From Shore to Shore: Cultural Guides and Conveyors

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Université Michel de Montaigne - Bordeaux 3 (Michel de Montaigne University, Bordeaux, France)
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"From Shore to Shore: Cultural Guides and Conveyors"
CLIMAS (Université Michel de Montaigne - Bordeaux 3), June 10-12, 2010

The theme of cultural guides and conveyors offers the opportunity to explore the dynamics of cultural, literary and linguistic transmission in the English speaking world. The guide (or conveyor) is both a guide and an intermediary between two shores or two countries, two cultures, two generations or two languages. A figure from mythology or the Bible who is to be found between heaven and hell, between the land of the living and the land of the dead. A figure which has always occupied a large symbolic territory and has a hold on the collective imagination because he is the one who seals a soul's destiny. From Greek mythology to the New Testament, he accompanies the dead on their last journey: Charon ferries them across the Styx to Hades; St Peter is entrusted with the keys to heaven and only lets in those who have proved themselves worthy. The cultural guide (or conveyor) is thus a highly symbolic and dynamic figure at the centre of discursive, cultural and literary tropes of the universal human imagination. He is the one who decides when and where the crossing takes place, the one who is responsible for handing things over and taking people to the other side, or to the other shore, while at the same time remaining in the same place as if untouched by the passage of time, the motionless centre of movement and transition.

The cultural guide (or conveyor) is at times a heroic figure whose help is necessary to overcome an obstacle or to move on to the next stage. As a guide his role is linked to discovery or initiation (in which case he is a scout, an explorer, the one who helps others across the border and discovers new horizons). He can also play the part of a rescuer. He is not an ordinary guide since he accompanies those who need his services at a key moment in their lives. Refugees and illegal immigrants have no other choice but to place their destiny in his hands.

The cultural guide (or conveyor) can be a stealthy figure or a resistance fighter, who embodies a form of withdrawal and necessarily remains at a distance. This agent, who plays a vital role in the hand-over, the transformation and the success of the crossing, must stay in the shadows. He has a vital role in football - the assist - the generous act which is essential to overall success but can remain anonymous and on the margins. He can thus position himself in the hidden zone between knowledge and secret, and contains the possibility of transgression. He knows, he acts, but from a distance, he occupies the paradoxical space of a person who both makes his presence felt and remains in the background.

The cultural guide (or conveyor) can be mystical or domineering (shaman, guru, inspirer, initiator), an ordinary teacher or a translator. What he hands over, legally or illegally, can be anything from the intangible (ideas which may or may not be subversive) to the real (legal or illegal substances). Finally he is a mediator who plays a crucial role both in the post-colonial world, which is characterised by a rapid increase in linguistic and cultural exchanges, and in the post-modern context, which is defined by the complexity of the interplay of intertextuality and hypertextuality.

The figure of the cultural guide is unquestionably linked to the history of demographic and migratory flows, and economic and cultural exchanges between the United-States and Europe (in particular Great Britain, the spurned mother and yet unfaltering ally): continual passages, exchanges, interaction between two continents resulting in a dynamic of constant attraction/repulsion. At the same time the cultural guide is part and parcel of the American continent whose vastness requires all sorts of passages, transmissions, endless trips and continuous flows. Some of the most significant examples are:
- the mythology of the New World and the Wilderness, the frontier and territorial conquest, as well as the mystical representation of the open road.
- The founding fathers or forerunners who helped America to break free from the shackles of European culture and to develop ideas of its own (Transcendentalism, Pragmatism), new literary forms (the Romance) and also various avant-garde art movements which introduced the American public to new aesthetic horizons, intrinsically linked to the American experience.
- The mythical figures of counter-culture, as well as committed artists, who send a message, or a warning, whether they belong to the mainstream or to minorities eager to defend, or even assert, their identities (Afro-Americans, Asians, Chicanos, Jews, gays, women). This role of the artist as a conveyor of messages has been developing since the 70s with the emergence of environmental art on the American artistic scene.
- The recent history of borders and illegal immigration -- in particular the Mexican-American border which for decades has given rise to a host of economic, linguistic and literary exchanges.
Cinema is another major cultural conveyor in its showing of adaptations of British and American fiction to large audiences around the world (a new type of interaction between two modes of representation) and in its role as an economic and aesthetic guide.
As for "celebrity culture" and literary prizes, both have become the necessary conveyors of literature to cultivated members of the general public.

In British studies a similar list of cultural moments and literary figures springs to mind:
- the 18th and 19th century imaginary was built on the opening up to other worlds and on the new role of the writer as a crosser of both real and imaginary borders. Romanticism thrived on the social changes of the time; the French Revolution and the first Industrial Revolution transformed the poet and the novelist into conveyors of ideals.
- The development of new urban centres and the rapid growth of capitalism caused sociological and economic upheavals, which in turn caused great political and social tensions; novelists of the second half of the 19th century bear witness to these times of turmoil.
- The figure of the conveyor is also present in other areas. From the 18th century onwards, "Orientalism" has underlined the problematic relationship between two cultures and is evident in both literature and linguistics.
- In the realm of contemporary fiction, the author has gained beyond doubt the status of a conveyor of diegesis, History and individual memory.
-Finally, the "tropicalization" of contemporary British fiction has inverted the Metropolis/Colony polarities and the conveyors of culture and metaphors are no longer the former colonial administrators but the new subalterns, writing from the margins of the Empire, who have discovered their own voices by reclaiming their former master's language. Whether they be conveyors of identity or of creolization and hybridity, the cultural codes of these guides have become blurred, and the religious, historical, ideological and literary landmarks have changed beyond recognition.

Proposals for papers (300-500 words) must be sent to:

-Pascale Antolin,, Arnaud Schmitt, (North American Studies)
-Susan Barrett,, Paul Veyret, (British Studies)

before February 28, 2010.