Cultural Identity

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Ana Cristina Gil PhD in Portuguese Culture Department of Modern Languages and Literature University of the Azores Portugal anagil@uac.pt

Cultural Identity and Globalization This essay intends to explore the connection between two major concepts: identity and globalization. My perspective is fundamentally cultural, therefore I chose to acknowledge the role of art, namely literature, in the, most of the times, uneasy balance between national, regional, cultural identity and the inevitable phenomenon of globalization. José Saramago’s novels are a very good example of how contemporary Portuguese literature has been questioning the concept of identity in these several levels, especially in what concerns Portugal’s identity – in the past, in the present and in the future.

IDENTITY

The concept of identity is multidimensional in many ways: on the one side, in order to define someone’s identity it is necessary to consider a whole diversity of factors (for example, name, age, place of birth, mother language, occupation, etc.); on the other side, this concept comprehends a variety of typologies that goes from the individual, to the regional and the national. To define one’s identity is to consider the originality of the object; it is to find the elements that make objects different from each other; in other words, what makes them unique. In any case, identity always consists in a set of elements, thus it is a complex concept: if I want to define a nation’s identity, for example, I have to assemble diverse factors that considered together make that nation unique, such as territory, State, Constitution, oficial language, religion, art, history, myths, ethnicity, among any possible others.

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Therefore, identity implies not only the object in itself, but also the awareness of the differences between the object and other similar objects; so identity implies alterity, the confrontation with the other, as we can see in the words of William Connolly:

“An identity is established in relation to a series of differences that have become socially recognized. These differences are essential to its being. If they did not coexist as differences, it would not exist in its distinctness and solidarity... Identity requires difference in order to be, and it converts difference into otherness in order to secure its own self-certainty”1.

So we can conclude that the contact with the other is essential to self-knowledge. Identity is thus a dialectical concept that implies the confrontation with the difference to reach the essence of being. When trying to know the other, I am re-elaborating the image I have of myself; I develop my self-knowledge as I try to explore the essence of the other. Modernity and Post-modernity share the thematic of the quest of the lost unity by the divided self and this explains the central place identity occupies in our times. See, for example, the case of Fernando Pessoa and his multiple fictitious personae in Portuguese literature – Ricardo Reis, Álvaro de Campos, Alberto Caeiro, Bernardo Soares, Vicente Guedes and many other heteronyms under which names he wrote a complex literary opus. In contemporary societies, this quest for identity has to involve the awareness that there is a multiciply of groups which are apart and distinct from the mainstream: ethnic, religious, sexual minorities that claim equal treatment and respect for their cultural specificities. This is the root of multiculturalism. The cultural relativism (a concept developed in the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century by anthropologists such as Edward Burnett Tylor and Franz Boas) reinforced this new perspective by defending the equality between different cultures: according to these intellectuals, the hierarchy between cultures is abolished, there are no inferior or superior cultures; each culture has its own value, its own traditions, its own way of life, be it more or less complex, be it more or less sophisticated. The...
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