Shang Mountain

" 'Remember,' he continued, 'that a hundred feet, fifty feet, ten feet may be scaled into a thousand miles. You stand on a map of art which takes you to Shang Mountain in the distant interior. To go there is to dream you know it. How can you know a peak which arose by turbulent if not catastrophic stages from a sea in a valley? An inch may give a million unknown lives or a million insensitive miles. What do we know of the instinctive joys, the instinctive miseries of humankind? We know only our own confusing heroes and villains. We deck them with our own mechanical, popular, parochial values. They become more and more like a machine as they take us into a progressive future.' He stopped for a moment and as his voice echoed in my thought I wondered whether it was he who was speaking or whether it was I."

{ Wilson Harris, The Mask of the Beggar, Faber & Faber, 2003 }


"In other words, over the past three decades or so a vast archive of texts has accumulated, which is available to the metropolitan university to examine, explicate, categorize, classify, and judge as to its worthiness for inclusion within its curriculum and canon. At the level of this greatly expanded archive of books produced in the ex-colonial countries but written in or translated into Western languages, a direct dialogue between, let us say, a Haitian and an Indian novelist could really take place, and something called 'Third World Literature,' with its own generic classifications and categorizations, could ensue from that archival nearness; the irony of that operation would undoubtedly be that a Third World Literature would arise on the basis of Western languages, while Third-Worldist ideology is manifestly opposed to the cultural dominance of Western countries.

I referred above to an equally great--or perhaps greater--expansion in the number of literary utterances, printed or not, in the indigenous languages which are not translated into the metropolitan ones. These do not belong to any unified archive; many, in fact, have no archival existence at all. It is difficult to see how these other kinds of cultural productivities--not archival but local and tentative, generated not by colonialism per se or by the East/West binary oppositions but by histories at once older, more local, more persistent, more variegated and prolix, more complexly and viscerally felt--are to be accommodated within a unitary archive of 'Third World Literature,' with its own system of genres and categories. I have in mind here genres which are essentially oral and performative, sites of production located at great remove from the great cities, entire linguistic complexes as yet unassimilated into grids of print and translation. It is not clear to me what status these other kinds of productivities have with regard to the techno-managerial expertise that goes into the categorical construction, generic specification, dissemination, warehousing, and safeguarding of the inventories of 'Third World Literature'."

{ Aijaz Ahmad, In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures, Verso, 1992 }

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