Harvard Educational Review
  1. Migrancy, Culture, Identity

    By Iain Chambers

    New York: Routledge, 1994. 154 pp. $16.95 (paper).

    To be forced to cross the Atlantic as a slave in chains, to cross the Mediterranean or the Rio Grande illegally, heading hopefully North, or even to sweat in slow queues before officialdom, clutching passports and work permits, is to acquire the habit of living between worlds, caught on a frontier that runs through your tongue, religion, music, dress, appearance and life. To come from elsewhere, from "there" and not "here," and hence to be simultaneously "inside" and "outside" the situation at hand, is to live at the intersections of histories and memories, experiencing both their preliminary dispersal and their subsequent translation into new, more extensive, arrangements along emerging routes. It is simultaneously to encounter the languages of powerlessness and the potential intimations of heterotopic futures. This drama, rarely freely chosen, is also the drama of the stranger. Cut off from the homelands of tradition, experiencing a constantly challenged identity, the stranger is perpetually required to make herself at home in an interminable discussion between a scattered historical inheritance and a heterogeneous present. (p. 6)

    In Migrancy, Culture, Identity, Iain Chambers illustrates how our identities are part of a labyrinth of language, cultures, histories, and moments. It speaks of dislocation, not only that of the migrant's sense of dislocation, but also that of the visitor whose rationale and linear progress has been disrupted by the contact. Chambers demonstrates that in one form or another, we are all migrants in today's transient world, and provides us with a contemporary cultural lens through which we may examine our existence. I think the best way to review this book is to give readers a taste of Chambers's style of writing. The above passage is an illustration of the author's ability to conjure the dynamics of dislocation. The author's poetic style allows us to view the migrant not only through his own eyes, but also through our own changes of identity:

    When the "Third world" is no longer maintained at a distance "out there" but begins to appear "in here", when the encounter between diverse cultures, histories, religions and languages no longer occurs along the peripheries, in the "contact zones" as Mary Louise Praat calls them, but emerges at the center of our daily lives, in the cities and cultures of the so-called "advanced", or "First", world, then we can perhaps begin to talk of a significant interruption in the preceding sense of our own lives, cultures, languages and futures. (p. 2)

    Chambers's own poetic delivery in this book is complemented throughout with quotes from other well-known and respected authors, such as Nietzsche, hooks, Anzaldua, Heidegger, Foucault, and Lorde. The diversity of authors, both in terms of their points of origin — e.g., Indian, Palestinian — and in terms of their languages — e.g., French, Italian — is a feature of this book that adds richness and depth.

    I recommend Migrancy, Culture, Identity to those who are interested in issues of migrancy and culture, in postmodern thought, and in looking at the world through a prism of diversity of thoughts, languages, cultures, and lives.

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