Sudan Alternative Discourse volume 4 July

Sudan Alternative Discourses

Published and edited by Elfatih OsmanJuly, Volume 4
SAD is an independent electronic newsletter of critical and progressive thinking on political, cultural, social, and economic life in Sudan and Africa. Critical and progressive thinking mean that which tends to contribute to the advancement of knowledge and understanding of alternative visions for a better future for Sudan, A frica and the World. SAD aims to assist activists in their efforts to attain better future.

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"Here we go, are you ready though?" Welcome to the postmodern times: Sudan et sa crise d'identité

By Awad Ibraheim


In a situation of flux, the effective use of the delicate skills of navigating our way through may very well depend on whether we are swimming against or with the currents of change or for that matter whether we are clear in what direction we are swimming ... (Ngugi, 1993: 29)
Gone are the binary oppositions dear to nationalist and imperialist enterprise. Instead we begin to sense that old authority cannot simply be replaced by new authority, but that new alignments made across borders, types, nations, and essences are rapidly coming into view, and it is those new alignments that now provoke and challenge the fundamentally static notion of identity that has been the core of cultural thought during the era of imperialism (Said, 1994: xxv; emphasis in the original).

Introducing it:
Some have argued that we live in a postmodern, poststructuralist and, what some have called, post-feminism moment: a moment of subjectivity, of movement from 'margin' to 'center' and vice versa, of desire to belong and to re-present, and a moment of agency (among others, Hooks, 1990; McLaren, 1994; Giroux, 1992; Usher & Edwards, 1994; Haraway, 1991). In this moment, what is commonly referred to as identity, subjectivity, and Self is becoming more complex than we can ever described. The Self is found in flux, intersected, contradictory, shifting, shifted, and multiplicity of discourses. These discourses not only influence the Self, but the latter itself is constructed in and within these discourses. That is identities are not constructed out there and then enter the discourse, instead they are constructed in and within these discourses.

Thus the Sudanese in North America, Arab Gulf countries, or Japan will find him or herself in and within social structures, discourses that would be different than the socio-historical structures found in the mother land, Sudan. This article will precisely address the former. That is the question of identity of the Sudan found in the diaspora, and what is discussed here is based on my vécu, experience, and observations as Sudanese who lived in the UK, the USA, France, and Canada. Firstly, I address what I consider as one of the very heatedly debated notions: the postmodern times and it's conditions and, secondly, I talk to an issue that is way under analyzed: the question of identity of Sudanese found in the diaspora which is commonly discussed in terms of crisis ("our kids do not speak our language, they do not know their religion, they, in short, in trouble.") I argue that by addressing identity only in terms of crisis, one is in fact asking the wrong questions, for identities are never complete, always in process, always shifting, as I already stated. So, we should instead be asking the questions of what are the social conditions that allow identities and subjectivities to become what they are. If a child does not care about his or her heritage, language, and religion, why is this so, what are the social conditions that allow for this to happen, and what can we do about them.

The underpinning arguments for this article is the notion that Sudanese people are not, disproportionately, immigrant people. Till recently, the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, for economical but most importantly political reasons, did we begin to see a non-negligible percentage of mostly educated Sudanese people refuged particularly to the West: Europe and North America. While these refugee communities are struggling to dismantle and knock down the dictator junta which took power in June 1989 with the help of National Islamic Front (NIF), a fanatic Islamic organization, they tend to forget, unwittingly I think, their children and families who are growing up within and in a different cultural and linguistic capitals. Children are now speaking English, French, German, among others, and dress in hip hop; children are listening to Public Enemy and playing basketball.

The notion of 'going home' thus becomes more complicated and complex; where is home for these children, what does home mean anyway? They may call themselves and they may be called, for administrative reasons, Sudanese, but what does Sudanese mean? Another arguments underpin this article is the notion that Sudanese have been guest workers for a lengthy period of time in the rich Gulf countries and Saudia Arabia, they are there for the money and not the sejour; they have been there for tens of years, but they are neither citizens of these countries nor do they intend to. They are not citizens because the laws of these countries do not allow them to be, for to be Saudi or Kuwaiti, one has to have Kuwaiti and Saudi 'blood' in his/her. Never-the-less, more importantly, most Northern Sudanese share, grosso modo, the same linguistic and cultural capital as the Saudis for example. When Sudanese refuged to the West, however, where the language and culture are different, they did not have a guidance, a raw model. Their guidance was a tiny group of professional, physicians for instance, and university professors who immigrated for different reasons to, more specifically, the United Kingdom.

Postmodernism or no Postmodernism, that is the question:

Postmodernism not only makes visible the ways in which domination is being prefigured and redrawn, it also points to the shifting configurations of power, knowledge, space, and time that characterize a world that is at once global and more differentiated (Aronowitz and Giroux, 1993: 115)

The emergence of the miscellaneous discourses in the last two decades, mainly as a form of cultural criticism, known as postmodern discourses had a non-negligible influence not only inside, but as well outside of the academy. To begin with, postmodernism is the term that is given to a multiple of discourses. These discourses forced a reconeptualization of what constitute the analytical categories; they opened spaces where the 'center' is ruptured and put to a serious questioning; they decentered the Subject by putting it in a flux of discourses, and by putting it, metaphorically, in that 'dirty' intersection of varied gender, race, and class discourses, among others (cf. Hall, 1991). By doing that, however, these discourses created an era that is generally, but not without it being a center of the debate (Hall, 1986), called the postmodern time. Before getting to this postmodern time, given his avant-gardism of the post in the modern (to give the postmodern), Lyotard is worth to be quoted at length. In critiquing Habermas, and strongly textually based definition, for Lyotard (1993: 81)

The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of a taste which would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia for the unattainable; that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable. A Postmodern artist or writer is in the position of a philosopher: the text he (sic) writes, the work he (sic) produces are not in principle governed by preestablished rules, and they cannot be judged according to a determining judgment, by applying familiar categories to the text or to the work. Those rules and categories are what the work of art itself is looking for. (....) [Lyotard then reminds us that in a postmodern time] it must be clear that it is our business not to supply reality but to invent allusions to the conceivable which cannot be presented.

To a postmodern analysis then the question of re/presentation is a central question: it raises question such as who is re/presenting who (in other words, who has the power to re/present who), how this re/presentation is taking place, and who benefits from it? A postmodern analysis, contrary to the modernist transcendental and transhistorical notion of meaning and representation (Aronowitz and Giroux, 1993), does not allow for preestablished rules and regulations against which all is measured; the latter rules and regulation, in a postmodern perspective, are themselves historically and socially constructed. Thus the rules of judgments, if there is a need to such a thing, which in most cases is very questionable, are established within the discourse itself. The rules of judgment, again, are taken not as sacred texts; contrary, they are taken as one of the competing discourses which, importantly, should be seen in equal terms: no discourse is more powerful than the other. A powerful text, if we can agree to such a subjective judgment, is only powerful when it allies itself with the gaze of legitimate power (Foucault, 1977; Bourdieu, 1977). This disturbance of the preestablished regulations, importantly, does not permit for what is commonly known as the master narratives, which are equated to some universal norms. For some eurocentric, imperialistic, and colonialist patriarchal reasons these norms are equated to Western trends of thought: let us be more specific, white, male, (upper) middle class or bourgeois trends of thought.

In other words, "From the postmodernist perspective", Aronowitz and Giroux (1993: 115) explain, "modernism's claim to authority partly serves to privilege Western patriarchal culture, on the one hand, while simultaneously repressing and marginalizing the voices of those who have been deemed subordinate or subject to relations of oppression because of their color, class, ethnicity, or cultural and social capital." The claim to authority, for me, stems from the West setting itself as the normalizing gaze, whether culturally, economically, politically, or otherwise. This modernist claim of authority, totality, and mastery, owed to postmodernism, gave "way to a more acute understanding of suppressed and local histories, along with a deeper appreciation for struggles that are contextual and specific in scope" (Aronowitz and Giroux, 1993: 115). What is been re/presented, however, usually indicates what is left out; it, again, raises questions of who has the power to represent who, how does this representation take place, what is left out and why, and who benefits from it? The absence of discourses of race and gender, for instance, from the 'master narrative' of the academy indicates their social position: marginalized discourses equated to marginalized social positions. This marginalization also can be read as an expression of the power relation question. In other words, the absence of gender and race discourses for a long period of time raises the questions of who has the power to represent who (read white male, middle and upper class), how does it take place (read through marginalizing the gender and race discourses), and who benefited from this absence (read white straight male).

Another aspect owed to postmodernism is the decentralization of the subject. Postmodernism, in passing, challenges the liberal humanistic notion of the unified, rational subject whose action is guaranteed in metaphysical and/or transhistorical terms (Usher and Edwards, 1994). In the postmodernist perspective, the subject is historical, social, fluid, contradictory, multilayered, and shifting. It is contradictory, multilayered, and shifting because it is founded in contradictory, multilayered, and shifting discourses. It is contradictory not only vis-ŕ-vis the Other, but as well within the Self. Postmodernism, in short, emphasizes not only the Self, but, more importantly, discourses, ideologies, and structures within which the Self is found. This would explain why "the consensus of a taste", as Lyotard argues, is more of a "nostalgia" than an attainable consensus. In this view, the question of taste, whether for arts, books, or even social positions, becomes an expression of and also created in an intersection of discourses. Class, for example, becomes one of these discourses, and no longer the 'master' discourse; this needs more explanation. Blacks and women for instance are entering the middle class strata, but their taste and experience are not the same as whites and males. Their taste then can not be talked about without introducing gender and race, among others, intersected with class analysis. Postmodernism in addition argues for a politics of sign and meaning production that is no longer less important than the politics of labour production. "The political economy of the sign does not displace political economy", Aronowitz and Giroux (1993: 116) argued,

"it simply assumes its rightful place as a primary category for understanding how identities are forged within particular relations of privilege, oppression, and struggle".

Culture is one more category that was crucially influenced by postmodernism. In an age of mass televized and computerized production where here and now can become there and now, where we can, hopelessly, become spectators of the Gulf War, where Pavoroti can be watched live in, from South America or Africa, in this age the liberal bourgeois distinction between high and popular culture no longer holds. Culture, in the postmodern perspective, is historically and socially specific, and no culture is less worthy when it comes to research. Postmodernism, Aronowitz and Giroux (1993: 116) explain, "rejects the European tradition as the exclusive referent for judging what constitutes historical, cultural, and political truth"; that is, "There is no tradition or story that can speak with authority and certainty for all of humanity." In sum, postmodernism as a discourse plays a vital role not only in the cultural critique but also in other social spheres: with this discourse, the culture and linguistic capital of "great men" are put into serious questioning, and "cultural difference" can no longer be defined "by means of hegemonic colonialist notions of worth and possibility" (Aronowitz and Giroux, 1993: 115) . Over all, for Aronowitz and Giroux (1993: 114),

As a form of cultural criticism, postmodernism has challenged a number of assumptions central to the discourse of modernism. These include modernism's reliance on metaphysical notions of subject; its advocacy of science, technology, and rationality as the foundation for equating change with progress; its ethnocentric equation of history with the triumphs of European civilization; and its globalizing view that the industrialized Western countries constitute "a legitimate center - a unique and superior position from which to establish control and to determine hierarchies"

Thus postmodernism calls for a contextualized and historicized notion of history and subject; it questions the centrality of the metropolis, its hegemonic discourses. In other words, the center is considered and positioned as one center among many others; the 'center' and the 'margin' are, the postmodern discourses argued, in constant move, fluidity, flux, and shift. This constant movement and fluidity put identities and subjectivities in that 'dirty' intersection of discourses of difference and diversity. Within these discourses, the question of identity becomes vitally importantly: what does it mean to be Sudanese, is the next section.

Again, Identity or no Identity? the Question of Being a Diasporic Sudanese in a Postmodern Time Identity is not as transparent or unproblematic as we think. Perhaps instead of thinking of identity as already accomplish fact (...) we should think, instead, of identity as a 'production', which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation (Hall, 1990: 222).

Identity politics, politics of identity, social identity, cultural identity, racial identity, identity formation, and the list goes on. These are just a few themes around identity that are moving to the center of the academic discourses: this movement is what Stuart Hall (1991: 9) refers to as "the return of identity". By "return", Hall explains, he does not imply that "the question of identity ever went away", but it is returning with "a particular kind of force" (p. 9). This forceful return has to do I think with the fact that the question of identity is, thanks to some postmodern, postcolonial, and feminist discourses, seen in and an expression of that complex intersection of multiple discourses which include, among others, discourses of difference, of subjectivity, of language, of history, of memory, and of power (cf. Giroux, 1993; Hall, 1991).

The Self, the identity, the subject is no longer found in isolation or a fixed point, within the postmodern discourse. It is, contrary, found in a multiple of discourses, including the discourse of otherness. Thus to be Sudanese in the diaspora is to be a subjet of and to new discourses, whether cultural, linguistic or otherwise. This is what Hall refers to as the 'new' discourse of identity. Hall (1990), makes a distinction between what he terms 'old' and 'new' identity which is used, almost, interchangeably with 'new' and 'old' ethnicity. The discourse and the logic the old identity, Hall explains, "contains the notion of the true self, some real self inside there, hiding inside the husks of the false selves that we present to the rest of world. It is [Hall continues] a kind of guarantee of authenticity. Not until we get really inside and hear what the true self has to say do we know what we are "really saying"" (Hall, 1990: 42-3). According to this discourse then, to be Sudanese is to be an essentialized Self of history, memory, language, and power. To be Sudanese, following the this old discourse of Self, is to be, and the being is positioned within and in a static version of history; to be Sudanese, is to have 'tradition' that is almost transhitorical, that never change. The old identity, in short, is an expression of the Cartesian stable self where the subject is situated within essentialized and static discourses of history and self. It is "a notion of the continuous, self-sufficient, developmental, unfolding, innner dialectic of selfhood. We are never quite there, but always on our way to it, and when we get there, we will at last know exactly who it is we are" (Hall, 1990: 42).

The new identity discourse, on the other hand, is more complexly different. It does not neglect neither history, multiplicity of discourses in which the subject found itself and the contradictory nature of these discourses, nor the power relations, the politics of positioning, and the dialogic relationship between the Self and the Other. In other words, subject formation, to be or to become Sudanese that is, according to this new identity discourse, takes place in and within multiple and contradictory discourses. Notion of difference, within this discourse, is central. Difference is not only dialectically constituted vis-ŕ-vis the Other, but as well within the Self. Thus, I define identity (Sudanese, for illustration) as the name we give and sometimes force onto an ongoing historical and social process. Sudaneseness, for instance, is the name WE give to an ongoing socially and politically constructed category. This explains why it is never complete, always in the make, and because it is found in historical conditions not of it's own choice, to paraphrase Marx, it is also contradictory. It is found in a framework of difference: difference vis-ŕ-vis the Other and within the Self. In other words, the Self has it's own multiplicity of identities. To be Sudanese can also mean to be Canadian, to be hip hop, to speak Japanese, to listen Pavaroti, and to read Kim Chi Ha, to give tiny examples. Non of these, I want to argue, should take away the very first fact of being Sudanese. At stake here is the notion that to live a postmodern time, Sudanese or anyone else for that matter coming from, for the lack of a better term, Third World countries should realize that there is no escape and no shame from using computer, from listening to rap music, from, if you are teen, being 'hip'. Hence to talk about these social phenomenon when they occur within Sudanese children as crisis is to miss the gaze of the 21st century: these are the discourses and the structures within which they grow up, they can not escape them. This is how Stuart Hall puts it

The critical thing about identity is that it is partly the relationship between you and the Other. Only when there is an Other can you know who you are (...). And there is no identity (...) without the dialogic relationship to the Other. The Other is not outside, but also inside the Self, the identity. So, identity is a process, identity is split. Identity is not a fixed point but an ambivalent point. Identity is also the relationship of the Other to oneself (Hall, 1991; cited in Giroux, 1993:75).

By no means am I suggesting that Sudanese should drop their linguistic and cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1990, 1977). Contrary, they can't in the first and, secondly, the notion I am suggesting is arguing for an understanding of the structure(s) that allow for Sudaneseness to flourish without negating other identities. Does braiding my hair take away from my Sudaneseness? I think, and at a certain point I hope, not. This is the issue at stake, being Sudanese should not negate being French, or speaking only in English. However, the notions of fluidity and hybridity have to be taken with a lot cautious. Being fluid for me does not mean take it all or leave it all. It means however to negotiate aground where the Self is positioned within poised and stabilized discourses: discourses where the inner Self and outer Self (the Other) are in peace, are to meet in a third space (Bhabha, 1990). This third space, Bhabha (p. 211) argues, "enables other positions to emerge. [It] displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of authority, new political initiatives, which are inadequately understood through received wisdom." These emerging positions are unrecognizable because they are 'new' and 'different'; they are unrecognizable because they emerge in a novel forms which emerge from longitudinal 'negotiations'. These negotiations are what Bhabha refers to as "the process of cultural hybridity" which "gives rise to something different, something new and unrecognisable, a new area of negotiation of meaning and representation" (Bhabha, 1990:211).

To conclude: Never-the-less, to have an identity, to be able to speak, to have a location from which to speak, and to have an identity politics, by definition, means to have an ethnicity, Hall (1990, 1991) argues. When people are blotted out, put over there in the Third World, Hall explains, they need an identity, a politics, a location from which they can start their odyssey of "the search for roots" (Hall, 1990: 50). He adds that people need to honor the hidden histories from which they come. They need to understand the languages which they've been not taught to speak. They need to understand and revalue the traditions and inheritances of cultural expression and creativity. And in that sense, the past is not only a position from which to speak, but it is also an absolutely necessary resource in what one has to say (Hall, 1991: 18-9).

Yet, to honor these languages, histories, and cultural and esthetic traditions, people need politics of location, representation, and positionality where history and traditions can only talked about mediated by the present social conditions. People thus need an ethnicity, a new ethnicity that allows them to come from the 'margin' to the metropolis and still be able to speak.