Excerpted from Svetlana Klimenko (2003) Shakespeare, Chekhov and the Emergence of the Transcultured Self in Denmark, Language and Intercultural Communication, 3:2, 151-157, DOI: 10.1080/14708470308668099

” I use the term transculture as it was put forward by Russian scholar Mikhail Epstein, who introduces it in the following way:

The quality and merit of culture is its capacity to free man from the dictates of nature, its restrictions and necessities. But it is the merit and necessity of transculture to free man from culture itself, from its conventions and obses- sions. (Epstein, 1995: 297)

It is important that ‘trans’ in transculture means not going across, but over- coming, going beyond, as in transcendental. Transculture, according to Epstein, is a state in the development of Cultural Self, which is a historic, rather than geographic, travel. Epstein’s point of departure, in which he closely follows his teacher Mikhail Bakhtin, is that no Culture, and therefore no idea of Self, can possibly develop from inside the self itself, so to speak. The difference between myself and the rest of the world is that I can see the rest of the world with my own eyes and I cannot see myself with my own eyes, I lack outsideness with regard to myself and I therefore need some kind of mirror to acquire an idea of myself. This mirror which offers me a view of my own reflection is – the Other (Bakhtin, 1986). The point where Epstein takes off from Bakhtin is the idea that a Cultural Self becomes capable of seeing its own reflection in the Other only on a particular developmental phase of a civilisation. It is precisely this historical angle that preconditions the development of Mikhail Epstein’s concept of transculture:

As it lives out its planned existence, /each/ civilisation eventually over- runs the time granted for its own fulfilment. After coming to an end the civilisation continues to exist in an afterlife that turns out to be culture. In realising its own finality in an epoch of decline, civilisation acquires the sharpened night vision characteristic of culture. It generates the vision of the next world, as its sensitivity to the final questions of existence grows more acute. As a prevailing sphere of civilised activity politics gives way to religion, philosophy, and art. … The most important moment in the transi- tion from civilisation to culture is the eruption of an internal split, not unlike an individual’s ability to see him- or herself from without. … Thus, culture is civilisation that has realised its end and embraced its own limit in the perspectives of self-destruction: political opposition, economic crisis, environmental catastrophe, or a cultural metalanguage capable of using ‘civilised’ language in a practice of self-analysis or self-critique. The feelings of pain and death at work within civilisation express its potential for becoming culture. (Epstein, 1995: 283, 284)

‘The becoming of culture’, thus, is inevitably accompanied by the emergence of self-analysis and self-critique which manifests itself, in particular, in the development of Culture Studies as a new academic discipline or ‘Cultural Turn’ as a new focus in traditional disciplines like linguistics, philology or Translation Studies. But while ‘Cultural Turn’ is an issue for academia (Bassnett & Lefevere, 1998), transculture, according to Epstein, is a human condition which cannot be taught, accomplished or even apprehended by purely academic means.

Transculture is not a field of knowledge, rather, it is a mode of being at the cross-roads of cultures. Liberation from culture through culture itself and its endless diversity is the fundamental principle of transcultural thinking and existence …The transcultural world lies not apart from, but within all existing cultures, like a multidimentional space that appears gradually over the course of historical time. It is a continuous space in which unreal- ised, potential elements are no less meaningful than ‘real’ ones. As the site of interaction among all existing and potential cultures, transculture is even richer than the totality of all known cultural traditions and practices. (Epstein, 1995: 298, 299)

There is one particular point about Epstein’s theorising on transculture that I find fascinating, namely, its relevance to the theatre. The theatre, I would argue, is designed to be that forum in which ‘liberation from culture through culture’ can take place, because the theatre, more directly than any other form of cultural self-expression, or any other genre, offers us a multidimensional, continuous space, and a site of intercultural interaction.”

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