Is it the highly visible or the less visible encounters that shape our inter-
connected world? Each have their power; this book concerns the latter. Its
protagonists’ names cannot be found in textbooks. They are musicians and
entertainers of middling fame, chorus girls and band members, bit-part
vaudevillians, songwriters with maybe a hit or two. They are the people
whose lives are refracted in archetypes such as “Aunt Jemima,” “the Brazil-
ian mulatta,” “the Arab on the Can™”; they are stevedores, seamstresses,
postal workers, and housewives; people who play music on the weekend,
listen to the radio while they work, or pen a newspaper article in stolen
time. The travels that bring them into contact are more likely to be flights
of fancy than travels by land or sea, and their communication therefore is
often mediated by the culture industry rather than direct. They are con-
sumers and producers of culture, North American dancers of maxixe or
“the Brazilian dance,” readers of popular magazines, radio audiences, or
grocery store customers happening across images of Brazil in coffee ads. In
so doing, they were engaging in transnational encounter, as were Brazilian
journalists, churchgoers, performers, and songwriters playing jazz, writ-
ing articles about Marcus Garvey or the KKK, enjoying Parisian revues,
making tacit that awareness in their own compositions.
Although participants in this sort of exchange reach and even yearn
for each other across great distances, they do so not necessarily because
they have anything in particular in common. They sometimes hope they
do and sometimes make it so with that hopeful reaching, but for the most
part they come to these imaginative meetings on uneven ground and with
grossly uneven resources—so much so as to be virtually untranslatable
into each other’s terms. This unevenness and its untranslatability are cru-
cial to the ways these encounters matter. It is precisely because the United
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