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)