full name / name of organization: 
Vanessa Guignery, Catherine Pesso-Miquel, François Specq, ENS de Lyon

Hybridity: forms and figures in literature and the visual arts.

Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon

7-8 October 2010

The aim of this conference is to focus on the notion of hybridity, and to form a critical assessment of its scope and role in literature and the visual arts. The concept of hybridity is particularly widespread in the English-speaking sphere (Great Britain, North America, and the post-colonial world), but it is also relevant in the context of literatures in French, Spanish and Portuguese (from Latin America and the Caribbean in particular): as a result, papers may focus on literary and artistic work in English, but also in French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Over the last two decades, the concept of hybridity has been the focus of a number of debates and given rise to many publications. The term, which is often discussed in connection with such notions as métissage (or "mestizaje"), creolization, syncretism, diaspora and transculturation, has become a buzzword, and it at times used carelessly to describe a disparate body of subjects in widely differing domains. The conference will seek to avoid on the one hand those broad-brush definitions which may lead to a proliferation of meanings and the trivialising of the concept, and on the other, any tendency to essentialize it. We propose to examine the development and various manifestations of the concept as a principle held in contempt by the partisans of racial purity, a process enthusiastically promoted by adepts of mixing and syncretism, but also as a notion viewed with suspicion by those who decry its multifarious and triumphalist dimensions and its lack of political roots. These three general stances have given rise to theoretical developments as well as to literary and artistic creations which this conference will focus on.
The word hybridity has its origins in biology and botany where it designates a crossing between two species by cross pollination that gives birth to a third species. In Victorian period, when different races were identified with species, but also in the essentialist colonial and national discourses that defended a myth of purity, the concept of hybridity found itself the subject of attacks tarnished with racial and racist connotations. We could thus consider in which ways the question of hybridity may confer a political and ethical dimension on literary and artistic works. At the instigation of Homi Bhabha (who was himself inspired by writers such as Salman Rushdie or Toni Morrison), but also in the work of Paul Gilroy, Stuart Hall or James Clifford, postcolonial theory adopted the idea of hybridity to designate the transcultural forms that resulted from linguistic, political or ethnic intermixing, and to challenge the existing binarisms and symmetries (East/West, black/white, coloniser/colonised, majority/minority, self/other, interior/exterior...). Hybridity thus stands in opposition to the myth of purity and racial and cultural authenticity, of fixed and essentialist identity, embraces blending, combining, syncretism and encourages the composite, the impure, the heterogeneous and the eclectic. It presents itself as an alternative discourse that subverts the very idea of a dominant culture and a unique canon, and invites a re-examination of power structures. The concept is intrinsically linked to the notion of identity, in particular for multi-cultural individuals, migrants and diasporic communities, but it is also related to the issue of languages (via the phenomena of creolization) and of mixtures of cultures and traditions. The conference could analyse the ways in which literary and artistic works represent those people of multiple identities and mixed origins who experience their hybridity with more or less serenity and whom society welcomes with varying degrees of benevolence. We could also examine how the modes of writing themselves are affected or not by inter-cultural processes: language may be transformed and become hybrid, while in other cases, writers employ a variety of strategies to find their place within the "dominant" language.
Lastly, this conference will enable us to examine to what extent the issues and the forms of hybridity have been able to evolve over time: can we, should we, consider the concept of hybridity differently according to whether we analyse nineteenth-century African-American literature, contemporary Hispano-American literature or the post-colonial literatures of a globalised world? In a world where the notion of borders and national identity are constantly being redefined, certain commentators have indeed seen hybridity as a cultural effect of globalisation (a concept which is itself protean). We may reflect on the meanings of the word hybridity in a globalised world that tends to erase differences and local inscriptions, but in which particularisms and parochialism are insidiously gaining headway, notably through a return to identity and sectarianism and/or religious fundamentalism that insists on the unicity, the purity and the integrity of identities and cultivates endogamy and the rejection of the Other.

Organisation committee:
Professor Vanessa Guignery, ENS de Lyon,
Professor Catherine Pesso-Miquel, Université Lyon 2,
Professor François Specq, ENS de Lyon,

Conference organised with the support of the LIRE research group (UMR 5611)

Proposals for papers (title and a 150-200 word summary) should be sent to Vanessa Guignery, Catherine Pesso-Miquel and François Specq simultaneously, by email before April 30th 2010.

Papers may be in English or French.