Stuart Hall's Cultural Identity and Diaspora

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Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3304 Notes 12B

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STUART HALL “CULTURAL IDENTITY AND DIASPORA” (1993) Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: a Reader. Ed. Patrick Williams and Chrisman. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994. 392-401. In this essay, Hall considers the nature of the “black subject” (392) who is represented by “film and other forms of visual representation of the Afro-Caribbean (and Asian) ‘blacks’ of the diasporas of the West” (392). “Who is this emergent, new subject of the cinema? From where does he/she speak?” (392). Referring to the seminal work of Émile Benveniste (signalled by the gesture towards “enunication” [392]), he contends that what recent theories of enunciation suggest is that, though we speak, so to say ‘in our own name’, of ourselves and from our own experience, nevertheless who speaks, and the subject who is spoken of, are never identical, never exactly in the same place. (392) Hall’s thesis is that rather than thinking of identity as an “already accomplished fact, which the new cultural practices then represent” (392), we should think instead of “identity as a ‘production’ which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation” (392). Hall points out that there are two principal ways of thinking about (cultural) identity. The traditional model views identity in terms of one, shared culture, a sort of collective ‘one true self’, hiding inside the many other, more superficial or artificially imposed ‘selves’, which people with a shared history and ancestry hold in common. . . . This ‘oneness’, underlying all the other, more superficial differences, is the truth, the essence of ‘Caribbeanness’, of the black experience. It is this identity which a Caribbean or black diaspora must discover, excavate, bring to light and express. . . . (393) Hall acknowledges that the “rediscovery of this identity is often the object of what Frantz Fanon once called a ‘passionate research’” (393) and that such a “conception of cultural identity played a crucial role in all post-colonial struggles” (393). However, he questions whether such a view merely entails “unearthing that which the colonial experience buried and overlaid” (393). For him, it is better to envision a “quite different practice” (393), one based on “not the rediscovery but the production of identity. Not an identity grounded in the archaeology, but in the re-telling of the past” (393). Such a viewpoint would entail acknowledging that this is an “act of imaginative rediscovery” (393), one which involves “imposing an imaginary coherence on the experience of dispersal and fragmentation, which is the history of all enforced diasporas” (394) and leads to the restoration of an “imaginary fullness or plentitude, to set against the broken rubric of our past” (394). Africa, he stresses, is the “name of the missing term, the great aporia, which lies at the centre of our cultural identity and gives it a meaning which, until recently, it lacked” (394). The second model of (cultural) identity (which Hall favours) acknowledges the “critical points of deep and significant difference which constitute ‘what we really are’; or rather--since history has intervened--’what we have become’” (394). From this point of view, cultural identity is a matter of ‘becoming’ as well as of ‘being’. It belongs to the future as much as to the past. It is not something which already exists, transcending place, time, history and culture. Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. But like everything which is historical, they undergo constant transformation. Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialised past, they are subject to

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3304 Notes 12B

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the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture and power. Far from being grounded in mere ‘recovery’ of the past, which is waiting to be found, and which when found, will secure our sense of...
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