Theories of mixture II: transculturation

Posted by: | March 9, 2009 | Comments Off on Theories of mixture II: transculturation

These week’s readings discuss several complex academic terms all related to Latin American post colonial societies and there structures. I think that the real complexity raised by such concepts is the different understandings and interpretations of each writers…

The first short passage of Fernando Ortiz’s book describes ‘transculturation’ as a constitutive historical feature of Cuban society. I liked the way he emphasizes the violence of these different phases of immigration for humans themselves: he gives to this historical account a powerful and tragic resonance. I found relevant his definition of transculturation as the transition to a new culture trigerring the painful loss of another; however I had troubles with his comparing of the oppression of African slaves in Cuba to the so-called ‘terror’ of European oppressors! To refer to his clever and meaningful metaphor, European immigrants have been a real ‘hurricane’. To him, transculturation is more than the passage from one culture to another. Ortiz describes the culture acquired as something completely new which mixed both features of the place of origin and the place of arrival. To represent this process he alludes to human reproduction which reminded me of Vasconcelos words in the Cosmic race. His text was full of allusions to reproduction and love as the priviledged way to create a new race. Although Ortiz admits the positive aspect of transculturation, I though he emphasized quite more the dark and difficult side of Cuban cultural intercrossings.

Antonio Cornejo Polar’s article concerns heterogeneous litterature and the concept of heterogeneity. I think he explains that contrary to the concept of national litterature, one has to understand that this so-called homogeneity is actually challenged by regional and global categories. Indigenismo is described as one of these heterogeneous litteratures reflecting the diversity of Andean societies. Indigenismo is heterogeneous because it is produced within a sociocultural structure that is different from the one indigenous belong to. He shows not only how indigenismo has been influenced by Western standards, but also that it is mainly the discourse of middle-class activists that ‘internalized’ the interests of indigenous. Polar explains that ‘instead of imagining an impossible homogeneity’ (as national ideology does), indigenismo realizes a sort of materialization of Latin American heterogeneity. Thus I understood that heterogeneous litterature were a representation of the Latin American reality of social fragmentation due to history. Indeed, Polar sees his concept of heterogeneity as including a notion of persistant conflict and contradictions whereas transculturation or mestizaje refer to the resolution of originating antagonisms into a synthesis. Heterogeneity is supposed to help understand how multiplicity within a whole social structure generates conflicts. He speaks of a ‘contradictory totality’.

Millington’s article, although complex as well, helps clarify some points. He also assumes that transculturation is a more neutral and peaceful term. Generally speaking he shares Ortiz’s point of view about his concept of transculturation and its application to Cuba. He explains that these processes refered to as transculturals are unique to Latin America. However, I am not quite sure he shares Polar’s point of view given that he ends his essay by defining transculturation as a search for resistance to local and international pressure since the emergence of Latin American new nation-states. If true, transculturation also includes conflictiveness.

I found very interesting the passage where he questions the efficiency of ‘neoculturation’ in Latin America saying that this search for a cultural identity needs to be more than a reaction/opposition to dominant forces. I found that these remarks were really interesting and relevant. His point is that the understanding and development of such concepts as transculturation, heterogeneity, hybridity and others are necessary in order to define ’emancipatory spaces’ for Latin America. I have to say he succeeded at cheering me up with this idea, after I struggled to understand these concepts that are all so close to each other!


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