Transculturation, transliteracy and generative poetics
What effect are the current profound changes in global communications, transport and demographics having on language and its readers and writers, those defined through their engagement with and as a function of language? What happens to our identity, as linguistic beings, when the means of communication and associated demographics shift profoundly? What is driving this? Is it the technology, the migration of people or a mixture of these factors?
Language is motile, polymorphic and hybrid. Illuminated manuscripts, graphic novels, the televisual and the web are similar phenomena. The idea that the ‘pure’ word is the ultimate source of knowledge/power (a hermeneutic) was never the case. Don Ihde’s ‘expanded hermeneutics’ (1999), proposes, through an expanded significatory system, that what appear to be novel representations of phenomena and knowledge are, whilst not new, now apparent to us.
Fernando Ortiz (1947) proposed the concept of ‘transculturation’, which may offer possible insights in relation to these questions.
“I am of the opinion that the word transculturation better expresses the different phases of the process of transition from one culture to another because this does not consist merely in acquiring another culture, which is what the English word acculturation really implies, but the process also necessarily involves the loss or uprooting of a previous culture, which could be defined as a deculturation. In addition it carries the idea of the consequent creation of new cultural phenomena, which could be called neoculturation.”
The suggestion here is that in a communications saturated world of highly mobile people’s we are all engaged in a complex interplay of cultural interactions and appropriations. Language, a technology fundamental to the human condition, is the primary means by which this process occurs. The demographic implications here give rise to the question; are we creating a ‘neo-pidgin’ or are our cultures fragmenting further into linguistic ghettoes?
People define themselves through language and create their own sub-cultural linguistic fields, their own ‘tribal’ codes, in order to establish their identity and be identified by other members of their ‘tribe’. This can be done through the clothes they wear, the language they employ and the means through which they transmit their messages. This is an iterative process where people evolve new dialects that in turn define self. Transculturation functions not only within the established context of the colonial but also the post-colonial, where human migration has proceeded, for multiple reasons, in multiple directions.
Does creative work with language, that employs digital media and exposes necessarily the dynamic processes of signification, lend itself to reflecting upon the technological, social and linguistic changes enveloping us?
Ihde, D (1999); Expanding Hermeneutics: Visualism in Science; Northwestern University Press, USA.
Ortiz, F (1947), Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar; Re-published 1995, Duke University Press, USA.