Monday, May 23, 2005

Meaghan Morris II

[warning to those who come here only for the scintillating commentary on contemporary photography: there will be no edifying photographic payoff on this post. In that sense, it's a bit off-topic for this blog. I think Meaghan Morris' work warrants it.]

A little bit more about this, because it's worth it. Meaghan Morris is the Chair Professor and Head of Department in the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. In 2000 (I think I'm remembering that date correctly), she left Australia to take up that post, having been long interested in issues of race, nationalism, and globalisation, and seeing in the move an opportunity to explore what it might mean to do cultural studies (how it might usefully annoy or test the concept of culture) in Asia, in an only-just-post-colonial country, in a linguistically mixed environment, outside of the Anglophile world where cultural studies is so thoroughly (self-)centred. She talked at some length about the politics of publishing and translation, and how these conspire to excuse Anglophile readers from reading non-Anglophile literatures. So, she gives an example, rarely do we (Anglophiles...this is the word she used) engage contemporaneously with, say, Chinese scholars who publish in Chinese. Language and geography seem to stand in the way, if not something like Culture itself (the marketing team for an American publisher might say: "what market is there in the US for contemporary work on China?"). And when we do get or make the chance to so engage, it is often necessarily in translation (Morris expressed her frustration with intellectuals who assume their audiences will be literate in more than one language; for a majority of the world, she says, literacy in a single language is often a significant accomplishment). And in translation tends to mean, although need not mean: several years if not decades later, with all due excuses made in the new introduction for all the ways in which the piece (typically a book, not a stand-alone journal article) fails to address its new local readerships. In this context, Morris then spoke about a journal called Traces, which she has edited and written for, and which appears in simultaneous four-part translation (Korean, Chinese, Japanese and English), every single issue. No mean feat, that. Think about the logistics. So the talk was about what it means to do cultural studies in linguistically mixed environments, with a strong implication being that the world is just such an environment, and yet (in cultural studies and elsewhere) is rarely conceived of and written for as such. Morris' strongest and clearest call to action was for "intellectuals" (she made a point of specifying intellectuals) to actively take up the task of engaging with scholars across the world, not just in the Anglophile world.

[Also: Nervous speakers of the world, take heart. Early in her talk, Morris was relying heavily on her glass of water and finally explained: "This always happens to me, in every single talk I've ever given for my entire life...just at this point in the talk. I must breath now." At which point, she did: just stood there, sipping and breathing. All very endearing.]
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