The aim of this inter­na­tional 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:

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