Thursday, September 15, 2011

A minor paradox


In Beyond Ethnicity, Werner Sollors writes that “Works of ethnic literature [in the United States]—written by, about, or for persons who perceived themselves, or were perceived by others, as members of ethnic groups—may […] be read not only as expressions of mediation between cultures but also as handbooks of socialization into the codes of Americanness” (7). Sollors believes that the texts of the minority serve the purpose of an assimilative process. Somewhat in agreement with Sollors, Ramón Saldivar mentions that Chicano narrative serves to “demystif[y] the relations between minority cultures and the dominant culture” (Chicano Narrative, 5). For both Sollors and Saldivar minority literature functions as a bridge between hegemonic and marginal cultures. However, Saldivar would contend that the purpose of minority literature is not assimilation, nor even to “create an exotic reality” of the minority group, but to “produce creative structures of knowledge to allow its readers to see, to feel, and to understand their [own] social realities” within a somewhat unfamiliar or foreing context (7).

In Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari explain that a “minor” literature is always being written from a point of “deterritorialization”. They write, “a minor literature does not emerge from a minor language; but it is […] that which a minority group constructs inside a major language” (16). This, in turn, creates a supposed conflict between the hegemonic and counterhegemonic positions made manifest in the language of the literature, “everything in the minor literatures… [acquires a sense that is] political”; it either tries to reconcile the deterritorialization engendered—to use Kafka’s term—between the “father” culture and the “minor” culture, or the “tight spaces” would lead to its “immediate connection with the [counterhegemonic] politics” (17). Minor literature, in essence, could either “mediate” the cultural differences or undergo a political struggle to fight its exclusion from the hegemony.

But minority literature--which is a type of minor literature--in fact, does more than merely create a “mediation” or incur a revolution. In Multicultural American Literature, A. Robert Lee adds, “each ethnic text […] carries its own unique dislocatory force, a resistance to being thought ‘representative’, given a nod of recognition, and then simply absorbed into the more or less same-as-usual American canon” (5). Thus, at the same time that a minority literature is serving the purpose of cultural representation, it is posing the possibility for “resist[ing] the essentializing and stratifying modes of reading ethnic literature that make it ripe for canonization and co-option” (quoted in Lee, 5). In this sense, U.S. minority literature is both a bridge and a chasm and it always poses this paradox: read me as if I were an American text, but understand that I’m not. 

Works cited:
  • Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. Trans. by Dana Polan. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis, 1986.
  • Lee, A. Robert. Multicultural American Literature: Comparative Black, Native, Latino/a and Asian American Fictions. Edinburgh University Press. Edinburgh, 2003.
  • Saldivar, Ramón. Chicano Narrative: The Dialectics of Difference. The University of Wisconsin press. Madison & London, 1990.
  • Sollors, Werner. Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture. Oxford University Press. New York & Oxford, 1986.

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