Staging Cultural Criticism: Michael Ignatieff's Blood and Belonging and Myrna Kostash's Bloodlines

By Kamboureli, Smaro | Journal of Canadian Studies, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview
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Staging Cultural Criticism: Michael Ignatieff's Blood and Belonging and Myrna Kostash's Bloodlines


Kamboureli, Smaro, Journal of Canadian Studies


Staging Cultural Criticism: Michael Ignatieff's Blood and Belonging and Myrna Kostash's Bloodlines

SMARO KAMBOURELI

Reading Michael Ignatieff's Blood and Belonging and Myrna Kostash's Bloodlines as intercultural translations of the same "originals," the European sites both authors visit and write about, this article examines the differences characterizing these two authors' practice of cultural criticism. Self - referentiality, the articulation of methodology, the dramatization of strategies of representation, narrative techniques - all these reflect the politics involved in intercultural translation.

travel" as a translation term. By translation term I mean a word of apparently general application used for comparison in a strategic and contingent way. "Travel" has an inextinguishable taint of location by class, gender, race, and a certain literariness. It offers a good reminder that all translation terms used in global comparisons - terms like culture, art, society, peasant, mode of production, man, woman, modernity, ethnography - get us some distance and fall apart. Tradittore, traduttore.

James Clifford, "Traveling Cultures" (1992, 110)

Beginning with their publication date, 1993, Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism by Michael Ignatieff and Bloodlines: A Journey Into Eastern Europe by Myrna Kostash have a lot in common. Written by two second - generation Canadians who foreground their ethnic origins and belong to the same age group, these travelogues explore more or less the same European territory and are published under titles that, at least at first reading, have an uncanny similarity. Yet, Ignatieff and Kostash translate the political, ethnic and nationalist issues they confront into two disparate narratives. This cannot be explained simply by the fact that Bloodlines, as the record of 11 years of intermittent travel between 1982 and 1991, ends when Blood and Belonging begins, or that some of the places the two authors visit do not overlap. Ignatieff's and Kostash's stated agendas might announce a common objective in their desire to explore the Europe of the late 1980s and early 1990s, but their perspectives and strategies as cultural critics are diametrically opposed. Or, to put it otherwise, if their narratives might be translations of the same "original" sites, they also function, I would argue, as translations of each other, in that they produce radically different discourses.

My interest in Blood and Belonging and Bloodlines does not lie in the "original" sites the authors visit or in how faithful or faithless their cultural translations might be. Rather, I propose to explore why, in the presence of the same "originals," these two Canadian cultural critics produce such disparate intercultural translations. My focus, then, will be on how Ignatieff's and Kostash's texts function as discourses whose "originals" are not exclusively the troubled European sites they examine but are interwoven with the authors' self - constructions as cultural critics. How their respective narratives represent these authors' encounters with others has as much to do with the complexity of otherness as with the authors' own narrativization of their methodological practices.

The discussion that follows is not, strictly speaking, a study in genre, but a few words about these texts' travelogue form, especially by way of explaining how I use the concept of translation, are in order here. Bloodlines and Blood and Belonging do not fit neatly into the tradition of travelogues that deal with what Mary Louise Pratt calls "contact zones," "space[s] of colonial encounters" (6), or spaces that "invoke the spatial and temporal copresence of subjects previously separated by geographic and historical disjunctures, and whose trajectories now intersect" (7). Bloodlines and Blood and Belonging - grounded as they are in the postcolonial or, as Ignatieff would put it, in the postimperial present, a present that has also seen the rise of new nationalistic movements - reverse Pratt's paradigm while reproducing it.

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