Reading Bourriaud’s The Radicant:
Bourriaud does not believe that the paradigm of postmodern reason is working, with the implication that multiculturalism’s use-value is waning as well. As a critique of modernism’s shortcomings, the tenets of postcolonialism lead to either “absolute relativism or to a piling up of ‘essentialisms'” that, in extreme interpretations, make dialogue impossible across cultural difference (25). These are the instances where one feels they cannot contribute to a conversation that is not properly their own for fear of offending.
It is bridging or negating this so-called impossibility that I am interested in. There is a conversation to be had between you and I, regardless of the disparities between the who or what or where of our identities, and the way this will be possible is through translation. Bourriaud cautions that avoiding these conversations, especially when they would be hard, mutates a well-meaning sentiment (recognition of the other’s subject position) into a politeness that denies their right to fully participate.
Or, attempts at translation are more valuable than manners. When we view “non-Western artists as guests to be treated with politeness, and not as full-fledged actors on the the cultural scene in their own right,” we propagate a “peaceful and sterile coexistence of reified cultures” at the expense of “a state of cooperation among cultures” (27-28). We can speak difference through a negotiation of the common terms of translation.
Bourriaud calls out the major motif of postmodernism as being “that the origin thus takes precedence over the destination in the life of forms and ideas,” meaning that history in the singular, if we are to move beyond postmodernism, will have to give way to history in the plural (28). In the altermodern future that Bourriaud imagines, a culturally diverse artist will no longer be held up as a representative of the diversity that the Western world sees in them–new commonalities will be sought out and cultivated. Using translation as a tool, “one denies neither the unspeakable nor possible opacities of meaning, since every translation is inevitably incomplete and leaves behind an irreducible remainder” (30). What we give up in exchange for the altermodern is the idea of an official history. What we gain with the altermodern is the potential to speak and be understood, to be fruitfully challenged.
However, this is not to advocate another incarnation of relativism whereby each artist’s work is judged in accordance with the norms of their culture. Says Bourriaud, “In an era in which ancient particularities are being eradicated in the name of economic efficiency, aesthetic multiculturalism urges us to examine with particular care cultural codes that are on the path to extinction, and in doing so makes contemporary art into a conservatory of traditions and identities that are in reality being wiped out by globalization” (29). This can be circumvented when a multiplicity of cultural codes are harmonized in ways that resonate with their histories; this can be circumvented by performing translation.