Communicating the Self to the Other

In “Nobody Mean More to Me than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan,” June Jordan identifies a number of questions her class wrestled with in attempting to communicate across cultural lines:

How best to serve the memory of Reggie Jordan? Should we use the language of the killer—Standard English—in order to make our ideas acceptable to those controlling the killers? But wouldn’t what we had to say be rejected, summarily, if we said it in our own language, the language of the victim, Reggie Jordan? But if we sought to express ourselves by abandoning our language wouldn’t that mean our suicide on top of Reggie’s murder? But if we expressed ourselves in our own language wouldn’t that be suicidal to the wish to communicate with those who, evidently, did not give a damn about us/Reggie/police violence in the Black community? (372)

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In “States,” an account of Palestinian life written by a Palestinian in exile, Edward Said says,

All cultures spin out a dialectic of self and other, the subject “I” who is native, authentic, at home, and the object “it” or “you,” who is foreign, perhaps threatening, different, out there. From this dialectic comes the series of heroes and monsters, founding fathers and barbarians, prized masterpieces and despised opponents that express a culture from its deepest sense of national self-identity to its refined patriotism, and finally to its coarse jingoism, xenophobia, and exclusivist bias. (40)

For Said, this reality is as true of the Palestinians as it is of the Israelis—although, he adds, “For Palestinian culture, the odd thing is that its own identity is more frequently than not perceived as ‘other.’”

In “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Mary Louise Pratt argues that our idea of community is “strongly utopian, embodying values like equality, fraternity, liberty, which the societies often profess but systematically fail to realize” (38). Against this utopian vision of community, Pratt argues that we need to develop ways of understanding (noticing or creating) social and intellectual spaces that are not homogeneous or unified—contact zones. She argues that we need to develop ways of understanding and valuing difference.

Reread Pratt’s essay with Jordan’s article and Said’s chapter in mind. Jordan’s text is centered on language and writing, and Said’s thinking always attended to the importance and the conditions of writing, including his own. As Pratt defines what she refers to as the “literate arts of the contact zone,” can you find points of reference in Jordan’s and Said’s texts? There are ways that both of their texts can be imagined as autoethnographic and/or transcultural. How does their work allow you to understand the literate arts of the contact zone in practice? How might their work allow you to understand the problems and possibilities of such writing beyond what Pratt has imagined, presented, and predicted?

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