Can Eritreans have A Genuine Dialogue?
If “epistemology deals with systems of knowing” as Delgado Bernal (2002) stipulates, to which it is not that difficult to readily concur and its “interconnected[ness] to critical discourse can’t be that far off either. It would then stand to reason that intersectionality from one methodological practice used in a field of endeavor will find an entry point to another area of inquiry or various fields within one discipline. Consider literature and history, for an example. Suppose you are a high school teacher, say, of English literature. This is your students’ last year of high school. Your aim is to at least get them to be lifetime readers at best and well-rounded adults once they go out into the real world. Your BIG Project’s title is The American Identity, the theme of which will be about identity and individual freedom pitted against the societal norms of the day, and how effectively some of the authors were able to navigate and challenge such norms in the past. At every epoch in the history of the United States, you tell your kids, there have been authors or two who wielded the power of the pen changing the norms of the day, thereby strengthening the lot of the individual. You mention to the students Nathaniel Hawthorn, Melville, Twain, Faulkner, Eliot, Langston Hughes, and some others. You cite as an example, Nathaniel Hawthorn’s “The Scarlet Letter,” a fictional novel considered to be a magnum opus that challenged the Bostonians’ Puritan mindset of its time using “legalism, sin, and guilt.”
The anchor book that will bring all the above together is that of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” Ellison’s novel transcends several epochs at once and revives the picaresque as a window of opportunity to the middle-class life of America that was severely restricted to Black Americans. Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” you repeat it to your students so it will have a resonating effect: not only does it transcend several epochs at once, but also revives the picaresque as a window of opportunity to the middle-class life of America that was severely restricted to Black America. You pause and you watch for the effect your speech is having before you move on.
The influences in Ellison’s writing run the gamut: Flaubert for the economy of wording. For the American traditional past Ellison looks for classical novelists of the 19th Century such as Melville and Twain, Faulkner, and Eliot. Ellison’s style in directness is Faulknerian as well as the sense of the grotesque, the monstrous and the outrageous in Southern life. Even in Hamlet, Ellison finds style. Langston Hughes’ poem, “Let America Be America Again,” resonates in Ellison’s novel.
Since these students are still underage you would have to compose a letter informing their parents of your intentions and if they wished to pull their kids out of such a Project, they have an option to do so.
Now, you have already had a lengthy discussion with a teacher of history with whom you not only exchanged notes but shared each other’s syllabi to seamlessly enrich these high school students using history and literature in tandem, intersectionality of two disciplines at its best.
Now, let’s turn to Diaspora Eritreans. What lesson they may glean from the hypothetical story above, which is more than plausible – it is doable.
The short-circuiting of discourses that one sees in diaspora Eritreans by the self or outer inflicted maladies, finding a nuanced space can be located between the subjective & objective; the thesis & antithesis; between quantitative & qualitative; between the anecdotal and empirical; between the hammer & the nail, if you will. It is in that nuanced space where our collective voice can be anchored, alas, there does seem to be resistance to the subjective voice. The question then arises as why it is that people are more than willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a narrative concocted from one’s imagination (as in the work of fiction) but would not “suspend” their “disbelief” for personal narratives? Wonder no more appears to say Bruner (2002): “the question of how fiction creates realities so compelling that they shape our experience not only of the worlds the fiction portrays but of the real world” (p. 9).
When wishing to write, the continued refrain is to find one’s voice. What about in political discourse, how do opposition groups collectively find their common voice to fight for justice? Could Law Society, Political Scientists, Women’s Studies Scholars, Sociologists, Computer Scientists, Social Media Personalities, Biological & Natural Sciences find entry point toward intersectionality? Of course, they could, and the above scenario can be made into a guide towards such an end. Stating the obvious here that Eritrean opposition groups when showed some aspiration to become the voice of their people in Eritrea from diaspora now reaching a quarter of century that collective voice remains at a level of allusivity. In search of trying to find an answer this writer takes a tour toward some ways of reading history into that contentious territory of human science as we try to elevate our critical discourses to the realms of reconciliation between and among one another. This way the hope is that we can in the end be receptive to multiple interpretations of history, literature, and the like.
The following entries were supposed to be annotated with their sources. I cannot for the life of me find them in my files where I had archived some important quotes almost a decade ago now. I see their relative use. I really don’t have the time to try to find the source for each. I wish I had at least written the authors or the title of the source instead of page numbers in parenthesis that you will see after moderate quotes. Please be mindful, should you decide to quote any of it, find the right sourcing for your references, and not this article as your source.
The Linguistic Turn
“The Linguistic Turn” came about when the French and Russian literary theorists started to deviate from the norm of the time in considering “texts as having static meaning…unchanging standards of form and function toward a more structuralist theory of text, which saw the meaning of texts and all of reality as constructed by societies and consequently changing over time” (p. 211). Enter Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913). De Saussure challenged the positivists notion of texts having fixed meaning; he argued that “words and text were “fluid and changeable, since they are internally created by society and their own structure” (p. 211). Consequently, structuralism was borne out of this intellectual inquiry.
Even though De Saussure believed that one’s worldview is shaped using language, empiricism continued to have a strong hold in how scholars felt that “truth and reality” could only be arrived at scientifically. Postmodernists took it to the next level by varying their methodologies. Western knowledge was put under a great deal of strain because its “objectivity” was questioned, especially, human sciences such as history. “Postmodernists argue that historical reality is constructed by historians and the written documents they study, that historical truth is shaped by and reflects the perspective of the historian and the society in which he or she writes, and is thus relative and reflexive, making all conclusions at least somewhat subjective, and true objectivity an impossibility” (p. 213)
“Michel Foucault (1926-1984). It is beyond the capacity of this article to go on Foucault’s extensive knowledge on matters of history and philosophy. Suffice it to mention for those who wish to explore the subject matter further to start on his “Archeology of Knowledge” book.
Poststructuralism found a challenge in Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). “Derrida asserted that meaning cannot be determined or evaluated by reference to facts, and that truth and reality are impossible to discern because they can only be represented by texts, which cannot reconstruct reality” (p. 215). Michel De Certeau (1925-1986) “went further in their critique of empirical history…and argued that all histories were manufactured by historians and served to manipulate people in their present” (p. 215).
Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924-1998) “argued that sets of discourses created metanarratives, or overarching stories and explanations of reality, such as the story of historical progress. These metanarratives, while entirely fictional and not grounded, limited the creativity and freedom of individuals, and imposed a false consensus in societies…With de Carteau¬¬¬ and Lyotard, postmodernism reached an extreme of radical skepticism and relativism, questioning the validity of historical practice itself was a natural outcome.
The Literary Turn
Hayden White (1928-2018): “White challenged empirical history’s claims to objectivity and narrative history’s claims of being distinct from fictional literature. White’s primary argument was that history and literature had more in common than not. Both were imaginative representations of reality. The “theory of tropes White developed” delved to the heart of the matter: “all narrative history was shaped by underlying linguist structures, used by all discourse and literature” (p. 216). White dealt a serious blow to empiricists who up to that point firmly believed in the “objectivity [of] nonfictional history” (p. 216)
The Anthropological Turn:
Claude Levi-Strauss (1908-2009) revolutionized the field of Anthropology. Clifford Geertz (1926-2006) followed suit using “thick description as a method of deconstructing and analyzing cultural symbols to decipher how different cultures constructed truth and reality in their own metanarratives” (pp. 217-218)
The Cultural Turn (1970s)
This profoundly changed cultural and ideological history in that cultures did shape identity and created knowledge and reality.
“Since the 1970s, elements of cultural anthropology, literary analysis, and poststructuralism have found their way into every field of history, but they have caused the most profound transformations in the fields of cultural and ideological history…Cultural historians now seek to understand how past cultures shaped identity and created knowledge and reality.
“The belief that historical writing can enhance our appreciation of the human condition by bringing to life and explaining beliefs and cultures that are very different from our own, and so perhaps adding to the richness of human experience and understanding, and fostering tolerance of different cultures and belief systems in our time” (What is History Now? Ed).
The hope here is that Eritreans must find a tool, call it methodology, call it Critical Discourse Analysis, call it Theoretical Framing; there must be a way past the anecdotal stories that do not completely tell our collective narrative. The social media is replete with such erroneous narratives that are made to sound as though they were analytically and universally arrived at when some of them should’ve been left in the coffee and tea houses, not in media houses and spaces.