2016 Summer School Participant
Course: Orientalism, Balkanism, Occidentalism: Thinking through Discourse of 'Othering' and Conflict
Others are those who are not us. Perhaps in them we reflect our fears, imperfections or we base our values (by creating identity/ies relative to the Others). Between the polarizing constructs of others, to examine the different 'sides', identify stereotypes and reflect self-perception seemed like a challenge. In fact, it was. Still is.
Different aspects of understanding what constitutes ‘us’ and what constitutes ‘them’, whether we are always on opposite sides gave an insight into the various forms of 'othering'. Cultural othering, gender othering, minority othering, etc. Are there always sides? Do Others exist only in relation to us (our position)?
Taking history as an important (starting) point to question stereotypes and positioning (Balkanism, Orientalism, Occidentalism), the focus has shifted toward history as such. Historia est magistra vitae. History repeats itself. The concept of the circle. The predestination of the cyclic repetition of the conflicts. Nation building. Affiliation. Identity. And can we even talk about one or more histories? If there are several, which one is 'right', 'authentic'? Or can we only consider the interpretations?
It seemed that this was actually a topic that for all of us in the group was not only familiar but important, too. Personal experience of fragmented parts of a story we compile daily through the prism of societies in which we live. And right here, in this place, we mention different sides of the story. We mention them the way they should be heard, because each one of them says something important, giving basis to those fragments we try to connect. Are the 'sides of the story' parts of (some) history? Among different interpretation of history, the histories of 'Others' occur, pushing us further in the quest for what is (or is not) the 'truth'. According to International relations theory: there is no truth, only competing perspectives (“as a consequence of the heterogeneity of possible contexts and positions, there can be no single perspective which trumps all others”, Devetak 2009: 163). There is the official history. And there is an alternate history (or histories). There are narratives, interpretations, memories, media influence, political speech. Do they all constitute the 'whole story'? And, where can we look for them?
Photograph of Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole, by Lawrence Weiner, laser-cut aluminum typography on brick. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Through the whole process of my reflections, both individual and as part of the group, I have been trying to collect similarities and differences of our work in Dr. Jelena Tošić's course Orientalism, Balkanism, Occidentalism: Thinking through Discourse of 'Othering' and Conflict. It seems that the films (documentaries, full-length, musical videos) are a brilliant instrument for conveying ideas, the basis for discussion - particularly bearing in mind the availability thereof today, but also the impact that they have. However, this does not imply necessarily their positive impact. We watched American 'version' of Balkan recent wars; Bosnian 'dealing with a past' version; parody on Balkanisam (both inside and outside clips which seems to be important – it's quite different whose perception is represented, it is somehow ok to laugh on 'our' parody of 'us' but still offensively when somebody else, somebody ‘other’, doing the same); curious documentaries on life of a man and life of a song. Between the simplification of extremely complex discourses, the reproduction of stereotypes, the instrumentalization of memories to the deconstruction of stereotypes, I have been trying to determine whether I like this new 'mainstream' version of addressing Othering issues through art (film) as such. Each of watched movies brings a question of influence of author(s) and, maybe more important, author's intention. Often, focus of group discussion was exactly that: how to separate facts from personal influence of the author? I think it should be considered as another 'competing perspective' of the fragmented parts of the the refracted (hi)story. However will that deprive us of catharsis in the future? If, hypothetically, we put it in 'competing perspectives'. L'art pour l'art could be an option for discussion here.
Another interesting aspect with art (including films) would certainly be transmition of discourses – as an instrument of transmission or/and mirror of deeply diffused discourse into societies. But, I will leave that for another text!
I cannot say that we found (not even that we were looking for) the whole story. It is 'ours' as much as 'theirs'. For people who think (Muhammad Asad's dedication in translated Qur'an into English as The Message of the Qur'an).
Participant of the course: Orientalism, Balkanism, Occidentalism: Thinking through Discourse of 'Othering' and Conflict
Recepient of the 2016 European Fund for the Balkans EFB Scholarship