Cross-Cultural Texts and Diasporic Identities


Mala Pandurang

B.M.N College (SNDT University) Mumbai, India

Copyright © 2001 by Mala Pandurang, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

Review of:

Bromley, Roger. Narratives for a New Belonging: Diasporic Cultural Fictions. Edinburgh University Press. Edinburgh: 2000.

  1. Migration, as Roger Bromley informs us in his introduction to Narratives for a New Belonging, has been the 'quintessential experience' of the twentieth century. More people moved in the last century than ever before in world history, and this global movement of peoples has resulted in formation of a number of diasporic communities with their own particular characteristics. This phenomenon of displacement is, however, not only a condition of the first world. Third world countries have to cope with the increasing influx of migrant labor from rural areas into urban cities. Also, as Bromley reminds us , in the realm of the cultural, border crossing as a concept is not confined to the literal migrant .

  2. Current analytical models drawn from postcolonialism are not adequate for exploring new forms of multi-culturality that are in the process of emerging. What is needed is a theoretical framework that goes beyond formulations of cultural imperialism, and simplified binarisms. In this context, the concept of the ' diasporic community' becomes increasingly useful, particularly in the circumstances of contemporary globalization of economic and social spheres. What makes this book particularly relevant to the search for new directions for cultural analyse is Bromley's focus on creative narratives by migrant writers that transgress ideas of essentialism . The seminal importance of migrant writing, he explains, is that these are texts written from the 'affective experience of social marginality' and from the 'perspective of the edge' -- they offer alternative ways of seeing and thinking , and thereby allow for narratives of 'plurality, fluidity, and always emergent becoming.'

  3. In a well nuanced introduction, Bromley clarifies his intention as seeking to examine the diasporic and the transnational through the 'lens of cultural fictions,' and to place his critical formulations within the context of today's global economy. According to Bromley, the political changes that took place in 1989 marked the end of 'a bi-polar power system,' and were responsible for an increasing sense of 'a fundamental political, social and economical impasse in ways of thinking of the future.' He suggests the possibility of the narratives under study as providing space for a critical distance necessary to break the post-1989 'ideological gridlock .'

  4. The cross-cultural texts selected for analysis are by hyphenated writers (Black/Asian-British, Chinese-American, Indo-Caribbean, Asian-Canadian etc), situated in the metropolitan centers of Britain, Canada and the United States. These contemporary 'borderline' fictions 'speak from and across migrant identities.' Most of the texts have been written in the 1990s and add therefore to the contemporaneity of Bromley's argument. Also a large number of the narratives are by women shaped by a denial of identity, both within the diasporic community, and by the dominant culture of the host nation (Bharati Mukherjee, Meera Syal, Amy Tan, Gloria Anzaldúa among others). Bromley points out that boundaries exist not only at the border posts of geo-political spaces or nations, but also within persons, communities and in discourse. Dislocation is a significant trope in the work of writers who have made literal journeys from the third world to the first , or who have to journey against certain fixed notions of origin , and negotiate across 'heavily policed zones of identity,' His principal concerns include memory, silenced history, and transnational discursive border crossing . Almost all the works discussed are concerned with those for whom categories of belonging have been made unstable 'as a consequence of the experience of post colonial migrant circumstances.' Running through the book is an underlying note of anxiety about dominant Anglo-centric perspectives from within white host nation-states. Bromley examines how creative writing by the migrant writer can offer a 'de-linking' or 'unharnessing' of cultural narratives from Eurocentrist cultural paradigms.

  5. It is refreshing to read a critical work that goes beyond abstract theoretical formulations. Bromley is able to adeptly interweave theory with textual analysis in a lucid style which makes his formulations easily accessible . He adopts an approach that combines the analytical with the empirical. In order to discuss the narratives of the excluded , it is essential to understand the complex terrain in which diasporic subjectivity has to negotiate difference. There are six chapters in all and each chapter begins by taking cognizance of the historical context of translation; the geo-political journey of the immigrant community under survey, and also the internal conflicts of specific diasporas.

  6. Bromley critically applies theoretical concepts put forth by a range of cultural theorists -- Bakhtin, Lyotard, Deleuze, Guattari, Hall, Bhabha, Brah and Gilroy among others -- to narratives grouped together according to geo-locations of the receiving society (the United States, Canada and Britain). These concepts are used as take-off points for individual chapters. For instance, Bromley widens Stuart Hall's concept of the third scenario ('a non binarist space of reflection ') into the working idea of the third space. Characters with hyphenated identities pose problems in terms of classification , and therefore raise questions about notions of essential difference. Hall also describes this dialectic of belonging and not belonging as somewhere-in-between.' Bromley discusses the fictions he has selected as constructed around figures who 'look in from outside while looking out from inside to the extent that both inside and outside lose their defining contours.' Thus a third space emerges that challenges fixed assumptions of identity, and he reads this as a vital 'space for revaluation.' Discussions of form and language are also crucial elements throughout. Bromley illustrates how 'multilingual, poly-vocal, vari-focal, inter-textual, multi-accented ' texts work against the propensity of the dominant culture to homogenize. Transformation and textual negotiation are also examined as key features of the uses of language in border writing.

  7. In the first chapter ("Hyphenation and the Mestiza"), Bromley places the current global hegemony of the United States as the principal source of the current form of 'cultural phenomenon of Eurocentricism .' Bromley frames his argument drawing upon Samir Amin's thesis that Eurocentricism assumes the 'existence of irreducibly distinct cultural variants that shape the historical paths of different peoples.' This, explains Bromley, is anti- universalist , and yet presents itself as universal because it claims that imitating the western model by all peoples is the only solution to challenges of our time. The chapter picks upon The Woman Warrior (Maxine Hong Kingston), Jasmine (Mukherjee) and Borderlands (Anzaldúa ) as narratives that are concerned with 'value, recognition and self-esteem' and examines how these narratives challenge the notion of ' a distinct cultural invariant ' at the level of trope and structure, and also work in terms of gender, ethnicity and sexuality. The central question addressed is whether these 'new Americans' melt into the prevailing ideological constructs of liberal capitalism, or actively engage in a process of 'de- linking' from dominant paradigms by refiguring questions of language, class, ethnicity and gender .

  8. Chapter two (Becoming Asian American) focuses on Asian American alternative cultural images that challenge the stereotype of the 'model minority,' and confront 'hegemonic models of national identity designed to tolerate the passive and complicit'. Restricting himself largely to works by writers of Chinese origin (Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club ; Gish Jen's Typical American, Fae Myenne Ng's Bone ; and The Wedding Banquet -- a film directed by Ang Lee), Bromley examines issues of intergenerational tension, and also conflicts between gendered and nationalist concerns. He demonstrate how, by resisting hegemonic projects of assimilation , these fictions also challenge the concept of the melting pot mosaic.

  9. Chapter three (Migrancy and Identity ) addresses the material reality of migration and its extensive cultural use as metaphor in texts which resist generic boundaries. Narratives discussed are written by writers resident in the U.S. with roots in Cuba (Cristina Garcia), Haiti ( Edwidge Danticat), Hawai'i (Kathleen Tyau), Korea (Chang-Rai Lee ) and Japan (Oxkei). Bromley's interest lies in how these writers strive to find space to construct an identity that can accommodate what she was/is now/supposed to be -- or 'an identity somewhere in-between.'

  10. Chapter four ("Becoming Asian Canadian") is of theoretical importance as Bromley returns to critical debates around the politics of diasporic cultures, and develops the idea of thinking of hyphenated cultural fictions in terms of syncretism. A number of critics have analyzes the cross-breeding of cultures in terms of hybridity. Bromley however, warns that caution needs to be exercised before conditions of hybridity are uncritically celebrated . He explains that while the concept of hybridity refers more to the individual situation, syncretism acknowledges wider, historical processes of a more social and collective nature. He takes up Fred Wah's Diamond Grill, Sky Lee's Disappearing Moon Café and Murasaki's Chorus of Mushrooms to demonstrate how cultural forms move through time and space and interact with other cultural forms, and in the process bring out the new possibilities of 'other syncretisized envisionings.'

  11. The last two chapters ("Becoming Black/Asian-British) focus on written and visual (film) narratives from different segments of the non-white British population. The conflicting sense of home and belonging forms the basis of the fictions by Meiling Jin, Syed Manzural Ismal and Andra Levy. Bromley develops the Bahktian idea of the 'hidden polemic.' In the third space, the text presupposes a dialogue in which the statements of the second speakers are omitted, but which are present invisibly. Bromley reads Hanif Kureshi and Meera Syal, who situate their work in the past, as participating not in an act of nostalgia but of anamnesis -- a process of fabulation in which a past time or place is not so much recovered but brought into being , invented, made or unmade. The migrant's belonging is split between family experience and 'street experience' and mapping the transition is one of the primary tasks of a number of British migrant writers. The urge to reclaim, Bromley points out, is not simply archaeological. Second-generation writers acknowledge their own hybridity as empowering and explore means of giving their community agency. This is integral to the process of becoming British .

  12. While on the one hand, there are instances of narratives as sites of cultural resistance and refusal, Bromley also points out that these texts also open up possibilities of new affiliation and therefore also of opportunity. He asks, can new patterns of post-national exchange be multi-dimensional? A larger part of the analysis demonstrates how the narratives, as sites of a ' multi-locational imagination,' allows us to think beyond nationality as a necessary locus for models of analyzing cultures under scrutiny. Narratives that explore identity in ways which are not necessarily bound to issues of nationality could suggest 'a post-national model of belonging'.'

  13. Bromley is careful to constantly clarify his framework of argument . He admits that while he attempts to contextualize writings and films in terms of specific ethnic configurations, his intention is not to make claims for the representativeness of the texts in question. However, the fact that the analyses does not concentrate on demographic profiles in detail, inevitably dilutes focus on specifics of individual diasporas. Discussing the impact of new hybrid identity on the host society, Bromley is hopeful that, in time, notions of Diaspora and host may be 'rendered existentially and analytically redundant,' but given the issues of politics, ethics and responsibility that he conscientiously raises, it will indeed be a very long wait before this eventually comes about.

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