Migratory Settings, Part of the Thamyris Intersecting: Place, Sex and Race Series
Thamyris Intersecting: Place, Sex and Race Series 19
by Murat Aydemir and Alex Rotas, Editors
Rodopi, Amsterdam, NY, NY, 2008
276 pp., illus. Trade, $77.00
Reviewed by Chris Speed
School of Architecture, Edinburgh College of Art
Migratory Settings introduces a theoretical perspective that observes how certain cultural/political artefacts and processes can be found to ‘slip’ between geographical contexts to challenge any assumptions of the integrity of place. Through the series of texts the editors explore how this ‘slippage’ offers new insights into how places and artefacts are connected and reconstructed as transnational processes offer new uses and fresh interpretation. It’s a complex and subtle idea that challenges assumptions about the security of place as the starting point for cultural analysis and production.
The authors introduce the text by describing the contradictory nature of the books title that presents movement as well as fixture. The book uses this premise to set the scene for a series of essays that demonstrate the many instances in which transcultural artefacts, projects and texts offer both a fluidity of movement and yet rely upon a context to support their existence. However, whereas this fluidity in the past has offered terms such as migration as a way of describing how cultural process move away from a place, the texts highlight instead how place becomes re-written. A sort of inter-place-iality, if that makes sense.
The book is split in to four sections: i. ‘Heterochronotopical’ Stagings, ii. African Translations and Transcontextualizations, iii. Gollwitz, Calais, Tahiti: ‘Hospitable’ Places, and iv. Reframing the Migratory.
The first section ‘Heterochronotopical’ Stagings groups together three essays that explore circumstances in which cultural practices reconstitute place through the shifting of temporal processes and reminds of the time based quality to migration. A good example may be Bleeker, who explores the love affairs and public marriage of Gil and Moti, two Israeli artists who live and work in Rotterdam. A highlight of this particular essay being the analysis of their work: ‘Let’s Fall in Love’ in which Gil and Moti set about “falling in love with an Arab guy”. The writer explores the implications of a strategy that is expressed through a temporal process that is normally led by the unconscious, that of falling in love. Like the oxymoronic title of the book, Gil and Moti’s acts contradict the cultural grammars of love and marriage to consciously explore delicate political boundaries.
Part two, as its title suggests: African Translations and Transcontextualizations, focuses upon cultural texts that traverse European and African ‘space’. A gap that one might think was wide is shrunk through a series of essays that demonstrate how specific texts and processes are re-written in ways that demand complex unpicking. Ultimately, an impossible unpicking that leaves the reader perfectly aware of how entangled histories become and how individuals can use another culture’s artefacts to support their aspirations for their own culture. Aroch’s exploration of Julius Nyerere’s translation of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice into Swahili demonstrates these qualities extremely well. She begins with an analysis of the term ‘cliché’ from which she constructs a convincing argument for its relevance to the migratory as cliché always involved a passage from source to impression. With this in mind, Aroch deconstructs Nyerere’s version of The Merchant through careful association with his role as the first President of Tanzania. All three essays sustain a focus upon the theme of the chapter and retain sustain pressure on the readers faith in place being something that is anchored within a geographical setting.
The third section ‘Gollwitz, Calais, Tahiti: ‘Hospitable’ Places’ demands us to consider the social tensions that are manifested as places become resituated through political and cultural transformation. Early in the book, the editors use the word ‘thicken’ to describe how places take on board ‘variegated memories, imaginations, dreams, fantasies, nightmares, anticipations, and idealizations that experiences of migration, of both migrants and native inhabitants, bring into contact with each other’. This particular section evokes Derrida by highlighting a series of circumstances that describe how a place can become both ‘hospitable’ and ‘hostile’. Dasgupta’s reading of Marc Isaacs 2003 film ‘Last Border’ about the Sangatte refugee camp focuses upon the extraordinary situation experienced by a series of people caught between places, dreams and futures.
The final section concludes the book by reflecting upon artworks that identify specific paradoxical qualities of ‘migratory setting’. Rotas’ analysis of Phil Collins family portraits taken of refugees who have fled from Eastern to Western Europe is particularly affective as we understand the stresses placed upon families as their networks become stretched between Kosovo and London. Boletsi uses the garden and ‘lawn’ as a subject to demonstrate the shifting boundaries of personal, community and political space. The essay explores the differences between the American yard and the illusion of its endless potential, and Jamaica Kincaid’s experiences of conflict and negotiation involved in gardening in Antigua
As a whole, the volume has the difficult task of sustaining a subtle idea across a range of texts that all have their own voices. As the core ideas presented by the editors are constructed through the reading of each text in series, the reader’s interpretation accelerates and slows according to the quality of each essay. Of course, the parameters of the research are complex and intentionally contradictory, and consequently the ‘story’ was always going to be hard to articulate. However, the insights are fascinating and the book offers much for those who identify with the shift in the role that place has in cultural and social investigation.