This essay tracks Karl Marx's famous line “They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented” as it travels from a translated epigraph in Edward Said's Orientalism to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's “Can the Subaltern Speak?” What follows from this minor textual detail is a broader exploration of how “other” languages take place in postcolonial theory—not only Said and Spivak's German, but Abdelfattah Kilito's Italian and Frantz Fanon's Arabic. What is the place of translation in self-representation? How do instances of textual citation complicate the self of self-representation? In the ricochet between citation and translation, language matters not necessarily as a sign of fluency, but as part of a pragmatics of critique, positionality, and ultimately solidarity. Each instance of language-use (German, Italian, Arabic) highlights the potentials of re-use, citation, and re-imagination for consolidating the bonds of anticolonial struggle and a vision of a postcolonial future. Shifting from translation to resonance and from language to voice, the essay ultimately engages the poetic potentials of translation as part of a pragmatics of anticolonial solidarity, integral to and beyond the self at the heart of self-representation.
It is striking that Edward Said's Orientalism—a text so reflexive about the dynamics of knowledge, power, and representation—begins in translation. Even prior to the first page of the introduction, Said offers two epigraphs: the first is the famous line from Karl Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, “They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented,” and the second is Benjamin Disraeli's line “The East is a career.”1 Taken together, these two epigraphs foreshadow how the discursive fantasy of Orientalism, anchored in art, science, and literature, aligns with colonial governance in the French, British, and American empires. And yet, I begin here with Said's first epigraph on account of its translation from German into English. In a book otherwise attuned to the politics of representation, how might we understand that Said presents Marx in English? On the one hand, what does it mean to offer an epigraph on self-representation in translation? Is it the case that the German language must be represented in English? Can the epigraph, cited and translated, ever represent itself? And on the other hand, what is the place of the self in a discourse on representation? Is language—whether English or German—a proxy for the self it claims to speak? In his use of a translated epigraph, Said confronts us, on the opening page of this defining book of postcolonial studies, with a fundamental quandary of translation and self-representation.
I raise these broad questions from this minor textual detail not to be flippant, but to account for the richness and complexity of the connections Said's work makes possible. The epigraph's appearance in translation is unsurprising, perhaps even banal, given that Orientalism is published in English, but the banality of representation is what Said's work helps us to interrogate. Rather than see Said's translated epigraph as a sort of contradiction, complication, or error in his central argument, I prefer to consider instead what his translation of self-representation offers. Said's work, after all, conveys not so much the logic of “good” or “bad” representation (with a stable referent to be represented), nor even the logic of “us” and “them,” the domestic and the foreign, or even native and imposed intellectual forms. Rather, Said's Orientalism offers a broader theory of representation that sheds light on the dynamics of borrowing, echoing, and mediating—a pivot that is not simply thematized as cultural imperialism, but performed in various citations and readings across numerous languages. Engaging these philological, citational, and translational folds means confronting theories of representation that extend well beyond the logic of mistranslation, appropriation, or manipulation. What is at stake both here and in the argument that follows has less to do with asserting linguistic purity (the quest for Marx's German) than with tracking strategic voicings aligned in the service of anticolonial critique. In this sense, taking stock of Said's use of Marx, we could go so far as to say the “self” of self-representation is always already elsewhere—not only translated and cited, but critically reanimated when enacted as an epigraph.
If I take Said's epigraph as my beginning, I do so to reflect on the implications that self-representation and translation have for the sort of work we do in the humanities. At a time when we delimit literary study according to the language of its composition (Arabic, Bengali, Catalan, Danish, English, French, German, Hungarian, and so on), Said's epigraph helps to remind us of the persistence of “other” languages internal to any given language.2 Though designations such as Global Anglophone, Francophone, and Sinophone attend to the geographic spread of language across regions, Said's epigraph ushers in questions of the borrowings and adaptations of languages within language. What is at stake in recognizing the intrinsic multilingualism of language? The response to such a question returns us to the fact that in Said's translated epigraph persists not only Marx's German, but an entire ethics of translation. Said's Orientalism is not so much a work of “Anglophone” literary criticism or of “Middle Eastern studies” as it is a framework through which to think a critical future for postcolonial scholarship. In Said's work, self-representation is not predicated on the expulsion of “other” languages from the assertion of selfhood, but on a recognition that the very act of representation is a matter of translation within, among, and between languages. Here, then, Marx lingers in Said's epigraph as a translation, a citation, and an argument—that is, as a voicing both internal to and beyond the postcolonial vision that Orientalism offers.
Drawing from the complexities of Said's translated epigraph, my goal in what follows is to resist the fantasy of some pure original language (prior to translation) and to consider instead the proliferation of “other” languages without which reflexivity around language-use would be impossible. In the four sections composing this essay, I will be visiting a few scenes that highlight the use of “other” languages in postcolonial texts: first, Said's citation, translation, and eventual paraphrase of Marx's German; second, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's translational ethos in reading Marx's famous line; third, Abdelfattah Kilito's reflections on Italian dialects and hospitality; and fourth, Frantz Fanon's allusions to formal Arabic in his discussion of Algerian radio broadcasts. Each of these vignettes gestures to how language and translation matter not necessarily as indices of linguistic fluency, but as part of a pragmatics of critique, positionality, and ultimately solidarity. Each instance of language-use (German, Italian, Arabic) highlights the potentials of re-use, citation, and re-imagination for consolidating the bonds of anticolonial struggles. And each of these instances offers a vision of solidarity that bespeaks the complexities and limits of self-representation. What arises instead is a theory of voice predicated less on the language spoken than on a broader framework of critical attunement—what we might call langagement.3
In these four different scenes from four paradigmatically postcolonial texts, languages do not simply represent; they take place—and in taking place, they proliferate the possibilities and potentials of critical positionings. What ultimately matters is not only the language (la langue) of reflection (be it English for Said and Spivak, Arabic for Kilito, or French for Fanon), but a reflection on language (le langage) that folds the question of representation back upon itself. This claim is not a simple deconstructive move, but a gesture to how language and translation complicate the discourse of representation above and beyond the politics of linguistic difference.4 In the cunning ruse of translation, the language one speaks (or does not) is itself not definitive of the self at the heart of self-representation. The pragmatics of “other” languages help to articulate the possibility of a critical position, one that tracks from Said's Orient to Spivak's subaltern, Kilito's foreigner, and Fanon's revolutionary.
Re-Marx on Self-Representation
There is, we could say, a certain selflessness to the assertion of self-representation, especially when presented in translation. In the pages of Said's Orientalism, Marx's line comes to speak to the critical situation of colonial representation and the imagination of a postcolonial future. And yet, when Marx wrote The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte between December 1851 and March 1852, he was reflecting on the coup that effectively ended the Second Republic in France. Composed nearly contemporaneously to these events, Marx's remarks were first published in Die Revolution, a German periodical in New York founded by Joseph Weydemeyer. The essay eventually appeared in English translation in 1869 and then again in 1885, when Friedrich Engels offered his translation of the text. In the oft-cited line, Marx reflects on a non-class of farmers and peasants unincorporated in the emergent system of governance predicated on a politics of representation. When, in this iterative history, Said cites Marx's line over a century later, he substitutes “the Orient” for what in Marx's account is a question regarding class and the French state. The situation that Said's epigraph presents is different—Marx's words resonate anew when translated linguistically and situationally on the opening page of Orientalism.
Just as the publication history of Marx's work travels from a serialized composition onto the pages of Weydemeyer's publication and eventually to Engel's translation, so too is there a situational pragmatics to Said's use of the epigraph that offers the line its poetic and critical afterlife. Said's epigraph constructively slips between language (German to English) and situation (France to the Orient). It is not that Said corrupts the original context of Marx's claim. He reanimates it when positioning it within the syntax of Orientalism. Stated differently: it is not that Said misrepresents Marx, but that he reframes the remarks; and likewise, it is not that Orientalism mispresents a world out there, but that the discourse reframes a distinct set of geopolitical interests. Already in the movement from the translated epigraph to Said's gloss, the possibility of language-use and the potentials of a postcolonial reading of Marx persist. Curiously then, Said manages to borrow and adapt a claim about self-representation to translate across situations and languages. The self of this self-representation is constructively rendered out of time and out of place.
Let us begin again by returning to Said's reference to Marx—or rather, to Said's second reference to Marx. In a passage dense with philosophical complexity, the introduction to Orientalism distinguishes between “representations” and “depictions”: “My analysis of the Orientalist text,” Said writes, “therefore places emphasis on the evidence, which is by no means invisible, for such representations as representations, not as ‘natural’ depictions of the Orient.”5 In the shift from the italicized to the quoted (from as representations to “natural” depictions), Said offers a fundamental distinction with which to undercut the quest for a supposedly correct representation of the Orient. “The things to look at,” Said writes, “are style, figures of speech, setting, narrative devices, historical and social circumstances, not the correctness of the representation nor its fidelity to some great original.”6 Contrary to those who read Orientalism as a rhetoric of distortion, Said is clear here to push his consideration away from the matter of mimetic accuracy—his aim is not to have the description meet its referent.
As Said continues his introductory reflections, he further clarifies his emphasis on representation as representation, and he does so by bringing us back to the citation of Marx with which his book begins, this time offering us the quotation in German. In fact, in the curious passage, he slips from French to German: “The exteriority of the representation is always governed by some version of the truism that if the Orient could represent itself, it would; since it cannot, the representation does the job, for the West, and faute de mieux, for the poor Orient. ‘Sie können sich nicht vertreten, sie müssen vertreten werden,’ as Marx wrote in The Eighteenth Brumaire.”7 Adjacent to the italicized French expression (faute de mieux), Said leaves the quoted German line untranslated for the reader (“Sie können sich nicht vertreten, sie müssen vertreten werden”). Does this quoted line somehow function differently than the epigraph? Unlike the epigraph, which takes on meaning through its juxtaposition with Disraeli, in this instance, Marx's line reappears almost as an affirmative afterthought to Said's own reflections on representation.
Above and beyond citing the untranslated quotation, there is yet another detail to note in this use of Marx's line in the theory of representation. Even before citing the line, Said effectively paraphrases it in English. And in this process, Said shifts the grammar of Marx's sentence such that by the time the German citation arrives, it functions as a supplement. If in Marx “they” is the subject represented, then in Said's gloss, “representation” becomes the subject of the second clause: “if the Orient could represent itself, it would; since it cannot, the representation does the job.” To be clear: the paraphrase substitutes “the Orient” in the first clause with “the representation” in the second, affirming the sort of representational hall of mirrors that Orientalism itself invokes. In Marx's sentence, by contrast, there is no shift in the subject between the first and second clauses, both of which refer to the famous “they” (Sie) at stake in Marx's essay. Said's rendering also adds syntax to Marx's phrase, introducing “if” and “since” as though to underscore the contingency of the representation. In as much as Orientalism shifts attention away from the origin of the referent, so too does this gloss of the citation, the reiteration of the epigraph, re-present representation as the subject of the paraphrase.
As the philosophical kernel at the heart of Orientalism and the crux of a discussion of representation, Marx's line moves from translation (in the English epigraph) to paraphrase (within the explanatory paragraph) to citation (of the quotation in German at the end). The issue here is not whether or not Said voices Marx properly (as citation or as paraphrase). Rather, something more is at stake: a pragmatics of critique. If we consider that Orientalism is not a discourse of the external referent, then in the citational ricochet is nested a pragmatism that offers a vision of solidarity above and beyond linguistic mastery. Comparatists are often told to revere original languages, but in Said's work, Marx takes place anew in each instance—as epigraph, as paraphrase, and as citation. What might it mean to consider epigraph, paraphrase, and citation alongside translation? Each of these modes bespeaks different relations that language makes possible, and each bespeaks a broader theory of representation. For our consideration of critique and translation, then, making the German citation a supplement in Orientalism sheds light on the critical possibility of translation—not as corruption, distortion, or purification, but as paraphrase, welcoming in place, hosting in language, and hosting in situation.
Can the Citation Speak?
In 1988, when Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak publishes “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, she returns us once again to Marx's famous line regarding self-representation.8 And in doing so, she reads Marx's claim quite differently than Said insofar as she reads the line as a question of translation. Where Said incorporates the quotation into his reflections, Spivak uses Marx as a pivot from a discussion of Foucault and Deleuze to a consideration of class politics and subject formation. In practice, Spivak resists the gloss of Marx's famous line and insists instead on “dwelling” with it as the grounds for thinking the valences of representation—something she does, not simply by translating the German but by pointing out what distinguishes the German language from the English. Her reading thus takes Marx less as a grammatical function in the argument than as a pivotal point from which to reflect, attenuate, and trouble the politics of transparent representation. If Said domesticates Marx into the argument of Orientalism, Spivak's translational politics Orientalize the German Marx, rendering his words the site for reflections on language itself.
Ever the comparatist, Spivak allows a certain estrangement of the German language to distinguish two different registers of representation, something she explains even before quoting Marx's famous line. “Let us consider,” she asks us, “the play of vertreten (‘represent’ in the first sense) and darstellen (‘re-present’ in the second sense) in a famous passage in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.”9 When paragraphs later she finally quotes Marx, she does so having already mapped out “a dispersed and dislocated class subject” at the basis of his study, one which distinguishes him from the representative politics that Foucault and Deleuze “slide over” in their elision of proxy and portrait. Her navigation of vertreten and darstellen draws her to the classic distinction between representation as tropology and representation as persuasion, and the two registers of the German verbs help to ground her intervention: “Darstellen belongs to the first constellation [rhetoric as trope], vertreten—with stronger suggestions of substitution—to the second [rhetoric as persuasion]. Again, they are related, but running them together, especially in order to say that beyond both is where oppressed subjects speak, act, and know for themselves, leads to an essentialist, utopian politics.”10 Of the many dimensions to “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” the insistence on the two valences of representation constitutes a key insight around which much of the essay turns.
It is only after having set up these crucial distinctions that Spivak arrives at the quotation of Marx. She writes,
Here is Marx's passage, using “vertreten” where the English use “represent,” discussing a social “subject” whose consciousness and Vertretung (as much a substitution as a representation) are dislocated and incoherent: The small peasant proprietors “cannot represent themselves; they must be represented. Their representative must appear simultaneously as their master, as an authority over them, as unrestricted governmental power that protects them from the other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above. The political influence [in the place of the class interest, since there is no unified class subject] of the small peasant proprietors therefore finds its last expression [the implication of a chain of substitutions—Vertretungen—is strong here] in the executive force [Exekutivgewalt—less personal in German] subordinating society to itself.”11
In this instance, her use of “here” points us directly to the quotation, again in English, but in an English shot through with annotations of the German. We are made acutely aware of the fact that we are reading in translation, and Spivak's brackets and quotation marks constitute a palimpsestic reading of the famous passage. If “here” we have Marx, we have Marx situated within the terrain of an argument about representation and executive force.
What for Said had been an epigraph is in Spivak's account a citation to be read, glossed, and gleaned for its relevance to thinking class politics in postcolonial theory. Her extended quotation of the passage leads her not only to address and comment upon registers of the original German, but to make claims about language as the basis for philosophical distinctions. Here, then, the foreignization of the German language is an important dynamic to trouble the transparency of representation. As she states paragraphs later, “I have dwelt so long on this passage in Marx because it spells out the inner dynamics of Vertretung, or representation in the political context. Representation in the economic context is Darstellung, the philosophical concept of representation as staging or, indeed, signification, which relates to the divided subject in an indirect way.”12 For my part, if I have dwelt so long on Spivak's passage quoting Marx's passage it is because of the dynamic of language-use it makes imaginable. As critic, Spivak becomes a translator who not only makes Marx speak, but reflects on the register of language and its implications for how he is in turn understood, estranging his language from itself in the process.
Allow me, though, an important caveat. Part of the persuasiveness of these readings has to do with how, in Said's case, Marx comes to speak to Orientalist difference, and how, in Spivak's case, Marx bears on the category of the subaltern. Elsewhere—in fact in most of her career—we can track an attenuation of Spivak's argument around subalternity, but in either case, Marx's argument (about the non-representability of the peasant in class politics) comes to speak to the situation of the subaltern in South Asia.13 Where the German language offers distinctions that attest to linguistic particularity (vertreten and darstellen), there remains a translatability of the situation through this German detour—that is to say, even for Spivak, the situation moves from French peasantry to subalternity in the colonial context.
From Said's substitution (“the Orient” becoming “representation”) to Spivak's association (Marx's reflections on class anticipating considerations of the subaltern), we encounter in Marx's quotation the possibility that the self of self-representation is always already outside of itself. The very slippage that the paraphrase, citation, and translation offer is a condition of being elsewhere within oneself. And it is precisely this elsewhere—linguistic, situational, and political—that allows for the generalizability of the condition that both Said and Spivak describe. To be in place is to insist not on the radical particularity of the scene Marx addresses, nor the language in which he does so. Instead, the common use of the quotation makes possible a set of associations in excess of the self of self-representation. If Said and Spivak produce works of theory, they do so on account of their capacity to exceed the parameters of being in place, and they open up the potentials for a sort of solidarity beyond the straitjacket of fixed identities, languages, or situations. The pragmatics of the citation (its mutability beyond itself) underscores the potential for something in excess of selfhood. It serves as a figure of the languages of selfhood that exceeds the terms of being in place.
Let us move to the next in a sequence of vignettes of untranslated tongues—this time to the reverberation of a spoken language in a written text. From Said's paraphrase to Spivak's dwelling, we have followed Marx's citation traveling through languages and situations. Whether as citation or paraphrase, as epigraph or example, Marx's words resonate anew in the framework of these seminal works of postcolonial theory. In Abdelfattah Kilito's Thou Shalt Not Speak My Language (Lan tatakallama lughati), we similarly confront ways of incorporating and voicing other languages in the reflection on selfhood, but here with a difference. What is at stake is less the voicing of a citation in an essay than the reverberations of speech, accent, and dialect among and between speakers. Kilito's book includes a set of essays, each of which weaves together citations of literature and speech to reflect on the ethical valences of speaking “other” languages.14 And for a book so concerned with one's own language (or, in Kilito's words, “my language” [lughati]), it is remarkable how richly multilingual the various essays are, as though affirming that to reflect on one's own language requires a detour through “other” languages, elsewhere and beyond.
The book's final essay—“Thou Dost Not, and Shalt Not, Speak My Language”—begins with the proclamation, cited but not attributed to the saying, “We are the guests [ḍuyūf] of language.” The proclamation leads Kilito to consider: “During our residence in its realm, that is, throughout our lives, we assume the respectful manners [ādāb] of a guest toward their host.”15 A translator's footnote accompanies this sentence and clarifies that the word ādāb in Arabic means both good manners and literature, and it suggests that the metaphor of the guest is “not fully translatable.”16 The remarkable opening passage continues, “We are inhabited, or haunted, by language, as though by a supernatural force.” Kilito eventually settles on a particular understanding of language, figured here as spoken language: “One day,” he tells us, “I realized I dislike having foreigners [al-ajānib] speak my language [lughati].”17 He adds that he thinks of himself “as an open-minded, liberal person,” but that, all the same, “the dislike had actually been there all along, except that I had not been aware of it and dared not confess it to myself, let alone to others.”18 With a nod to one of al-Hariri's maqamat, he then cites Abu Zayd Suruji's dictum, “Make yourself clear or disappear,” before eventually transitioning to a scene from an American detective novel by Donna Leon that is set in Venice.19 Already at the beginning of his essay, the figure of language transforms in the move from adage to poetry to anecdote to novel.
I began by reading Marx's citation, and I follow here with Kilito's reflections on language because of how he incorporates, or rather blurs, literary citations and speech. In the opening paragraph, we have the citation from al-Hariri's maqamat, written in Arabic, and in what follows, we arrive at an American novel describing a speaker of Italian. Kilito's extensive citation of literary works complicates the question of what it would mean to inhabit a language—there is, after all, a transit across time and space in the passages he discusses. And yet, this movement, it seems to me, is part of the richness of his essay, which shuttles throughout between speech and writing, tongues and texts. On the one hand, he offers us a confession, or a realization, that he recoils when hearing foreigners speak “his” language. And on the other hand, he analyzes speakers of foreign tongues figured in novels and literary prose. In a detour that travels from English to Italian to Chinese to Russian to Arabic, Kilito welcomes various texts and citations into “his” language as he reflects on the conditions of belonging to language itself.
I want to focus for a moment on Kilito's allusion to a specific scene from Leon's novel Death at La Fenice.20 Kilito discusses a speaker so fluent in Italian as to have mastered the Venetian dialect. He notes that the scene takes place in Venice, and he describes police commissario Guido Brunetti visiting with Italian singer Signora Flavia Petrilli, who, on this occasion, is with a young American woman. The passage goes on to quote the dialogue of the novel with attention to the American speaking Italian:
“It would be easier if we spoke in Italian,” the American said, speaking for the first time and using an Italian that displayed not the least accent. His reaction was entirely involuntary and was noticed by both women. “Unless you'd like to speak in Veneziano,” she added, slipping casually into the local dialect, which she spoke perfectly. “But then Flavia might have trouble following what we say.” It was entirely deadpan, but Brunetti realized it would be a long time before he'd flaunt his English again.21
A footnote in the Arabic text reveals that Kilito works from the French translation of Leon's book. In an essay otherwise concerned with the hospitality of language, it is especially revealing that the English-language novel translated into French is here cited in an Arabic essay devoted to questions of the Venetian dialect (lahja al-bunduqīya). The scene has a richly overdetermined afterlife in its various critical uses.
Kilito's reflections continue with yet another set of scenes depicting fluency in foreign tongues. He cites the German writer Francis Schuldt, who describes a couple from London working in a smaller city in China interrogated suspiciously by the Russian police. That they respond in Chinese rather than English or Russian marks them as non-foreign and therefore raises suspicions: “If they had ‘spoken foreign’ [taḥadathan ajnabīan], if they had talked to the Russians in English or in Russian—that is, in a language other than Chinese—they would not have caused concern.”22 And then, following these two scenes of legal interrogation, Kilito offers an anecdotal account of an encounter with an American woman in Morocco, who he assumes does not have a fluent command of Arabic. To his surprise, she responds to his carefully intoned address not only with an impressive command (“excellent and without blemish”), but also with an ability “to pronounce letters that bother most non-Arabs.”23 It is ultimately her use of the term wallihila, with its distinctively Moroccan character, that is cause for his questioning, especially as she seemed to be invoking “a faith [mu‘taqad] that was not hers.”24 In each of these instances, the scenes are occasions to reflect on the pitfalls of fluency outside of a native language, or what Kilito alludes to in his title as “my” language.
In the linguistic and formal transit from novel to anecdote to essay, what might we make of the distinction between speaker, writer, and citation? To what extent does embodied speech (of the native or the foreigner) differ from the literary citation (made to speak in an essay)? The question comes down to what we might call the etiquette (ādāb) of translation—by which I mean what it is to welcome, or host, a guest text in a foreign essay. Why does one mode of speech bother the author (enunciated speech) in ways that another citational mode does not (written quotations)? The answer, it seems, arrives toward the conclusion of the essay when Kilito seems to identify with the male Italian character (Brunetti). In the passage, Kilito describes Brunetti's response when faced with the fluency of a non-native interlocutor in Italian: “By preventing him from speaking English, she humiliates him, cuts off his tongue, strips him of his arrogance, or—as some would say—of his manhood.”25 Beyond his own projection onto and identification with the male character, Kilito also flips between language figured in the story, which he frames as a matter of emasculation, and language itself as figure, where he plays upon the gendering of the word “language” (al-lugha) as feminine. He thus confronts us not so much with a matter of translation (the words on the page in another language) as with transmutation (the provisional figuration and animation of language in language). The question of “my” language is framed in terms of occupation and invasion, or as he has it, less a place of refuge than a public house.
The various scenes gleaned from anecdotes and literature make possible the theoretical stakes of figuring language itself—and in the process, Kilito's essay functions as a sort of repository of speech.26 Part of the complexity of its hospitality derives from the folds through which language is both stolen and returned, torn between a character in a story and a figure of language itself. In the move from the various scenes of women speaking (in Donna Leon's novel and the anecdote of the American student) to the essay's conclusion, “she” is both the particular speaker of the language in his story and a figure of language itself. This linguistic ambiguity, registered in the feminine gendering of the word lugha, returns to the central conundrum with which the essay opens: “sometimes, it seems to me that the speaker is the host and that language is the guest—a quarrelsome and stubborn guest who arrives uninvited and who takes possession of the host and inhabits him against his will.”27 Even as Kilito himself struggles with the ethics of hospitality, he does so in an essay replete with languages, accents, and dialects that permeate his reflections on selfhood and speech.
In the end, the various scenes Kilito offers us (each of which textualizes speakers and language, tongues and tones) fold language-use back on the ethics of hospitality. Taking place is less the ricochet of the citation, as it was in Said and Spivak, than the transmutation of literary scenes in a fold of language upon itself. This sort of hospitality is not Kilito's response to a foreign speaker (which he confesses for us as readers), but the enactment of hospitality in his essay form (which envelops sources and citations across a range of languages). Even as Kilito reflects on the terms of his own language, he necessarily embraces “other” languages in the process. In a seeming circularity by which “his” language is only intelligible as his at the moment of its dispossession, Kilito embraces literary scenes to reflect on quoted speech, and he does so in such a way as to domesticate various authors in his reflections. Just as we saw with Marx and Spivak, so too with Kilito are citations made critically at home. Marx's quotation, Leon's novel, and Schuldt's study are all welcomed onto the pages of another author through argument, example, citation, and gloss. This transformative hospitality allows the exiled citation to find its place anew, as though a further affirmation that the self of self-representation is always already elsewhere.
I move now to our last in this series of “other” languages in postcolonial theory. In a footnote to his famous essay on radio, Fanon describes peasants in Kabylia huddled around a receiver listening to the revolutionary Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) broadcast: “In groups of scores or sometimes hundreds around a receiver, the peasants listen religiously [écoutent religieusement] to ‘the Voice of the Arabs.’”28 He goes on to specify that few of the listeners fully understand “the literary Arabic used in these broadcasts” and notes, “The faces assume a look of gravity and the features harden when the expression Istiqlal [Independence] resounds in the gourbi [shack].”29 Written in French, Fanon's essay curiously cites istiqlal in Arabic, even as Fanon describes those, like himself, who only understand particular words in an otherwise incomprehensible language. Istiqlal translates, almost spiritually, less as a word whose meaning is to be decrypted than as a call to action for those committed to the struggle. As the footnote continues, Fanon repeats the word again, connecting it to an underlying “faith” in victory: “An Arab voice that hammers out the word Istiqlal four times in an hour suffices at the level of heightened consciousness to keep alive the faith [la foi] in the victory.”
Even while istiqlal is left untranslated, it functions in this portion of Fanon's essay in a most curious sense. For Fanon as for his fellow listeners, the resonance of the broadcast turns on the recognition of this one word as a sort of call to arms echoing among those tuned in to the radio no matter what language they speak. In this sense, istiqlal is itself liberated from its etymological root. Where Said, Spivak, and Kilito welcome citations into their fold, here Fanon offers a critical reflection on language, but he does so without much by way of any citation, gloss, or reflection on the particular broadcast he discusses. Instead, in this footnote midway through his essay, Fanon conjures a group of listeners whose connection to the revolutionary struggle is less a matter of deciphering words than of attuning to Algerian independence, affirmed through the recognition of the word istiqlal.
In the context of a discussion of self-representation, the curious solidarity described in the footnote is especially revealing and one I hope to explore in this last section of the essay. To begin with, what might it mean to tune into a broadcast whose language is not fully understood? And further, what might it mean for a Black Martinican to align with Algerian independence? At a time when we think about the contours of belonging and speaking on behalf of others, what might Fanon's footnote reveal about self-representation beyond the purview of national and linguistic origin? And importantly, how might we understand this particular scene, in which language extends beyond a community of speakers and falls upon ears attuned to the repetition of a single word? At the heart of this classic text of postcolonial theory is an instance less of self-representation than an alternate representational politics predicated on a shift from language to voice—that is to say, less a matter of self-expression than of attunement, listening, and resonating in common.
When published as part of A Dying Colonialism (L'An V de la révolution algérienne), Fanon's radio essay shed light on the social dynamics of the struggle for independence in Algeria and cast the radio alongside practices related to veiling and family life. The listeners huddled around the radio could well be those readers across the world for whom Fanon's account provided insight into the paradigmatic liberation struggle. And Fanon himself, born and raised in Martinique, educated and married in Lyon, and employed in Algeria, bespeaks a certain type of cosmopolitanism, one that puts him at odds with a nativist logic of national liberation. Countering the twin logics of pan-Arabism and pan-Africanism, Fanon writes with the future in mind for a liberated Algeria, a nation to which he devoted his life and where he would eventually be interred.30 Self-representation here is not a matter of native proximity, nor even a matter of linguistic competence, but a shared commitment to the liberation of Algeria. For Fanon, being Algerian is not a matter of birth, language, or blood, but an allegiance forged differently for a nation that was yet to come. And as such, across the pages of his essay, the language of self-representation is not so much a matter of being as it is an investment in a common liberation struggle with and alongside a community.
One of the curiosities of Fanon's radio essay is that it tends to deemphasize the specific language of the FLN broadcast. In fact, the footnote annotates a sentence in the body of the essay devoted to a reflection on voice, which is emphasized over and above language, be it Arabic or French:
Cette voix, souvent absente, physiquement inaudible, que chacun sent monter en lui, fondée sur une perception intérieure qui est celle de la Patrie, se matérialise de façon non récusable. Chaque Algérien, pour sa part, émet et transmet le langage nouveau. La modalité d'existence de cette voix rappelle à plus d'un titre celle de la révolution : présente atmosphériquement, mais non objectivement, en morceaux détachés.31
This voice, often absent, physically inaudible, which each one felt welling up within himself, founded on an inner perception of the Fatherland, became materialized [se matérialise] in an irrefutable way. Every Algerian, for his part, broadcast and transmitted the new language. The nature of this voice recalled in more than one way that of the Revolution: present “in the air” [atmosphériquement] in isolated pieces, but not objectively.32
As Fanon has it, vocal solidarity is not a matter of speaking the same language, but something different—a sort of untranslatable commonality across tongues such that “every Algerian . . . broadcast and transmitted in the new language [le langage nouveau].” There is an important distinction glossed over in the translation, which renders both la langue and le langage as “language.” For Fanon, what is at stake has less to do with the particularity of a language than with a revolutionary aptitude shared among those united in the anticolonial struggle: langagement.
I draw us from la langue to le langage to consider the transition from those huddled around the radio receiver in the footnote to the revolutionary “new language” (le langage nouveau) of the anticolonial struggle. Between the pragmatics of listening and the resonance of the revolution, Fanon imagines a future beyond the language one speaks (la langue) to both describe and materialize the revolutionary voice of a shared struggle. He thus offers a caveat, a complication, and a pathway beyond an understanding of self-representation in a specific language (la langue). As readers and as listeners, we note a move in Fanon's essay from interpreting, decoding, and making sense of language to being positioned alongside those listening in common. And crucially, this position alongside is a matter not of being but acting, not speaking but attuning, and not decoding but resonating. Fanon's voice lesson is a pedagogy for imagining the world otherwise. He broadcasts and transmits in this “new language” (le langage nouveau), this revolutionary voice, which is proclaimed, amplified, and embodied in the resonance of istiqlal. In this sense, we might follow Anthony Alessandrini in noting that Fanon's commitment to the struggle is “one that burns away assertions of self-identity, purity, and unbridgeable differences, as a process of solidarity.”33 And we might follow the blurring of pronouns that Alessandrini offers when he writes, “The move from sympathy to solidarity, in other words, is a move that begins when ‘I’ feel the pain of ‘their’ struggle, but then moves forward to a situation in which the line between ‘their’ and ‘I’ disappears: that is, their struggle is my struggle.”34
Both Said's and Spivak's use of Marx, which is elsewhere from the French farmer discussed in The Eighteenth Brumaire, and Fanon's allusion to the language of the broadcast, which is elsewhere from the French in which the text is written, gesture to a sort of possibility that exceeds language-use. What matters in both of these instances is the translation, citation, and reimagination of the politics of positionality. We confront in these various instances not a notion of purifying the language of its speakers, nor of embracing the notion of community predicated on common language, but instead a solidarity of a different sort. Translation here avails us of an understanding beyond the translator qua traitor; we are offered instead the convert, the militant, and the birth of Fanon's “new language” with its truly revolutionary grammar. When cast alongside Kilito's hospitality, Fanon's text allows for a sort of thinking that expands the purview of belonging above and beyond claims of native language, native land, or shared ethnicity. Moving from language to voice, Fanon enables the imagination of a common struggle toward a common liberated future. The self of Fanonian self-representation is articulated in this “new language,” born of a shared struggle.
In the movement from Marx, Said, and Spivak to Kilito and Fanon, I have engaged in the sort of citational voicing I have been describing—that is, the formation of an argument through others' words, all in the service of a claim about the valences of language-use. I culminate my essay with Fanon on account of a particular resonance his work offers: a shift from postcolonial reflections on identity to the anticolonial struggle predicated along lines of solidarity. The move we see in Fanon (and in different ways in Said, Spivak, and Kilito) is not an insistence on hybridity—be it linguistic or ethnic—so much as a voicing through attunement and resonance. In the radio broadcast as in the voicing of Marx, we encounter a critical pragmatics that unsettles the regime of here and there, now and then, before and after, as the cultural coordinates of our age.
Allow me in closing to highlight the purpose of this act of voicing, much of which draws from a vision of postcolonial solidarity across time, place, and language. Whether Said and Spivak invoking Marx's German, Kilito reading Italian in Leon, or Fanon listening to Arabic radio, each of these various instances highlights “other” languages permeating reflections on colonialism, translation, and representation. And in each instance, the citation of texts from elsewhere (beyond the immediate situation described in each essay) interrupts what it might mean to be situated in time and place. For Said and Spivak, Marx's line makes thinkable the analytic stakes of discourses on representation, especially as regards the critical importance of anticolonial struggles in the Middle East and South Asia. And for Kilito, citations of al-Hariri and Leon, different though their situations are, speak to the question of hospitality and language in the Maghreb. Likewise, Fanon's discussion of radio broadcasting both reflects the voice its listeners share in their common liberation struggle and amplifies the new language and the critical vision of a future yet to come. For each of these writers, the discourse of self-representation does not celebrate a language purified of all others, nor any notion of an authentic self. Instead, a reflection on representation reveals that the “self” of self-representation exceeds the particularities of language and place—that a critical elsewhere is fundamental to self-understanding.
What might be the place of the linguistic detours and citations I have outlined above? How do Said and Spivak's German, Kilito's Italian, and Fanon's Arabic reimagine translation and critique? Each of the citations referenced here (be it Marx's line, the Leon novel, or the FLN radio broadcast) allows language to take place anew, elsewhere. We could, of course, assume that the position of the author is consequential (Said as Palestinian, Fanon as Martinican in Algeria, and so on) and that the historical situatedness of the argument (in the Middle East, South Asia, Morocco, or Algeria) has implications for how a text ought to be read. And yet, I have tried to show how the epigraph, the citation, the translation, and the footnote complicate what it means for language to take place. My point is not simply to note the historical slippage between the citation, its original conditions, and the deferred moment of being read, but rather to insist on possibilities for thinking about language and self-representation otherwise. Against the notion that self-representation stems from some authentic mode of expression, each of the theorists outlined above speaks through other languages to arrive at a discourse on selfhood—which is to say, the very self being spoken is always already permeated with translation. My emphasis on the elsewhere—of language and selfhood out of place—is part of an ethics of translation and the use of “other” languages toward the critical function of voice.
Rather than bracketing postcoloniality in favor of linguistically defined fields (Anglophone, Francophone, Arabophone, and so on), this article is interested in considering the pragmatics of language animated among and within specific languages. Such a move demands a shift away from a rhetoric of cultural difference (be it national or linguistic) and toward the sort of solidarity intrinsic to Fanon's internationalism. If here I have gestured to the critical importance of the elsewhere (in a biographical sense of the exiled intellectual, in a linguistic sense of the other language in the text, and in a citational sense with attention to quoted speech placed anew), I have done so to consider epigraphs, translations, citations, and footnotes as textual elsewheres fundamental to grappling with language-use. I would end by insisting on the elsewhere not as a site beyond critique, but as the site of critique. From Said, Spivak, Kilito, and Fanon, and from the epigraph, the citation, and the footnote, we confront registers of language animated in the service of a critical voice committed to thinking coloniality and the postcolonial condition—integral to and beyond the very “self” at the heart of self-representation.
Thank you to Samera Esmeir, Jeffrey Sacks, J. Daniel Elam, Ragini Srinivasan, and Ramsey McGlazer for the occasions and questions that helped to inform these remarks. I dedicate this essay to the memory of Sonja Boos—a thinker, a writer, a friend, and an inspiration.
For the consideration of global languages and literary forms, see Cheah, What Is a World?; Chow, Not Like a Native Speaker; Ganguly, This Thing Called a World; Mufti, Forget English!; and Walkowitz, Born Translated. For discussions of the Global Anglophone, see Anam, “Forms of the Global Anglophone”; Kantor, “Case of Exploding Markets”; Saxena, Vernacular English; and Srinivasan, “Introduction.” For Francophone discussions, see elhariry, Pacifist Invasions; and Warner, Tongue-Tied Imagination. For Sinophone studies, see Shih, Tsia, and Bernard, Sinophone Studies.
See Gauvin's Langagement: l’écrivain et la langue au Québec, the title of which offers wordplay between “l'engagement,” in the sense of commitment, and “langage” as the principle of language.
Various versions of the essay exist: one initially published in 1988 in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, as well as the version in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason and Can the Subaltern Speak? Reflections on the History of an Idea. Citations here are drawn from the 1988 version of the essay.
See A Critique of Postcolonial Reason and An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization, esp. 432–33, where Spivak explicitly addresses Marx's famous lines.
See Lucey and McEnaney, “Introduction.”