Cultural Exchange via Internet - Opportunities and Strategies
Net-forum, House of World Cultures, Berlin

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  Statement:   Ravi Sundaram: Translation
 
   How does cultural translation work in our strange, post-modern times? I live and work in Delhi, in India, historically stamped as a »Third World Society«. For the past few years I have been pondering over the new transitions of technology and globality in India, with all the excitement and violence that such a phenomenon obtains.
   First and foremost our societies are stamped with a sense of historical ruin, the ruin of development, of nationalism, of its spectacular imaginary, of a certain vision of »becoming like the West.« The »post« in South Asia relates to old style-state nationalism which sought to organise cultural production within a nationalist mode. All that stands in shambles.
   From the vantage point of cultural practices the question may be mapped as follows - what are the real implications of the transition to this new, uncertain time? In the old days, »culture« was defined within the framework of a Third World solidarity, of various peripheral societies against Western imperium. Politically this made sense, in the wake of the various anti-colonial struggles, the terrible war in Vietnam, the crisis of the West beginning in 1968.
   However »Third-World« culture was in a sense a negative ideal, a negation of what was not ours. Since this was a problematic concept to define, what we were left with was a collection of »national cultures«. When we looked more closely, this »national culture« turned out to be nothing more than a state-patronised mish-mash of reinvented cultural narratives. In the Indian case, the state would try and promote a »high« culture privileging classical art and music, and forms of dance. All these were of course re-inventions of former popular forms, now sanitized for national ends. The »carriers« of such a discourse were a group of mandarin intellectuals and artists, who policed the boundaries of »national culture.« Despite all the denials observers will note that this model of culture remained securely Western.
   In the 1990's the crisis of Third World states were paralled by the emergence of new forms of communication media like the Internet. With the states in serious crisis, the old patronage system came apart, politically Third-Worldism died after the decline of communism.
   The spread of the new media has been uneven, but in India at least it has arrived. Internet connectivity is available through a number of options and is growing. How does one re-pose the question of cultural translation in a new environment where states are in crisis and the media like the Internet do not respect old notions of sovereignty that have been our historical legacy?
   I think here the possibilities are immense. The political impulse of a Third World cultural dialogue are as relevant as ever. The questions have, however to be reposed, outside the rhetoric of state managers and global policers of cultural politics. A critical intra-Third World cultural communication was always hampered by the old system of sovereignty (which privileged states). With the net it is possible for us to actually speak to each other, on a regular critical basis. This is a cheap technology of translation, but our tools of dialogue should respect the peripheral nature of our societies and reject the temporal acceleration of the metropole, not by repeating the old rhetoric but by a modesty and an intelligence.
   Until now the recognition of this potential has been only among peripheral communities of the South living in the West (diasporic artists, communities). But the sparks have been lit in the periphery itself. The new translation has arrived, not with the force of the old visions, but with the hesitancy and ruthless self-criticism of our post-nationalist sensibility.


Ravi Sundaram was born in 1963 and is a Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies at Delhi, India. He was written extensively on urban cultures, globalization and electronic space in the periphery.
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Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin, on the use of Internet in the cultural exchange with and between Africa, Asia/Pacific and Latin America. 1998/1999