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“For the further I read, the more I realized, with no little chagrin, that the man whom I had for so long, so affectionately, albeit from a physical distance, taken as my comrade was, in his own opinion, my civilizational Other. It was not a good feeling” (96).
“Jameson’s is not a First World text; mine is not a Third World text. We are not each other’s civilizational Others” (122).
These two quotations from Aijaz Ahmad’s engagement with Fredric Jameson’s “Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capital” – the first is from the opening section of Ahmad’s chapter and the second closes the chapter – frame Ahmad’s intellectual kinship with Jameson and suggest some aspects of kinship itself, as a relation. In the first quotation, Ahmad realizes that his “comrade” was not, in fact, his comrade, which produces a bad feeling in Ahmad. If we are to think about kinship relations, we must necessarily also think about the affect that accompanies, constitutes, or disrupts those relations. Ahmad reveals in this quote his affective investment in his presumed relation with Jameson.
Despite Ahmad’s at times scathing critique of Jameson, the piece notably ends with a recreation of a link between them. There is a sense in which Ahmad has reconstituted what it means to be a comrade. This reconstitution emerges, paradoxically, through a series of negations: “Jameson’s is not a First World text; mine is not a Third World text. We are not each other’s civilizational Others” (122). By denying the otherness that begins the chapter, Ahmad implicitly (re)affirms a relation, which marks Ahmad’s reinvestment in a common link with Jameson.
Kinship in its most general sense simply names a relation. Etymologically, kin refers to production, engendering, or begetting (OED). As the two framing quotations with which I began suggest, Ahmad’s chapter displaces the temporal sequence of kin and kinship. Rather than kin engendering a relation (as in the case of a traditional or normative family relation for example), Ahmad suggests that kinship is a relation one has to work for. Instead of a link that engenders or produces a relation between the two subjects that are linked, kinship can be the production of that link. In other words, kinship need not be an effect of a kin relation but can be the cause: the “kin” of kinship might emerge after, rather than before, that kinship relation. What this suggests is that kinship can be a decision, rather than an inheritance that one cannot but choose to accept. In contrast, if kinship is to be thought of as an inheritance – and we can see how a certain Marxism bridges the gap between Jameson and Ahmad, forms their common inheritance – then the inheritors may choose how to re-form or perhaps deny their inheritance. Ahmad, in other words, frees kinship from its association with the natural or organic by disrupting the traditional temporal logic of origin and end. Radical kinship names, perhaps, the inorganic relation that Ahmad thinks and frames through this displacement.
Continuing to build on the critical kinship established between Ahmad and Jameson, perhaps it is helpful to look at a particular instance where Ahmad reacts to and re-imagines Jameson’s project about third-world literature. Ahmad challenges Jameson’s claim that all third-world texts are national allegories defined by the experience of colonialism and imperialism with “the proposition that we live not in three worlds but in one; that this world includes the experience of colonialism and imperialism on both sides of Jameson’s global divide…that the different parts of the capitalist system are to be known not in terms of a binary opposition but as a contradictory unity – with differences, yes, but also with profound overlaps” (103). In doing so, Ahmad gestures toward the impossibility of a generalized, cognitive aesthetics of third-world literature and challenges the homogenization that Jameson’s focus on ‘experience’ and ‘nation’ imposes on the third world. Furthermore, Ahmad questions Jameson’s shift in vocabulary from ‘nation’ to ‘collectivity’ and the limitation of allegory to nation. On this topic, Ahmad writes:
The difficulty of this shift in vocabulary is that one my indeed connect one’s personal experience to a ‘collectivity’ – in terms of class, gender, caste, religious community, trade union, political party, village, prison – combining the private and the public, and in some sense ‘allegorizing’ the individual experience, without involving the category of ‘the nation’ or necessarily referring back to the ‘experience of colonialism and imperialism.’ (110)
By replacing ‘nation’ with ‘collectivity,’ Ahmad argues, the difference between the first and third worlds grows less and less. He continues:
If we replace the idea of the ‘nation’ with that larger, less restrictive idea of ‘collectivity’, and if we start thinking of the process of allegorization not in nationalistic terms but simply as a relation between private and public, personal and communal, then it also becomes possible to see that allegorization is by no means specific to the so-called Third World. (110)
Collapsing the distinction between first-world and third-world texts and focusing on aesthetic and narrative concerns, Ahmad works toward a project of (re)uniting that which Jameson had (falsely) divided.
A point that came up in conversation at the last Working Group meeting was the connection between labour and Radical Kinship, between labor and the production of kinship. Kinship does not simply occur naturally and thinking about the labour involved in producing of it may give us a way of moving beyond the reliance on familial metaphors in the definition and redefinition of kinship. Writing against the notion of a primordial difference between the first and third worlds, Ahmad’s critical project conveys the labor of dismantling previous national, economic and literary frameworks in order to formulate a sense of unity that had previously been considered nonexistent. We might question how Radical Kinship can abolish contemporary spatial and national systems of identification in order to consider what preceded them.
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