Speaking Difference

To quote at length, here’s how Maria Lind conceives of relative peripheries in her essay “Stopping My Process: A Statement”:

The Western world’s geographically and culturally relative peripheries–Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Scotland, Mexico, and Canada, for example–are not considered part of the centre, but neither can they claim the same discrimination and imbalance that exists between North and South: they are neither part of the inner sanctum of the legitimization machine, nor are they sufficiently subordinate to have been marginalized. They aren’t even different enough to be exotic or the object of attention, like the participants in “Magiciens de la Terre.” As with the relationship between the so-called First and Third Worlds, the issue is apparently one of centre and periphery, “ourselves” and the “other,” but from a radically different geopolitical perspective. The relative peripheries are certainly part of the comparatively rich and socially stable part of the world, but at the same time, they are not fully implicated in the cultural exchange dictated by the mainstream. In other words, they are simultaneously privileged and marginal.

As a Swede, I am part of this margin, bordering on the other, so I am speaking in part for myself. My cultural heritage could be paid more attention–to look after your own house and make visible that which has been invisible can have intrinsic value. At the same time, I understand that it can be perceived as superfluous to highlight those who are in some sense already privileged, as there are indisputably others who need it more. But more than being simply a self-assertive gesture, an illumination of this type is both politically and conceptually interesting.

It is clear that the relative peripheries have been regarded as something akin to the distant cousin from the countryside–the one who is allowed to join in and play now and then when your real buddies are busy with something else. Even though these “cousins” have been more or less ignored, the demand for conformity has been stronger than for those on the “absolute” peripheries–”we’re so much alike, after all”–and we seem to share the centre’s definitions of both art and quality. If the cousins’ art hasn’t measured up, it is not thought of as different, with its own traditions and rules; instead, it is considered a pale pastiche of the original. Consequently, as the problems of translation are not thought to apply to parallel interests or criteria, the cousins’ art is simply interpreted as being of low quality–one is seen as being located so close to the centre that one’s own specific character has been overshadowed.

These are fruitful ideas to consider in trying to place the different ways of embodying identity in broad cultural contexts. Or maybe it’s rather the different ways that cultural contexts are embodied when reading the identity of others. Tonight, it is the way I embody my identity, among silence and signifiers.


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