Gönul Pultar, Ed. On the Road to Baghdad Or Traveling Biculturalism: Theorizing a Bicultural Approach to Contemporary World Fiction. Washington, DC: New Academia Publishing, 2005. 331pp. ISBN 0-9767042-1-8.
This collection of essays, edited by prominent Turkish scholar and advocate of American studies in the Middle East Gönul Pultar, is an interesting emergence from the growing field of bicultural/transcultural studies. Recent additions to the field include Peter H. Marsden’s and Geoffrey V. Davis’ (eds) Towards a Transcultural Future (2004) and Bénédicte Ledent’s Bridges across Chasms (2004), both of which try to map a future for transcultural fictions and approaches. In On the Road to Baghdad, Gönul Pultar chooses to use the term “bicultural” literature instead, an attempt to emphasize that this type of fiction, which is also known as diasporic, occupies two spaces at once. Pultar demonstrates her point successfully in her own essay in this collection. She reads Turkish-American Güneli Gün’s magical realist novel On the Road to Baghdad (1991) as a bicultural text, meaning neither a narrative about the US by a migrant author nor solely a piece of Turkish literature by a writer of the diaspora. She suggests that the book “is arguably a bicultural novel par excellence: two cultures are combined, intertwined; and an understanding of the two cultures involved is necessary for a satisfactory appreciation of the work” (50). In her reading, Pultar rightly moves away from the possibilities made available by the notion of hybridity (the construction of new transcultural identities and speech acts as championed by Homi K. Bhabha in The Location of Culture to search for new myths in a post-colonial and globalized world.
This new global paradigm, which the field has to engage with today, is successfully summarized by William Boelhower in his introduction for the collection. He asserts that “[…], where we once focused our critical attention almost exclusively on immigrants, the processes of assimilation and acculturation, and the ideological division of nations into two blocks, we now talk of migrants, flexible citizenship, and the global civil society” (7). One of the major concerns that comes to light when these notions are explored further is that of the function of community in bicultural fiction. Paloma Fresno Calleja’s essay on Maori writer Patricia Grace and Lalitha Ramamurthi’s piece on Arundhati Roy’s acclaimed novel The God of Small Things illuminate the new collective identities imagined in these novels, while also emphasizing the new global framework in which these communities must exist.
The essays can be put into two major categories: those that primarily deal with bicultural identities; and those that mainly concern themselves with bicultural culture. Examples of the first include Dora Tsimpouki’s engaging essay on contemporary literary representations of Greek-American identity and Esther Alvarez Lopez’s equally interesting piece on Chicano/Chicana writers. Bicultural culture as a new emerging consciousness is the main focus of essays such as Rachel Trousdale’s on hybridity and the artist in Dinesen’s Out of Africa and Fu-jen Chen’s article on John Okada’s No-No Boy. Nearly all the essays in this collection express the need to move away from the notions of identity and culture as stable, unchallengeable categories. In a global world, cultural fluidity is a given. The question is: what lies beyond this?
The essays in Pultar’s collection demonstrate that, for the first time in modernity, we don’t need an answer for the above question. Instead, we might have to come to terms with the possibility that beyond biculturalism there lie both infinite freedom and liminality; that, in a global world of trans-anything, new myths, new tools and a new discourse will eventually be invented. I see Pultar’s notion of “biculturalism” falling into this category as an addition in a field characterized by excess of terms – “transcultural,” “transnational,” “postcolonial,” to name but a few. But, as Pultar’s collection helps us to understand, any progress on the subject has to start with a thorough look on the tools and the theoretical framework that is used to mythologize them in the first place.
University of Cyprus