Their vocation is to allow us to see and recognize the different parts and histories of ourselves. They should provide us with new positions from which to speak about ourselves. Stuart Hall provides an analysis of cultural identities and what they stand for, their workings and underlying complexities and practices. Hall argues that cultural identities are never fixed or complete in any sense. They are not accomplished, already-there entities which are represented or projected through the new cultural practices.
Rather, they are productions which cannot exist outside the work of representation. They are problematic, highly contested sites and processes. Identities are social and cultural formations and constructions essentially subject to the differences of time and place. Then, when we speak of anything, as subjects, we are essentially positioned in time and space and more importantly in a certain culture. These subject positions are what Hall calls “the positions of enunciation” (222). Hall talks about cultural identity from two different, but related, perspectives.
First, he discusses cultural identity as a unifying element or as the shared cultural practices that hold a certain group of people together and second, he argues that as well as there are similarities, there are also differences within cultural identities. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss these two sides of cultural identities. In the first sense, cultural identity is held to be the historical cultural practices that held to be common among a group of people; it is what differentiates them from other groups and held them as of one origin, one common destiny.
In this sense, cultural identity refers to those cultural codes which are held to be unchangeable, fixed true practices. This underlying “oneness” or “one true self” is the essence, Hall argues, of “Carribeaness”, of the black Diaspora. It is this identity which should be discovered by the black Diaspora and subsequently, should be excavated and projected through the representations of the “Third Cinemas”. Here we would add that this collective identity is not only to be represented by the “Third Cinemas” but also by The Third Literature and through The Third Academia.
It is this sense of cultural identity which plays a critical role in eliciting a lot of postcolonial struggles. The act of discovering such identity is at the same time an act of re-shaping and rehabilitating, of re-claiming “the true self”. It is an act which goes beyond “the misery of today” to recover and reconstruct what colonization have distorted. Imaginative rediscovery plays a crucial role in restoring such identity.
The emergence of counter discourses (like feminist discourse, anti-racist discourse, anti-colonial discourse and so on) which tries to highlight and bring to the forth the “hidden histories” are an outcome of the creative force of such sense of cultural identity. Hall gives the example of Armet Francis photographs about the peoples from the “Black Triangle” which is considered as a visual attempt, an act of imaginary reunification of blacks which have been dispersed and fragmented across the African Diaspora. Another universal unifying element of blacks is the Jazz music.
It is an attempt to restore the black agent to his home “Africa”, to relocate him, symbolically, within his true essence: “Africanness”. Such counter discourses are resources of resistance which problematizes the Western regimes of scholarly and cinematic representations of blacks. The second side of cultural identity is related to the discontinuities and differences, to the historical ruptures within cultural identities. Cultural identity is not just a matter of the past, a past which have to be restored, but it is also a matter of the future.
It is a “matter of ‘becoming’ as well as of ‘being’” (225). In this sense cultural identities no longer signify an accomplished set of practices which is already there; they are subject to the “play” of history, power and culture. They are in constant transformation. Hall argues that it is this second sense of cultural identities which enable as to come to terms with “the traumatic character of the ‘colonial experience’. The Western representations of the black experiences and peoples are representations of the ‘play’ of power and knowledge.
Western categories of knowledge not only position us as ‘Other’ to the West but also makes as “experience ourselves as Others” (225). This colonial experience puts as in a dangerous position: it makes us ambivalent in our life, our needs, and our thought. This colonial experience had produced uprooted subjects, split between two words in an unidentified space.
This rootlessness, this lack of cultural identity which the colonial experience produces leads us to question the nature of cultural identity itself. In this sense it is never a fixed, shared entity. It is not one and for all” (226). It is not something which happens in the past but it is a process. What we told ourselves about our past is always constructed through “memory, fantasy, narrative and myth”.
Cultural identities are not essences but are ‘positionings’; they are constructed sites from which we speak about ourselves. Hall states that black Caribbean identities are shaped through two operative vectors: the vector of the continuity which is related to the past heritage and the vector the discontinuity which is the result of slavery, transportation and migration.
In this sense, it is the Western world that unifies the blacks as much as it cuts them, at the same time, from direct access to their past. This colonial effect on the Caribbean positions the different regions of the Caribbean archipelago as both the same and different simultaneously. In relation to the West, we are positioned in the periphery, one space, one fate and one destiny; but in relation to each other, we have different cultural identities.
These variations within cultural identities cannot be simply cinematically presented in simple binary oppositions as “past/present” or “them/us”. Drawing on the concept of “differance” which the French philosopher Jacque Derrida had developed, Hall explains that cultural identities which, generally, we think of as eternal and unified are instead, merely a temporary stabilization and arbitrary closure of meaning historically and culturally specific. Cultural identities are subject to the infinite nature of the semiosis of meanings and the endless supplementarity within those meanings.
The complexities of the Caribbean cultural identities can be partly understood if we relate it to the three ‘presences’ over the islands: “the presence Africaine”, “the presence Europeenne” and the “presence Americain”, the terra incognita. The presence Africaine is the space of the repressed. It is inscribed in every aspect of the Caribbean everyday life and it is the secret, hidden code by which Western texts are re-read. This is the live Africa from which “the Third Cinemas” and other representations should derive their materials.
The discontinuity and ruptures which are caused by slavery and transformation makes us aware of our “blackness”. It causes as to return back to our past to discover our real essence which unites us despite our differences. This process returning back enables the emergence of a ‘new Africa’ grounded on and necessarily connected to the symbolic ‘old Africa’. Our journey to the old Africa is an imaginative journey, a symbolic journey to the far past to make something of the present day Africa.
The presence Europeenne, on the other hand, has positioned us in the rims of the centre and inscribes in us a sense of ambivalence manifested in our attitudes of and identification with the West, going backward and forward from moments of refusal to moments of recognition. Finally, the Americain or the “New World presence” constitutes the battleground where different cultures from different parts of the world grapples and collide with each other, what Mary Louse Pratt calls a “contact zone”.
It is the ‘empty’ space, the third space or the space of no one. It is the place where the processes of creolizations, transformations, assimilations, syncretisms and displacements occur: It stands for the endless ways in which Caribbean people have been destined to 'migrate'; it is the signifier of migration itself- of travelling, voyaging and return as fate, as destiny; of the Antillean as the prototype of the modern or postmodern New World nomad, continually moving between centre and periphery. 234) In this sense, the “New World presence”, the terra incognita, constitutes the very beginning of the Diaspora of the black presence, of diversity, hybridity, and difference.
It is an open symbolic space which is constantly producing and re-producing, a space of heterogeneity of constant newness and uniqueness. The rich past of sameness and difference, of shared spiritual and cultural habits on the one hand and of memories of ruptures and discontinuities_ slavery, migration, transformation…_ on the other hand constitute “the reservoir of our cinematic [and other] narratives”.
It is the real black Diaspora.
Rutherford, Jonathan. Identity, Community, Culture and Difference. Ed. London: Lawrence & Wishart Limited, 1990.[ 1 ].All the quotations stated in this work are taken from Stuart Hall’s article ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora’ in Jonathan, Rutherford. Identity, Community, Culture and Difference. Ed. London: Lawrence & Wishart Limited, 1990. PP 222--237