Every power relationship implies, at least in potentia, a strategy of struggle, in which the two forces are not superimposed, do not lose their specific nature, or do not become finally confused. (Michel Foucault, 1982)
The only thing that makes us apart now is the language, you see...that's what separates us, that's the identity, our own identity. (Mr Evans, Welsh informant. 1992)
It can be said that the Welsh people have been oppressed by the English for some seven centuries. Yet it can then also be said that the English people have been oppressed by the English State even longer. (Raymond Williams, 'Wales and England,' 1985)
This essay explores the usefulness of postmodern theories of subjectivity for cultural studies in general, and for delineating the fragmentary, conflictual nature of Welsh national and cultural identity in particular. The socio-historic specificity of Wales' relationship to a larger British configuration imbues questions of national identity with a burden of interpretation, recalling Benedict Anderson's model of nations as imagined communities and as discrete and polysemic constructions (6). Despite the role of the Welsh language as a marker of a unified Welsh identity (even for non-Welsh speakers), postmodern accounts of subjectivity suggest "Welshness" as fractured and multi-determined. Before applying these ideas to the audience research I conducted among Welsh families, however, I shall examine the political consequences of postmodern discourses and methodologies, including the value of postmodern conceptions of pluralist, decentered identities, and the extent to which a postmodernist approach to ethnographic research entails a rejection of meta-narratives. I shall situate these issues within the context of postmodern textuality and cultural studies research methodology. In the second part of the paper I shall consider these topics in relation to Welsh media audiences and to theoretical problems of the nation.
Given the vexed status of subjectivity in both mass media audience research and in cultural studies, the need to develop more nuanced theories of the subject has become more urgent. Articulations of postmodernism within cultural studies and anthropology have focused for the most part on questions of subjectivity, Foucauldian notions of power relations, and on textual practices in representation. Discourses of resistance and empowerment have also emerged as characteristic of the postmodern; according to Stephen A. Tyler, this trope speaks of the 'irony of representation, of that inescapable difference between appearance and reality, and exposes writing as the means that makes reality accessible only by occulting it into a simulacrum that substitutes itself for the reality it pretends to represent. It parodies the sign that seeks to become speech by cannibalising the reality it represents' ("On Being" 1). According to Tyler, orality can serve as a counter-discourse that resists the hegemony of the written word by recuperating the past and grounding representation 'not in the sign's alienation of the world but in commonsense practices when word and world meet in will and deed' ("On Being" 2). In discussing postmodern theorisations of ethnographic knowledge, he argues that ethnography should be conceptualized as an "evocation" in order to free it from the claims and fantasies of mimesis; for, in the postmodern world,
Ethnography is a cooperatively evolved text consisting of fragments of discourse intended to evoke in the minds of both reader and writer an emergent fantasy of a possible world of commonsense reality, and thus to provoke an aesthetic integration that will have a therapeutic effect. It is in a word, poetry - not in its textual form, but in its return to the original context and function of poetry, which, by means of its performative break with everyday speech, evoked memories of the ethos of the community and thereby provoked hearers to act ethically. ("Post-Modern" 125-6)
In Tyler's calls for a dialogic conception of ethnographic praxis, privileging of discourse over text and dialogue over monologue, there is an explicit rejection of 'observer-observed' paradigm in favor of a 'mutual, dialogic production of discourse, of a story of sorts' resulting in a polyphonic text ("Post-Modern" 126). But whilst Tyler's theory of ethnography-as-evocation is inspiring, its utility as methodological strategy is problematic. Exactly how the discursive strictures of knowledge construction are transcended in Tyler's 'polyphonic text' is not fully explored. Even if, as he asserts, polyphony is a means of 'perspectival relativity' (a hermeneutic that includes the interpretative practices of the participants as well as the readers) rather than an evasion of authorial responsibility or a 'guilty excess of democracy', questions of agency and the originary point of discourse (the desire for knowledge) still reside with the external party. A final problem concerns the textuality of the finished ethnography which, Tyler asserts, cannot have a predetermined form because of its participatory status ("Post-Modern" 129). In this paradigm, the dialogic nature of the encounter shapes the finished ethnographic text, although Tyler is vague as to how multiple authorship can be egalitarian, given the putative expertise of the ethnographer in assembling written, filmic or oral texts in contrast to the relative inexperience of the participants. Thus, the ability of ethnographers to construct cognitive maps of meaning in relation to their own stakes in the research and the status of their informants' utterances is problematic, and reflexivity, as a device to foreground the inequities in power between researcher and researched, becomes a necessary but insufficient methodological tool.
This lack of precision in the methodology of postmodern ethnography is hardly surprising. The contradictory tendencies and semantic slipperiness of postmodernism/ity has led to much theoretical traffic between so-called postmodern "conditions", "designs", and "communications". The ideological ramifications of these exchanges, as Jim Collins has pointed out, remain opaque and up for grabs (336), and one source of this critical difficulty is the commonly-noted heightened self-consciousness of popular culture itself. The textuality of postmodern entertainment frequently conveys a reflexive awareness of its own constructedness and intertextuality, gesturing toward a meta-discursive understanding of its processes of consumption (Collins 335). Texts that draw attention to their own significatory systems in such ways have typically been offered as emblems of postmodern aesthetics; however, the effect of these intertextual relations on "postmodern" viewers, as opposed to texts, brings into play a more complex set of discursive tensions. Perhaps the concept of the postmodern subject allows us to navigate a route between the notion of a "Self" that is unitary, and "free of subjection", and a more deterministic conception that views the subject as 'always already interpellated' (Caughie 54). According to Collins, this new brand of subject 'operates as a technologically sophisticated bricoleur, appropriating and recombining according to personal need' (337). However, the appropriation of the term bricolage within theories of contemporary media has significantly different implications for culturalist and postmodernist theories. Collins argues that for the cultural theorists, the capacity of the audience to transform 'pernicious and homogeneous' mass culture at the moment of reception is an attractive political position in that it 'allows for the continued demonisation of capitalism and mass culture while it celebrates the resourcefulness of ordinary people' (338). However, in the eyes of the postmodernists, the 'radical eclecticism' of the postmodern text itself must not be neglected; 'Not only has reception become another form of meaning production, but production has increasingly become a form of reception as it rearticulates antecedent and competing forms of representation' (Collins 338).
These methodological issues within cultural studies raise questions about the status of "micro-ethnographies" within larger cultural frameworks and the political ramifications of small-scale research in the local versus the global dimension (Morley forthcoming). David Morley and Kevin Robbins argue that macro-questions concerning place and identity should 'be grounded in the analysis of the everyday practices and domestic rituals through which the contemporary electronic communities are constituted and reconstituted on a daily basis' (11). At the same time, Philip Schlesinger warns of what he sees as a subjectivist tendency that over-stresses the micro-politics of the audience, arguing instead for the need 'not to lose sight of the overarching question of how cultural power may be exercised both at the global and the national levels and the ways these interrelate' (233). Keeping Schlesinger's wider context in mind, I would argue that investigating power dynamics at the local (familial) level can nevertheless play an important role in contributing to a more nuanced understanding of the micro-politics of socio-cultural determinants such as gender, ethnicity, age and sexual preference (Morley 1986 and Seiter 1990). The (re-)construction of identities in the private sphere clearly has far-reaching implications in a climate of contemporary communication technologies which transcend (and disrupt) national and local boundaries. In defence of attending to locally-determined contexts, Lawrence Grossberg argues that cultural studies risks becoming a global intellectual commodity if its openness is merely constructed as pluralism. According to Grossberg, cultural practice is a complex and conflictual activity which cannot be separated from the context of its articulation, and he argues for a concept of "culture" caught between 'community (social formation), totality (the way of life) and aesthetics (representational practice 2-3). It is the blending of macro- and micro- levels of analysis (the local in the global and so on) that seems the best way forward.
A more productive way of conceiving the global versus the local dialectic, then, is to map the lines connecting the two, rather than to collapse or ignore their interrelationships, and postmodernist interpretations of these issues can be helpful in reconceptualising the micro/macro debate. Nicholas Garnham identifies two postmodern configurations of identity politics: the first a Baudrillardian account in which reality becomes a simulacrum and 'any social theory based on distinctions between illusion, reality and truth as a basis for political action are now impossible', and the second a less extreme version which posits a 'major transition toward a global social entity and away from the old organising structures of politics and identity represented by the nation-state' (255). Garnham argues that the postmodernist concept of cultural difference leads not to debate and consensus in a modernist sense, but to a power struggle between incompatible value systems and a denial and erosion of cultural difference through the imposition of Western cultural values. According to Garnham, within the debates over cultural imperialism, the politics of national identity can only be understood within a universalist context: 'local cultures must contain values that are considered worth preserving from outside the bounds of culture itself' (Garnham 258). Thus, Garnham would interrogate where people construct the boundaries of a perceived common culture, the extent to which they conceive of themselves as being part of any common culture, and in whose name national and local cultures are defended (Garnham 257). The remainder of this paper draws upon Garnham's agenda in tracing expressions of national and cultural identity in my own ethnographic research, concentrating on the usefulness of Welsh history and popular memory as interpretative strategies.
This research was part of an ongoing ethnographic study into negotiations of Welsh national and cultural identity via Welsh language broadcasting on the dedicated TV channel S4C. The research, conducted in 1991 and 1992, consisted of interviews with families of teenage students at a bilingual state school. These interviews took place in a small village in South Wales where I was brought up and where my family still resides; I had prepared some questions which began with quite specific information (number of televisions and VCRs in the home and general viewing preferences and habits) although, as the interviews progressed, the emphasis shifted toward more abstract ideas concerning Welshness and identity politics. Specific questions were, however, used as general framing devices, and were offered only when I felt a segue or new topic was appropriate. All the weekend interviews took place with the entire family assembled in the living room, which, in each case, was never the room with a television in it. The choice of location was symbolic of the seriousness attached to the interview by the family. My arrival was always clearly anticipated.
Given my connections to the community, my role as interviewer in this context was shaped by multiple determinations which included my Welsh identity and shared cultural capital, as well as by the informants' perceived "use-value" of the research and expected modes of behavior. As an entry point into the discursively complex space of cultural/identity politics, Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of creative understanding, in which an interlocutor requires knowledge of two cultural spheres in order to understand the dynamics of cultural difference, is useful. Bakhtin rejects the idea of entering the world of the Other and forgetting one's own (what Paul Willemen calls ventriloquist identification) in favor of a creative understanding that is dependent on outsideness; according to Willemen, 'It is not simply a matter of engaging in a dialogue with some other culture's products, but using one's understanding of another cultural practice to re-perceive and rethink one's own cultural constellation at the same time' (11). Inserting my own subjectivity into this matrix requires explicit recognition of my simultaneous insider and outsider positions and a form of what John Caughie calls 'ironic knowingness'. Although Caughie is referring to questions of subjectivity in relation to television audience self-determination, his argument that this approach 'gives a way of thinking identities as plays of cognition and miscognition' opens identity to 'diversity, and escapes the notion of cultural identity as a fixed volume for which, if something comes in from the outside, something from the inside must inevitably go' (54-5).
A recurring feature of the interviews was television's role as a mnemonic tool, a "lubricatory" device to stimulate reminiscences, anecdotes and reconstructions of popular Welsh memory. Talking about television became a way of moving beyond the mundane (television) and gaining access to what the informants considered more serious, and frequently political concerns. In other words, while the informants talked freely about their favorite genres and preferred viewing conditions (most households had three televisions), they sensed the wider implications of their discourse and were eager to use television to segue into broader concerns. For example, following a long discussion of the demise of the Welsh language, one of my informants used television as a pivotal device in his monologue to illustrate how linguistic pride had swung full circle with the fashionable growth of the Welsh language in middle-class urban suburbs:
In my parents' home, I don't think my mother and father ever spoke English to each other and the home was totally Welsh...98 percent of the people that used to come there, no, 99.9 percent [his wife recognises the humour in his attempts to calculate precise percentages and giggles] spoke Welsh. And then all of a sudden a box appears and there's a different language on the box. But the converse is happening now. We've got relatives in Cardiff...talking about Welshness, now there's a particular breed isn't there, what we call "Cardiff Welsh" people [here his wife's non-verbal responses suggest she's heard this story before and believes he's exaggerating]. They will now claim that up to the age of 6 or 7...it gives them great pride to say, our children can't speak English.
Television is here used as a symbolic shorthand; its actual impact on the use of the Welsh language is not elaborated upon, although at another point in the interview Mr. Philips states that 'through television, there's more indoctrination and English is beginning to take over slowly'. Here a reference to the "box" is simply used to reinforce an implicit viewpoint about the effect of network television on the Welsh language in the 1950s.
This monologue is an illustration of contemporary critics' theorisation of cultural identity as a fluid and unstable site of contestation. It exemplifies what Schlesinger calls the indeterminacy of the boundaries of group identity (240). In other words, for Mr. Philips, a sense of a Welsh cultural identity is achieved through defining himself against what he calls the "Cardiff Welsh" which supports a notion of identity as difference, that having an identity means knowing what you are not (Blythe 210). This theme also relates to Martin Blythe's idea of the 'geography of the imagination' in which 'we all become voyeurs, we all have selves and others, we are all centers with margins, subjects and objects' (207). According to Blythe, the act of naming (in this context Mr. Philips' othering of the "Cardiff Welsh"), which he defines as the Self/Other relation, is embedded in all genres, including ethnography. Blythe's overriding moral, that naming is geographically and culturally centered, is visible in Mr. Philips' efforts toward self-definition through the construction of boundaries (207).
The brief exchange between Mrs. Philips and her husband at the end of the monologue is also worthy of mention:
Mrs. Philips: I must admit I find that very difficult to believe.
Mr. Philips: Well, yeah, but then they would say it wouldn't they?
Mrs. Philips: Oh they'd say it, but as I say, whether you can give 100 percent credence to it I don't think...
Mr. Philips [interrupting]: ...Well, I would say that up to the age of eleven I spoke very..., apart from in school I spoke very little [English]. Well, even in school on the yard I spoke Welsh. The teachers, although all the lessons were...it must have been odd that, if the lessons were actually in English, but the teacher spoke to us most of the time in Welsh. It's the converse now ...
Interestingly, there is a moment of self-realisation at the end of this exchange when Mr. Philips considers the odd situation of being educated through the medium of English whilst talking to his peers and teachers in Welsh. His mention of the converse refers to the current situation in his daughter's school where despite the fact that all lessons, apart from Mathematics and Science, are taught through the medium of Welsh, English is the favored language in the school yard.
Whereas Mrs. Philips dismisses her husband's polemic, knowing full well (as he probably does) that it is virtually impossible to be brought up Welsh monoglot in Wales, Mr. Philips is more concerned with the ideological ramifications of the issue. In other words, accepting or rejecting the truth of the statement is less important than the political use of the "Cardiff Welsh" to reclaim the Welsh language as a symbol of middle-class elitist values. The "Cardiff Welsh" Mr. Philips refers to generally consist of urban professionals who find an educational value in sending their children to Welsh schools and a certain cachet in boasting about their children's linguistic and cultural enrichment. Mr. Philips is reacting, therefore, to differences of region and generation, for whilst both his family and the "Cardiff Welsh" are solidly middle class, he aligns himself with a rural middle class distinguished from an Anglicised urban middle class found in Cardiff and parts of Swansea.
Mr. Philips' suggestion of geo-socio cleavages between urban and rural identities in Wales is reinforced in the historian A.D. Rees' argument that:
Wales has no civic heritage. The essentially rural culture of Wales...had crystallized before the introduction of towns by aliens, and after the conquest the distinction between country and towns became largely a distinction between English and Welsh (170).
The "Cardiff Welsh" are thus read as anomalies by Mr. Philips; they pose a threat to rurally-determined Welsh identities and symbolize a constructed, simulacral Welsh identity with Anglicised pretensions. What isn't explicit in Mr. Philips' comments is the relatively recent emergence of representation of the "Cardiff Welsh" within Welsh media; for example, Dinas (City), an urban-diegesis Welsh language soap opera, attempted to emulate the success of the most popular Welsh language soap Pobol Y Cwm (People of the Valley) which was set in a rural diegesis. Dinas was taken off the air after a couple of years due to poor ratings and critical attacks in the popular press. Despite reasonably high production values, Dinas failed because the characters spoke Welsh with Yuppie accents, sped around Cardiff with their car phones, and remained completely unconvincing as Welsh characterisations for many viewers.
As a result of internal contradictions in Welsh identity politics and broader negotiations of "British" identity at the national and international level, Wales comes to symbolize very different things for militant nationalistic groups at one extreme, and for conservative Anglicized Welsh living on the English/Welsh border on the other. For the British media, however, this is not the case: representations of Wales remain constructed upon unchanging stereotypical and monolithic images. Mr. Philips believed that 'they're still talking about us in inverted commas..."the valleys", you know. And I often think what do you mean by "the valleys" as if the valleys is Wales'.
Denis Balsom, in "The Three Wales Model", argues that three distinct socio-linguistic groups in Wales can be delineated: a Y Fro Gymraeg (Welsh speaking region) located mainly in the north and west; a Welsh-identifying, non Welsh-speaking group, Welsh Wales, prevalent in the south Wales area; and the British-identifying, non-Welsh-speaking Welsh who dominate the rest of Wales. The role of language and geography as determinants of identity within the three-part Welsh model suggests something of M. Oriol and P. Igonet-Fastinger's concept of identity, which implies 'theorising the subjective dimensions of belonging to a group in relation to the objective factors which condition group membership' (157). For them, the very term identity becomes
the sign of the most pressing invitation to a dialectic: that of always situating "us" in relation to "them", the lived experience in relation to the institutionalized one, the present in relation to history, all of these prescriptions immediately calling forth a reciprocal effect (Oriol and Igonet-Fastinger 157).
The problematic hegemonic status of language as a central determinant of cultural identity is illustrated in this tryadic construction; moreover, this complexity prevents cultural identity being collapsed into national identity in any straightforward way, as the very fact that a range of linguistic groups inhabit a nation state calls for a pluralistic/heterogeneous model. UNESCO's 1982 World Conference on Cultural Politics underscored this point, arguing that it was 'not possible to conceive of a cultural identity that had no contacts with others, [as] it could not be seen as form of introversion, a hermetically sealed entity' (Schlesinger 277). The dialectics of Welsh identity thus have micro- and macro- repercussions which require interpretative strategies capable of mediating their internal/external dynamics as well as their inclusionary and exclusionary processes.
A useful direction for further exploration of articulations of subjectivity in my informants' responses is the role of the Gwerin (folk) movement in Welsh history and nostalgia as a mediation between a collective past and a sense of contemporary Welsh cultural identity. Raymond Williams argues that a key determinant in the analysis of Welsh culture is the complex of forced and acquired discontinuities; for Williams this is marked by an uneven series of radical shifts, within which 'we have to mark not only certain social and linguistic continuities but many acts of self-determination by negation, by alternation and by contrast' (23). As a reservoir of the values of Welsh Nonconformism, a nineteenth-century movement that defined itself against English domination through the hegemony of the Welsh chapel, self-organisation and a push toward a common Welsh-language literacy, the Gwerin ideology mobilized Welsh agency, an agency usefully defined by Grossberg as the 'articulation of subject positions into specific places (sites of investment) and spaces (fields of activity) on socially constructed territorialities' (15). Loosely translated as an expression of cultural nationalism and the idea of a classless people, the Gwerin emerged in the 1840s, and along with the Nonconformist movement campaigned for many radical reforms, including the disestablishment of the Anglican Church and improvement in social and economic conditions (Jones 112). The Gwerin movement was thus a break from centuries of passivity toward Anglicized Welsh landowners; Prys Morgan describes the Gwerin as 'the people who had always been in Wales down the ages, through thick and thin, refusing to budge in the ebb and flow of conquests and oppressions' (136-7). During the period of Welsh Radicalism between 1868 and 1922, Welsh Nonconformist leaders mobilized a revival of Welsh cultural patriotism at a time when 'the Welsh were drawn inexorably into the orbit of English industrial society at the height of world power and prosperity' a view echoed in the Marxist historian Glyn Williams' idea of the Gwerin as a 'way of life' which is
strongly folkloric in character: muscular games and sports, ballads, story-telling, wordplay, distinctive communal and marriage customs of informal vigor, popular and generally picaresque festivals erratically punctuated by beer and incoherent "eisteddfods" and penetrating a printed literature marginal to polite discourse through ephemeral ballad collections and the ever-popular almanacs (152).
Gwyn Williams argues that the Welsh created a new identity based on conflict:
This historically effective consensus emerged on a radically new foundation. Central to that re-formation was a specifically working-class consciousness which fought its way through rebellion to acquire a brief but potent maturity. After it had been neutralized and emasculated, the communal spirit it had engendered...could find a place alongside the appropriately constructed communities of its rural cousins, after their own rebellion had been contained, in a populist and radical Nonconformist People in whom its leaders saw the image of a new Welsh nation (182-3).
References to Welsh Nonconformism were made in all the interviews I conducted; one of the informants focused on and personified the distinctly puritanical qualities of Nonconformism:
I think this is a person who has had quite a chapel background, been brought up to be quite religious...to associate Sunday with going to chapel three times, with Sunday school and so on, and to be tight-fisted with money because they shouldn't be borrowing you know and um...I think there's a little bit of...don't be...not unhappy, but they wouldn't agree with a lot of fun because they think that fun means spending money and drinking and so on...Marriage... well there are, there's no living in sin, there's no consideration of that...well people still get those characters, you've got to have them I think ...
This quote suggests a tension between officially-authored definitions of Nonconformism, such as historian Glyn Williams', and personal testimonies such as Mrs. Thomas', which stress the repressive aspects of the movement. It illustrates the difference between what Schlesinger calls 'interpretations of nationhood for broader diffusion and eventual collective consumption' and cultural practices evoked in a personalized context which may articulate and foster different conceptions of identity (255). In terms of the Gwerin, the intersection of mythical and realist elements emerging in these competing discourses draw attention to the dangers of imposing collective psychologies or a "race memory" onto the Welsh. The Eisteddfodau (festivals) in Wales, especially the inaugural Gorsedd (throne) ritual, are particularly rich examples of the resurrection of tradition via the promotion of a mythical past. After the original Eisteddfods of the sixteenth century, the festivals had become less significant, but were revived by the eighteenth century by poet, manuscript collector, entrepreneur and forger Iolo Morganwg (born Edward Williams in 1747). Exploiting the growing interest in Welsh antiquities of the Romantic movement, Morganwg invented the Gorsedd, a Druidic ritual for the Eisteddfod in Carmarthen in 1819. Full of pomp, ceremony and paganistic ritual, the Gorsedd was imagined as a direct descendant of the bardic assemblies. It is described by Morganwg in grandiose terms:
And thither shall come the Archdruid and Officers of the Gorsedd and others, Bards and Licentiates of the Privilege and Robe of the Bards and the Isle of Britain, there to hold judgment of Chair and Gorsedd on Music and Poetry concerning the muse, conduct and learning of all who may come to seek the dignity of National Eisteddfod honors, according to the privilege and customs of the Gorsedd of the Bards of the Isle of Britain. (Quoted in Morris 154-5)
The modern Eisteddfod dates from 1858 and continues to this day; by the end of the nineteenth century its functionaries wore designer neo-Druidical robes with insignia in gold, velvet and ermine. The historian Jan Morris notes that the English press found the entire event ludicrous, linking it to the persistence of the "archaic" Welsh language: reporting from the 1858 Eisteddfod, the Daily Telegraph called it 'a national debauch of sentimentality', while The Times denigrated it as 'simply foolish interference with the natural progress of civilization and prosperity - it is a monstrous folly to encourage the Welsh in a loving fondness for their old language' (quoted in Morris 155).
The invention of tradition through multiple discursive formations is foregrounded in Eric Hobsbawm's discussion of a history which becomes
part of the fund of knowledge or the ideology of the nation-state of movement is not what has actually been preserved in popular memory, but what has been selected, written, pictured, popularized and institutionalized by those whose function it is to do so. (13)
Seconding Hobsbawm's critique of the privileged role of the historian who nurtures and controls the cultural past, Schlesinger argues for a model of national culture seen as continually reformulated categories rather than 'repositories of shared symbols to which the entire population stands in identical relation' (261). The role of popular memory selecting and reconstituting selected "traditions" is visible in the discussion of one of my female informants who describes her penchant for historical drama on television:
Looking back, I think I'm being nostalgic in a way, looking back at how things were, learning about how other people lived in Wales during previous times. I think you'll find a lot of that thing within the Welsh film industry...I don't think they go outside [Wales] much.
For Fredric Jameson, nostalgia is 'an attempt to lay siege either to our own present and immediate past or to a more distant history that escapes individual existential memory' (19). He sees the contemporary nostalgia film as an instance of this desire for a lost reality, arguing that the term "remake" is now anachronistic, since our awareness of other versions of a text is a constitutive and essential part of the film's structure; we are now, according to Jameson,
in "intertextuality" as a deliberate, built-in feature of the aesthetic effect and as the operator of a new connotation of "pastness" and pseudohistorical depth, in which the history of aesthetic styles displaces "real" history. (20)
For Mrs. Thomas, who enjoyed watching films about Welsh history, nostalgia served as a mediator between an imaginary, "folkloric" articulation of the past and a contemporary sense of loss for the disappearance of traditional qualities of village life. She told picaresque tales of Welsh village "characters", including hermit poet Dil "Pots" (a Welsh expression for a mad person), and about another local figure celebrated for his quick wittedness. She told the story about this man with animation:
Then you'd think of this character from Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, who, I can't remember what he was called, but he was well known because he was a funny character, he was quite innocent in a way. He wasn't a nasty chap but he liked his drink and apparently the stories about him are quite true. He was...he used to have a humorous way about him. Apparently the minister met him walking home one evening walking back and it was obvious he was well over the limit. The vicar approached him and reprimanded him and said 'you know you've been out tonight and there you are taking drink home with you again and that's no good, you know. You're not going to be able to come to chapel tomorrow morning and you'll have no excuse'. And the vicar said 'Lewis Y Go, Lewis Y Go' they used to call him and um...the vicar said to him 'throw away', and he said 'oh this bottle is not for me I'm sharing it with a friend', and then the vicar said 'well throw away your part of the ale then' and he turned round and said 'Sorry vicar I wish I could oblige, but my half is at the bottom of the bottle' and you know these things were quite true long ago. You don't get characters like that and people, um...you know people laughed about it because it was quite innocent...very fine natured character but his weakness was his ale.
Jameson's description of nostalgia movies as desperate attempts to appropriate a lost past - the contradiction between a "real" historicity and a postmodernist "nostalgia" art - is suggested in Mrs. Thomas' slippage between folkloric characterisations that conform to media constructions of Welshness, and personal reminiscences that ground a genuine historicity (19). This reconstruction of a pastoral encounter between a wayward village comic and the local vicar also evokes a sense of communality, what Grossberg terms a form of 'affective investment' (14). Grossberg argues that this investment is rooted in a spatial territorialisation, what Stuart Hall calls people's need for 'groundings'. Hall says that ethnicity has become in part a search for such 'groundings' because, 'the reconstruction of imaginary knowable places in the face of the global postmodern...has, as it were, destroyed the identities of specific places' (35-6). Mrs. Thomas' nostalgic recounting of a time when such "real" characters existed (and social problems such as alcoholism were negotiated within the community) suggests that a nostalgically triggered discursive evocation of Wales can function as an affirmation of cultural difference and pride. A similar 'grounding' mechanism is discernible in a male informant, Mr. Evans' recollection of his school years and early politicisation:
I was brought up in West Wales and I didn't have any English at all. The only English I had was when the butcher came round on Friday night, Mr. Bartlett...he had rotten meat too! [his wife laughs]...Oh shiw, shiw [derivation of 'Duw, Duw' (Good God) which mutated to avoid blasphemy] and um we moved up North and I was ten, eleven and I passed the eleven plus [entry exam for grammar school] through the medium of Welsh and then I went to an English grammar school. Now I didn't know what was going on you see and I believe that it was the initial period in the grammar school that made me a Welsh nationalist and I knew that I'd be doing something with the language because I was mocked and imitated and laughed at. I was in so many fights at that time, I used to have a bloody nose every night.
'The language' in this context becomes a metonym for Welsh culture and the English/Welsh struggle is characterised in highly personalized terms. How, then, can these testimonies be reconciled with a postmodernist epistemological framework?
One of the key debates in postmodern theory has centered around the death of the humanist subject, including Foucault's assertion that the author is a fiction of discourse and has 'disappeared as an index of truthfulness' ("What Is" 121, 126). Seyla Benhabib argues that radical versions of the death of the subject thesis are incompatible with the goals of feminism, as a view in which the subject dissolves into 'another position in language' (Flax 32) eradicates 'intentionality, accountability, self-reflexivity and autonomy' (Benhabib 214). The subject 'can no longer master and create the distance between itself and the chain of significations in which it is immersed such that it can reflect upon them and creatively alter them'. According to Benhabib, such a subjectivity is unthinkable as 'we tell who we are, of the "I" that we are, by means of a narrative' (214). Concepts of selfhood, agency and autonomy within postmodernism are central to Benhabib's criticism of Judith Butler's critique of the notion of the 'gendered self'. Butler sees the self as a series of performances: 'there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very "expressions" that are said to be its results' (25). This eradication of the subject presents the "author" of ethnographic texts with a serious identity crisis, as self-reflections on textual ownership and accountability are divested of meaning/significance if, as Benhabib postulates, the 'subject who produces discourse is but a product of the discourse it has created' (Benhabib 216).
There are no straightforward routes out of this conundrum except to argue, with Benhabib, that in order to make sense of people's articulations of subjectivity, we must break free of this "discursive ventriloquism" model in which the subject has no self-determination but is forever "spoken for" by discourse if agency and identity politics are to retain their empowering potential. Blythe maintains that the posing of a 'Self or Identity or Subject or Center' is a necessary response to unequal power relationships that structure social relations, and he defends essentialism as an alternative writing strategy to pluralism. Blythe accuses critics of essentialism of themselves imposing singular ways of discoursing on issues of culture and race and argues that to 'proclaim pluralism, relativism, oppositionality or anything else instead is just to promote the newest form of essentialism' (211).
The problem here is that in substituting pluralistic or heterogeneous paradigms of experience/identity for monolithic or totalising models, we risk substituting one form of essentialist discourse by another. However, the fulcrum of this debate, the question of agency, must not be lost sight of. Grossberg's theory of a 'differentiating machine', that through discursive interpellation differentially valued subject positions are produced, is a way of theorising people's articulations of their lived experiences and the role of history and selective memory in enunciating these views. Rather than suggesting homogeneity within the boundedness of a given (for example, Welsh) cultural identity, Grossberg argues that as well as existing within 'strata' of subjectivity, people are located in a 'particular position within the strata, each of which enables and constrains the possibilities of experience' (13, 14). This model, I believe, provides a more flexible theoretical framework for ethnographic research than the disabling couplet of essence versus plurality.
In exploring how postmodernist themes can provide a critical vantage point in ethnographic investigations of Welsh national and cultural identity, my aim in this paper has been to evaluate postmodernist polemics as they relate to identity politics within a nation and to people's expressions of self-identity through popular memory and history. The extent to which Grossberg's paradigm of subjectivity corresponds to postmodernist characterisations of the subject is a question of emphasis. If, as Pauline Marie Rosenau argues, a value is placed on an individual's ability to negotiate multiple realities and make sense of 'fluctuating, ever-changing personal identity' in the postmodern age, then a postmodernist subjectivity can be seen as enfranchising, especially in terms of a subject's appropriation of identity in different ways. Conversely, if an individual's views on questions of national or cultural identity have no special authority, if the postmodern individual is characterised by 'an absence of strong singular identity', lacks self-awareness and makes no claim of self-consciousness, then the postmodern can be seen to deny agency and disenfranchise individuals and communities (Rosenau 54). I would argue that while it is important to be self-conscious of the role of discourse in the construction of subjectivities, it is equally vital to recognize the potentially disabling implications of postmodernist rhetoric.
Finally, the media's persistent exploitation of distinct Welsh mythico-cultural markings through representations of a petrified and romanticised past have precedents in late nineteenth century "ethnographies" conducted by the Reverand Elias Owen. Owen would travel around North Wales inspecting schools and after a day's work would visit the oldest inhabitants of the parish and invite them to tell him stories which he would jot down on scraps of paper and later transfer into books. Owen boasts of how 'a rich deposit of traditions and superstitions was struck and rescued from oblivion. Not a few of the clergy were themselves in full possession of all the quaint sayings and Folk-lore of their parishes, and they were not loath to transfer them to the writer's keeping' (Owen 122). The ongoing struggle for self-definition and self-determination which Owen addressed is now played out on different terms and new technologies. The British Establishment's continued suppression of politically-motivated "nationalistic" expressions of Welsh identity is tinged with ambivalence, coexisting with the kitsch value of Druidic mythologies and folkloric tales relentlessly exploited through broadcasting's historical genres and the national news. However, when read as signifiers of postmodernist identities, these cultural metonymies become less well-anchored signs. They reflect an uncertainty about and an undermining of essentialised constructions of "Welshness". The concluding verse of the Welsh poet R.S.Thomas' An Acre of Land (1952) suggests something of the ambivalences underscoring postmodern re-articulations of the subject:
We were people, and are so yet.
When we have finished quarreling for crumbs
Under the table, or gnawing the bones
Of a dead culture, we will arise
Armed, but not in the old way.
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