html> The Performative and Processual: A Study of Hypertext/Postcolonial Aesthetic
[Colonial & Postcolonial Theory]

The Performative and Processual: A Study of Hypertext/Postcolonial Aesthetic

Introduction: A New Space for Border Subjects

Jaishree K. Odin, University of Hawaii at Manoa

At the borders where the dominant culture meets minority cultures, the border subject emerges out of the perpetual encounter of the dominant regulatory norms and the minority experience. Whereas at the dominant site the replication of the same is marked by performance, at the border zone the repetition takes place with a difference. The border subject then is the processual subject who must at each moment negotiate difference and whose essence lies in the act of becoming rather than being. The resulting subject is improvisational, always in the process of becoming, always "in the making". It is in the possibility of the performance of the same with difference that the challenges to naturalized dominant social and cultural norms lie.

Border subjects, thus, live in two or more cultures at the same time. This has given rise to the notion of subjectivity defined in terms of multiple subject positions, which is a direct challenge to the earlier formulation of subjectivity as unitary and singular. In Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua elaborates on this radically new form of subjectivity in terms of the new mestiza which has a "tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity" (70). She envisions the hybrid nature of the subjectivity of the people who live in-between cultures based on race gender, class or sexual orientation. Donna Haraway proposes a new term for hybridity -- "cyborg"--that recognizes the complexity of identity which is never this or that, but constituted of "partial identities" and "contradictory positions."

The postcolonial critique of unitary models of subjectivity reveals that all such models are based on binary thinking that creates categories like self and other, male and female, first world and third world where the first term is always the privileged term. Rejecting binary models, postcolonial theorists describe both subjectivity as well as experience decentered and pluralistic. The electronic media can be used as metaphor for describing what is happening to the culture at large as the Culture (represented by the dominant group) is being displaced by minority cultures which demand recognition of their histories as well as cultural productions. Just as in networked computers diverse, sometimes contradictory information, can exist simultaneously in hypertext format, so it is in culturally diverse societies with different, sometime contradictory narratives. The person's location based on race, class, and gender determines what perspective will be taken.

The perpetual negotiation of difference that the border subject engages in creates a new space that demands its own aesthetic. This new aesthetic which I term 'hypertext' or 'postcolonial' aesthetic represents the need to switch from the linear, univocal, closed, authoritative aesthetic involving passive encounters characterizing the performance of the same to that of non-linear, multivocal, open, non-hierarchical aesthetic involving active encounters that are marked by repetition of the same with and in difference. The intertextual and interactive hypertext aesthetic is most suited for representing postcolonial cultural experience because it embodies our changed conception of language, space, and time. Language and place are here no longer seen as existing in abstract space and time, but involve a dynamic interaction of history, politics, and culture. In order to escape the homogenizing and universalizing tendency of linear time, time in both postcolonial and hypertextual experience is represented as discontinuous and spatialized. This contemporary topology is thus composed of cracks, in-between spaces, gaps where linearity and homogeneity are rejected in favor of heterogeneity and discontinuity. Artists of both print and electronic media use strategies of disruption and discontinuity to create visual and textual narratives that are multilinear and where meaning does not lie in the tracing of one narrative trajectory, but rather in the relationship that various tracings forge with one other. Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl in the electronic medium and Leslie Silko's The Storyteller, Ceremony, and Almanac of the Dead in the print medium, use similar strategies to represent the multidimensionality of hypertextual/postcolonial subjectivity. The materiality of bodies and the object world are transformed in hypertextual and postcolonial cultural productions into an aesthetic act which is intertextual and where text and reader occupy the in-between space of interaction. The unitary subject of the modernist era is thus transformed into the nomadic subject no longer passively contemplating the artist's expression but actively involved in shaping her experience.

I will present major themes of the two discourses of hypertextuality and postcolonialism in a hypertextual manner, tracing five threads as they come together, separate, only to join once again in a wide spiral of cross connections that unravel hypertext aesthetic as the basis of both the hypertext and postcolonial discourse. As I do that, I would also set the hypertext aesthetic in dialogue with the print aesthetic and the centered closed self that the latter embodies.

Postcolonial OV PoCo Theory Themes