The theme for (((Trans- & Trance))), the 17th annual graduate student conference organized by the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism, came about after lengthy discussions among the conference organizers on which contemporary ideas or phenomena have been gaining momentum in the various disciplinary fields of the humanities in the last few years. As the Call for Papers for that conference already overstates: “trans- and trance are ways of life… the conceptual import of ‘trans-’ has always lain in its ability to denote mobility against and across frontiers, positionality along multiple axes, and shifting modes of territoriality within agonistic horizons. Trance almost always followed.” From translation to transference, transnationalism to transformation, transit to transgression—the morphologically reconstructive ubiquity of ‘trans-’ continues to entrance us as it permeates various aspects of our lived experience.
Perhaps one point raised in the original Call for Papers merits repetition and further explanation here for the sheer number of questions (and eyebrows) it has raised: that of viewing ‘trans-’ as a “paradigm of dynamic subjectivity negotiating potentially violent domains”. Why a paradigm, why subjectivity, and how does it negotiate violent domains? While it is convenient—and indeed rampant—to reduce the transformative quality of ‘trans-‘ to the mechanistic production of a new singularity from the conflation of multiple addends in a process of near-alchemical catalysis, doing so brings to the fore what David Ferris calls the “most radical of fallacies: that the naming of what is new is not the arrival of something new, but rather the form in which the necessity of a criticism of a confining past has been expressed in the form of a project of overcoming that past” (n.p.). That is, by taking for granted and allowing the notion of ‘trans-ness’ to be cannibalized by the noun to which it is appended—and which, in turn, it reconfigures into a new singularity that recontextualizes the original noun into a new temporality—the essential disruptiveness of the prefix ‘trans-’ inadvertently becomes the agent of its own totalization. What results from this perfunctory hypostasis is the autophagia of the questions that affixation initially tries to raise: the assimilation of what merits criticism into the gestation of new—but potentially equally problematic—phenomena.
It is the acknowledgment of this blasé approach to ‘trans-’ that served as the impetus for the conference theme, and which informs the inaugural issue of The Scattered Pelican. The conference organizers hoped that the theme would validate expected associations to the terms: going through / across / beyond / over / outside positions / boundaries / borders / axes. Perhaps more playfully, however, we styled the theme as ‘(((Trans- & Trance)))’ to highlight a number of interpretive possibilities. First, the triple set of parentheses emphasizes not just the presence of barriers to mobility, but also the radical difficulty that penetrating such barriers pose on those who would try to overcome them. That such barriers exist and must be pierced in order to get to the heart of the transformative nature of ‘trans-’ gives us pause and reminds us of the things that metamorphose or are displaced in their affixation. Interestingly, such ‘barriers’ may be seen as reverberations emanating from ‘trans-’ and ‘trance’ themselves: perhaps raising the reality that the conjugations of the prefix, and the semiotics of the spaces such conjugations create, fabricate even more barriers in a kind of mise en abyme. Second, the insistence on the hyphen after ‘trans’ is a way to resist the assimilation of the morpheme into the catalysis it initiates. Such an insistence on the fragmentation shifts the semantic weight from the noun it transforms to the process of transformation itself, doubly highlighted by the use of the ampersand as a meta-symbol for appending two disparate elements. Finally, that ‘trance’ comes after ‘trans-’ opens up the question not just of space but also of state: what horizons open up after these transformations take place? But as the reverberations suggest: transformations, spaces, and states all echo together, perhaps indicating that the contentions of ‘trance’ just as easily could come (or have come) before ‘trans-’. Singularity thus gives way to circularity.
The Editors of The Scattered Pelican are proud to present the contributions that appear in this volume, and which bravely grapple with all these nuances of ‘trans-’ and ‘trance’. While the main articles represent only a small number of the vastly diverse and stimulating conversations initiated during the (((Trans- & Trance))) conference, they are supplemented here by other valiant efforts to engage with the theme, including musings from our faculty members, a number of book and film reviews, and even creative texts with corresponding commentaries. It is our hope that such contributions provide fodder for critical conversations in a manner consistent with what we believe to be one of the foundational characteristics of Comparative Literature, that of being able to embrace pluralism and inhabit the aporias among discourses: in short, to be entranced by the ambiguities in the ruptures of continuity.
Ferris, David. “‘Trans-’: The Pure Problem of Comparison”. The Scattered Pelican Volume 1.1 (September 2015): n.p. Web.