Chapter 11

From: Identity

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Cultural Identity and Diaspora STUART HALL A new cinema of the Caribbean is emerging, joining the company of the other 'Third Cinemas'. It is related to, but different from the vibrant film and other forms of visual representation of the Mro-Caribbean (and Asian) 'blacks' of the diasporas of the West the new post-colonial subjects. All these cultural practices and forms of representation have the black subject at their centre, putting the issue of cultural identity in question. Who is this emergent, new subject of the cinema? From where does he/she speak? Practices of representation always implicate the positions from which we speak or write - the positions of enunciation. 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. Identity is not as transparent or unproblematic as we think. Perhaps instead ofthinking ofidentity as an already accomplished fact, which the new cultural practices then represent, we should think, instead, of identity as a 'production', which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation. This view problematises the very authority and authenticity to which the term, 'cultural identity', lays claim. We seek, here, to open a dialogue, an investigation, on the subject of cultural identity and representation. Of course, the T who writes here must also be thought ofas, itself, 'enunciated'. We all write and speak from a particular place and time, from a history and a culture which is specific. What we say is always 'in context', positioned. I 222 Cultural Identity and Diaspora was born into and spent my childhood and adolescence in a lowermiddle -class family in Jamaica. I have lived all my adult life in England, in the shadow of the black diaspora - 'in the belly of the beast'. I write against the background of a lifetime's work in cultural studies. Ifthe paper seems preoccupied with the diaspora experience and its narratives of displacement, it is worth remembering that all discourse is 'placed', and the heart has its reasons. There are at least two different ways of thinking about 'cultural identity'. The first position defines 'cultural identity' in terms ofone, 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. Within the terms ofthis definition, our cultural identities reflect the common historical experiences and shared cultural codes which provide us, as 'one people', with stable, unchanging and continuous frames of reference and meaning, beneath the shifting divisions and vicissitudes ofour actual history. 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 through cinematic representation. Such a conception ofcultural identity played a critical role in all the post-colonial struggles which have so profoundly reshaped our world. It lay at the centre ofthe vision ofthe poets of,Negritude', like Aimee Ceasire and Leopold Senghor, and of the Pan-African political project , earlier in the century. It continues to be a very powerful and creative force in emergent forms of representation amongst hitherto marginalised peoples. In post-colonial societies, the rediscovery of this identity is often the object ofwhat Frantz Fanon once called a passionate research ... directed by the secret hope of discovering beyond the misery of today, beyond self-contempt, resignation and abjuration, some very beautiful and splendid era whose existence rehabilitates us both in regard to ourselves and in regard to others. New forms of cultural practice in these societies address themselves to this project for the very good reason that, as Fanon puts it, in the recent past, 223 Identity Colonisation is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native's brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it.l The question which Fanon's observation poses is, what is the nature of this 'profound research' which drives the new forms of visual and cinematic representation? Is it only a matter of unearthing that which the colonial experience buried and overlaid, bringing to light the hidden continuities it suppressed? Or...



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