Voices from the In-Between: Aporias, Reverberations, and Audiences
Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
University of Massachusetts Amherst
“When I saw you with the laptop,” Cecilia said to me, “I thought you must be really far behind on your presentation.” More or less! I was in my “live” discourse and dynamics mode, self-interestedly collecting connections with other presenters (or at least with their topics). I wanted to show as well as tell about my findings and speculations based on the research I’ve done concerning language, meaning, and simultaneous interpretation. The conference would have gone by in a blur for me, otherwise. As it was, I had a handful of heartfelt conversations with fascinating human beings, beginning at the banquet, smuggled into the quiet of rehearsal/prep space in presentation rooms, and during breaks over the abundance of food.
Warning! Relationship implied!
Huda did not believe that I really wanted to quote her presentation. “You really are dangerous!” exclaimed Nimmi, before vanishing back to Texas. Jiwei questioned the possibility of as fluid an identity as I propose – that I am ‘called into being’ by the interactions I have with others, especially those that are overtly communicative. (I’m not saying its easy, only that it can be extraordinary.)
The keynote presenter, Vittorio Marchis, emphasized the importance of ritual to memory, explaining the mind’s need for regular re-freshing of knowledge and society’s need for icons representing history: lest we forget. He took us on a romp through Italian magazine covers in the era post-WWII, showing what he described as “the bearable weightness of things” in-between the use of images of current scientific progress and fine artistic works projecting images of the future, which he described as “prophecies.”
As far as invoking a certain quality of timespace, what more important social ritual than eating together? Juan checked in on everyone as we dined at the Faculty Club; the exuberant conviviality carried everyone through the cold rain we had to traverse afterward.
With the theory, you can move…
Nimmi set the tone for a great day by busting the title of my talk: “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” Could be! Her Rumblings included a quote from KS Maniam that struck me as a description of how I do action research.
I’m going out there, into the … incomprehensible….”
When I got to this slide during my presentation, my peripheral vision detected Edwin nodding. I hope I haven’t taken Maniam’s words out of context, but I was gratified at the evidence of resonance that my usage fits what others experience when I’m “on.” (It’s not like I know where we’re going, either!) Nimmi was on the panel Negotiating Hybrid Identities with Xuefei and Huda, and (it seemed to me) they were all engaged with exploring the search for a center – for some thing or some way to ground be-ing – you know – living awake on this planet right now, wherever we are, with whomever is there, too! Huda’s presentation on Ghada Al-Samman suggested one’s orientation to time is relevant, as in, does one look to the past or the future for points-of-reference? A debate was inspired by Xuefei concerning whether “assimilation” can be construed as a mix of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ features or needs to be understand exclusively in the negative.
Industrialization, Race, and Displacement
Darlene asked me, later, about her claim of experiencing the brutality of displacement even though it happened four centuries ago. I think there is a qualitative difference between people who have suffered physically just to survive and those of us who have had that part soft, but I agree with Enhua’s response that it’s all about when industrialization happened to hit your family: this generation or several generations back. The cumulative effect of migration having occurred in historical time for most white Americans appears most obviously in the disconnect from the land. I am not atypical, having parents who met in a city distant from where they grew up, and then continued to move around. I have no home rooted in place; only the sensibilities of comfort I create for myself in the spaces I happen to be.
Choosing what we carry
I met Maria waiting for the panel on Authorship and Narrative Techniques. The next day I would be stunned by her story, shocked by the contrast with our joyous first encounter. Meanwhile, Cecilia’s presentation, Blind Spot: The In-Between-ness of a Child Narrator sparked a lively post-panel discussion and reminded me of the interpersonal communication tool by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingram, the Johari Window. The dynamic processes of feedback (sharing what I know/perceive about you) and disclosure (telling about myself) are so important! (It crosses my mind, now, to wonder if there is a parallel with the Chinese “mirror” that Enhua mentioned, in which one is supposed to see one’s true self?
Navigators of the In-Between
Morna labeled us conference participants as “navigators of the in-between” while folks debated whether a child could be wise in the ways depicted by Lya Luft, the author of O Ponto Cego, featured in Cecilia’s talk. The Q&A following this session was the one I found most stimulating.
A quote from Herman Melville that Brian had used kept floating through my mind, in reference to the space of a sailing ship (one of its chronotopes): “We expatriate ourselves to nationalize with the universe.” From this forward-looking perspective (which I appreciate despite its reliance on the nation), I went to the panel on Theorizing Coloniality and Postcoloniality, where the gaze of the presenters was focused keenly on the past.
Where do creoles come from? Beccie enthused on her problematic. I’d like to think about this more in contemporary terms – when/why/how do new languages still come into being (or are we killing off this possibility as surely as old languages are dying?) Juan noticed the power of the colonizer everywhere, and Loc Pham’s description of the Vietnamese ‘non-identification’ strategy intrigues with the evidence of such apparent non-resistance being a powerful mode for preserving cultural integrity.
A frontier that unites rather than a barrier that divides
I’ll be honest, sometimes the theorizing gets too abstract for me – yes yes I know, as if my work doesn’t go there too (grin). Still, I’m with Javier when he said, “The fundamental issue is not to come up with a perfect name, but to understand what is going on and ____”. Funny, my notes stop there – did I not hear the rest? Was I distracted by someone or something else? For me it is the understanding in order to act, or even misunderstanding but still acting so as to stay engaged with those who are different than me – and together finding ways to be here and move on with attention to the implicit as well as explicit relationships. This is what I heard in the Personal Narratives of In-Between-ess shared by Maria, Claudio & Marcelo, and Elena: no matter what has happened to us – childhood trauma or adult humiliation – we must bear up, dig down, find an ethical way to go on.
I was thrilled when Edwin said I “might be on to something” with the distinction I drew between interpretation and translation (dissertation forthcoming). And I’m eager for any uptake on my conjecture that the postmodern condition, defined by David Harvey (1990) as time-space compression, is the historical moment when white people figure out WTF we’ve been doing with language. The next time you’re reading social theory, just notice how many times the word “tension” is used, and then see if you can figure out “what” is “in tension” with “what”? Social theorists deploy “tension” as if it is self-explanatory and obvious (sortof like how people throw around the term “dialectic.”) An engineer (for instance) would be quite unlikely to discuss tension without its complement of compression.
If language (language use, language-in-action, English, Vietnamese, Chinese, Portuguese, literature, poetry, rhyme, whatever you want to include in the category) is the social means by which timespace has become compressed, then it is only through language that we are going to be able to un-compress it. I support Vittorio Marchis’ conclusion:
“We need more time to talk together and find solutions.”