May 04, 2007

‘A Place Without Boundaries’ by Kirsti Bohata

Planet, the Welsh Internationalist, ed. John Barnie, no. 145 Feb/March 2001). (77 –82).

Bohata begins her essay not by thinking about Wales, but by making a direct comparison between black and Welsh writing:

For the African-American writers of the 1920s’ Harlem Renaissance, the issue of how they positioned their work in relation to their colour or “race” was enormously significant. Is a black writer just a writer who happened to be black, or a black man or woman who just happens to write? And of course, it is not simply a matter for the author, but also for the reader […]. These are questions that have great relevance in Wales, where Welsh writing in English is often confined to a similar kind of cultural and critical ghetto. (77)

Bohata describes Christopher Meredith’s frustration and the lack of definition of Welsh writing due to ‘a lack of confidence in defining what constitutes Welsh literature in the English language, beyond subject matter which focuses on Wales’. (77) Yet Bohata notes that this conundrum is to some extent created by the Welsh themselves since, ‘the obsession of the Welsh themselves with cultural identity reflects a self-consciousness which is the inevitable result of cultural insecurity […] while Welsh authors might rightly feel limited by critical expectations of, and responses to their work, the experience of being part of a cultural (and linguistic) minority threatened by a dominant majority is hardly unique within Europe, let alone the rest of the world’ (77). Returning again though to the example of Meredith, Bohara is adamant that because his work is concerned with ‘historical fracture, dislocation, cultural eclecticism, bilingualism, memory and identity’, he offers ‘much to say that is relevant to Wales and it is this grounding in a very specific cultural and historical location that allows and suggests illuminating comparisons with other, similar cultural situations and human experiences’ (77-78).

The cacophony that is the multiplicity of Welsh voices, of “languages”, of worldviews, is increasingly being embraced as central to contemporary Welsh identity. Rather than searching for “one voice” that will unify us, artists and commentators alike are beginning to see that the multiple inheritances of Wales, the differences and diversity contained within its borders, are a great source of strength, vitality and creativity. (82)


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