I remain to be convinced.
Contemporary and past social interaction is characterised, I believe, by a constant exchange and interchange across cultures. The fundamental problem of the concept of cultural transfer lies in its emphasis on certain and specific processes. By describing one from of exchange as a cultural transfer, it inexplicitly stipulates that other cultural forms, idioms and objects and knowledge remain fixed and fixated within the boundaries of culture (or often simply the nation state). Despite intending and purporting the opposite, in the application of the concept of cultural transfer scholars have to assume a fixation of culture and knowledge as a contrast to the “fluidity” they analyse and depict. This reduction of complexity is surely a dead-end and misleading.
I remain to be convinced.
The quiz by the Austrian newspaper Die Presse might offer a fun way for those of you who want to test their knowledge of Swissness (or collect a bunch of stereotypes) before leaving for tomorrow’s excursion: quiz
In memoriam of Stuart Hall who died on 10 February.
Black British Academics offers a site to post your sentiments and memories of this great and highly influential intellectual and very generous person: website
The book by Jonathan Safran Foer that Jeroen Nieuwland mentioned in his comment to Anil Bhatti’s talk, Tree of Codes: publisher’s website
Flying on an airplane in a long, intercontinental flight I decided to kill some time watching American TV series. Among the options I found was 2 Broke Girls, a situational comedy where two young women from Brooklyn, N.Y. start a cupcake business with almost no success. Interestingly I immediately noticed how the two protagonists (Max and Caroline) spoke. In particular, I noticed how some of the words or expressions they use were already integrated in the language of young Spanish-speaking people I know, who would use these English formulations in any given Spanish sentence whether in a conversation, in a Facebook status or in a tweet in Tweeter. Some of these words and expressions are “bitch”, “fuck off”, “suck it”, just to name a few examples. I then tried to remember the profile of Spanish speakers I knew who had integrated this vocabulary in their everyday language: young (between 20 and 30 years old), bilingual, highly educated and living in big cities, massive consumers of American TV films and series and of international (mostly English) music. The integration of this vocabulary obeys, in my opinion, to a particular phenomenon in which speakers associate these words with funny contexts and TV characters they identify with. In this way, not only the semantic, but also the pragmatic dimension of these words, considered as vulgar in English, changes when integrated into a Spanish-speaking context: “bitch” wouldn’t function as an insult anymore, but almost as a praise, remarking abilities such as being able to defend oneself quickly (to be Schlagfertig in German) or having high self-esteem. In a Spanish context, it could be even used in an oral context in front of other people: in many Spanish-speaking cultures insulting each other belongs to a regular camaraderie code, not only among men, but also among women –or between men and women: hijo de puta (son of a bitch) or güey (jerk) can be used friendly in some regions (from Cádiz to Mexico City), so why shouldn’t the English “bitch” be used in the same way? In the case of “bitch”, I could notice its semantic / pragmatic transformation in a situation where a Mexican friend answered her cell phone during a dinner with Canadian visitors who spoke some Spanish: When she answered her mobile, she greeted “¿Qué onda, bitch?” (What’s up, bitch?). Our Canadian guests looked consternated, since they thought my friend was annoyed by the call or angry about something. But they realized immediately she hadn’t lost her good mood: they were confused, because the used vocabulary (original semantics) didn’t match the context and they needed some seconds to comprehend the word’s new function (pragmatics). No insult was really meant.
This reminds me of the adoption of the word “cool” in Spanish language: at least in Mexico, where I grew up, it was Bart Simpson who brought it into the language of youngsters. Noticing the pale effect –or I’d rather say no-effect–of the literal Spanish translation (cool = fresco), the Latin-American dubbed version of The Simpsons started using the English “cool” (“cúl”) instead. This adjective, widely accepted by most –if not every— young or not so young media consumers, also appears in current German language.
This phenomenon shows how words travel through media. If they stay longer in the vocabulary of a particular language, or disappear after some years, it’s a matter of time. Until now nobody would use these words in Spanish or German outside a conversation or in a social media context. But why are these words so easily integrated? Is it that their imaginary, fiction-charged connotation contributes to a positive reception in another language? If, as a speaker, I identify myself with Bart Simpson or Max, from 2 Broke Girls, and if I use their vocabulary, do I integrate together with their words, also the whole imaginary dimension and thus contribute to their pragmatic / semantic change in the receptive language?
Benedict Anderson explains in Imagined Communities (2004) how languages such as Latin, Arab and Chinese once contributed to build communities of men of letters, unified by ability to access not only to knowledge, but to an immanent truth through the reading and interpretation of sacred signs. I ask myself in what extent are mass media contributing to create a similar international, imagined community of people who are linked by the integration of a popular, English vocabulary, and their connection to the world of entertainment and popular culture: “bitch”, “cool”, “fuck” are expressions I hear not only in Mexico –or that I have used myself in certain contexts–, but also in Germany among people of a certain age (outside this age-group, particularly an older one, these words probably don’t have an effect of any kind).
On the one hand, it seems that a new imagined community of social media consumers has been created and it’s in a constant transformation. Besides, there is a conscience of the existence of an imaginary Other (TV and Film characters) and of the culture in which it has been created. But on the other hand this follows to another question: to which extent is that “Other” conscious about the existence of us? Does that “Other” absorb linguistic elements from us or we are just being linguistically “colonized” or at least “marked” by a global media experience which links us not only to a generational identity, but also to an imagined global self-regulated by a same center of power (American TV)? Which other examples can be found and if these words also travel with their imaginative, fictional semiotic charge? Are these words travelers –or are they already settled immigrants?
World of Matter is multimedia project providing an open access archive on the global ecologies of resource exploitation and circulation. It comprises visual practitioners and theorists conducting long-term research on material geographies, who engage ideas and practices from art, spatial culture, urbanism, anthropology, art history, cultural theory, photojournalism, activism, publishing, curating and education.
Its main initiator is Swiss artist Ursula Biemann whom some of you know from the conference Art With(out) Borders that Winter School participants Tanja Klankert and Erin Rice organized last year.
Project website: http://www.worldofmatter.net
IFK_Akademie (Internationales Forschungszentrum, Kulturwissenschaften, Kunstuniversität Linz, Austria) is happy to announce a CfA for an upcoming international Summer School (Akademie):
Übersetzung als Kulturtechnik to be held in Maria Taferl (Austria), 24 – 30 August 2014.
Cultural Transfers: Developments, Transformations, and Perspectives
Cultural Transfers are processes of delocalization and transformation of cultural artifacts (goods, meanings, ideas etc.) from one cultural formation into another. According to the sociological background of the approach, transmitters such as translators, publishers, editors, art dealers etc. initiate the process.
In the lecture, I shall survey the evolution and transformations of the concept from the beginning in the mid 1980s when Michel Espagne and Michael Werner established the theory of cultural transfer as a concept opposing the widely accepted history of hegemonic influence (Einflussgeschichte). After their first publications on transfers between France and Germany (mostly on the 18th century), the bias towards analyses of bilateral transfers between the two nation states was enhanced to include regional studies and to triangular and later on to quadrangular configurations.
Knowledge in Transit: Objects, Narratives, and Visualizations of the Human Deep Time in Early 20th-Century America
Ludwik Fleck has described the communication of scientific knowledge from esoteric to exoteric circles as an integral part of knowledge production. The process of translating knowledge for non-expert audiences (within and outside science) is accompanied by generalization, hardening, and objectification. Hypotheses become facts when a language of uncertainty gives way to established knowledge. Fleck thus presented a new way of thinking about popularization – that nineteenth-century notion of a unilateral communication of knowledge created inside science in the name of progress, and that was accompanied by the specter of vulgarization. Scholars still recognize the communication of scientific methods and contents as an important movens in cultural change. However, our understanding of the diversity of places and institutions, protagonists, media, and forms of representation that have been and are involved in the production, communication, and transformation of knowledge about the natural world is considerably more differentiated. In the course of the increasing attention that non-scientific contexts have gained in the history of science, James Secord has suggested to subsume scientific knowledge production, popular, subaltern, and indigenous knowledge under the concept of ‘knowledge in transit’ in a global history of science.