounts of the term, nothing of this dialogical history re-
mains. Cooee is adopted as a means of increasing the distance between people, not of diminishing it.

This long excursus on Carters poetics of naming and of imitative dialogue is germane to
the WIYN project for several reasons.
First of all, much of the fragmentary text of WIYN is concerned with inaugural contact,
with the potential for the imitative construction of a place of encounter and with the equally
present potential for abuse of that space:

2. We had a bloke.
3. Thick-lipped, jowly.
2. No name.
3. Called him Jowly.
2. Call him Jowley, hed call you Jowley.
3. If you called him Mr McGuinness.
2. Hed call you Mr Hatcher.
3. If you called him his most preferred name Mac.
2. Hed call you.
3. Yes?
2. Mac. (WIYN, section 3)

And section 23 adds: After a while, I couldnt tell whether he was imitating me or me
him. Imitative dialogue is by nature open-ended. It cannot be pre-programmed, because it
has no predecessor, no precursor to steer it. It is inherently risky, its outcome can be
both friendship or animosity. As in the first-contact rituals described by Carter, the rules of
the game are not known. As yet, the play is something more, possibly the difference be-
tween life and death.
WIYN dramatizes this and the double sense of play in the con-

13 Carter, Desire of Dialogue: Radio Writing and Environmental Sound, 144.
14 Paul Carter, Living in a New Country: History, Travelling and Language (London: Faber & Faber, 1992), 162, 179.
15 Paul Carter, The Sound In-Between: Voice, Space, Performance (Kensington, NSW: University of New South
Wales Press/Endeavour Press, 1992), 28.
16 Carter, Living in a New Country, 178.

text of the Berlin project is pregnant here not only at the level of its content, but by its
very form.
This is the second reason why Carters poetics of performative naming and imitative
contact is pertinent. It was striking to what extent the early meetings between the author and
the students some of whom remained involved through to the performance phase and
beyond was governed by a poetics of imitation. This was so at a pragmatic interactional
level, with students and teachers often playfully taking snippets of the text and using them
as nicknames, jocular starting points for conversation, often throwing odd lines from the
script back and forth pending deeper acquaintanceship. More profoundly, however, the
entire encounter with the text took the form of a performative interaction. WIYN offers few
handholds to the reader, the only mode of contact is simply ... to make contact. Erik Schmitt

the play acquired its structural guideline by the process of finding a way to perform the play scene after scene.
The most interesting part was that there was no ideal goal; there was no present entity or expectation which we
wanted or had to fulfil. The what you get is what you get strategy, which was used for the rehearsals, the
workshop as well as for the seminar, gave life to the stage version, as it meant a constant re-invention of a new
arrangement. The meaning was created by the dynamics of the actors and directors. The question of the how
was kept an open-ended process, leaving us at a completely different spot from where we had originally
started. (RWIYN 6)

The workshop process was a perplexed and often frustrated engagement on the part of
the actors with a text which made no sense, which resisted not so much access as appropria-
tion, which offered, for instance, no characters with which the student actors could iden-
tify, but merely a loose string of speech acts and linguistic interactions. It rapidly transpired
that the only way to understand the text was to start working with it. There was no safe
hors-texte from which to approach and master the text. The answer to the question, Where
to begin, lay purely and entirely in the act of beginning. Anthony Wilden quips: Oui, mais
il faut parier. Ce nest pas volontaire, vous tes embarqu
[Yes, but you have to take a
bet. Theres no choice, youre simply involved]. Erik Schmitts commentary confirms this

When the rehearsals started, nobody knew what would be the best way to deal with this abstract text. We were
in another kind of first contact situation. So before asking the question, How do we perform?, the whole
cast was confronted with the meaning of Why do we perform? The work on this play was something new,
something that none of us had tried before. There were no rules, no guidelines, an experiment which used
communication as a game, playing with the stylistic devices of traditional stage productions. In this case it was
also important to re-invent the role of the audience: What do we know of the audience? We knew, of course,
that it would be a new audience every night every night would be like the first. And first contact, in the post
colonial situation [sic], means curiosity and imitation but also misunderstanding or miscommunication. How
could we work with this miscommunication? The audience had to be informed that it would not be able to un-
derstand everything. The combination of dialogue and performance had to be used to convey this information.
(RWIYN 4-5)

Culture, according to Carters poetics, is not given, but must be constructed so as to
make sense in a given context. It arises out of the space of an encounter between land and
traveller, between settler/invader and indigene here, between actor and text. The space of

17 Anthony Wilden, System and Structure: Essays on Communication and Exchange (London: Tavistock, 1972), 487.

first-contact encounter in the Berlin project was the rehearsal room at Theaterhaus Mitte in
which the actors first began grappling with the text of WIYN. The notion of culture as proc-
ess is a notion which is entirely absent from the university seminar, where so many texts are
parts of the canon, enshrined in classic form typically that of Penguin Classics or Ox-
ford Worlds Classics with their own processes of construction. The editorial process
which constructs the stablized and sanitized classic edition via the suppression of variants
and textual errors is elided in such works, producing the impression of a work which is
eternal, outside of the immutability of time. Even when the concept of culture as process
does inform the theoretical discussions in the classroom, it is rare that students find them-
selves, as in the Berlin project, in contact with a text which is not subject to authoritative
closure, but which is in the process of being re-worked for a new context parallel to the
Once again, translation is the multifaceted metaphor which suggests itself. Alongside the
translation of the radio play into a stage play for a new performance context, with the
attendant factoring-in of spatial, accoustic and visual issues such as actor blocking, voice
projection, and so on, a literal re-translation was being undertaken. Several of the actors,
dissatisfied with the 1990 WDR script, produced a new translation of the German text
which flowed into the final production. Furthermore, the actors were confounded by the
total absence of plot, characters and stage directions in the original WIYN text, which re-
sembled more than anything else a musical score. Eventually, in the interests of perform-
ability, these more maverick features of the text were relinquished, with a rudimentary plot,
clearly identifiable characters and stage directions being introduced. At a certain juncture of
the workshop process, the actors thus decided that the lack of semantic structures built
into the WIYN script, the epistemological risk entailed by the texts refusal to dictate the
conditions of its own performance as more traditional scripts do, was in excess of what
could be managed in the time available with the resources at hand. At a certain point they
began to impose protocols of their own to manage the ambient risk inherent in the perform-
ance project, as Erik Schmitt recounted in his retrospective on the performance:

As an interesting matter of fact, the original radio script did not assign lines. The speakers had to make their
own choices of what line to pick up. In the stage version, assigned lines were used. This was of course due to
practical reasons: there was simply no time to start experimenting with a play that includes eight actors without
being certain of who plays what. However, this new translation of the play gives a new face, a new identity to
the self and the other in this drama of nobodies. Directors, actors and audience are now bound to follow a
certain preset role, a character. The question of how the play would work without assigned lines, and what in-
fluence it would have upon the self and the other, remains open. (RWIYN 6)

The risk-filled translation processes which were the object of the mainly theoretical dis-
cussions in the seminar took place concretely in the theatre workshop, and fed back into the
seminar context via the mediation of students taking part in both contexts, not to mention
the author as consultant and co-teacher. Thus the WIYN project deliberately set out to blur
the boundaries between the analytical seminar space and the creative theatre space. It made
no claims to eliminate them altogether, but merely to question them, with a view to optimiz-
ing the synergy between these two distinctive spaces of creative thought. The intention was
to reinvigorate the seminar space via the proximity to an ongoing creative process, and to
enrich the creative performance process via the input of the reflective seminar space.

What is your name on stage

The stage the production itself emerged, as out of a triangulation process, from the dif-
ference and interaction of the two other elements in the triadic WIYN project. The stage
performance thus emerged from a space in-between academic reflection and performative
rehearsal, coming to occupy an open space the public space of Berlins Mitte-district.
This area, the historic core of the city, was successively the centre of the Prussian, Wil-
helmine, Nationalist-Socialist, then GDR and finally post-reunification Federal Republic
governments. The Berlin WIYN project thus interpolated from foci of the Australian settler
context, with its history of genocide, to a district of Berlin equally pregnant with history, in
particular that of genocide.
The Scheunenviertel was a site of a historic Jewish ghetto. Signs of the areas more re-
cent history are to be found in the Stumbling-Blocks [Stolpersteine] project initiated by
the public artist Gnter Demnig, whose art works are not dissimilar to those of Carter.
Demnigs Stumbling-Blocks are brass plaques engraved by the artist and set into the con-
crete of the footpaths in front of the houses of Jewish deportees. The plaques record the
names of these Holocaust victims and the concentration camps or ghettos where they per-

The off-theatre in which WIYN was performed, Theaterdiscounter, is an open perform-
ance space in the echoey sorting-room of the old GPO. Thus the very building in which
WIYN was staged symbolized communication and the transport of information. It is ironical
that the play, which circles constantly obsessively around failed semantic transfers, was
played in the place of erstwhile linear postal communication. The transfer of information
has also taken other historical forms in this part of Berlin. Only a few streets away is the
vacant block of land on which the infamous Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, as the Gestapo head-
quarters was known, stood before it was destroyed by Allied bombs. Today, only the cellars
remain intact. They house an exhibition entitled The Topography of Terror which com-
memorates the victims of the Gestapo. The cellars, however, are mere metonymies of terror,
spatial signs for something which cannot be directly signified. For the interrogations took
place in the offices on the upper floors of the building. The cellars, contrary to our common
assumptions, were not places of torture, but mere places of incarceration. The spaces of
atrocity remain unrepresentable. Similarly, much of the real terror of WIYN is unrepresent-
able, untranslatable. This is the burden of silence which, according to Spivak, inhabits every
text, but a text of terror all the more so.

18 See on this topic Gnter Demnig et. al, Stolpersteine fr die von den Nazis ermordeten ehemaligen Nachbarn
aus Friedrichshain und Kreuzberg (Berlin: Neue Gesellschaft fr bildende Kunst, 2002).
Following page:
Stolpersteine, Rosenthaler Platz/Neue Schnhauser Strae, Berlin-Mitte
Photo: Russell West-Pavlov


Some of the silences of the WIYN text such as the absence of stage directions or the absence
of identifiable characters were filled out in the stage production partly of necessity as the
stage entailed concrete usage of material stage-space and bodily space. What in actual fact
crystallized in the performance was a re-assumption of fixed identities, gathered around
fixed languages in the first two cells (or scenes), albeit only temporarily. In cells three and
four those identities and their linguistic bases were progressively relinquished. As the action
went on, the roles played in the earlier interrogation scenes literally disintegrated the loss
of coherent social identity was indicated by the piece by piece shredding of the actors
costumes after all, we are told, Mr McGuinness [one of the interrogators] is a man of the
cloth (WIYN, section 7). From this point onwards, the roles were increasingly confused,
with interrogator- and victim-lines being exchanged, and the various languages of the play
being tossed from one actor to another, with English, German, Russian and Polish inter-
twining in a truly eerie cacophony of caterwauling cries and yells. One actor cowered in a
corner with the Australian flag, previously neatly folded on a table to reveal only the Union
Jack, now fully unfurled, draped over his head and shoulders. As the fabric of identity and
of language fell apart, national signifiers were mocked as a last-ditch sartorial supplement
in a Babelic cacophony. Clothed thus under the expropriated imperial colours the plays
various dramatizations of translation unravelled themselves until, their expended energy
finally exhausted, the action culminated in scraps of language not dissimilar to the scraps of
cloth which littered the stage.
Erik Schmitts account of the actual performances on the three nights reveals a prepared-
ness both on the part of the cast and of the audiences to engage with the unpredictability of

The first performance on the first of June was a success nobody expected. Large parts of the audience liked and
enjoyed the play, even though it was impossible to understand everything or maybe it was just the fact that it
was clear that it was impossible to understand everything that made it interesting. The people seemed to have
walked over the bridges of translation to meet us. The play itself was of course different every night; not only
because of the changing scenery, but also in terms of speech and dynamics, which again were a response to the
present audience. Before the second and the third performance, our directors gave different instructions con-
cerning the way we played (the translation we used). By changing the play during the performance we picked
up one of the main ideas mentioned before: We wanted this piece of work to be an open-ended process, a pro-
ject that is flexible and thus able to grow more and more. (RWIYN 7)

If the performance text triangulated from the seminar and the workshop, it follows that
further triangulations may in turn continue to generate new versions of the text. The per-
formance produced a video text, and the graffiti canvasses now exist as autonomous works
of art in their own right. The Mauritian creole translation, for instance, suggests further
possibilities for new productions, also in conjunction with academic seminars or confer-
ences. In Paul Carters words, WIYN is a translation machine which can produce ever new
translations in ever new contexts in Deleuzian/Guattarian parlance, it is a desiring ma-
chine which can be connected to other machines, whether that of a language, a cultural
context, a theatre, a group of actors. WIYN is generating new texts such, for example, as the
one you are reading (just as other radio plays generated the mediations in Carters The
Sound In Between).
Equally significant in this context are the failed translations, the occasions where WIYN
proved inadequate to generate new texts. Originally, the stage performance of WIYN was

supposed to take place on the bridge which links the twin German-Polish border towns of
Stadt Guben/Mesto Gubin. The date chosen was 1 May 2004, the occasion of the EU entry
of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and the Baltic states. The entry treaty
was to be signed at midnight of 31 April on the bridge. A cultural festival was to take place
on the bridge on the following day, and WIYN was scheduled for this context. The bridge
would have been symbolically pregnant as a space in-between, a space of transport and
translation in which the multilingual performance piece would have asserted the difficulties,
the perils, but also the necessity and inevitability of cross-cultural communication. How-
ever, as the date approached and the dominant tenor of the bridge-festival became increas-
ingly evident, it became clear that any symbolism Carters avant-garde theatre would have
possessed would have been lost in the hullabaloo of what was principally a beer-festival.
Here the limits of utopian translation projects, and by extension much utopian cultural poli-
tics, become painfully clear.

Risk culture

What does the university literature department produce? In the long run it fabricates arts
graduates, people with a somewhat diffuse set of specialized literacy skills and critical
aptitudes. It turns out quantities of abstruse literary criticism, generally for a restricted peer
market, though some academics may review for a larger audience. The university depart-
ment may produce creative writing, when it includes staff members who are writers, or
when its graduates go on to compose poetry, novels or plays. But in the short term, the
university literature department generates pedagogical discourse and reproductive pieces of
assessed work in the form of subaltern literary criticism: the 2,000 word essay, the explica-
tion de texte, the Hausarbeit.
What is generally neglected in the university teaching process is genuine cultural produc-
tivity. University literary education tends to be a closed circuit, with little or nothing being
produced which has an immediate cultural impact. What is produced in the longer term are
thinking, creative, critical people, but the process of this production appears to generate
products deferred until after graduation. A question which was implicitly asked by the 2004
Berlin WIYN project was, What cultural products might possibly emerge from the peda-
gogic process prior the moment of exit? What forms of productivity could open up the
university to its cultural environment before graduates leave the institution?
The WIYN project attempted to create a process-based connection between cultural
knowledge production and cultural production of knowledge. This chiastic structure was
designed so as to create an overlap linking the university and its environment. The intention
was to understand cultural production as a process, rather than merely as a static artefact.
The notion of performativity, and of the performance, was crucial to the paradigm shift
aspired to by the project. The driving force of this process was to be the three-way, mutu-
ally enriching interaction between classroom, rehearsal workshop and theatre. Such synergy
did in fact occur. Insights from the performance context were invaluable in the seminar

19 See on this topic Simon During, Clifton Hill, Meanjin 53: 1 (1994), 61-75.

context, because WIYN is a text which can only be understood performatively; insights from
the seminar gave impetus for innovation on the stage and its predecessor rehearsal space.
In the context of a pedagogy which reaches beyond the classroom into the domain of
current cultural production, assessed work can no longer be restricted to the reproductive,
subaltern miming of established patterns of scholarly discourse. Instead, assessed work
must be allowed to participate in the same sort of productivity as the classroom itself. The
forms of assessment chosen for the seminar-section of the WIYN project aimed to straddle
the theoretical and practical realms just as the project itself had done. Accordingly, the
pieces handed up by student participants evinced an intriguing and often unconventional
performative quality. This form of assessment assumes that learnt content cannot be tested,
for performativity by definition will produce new knowledge, knowledge that cannot thus
be measured in the same manner as reproductive knowledge. What is thus open to evalua-
tion, then, is the how of the learning process which is laid bare in such pieces.
Learning is really truly only effective when it is performative, that is, when the learning
subject makes the learnt material her or his own. This demands that the structure of subjec-
tivity be transformed so as to integrate the new knowledge. This is why mere knowledge
transmission, based upon the sender-reception model of communication, is only ever partly
effective because it only takes account of one aspect of the learning process. It pays atten-
tion to the learnt content, but neglects the means by which that content is integrated to the
extant configurations and implementation of knowledge in the learners subjectivity. These
two factors are coeval with the tension between self-reference and technology (Luhmann
and Schorr) which I have mobilized frequently during this book. Both elements are present
in our classrooms, to a greater or lesser extent, and both elements must be present in order
for learning to happen. Technology is ineffective if it is not integrated via self-reference.
The opposition between technology and self-reference is omnipresent. Every parent is
familiar with this dilemma to what extent does one dictate certain codes of behaviour to
children (technologies), and to what extent does one allow them to learn by experience
(self-reference), with the attendant risk of them bringing harm to themselves through their
inevitable lack of technologies? The classroom should be a space for modelling or simu-
lating the real world, a protected place in which technologies can be experimented with
without incurring the full consequences of such real-world practices. But this modelling
must also include a certain element of flexibility, of creativity, and thus of pedagogical, if
not existential risk, in order for it to leave adequate room for the development of systemic
self-reference on the part of students. And to that extent it is also advisable to choose a
model of literature and of literary pedagogy which does not stress the mimetic and meta-
phoric, but rather, the indexical and the metonymic, and thereby leaves a considerable room
for readerly activation of the textual strategies at work in the texts.
To foreground the self-referential facet of literary pedagogy is embark upon a pedagogy
of risk. It is to engage in the risk at the heart of performativity. It means accepting the risks
inherent in all translative processes. This became very evident when one of the translators
involved in the project, identifying the references to Treblinka and Palestine at the opening
of Carters WIYN script, decided to remain anonymous in view of what were assumed,
rightly or wrongly, to be anti-Semitic tones in the text. This instance of translatorus ab-
sconditus is a further example of the dangers attendant upon the work of translation referred
to above.

One of the latent aims of the seminar was the teaching of risk-skills. How do we ap-
proach the new, how do we engage in a contact situation? This is not only a pressing issue
for students of languages and literatures (the WIYN project took place in a German univer-
sity Department of English Studies) but more generally for young people of all ages in the
culture in which we live. In an age in which given structures of decision-making, life-
support and legitimization are becoming increasingly fluid, along with rapidly rising exter-
nal pressures and levels of personal stress, the first contact situation provides a useful model
for late-modern existential actors who must take responsibility for decisions for which there
are few extant patterns or guidelines, and few safety-nets should they fail in their innovative
The recent German notion of the Ich-AG, the I-Pty Ltd or I-Corporation posits the
individual as a business firm on a ruthlessly competitive market. The self is a site of in-
vestment, maximum exploitation, potential profit, and potential insolvence. It is posed
against its fellows as competitors rather than as neighbours: they are Gegenspieler, oppos-
ing players, rather than Mitmenschen, fellow human beings. If capitalism was instrumen-
tal in producing the modern individual, that process has reached its ultimate logical culmi-
nation in the self as enterprise. Bankruptcy, not being-for-death, is the defining horizon of
selfhood in risk-society. Since 9/11 an increasing aversion to risk, above all in the public
spaces of civil society, has become evident. Paradoxically, this tendency to risk-avoidance
emerges at a period when, although existential risks are on the rise, and the long-term cos-
mic risks (global warming, nuclear accident) massively so, our material lives, at any rate in
the West, are less in jeopardy than they ever were in human history. The likelihood of being
carried away by disease or natural disaster is lower than at any other point in history. For
this reason, we have adequate resources, in objective terms, for engaging upon existential
risk-learning exercises, for learning the skills of giddy self-definition in an existential land-
scape without pre-traced paths.
WIYN is a text which deals with the perils of the transformation of identity via the trans-
formation of language, in a context in which neither of these processes can be guided by
extant protocols. The only guideline is the logic of textuality, of dialogicity in the Bakhtin-
ian sense, which is contained within the text itself. WIYN is a textual assemblage which
lives by bringing fragments of texts into contact with each other. Its operating principle is
that of the diasporic culture itself. It strives towards the production of new meaning and
new identity through the metonymic association of inherently disparate and heterogeneous
semiotic elements. It mobilizes a transformational, generative process which is by definition
creative and sociable: Self-definition emerges directly from the very act of communication.
... identity proves here to be nothing more or less than the spatial history of sounds, gestures
and footsteps implicating the actors in one anothers presence. ... the success of the dialogue
depends on one sounds making a leap across the gap and finding itself answered not mir-
rored or completed but transformed.

20 Carter, The Sound In-Between, 45-7.

Transcultural graffiti

Be still
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
To speak your

To the living walls.
Who are you?
Are you? Whose
Silence are you?

In 2001 Paul Carter designed a series of paving stones for the central courtyard of the
new Federation Square complex in Melbourne. On the site of the former multi-storey Gas
and Fuel Corporation building, on the north bank for the Yarra River, the National Gallery
of Victoria houses its Australian collections in a new postmodern complex in the frag-
mented style of Daniel Libeskinds Jewish Museum in Berlin. The name of the artwork,
Nearamnew, is an acronym of a local indigenous word, Narr-m, signifying the place
where Melbourne now stands. The paving stones carry texts, among others, of indigenous
narratives associated with the site. The geometrical pattern structuring the whole complex is
taken from a painting by a local indigenous artist. These lapidary messages mark the
ground, the land expropriated by the white settlers, with the traces of languages which can
barely be retrieved, whose silence, except in these stone archives, mutely indicates the pass-
ing of the nations which spoke them. Nearamnew is an exercise in cultural memory a
public artefact which recalls to mind, silently, the amnesia upon which Australian culture
and society is built. In his 1968 ABC Boyer Lectures, the anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner
spoke of the great Australian silence a cult of disremembering a cult of forgetful-
ness practised on a national scale.
The Nearamnew stones ask the question, Whose
silence are we? They ask what the name of that forgotten but proximate other, the nearby
(whence the near of Nearamnew) to which we owe our identity.

Following page:
Nearamnew, Federation Square, Melbourne
Photos: Paul Carter

21 Thomas Merton, In Silence, The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (New York: New Directions, 1980), 280.
22 W. E. H. Stanner, After the Dreaming: The 1968 Boyer Lectures (Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Commis-
sion, 1969), 25.
23 See Jonathon Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1991), 33.


Carters paving stones are material reinscriptions of the ground upon which Melbourne is
constructed, ground purchased in 1835 from the indigenous people by the citys founder,
John Batman, for blankets, knives, scissors, axes, beads, and flour. They lift the repression
which structures the white-settler collective Ego, revealing its past, without, for all that,
claiming that that past can be recovered, that genocide and dispossession can be reversed by
a simple stroke of the pen or indenture of the stonemasons chisel. In Freudian terms, there
is no access to the repressed moment in pristine form; it has always already been recast in a
modified form by processes of secondary revision.
The languages engraved in relief upon
the stones may be raised back into visibility, but they are not, for all that, immediately legi-
ble or accessible to the white public which crosses and re-crosses them on a daily basis in
its urban trajectories. They provide no answers, merely ask questions to which responses
can only be provided performatively, creatively, in an act which would create Australias
cultural and ethnic future anew. Anew, significantly, is one of the possible decipherments
of the acronym Nearamnew. Only further cultural work the raising of public conscious-
ness, reconstructive ethnolinguistic work of the sort which coalesced around Carters piece
The Calling to Come may possible reshuffle these fragments to create not a recovered
original but a new collage language for the present age.
The stones of Nearamnew found a later avatar in the WIYN project in the form of a grid
of eight canavasses which were hung upon the back wall of the stage in the final stage pro-
duction. These canvasses also echoed the scraps of language which filled the air as the
piece drew to its conclusion in the fourth cell. The canvasses figured others forms of work
with textiles present in the play. At regular intervals the actors sprayed some of the lines
from the play, in various languages, and in diverse syntactic configurations, on the can-
vasses. A later set of actors would rearrange the canvasses, and then add a new set of graf-
fiti slogans. In visual form, this element of the performance mimed the process of first con-
tact the play engaged with. The graffiti panels figured the illegible fragments of an extant
culture providing the launching points for a meeting of several incommensurate cultures.
Each re-inscription of/upon the scrambled elements of the already-inscribed grid created a
new contact, one which would be scrambled anew prior to the subsequent graffiti action.
The canvasses also figured the compositional process by which the performance text came
to being, a text whose genealogy could be traced back from one re-constitution of pre-
existing but meaningless fragments-in-translation to another. The performance text, like the
graffiti canvasses, was a reshuffling of a perplexing and opaque assembly of lapidary phra-
ses for radio performance. This performance in turn was a collage taken from earlier texts,
which themselves were cobbled together from samples taken from a living language, and so

Following Page:
Graffiti panels, What is your name/Wie ist dein Name,
Berlin, June 2004
Photos: Paul Carter

24 See Sigmund Freud, Die Verdrngung, Gesammelte Werke (Frankfurt/Main: Fischer, 1999), X, 248-61 and
Andrew Benjamin, Translation and the Nature of Philosophy: A New Theory of Words (London: Routledge,
1989), 147.


One of Carters intentions in integrating the graffiti canvasses into the fabric of the WIYN
performance was to allude to the urban context in which the performance was taking place.
The transcultural graffiti on the back wall of the stage space was to function as a metonymy
of the transcultural graffiti to be found everywhere outside the theatre on the bullet-pocked
walls of Berlin buildings. Graffiti, and by extension all literary texts function inherently in
this metonymic, synecdochic manner. Such texts gesture (more or less ostentatiously, of
course) towards the larger world of which they are a part, and thus propose their own trans-
fer potential. Graffiti as a style of writing is inherently sociable, oriented towards its con-
text, towards the passing reader, towards the other inscriptions which inhabit its space of
inscription. It demands active decipherment in the sense suggested by Gadamer: an en-
gagement with an other which is simultaneously an application of textuality to a lived envi-
ronment and thus a risk-filled transformation of the self.


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