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BCLA Spring postgraduate Reception and OCCT workshop on 'Auto-exoticism'

Translation and Criticism
Intercultural Literary Practices (2013-2016)
Professor Matthew Reynolds
Professor Patrick McGuinness
Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 10:45 to 19:00
Radcliffe Humanities Building, Colin Matthew Room

This workshop was organised in association with the British Comparative Literature Association's Spring Reception. We had Professor Matthew Reynolds and Professor Patrick McGuinness as twin keynotes, two postgraduate speakers from Cambridge and UCL, who explored our workshop theme together with OCCT members. Please find our programme in the image attachment.

Thematic statement for 'Auto-exoticism'

We would like to renew the discourses on exoticism and intercultural practices by thinking of ways in which stereotypical approaches to them may be rethought and subverted. Important questions are: if we are to retrieve the exotic from a commodifying language about the Other, what kind of language may we use to talk about the aesthetics and intercultural encounters with the exotic? What language would be more ethical and have more epistemological depth, since traditionally, exoticism means to have a superficial knowledge of the other? What about reversing the gaze so that it comes from the perspective of non-European and marginal cultures who look at the European and central cultures? Are there exoticist or foreignising practices that can create interstitial spaces where one is neither self nor other, or both simultaneously? If yes, how may such spaces be created/constructed?

Existing thought and writing on exoticism and interculturality have also assumed certain premises too easily: e.g. that there are multiple cultures (often with distinct differences) but not multiple natures. Nevertheless, some strands of philosophical anthropology from the late 90s have argued that many ‘native’ societies think that there is only one human culture but many different natures. We would like, therefore, to question the assumptions that there is some kind of cultural authenticity that is necessary for exoticisation, that interculturality happens between cultures rather than is already inherent within one perceived cultural entity (e.g. there is already a lot of interculturality between Chinese cultures), that translation must involve two languages instead of one (depending on what understanding of ‘language’ one has, of course).


With these questions in mind, we will explore in this workshop three main strands of thought:

a) The re-circulation of exotic constructions back to the indigenous culture and their self-fashioning through this double reflection;

b) Pseudo-translation, self-translation and foreignisation techniques and effects, mutual transformation of the ‘original’ and the translation;

c) Theorising and creating exoticising effects, intercultural/interlingual texts, eclectic perspectives and their contemporary significance (e.g. cannibalist poetics, cultural anthropophagy, comparative criticism that deterritorialises its objects of study (such as texts, artworks) and reconsiders them together with some elements from very different cultural contexts, such as comparing Tamil and Aztec poetry, which did not influence each other.


Keywords: auto-exoticism, cultural eclecticism (that emphasises the conscious selection and re-creation of disparate cultural elements rather than a more passive ‘hybridity’), creative intercultural practices, multi-perspectivism, beyond self-and-other, cross-cultural comparison