M:ST News

Identity, Alterity and The Third Space: The Theatre of Alberto Kurapel

Fernando de Toro

Department of English, Film and Theatre

University of Manitoba

 Time is not simply a succession of “nows” in which the present slips into the past as it moves toward the future. To the contrary, the past that is never present returns as a future that nevercomes. Mark C. Taylor, Altarity.  

To heed the solicitation of an inconceivable Other is to leave the comfort of the familial and the security of the familiar in order to err with neither hope of arriving nor expectation of returning home. To wander among pyramids is to trace and retrace le pas of Abraham. The space of such erring is the desert. The time of such erring is the terrifying past that never was, the uncanny present that never is, and the frightful future that never will be. The space-time of such erring is the writerly spacing-timing of Fear and Trembling.

Mark C. Taylor,  Altarity.

The fact would seem to be, if in my situation one may speak of facts, not only that I shall have to speak of things of which I cannot speak, but also, which is even more interesting, but also that I, which is if possible even more interesting, that I shall have to, I forget, no matter. And at the same time I am obliged to speak. I shall never be silent. Never.

-Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable.

1. KURAPEL

The writing and the theatrical practice of Alberto Kurapel during the past fifteen years are inscribed within a textual practice comparable to authors such as Clarice Lispector (1988), Hélène Cixous (1991), Nicole Brossard (1990), John M. Coetzee (1983, 1986), Michael Ondatjee (1976, 1992), Kathy Acker (1986), to mention a few well known cases. At the same time, Kurapel’s practice is part, in an exemplary way, of a new expression, characterised by the attempt to overcome binarism and propose a new alternative. Kurapel’s work is also part of the Post-Modern discussion and of the debates of Post-Colonialism: the Third Space. 

What is the Third Space? It is the attempt to write in the in-between of past narratives and of current culture. The response that Kurapel provides in his performances is the in-between writing, which places his work at the very centre of the issues pertaining to identity and alterity. Kurapel’s work is marked by otherness and difference, but more fundamentally by alterity. This is the central theme throughout his work, from 3 performances teatrales (1987) until his last performances,Trauco pompón de los demonios (1996), Detrás de las pupilas nacen y mueren todas las heridas(1995a) and Silencioso perfil (1995b) and previous works, Prométhée enchaîné (1989), Carta de ajuste ou nous n’avons plus besoin de calendrier (1991), Colmenas en la sombra ou l’spoir de l’arrièregarde (1994) and La bruta interférence (1995).

Kurapel’s work can be divided into two moments: a) one is characterised by the fracture, the bilingual performances (Spanish/French) from 3 performances teatrales until La bruta interference. Here binarism and polarity are exposed, fracture and alterity are displayed as a wound; b) another is marked by what I would characterise as ‘intercultural,’ where difference is the basis for a new alternative, a new space where the language of alterity is negotiated. In this second moment, bilingusim is abandoned and Spanish remains as the only language.

2. ALTERITY

With the advent of the Post-Modern Condition, and particularly with what I would call the Post-Colonial condition, the interest on issues pertaining to alterity have been placed at the forefront of the discussion on identity. The works of Mark C. Taylor (1987), Thomas Docherty (1996), Ian Chambers and Lidia Curti (1996), David Morley and Kuah-Hsing Chen (1996), Robert Young (1990) Homi Bhabha (1994), Stuart Hall (1996, 1996a), Trinh T. Minha-ha (1989), Patricia Hill Collins (1990), Ian Chambers (1994), Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1988, 1991, 1993), and the seminal work of Edward Said (1978, 1993) show the importance attributed to these topics. We could safely state that Post-Colonial studies start with Edward Said, and from this point others concentrate fundamentally on questions of alterity, even if such studies do not label these questions under the name of alterity. At the same time feminism, in particular, has paid a sustained attention to alterity and identity.

From the position of cultural and Post-Colonial studies, the notion of alterity that is normally used is indeed related to notions of otherness, difference and marginality. The notion of alterity, generally, is discussed in relation to politics, and within politics, in relation to issues pertaining to ethnicity, minority, marginality and race. However, this notion has received thorough study within the epistemological framework of Post-Modernity. For instance, in the artistic field, the works of Merleau-Ponty, Bataille (1959, 1985, 1986) and Kristeva (1982); in philosophy, Hegel, Heidegger (1969, 1971), Kierkergaard, Blanchot, Levinas, and Derrida (1974, 1981); and in psychology, Lacan (1966, 1971).

It is from the notion of alterity, in what I would call “Post-Modern philosophy and psychology”, that we centre our approach to alterity. It is here where we find the analytical instruments that make it possible to separate the notion of alterity from the notions of difference and identity. 

In the Hegelian system, identity and difference are terms in the same equation, where a reciprocal dependency exists: there is no identity without difference and no difference without identity, and this always results in sameness. The only dialectical opposition is the negation of the negation, which incontestably ends in an Aufhebung. In fact, Being is thought of as difference. Identity isdifference. Once again, Taylor underlines that “difference as difference, pure or absolute difference, is indistinguishable from identity. Difference constitutes itself by opposition to itsopposite, identity” (1987: 16)*. The negation of its own Other is what leads to unity and reconciliation, thus difference always ends up in homos (the same), in das Selbe. At the same time, this homo almost always presents itself linked to a certain origin, to a presence which is absent. We could even state that metaphysics is nothing but the philosophy of the presence which is absent, and this implies an originary essentialism. (Wesenkerkunft in the terminology of Heidegger 1969: 63-65). Heidegger states, “The identical always moves toward the absence of difference, so that everything may be belonging together of what differs, through a gathering by way of the difference. We can say ‘the same’ only if we think difference” (1971: 218).

If one carefully examines the philosophers quoted above we will observe that they are all, in one way or another, related to Hegel, in as much as they carry out a radical critique of ontotheology based precisely on what Hegelian philosophy leaves out, that which he refuses to think: the scatological, the abject, the rejected, the scoria, the garbage, the menstruation, etc. Perhaps this attention paid to Hegel is due to the Cartesian project, that consisted in the philosophy of the Subject, and this project comes to a end with Hegel. According to Taylor, “For Heidegger, modern philosophy comes to an end in Hegel’s System, thereby bringing to a close the Western ‘ontotheological tradition’ that began centuries ago in Greece” (Taylor, 1987: xxvi).

Post-Modern philosophy, that in fact is nothing but the end of metaphysics, will focus its attention on all that is not reducible to a system, to that which escapes the system and in this escape, it dismantles it, it deconstructs it. Thus, alterity will not be difference, since this can be reduced, in a deconstructivist sense, in das Selbe, while alterity is characterized by its irreducibility. It is in this irreducibility where the notion of alterity is inscribed, and in this sense it is similar to Kristeva’s (1982) notion of abjection, to Derrida’s notion of différance (1974, 1981), Lacan’s notion of Real (1966, 1971), or Bataille’s notion of heterology, agiology or eroticism  (1959, 1985, 1986). Our interest resides, then, in the fracture, the hymen, the vagina, the cut, the limit, the border, the margin, interior-exterior. Alterity, thus conceived, is then intimately linked to the inhabiting of the fracture, revealing the lack (Lacan), differ/defer, to think the unthinkable, to name the unnameable. Alterity is Pharmakon, it is here and there, indecidible but determinable.

Our interest in Kurapel’s work resides precisely in his exposure of alterity as a radical separation, in the Lacanian sense, that is, it is inscribed as a permanent rupture, irreducible, and also as an inscription of the permanent lack, one that is impossible to quench with respect to the desire/object always differed/deferred. Alterity has no ontological status since it is not reducible, being simultaneously presence and absence.

We are also interested in contextualising Kurapel’s alterative thinking. And his work within the Post-Theoretical framework mentioned above. This Post-Theoretical thinking, in our view, expresses many of the current uncertainties.

3. THE FRACTURE

The fracture, the problem of the Other and alterity are not realities which are only present in the political or social arena. I believe that in the last few years these issues have penetrated all the artistic fields and, in particular, the literary field. Kurapel’s work is not an exception but he is one of the first artists to concentrate on these issues. His artistic work, in Spanish/French, inscribes and reveals the fracture of the other in all its complexity. Kurapel inhabits fracture and otherness each time that he writes/performs/enunciates simultaneously in two languages: Spanish and French. One is his own, the other is acquired. In Carta de ajuste ou nous n’avons plus de calendrier we read: “When I translate myself I am no longer alone. I am a memory that has a future. From now on a voice becomes the echo of my voice” (My translation, 1991: 56).

It is precisely in this act of self-translation where he attempts not to be the other, but at the same time, the echo of his voice in another language reveals his state as Other. The echo marks the fracture, the division and alterity in all its violence. The translation implies, as does the Venetian bridge, unities and separates, proximity and distance, belonging and loneliness, difference and sameness. In this manner Kurapel inscribes his otherness within the acquired language, he inhabits a space that it is neither this nor that, a space in-between, a space which avoids the margin but which reveals its différance in the double linguistic articulation (differ/defer). Thus Kurapel creates a new space, encrusting and negotiating his discourse within the dominant discourses. Kurapel’s battle is a battle of language, of discursivities in competition, of diverse positionalities.

In the bilingual texts Kurapel clearly states that it is not possible to continue speaking from the margins, since this position not only implies self-marginalisation, but also hinders any attempt to deconstruct the centre. The centre can only be dismounted in its own terms, as Derrida has clearly pointed out:

The movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from the outside. They are not possible and effective, nor can they take accurate aim, except by inhabiting those structures. Inhabiting them in a certain way, because one always inhabits, and all the more when one does not suspect it. Operating necessarily from the inside, borrowing all the strategic and economic resources of subversion from the old structure, borrowing them structurally, that is to say without being able to isolate their elements and atoms, the enterprise of deconstruction always in a certain way falls prey to its own work. (1974: 24) 

It is a fact that Kurapel’s texts present a clear presence of Latin America, of exploitation, the past colonisation, aboriginal myths, but it is also a fact that in these texts he introduces the past and present Western tradition  (Prometheus, Oedipus, Lazarillo, technology), the universal knowledge.

For instance, in Prometeo encadenado or in Carta de ajuste there is a violent clash between the presence of Western and Latin American myths, on the one hand, and on the other hand the presence of current technology. Kurapel avoids any temporal and spatial inscription, creating his own time and space, a new space, a third space that attempts to avoid binarism so characteristic of our Western tradition.

Kurapel’s artistic and performative work links up with current theories purported by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1988, 1990, 1993), Judith Butler (1990, 1993), Edward Said (1978, 1993), Stuart Hall (1996, 1996a) or Homi Bhabha (1994), with respect to the search for a new language that is able to effectively negotiate in the discursive competition. Kurapel inhabits a space where he does not accept being reduced to the margin, and in a double movement and gesture reveals his cultural background and the other culture, he inhabits alterity in order to avoid marginalisation. In this sense he reiterates what Spivak has pointed out with respect to the discourses that seek to alienate:

One of the things I said was that one of my projects is not to allow myself to occupy the place of the marginal that you would like to see me in, because then that allows you to feel that you have an other to speak to. (1990: 122)

Kurapel’s work is complex and ambitious: at the same time that he inscribes narratives of origin, he denies them; he represents them in order to deny them and fuse them with other narratives, and it is here that resides, not only the originality of his performances, but also the political and ideological dimension of his work. With Homi Bhabha we can state:

What is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond narratives of originary and initial subjectivities and to focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences. These ‘in-between’ spaces provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood – singular or communal – that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself. (1994: 1-2)

Kurapel builds his identity with alterity, and precisely in the duplicity of his discourse, he introduces a third space where, more than a language, what he searches for is a voice. At first sight we could think that Kurapel seeks his original roots and thus falls into a parochial essentialism. But this is not the case, since what he seeks is a voice that will be listened to. Thus, in Carta de ajuste he states:

When I know that I have a name, I lose it in the words, I erase it in order to write and to arrive at what I am. I know that when I die I will not have a name but perhaps my voice will be listened to. (My translation, 1991: 56)

In La bruta intérference the identity is established in the difference of the Other:

When you look at me you are looking at your self. Looking at ourselves, finding ourselves. When you speak to me you are keeping silence […]. Do not forget that when you look at me you are looking at yourself. You are looking at yourself. (My translation, 1995: 55)

The structure of the mirror and reflection is returned by negation. The Subject is only able to recognise himself in the difference of the sight.

4. THE SUBJECT AND ITS ALTERITY

In his last works, Kurapel abandons bilingualism and this is owed to the integration of characteristics in his works which, until now, had been an element in them, but now becomes central: multiculturality.

In Trauco pompón de los demonios (1996), the actors that are part of the text come from different origins: Vietnam, Quebec, Manitoba, Greece, San Salvador, Argentina, Italy, Guatemala, Mexico, Africa, Poland. At the same time, the history of this text is based, according to Kurapel, in a myth from the South of Chile, from the remote island of Chiloe. Identity would seem to inscribe itself in alterity, in plurality. Thus, the Subject can only construct itself in relation to a fracture. The ostentation of the fracture opens up a new multiform space in constant fluctuation

Kurapel would seem to propose in his last works the elimination of border and frontiers and a radicalisation of identity in terms of the globalisation not based in otherness but in the acceptance and in the celebration of alterity qua alterity. The abstract and petty nationalism that characterises so many societies, including Latin America, is deconstructed and questioned. Kurapel’s proposal is not very different to that of Edward Said when he states that:

Gone are the binary oppositions dear to the nationalist and imperial enterprise. Instead we begin to sense that old authority cannot simply be replaced by new authority, but that new alignments made across borders, types, nations, and essences are rapidly coming into view, and it is those new alignments that now provoke and challenge the fundamentally static notion of identity that has been the core of cultural thought during the era of imperialism. Throughout the exchange between Europeans and their “others” that began systematically half a millennium ago, the one idea that has scarcely varied is that there is an “us” and a “them,” each quite settled, clear, unassailably self-evident. (1993: xxiv-xxv)

Kurapel refuses to accept the margin and thus he locates his practice in zones considered marginal with the objective of removing the margin. In order to do this he makes available to him all the resources offered by the Post-Modern culture where he inscribes his own performative practice: intertextuality, rhizomatic writing, discontinuity, plurality, irony, alterity. 

Judith Butler, in her seminal work, shows the way to follow, and in this route converges with Kurapel’s trajectory, a path that Kurapel has walked since the late 1970s. According to Butler:

The point is not to stay marginal, but to participate in whatever network of marginal zones is spawned from other disciplinary centers and which, together, constitute a multiple displacement of those authorities. The complexity of gender requires an interdisciplinary and postdisciplinary set of discourses in order to resist the domestication of gender studies or women studies within the academy and to radicalize the notion of feminist critique. (1990: xi)

Kurapel attempts to escape the binarism which has marked, from time immemorial, the many cultures that inhabit the planet, particularly Western culture, and within this, Latin American culture. The objective is to escape those polarisations that divide cultures in “us/them” and which reproduce the master narratives and the same dogmatism. It for this reason that Kurapel globalises his discourse from the periphery, from the margin. From this perspective, Kurapel’s work may be considered Post-Colonial since it revises and overcomes the preceding Post-Colonialism. Thus, once again, the Kurapelian project converges with that of Homi Bhabha:

The postcolonial perspective – as it is being developed by cultural historians and literary theorists – departs from the traditions of sociology of underdevelopment or ‘dependency’ theory. As a mode of analysis, it attempts to revise those nationalist or ‘nativist’ pedagogies that set up the relation of Third World and First World in a binary structure of opposition. The postcolonial perspective resists the attempt at holistic forms of social explanation. It forces a recognition of the more complex cultural and political boundaries that exist on the cusp of these often opposed political spheres. (1994: 173)

What remains evident, both in Bhabha’s Post-Colonial theory as well as in Kurapel’s project, is that remaining encapsulated in essentialism and nativism, in identity and difference, is a trap that can only lead to the reproduction of the system that one attempts to dismantle. The only solution is to inhabit and appropriate the centre’s discursivities in order to subvert them. This practice of “inhabiting” other discourses in order to deconstruct them, is a central characteristic of the theatrical practice of Alberto Kurapel, as well as of the whole artistic practice of Post-Modernity, independent of its origin. Intertextual and palimpsestic practices present in Foe by J.M. Coetzee (1986), is a perfect example of this practice: a text inserted and woven in the “fractures” ofRobinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Coetzee’s story could not have been told without that intertext, and without bringing back British expansionism during the Eighteenth Century. Coetzee achieves this by using a minimalist form and this, in turn, allows not only a reading of the past, but also of the present: Coetzee inhabits the Crusoe by Defoe.

To inhabit does not only mean to make every form of knowledge ones own, but also to decoloniseour own discourses. With respect to the so-called Third World, the task at hand is to abandon its condition as ex-centric (Bhabha, 1994: 177). 

5. ‘BEYOND’

In Kurapel’s work the task would seem to consist in overcoming fossilised discursive positions. Kurapel confronts the migration problems: he travels from one space to another, from one temporality to another, from one ethnia to another, to make them all simultaneous: to be here and there at the same time. What remains evident is that there is no going back to a primogenial origin: all we have is the present and the future, and the past is what we once were, but we are no longer that**. In La bruta interférence Camila/Camilo says: 

In this place I threw it away. It was what I loved the most; or rather the only loved thing I still had with me […].

Much time has gone by, and I cannot find it.

[…]

I want to find what I threw away when I had to leave! (1995: 75)

[…]

I do not know if it was here where I threw it. Here I look for it because a place does not exist. (1995: 84)

Kurapel’s performances interrupt a space, intervene a temporality, work in the fractures of binarism and polarity as he searches for a new space to be able to re-inscribe our sense of communal life. At the same time, he recuperates the past in order to make it a present, that is, to deconstruct it, display it, and to underline the non-return, thus seeking a new affiliation based in our basic communality: the fact that we have to share this point in the space we call the Earth.

Alberto Kurapel’s theatre breaks down the limits between fiction and reality, they are fractured, abolished. Kurapel is Kurapel inside and outside the stage: his story is not fiction but a form of construction of what we call Reality. His writing is the form that this reality takes, admitting that we have failed, and from here his constant, nomadic, cartographic and inconmesurable search. In his “Notes to the Staging” for La bruta interférence, Kurapel states:

When one has lived in two places, in two epochs, in two universes, in two Histories: one returns here, or there? Attempting to elucidate this dilemma I began to write a play always keeping in mind that the Condor, a bird of prey, which I came to know intimately, is the reincarnation of the Sun in all the mythologies of the Andes. And that from my mountains to yours we travel today in that void built by a virtual reality originated in the media which inoculates conformism, that makes you drowsy, that brutalises you in front of events which take place in cruel and unjust realities [….]. (My translation, 1995: xxvii)

FOOTNOTES

*Stuart Hall has elaborated an interesting notion of identity, freeing it from any trace of essentialism and using it in a strategic and differed manner:

Identity is such a concept – operating ‘under erasure’ in the interval between reversal and emergence; an idea which cannot be thought in the old way, but without which certain key questions cannot be thought at all. (1996: 2)

The concept of identity deployed here is, therefore not an essentialist, but a strategic and positional one. That is to say, directly contrary to what appears to be its settled semantic career, this concept of identity does not signal that stable core of the self, unfolding from beginning to end through all the vicissitudes of history without change; the bit of the self which remains always-already ‘the same’, identical to itself across time. (1996: 3)

**Robert Young points out on this same subject, that:

In a similar way, those who evoke the ‘nativist’ position through a nostalgia for a lost or repressed culture idealize the possibility of that lost origin being recoverable in all its former plenitude without allowing for the fact that the figure of the lost origin, the ‘other’ that the colonizer has repressed, has itself been constructed in terms of the colonizer’s own self-image. (1990: 168)

And he adds that:

The ‘nativist’ argument thus simply reproduces a Western fantasy about its own society now projected out onto the lost society of the other and named ‘the Third World’.

[…].

all such arguments, whether from colonizer or colonized, tend to revolve around the terms which the colonizer have constructed. To reverse an opposition of this kind is to remain caught within the very terms that are being disputed. Nationalist resistance to imperialism, for example, itself derives its notion of nation and of national self-determination from the Western culture that is being resisted. (1990: 168)

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