University of California, Merced
In this essay, I will describe a collaborative project to study Orientalism and south-south dialogs between the "Orient" and the Luso-Hispanic world that began in 2006 and continues today. It began with an international and interdisciplinary project titled Orientalisms and the Chinese Diaspora in the Americas, which took place in April 2006. The initial idea of studying orientalism and Chinese issues in the Hispanic world was modified in 2009 to integrate the Asian and Arabic in general at the conference East Reads West; West Reads East: The Near and Far East in the Western World. The same conference took place again in April 2011 with the title Imaging the “Oriental” in the Americas and the Iberian Peninsula. It will meet again in Fez (Morocco) in March 2012 under the title Representation of the Orient and the "Oriental" in the Americas and the Iberian Peninsula and again in April 2013 in
Created and co-organized the international, interdisciplinary conference "Transcultural and
Transmodern Readings between Eastern and Western Countries," which was held at the
Pedagogical State University A.I. Herzen, St. Petersburg, in Russia, on April 12-13, 2013. It had
fifty-five presenters, including Dr. Lok Siu, from UC Berkeley, who was the keynote speaker
Created and co-organized the yearly international, interdisciplinary conference "Towards an Alliance of Civilizations: East-West Intercultural Dialogues" at the Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan (2014). It had forty speakers, including Ambeth Ocampo (Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines), who was the keynote speaker.
To disseminate the information presented at these conferences, I coordinated the publication of three volumes with extended versions of the best presentations in each conference. I titled the volumes Alternative Orientalisms in Latin America and Beyond (2007), One World Periphery Reads the Other: Knowing the "Oriental" in the Americas and the Iberian Peninsula (2009) and Peripheral Transmodernities: South-to-South Dialogues between the Luso-Hispanic World and "the Orient" (2012). They were all published with Cambridge Scholars Publishing in both digital (e-book) and printed versions. Complementing these editions, I also co-edited a volume titled Caminos para la paz: literatura israelí y árabe en castellano (Paths for Peace: Israeli and Arabic literature in Spanish, 2007), which included short stories and poems by Arab and Israeli authors who write in Spanish.
As a result of the success of these publications, in 2011 I founded, along with my colleague Cristián Ricci, the interdisciplinary online journal TRANSMODERNITY: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, focusing on peripheral literary and cultural production of the Luso-Hispanic world and U.S. Latino worlds. The journal is published by eScholarship, which is part of the University of California. It promotes the study of south-south cultural relations between formerly colonized peoples. Although the publication concentrates on non-canonical works, it also considers articles that approach canonical works from post-colonial and postmodern angles. Internationally renowned critics, such as Enrique Dussel and Walter Mignolo, have published articles in it.
Many of the essays that were presented in the conferences that I have organized or that were published in Transmodernity and the volumes published with Cambridge Scholars Publishing deal with the critical dialogue between the cultural production of the Hispanic/Latino world and that of the so-called Orient or the Orient itself, including the Asian and Arab worlds. The term “Transmodernities” used in the title is borrowed from the Argentine philosopher of liberation Enrique Dussel to suggest a transmodern “pluriverse” (including European and postcolonial worldviews, such as the Asian, African, Latin American, and Islamic ones) that refuses to be homologized into a globalized (or Americanized), univocal hegemonic culture. As we see in these essays, the Europeans’ cultural others (peripheral nations and former colonies) have established an intercultural and intercontinental dialogue among themselves, without feeling the need to resort to the center-metropolis’ mediation (hence the epigraph to this introduction). These South-to-South dialogues tend not to be as asymmetric as the old dialogue between the (former) metropolis (the hegemonic, Eurocentric center) and the colonies. Dussel’s term also contests the idea that Modernity is a uniquely European phenomenon. In this way, it attempts to transcend (and calls for moving beyond) the concepts of Modernity and Postmodernity by incorporating non-western knowledges, always from a critical and ethical perspective. In his view, many other now peripheral (but formerly central) world cultures have contributed to Modernity: “A future trans-modern culture–which assumes the positive moments of Modernity (as evaluated through criteria distinct from the perspective of the other ancient cultures)–will have a rich pluriversity and would be the fruit of an authentic intercultural dialogue, that would need to bear clearly in mind existing asymmetries” (18).
These essays about Hispanic and Latino cultural production (most of them dealing with literature but some with urban art, music, and film) attest to the veracity of these abstract, philosophical thoughts, echoing and providing vivid examples of de-colonizing impetus and cultural resistance. In some of them, we can find peripheral subjectivities’ perception of other peripheral, racialized, and (post)colonial subjects and their cultures. They also reflect critical diasporic thought, border thinking, and everyday living in contact zones. Others problematize the hegemonic and Occidentalist discourse of the center as well as its echo: the colonized minds in the periphery. According to Dussel, this transversal and transmodern intercultural dialogue should produce the “mutual liberation of universal postcolonial cultures” (16). Yet, as Ramón Grosfoguel reminds us, our knowledges are always situated: “we always speak from a particular location in the power structures. Nobody escapes the class, sexual, gender, spiritual, linguistic, geographical, and racial hierarchies of the ‘modern/colonial capitalist/patriarchal world-system’” (4).
As to the focus on Orientalism in our conferences, this theoretical perspective, has regained its centrality in recent years, particularly after the increased animosity and resent between Western and Islamic countries, or between East and West, as a result of the two Gulf Wars, Al Qaeda's terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States, the controversial publication on September 30, 2005 of twelve cartoons featuring the Islamic prophet Mohammed in several European newspapers, and the new position of the People’s Republic of China as the next military, economic, and technological superpower. In her study of the genealogical affinities between theory and cultural studies carried out in the first chapter of her Ethics after Idealism, literary and cultural critic Rey Chow presents the critique of Orientalism as one of the four main forms of analysis to have developed in cultural studies in the United States in recent years. As she posits, the controversial and seminal study Orientalism (1978) by the U.S.-based Palestinian literary and cultural critic Edward W. Said (1935-2003) does not offer viable alternatives:
Because the issue of otherness is delineated by Said on the premise of a racial dyad—namely, the white West as opposed to the non-whine non West—his logic seems to foreclose the possibility of the non-white non-West every having its own “culture.” Said’s work begs the question as to how otherness […] could become a genuine oppositional force and a useable value. (2)
Chow proposes to carry out alternative studies of the racism and sexism that appear—in a latent or overt form—in the stereotypical assumptions, misperceptions, and representations of cultural “others” present in cultural artifacts: “We need to explore alternative ways of thinking about cross-cultural exchange that exceed the pointed, polemical framework of ‘antiorientalism’—the lesson from Said’s work—by continually problematizing the presumption of stable identities and also by continuously asking what else there is to learn beyond destabilized identities themselves” (75).
Our project's interdisciplinary studies on (the critique of) orientalism and the Asian and Arab diasporas in the Americas and the Hispanic World, address Chow’s question as well as several others: Can we speak about orientalist discourse when the exoticist gaze comes from formerly colonized countries? Can a text be considered orientalist if it exoticizes the other without an obvious idealization of self? Can we talk about orientalism when dealing with non-eastern cultures and peoples? How can strategic self-orientalization be used for economic or political profit? Is the “Orient” still helping Europe and the Western Hemisphere to define themselves? From Latin America to the Philippines and from the Iberian Peninsula to the United States, these studies cover a wide range of geographical areas, topics, approaches, disciplines and genres, including literature, philosophy, music, film, painting, mass media, and advertising. As could be expected, several essays in this volume take Said’s Orientalism as a point of departure to examine the imaging of the Near and Far East in the Western world. Other essays, including mine, deal directly with cultural production by or about people of Asian or Arab descent in the Americas and the Hispanic world. Most of them, however, share a common interest in issues of assimilation, racism, migration, transnationalism, citizenship, exile, identity, transculturation, and hybridity (including musical hybridity, as we see in Kevin Fellezs’s and Marco Valesi’s essays). And non-Asian social groups can also be “orientalized,” as Carlos Bazua and Michael Barba argue in their essays on the representation of the ethnic Other in magazines, television programs, and films.
While it is true that in some cases, as Julia A. Kushigian posits, the orientalist discourse in the Hispanic literary tradition has been very different from the one described by Said (she cites the cases Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz and Severo Sarduy, and José I. Suárez, in this book, adds Lusophone authors José Maria Eça de Queirós and Fernando Pessoa), it is also true that the other type of orientalism—hegemonic, dehumanizing, prejudicial and racist—has also had a long tradition in these regions. Several of the essays included in One World Periphery Reads the Other attest to this other use of orientalism in Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. This volume also addresses other types of orientalism as well as related approaches. A key concept, for instance, is self-orientalization, in its diverse filmic, literary, and musical expressions (as we can read in Valesi’s essay on the western exoticism of the Chinese musical group Twelve Girls Band). Along these lines, in both Valesi’s and Héctor Hoyos’s essays, we will see how Occidentalism—that is, the reverse phenomenon of the “Orient”’s othering, demonizing and inventing the Occident—, also informs and redefines cultural exchanges and interpretations. Other studies, such as Fellezs’s, examine creolization, a process by which local cultures and ethnic minorities, even if they are in a subordinate position, can creatively assign different meanings and uses to commodities and cultural artifacts they import as a result of global interconnections. They can create “creolized,” hybrid products and identities by selecting and fusing heterogenous elements from the adoptedglocalization,” which argues that “universal,” globalized goods, ideas, norms, and practices can be interpreted or appropriated by local cultures in highly different ways, which may result in new, hybrid forms and cultures.
In several texts, references to these "Oriental" regions, as well as to local Chinatowns or other “ethnoburbs” (urban ethnic enclaves) do not reflect direct experience or knowledge, but have been mediated by idées reçues from previous readings. At times, texts and films that, in a cursory reading, seem to continue the Orientalist tradition of manipulative appropriation, exoticization, essentialism and reductionism, simply respond to a self-conscious and parodical play on superficial decodifications of clichés. In a closer reading, one can realize that these authors make clear, from the onset of the narrative, that this lighthearted defamiliarization, with all its essentialized caricatures and stereotypes about the “typically oriental” (the “fictive orientalism” in the title of Paula Park’s essay), have little or nothing to do with the real-life “Orient.” Rather than claiming to be to the product of Sinologist research, these representational practices approach the East from a ludic standpoint that disregards verisimilitude. In fact, they often echo a situated knowledge of “South-South” dynamics between formerly colonized peoples.
On the other hand, several essays study the authors,’ filmmakers,’ and musicians’ admiration and even emulation of Asian cultures: Latin American authors who imitate the haiku, Chilean films that imitate Hong Kong martial arts films, and so on. In all these cultural borrowings, as well as in others, instead of romanticizing, fetishizing or exoticizing Asian cultural production (although it would not be too far-fetched to argue that they may be commodifying it), they simply incorporate, from a position of respect and sometimes even veneration, their impressive cultural achievements to their own local traditions. In my view, it would be absurd, for example, to argue that Tablada’s imitation of the Japanese haikai is a “hegemonic act of oppression”; on the contrary, it responds to a sincere will to understand (rather than control and manipulate) the “Oriental” Other or to a desire for “humanistic enlargement of horizons” (Said xix).
Other cultural artifacts under discussion also reflect an awareness of the effects of globalization. The transnational export and import of culture is, of course, affected by economic and political developments. Fear of cultural imperialism or a global monoculture (not only the so-called McDonaldization of the world but, increasingly, also of its Sinicization through global markets), be it justified or not, drives expressions of social and racial anxiety at both local and global scales. The drive for cultural survival in the face of the rapid extinction of minority languages (and, in some cases, of cultures as well) informs the feelings of cultural shock, as well as of attraction and rejection for the Other. At times, this negotiation of cultural difference is eerily reminiscent of political scientist Samuel P. Huntington’s arguments in his much-criticized theory of the Clash of Civilizations; that is, that after the fall of communism, “civilizations” have replaced nations and ideologies as the driving force in today’s volatile global politics, and that cultural and religious identities will inevitably be the source of armed conflict in the future.
While Said focused on the perceptions and stereotypes of the Near East “Oriental” in England, France and the United States, most of these essays study the decentering interplay between “peripheral” areas of the Third World, “semiperipheral” areas (Spain and Portugal since the second part of the seventeenth century), and marginalized social groups of the globe (Chicanos, African Americans, and Filipino Americans). We see, for example, how China and the Far East in general are imagined and represented in Latin America and the Caribbean. Sometimes these “peripheral” areas and social groups talk back to the metropolitan centers of the former empires or look for their mediation, while others they avoid the interference of the First World or of hegemonic social groups altogether in order to address other “peripheral” peoples directly, thus creating rich “South-South” cross-cultural flows and exchanges.
The main difference between the imperialistic orientalism studied by Said and this other type of global cultural interaction is that while, in their engagement with the “Orient,” they may be reproducing certain imperialistic fantasies and mental structures, typically there is not an ethnocentric process of self-idealization or an attempt to demonstrate cultural, ontological, or racial superiority in “South-South” intellectual and cultural exchanges. This way to de-center or to “provincialize” Europe—pace Dipesh Chakrabarty—disrupts the traditional center-periphery dichotomy, bringing about multiple and interchangeable centers and peripheries, whose cultures interact with one another without the mediation of the European and North American metropolitan centers. As Chakrabarty puts it, “European thought is at once both indispensable and inadequate in helping us to think through the experiences of political modernity in non-Western nations, and provincializing Europe becomes the task of exploring how this thought—which is now everybody’s heritage and which affects us all—may be renewed from and for the margins” (16).
Some of these essays, therefore, challenge the inevitable “centrality” of Europe, proposing new transmodern, intercultural paradigms. As Enrique Dussel explains, “The Eurocentric view reflects on the problem of the crisis of modernity solely with the European-North American moments (or now even Japanese), but it minimizes the periphery. To break through this ‘reductive fallacy’ is not easy” (17-18). The Eurocentric paradigm claims that the phenomenon of modernity is exclusively European; it developed, according to them, in the Middle Ages and then expanded to the rest of the world. Against this model, Dussel presents a planetary- or world-system from which Europe, having been itself the periphery for centuries (the centers being in Bagdag, China, India and other civilizations), became the center at one point thanks to the incorporation of the American territories as their periphery. He proposes, therefore, a transmodern liberation that emerges from the periphery to transcend a Western modernity that he considers simply as a “rational management of the [Western] world-system” (19). Dussel argues for recouping what is redeemable in modernity, a “‘civilizing’ system that has come to an end” (19), and halting “the practices of domination and exclusion in the world-system. It is a project of liberation of a periphery negated from the very beginning of modernity” (19). The aforementioned essays echo this proposed encouragement of transmodern, inter-(semi)peripheral, and South-South cultural dialogues, which claim their own place beyond the traditional Western modernity that had excluded previously them.
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Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1978.
 “Una futura cultura trans-moderna, que asume los momentos positivos de la Modernidad (pero evaluados con criterios distintos desde otras culturas milenarias), tendrá una pluriversidad rica y será fruto de un auténtico diálogo intercultural, que debe tomar claramente en cuenta las asimetrías existentes” (17).
 “mutua liberación de las culturas universales postcoloniales” (15).
 For additional cases, see, for example, the first volume, Alternative Orientalisms in Latin America and Beyond, my monograph Imaging the Chinese in Cuban Literature and Culture, or my forthcoming articles “Latin America and the Caribbean in a Sinophone Studies Reader?,” “Los japoneses en la obra de Mario Vargas Llosa,” and “Refugiados y Asalto al Paraíso de Marcos Aguinis: apropiaciones y reapropiaciones del discurso palestino.”
 Contrary to common belief, Joana Breidenbach’s and Ina Zukrigl’s ethnographic work claims that, rather than homogenizing world cultures, globalization has had a diversifying effect.
 Most of the ideas presented in this paper were previously published in the introductions to the volumes I edited with Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
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