Tagged: cultural appropriation

Between strangers

The Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, published an Op-Ed in the New York Times proclaiming that he will oppose “gay marriage” by all means necessary. Mr Jindal gives away the purpose for his Op-Ed in this paragraph (emphasis added).

If we, as conservatives, are to succeed in advancing the cause of freedom and free enterprise, the business community must stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for religious liberty. The left-wing ideologues who oppose religious freedom are the same ones who seek to tax and regulate businesses out of existence. The same people who think that profit making is vulgar believe that religiosity is folly. The fight against this misguided, government-dictating ideology is one fight, not two. Conservative leaders cannot sit idly by and allow large corporations to rip our coalition in half.

He is concerned with maintaining a (conservative) coalition. His purported defense of religious freedom and free enterprise is a political strategy, not a moral cause.

The “We” Mr Jindal addresses is not the “We” imagined in the phrase “E Pluribus Unum”; he addresses an apparently shrinking political coalition of conservatives who think exactly as he does. He finds it unfathomable that “left-wing ideologues” (translation: people who think the 14th Amendment means something) would be part of the “We” he addresses. Even other conservatives and members of the “business community” who opposed the Arkansas and Indiana laws as de jure discrimination risk being cast into the left-wing pit of grave evil if they do not conform to the beliefs of Mr Jindal’s coalition. In fact, the point of difference is this: the conservative voices and businesses leaders (recognizing that discrimination is bad for business) who spoke out against anti-LGBT bigotry are speaking to the “We” of E Pluribus Unum.

Mr Jindal unwittingly (or intentionally) excludes his vision of conservatism from this “We.” In so doing, he reveals himself as a political radical wrapped in the accoutrements of a conservative.

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In an interview published in The Guardian, the author Toni Morrison describes her self-conception as a writer:

Most writers claim to abhor labels but Morrison has always welcomed the term “black writer”. “I’m writing for black people,” she says, “in the same way that Tolstoy was not writing for me, a 14-year-old coloured girl from Lorain, Ohio. I don’t have to apologise or consider myself limited because I don’t [write about white people] – which is not absolutely true, there are lots of white people in my books. The point is not having the white critic sit on your shoulder and approve it” – she refers to the writer James Baldwin talking about “a little white man deep inside of all of us”. Did she exorcise hers? “Well I never really had it. I just never did.”

She is claiming a right to self-limitation, no matter how essentialist. How does she know what Tolstoy was thinking?

The characterisation of Tolstoy is a matter of projection on the part of Ms Morrison. What she implies is that Tolstoy was only writing to Russians (the literate ones). One can extend the logic of this claim further: Shakespeare wrote only for the English (Londoners in the main), Flaubert wrote only for the French (but probably only Parisians), Baudelaire wrote only for prostitutes (again, probably only Parisian ones), Joyce wrote only for … god knows who, etc. ad nauseum. There’s no empirical evidence that supports this sort of speculation about literary intentions.

In literary-critical terms, Morrison’s perspective stands opposed to modernism; moreover, it is a 1960s-inspired racialist realism that prioritises the author’s experience and that of her “imagined community” (Benedict Anderson) as opposed to the vérité humaine of nineteenth-century realism (which some of her writing clearly violates) . Rather than treating literary works as open books, available to be appropriated by all, Ms Morrison takes a position on literary works that comports well with the publishing marketplace: slap the label of a genre on it (YA, crime, science fiction, romance), and it will sell.

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What do these strangers — Mr Jindal and Ms Morrison — share in common? An allergic response to the idea of the universal, of the porousness of socio-historically imposed boundaries, of the fluidity of imagined communities, of the polyphonic character of the self.  The “left-wing ideologue” and the “white critic” function as convenient bogeys to motivate the insistence on essential identity, whether conceived in politico-religious or racialist and/or ethnic terms. They are necessary fictions for the defense of a world that no longer exists. Perhaps it never existed apart from acts of political and imaginative will.

Appropriate this post

“Cultural appropriation” is one of those terms that should be be banished from the lexicon of cultural politics.

1. No “culture” is pure, hermetically sealed off from external influences.
2. All cultures are hybrid, miscegenated, creole. In olden days (i.e., the early twentieth century), Franz Boas described this as the outcome of a process of cultural diffusion.
3. The idea that a culture belongs to a specific group belies a capitalist imaginary, which treats culture as property, whose disposition is conditioned by the model of the legal contract.
4. In the contemporary world, culture circulates much like money; it knows no boundaries whether they be the nation state or the ethnic/racial group.
5. The effort to “reclaim” one’s “culture” is a profoundly conservative political project. It is past oriented, traditionalistic, and, in the worst case, authoritarian.

Why turn culture into a museum piece, to be preserved and curated like the Greek vases (which once functioned as chamber pots) housed in the Staatliche Antikensammlungen? Why not conceive culture as an open book, extol culture’s intertextual constitution and its recombinant qualities?

To submit culture to a premature (political) closure is to destroy culture. Such a move towards closure ultimately instrumentalises culture, which is the modus operandi of the cultural philistine.

Being alive

Munich is the Austin of Bavaria.

Madonna has been accused of “cultural appropriation.” However, none of the critics are aware that so-called cultural appropriation is otherwise known as life. In the sphere of popular culture, it is otherwise known as late capitalism. There’s nothing remarkable about it.

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New information has surfaced about Sartre’s refusal of the Nobel Prize for Literature:

A letter sent by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in 1964 declining the Nobel Prize for Literature came too late to avert one of the biggest debacles in its history, Swedish media reported Saturday.

Sartre’s letter arrived nearly a month after he had been picked as the top choice by the Nobel Committee, the daily Svenska Dagbladet reported, based on archival material made available at the end of a customary 50-year period of secrecy.

The report throws light on the sequence of events leading to Sartre’s decision to become the only person to willingly turn down the world’s most prestigious literary prize.

Perhaps Sartre was prescient: his “literary” works are hardly read anymore. Even worse, his philosophical texts are now antiques from the bygone age of existentialist Marxism.

For example, in Search for a Method Sartre asserts “we are convinced at one and the same time that historical materialism furnished the only valid interpretation of history and that existentialism remained the only concrete approach to reality” (1968, p 21). Who today would have the courage to embrace either of these claims?

Crazy for you

According to a theologian, Jesus wasn’t born in a stable. Next, we’ll find out the Incarnation didn’t happen.

In 2014, the satanic cubicle replaced the satanic mill.

Regarding the “beef” between Azealia Banks and Iggy Azalea: in a musical genre (hip hop) based on “sampling,” any charge of inappropriate “appropriation” is ludicrous.

annunc