Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Introduction: Conceptualizing Transculturality in Literature

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Introduction: Conceptualizing Transculturality in Literature

Article excerpt

Globalization and the Redefinition of Culture

Globalizing processes have led, in recent decades, to critical reevaluations of the ways in which 'culture' has traditionally been understood. Global capitalism, worldwide diffusion and popularization of communication technologies, as well as increased mobility of people, information, and consumer goods, are some of the forces that account for a widespread intensification of cultural exchanges. In this context, past definitions of collective and individual identities as essentially monocultural are increasingly viewed as inadequate to describe the way people perceive themselves and the world they live in. Instead, the concept of transculturality has often been adopted to describe the diverse and productive reality of processes of identity-formation that take place at cultural interfaces.

The phenomenon of transculturality is understood here as the formation of multifaceted, fluid identities resulting from diverse cultural encounters. This idea is not new, of course.1 As Wolfgang Welsch, a leading theoretician of transculturality, remarks, Montaigne, Novalis, Whitman, and Nietzsche all serve as examples of individuals whose transcultural experiences shaped their individual identities. There is a significant difference, however, between earlier manifestations of transculturality and the contemporary situation. Whereas transcultural experiences used to be the privilege of an elite, they are now a reality for a significant part of the world's population, due to the intensified volume and frequency of migration, information exchange through new channels of communication technology, and global economic interdependencies.

The concept of transculturality initially developed within anthropological, sociological, and philosophical discourses in relation to these macrolevel changes.2 In these fields, transculturality is used to describe the complex configuration of modem cultures. Former monological identifications of a single culture with a specific nation-state have been overridden by enmeshed webs of intercultural relations, developing both within and beyond the borders of the nation-state. The concept of transculturality has also emerged as an alternative to the limitations of multiculturality and interculturality. These latter concepts have been used to describe the multiplicity of forms of cultural life that coexist within a specific society. However, as Welsch argues, both fail to overcome a Herderian understanding of culture as a unified entity and are therefore unable to address problems and challenges that arise in pluricultural societies. By contrast, the concept of transculturality fosters an inclusive, rather than exclusive, understanding of culture as characterized by differences; it emphasizes the need for groups to identify common ground among cultures, and the need for the individual to acknowledge the foreign within oneself in order to be able to comprehend others. According to Welsch, "it is precisely when we no longer deny, but rather perceive, our inner transculturality, that we will become capable of dealing with outer transculturality."3

Imaginative literature offers a powerful means of exploring transcultural experience and grappling with the challenges it poses to individuals and societies alike. The very act of reading literary texts is potentially a transcultural experience, in that it invites the reader to identify with the perspectives of fictional characters from unfamiliar geographical locations, as well as from a variety of cultural and social backgrounds. Many literary works published over the past three decades reflect a preoccupation with transcultural encounters against the background of globalization and increased migration. Literary criticism, in turn, can make a valuable contribution to understandings of transculturality and the re-conceptualization of collective and individual identities. By viewing fictional representations of contemporary reality as crucial cultural manifestations, literary criticism can elucidate how individuals experience contemporary social changes and experience a heightened sense of "inner transculturality. …

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