As the semester winds down here at the UW-Madison, I found plenty of good ideas to wrap it up with my students in this short article.
Today, I had to step in front of a classroom filled with several hundred students enrolled in my intro course, “Cultural Anthropology and Human Diversity.” Here’s what I told them.
This election season has been very difficult for me, as it has been for many of us. It has been difficult because of the negativity of the campaign and the outpouring of hate that it provoked.
It has been difficult also because there was no debate of ideas. Truth and evidence seemed to have very little value.
For me, we all lost on Tuesday. We lost our sense of reason and, it seems, our ability to think rationally. Faced with disappointment and fear, too many people have let themselves be seduced by simplistic rhetoric. Rather than try to really grasp the complexity of the problems that face our society, too many people simply preferred to point their fingers at easy scapegoats, be they wall street bankers, establishment politicians, China, or Muslims and migrants.
And so, as an educator, I wasn’t sure how to react to Tuesday’s election results.
Ultimately, I am more than ever committed to my job and convinced of its importance.
I am convinced of the importance to help you understand the complexity and diversity of human societies. Soundbites and tweets cannot capture this complexity and I hope that this classroom provides you with tools to elevate yourself above the simplistic and to marvel at this beautiful mess that keeps us all living together.
I am ever more dedicated to showing you that there is nothing natural about inequality and oppression. The inequalities and oppressions that we experience today are the results of deliberate human choices. We have created them and we have the power to undo them if we decide it is important to do so.
Finally, I want to recognize that this university has not always done enough to create a truly inclusive campus. It’s trying but more work needs to be done. So here, I want to address myself to all of you who are the members of visible and invisible minorities, to all of you who have experienced the weight of discrimination because of your skin color, your ethnicity, your national origin, your religion, your gender, your sexuality, or your disability. Today, more than ever, I stand with you. I stand as one of you. I realize that the responsibility of creating inclusive spaces starts with all of us, but that we, faculty, have a large role to play in this. And so I pledge to you today that I will continue to work to make my classrooms the kind of place where respectful debate takes place, where experiences are validated, where simplistic assumptions are challenged, and where minds are expanded.
Depuis plusieurs années déjà a lieu un débat autour de la mémorialisation de l’esclavage au sein de la république française. Si la loi Taubira de 2001 représentait une étape importante, elle n’a pas mis fin aux controverses, bien au contraire. En effet, la semaine dernière, l’Assemblée nationale a adopté en première lecture un amendement créant non pas une, mais deux dates commémoratives. Dans l’article si dessous, Myriam Cottias (directrice de recherche au CNRS, ancienne présidente du Comité national pour la mémoire et l’histoire de l’esclavage) revient sur cette manœuvre politique qui frappe au cœur des enjeux de représentations postcoloniaux et expose les idéologies qui l’informent.
Je serai en France métropolitaine tout l’été pour y commencer un nouveau projet de recherche sur le gwoka an déwò, c’est à dire hors de la Guadeloupe. Voici une description plus détaillé du projet.
Que peut-on apprendre de la post-colonialité antillaise au travers la pratique de la musique et de la danse gwoka à Paris? Ce nouveau projet cherche à répondre à cette question grâce à une enquête de terrain auprès des associations qui offrent des cours de gwoka en région parisienne. A travers ma participation active à des ateliers de danse et musique; des entretiens avec d’autres participants, membres d’associations et artistes; des observations de répétitions et de spectacles offerts par des artistes d’origine guadeloupéenne; et tout simplement en passant du temps à discuter avec tout le monde qui gravite dans ce milieu, je vais tenter de répondre aux questions suivantes. Comment les sons et la gestuelle du gwoka sont-ils traduits lors du leur migration de la Caraïbe vers l’Europe? En quoi est-ce que la pratique du gwoka aide les expatriés guadeloupéens à négocier leur position vis-à-vis de la Guadeloupe et de la nation Française? Quels rôles la musique et la danse jouent-elles dans la construction d’une citoyenneté culturelle post-coloniale? En quoi est-ce que la musique et la danse contribuent à l’émergence d’une conscience antillaise — aussi contestée soit-elle — lorsque guadeloupéens et martiniquais se retrouvent ensemble dans la capitale française? Plus généralement, une prise de conscience raciale voit-elle le jour quand des guadeloupéens, des martiniquais, des français métropolitains et des immigrés venus des anciennes colonies françaises se retrouvent pour danser et jouer de la musique ensemble?
A un deuxième niveau, cette étude prend comme point de départ le travail d’Edouard Glissant qui, dans Le Discours antillais, présente la musique et la danse comme deux modes d’expression privilégiés de ce qu’il appelle un « non-savoir » ou une « contre-poétique », c’est à dire un savoir qui échappe aux taxonomies occidentales et en dérange les prétentions universalistes. Nous cherchons donc ici à appréhender ce non-savoir et la poétique fluide des positionnements post-coloniaux. Dans ce sens, je cherche une confirmation empirique des remarques théoriques de Glissant. En quoi la musique et la danse permettent-elles la construction et l’interprétation (au sens artistique aussi bien que linguistique) de modes de savoir ou connaissances ainsi que des modes d’être-au-monde post-coloniaux? En d’autres termes, quelles sont les connaissances portées par le corps post-colonial transplanté? Comment accède-t-on à ces connaissances ? Si ces connaissances résistent aux représentations linguistiques, comment sont-elles exprimées et partagées?
Les personnes intéressées par cette recherche peuvent me contacter via ce site, sur Twitter, au sur mon numéro de portable de Guadeloupe, si vous l’avez.
Today marks the anniversary of the departmentalization of France’s “old colonies”: Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Réunion.
France-Antilles—a newspaper created under the aegis of De Gaulle to promote assimilation in the face of growing discontent—is celebrating with a front page illustration that says much about its editorial line.
But I am not interested this particular polemic at the moment. Rather, I’d like to use this opportunity to share a bit more of my manuscript in progress. Here is the section where I discuss political integration as an example of what Glissant calls the détour.
Glissant defines the détour in opposition to the retour, terms that Dash translates as diversion and reversion (Glissant 1999). The détour results from the impossibility of a colonial community to actualize itself in practice, to accept its ruptures from the past, and to heal its internal divisions. Furthermore, the détour is symptomatic of a system of domination that is so pervasive that it becomes invisible, forcing the subaltern community to seek the principle of domination elsewhere (Glissant 1997a, 48-57). The détour is both tactical and ambiguous. As Britton explains, “it is essentially an indirect mode of resistance that ‘gets around’ obstacles rather than confronting them head on.” The détour is a trick but, as Britton remarks, “it is itself marked with the alienation it is trying to combat.” She adds: “It is both an evasion of the real situation and an obstinate effort to find a way around it” (1999, 25).
Michel-Rolph Trouillot (2002) locates the origins of the détour in the everyday acts of petit marronnage at the edges of the plantation. While, in theory, the plantation was an absolute system of domination, in its actual instantiations, the system contained many interstices, cracks that slaves could exploit to manipulate the system from within. Trouillot explains: “And as slaves repeated such manipulations—on the one hand acknowledging the system, on the other circumventing its actualization in carefully chosen instances—they solidified the détour, the social time and space they controlled on the edges of the plantations” (202). It is through the creative manipulation of these openings that slaves were able to develop Creole languages, music, and religions; cultural practices that would come to shape not only their own environment but also that of their overseers. Trouillot concludes: “This creation was possible because slaves found a fertile ground in the interstices of the system, in the attitude provided by the inherent contradictions between that system and specific plantations” (202). There is, of course, a strong parallel between Hesse’s macro-level analysis of a creolized political and Trouillot’s micro-level analysis of what I see as the roots of an always already creolized anti- or postcolonial politics.
Glissant points to Césaire’s négritude as an aesthetic expression of the détour. Yet he does not connect it to Césaire’s politics, probably because they were at odds with his own, or at least with his politics at the time he wrote Le Discours antillais, a book still steeped in separatist longings. Césaire has often been criticized for what many perceived as the contradictions between his artistic production and his politics, between his radical Discours sur le colonialisme (2004) and his support for political assimilation, and—as was the case for Guadeloupean separatists in the 1970s—the tensions between the racial solidarities of his pan-Africanism and the class solidarities of communism. However, Wilder’s revisionist intervention (2015) demonstrates that these various strains of Césaire’s activity all participate in a consistent exploration of the fundamental problems of decolonization. First, the experiences of the French and Haitian revolutions had clearly demonstrated that, as long as Caribbean economies remained tied to capitalist regimes, republicanism alone could not ensure actual freedom: capitalist exploitation would always mollify political emancipation. Second was the realization that, as much as the French Antilles were constitutive parts of the French Republic, French culture played a significant part in Antillean life. From this perspective, it is possible to see the 1946 law of departmentalization as a profoundly practical political move, both from metropolitan and Antillean perspectives. It was simultaneously a testimony of the strength of Jacobinical ideology (radical egalitarianism within an indivisible territory) in French politics and an illustration of the politics of the détour.
For metropolitan Gaullists, the full incorporation of the French Antilles into the Republic preserved the integrity of its territory and participated in a broader effort to reconfigure France’s empire after a war that had weakened its own sovereignty. It also asserted France’s presence in the Western hemisphere, an especially salient issue given growing American influence on the region during the Cold War and, more directly, the United States’ direct input in French economic and political matters following World War II. More importantly, it preserved the French Antilles as a source of cheap labor and as a protected consumer market. Indeed, Antillean immigrants, funneled through the BUMIDOM (Bureau pour le développement des Migrations dans les Départements d’Outre Mer), contributed significantly to the metropolitan economic growth during the trente glorieuses (see chapter 3).
Conversely, for socialist and communist Antillean politicians such as Césaire, the 1946 law of departmentalization not only represented a victory against the white plantocracy but, at a time when the Antillean economy was crumbling, political incorporation also promised to bring greater social protection and higher wages to the islands. Finally, socialist politicians hoped that the French government—which after the war was dominated by socialist and communist forces—would move to save the ailing sugar industry by nationalizing it (Adélaïde-Merlande 2002, 80-82; Hintjens 1995, 24-25). In defending the proposed legislation, Césaire made an appeal to French political traditions and to the legacy of the Revolution (Miles 2001; Wilder 2015, chapter five). In other words, he worked within the French political structure, exposed its inconsistencies, and managed to transform it: a classic example of the poetics and politics of the détour. Conceptualized as a détour, the law of departmentalization overcomes its apparent contradictions. Rather than a politics of assimilation, it is revealed as a practical demand for “unconditional legal equality” within the French state (Wilder 2015, 106). Tied to this demand was a radical, if utopian, effort to redefine France itself as a postnational state (Wilder 2015, 199). The détour also helps us understand what Jean-Claude William (1997, 315) sees as the two contradictory impulses within Antillean “desire for reconnaissance (recognition)”: a “mimetic impulse” on one hand and an “affirmation of difference” on the other. We will return to the concept of reconnaissance and the détour in chapter 7. For now, it is important to note that Césaire’s ontological project—to redefine France and Antilleans’ position within it—is unfinished. To a great extent, it is its aftermath that I attempt to capture through the concept of Creole postnationalism.
Adélaïde-Merlande, Jacques. 2002. Histoire contemporaine de la Caraïbe et des Guyanes, de 1945 à nos jours. Paris: Karthala.
Britton, Celia. 1999. Edouard Glissant and Postcolonial Theory: Strategies of Language and Resistance. Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia.
Glissant, Edouard. 1997a. Discours Antillais. Folio Essais. Paris: Gallimard.
Glissant, Edouard. 1999. Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays. Trans. by Dash, J. Michael. 3rd Printing. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
Hintjens, Helen. 1995. “Constitutional and Political Change in the French Caribbean.” In French and West Indian: Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Guiana Today, edited by Richard D.E. Burton, and Fred Reno. 20–33. London: Macmillan.
Miles, William. 2001. “Fifty Years of Assimilation: Assessing France’s Experience of Caribbean Decolonisation Through Administrative Reform.” In Islands At the Crossroads: Politics in the Non-Independent Caribbean, edited by Aarón Gamaliele Ramos, and Angel Israel Rivera. 45–60. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers.
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 2002. “Culture on the Edges: Caribbean Creolization in Historical Context.” In From the Margins: Historical Anthropology and Its Futures, edited by Brian Keith Axel. 189–210. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Wilder, Gary. 2015. Freedom Time: Négritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
William, Jean-Claude. 1997. “Aimé Césaire: les contrariétés de la conscience nationale.” In 1946-1996: Cinquante ans de départementalisation outre-mer, edited by Fred Constant, and Justin Daniel. 315–34. Paris: L’Harmattan.
I have decided to post excerpts of my book manuscript as I write them. Here’s my definition of creolization.
In this book, I want to reclaim Creole and creolization from the semantic and analytical “muddle” described by Palmié.(1) I understand creolization as the process through which ideas and practices are appropriated or affirmed, manipulated, and blended in response to the particular power structure of colonialism sous toutes ces formes: classic and neo-colonialism, but also anti- and post-. I combine the original meaning of Creole referring to what has been made local with the later meaning of creolization as syncretization. Therefore I understand creolization as the act of creative incorporation into the vernacular, of localizing through both détour and détournement.(2) Whereas, as we’ll see below, the détour speaks of a general principle, a poetics symptomatic of a postcolonial unconscious, the French détournement refers to specific acts and practices. Détournement collapses several English words that are all appropriate—to various degrees and in various forms—to creolizing strategies: misappropriation and highjacking, diversion and perversion. I argue, along with Crichlow, that creolization entails a practice of “homing,” of making or claiming not only place, but also ideologies and politics.(3) Creolization is inherently relational. Through its détournements, it not only localizes, it also transforms—or “homes”—its source material. Thus, when I speak of the Creole politics of Guadeloupe, I really refer to creolizing politics, practices and poetics that adopt and adapt the French political while transforming it. Creole politics not only aim to govern the archipelago; they also seek to redefine the French nation-state. As Glissant proposes, creolization participates in an act of “mutual transformation.”(4) In the remainder of this chapter, I will first focus on the détour as a model of (post)colonial contestation before turning to aesthetics, audibility, and opacity.
1 Stephan Palmié, “Is There a Model in the Muddle? ‘Creolization’ in African Americanist History and Anthropology,” in Creolization: History, Ethnography, Theory, ed. Charles Stewart (Walnut Creek, CA: West Coast Press, 2007).
2 I adapt here the idea of the tactics of the détournement proposed by de Certeau.
Michel De Certeau, L’invention du quotidien 1: Arts de faire (Paris: Union générale de l’édition, 1980), 68-75.
3 Michaeline Crichlow, and Patricia Northover, Globalization and the Post-Creole Imagination: Notes on Fleeing the Plantation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).
4 Edouard Glissant, Poétique de la relation: Poétique III (Paris: Gallimard, 1990), 103.