My MA thesis is complete, I’ve filed for my degree, but Julia Kristeva’s notions of the other and the Other, the theoretical underpinnings of my thesis, still haunt me.
I’m currently reading E. M. Forster’s Passage to India. One theme in Forster’s novels is the bridge: the bridge between social classes, between men and women and between natives of a foreign country and the expat English in that country. In writing about the relationship between the Englishman Ronnie and his fiancé Adela, the narrator says of Ronnie “…he never dreamt that an Indian could be a channel of communication between two English people” (Chapter 8). About Aziz, the Indian character who surprises Ronnie as this channel of communication, the narrator says “He was safe really – as safe as the shore-dweller who can only understand stability and supposes that every ship must be wrecked, and he had sensations that the shore-dweller cannot know” (Chapter 7).
As an American woman, fluent in Swedish, I’m fully equipped to be a channel of communication between Swedes and Americans. However, my function as a channel doesn’t work in reality: Americans view Swedes from a shore of preconceived ideas, just as Swedes view Americans. When I have tried to act as a channel of communication these two shores, I have failed, because I don’t fit the Swedish preconceived idea of what is American, and vice verse. As a result of not matching with any preconceived ideas, my attempts at being a channel of communication from the one culture to the other lack credibility on the shores of both cultures. Assuming that one definition of superstition is fear of the unknown, then as an American woman in Sweden, instead of being a channel of communication, I arouse superstition. Like Aziz in the novel, I bob up and down on the sensations that a shore-dweller is not expected to feel. And I am constantly dumbfounded at how eagerly my two cultures clutch onto the buoy of superstition.