There is something in cultures that invariably turn them into Passéisme. This word, I've encountered in a manifesto by contemporary Acadian artists, is used to attack the obsession of a culture with its own past. In Acadian letters and art, it is evident by the constant referral to three events: the idyllic origins of Acadie, the deportation, and the renaissance of Acadian heritage in the late 19th century with the founding of Collège Saint-Joseph.
This phenomenon does not limit itself to my small community and her culture. Take for example the culture of New Orleans, which obsesses over the idea of a decadent, bohemian port city that thrived until about the end of World War II. The truth in New Orleans today has been unveiled and laid naked under horrifying light by Hurricane Katrina. The city has a 70 percent poverty rate, structural incompetence, and ghastly crime, yet people still talk about this magical and fictional version of the city. Perhaps this is a good thing--afterall, it keeps the morale up. But it can only be truly useful if it urges the people of New Orleans to rebuild her city and change their attitudes about justice, social sustainability, and everyday life. Although I am skeptical, because I see the simulacrum of New Orleans competing with any valuable progress.
Likewise, in Acadian (and by proxy Cajun) community, a lot of the cultural energy is spent on tableaux of the past. I will recount my first encounter with this, when I traveled to Bouctouche for the exhibit, Le Pays de la Sangouine.
Sangouine was a character in the work of Antoinine Maillet, the mother of modern Acadian literature and theatre. In the park, one can listen to monologues by people who are dressed as Maillet's characters and who perform them in little buildings decorated for the period, which I guess is either right before or right after the deportation.
The land there is truly beautiful and most of the spectacles occur on a little island accessible by a foot bridge (although there is a golf cart that drives people back and forth, driven by a Lirette whom I had not the pleasure of meeting). When I went there, it was a clear, windy day.
When I arrived on the island, I went directly to where I could hear music, coming from a bar. The band was energetic and talented. They sang songs in French, even some from Louisiana. Afterwards I wandered. I met a guy, a Girouard, who was the inhabitant of the lighthouse. In the light house there was a statue of a monk with a mirror suspended over his head. The head was cocked all the way back so as the monk could view his face. The statue was at one point the masthead of a boat.
This Girouard and I talked about a few things--the presence of Lirettes in New Brunswick, the plight of the Acadians and Cajuns, his trip to Lafayette. He said that after driving 2300 miles to Louisiana, "it was like coming home." He also discussed black culture with me, a conversation I tried to avoid. He told me the Cajuns, "That's blacker than nigger." This is an example of ethnocentric passéisme. Apparently, he is also a clairvoyant.
I went back to the music.