This Diasporic Space ...
Creative Renderings, Critical Reflections1
Abstract: This webinar presentation places in conversation two genres of writing diasporas—poetic and scholarly. Though marked as different categories—one creative the other theoretical—poetic and academic diasporic writings share a fundamental commonality: they produce knowledge about the diasporic space within which they operate—shaping the understanding of it via the placing of their authors’ position within it. This commonality foregrounds the value of diasporic poetics beyond aesthetics, as a site of knowledge-making which matters vastly in broader ideological debates about what constitutes “diaspora.” I ask, what could we—diasporic writers—possibly gain by bringing poetic and scholarly work in conversation? What could the value of this cohabitation—even perhaps collaboration—be? I undertake this reflection from my position as an immigrant/diasporic writer as well as a scholar of diasporic narrations, turning my own creative writings (mostly in Greek and bilingual Greek/English; some in English) into an object of theoretical commentary (in English).
I see myself as someone who writes from at least three positions.
The first is from the perspective of an immigrant—a place connected with experiences of economic struggles, linguistic limitations, and longings for a new beginning.
As an immigrant who speaks and writes in Greek and English, I also inevitably work from a diasporic position—a place connected with multiple cultural affiliations and belongings.
The third position is an academic one, from which I reflect theoretically about immigrant and diasporic narrations. The marking and making of narratives undermining monolithic representations of the “diaspora” is central to my interests.
My writing from these three positions derives from at least two sources of knowledge. One is personal, embodied experience; the other, the scholarly one, is based on reading and reflection.
The interlacing of these two sources is not always easy to untangle. My personal knowledge enters more prominently my creative writing while more reflective knowledge pervades my scholarly work, though a conscious and unconscious overlapping is also certainly at work.
Our gathering today offers an opportunity for me to attempt to bring these two dimensions of my work—the creative and scholarly—in conversation. It is a preliminary, exploratory attempt to contribute to the conversation between scholars and creative writers who write about diasporic situations involving the signifier “Greek” or “Greece.”
This is to say that I see myself participating in an open, loosely connected network of writers whose work engages the marker “Greek,” an attribute which gives me grounds to name it “Greek diasporic,” a cultural space, I hasten to add, with no shared experience, language, and heritage—let alone descent—attached to it, or imposing singularity. This is a diverse space, an attribute which makes it diasporic, and not a diaspora.
Writers in this network may inhabit difference in multiple ways: in class positioning, for example; routes of connection with Greek/American, Greek/Australian, or other hyphenated affiliations; degrees of fluency in Greek and English or other languages; variations in the place of residence; differences in the modes and degrees of connectivity with the home society and Greek worlds.
What animates this space, as I understand it, is participation in knowledge-making about cultural and linguistic displacement, inventing oneself anew, dual belonging, real and imaginary homelands, cross-cultural encounters, cultural intermingling, ambivalences, and inner conflicts; it is about negotiating a place in the world between the here and there, the present and the past of disparate cultural geographies.
This space is not exclusive—it draws no rigid boundaries—from other spaces with which it may overlap such as—in the context of the United States—American diasporic poetry or American arts and letters. In fact, some U.S. poets who incorporate “Greek” in their work might find the classification of their craft as “Greek/American diasporic” limited and limiting for various reasons, preferring instead the inclusive, culturally unmarked category diasporic poetics.
My decision to frame and name this poetic space as “Greek” derives from a concern among several writers and scholars in Greek America and the diaspora in general about the operation of powerful narratives tending to obliterate the heterogeneity and complexity of Greek diasporic identities. In this context, I think of this naming as a strategic intervention to bring attention to this ideological space and generate critical reflection about the knowledge it produces and its implications.
What makes it ideological is that its various narratives serve conflicting—in fact often incommensurable—interests. Governments, corporations, organizations, citizens, authors and artists define this space differently for their own purposes. One major ideological question about this diasporic space is about boundaries, a question of sameness and difference: is this space an extension of the Greek nation, a cultural space of sameness in connection to the nation? Is Greece the metropolitan center? Does “diaspora” stand for a shared culture? Or is the diasporic space one of hosting difference both internally within, as well as externally from national culture?
Literary critics have been reflecting about these questions, placing the poetry of George Economou and George Kalogeris, for example, in relation to this Greek diasporic space, demonstrating how it subverts predetermined as well as normative definitions of Greek/American identities.
My presentation therefore joins this unfolding conversation from an angle, as I have indicated, which interconnects poetic work with theoretical commentary. Below in the hyperlink I share a corpus of my writings for the purposes of illustrating how it construes the Greek diasporic space I inhabit, why this representation matters to me, and the purpose motivating my sharing it in public.
[Some of the writings are in Greek and their English translations, others in Greek, and some in English; there are numerous bilingual and translingual experiments.]
What kind of diasporic space does this corpus create? I will discuss three threads: first, its attention to issues of class; second, its interest in—one might say preoccupation with—bilingualism; and third its resistance, including critique, to those narratives that seek to regulate the complexity of diasporic identity. Let me elaborate:
First, the corpus features immigrant labor. The speaker produces an ethnographic document detailing the experiences of the immigrant working class: the pressures for survival and the resulting physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion; the feeling of living in precarity. The poetic persona expresses a longing for a future when this experience and its literary rendering will be part of the curriculum in Greek/American schools.
The writing makes visible how class position indelibly shapes immigrant and diasporic subjectivities. A working-class immigrant and a class privileged diasporic person obviously do not experience cultural duality similarly. We cannot therefore keep writing about the diasporic space, this corpus insists, without recognizing the position from which one writes. Not everyone experiences “diaspora” the same. There can be no single diaspora, but diasporic subjectivities acting and feeling in connection to particular positions or their intersections. Given that there can be no universal vantage point from which we write “diaspora” (or transnational routes for that matter) placing oneself in this landscape is necessary.
The second thread is language. The corpus certainly registers the experience of linguistic displacement and the powerlessness it produces. The immigrant anxiety of inadequacy in communication is unmistakably present. But we cannot speak here about a condition of eternal linguistic angst and alienation; we cannot speak about an eternal linguistic exile. Rather, we witness a trajectory of movement from linguistic limitations toward bilingual performativity. In this respect, the creative wordplay across languages—a prominent theme in the corpus—cannot be seen as play for the sake of playing. It communicates a new form of diasporic position: it creates a space of betweenness which accommodates difference, is hospitable to both the mother tongue and the new language. Joy abounds, a relishing in the speaker performing in this space, in finding unexpected connections or resonances between two different linguistic systems; a reader could even speak about a celebration in the very feat in rendering this kind of space.
The making of this translingual and bilingual space stands for more than an individual accomplishment. It performs a defamiliarizing distance from a nation’s linguistic homogeneity; it marks a distance from cultural purity. And it is in this move that bilingualism decenters diasporic subjectivity from the alleged metropolitan center. Diaspora is no longer an extension of the nation. It is a space defined by cross-cultural fertilizations. It is a space where the writer is not located at the periphery of the “national center” but asserts a presence on its own terms; the diasporic space is actualized as a place of inhabiting two (or even more) languages and their complex permutations, two modes of cultural connectivity. The Greek diasporic space is a hyphenated, creole space of multiple identifications.
This brings me to the third thread in this corpus, namely its gesture to move beyond diasporic poetics of personal subjectivity. Diasporic writing is often preoccupied with the notion of identity as an open-ended process of becoming, as a continuous play of difference. In this respect, there are as many diasporic narratives as there are diasporic people. But taking a heed from the work of Stuart Hall, this corpus proposes a strategic closure in identity, a contingent closure which enables a stable position to articulate a collective voice from which the diasporic space is spoken. Samples in this corpus speak from a position of a diasporic political “we” united to advocate civic responsibility and historical consciousness to resist in this manner any narrative that seeks to normalize—and therefore domesticate—this space, regulating its difference. It is about a position critiquing monolithic narratives of identity.
In conclusion, the corpus of writing I share construes the Greek diasporic space along three axes: a) as a space of multiple positions and therefore as an inherently heterogeneous space; (b) as a bicultural and bilingual creative, self-constituted space, distinct from the culture of the historical homeland; and (c) as a civic space from which to think beyond the Self, in terms of a collective advocating alliances with disenfranchised internal and external others, resisting the domestication of diasporic subjectivities; the corpus animates, it seems to me, an autonomous diasporic space.
As artists, painters, poets, scholars, journalists, essayists, we are conscious of the power of the word, image, and sound to affect personal and social life. A conversation among us offers a venue, I believe, to forge networks across geopolitical borders that resists narratives negating our complexities and empowers an inclusive civic vision of inhabiting this diasporic space which we keep creating as we speak.
This writing aims to enact a scholarly and artistic desire, namely for poets and artists to explicitly reflect on their diasporic poetics and for scholars to keep developing analytical tools to engage with the complexity of the diasporic poetry. Also, for the sake of productive dialogue and creative cross-fertilization, it registers the hope that artists will read diasporic scholarship and scholars will carefully attend to the work of diasporic artists.
November 2022 – January 2023.
Primarily devoted to academic renderings of immigration and diaspora, Yiorgos Anagnostou also strives to explore and experiment with diasporic poetics as a space hospitable to bilingualism, blurring of genres (yes!), word play, creative subversion of norms and immigrant subjectivity. It is in Greek and bilingual Greek/English that he mostly feels drawn to—and competent—to navigate this space, which he visits intermittently. Placing bilingual poetics within academic prose in English also exercises power over him (see, “Immigraντ Poetics: Play as Performativity of the Self” in Ludics—Play as Humanistic Inquiry [Palgrave Macmillan 2021]; and, “Speaking Greek at the American University Over the Last Two Centuries” , published in 2023 here.
In addition to his scholarly publications, he has published two books featuring diasporic poetics:
• Διασπορικές Διαδρομές (Απόπειρα 2012).
• Γλώσσες Χ Επαφής, Επιστολές εξ Αμερικής (Ενδυμίων 2016).
His work has appeared in magazines and blogs such as Bibliothéque,Θράκα, (δε)κατα, To Koskino, Το Παράθυρο, Poeticanet, Τεφλόν, Dispatches from Quarantine, and Transnational Literature (Australia) among others while he continues, sparingly, to contribute to his blog «Διασπορική Σκοπιά».
He expresses appreciation to the editors of (a) the Greek magazines listed above; (b) «Τα Ποιήματα του 2012» (Εκδόσεις Κοινωνία των (δε)κάτων); and (c) of Πινακοθήκη «Λυρικών» Ποιημάτων: Η ποίησή μας ανθολογημένη από τον Ρήγα έως σήμερα [1796-2021] (Ρώμη 2021) for opening up the national poetry landscape to bilingual and diasporic poetics
1. This is a revised version of my presentation at the virtual Citizen TALES Diasporic Poetics Series, January 19, 2023. I thank Vassiliki Rapti and Peter Bottéas for the invitation. My rewriting benefited from comments by Eric Ball.
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