New PDF release: An Album of Aeroplanes (Civil)


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Having dismissed European cultures as monolithic and as only evil, there are descendents of the colonized—some of whom are our colleagues—who become trapped in a hall of mirrors, projecting onto the European-American Other the bifurcating elements they themselves have internalized through colonization. Speaking of this curse of colonialism, Masao Miyoshi (2002, 45) points out: Once survival and self-defense cease to be a desperate necessity, however, identity politics often turns into a policy of self-promotion, or, more exactly, a self-serving sales policy in which a history of victimization becomes a commodity that demands payment.

This “between” is epistemological and historical: “[T]ranslation is primarily an act of historiography,” Pasolini asserted (quoted in Welle 1999, 113). It is “the sacredness of the past” that must be salvaged from the wreckage of the present (quoted in Gordon 1996, 66). Without “translatability,” there is “no meaning” (Radhakrishnan 2008, 200). Language is key to this political-pedagogical project of translation, now that the expressive potential of language has been replaced by its technological function (Pasolini 2005 [1972], 19, 86, 95, 99).

In Marx’s phrase, identity is “an ensemble of social relations” (quoted in Jonsson 2000, 17) and its function, Jonsson suggests, is to stabilize—I would add, mobilize—these relations. To be understood, collective identities cannot be detached from the communities that they bind together; it cannot, as even Judith Butler would acknowledge, be freely chosen or “performed” at will. To understand identity, Jonsson (2000, 17) concludes, we must focus upon its “historical origins” and “social functions,” thereby studying how and why particular identities emerge in their current and specific forms.

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