toward transcultural humanities
Transcultural Studies are based on transregional and transdisciplinary outlook, treating cultures not as closed, well-defined, separate entities, but as the result of multiple transformations, contaminations and entanglements. Being so, the study of cultures require a combination of methodological and theoretical approaches blurring the frontiers of traditional disciplines. This is why, contributing to this relatively novel area, I combine my primary outlook, derived from global literary studies and comparative literature, with other theoretical and methodological sources and legacies, such as the history of ideas, comparative religious studies, the legacy of postmodern philosophy and cultural analysis. I study contemporary transcultural fluxes, as well as the historical background of such phenomena. I believe it is very important to rise the awareness that the transcultural reality is not exclusively the matter of the present-day, globalised world, and it does not mark or imply a rupture with the past. Quite to the contrary, there exist transcultural legacies that should be put in the limelight and treated as a wellspring of the present-day creativity.
The most important issue about the Transcultural Studies, as I believe, is the understanding of creativity this area provides, the potential that may be derived from a bold, intense interaction with cultural boundaries, culturally imposed limitations, culturally transmitted, repetitive patterns of thinking and doing things. The readiness for cultural transgression and transcultural connectivity fosters freedom of circulation and absorption of ideas, as well as immersion in a boundless global sphere created by the unstoppable human symbol-producing activity. It is precisely by constant contestion of his or her cultural identity, striving to produce new patterns of interference between cultural codes, contaminating the aesthetic and intellectual paradigms, overcoming them rather than striving to illustrate their validity, that the human individual achieves new levels of creativity and insight.
A specific philosophy derived from Transcultural Studies fosters a creative attitude that inscribes odd, idiosyncratic elements into an accepted outcome instead of marginalising them or diminishing their potential of difference. It fosters the exploitation of difference as an essential resource, combined with a competency in communicating ideas and insights across cultural frontiers.
Here I present some results of my research and reflection in transcultural humanities as they were achieved in Warsaw in 2012-2018. The volume of essays presented below appears in my bibliography as a discreetly ironic farewell to this institution. In the meanwhile, a doctoral seminar had been held there in the academic year 2015/2016.
Those results have been announces predominantly in Polish, and they differ significantly from the theoretical stance concerning extra-cultural becoming of man that I progressively defined later on, during my stay in Leiden. In the transition from Polish into English, I have significantly modified my terminology; I have also adopted much bolder intellectual attitude that might have been observed in Warsaw. Be that as it may, here is the preliminary stage of the reflection that has since that time taken a different turn in a different academic surroundings.
I introduced significant modifications in my theoretical idiom as I worked on it in Leiden. When I was in Warsaw, I used the notion of transcultural, evoking the processes of circulation between cultures and transgressing the divides between separate lines of cultural transmission. In a book about Portuguese culture (Imperium i nostalgia, 2015), I also employed the term hypercultural, that served me to describe a specific construct imposed as a sort of qualitatively distinct, universal frame encompassing other forms of the cultural. I suppose such a concept might prove useful in the analysis of various cultural systems tending toward symbolic hegemony, without any necessary connection to the notion of colonial or imperial. I will provide further exemplification for all these concepts later on.
My attempt at creating an idiosyncratic theoretical idiom is supposed to be clear by now. Nonetheless I should comment briefly on the articulation between this idiom and the existing terminologies in humanities, especially those connected to the terms "transcultural", "transculture", "transculturation" that has become increasingly popular since 1990s, forming an extended family of concepts. The term transculturation was proposed by the Cuban ethnomusicologist Fernando Ortiz, who focused on the fusion of cultural forms under colonial and postcolonial conditions. A new transcultural vogue appeared in Germany in the 1990s, when Wolfgang Welsch launched his idea of dissolution of cultures. The transcultural vogue penetrated into social studies, proving to be useful in the analysis of complex identities resulting from biographies marked by cultural mobility, migration, forced displacements and new exigences inherent to the fact of living and working in global metropolises. An interesting "apophatic" definition of the concept of 'transculture' has been proposed by a Russian-American thinker, Michail Epstein. This conceptual family fosters also new approaches in comparative literature. An extensive glossary of 'transcultural literary studies' has been proposed by Arianna Dagnino in 2015, who spoke about the literary creation of "transpatriants", writing from a nomadic position in relation to languages and local literary traditions. As all these novel approaches progressively expand and solidify, the adjective 'transcultural' becomes too broad, wishy-washy term signifying anything that 'extends through all human cultures' or used to describe diverse pragmatical approaches to communication (cf. Richard Slimbach et al.).
I used the term "transcultural" in my own publications, speaking of "transcultural condition" of man. Nonetheless, as I went on with my project of theoory-building, transcultural terminology became increasingly inadequate to my idea; also the fact that it is so widespread in recent humanities, that implies its wide resonance in the study of "hyphenated identities"of the globalized world that have very little to do with the redefinition of humanness as such, made me think about working on a completely new network of terms and concepts. My understanding of the extra-cultural appears as radical: I think not only about a human transgressing the cultural boundaries in order to circulate freely between diverse cultural orders, but first of all about a human that aspires to break through the limitations of the cultured condition as such. This understand come close to the "apophatic" conceptualisation of transculture by Mikhail Epstein. The utmost stake of this endeavour is not only a new stance in cultural or literary criticism; even more ambitious, yet urgent aim is to foster the emergence of a new sphere of translingual and transcultural communication of the trauma that may result from the loss of clear cultural inscription. In the contemporary world, this is the fate of millions. No wonder that, oxymoron accepted, the concept of transcultural community, build up by individuals confronted with their unshared, unparadigmatic, non-transmissible experience, should be proposed.
This is why the urge of building an idiomatic vocabulary able to express the specific problems of my reflection became increasingly acute. Initially, I spoke of "transcultural dimension" in which certain forms of experience and expression break through the cultured condition of man, leading into something that may be regarded as impossible: thinking and speaking beyond any particular cultural codification. Such as hypothetical stage, perhaps finding a precedent in the “mumbling” of a mystic, is nonetheless characteristic for the contemporary subject experiencing a constant “superposition” of numerous cultural codes. As it is easy to observe, my language is based on metaphors taken from mathematics and physics. What might be initially taken for a sheer mannerism is to be developed in the future in much more consistent, competent approaches. This is why I will proceed now to some details of the origin and development of my "topological" thinking.
My preliminary research project going in this direction had been realised in 2012, when I was still at the University of Warsaw; I wrote several papers in Polish presenting its results ("Pokusa geometrii"). In this project, I studied the mathematical concepts appearing in contemporary humanities: authors such as Sloterdijk and Zizek not only mention certain mathematical concepts, such as fractal, sphere or Möbius strip, but also try to build up a new approach towards the cultural phenomena taking topology or mathematics of chaos for a starting point. , creates at the same time a propitious context for the integration of diverse mathematical inspirations in humanities, tradition already well established by the postmodern philosophers, such as Deleuze, Derrida, Baudrillard, Agamben, Sloterdijk and Žižek. They come close to abstract, topological thinking or explicitly introduce mathematical concepts, such as fractal, sphere, Möbius strip and Klein bottle. Topological inspirations serve as a basis for reshaping some crucial concepts in humanities, such as the notion of community, permit to see in a new light some elementary cultural facts, such as the significance of a can of coca-cola, or become models for all-encompassing, holistic approaches to cultural landscapes.
Searching for conceptual tools to approach an emergent dimension must go beyond the linear order of narration and argumentation. Space, more space! is the motto of the day. This is why I am also interested in mathematical inspirations.
The necessity of using mathematic for my conceptualization of transcultural reality seemed very clear. My basic claim that the transcultural phenomena differ in an essential way from any other phenomena observable at the cultural stage of the humanity refers directly to the concept of emergence as it is used in natural sciences. Due to radically increased number of interactions, a new level of complexity emerges in the human symbolic sphere. The study of this increasingly complex transcultural reality requires thus a special set of theoretical tools, built at the intersection of triple inspiration: 1 - that of postmodern thought, given mainly by such authors as Derrida and Guattari (both in his own contributions and writing in tandem with Deleuze), 2 - that of certain visual experiments, such as the project of "Drawing a Hypothesis" promoted by Nikolaus Gasterer, an Austrian artist treating drawing as "thinking in action" and 3 - that of mathematical topology and graph theory.
I still worked on the topological project in 2017/2018, when I was in France, concomitantly with my financed reserach project on the Adamic language - a part of my exploration of past extra-cultural experiments that left its trace in the cultural tradition; that was where I presented my reserach during the monthly meeting of LE STUDIUM, Loire Valleys Institute of Advanced Studies ("Defining the symbolic space. From a cluster of trancultural case studies to a topological conceptualization"; extended Polish version of this presentation is the first chapter of my book Humanistyka, która nadchodzi).
essays in transcultural humanities
“Stawanie się Orientem. Wyprawy Europejczyków do Mekki jako doświadczenie transkulturowe późnej epoki kolonialnej” [“Becoming the Orient. European travels to Mecca as a transcultural experience of the late colonial period”], Litteraria Copernicana, no 1(29)/2019, p. 111-119. ISSN 1899-315X; DOI: http://dx.doi.org/1 0.12775/LC.2019.009
The aim of this paper is to reflect on the European hajj (travel to Mecca) as a transcultural experience in the context of the late colonial period. The interpretation of the case of Lawrence of Arabia, proposed in the Orientalism by Edward Said, is taken for the starting point. This classical diagnosis is confronted with the narrations speaking about the travel into the heart of Arabia as a spiritual journey, read as a testimony of a progressive overcoming of the orientalization as a condition limiting, in the first place, the Western subject, unable of experiencing fully the orientalized reality. After the exploration of Richard Burton, the figures of the converts from the first half of the 20th century, such as Harry St. John Bridger Philby, Evelyn Cobbold and Muhammad Asad gradually achieve a deepened transcultural experience on the road to Mecca.
“Travelling away from the 'artsy post-modern lefty-pinko university'. Noor's transcultural experience and the duties of the intellectual”, Colloquia Humanistica, no 3/2014, p. 91-102. ISSN 2081-6774
The volume Qur’an and cricket consists of several travelogues produced by a Malay intellectual, Farish A. Noor, during his trips to the most problematic places of the world, marked by the contemporary “battles of God”. This book is interpreted in terms of a quest for transcultural condition understood as a dimension of experience transcending the multiplicity of cultural orders in dissent. Noor sketches his own definition of the intellectual, contrasted in this article with the visions given by Gramsci, Adorno and Said. The subject of the transcultural condition is defined as “itinerant scholar” transgressing the limitations of the academia by his nomadic immersion in the world. The attitude of the traveller is marked by openness and readiness to listen, even if he is confronted to irrational mumbling. Precisely the mumbling of anger and hate becomes the most difficult challenge to the intellectual unable to deal with it rationally. The only remaining answer is a sheer presence and love, emotional attachment to the world, as the scholar rejects the temptation of the ivory tower that would isolate him from the otherness. The modality of speech that opposes the hateful mumbling isn’t based on clear, persuasive argumentation, but on ironic ambivalence conjugated with directness and the rejection of euphemism. Most importantly, the “itinerant scholar” is not a preacher.
“Goytisolo w Marrakeszu. Pisarstwo transkulturowe jako wyjście z dylematów "małych literatur"” [“Goytisolo in Marrakesh. Transcultural writing as a way of breaking through the dilemmas of minor literature”], "Literatury mniejsze" Europy romańskiej, vol. 2, Mirosław Loba, Barbara Łuczak, Alfons Gregori (eds.), Poznań, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Adama Mickiewicza, 2015, p. 11-24. ISBN 978-83-232-2917-9
“Powszechna ulotność. Haiku i haiga jako formy transkulturowe” [“Universality of the ephemeral. Haiku and haiga as transcultural genres”], Fragile, no 2 (24)/2014, p. 6-9. ISSN 1899-4261
“Muszą więc być analizowani. Imperium Teorii i wyzwanie humanistyki transkulturowej” [“They must be analysed. Theory's Empire and the challenge of transcultural humanities”], Tekstualia, no 4 (35)/2013, p. 115-122. ISSN 1734-6029
"Проект транскультурных гуманитарных наук – геометрия глобальной встречи" ["Transcultural humanities project: geometry of the global encounter"], ПОГРАНИЧЬЕ КУЛЬТУР – КУЛЬТУРЫ ПОГРАНИЧЬЯ, Zoya Morochoyeva (ed.), Debaty Artes Liberales, t. VI (2012), p. 179-197. ISSN 2299-8799; ISBN 978-83-63636-7-4
POLISH VERSION: "Projekt humanistyki transkulturowej - geometria powszechnego spotkania"
"TOWARDS TRANSCULTURAL HUMANITIES" (2015/16)
The key idea of this seminar was the conception of an emergent condition of the human, breaking through the culturally defined mood of existence into new possibilities of experiencing and communicating. The expected result is the definition of a seemingly utopian, transcultural stage of human being, liberated from cultural automatisms and filters that separate him/her not only from the direct experience of the world, but also from the vast sectors of the humanity that don't share the same cultural background.
In spite of its seemingly utopian character, the transcultural modality of existence becomes a reality in the globalized conditions, as we face the process of dissolving cultural boundaries and cultures as well defined and confined symbolic systems. The endeavor of developing a consistent theoretical approach towards those changes, as well as the desire of shaping and fostering them, appears thus as a pressing challenge.
The transcultural reality is characterized as the emergence of a new level of complexity due to the increased number of interactions between the diverse cultural systems. The aim of this program is thus to create new theoretical tools adopted to deal with this increased complexity in order to describe and analyze adequately the transcultural phenomena, both the ones discovered in the cultural past and those inherent to the contemporary, globalizing world.
This search for an analytical metalanguage will revisit the legacy of the postmodernism in its attempts of breaking through the established modalities of thinking. On the other hand, it will explore with special attention the transcultural potential of abstract languages of science, including the inspirations of the contemporary mathematics, such as topological geometry. Beyond the hermetic domain of topology, the visual arts and the visual culture in a wider sense (including diagrammatic, pictographic and other similar modalities of communication) will be regarded as a potential field of transcultural exploration. Finally, the attempt of achieving the transcultural condition through artistic practice will be an inherent part of this program as well. Thus, this seminar has a transdisciplinary character, by which we understand both the perspective of integrating different disciplinary fields in the study of determined phenomena, and the possibility of transgressing the frontier between research, reflection and creative activity, scholarship and art.
The transcultural phenomena will be considered both in their contemporary connection to the globalizing processes and in their precedents that may be found in the cultural history. Among the first premises of this program there is the observation that in certain circumstances, due to varied motivations, a human being has always nurtured the aspiration of transcending the limitations imposed by the culture in which he/she has been primarily acculturated. In search of such precedents of the transcultural condition, several topics appear as privileged. The relationships between the European culture based on Christianity and the cultures of Islam will be considered with special attention as a laboratory of transcultural debate. The emergent figure of Muslim intellectual and the exploration of the post-secular revisiting of monotheistic traditions will be observed, analyzed and developed as a specific field of emergence of a transcultural meta-discourse transcending the incommensurable discourses built up by theological traditions. Still in the domain of religion, the converging heritage of world's mysticisms will be explored as the expression of human aspiration of transcending the limitations of the cultured condition and as a legacy of practices and techniques of actually achieving states of mindfulness and directness of experience unmediated by the cultural filters. On the opposite, yet communicating pole, human relationships with animals – as well as human attempts of communicating through the exchange of animals across the cultural frontiers – will be explored as a complementary field of transcultural practice.
The program was composed by several synergistic paths or clusters of problems:
Dagnino, A., "Global Mobility, Transcultural Literature, and Multiple Modes of Modernity”, Transcultural Studies, 2/2013; http://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/transcultural/article/view/9940/5432
Dagnino, A., Transcultural Writers and Novels in the Age of Global Mobility, Purdue University Press, 2015.
Deleuze, G., Guattari, F., Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia;
Deleuze, G., Guattari, F., A Thousand Plateaus;
Derrida, J., Khora; (English trans. included in: On the Name, Thomas Dutoit (ed.), Stanford University Press, 1995).
Epstein, M., "Transculture: A Broad Way Between Globalism and Multiculturalism", American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 68/2009; DOI: 10.1111/j.1536-7150.2008.00626.x
Epstein, M., The Transformative Humanities. A Manifesto, Blumsbury, 2012.
Gansterer, N. et al., Drawing a Hypothesis. Figures of Thought, Wien – New York, Springer, 2011.
Guattari, F., Schizoanalytic Cartographies, London, Bloomsbury, 2013.
Moretti, F., Graphs, Maps, Trees, Abstract Models for Literary History, London - New York, Verso, 2005.