Nebojsa Vilic

ISSN 1409-715X

Who establishes identification and belonging (in relation to whom and what)? Is it I myself who establish my own identity and do I determine where and to whom I belong? These basic questions, postulated as the theme of this project offer two answers. If the latter statement is affirmative, then I could hardly say that my identity is precisely described and determined, or whether I know to whom/where I belong, that will hardly prove the existing fact of this description, that is to say, establish that my definition of belonging is correct. If the latter statement is negative, then who or what determines these categories?

In other words, here and now being what they are, nothing is self-evident and can be formulated easily. This leads us to the conclusion and the question: who identifies and who determines belonging to something? As often happens, we all look for artistic production which deals with these questions. And most often, we find a great number of its products. Then we represent them. And we say: „This is representation of identity, or this is proof of belonging to something.„ But is it always so? Is it that simple? All one can say about this is that, in effect, it only offers an „image” which is to be confirmed elsewhere, by some other subject or institution. The state in which a subaltern (marginalised) subject is positioned in such circumstances is a state of expecting confirmation (being confirmed). And it is precisely this state that negates even the best ability of this subject to define himself. Here the formulation „if so – if not” is quite superfluous, for it was not the object of discussion on the basis of the subject’s free decision. It follows that the position of defining identity and belonging is not a simple linear or unilateral decision but a product of multilateral and rhisomatic structure wherein disursivity and processuality offer some solutions.  

First of all, it is interesting that questions of identity and belonging are raised in an age which, at least declaratively, cares least about particulars. Everywhere there is talk of unification, erasing differences, one language and one linguistic game, it is even claimed that artistic production is the same everywhere. The digitalisation of reality is the leading instrument of this unification. It is in the foreground not only when the themes of reality are at issue but also when it comes to the themes of veracity and their standardisation. (Holmes, 1997: 42-3) As far as the latter are concerned, it is also of interest that they are ambiguous in interpretative theory: it is evident that the themes of veracity in Europocentric theory differ from those outside it. By raising the issue of the centre and the margin, the latter has opened up discursive processuality in the pondering and interpretation of various modernities in the world. Of course, that has been (and still is) the burning issue that theory has been dealing with, striving to explain the character of (forcibly imported) modernity in its society. In this way, postcolonial criticism established themes that not only constitute an attack on modernity thus imported but are, first of all, themes through which it offered instruments for interpreting the relationship between this modernity and the original specifics of the existing culture at the given moment. On the other hand, the former theory countered the advent of postcolonialism by launching postmodernism. However, postmodernism itself has expressed little interest in this problem, even though it was to be expected that it would offer its own interpretation of the relations between the centre and the periphery. In Western cultures, the awareness of different modernities refers to determining modernity only within those cultures of Western provenance. And finally, the idea of globalism as a system of decentralisation of everything (from capital to culture) has not managed to come up with a satisfactory answer. (Featherstone, 1995: 12)

This has not happened precisely because, in the case of Western (i.e. central) cultures, this decentralisation boils down to the decentralisation of these cultures themselves whereas, on the other hand, non-Western (i.e. peripheral) cultures have decentralised their cultures expecting the differences between the centre and the periphery, thereby remaining peripheral again. Spivak’s appeal for the voice of the subaltern to be heard has failed to reach further than the subaltern itself. (Spivak, 1995) However, what is important about this appeal is the fact that the same subaltern subject has finally obtained a hermeneutic theory that provides explanations and answers questions this subject asks himself.  

In view of all this, let us return to the initial question: why these questions of identity and belonging today? Basically, there is nothing controversial about this question. But if we reformulate it as follows: who establishes identity and belonging and how, then we enter an area where the following question is raised: who establishes the character of contemporary borderline/peripheral cultures?
Why is this important? First of all, because the issues of identity and belonging are understandable in themselves within the framework of belonging to a community. However, one gets the impression that in the here and now, this concerns the relations between several communities more than those within the community itself. Speaking for myself, if I am a Frenchman, Macedonian of Greek, I have no problems when it comes to defining my identity and belonging because I define myself as a member of the French, Macedonian or Greek community (which, by the way, is determined in accordance with all the existing categories of the sociological apparatus). But the situation is quite different if my identity and belonging are to be determined and verified in relation to other communities. (cf. Саркањац, 2001: 46-51) That is why I think that what is important is not the matter of the presence of identity and belonging in art/artistic practices and works, but the matter of who determines and verifies those and how. Naturally, this presupposes the inclusion of discursivity in the understanding of identity and belonging.

If the issue is formulated like this, discursive processuality arises from the need imposed by the unsatisfactory unilateral interpretation and its inability to respond to the contemporary relations between the centre and the periphery. Globalisation resolved this problem merely by hiding the role of the centre or, more precisely, by shifting the focus of power from the centre to the outside. Bernard Tschumi has written about this division, or more precisely, establishing the location of control of power in society and the way it is organised. In his analysis, he established three distinct phases: in the middle ages, when society was self-regulated, the organisation and the power were in the centre – the king, despot, feudal lord; in the industrial age, society was artificially organised, that is to say, the organisation and the power were in the hands of bureaucrats and the administration servicing the economy and industry, and consequently the control of power was no longer in the centre but on the periphery (because this coherent structure spread over the entire territory, and control was brought to the borders, the edges of society). Tschumi interprets the contemporary era as deregulated, for the decentred subject is not under control and is regulated by a system which is beyond the boundaries of society.(Tschumi, 1989: 266-7) If today’s subject is indeed in such a position (and there is no doubt about this, at least as far as the „marginal” cultures are concerned), it is clear why it is normal and important to ask the subaltern subject the question „who and how” establishes his identity and belonging. The assumption is that this determination comes from „outside” the society or culture in question, that somebody else makes the decisions about determining this and that somebody else puts together, constructs and presents the subject in question.

In order to avoid the impression of paranoia about this assumption, it is sufficient to turn one’s gaze towards the current presentation of Balkan art in Europe over the last few years. The great exhibitions like In the Gorges of the Balkans (Kassel), In Search of Balkania (Gratz), Blood and Honey (Vienna) etc., or the latest, Manifesta 5 (San Sebastian), openly speak about the discourse of this determination. The form of monologue in this „dialogue” seriously raises the question of what art or what kind of art is presented in Europe as coming from the Balkans (or south-eastern Europe or western Balkans). And is this the only art being created in the Balkans? Are those the only themes of Balkan artists? Finally, who determines the theme of identity (which always boils down to the sense of national, nationalist identity) and who determines belonging in accordance with what (why are mega-exhibitions of this type organised, whereas Kassel’s Documenta or San Sebastian’s  Manifesta invite/select just a few artists from the Balkans?)? It is precisely because of this situation that the subaltern subject must ask these questions in this particular way.

Several theses proposed by the Macedonian philosopher Branislav Sarkanjac appear to be convenient for resolving this situation. In his proposal (even a manifesto-like appeal) for the catachrestic mobility of the subaltern subject, one recognises not just interpretation but resistance to this situation. However, this resistance is not based on the negation and deconstruction of the Western (centrist), determining position; moreover, he does not speak of rejecting everything that this position may postulate. On the contrary, catachrestic mobility is precisely the opposite of that. Like postcolonial criticism, the catachrestic strategy is having the possibility, knowledge and skill to „get hold of an apparatus [in this case – Western], reverse it and displace it”(Spivak, 1990: 228) in favour of, as Sarkanjac puts it, „the abolition [Aufhebung] of transplanted and self-referential knowledge”.(Саркањац, 2001: 36)

When it comes to the question of what would determine the character of contemporary borderline cultures/art, catachrestic mobility presupposes agency. However, this agency is not a call for revolutionary resistance but means ensuring an equal position in negotiations and practical relations with the source/centre of the determining system. That, according to Homi Bhabha, is the essence of postcolonial criticism: postcolonialism is between the positions of practice and negotiation, and it is precisely these two categories that presuppose and imply (being processual and, therefore, rhisomatic) agency, and not just, as Sarkanjac puts it, „negation and deconstruction” (36), for deconstruction itself means postponing agency, and with catachresis, „he who turns against postponement will have a greater basis for agency”.(39)
          Presupposing catachrestic mobility, that is, through agency, the subaltern and maginalised subject must initiate the process through practice and negotiation, and by referring to his own knowledge (and self-knowledge) of his position, identity or belonging based on distorted and displaced theoretical positions of „the centre”, and parallel with that, by accepting the attitudes of and cooperation with other such subjects. This all the more because the question of identity and belonging gets its final answer precisely in this intra-cultural concept wherein they are explained and interpreted from the position of the subject living the reality and explaining its veracity.(Вилиќ, 2000) That is how the idea and tendency of decentring will achieve the most effective position and explain the need for the question of why the issues of identity and belonging today, that is, will provide the answer to the question: who and how determines identity and belonging and finally, who determines the character of contemporary borderline/peripheral cultures?

          Because of this, it is easy to use the term „continental (French) breakfast” as a metaphor, because it is only confirmed by another – „insular (English) breakfast”. And the other way round. But how, using what metaphor, is one to explain the subaltern position of the subject outside the centre? It would appear that the way to do so is by introducing the term „peninsular breakfast” in this debate. The term itself is neither continental nor insular, it is neither French nor English, it is not only Macedonian (Balkan). Its use as a metaphor refers to every situation in which the subject is dependent on the other for determination and confirmation. It is a metaphor of being neither land nor sea, that is, both land and sea, a position determined only through practice and negotiation with a view to defining the situation of a culture as „neither-nor and both-and”.


Featherstone, Mike (1995) Undoing Culture. Globalization, Postmodernism and Identity. London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Holmes, David (1997) Virtual Politics. Identity & Community in Cyberspace. London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorti and Sonja Gunew (1995) ‘Questions of Multiculturalism’, pp. 193-202 in Simon During (ed.) The Cultural Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorti (1990) ‘Poststructuralism, Marginality, Postcoloniality and Value’, pp. 219-44 in Peter Collier and Helga Geyer-Ryan (eds) Literary Theory Today. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Саркањац, Бранислав (2001) Македонски катахрезис. Скопје: 359°. [Sarkanjac, Branislav (2001) Macedonian Catahresis. Skopje: 359°.]

Tschumi, Bernard (1989) ‘De-, Dis-, Ex-’, pp. 259-267 in Barbara Kruger anad Phil Mariani (eds) Remaking History. Washington: Dia Art Foundation.

Вилиќ, Небојша (2000) ‘Мултикултурализмот во расчекор. Поглед на интракултурноста или за истостите во нас’, pp. 129-47 in Браниислав Саркањац Komsi_kapicik. Култура и политика (уметноста и дефицитот на сетилноста). Скопје: 359°. [Vilic, Nebojša (2000) ‘The Multiculturalism in astride. View on the intraculturalitt or about the sameness into us’, pp. 129-47 in Branislav Sarkanjac Komsi_kapicik. Culture and Politics (Art and the Deficit of Sensibility). Skopje: 359°]