lundi 10 mars 2008

The Borders are Illusory

Presently, I am in the Charles Hotel of downtown Bangor Maine, which is affordable and has free Internet. I was told by the receptionist that famous novelist Stephen King lives just around the block (it's a little farther than all that!). I briefly contemplated going to Mr. King's mansion and asking if he would come to dinner with me, which I decided against. According to the receptionist, whom I am beginning to suspect is the owner: "We here in Bangor protect his privacy." I decided that I would not voyage into Bangor for a picture of his stylized gate, although if I weren't alone, I probably would have.

In the nearest and most open of the three Irish pubs in walking distance, I ate a burger and a hoppy beer while reading a study of how Cajuns (and all other ethnicities) appropriate the views of outsiders as their own, creating a social fiction of their qualities. Such as "Cajuns like to dance." Which is patently false. I know many Cajuns who hate to dance. And many who hate Cajun music. But they are no less Cajun than I am.

In terms of this, what can one's culture even be, if not the stereotypes one becomes proud of? I asked my waitress about the drink that I read in Esquire is responsible for 90 percent of Bangor's crime (Incidentally, I opted not to eat at the bar the writer of that article went to, which is the other pub, which although open, seemed too neighborhood and was sort of physically underground). She wasn't sure until I showed her the article, which described the drink as a "poor man's Kahlua." She said, "Oh that must be {insert brand name of liquor here}, that's very Maine."

Is it? Is it very Cajun that I have a wry sense of human that is often inappropriate? Or that I do, in fact, love to dance? My brother wants to move to Germany. I know countless kids from my hometown who want to draw comics about cars, play pop songs on guitar, get laid, get a career, begin a family. I do know one or two who champion French as a culture saving machina. But are they more Cajun than the others?

The article is interesting in its postmodernity. Because if cultures disappear, if we settle for the fact that we compile our cultures from the tatters and ends of observations that outsiders use to generalize our ethnic groups, what do we have? The fact that people are inherently alike, that Italians aren't even that different from Blacks and that Acadians are have more in common with les maudits anglais than not.

I for one do not want to eradicate culture for this or any other reason--though I feel it important to recognize that cultural boundaries can fall away like any oversized, second hand pair of pants. And besides, differences are in place--though these generally have to do with mores and ideological attitudes, rather than artistic or industrial inclinations (or disinclinations). Recognizing the limitations of culture can free us from all sorts of bonds--the insecurity of fulfilling or rejecting certain cultural stereotypes, the pull of xenophobia which is often more pronounced within insular, ethnic enclaves, and most importantly, the impass which makes us view other humans not at singular entities but the sum total of our expectations.

1 commentaire:

captain captain a dit…

i suppose the quandary a group finds itself in is bordering itself up to maintain an identity: us versus them. if Cajuns love to dance and talk and eat and row pirogues down the bayou, then that's something to grasp onto. of course, by maintaining a cultural identity, you eschew the individual, especially the left-footed, skinny, quiet guy playing world of warcraft.
if there is no Other, there is no culture, and if there is no culture with which to identify, then some people's staked identity is damaged. of course, the idea of The Other is in no danger because of language barriers, religion, racism, politics and a million other things, but very little of that, if not exclusively language, can give roots to a culture, especially one like Cajun.
the rest i suppose is reserved for romanticism, nostalgia for the real and imagined, or denial.

alas and alackaday.
can't wait to see you, ol' boy.