Notes from the New Editor

By McCallum, Pamela | ARIEL, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Notes from the New Editor


McCallum, Pamela, ARIEL


In an exhibition of international contemporary art, "Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis," at London's Tate Modern Gallery during the spring of 2001, an installation artwork, "sentimentexpress.com," by a young woman artist, Shilpa Gupta from Mumbai [Bombay], invited viewers to participate in an unusual declaration of love. A booth, extravagantly decorated with deep rose satin, a traditional colour of passion and emotion, offered the opportunity to sit down and compose a love letter. Composition would not be with the expected pen and paper, but rather on a keyboard and computer screen; the letter would then be e-mailed to Mumbai where Gupta and her collaborators would copy it out in ink on paper and send it (regular post or "snail mail" this time) back to the designated recipient. Gupta's installation challenges our thinking about a whole range of pressing issues in contemporary literary, cultural, and postcolonial studies: How is the status of writing altered in a world of increasingly complex communication technologies? How might these new technologies function in the ways that, to borrow the title of Bill Ashcroft, Helen Tiffin and Gareth Griffiths's influential book, the empire "writes back"? What innovative strategies are required to represent the emergent relations between regions of a globalized world?

In its bizarre interconnection of the impersonal processes of high technology and the individual intensity of love letters, Gupta's "sentiment-express.com" explores the uncanny mixture of the transindividual forces of globalization and the deeply felt effects of their inscription on individual lives. Her use of both the new technologies of fiber optic internet communication and the labour-intensive acts of letter writing draws attention to the strange interconnections of globalized economies. In a world in which telephone call centres in India, run by large corporations, employ young people, pretending to be in England on Greenwich Mean Time working for an English company, to answer telephone inquiries from people who believe they are connected to an English number, the layers of colonization and independence, mimicry, exploitation of "third world" labour, and the integration of national economies into global systems are only some of the questions and issues that Gupta's artwork seeks to investigate and represent. She reminds those who visit "sentiment-express.com" how complex relationships between individuals and social communities have become in the twenty-first century.

Similar complexities will be familiar to readers of the contemporary international English literatures that are explored, debated, explicated, critiqued, and theorized in ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature. The first issue of ARIEL was published in 1970 at the University of Calgary under the editorship of A. Norman (Derry) Jeffares. It succeeded A Review of English Literature, opening out the narrower focus of English as a national literature to "literature written in English throughout the world" (7). Coming as it did at the beginning of a decade that would initiate a questioning of formalist approaches, ARIEL was well positioned at the cusp of the growing interest in the emergent literatures from former British colonies. Following upon the independence of India in 1947 and the many African countries throughout the 1950s to 1960s, and building on the explorations of what national cultural traditions might be in Canada and Australia, the body of writings in what came to be known as "Commonwealth literature," offered complex, critical, passionate and sometimes troubled dialogues with the "great tradition" of literature in English. In the editorial of the first ARIEL issue, Jeffares wrote about how "areas of settlement or colonization moved in their own ways to [...] self-expression," about how "Africa and the Caribbean blend their new urban societies with older traditions and enrich the common stock" (8). …

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