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FROM INTERCULTURALITY TO MULTICULTURALITY IN LIBERAL EDUCATION

Albena Bakratcheva

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A way to define globalization is in terms of recognized otherness. We have entered the period of civilization when "other voices" are definitely being heard, when the doors of "other rooms" are being held open. The issue of THE OTHER has become crucial to the processes of globalization. Therefore it seems to me that cultural differences nowadays cannot be defined antithetically as either catalysts or deterrents to globalization. It is their RECOGNITION that is essential to globalization.

The humanities have always had the leading role in intercultural communications. More than two centuries ago Goethe introduced the concept of "world literature", seeing literature as the best means for fruitful intercultural influences. With the changed situation at present speculations about ways of crossing cultural borders have been reshaped into discussions on the possibilities of literary and cultural communications in a borderless, i.e globalized community. The notion of the border to be crossed has gradually been transformed into the notion of the otherness to be recognized. As the outstanding US poet Adrienne Rich points out in an interview: "We don't shed racism or sexism... unless we struggle hard to try to create bridges, to find out what our own common base is, to become educated in each other's realities, to search for and document the mistakes of the past so we can stop making them." Clearly it is not so much a matter of "crossing" but rather a matter of "creating", of getting educated in otherness. This is more or less a self-education, creativity being crucial to it. "Where connections are being made - Adrienne Rich goes on in the same interview - always feels to me like the point of intensest life... and the point of intensest life is where I write poetry." Obviously poetry, i.e. literature, is seen anew as both a precondition and a cultural horizon for recognizing differences and establishing connections. But this is no more the global concept of the author of "Faust" pleading for a spiritual community of the talented and inspired; this is the globalizing concept of the author of "Split at the Root" and the constantly rewritten poem "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers", the globalizing concept of a contemporary poet, responding to and overcoming the fluid, incoherent, diverse realities of postmodernity. This is the transformation of the idea of interculturality into the creative impulse of present day multiculturality.

The boom of academic interest in the new areas of the so called ethnic studies, racial studies, gender studies presents another obvious confirmation of how acute the problem of recognized otherness has become recently. This special scholarly attention is rather symptomatic to a cultural situation of self-conscious diversity. On the one hand such studies are usually done by people who are themselves representatives of otherness, and on the other hand such studies, having kept society on the alert about otherness for a while, have turned to be a legalized (even perhaps too much put a stress upon) expression of cultural globalization itself. Thus, combining the ethnic, racial and gender lines together both in her own self and in her works, Gloria Anzaldua, a brilliant and extravagant US writer and university professor, comes out with a new name for what is to her a new dimension of life and culture: a BORDERLAND. "Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them - she writes in her mostly discussed book Borderlands/La Frontera. - A border is a deviding line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A BORDERLAND is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition... In fact the Borderlands are physically present wherever two or more cultures edge each other, where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under, lower, middle and upper classes touch, where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy." It is clear that the transient (in a way even transcendental) borderland is defined as natural in terms of opposition to all kinds of unnatural boundaries; in fact, the undetermined place that it is, the borderland turns out to be a metaphor of a wished for - and finally coming true - global picture of coexistences made possible. Of the existential substance of multiculturality.

The very titles of our Fulbright conferences here in Sofia clearly show how rapidly our country's concern about being somewhat "newly initiated" after the political change in 1989 has been overcome. Topics like "understanding differences and building bridges" or "education and civil society in the post-totalitarian world" seem now to have been the necessary steps towards our present preoccupation with globalization - which is in fact a preoccupation of the world, globalized as it becomes. The multicultural character of our globalizing reality is our present concern. And it is the humanities that have and will have the utmost significance to our education into the recognition of otherness - since such an education is the greatest task of humanity.

 

 

© Albena Bakratcheva, 2000
© Publisher LiterNet, 15. 07. 2002
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Publication: Fulbright, "Globalization and Cultural Differences", Proceedings of the Fourth International Fulbright Conference, Sofia, May 19-21, 2000. Sofia: Bulgarian-American Commission for Educational Exchange, 2000, 169-171.