Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

The Interstitial Language and Transnational Experience

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

The Interstitial Language and Transnational Experience

Article excerpt

-INTRODUCTION

It is not uncommon that migrant communities as well as local governments celebrate cultures, traditions and customs by erecting monuments, dedicating streets and squares to them and even replicating symbols of community bonding and sociability. This is, for instance, the case of the Italian Forum, an alleged replica of an Italian square in the heart of Sydneys Little Italy in the suburb of Leichhardt. Such projects originate from a genuine belief in the need to pay witness to the contribution of migrants, to their identity and to the ways in which this identity has come to interact and be shared with the host culture. Monuments, squares and streets acquire, in this context, meanings that connect and link diversity by reframing it within a dialogue, which is both assertive of specificities typical of a given identity but also inclusive and porous to other symbols and suggestions. As a result, these sites speak a complex language that is simultaneously original and translated, in-place and out-of-place, and in the present as well as in the past through recollection and memory. They speak, therefore, by virtue of a symbolic expression that is not so much embedded in ideas of purity and authenticity as in those of interstitiality and transnationality. The vocabulary and lexicon of this language cannot be approached through the paradigm of national cultures because, as we shall argue in this article, nations are built on symbolism that is more often than not predicated on exclusion. It is in this context that the phenomenological and poststructuralist conceptualisation of experience and knowledge, understood here as the process of cultural production through the employment of meaningful forms, must be reviewed according to new parameters of engagement predicated on cultural encounters and exchange. This is the intent of this article, which, by mobilising both phenomenology and poststructuralism, will first challenge the national bias inherent in their application and second reorient their critical perspectives within a transnational framework.

The Italian Forum is a replica of an Italian square. OffNorton Street, the main thoroughfare of Leichhardts little Italy, it is an integral part of the suburbs life, providing a mixture of commercial premises, private residences and cultural spaces. The semantic field pertaining to the concept of replica is not without analogy to adaptation and translation. We could talk about the Italian Forum as a translation or adaptation of the original meanings and atmosphere of the idea of squares in Italy. The added problem here is that the translator or adaptor is working not from one language into another language, but across languages. In the case of the Italian Forum, the translator is itself an idea made up of national as well as hyphenated identities, whose relation with the original is both close and removed by time, space and intentions. Moreover, the result of the translation is a physical place that can be experienced as a recollection of identity, an emblem of national pride, an encounter with the Other, a re-enactment of a foreign experience and an exciting discovery of the Other in oneself. The Italian Forum is an interesting mirror that can be used to search in the past for a lost origin or in the present to recognise the typical trait of duality and hybridity. Sigmund Freuds theory of the uncanny is particularly appropriate as a device to open up issues of translation, adaptation, and reification in which difference and unfamiliarity-the foreign echoes resonating in language-are nothing other than our own face under a different light or slightly distorted, precisely as in a mirror.

The Italian Forum is an enclosed space, more akin to an amphitheatre than a square. A long and narrow passage, flanked by shops and restaurants, leads from the main road, Norton Street, to the centre of the Italian Forum. The first thing impressed upon the eye as one arrives in the Italian Forum is the terracotta and yellow colours of the buildings. …

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