- Transcultural Writers and Novels in the Age of Global Mobility by Arianna Dagnino
In Transcultural Writers and Novels in the Age of Global Mobility, Arianna Dagnino offers not only a description of an emerging decentered, transnational, and translingual literature but also a rhapsodic manifesto for a new sensibility that embodies and celebrates fluidity, plasticity, and hybridity. Her paragons for this new sensibility are “transcultural writers,” which she defines as “Writers who have experienced a creative transpatriation process and thus express a transcultural orientation through their writing” (202). A literary nomad who has lived in France, England, the Soviet Union, the United States, South Africa, and Australia and is now based at the University of British Columbia, Dagnino offers herself as one such transcultural writer.
Interspersed with her own travel diaries, her conversations with five others whose backgrounds are also multinational and polyglot—Inez Baranay (Hungarian and Australian), Brian Castro (Chinese, Portuguese, and Australian), Alberto [End Page 522] Manguel (Argentine, German, and Canadian), Tim Parks (English and Italian), and Ilija Trojanow (Bulgarian, German, and Kenyan)—constitute the first of two sections of Dagnino’s book. She explains that she selected those five from a list she compiled of twenty transcultural writers—including J. M. Coetzee, Edouard Glissant, Amtiav Ghosh, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Milton Hatoum, Janice Kulyk Keefer, Oonya Kempadoo, Pico Iyer, Pap Khouma, Nicola Lecca. J. M. G. Le Clézio, Amin Maalouf, Michael Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie, and Miguel Syjuco as well. Baranay, Castro, Manguel, Parks, and Trojanow proved the most accessible. To her short list could have been added many others, including Rabih Alameddine, Edwidge Danticat, Anita Desai, Mohsin Hamid, Francesca Marciano, V. S. Naipaul, Yoko Tawada, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Elie Wiesel. The most vivid part of the book, the interviews are followed by a long discursive section in which, frequently invoking theories of cosmopolitanism and métissage by Kwame Anthony Appiah, Mikhail Bahktin, Homi Bhabha, Mikhail Epstein, Aihwa Ong, Tötösy de Zepetnek, and others, she, an evangelist for “creative transpatriation” (129), expatiates and exhorts. “Always identify yourself with an impermanent plurality of affiliations,” she urges the reader (194).
Before transposing the interviews into English, Dagnino originally wrote them out in her native Italian. She presents them as occurring on a train speeding toward Istanbul or else within the Turkish cosmopolis itself, which boasts, she contends, “an unparalleled plurality of cultural influences” (11). Especially under the increasingly repressive regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the claim is moot, certainly open to challenge by Armenians and Kurds. And far from being unique, Istanbul’s plurality of cultural influences is indeed paralleled by New York, Singapore, London, and Jerusalem. After boarding a train in Venice, she meets up with Trojanow as they pull out of Sofia. They part ways in Istanbul, where she shares tea with Castro in the luxurious Pera Palas hotel. Next she interviews Baranay in a steamy hammam, an authentic Turkish bath. It is while dining in a restaurant on Istanbul’s Anatolian coast that Dagnino speaks with Manguel. A medieval study with a view of the Galata Tower would have been an ideal setting for her encounter with Parks, but, as she admits, their meeting took place “in an impersonal office in a modern Milanese university” (89). In fact, the circumstances for each of the interviews were much more mundane than the melodramatic backdrops she invents. She justifies the lurid staging of actual conversations by calling the first section of her book “an experiment in creative nonfiction” (89). Though the blurring of boundaries between fiction and nonfiction is one of the characteristics Dagnino associates with transcultural writing, it provides an unnecessary distraction from the remarkable reminiscences and reflections of her transcultural interlocutors. Uncertainty about how to read a text can shatter a reader’s complacency in the hegemony of a particular cultural paradigm, but in this case it also erodes trust.
Dagnino explains her focus on the early 21st century because its unprecedented mobility has created optimal conditions for deterritorialization. However, since wandering out of Africa across every continent...