Begona Simal, ed. 2011: Selves in Dialogue: A Transethnic Approach to American Life Writing

Citation metadata

Date: Dec. 2013
Publisher: Spanish Association for Anglo-American Studies (AEDEAN)
Document Type: Book review
Length: 2,444 words
Lexile Measure: 1670L

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

Begona Simal, ed. 2011: Selves in Dialogue: A Transethnic Approach to American Life Writing. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi. 255 pp. ISBN: 978-90-420-3398-6.

Selves in Dialogue "can be accurately described as a multifarious collection of transethnic explorations of American life writing", states Begona Simal, its editor, in her introductory chapter (13). And many of the words included in this sentence describe the most important aspects of this collection of essays: it deals with selves (self-writing in autobiographical narrative), transethnicity and establishing dialogues (that is, each essay takes a comparative or contrastive view of at least two different cultural traditions), dialogues that cultivate a spirit of "mixing rather than segregating" (13).

The meaning of transethnic, to begin with, requires clarification, since similar terms such as postethnic, cross-ethnic, and inter-ethnic are likewise poised to claim a prominent position in ethnic studies these days. In her recent essay, 'The Challenge of Going Transethnic', Simal (2011) herself proposes the use of 'transethnic' as the term that both captures the crucial idea of 'crossing' ethnic boundaries and/or 'color lines' and, more importantly, suggests a problematization of the term 'ethnic' while not erasing the concept altogether. In the particular context of this book, 'transethnic' reflects at once the comparative approach of this volume, but it also suggests a critical, revisionist agenda regarding ethnicity. And this reviewer welcomes such a comparative approach, which creates bridges and cultural connections between the many voices that compose the chorus of American Literature. In many ways, this book seems to respond to critical views that have argued for the need to transcend group-specific approaches to ethnic literatures. Paul Lauter's defence of a comparativist model for the study of American Literature (1991) is acknowledged as an inspiration for this collection (2001: 10). But I also hear responses to Werner Sollors' views against obsessive ethnic essentialisms and their resulting isolationist, group-by-group approaches that emphasize cultural heritage within the particular, and somewhat idealized group--at the expense of dynamic interaction and syncretism. As a matter of fact, I would argue, with Shirley Neuman (1992), that challenges to the dominant/classic theories of autobiography have led, in the recent past, to a number of different poetics of the genre, which seek to describe how particular group identities function in the discursive creation of the 'self' in autobiographies by African Americans, Latinas/os, Native Americans and other ethnic groups. The problem with these theories of group identity is that they are constructed around a very specific and monologic category ('Native', 'Black', 'Chicana/o', and so on), and, thus, could end up being reductive, for they engage in an essentialism of otherness which fails to account for complicities, overlaps, and commonalities between the different groups. Such commonalities (or the absence thereof) are what Selves in Dialogue is most interested in seeking. For the nine essays that constitute the volume apply the very much needed comparative lens across ethnic groups to the study of authors from different cultural backgrounds, while some also incorporate dialogues between traditional, mainstream texts (such as Benjamin Franklin's...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A357863858