Challenges of Cross-Culturalism, Past and Present: The Other in Peter Altenberg's "Ashantee" (1897)
Katharina von Hammerstein.
Referring to the dynamic relations between past and present, German philosopher Walter Benjamin writes, "To articulate the past [...] means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger." Accordingly, current debates about the potential dangers of globalism have inspired renewed interest in past literary treatments of cross-cultural communication between humans of the so-called First and Third Worlds. Austrian writer Peter Altenberg's non-canonical autobiographical sketches entitled "Ashantee" (1897) describe his relationship with a group of Africans who were installed in the Vienna zoo as living objects in a popular ethnographic exhibit. The ambivalent relationship toward the cultural Other as displayed in this text--well-intended and humane cross-cultural communication vs. cultural differentiation on the basis of Eurocentric, racist, and sexist perspectives--will serve as a point of departure to rethink current positions toward cultural multiplicity in the global age, particularly when considering South African Reingard Nethersole's assertion that "obeying admonitions of tolerance, recognition, and all the other behavioral niceties and political correct applications appropriate to multiculturalism does not [suffice to] encourage symmetry among cultures, a symmetry that may allow for equal exchange among them ... Rather, the ensemble of pluralities requires the installation of a new universal—human rights." It is one of the tasks of the humanities--in collaboration with the social sciences and the arts--to stimulate a lively debate about cultural identity and the challenges of cross-culturalism in order to promote the common good of the present and future global humanity.
Katharina von Hammerstein (United States)
Associate Professor of German
University of Connecticut
Degrees in German literature and mathematics at the University of Goettingen and Bremen, Germany (1979, 1981), Master of Arts in German Studies, Univ. of Southern California, USA (1986), Ph.D. in German Literature, Univ. of California, Los Angeles, USA (1991); since 1991 faculty member at the Univ. of Connecticut, USA; Head of the German Department and Director of the interdisciplinary Linkage Through Language program.
Person as Subject
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)