Monoculture Culture

In her essay “Points of Pressure,” Caroline Bergvall writes:

For many bicultural artists and writers, the processes of identity and of writing acquisition go hand in hand with aspects of cultural belonging and the way this articulates their lived body and speaking voice. When the writer’s cultural and social body accommodates two or three languages and/or cultures, their inscriptive narratives and poetics are necessarily at a break from a monolingual textual body-type and a nationally defined writing culture. It is often accompanied by a propensity towards open-forms and mixed genres, remains dubious and questioning of defining terms, can be resistant of exile or immigrant narratives and their inward longing for a traditionalist past where identities are firmly locked in place, rather than in play.

I was recently on a panel about the “unnameability” of “innovative,” “avant-garde,” “conceptual,” or “experimental” writing with Shelley Jackson, Vanessa Place, Teresa Carmody, and Gretchen Henderson. Towards the end of the panel, someone asked if any of us write in languages other than English. At the time, this question struck me as strange, not strange as in odd but strange as in jarring. For the bulk of the panel, we got questions we expected, questions about the politics of conceptual writing, process, community, even the “feminism” of it, but then there, at the end, a question about language & a language not English. (For the record, we all had to admit we write only in English, despite our knowledge of other languages. Gretchen, however, did say she once wrote a poem–a very short poem–in Spanish.)

Despite growing up bilingual, I live in a monolingual culture. I’ve been told my writing has an “Oriental flavor.” I live in a monoculture culture. If I could count the number of times “Asian American writer” has preceded my name in a review or an article, as if my name didn’t call enough attention to itself… I live in a monoculture culture that claims to be “multi” in mumbles and whispers. Let’s not forget, we have a black president now! To be any louder would be begging to be called out. Bullshit on all that, I say. Bullshit! And yet, here we all here. Despite our mixed forms, our mixed genres, how much of our writing is nationally defined? And more importantly, how much is lost by not confronting and confusing our multilingual, multicultural cultures?

There’s so much more to Bergvall’s two sentences that I haven’t even touched. Feel free, feel free.