Guest co-editors Edith-Anne Pageot and Judit Kádár
The essays gathered in this thematic issue examine literary and visual rhetorical strategies of representing different “mixed heritage” aesthetics. Some concern hyphenated identities and diaspora, others deal specifically with Mixed-blood and Métis identity formulations depicted in narratives and visual art works.
There has been a paradigm shift since the 1980s – that parallels the development of postcolonial studies – in the ways in which mixed-heritage writers and creators construct self-portraits and present themselves visually. Creators and writers have departed from an understanding that can be described as fragmented or colonialist, and now put forward an empowered notion of identity, one that increasingly celebrates the “hybrid potential.” What appears to be a general tendency among writers and visual artists in the last four decades is the turning of stigmatized identities – in Canada, Métis people still do not have Indian status, despite the recent Supreme Court of Canada’s Daniels Decision (2016) – into a “hybrid potential,” to use Louis Owens’s term for his own mixed heritage experiences and writings. Hybridity as a special postcolonial discourse has also been analyzed in Homi Bhabha’s seminal works (Nation and Narration, 1990, The Location of Culture, 1994), followed by Steward McPhail Hall, and Paul Gilroy, to name a few. Stuart Hall (Cultural Identity in Diaspora, 1990, Questions of Cultural Identity 1996) insists on the claim that cultural identity is a dynamic, ambivalent, and always transformative process. Paul Gilroy (The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, 1993) challenges anti-essentialist critiques. While denying any essentialist “origins,” he claims that there is a reality in performance that is specific to the Black community, and that is embedded in the transatlantic experience and in the struggle for emancipation from slavery. These treatises, among others, have established the critical understanding of the liminality of hybridity as a paradigm of colonial anxiety, as explained in the context of postcolonial ironies in Gerald Vizenor’s Narrative Chance: Postmodern Discourse on Native American Indian Literatures (1993).
In 2007, curators Joe Baker and Gerald McMaster investigated the concept of identity as an “interplay of facts and myths” in the presentation of their exhibition Remix. New Modernities in a Post-Indian World at the National Museum of the American Indian. Ten years later, with this issue, we wanted to reopen the inquiry about the concept of identity, explore the range of possibilities that this paradigm shift offers, and examine various literary and visual strategies that challenge mainstream discourses and aesthetics. We chose to focus on the concept of negotiation. Moving away from the idea of “building,” inherent to construction and stability, negotiation refers more clearly to a performative iteration, an active, complex and strategic process which emphasizes identity as a concept and a theme, a constantly changing representation of self. Moreover, we use the plural, “portraits,” to refer to Bhabha’s concept of mimicry ‒ and not mimesis ‒ and to Derrida’s différance, which implies that imitating involves translation and the leaving of a trace, a supplement. By using self-portraiture in its plural form, we also wanted to emphasize the fluidity and the agency of self-representation instead of thinking about self-portraiture as an attempt to construct a fixed, unified identity. Self-portraits, then, are negotiated through multiple discourses into a narrative never finished; images of self become deployed and redeployed. Hybrid forms in art and literature can be seen as “perverse” forms of dominant visual discourses or languages. As “languages of metaphor” (Bhabha, 1990, 291), they function precisely as metaphors of performativity. The following essays focus on different occurrences of hybrid forms. Authors and artists tend to use different rhetorical strategies of hybridity, such as pastiche, masquerade, parody, satire, and alter egos, which all prove to be subversive modes of dominant and authoritative discourses.
What emerges from the different essays gathered in this issue is the fact that, through words and images, hyphenated, Métis and Mixed-Blood imagined identities prove to be exemplary of the paradoxical definition of the concept of identity – all identity – which is continuously constructed in the confrontation of similarity and difference. Because imagined “mixed heritage” protagonists and personages are in a constant negotiation through the combination and recombination of different languages, histories, genders, geographies, and classes, they also provide ways of (re)considering and (re)conceptualizing notions of confluence, connection, collective memory, and relational subjectivity as binding factors, points of coherence, or “points of suture,” as Hall would say.
We express our gratitude to the contributors, reviewers, and general editors of AMERICANA, Réka Cristian and Zoltán Dragon, for their invaluable work and responses.