Last week in class, we started talking some about authenticity. Many in the music business contrast authenticity and commercial success as though they were mutually exclusive. Part of the concern with authencity is a question of positionality. Where are you speaking from and who are you speaking to? And of course, the even trickier, who do you (claim) to speak for? Behind all of these questions lies a broader question of belonging because belonging is not just about whether you think you belong, but also whether others think you belong.
Belonging is created in part by stories, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that belonging is created largely by stories. As academics and activists have been pointing out for a long time, there’s nothing “natural” about most of our cherished “imagined communities.” Benedict Anderson wrote about the way national feeling is constructed through a shared narrative. As Gilroy pointed out in his article that we read last week (“It’s a Family Affair”), race is another community that can be constructed in different ways, depending on the narratives that are created. And perhaps one of the most powerful — and misleading ? — metaphors is that of family. It’s a metaphor that presents itself as self-evident (we all know what a family is, don’t we?) and thus closes off questions that should be asked.
Yesim Burul’s article (“The World of Aziza A.”) provides another metaphor, that of a “third chair” between two other cultures. This is not the first time this kind of metaphor has been used. Tunisian writer Albert Memmi said in the 1950s, “Just as I sat on the fence between two civilizations, so would I now find myself between two classes; and I realized that, in trying to sit on several chairs, one generally lands on the floor.” For Memmi, there might be different chairs, but they all had fixed points, and his only option was to try to sit on more than one at a time. What’s original in Burul’s account of Aziza A is not only that she has added another chair into the mix, but that she also “changes the place of the chair constantly within a set of weblike relations” (214). This is a useful way of thinking about this because it doesn’t assume that there are already fixed places/identities that one must move between, but instead reminds us that those identities are also always shifting.