Hutnyk - Hybridity-Talk - {it} Critique of Exotica m...

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Unformatted text preview: {it} Critique of Exotica m ._w,wrm.w.mmwfl uses for these machines, but it is the domination of the commoditv system of the Culture Industry that is prominent here. Adorno is not denouncing machines or culture, but rather, capitalist prcmluction 7 Poster conflates these. This conflation is not only a fault of apolitical postmodernists. Reception of Adorno is skewed on all sides, and seems to exact a damning punisl‘rment for the presumption of calling entertainment and commodity desire to account —~ even those arbiters of critical theory fashion who should have been comrades appear keen to dissuade close attention to the specificity of his critique. Jurgen i’labermas warns that Adorno and 1-[orkheimer were too Nietzschean (l-lahetmas 1.987: 120), translators such as Ashton elide Adorno’s Marxism and references to communist covt'liinkers from the English version of his Negative Dialectic treading ‘exchange system' as ‘iiarter' and turning Adorno’s rival Karl Korsch into something of a non—person), and even Fredric Jameson, in his study of r-‘tdorno called Lute r’tzlrrr'xism (1990), wants to reconstruct him as an avatar for postmodern times. By contrast, Robert Young points out {Young .1998: 30), that Adorno's understanding of the relation of high art to popular culture is more complicated: hotlr coexist in a dialectic, he quotes: both brar the stigmata of capitalism, both contain elements of change both are torn halves of an integral freedom. to which however they do not add Lip. It would be t‘orziantic to sacrifice one to the other. (Adorno et al 3977: .123, Adorno’s ietter to Benjamin, in Young 1995: 30) it may also be a klnci oi idealism to think that the adding together of these two, plus the removal of the stigmata of capitalism, would bring ’t'reedom’, but as with Lukacs’ notion of free creativity, it allows an opening for evaluations of cultural production in terms of a movement away lrom the reil'icaiion and alienation of human production under capitalism, towards liberation. What cultural life would he like after the abolition of the market cannot be specified in advance, but unlike most discussion of culture, which operates an impossible relativism, here is a perspective that gives at least some criteria for making judgements of the avm-ved ’culturai politics' and egalitarian popular intent that lies behind the idea of Won'iad as global. musical celebratit’rri. So is it possibie to ask in a new way (in old Adorno's way} what is the political achievement of a Womad cultural politics that sees people iike Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan and Bally Sagoo collaborating on 'cross—over’ Adorno at Womad Ill production for the Asian and Western market with a degree of success that attracts the attention of music industry majors like Sonyowned Columbia Records (who offered Sagoo a £1 million deal in $994)? Much of the trajectory that launches certain musics into the market is attributable to the visibility of these artists provided by the commercial arm of Womad. Is this a part of a dialectical creation of: a space for something ’liberatory’ that may escape the dominance of commodity fetish forms? There are those who would valorise the success of Bally Sagoo as the creation of an Asian presence or ’space’ within mainstream public culture. l-lere Sagoo’s music itself takes on a fetish character — it offers an abstract or spectacular negation of mainstream music and its racially marked exclusions, but it does so through the capital market itself. While it is stiii possible to imagine the oppositional use of certain commodities w and the iilegal festivals of the antimCriminal instice Act campaign offer an example m the practical and materiai negation of the social relations of capitalism requires more than this, 1 would argue that Sagoo’s ’Asian space' is a space wholly within the commodity system and is not in any way a necessary dysfunction or disruption of that system. Such dysfunctions there may be, and the promotion of Asian underground iunglist and 'original nutter' UK Apache may he an example of a performer. less easily accommodated within the music industry machine, but this too is insufficient cliallenge.‘ The potential for any oppositional politics seems wholly curtailed under the auspices of Sony Corp, even though the contract signed with Sagoo included clauses which, according to the artist, guaranteed against any compromise on ’Asian’ content. This ghettoisation of purity and authenticity serves only to corral the ’ethnically’ marked performer yet again. The double play, wherein space claimed for cultural expression becomes a constricted and restrained space within a wider system, is the recurrent theme of co—option. Hybridity~ alk In this context it is instructive to look towards what contemporary comrrientators might make of it all. l--iybridity, diaspora and postcoloniality are now fashionable and eminently marketable terms. The authors who deploy them as key concepts have become the institutionalised social theory equivalent of household names, marketed with a brand recognition that is an advertiser’s dream. in many ways they have broken new grorind and forced reconfigurations and l i l l 32 Critique of Exotica reappraisais that have enlivened and irrevocably transformed academic debate. Yet at the same time the transformations introduced seem also to have ieft the system intact. The point of taking a critical stance towards the deplt‘ryinent of these terms is not to insist upon true historical antecedents or debates about strict reference that would, for example, trace the term diaspora hack to Jewish, Armenian, Greek, Indian, (fihinese, African or even Black Atlantic units. The point is to question how these terms gain contemporary currency in the universities, academies, disciplines, history, publishing, poiitical and social forums where things seem to carry on as if by remote control. Although we see a championing of experimentation, creative collage and multiple identities, it could he argued that the new contexts remain conventional: the same routines rehearsed, r-vell~known tunes replayed —which is to say that the radi ‘al critiques signified by these celebrated names soon turn oxymoronicaity into 'rrew conventions of scholarship and our vaiorisatir'in of these critiques sometimes comes to nullify criticai thinking itself. The same old record. Or perhaps more confusing yet, the celebration of hybrid cultural activity promotes a seemingly rampant and chaotic mode of creativity. This in itselfwould he no probiem if it did not aiso aliow an abdication. in the context ol‘ a valorisation of mix, creole, moiatto and mongret emergence (these are not quite the same things), it sometimes happens that a lesser piace is aCcorded to intentionai and targeted forms of potiticised cultural production, ignoring both resistance to specific structural and institutionai constraints and the almost inevitable hegemonic incorporation of random creativity through diffusion and dispersal of difference and its marketability. In this context the political work‘ of hands like. lirrrrAclrrAmental (who are regulars at Womad events) or ADP, can be obscured hy a focus on the hybrid nature of their productions. Yet. lryhridity—taitz in favour of wild creativity and transnational, ir'itet—rz-rcial, intercultural, hybrid mix could become interesting when conjoined to a politicai programme of the kind that ADF produce (this is discussed later in this chapter and in Chapter F). For pseudonrogressive, conservative (muiticuituralist) forces, the convenience of this moment is clearly the fun and creativity, even radical cool, of fusion forms. What ruost often seems to be taken from the critical discourse of hyhridity and diaspora are those aspects which repackage and reinscrihe difference, juxtaposed exotica (hybrid as exoticatiy mixed) and otherness as marketable categories. This is the appeal ot‘ someone like Apache lndian. lnterestingly, then, hegemony, despite its homogenising cultural reach, now accommodates Adorrro at VV’omud 33 (circumscribed and caretuily marketed) cuitural differences. Difference within the system is the condition and stimulus of the market — and this necessarily comes with an illusion of equality, of many differences, and in the bastardised versions ofchaos politics which results, the image is of ‘crosscd' culiurai forms merely competing for a fair share. Among things that are forgotten here is the fact that it is often emhrnrrgeoised groups that can avail themselves even of the space to articulate a demand to go to market. In this respect, li_Vlindiiy¢£-lii< might also be suspected of a collusion with state policy—making in that one of the things it can sometimes be is a call for access m a recognition that certain otl'reri-vise rttarginal, overlooked or previously exciuclecl activities are now creative cultural practices of sufficient merit to attract a small share of Arts Council funding, state subsidy, commerciai acclaim and criticai attention. Hybridityutaik, creole and so on, secrn to imply a bogus notion of the prior and the. pure prewlrybrid cultures. This is a consequence that is inadequately solved by the insistence that. all cuitures are hybrid, Since this is well and good in theory but is not the casein the. face of absolutrst and essentialist groupings and ideologies. Common parlance assrgns hybrid cultural production to the i usually ethnic r'nargin, thus implying a wishful vision of future integratior't into a supposedly homogeneous West. For too many, South Asia remains a site of mystery, aroma, colour and exotica, even when it appears in the midst: of Britain. In highlighting such themes, hyhrid‘rtyAtalk obscures the aporias of officiai rriuiticultural policies and, through inaction, in effect gives an alibi for the over~policing of inner-urban Britain, excessive and racist innnigrz-rtion control and the maintenance of white privitege in education, the workplace and the public sphere. Stuart inlati identifies what he cails ‘the end of the innocent notion of the essentiai black subject’, recognising that a politics of representation has opened up an important, and ongoing, debate. lfl read his argument correctly, his most crucial point, and the source of my troubles with rt, deciaresz ‘erat is at issue here is the extraordinary diversity of subiective positions, sracial experiences and cuitural identities which compose the category "biack"; that is, the recognition that “hiack” essentially a politicaliy and cuitur‘ally constructed category' (Hall 19%: 443; aiso his 1989, 1995). It seems to me that this point is as important as it is banai. Was this realty something that was not recognised by alt except the most trenchant dogmatic participants in political struggle? in any case, what now needs to be debated is whether or not this recognition oi the constructed—ness of the category ‘hlack' and its political importance is fi-l Critique of limtica any less cr‘mstructed than any other categories, and it so, what it means to become less rinr'rocent' and ’essentialist’. What sort of politics flow from this? ~~ as Hall also asks. 'i‘he recognition of diversity that Horni llhabha has denounced tllhahha [988) as the relativistictolerance of exoticising multiculturalisrn is not that faraway here 7 it could certainly slide into play in the hands of some commentators who can see a gain in such usages of anti~essentialisrn Further, the slippage from a critique of an innocent homogenising politics to a further essentialising refraction is a real possibility. 'l‘his politics may not be so innocent, tempered as it: was, or is, in a common experience of re tism. Saniay Shanna argues that political identification with the ‘ategory black need not mean that being different, or Asian, or Afro—Caribbean, or a woman, or r-vorldng' class or r-vhatever, is incompatible with such a black politics {see Shanna 1.996). Nor need the politics of black dissolve on the recognition that not all black people are the same. it is, as i-lall notes, still no easier to ’build those forms of solidarity and identification which matte common struggle and resistance possible’ (Hall .1989). Yet the slipl'Jage that would matte this taslc more difficult would be one that extrapolated negatively from premature declarations of the end of an ‘lnnocent notion of the essential black sul‘riect' (Hall 1989). taken to mean the end of any black subject position in politics. This latter need not dissolve so fast. l'lall notes that ‘some sectors of the mobile (and mobile-phoned) black youth’ have taken advantage of: 'i‘hatcherism and the enterprise culture ot Il99t')s Britain, while 'a particular variant of black cultural politics’ which had to do with campaigning, representations and media 'has had its cutting edge hlunted in the i990s’ (Hall 1995: 16). This rightward shitt, which goes along with'the general trend of much cultural ’politics’ in Western nations, corresponds to the one aspect of multicrrlturalism that Hall would applaud: “the. racial and ethnic r’iluralisation of British culture and social life’. This process is 'going on, unevenly, everywhere‘ and through television and other media the ’unwelcorne message of cultural l‘rybridisatior‘r’ is being brought into ‘the domestic sanctuaries of British living rooms' {Hall 1995: 18). The same process can also be seen going on in youth. culture where ’black street styles are the cutting edge of the generational style wars" (Hall 1995: 22). Hall wrote that 'black popular culture of the 19905 was more internally diflererrtiated, by locality, neighbourhood, generation, ethnic background, cultural traditlrm, political outlook, class gradation, gender and sexuality than lolderl models allow. it was far less “collectivist” in Adorno at Wornad 35 spirit' (tiall '1995: rm, and there can be no doubt that por‘iuiar culture can be characterised in this way. But when he refers to those many people who 'are still trying to capture its [the dark side of black popular culture] cor'ttrzrclictr.)r'y diversity within older cultural models, honed mainly in the l970s' (Hall 1995: to), the suggestion that the black politics of the 1970s was superseded fails to escape his declaration that he is not trying to periodise. Diversity is now recognised and older models were inadequate. But surely this does not necessarily mean abandonment of any ’collectivist' spirit since one can retain this and still be r‘litferentiated, by locality, neighbourhood, generation, ethnic background, cultural tradition, class gradation, gender and sexuality -~ as if' it were ever any different in the 19705? To imply that the l97tls was a time marked by only a collectiyist black antivracism would seem to underplay the political and cultural currents that enabled these ditterentiations to come to notice in the first place. (.iayatri Clraicravorty Spivaic says that a critique of hybridiiy is relevant at the present moment because that which hyln‘iclityrtalk was useful for (for example, lighting the cultural absolulisms of racism in the First World) now tends to inhibit other, also necessary struggles demarcated differently, She suggests that as hybridity implies as its logical extension the hybridity of everything, this means also that contradictions and struggles that were in a certain way prior to those raised around the term still require urgent attention 7 imperialism, capitalism, exploitation, oppression. She argues that a negative word from socio—biology. hollowed out and reclaimed, is politically useful as a position from which to question the racism of the culturally dominant. But it is ‘troublesome since it assumes there. would be something that was not hybrid, or it you were to say that hybridity is everywhere, irreducihle, then all of the old inioblerns appiy’ (Spivak. Keele seminar, 1995). Hybriditystallt is certainly useful in bringing to attention the ways in which cultural cor’rstructions can maintain exclusions, lint why tallr hybridity now rather than a more explicitly radical language? .r\r'tother way to state this more bluntly is to ask why some ’postcoloniai’ discursive efforts seem to do very well at avoiding any discussion of Marxism, or indeed can even be considered an elaborate displacement, a way of keeping Marx out of the academy at a time when a materialist method has been never more relevant? The. ways in which lrjt-‘bridity displaces other languages, and other ways of seeing and organising, deserves attention. Young's work suggests that: sometl‘ting could be said for takingr the meanings of hybridity away from the previous cer‘rtury’s l l l i l l r r l 36 Critique of i-ixotica ‘miscegenation' discourses, but this political proiect seems too often to have given way to an anaiysis of textual construction. As with tt-iaii, a proshylnidity stance does not seem to me to offer any guarantees of a revotutionary project, since the place for articulation of hybridity is also a space which already seems all too easily articulated with the market. i-iybridity and difference sell; the market remains intact. \ My charge against hybridity is thus that it is a rhetorical ctul—tle~szic which triviaiises biack political activity in the UK over the past 30 years diverting attention from the urgency of anti-racist politics in favour middlemclass conservative success stories .in the Thatcher-with~a~bindi- spot mould. What this means is that, rather than continue to fight for a solidarity amongst anti-racists and ain't-imperialists, building upon the histories of those struggles of the 1.9705 and 1.9803, the fashion for hybridiiy theory takes centre stage. Theorising l‘iyhridity becomes in some cases, an excuse for ignoring sharp organisational questions enabling a passive and comfortable 7 if iinguisticaliv sophisticated intellectual quietism. - 4 Despite this, some might have thought that a plausible approach would have attempted to make sense of phenomenon iil<e world music Womad and the new Asian dance musics via an operationalisation oi" the terms ’hyhridity’ and “hybrid cultural productirm'. To ask if hvhridity is helpful in elaborating explanations of world or South Asian musics at the same time wouid offer a chance to make an evaluation of this recently rehabilitated theoretical construct. l-ioi-vever, hybriditv is inadequate to a description, let atone an explanation, of these musicsIand indeed invites celebration of had exampies in a rerun of cuitural relativist unities‘. Abandoning the operation of hybridity, it wouid he a more practical political choice to begin with the terms which practitioners, and their audiences, depioy themselves in explanation of what their are doing. Of course, there are obvious problems with this a {or example the way audiences, and critics, tend to internalise the. commentaries provided by practitioners and offered in the music press by A&R reps and artists. I Abe-indoning the theoretical construct of hyhriditv or diaspora or i-vhatever, would never guarantee that the analyst‘ is also without baggage or dependencies. The point here is to commit to this political choice. ’t‘hus, beginning with the circumstzn'ices and struggle of the people involved at least circumvents any notion that all; adequate politics can emerge from having the correct ’theorv' as some seem to believe. I l l ‘ Adomo at Woman 37 Technology and Hybridity As with the infrastructural facilitation of world music festivalism like Womad, one of the lines of argument running through the works of Gilroy, Hall and Bhabha attributes significance to the role of technoiogy in the production oi hybrid, postcoloniai, diasporic consciousness. One way to get more specific about these matters would be to critically examine the recent work of the one writer who is, perhaps, the most prominent and interesting of the varied purveyors of hyhridity talk, Paul Gitroy. Gilroy notes that ‘the musical con'iponents of hip—hop are a hybrid form nurtured by the social relations of the South Bronx where .lamaican sound system culture was transplanted during the 1970s', placed in this local setting in ’coniunction with specific technological innovations’ and able to ‘flaunt and glory in its own malleability' enough to become ‘transnational in character" ((Bilroy 1993a: 33'). At the same time it becomes “interpreted as an expression of some authentic AfricanAmerican essence’ sprung 'intact from the entrails of the blues' (Gilroy 1993a: 34). Questioning the assertive nationalism which seems to close down upon diasporic cultural forms ieads Gilroy to see “embarrassing similarities in the practice of an essentialist black elite whose racial politics shares something with the ’pseudoprecise, cuituralist equations’ of the racist right (Gilroy 1993a: 34}. The ernpioyment of hip-hop as syntrbol of racial authenticity fits a long tradition which uses music in such a register - that black people have rhythm is a stereotype found at both ends of. the political score. For Gilroy, an investigation of the 'cultural absolutism’ and essentialism that attends controversies over the origins of hip—hop has to proceed through examination of the ways exclusivist notions of race, ethnicity and culture operate. What he appears to give less prominence to in his evaluation of hip—hop and black cultural histories, but which underlies much of the Black Atlantic argument, is a promise to reveal the transnational and technologicai coordinates within which these histories and identities are now played out. At the end of the book it is the idea of {global circulation through the most sophisticated means that technological postmodernity can furnish’ (Gilroy 1993a: 194} which exercises his thougl'its. More. work would he required here as the, prtunise of the technotogical remains unfuifiiied: hybrids, translations and transnationals do not all circulate in an equivalence or at the same speeds, While Giiroy might well note that ‘transnational entertainment corporations unwittingiy supply a vehicle for circulating these [radical blacix', l'ieterogeneous, regenerative, etc! ideas in the form of black ...
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