Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Stuart Hall, Thinking the Diaspora: Home-Thoughts from Abroad

Stuart Hall, "Thinking the Diaspora: Home-Thoughts from Abroad" (In Postcolonialisms)

Interesting historical reference point at the opening of the essay SS Empire Windrush, which landed at the Tilbury docks in 1948, with "West Indian volunteers, returning from home-leave in the Caribbean, together with a small company of civilian migrants." This event is thought of as the beginning of the "birth date of the Afro-Caribbean postwar black diaspora" (543).

Hall on the reconfiguring that comes with diasporization:

However, it would be wrong to see these trends as singular or unambiguous. In the diaspora situation, identities become multiple. Alongside an associative connection with a particular island 'home there are other centripetal forces: there is the West-Indianness that they share with other West Indian migrants. (George Lamming once remarked that his . . . generation became 'West Indian,' not in the Caribbean, but in London!) (544)

The above quote reminds me of a similar effect for South Asian immigrants in the diaspora. At home, they are Punjabi Jats and Kashmiri Pandits. Abroad, they become "desi" -- or South Asian.

Hall quoting Iain Chambers:

We can never go home, return to the primal scene, to the forgotten moment of our beginnings and 'authenticity,' for there is always something else between. We cannot return to a bygone unity, for we can only know the past, memory, the unconscious through its effects, that is when it is brought into language and from there embark on an (interminable) analysis. (544-545)

(from Iain Chambers, Border Dialogues: Journeys in Post-Modernity. London: Routledge, 1990, p. 104.)

The "diasporic aesthetic" -- actually a term from Kobena Mercer!

Across a whole range of cultural forms there is a powerful syncretic dynamic which critically appropriates elements from the master-codes of the dominant cultures and creolizes them, disarticulating given signs and re-articulating their symbolic meaning otherwise. The subversive force of this hybridizing tendency is most apparent at the level of language itself . . . where creoles, patois, and Black english decntre, destabilize and carnivalize the linguistic domination of 'English' --the nation-language of master-discourse--through strategic inflections, reaccentuations and other performative moves in semantic, syntactic, and lexical codes. (549)

(Source: Kobena mercer, "Diaspora Culture and the Dialogic Imagination." In Welcome To The Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies. London: Routledge, 1994, 63-64.)

The idea of a "diaspora aesthetic" might be an analytic term we could use to describe MN's films. Where Kobena Mercer talks about the aesthetic as "most apparent at the level of language itself," we could say that it's embedded in Nair's filmic language...

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