Monday, February 12, 2007

Your Mama's UnCreolizable: Cultural Debates on the Post-Creole

"Journey to the Center of the Earth: The Caribbean as Master Symbol", Aisha Kahn, 2001
"Atlantic Genealogies", Ian Baucom, 2001
"Creolization and Its Discontents", Stephan Palmie, 2006
"Theorizing World Culture Through the New World: East Indians and Creolization", Viranjini Munasinghe, 2006
reponses to the Munasinghe:
"Theorizing through the New World? Not Really", Ulf Hannerz, 2006
"Feats of Engineering: Theory, Ethnography and other Problems of Model Building in the Social Sciences", Aisha Kahn, 2006
"Mixed Metaphors", John Tomlinson, 2006
"New Savage Slots", Deborah A. Thomas, 2006
"Creolization and Indigeneity", Vicente M. Diaz, 2006
"Circulation, Transpositions and the Travails of Creole", Daniel A. Segal, 2006

Almost all of these readings come from Cultural Anthropologists and though some of my BEST friends:) and most generous mentors are anthropologists and aspiring anthropologists, I have to be honest. I have an unfairgut equation between anthropologists and white people. That is just as I don't trust "white people" as a category based on the effects of the actions attributed to their historical constitution of themselves as a group, I don't trust anthropologists as a group because of what seems like an inescapable (however self-reflective and critical) complicity with colonialism. As with the former case...I choose to trust anthropologists who I know as people and I continue to dehumanize anthropologists who I don't know (lest they classify me first). I know that this is not fair and it may not even be necessary or useful...but I may as well put my biases on the table since they will influence this response either way.

So. Before this session of readings my familiarity with the concept of creolization was based on a reading of Kamau Brathwaite's Roots, in which I was more concerned with his characterizations of windborne Caribbean Africanisms and its influence on the discourse of diaspora, a reading of Edouard Glissant's Caribbbean Discourse and Poetics of Relation in which creolization seemed to be aneverending strategic approach to relation that refused the absoluteness of differencebut also refused its dissolution...something like a reading of conditions (through culture?) that required continued engagement across (something like the diasporic mode of production that I imagine) a reading of Kobena Mercer's Diaspora Culture andthe Dialogic Imagination in which creolization become the mode of production through which critical diaspora thinking presences representation and rejects mere reproduction and a particularly critical reading of Eloge de la Creolite (In Praise of Creoleness) by Bernabe, Confiant, Chamousieu...i.e. the Maryse Conde-hating Creolists from Martinique, which I found to be violent in its patriarchal claim to own the process that these earlier writers had been describing explicitly as a process and NOT a product in a way that made it into a biologized PROPERTY which made the violence of colonialism and the unacknowledged sexual violence thereof somehow acceptable and worthwhile.

Of course all of these anthropologists are interested in these mostly literary theorizations of creolization from the Caribbean. And some of them (Ulf Hannerz) believe that (as usual) whatever is produced in the Caribbean can and should be exported and sold back to its disadvantage. This is also the case with terms like "caste" he makes clear. He is absolutely willing to risk that these appropriations make the theorizations or the descriptions of the local through the globalized will be somewhat "less subtle". This seems to ask for a Edwardian :) question about translation. Do the different local contextsnow described by Creolization (James Clifford's much cited "We are all Caribbeans now") assume a tranlatability that is deferred if not impossible? Does the infinite applicability of the idea of creolization by anthropologists actually kill the relation that creolization is producing/describing? If these concepts are infinitely applicable then what is the "cultural" difference across which we address each other. Where are the preconditions for that which is called creolization? Aisha Kahn points out that in a certain sense "all theories of culture and society are local" in such that they can only be engaged (certainly in the anthropological frame) through investigations of particular relations and logics operating somewhere. And Deborah Thomas (with Jennifer Brody) reminds us that this thing about address across difference as the precondition of creolization also reproduces the purity and essential differentness of whatever these (2?) subjectivities must be. And yes it is usually imagined as multiple...but still through a logic of the 2. In the case of the Anglophone Caribbean, as Kahn and Munasinghe point out, the two are the euro-creole and the afro-creole and the East Indian in the Caribbean is characterized as uncreolizable. Kahn and Munasinghe disagree however whether this blindspot proves the inadequacy of creolization as a mode of inquiry that can be applied universally or whether addressing this blindspot (more study of East Indian people worldwide)will activate creolizations upward mobility by making it a purer theory (she later admits...after the responses...that using the word "pure" here was probably a bad choice...after more pure she seems to mean more abstract).

For Palmie creolization is reproductive at best and symptomatic of the unequal relations that give rise to it and should be thrown out. And indeed books are already in the works (if not out) describing something called a "post-creole moment" (see M. Crichlow forthcoming---Notes on Fleeing the Plantation...)

But what about the body of water through which all of this cultural contact is happening. Does creolization seek to manage cultural difference across cultural difference as such or is the Atlantic and economic interface that the Atlantic has been (at least since the transatlantic slave trade) that which this address of the other occurs across? This is complicated because as some would argue (Baucom included) the Atlantic as an body of water and an interface of capitalist relations exists even in our minds as we relate to each other in any of the places that this ocean bleeds into, but this Atlantic has also been biologized (by Benitez-Rojo among others) into some kind of vaginal space (invaginated relation of impossible maternity for Moten) and even Omeros and Baucom's reference to it Achille finds his father in the Atlantic...his ancestor is the ongoing temporality of the Atlantic which is also the absenting of the subjectivity of the mother that provides access to the literally absent father. I will say more about this after I reread Jamaica Kincaid's Mr. Potter which may revise Omeros along these lines.

In conclusion (!!!) all of this reading about creolization (and its discontents indeed) makes me wonder how exactly I historicize and make specific my interrogation of diaspora. (I think this must happen literally through the moments of address and dedication that I am so attracted to in both my reading and my writing). It makes me wonder whether there is a possibility for diasporic relation evident in my archive that doesn't require the invisbilization of the feminine...the absenting of the sexuality and sexual violence against the mother in order to make "cross cultural" relation between men possible (i mean really this goes back through the incest taboo that doesn't prevent incest to the rape of the sabine women in the western imaginary). This is what I cannot afford,

neither to assimilate nor to reproduce.


jef said...

Hi Alexis, I hope you are doing well :-) A response to your post: I wonder in what sense you feel that Caribbean ethnographies, eg on gender, might be aligned with (neo) colonialisms of any sort. I wonder if you have read Carla Freeman's piece on the "pink collar" sector in Barbados? It really shows how local conceptions of womanhood (and localities are not only the islands, but the motherlands and diasporas as well)intertwine, react and interact with global technologies and availibilities. Could you put your finger on how today's anthropological outlook on the Caribbean could really become sensitive about the colonial past and /or complex issues of womanhood? I'd appreciate to hear from you on that topic.

All best;


lex said...

Hi Jef,
Thanks for the comment. (And for the reference...some of the authors in this week's reading referenced Freeman. I will look for her work.) The truth is I am suspicious of anthropology and do not have complete faith that it can ever unentangled from its colonialist constitution. However, I do appreciate your approach and the possibilities of ethnography because I think it does enable a certain specificity. The questions I think that "sensitive" anthropologists would need to ask today are somewhat economic ones. Why is the information that I seek in this Caribbean site/from these Caribbean women useful? To whom is it useful? What would I use it to create? What is it already creating? To what extent does a scholarly position outside of the Caribbean make export inescapable? What do the respondents actually get from the inquiry I am engaged in on/in this site?

The bottom line for me is that the history of colonialism and of the oppression of women have to do with how feminized bodies have been intrumentalized, made useful in a way that is violent (and of course the same thing has been done to/justified for the colonialist/neo-colonialist relationship to land). So what is the affective labor that participants in an ethnographic study provide and how does the process of consent work there? To what extent do the participants become alienated from the experiences they share with anthropologists/allow anthropologists to witness.

What I am saying is clearly too late for any of us to become completely clean of the stains of a colonial relation hat is not by any means over (and which the university perpetuates), however(I HOPE!) it is possible to be intensely present to the relations that we create with those who we believe can be more than our "objects" of study. I notice that I have talked more about how the process can be ethical and not so much how the outlook can be...but I think these questions of process complement the questions that all of these articles seem to require about why the Caribbean becomes an exciting and attractive site (again) to begin with.

The best to you as well! Thank you for reading.
Soon :)