lundi 7 avril 2008

Culture Wars

Culture. What is that? My friend and landlord, who by day is a psychologist, claims that it is "a system of laws to check instinct." But this is conflating culture with institutions--which is no surprise from my friend, who "hates" them all, especially Organized Religion. But there is also his culture--upper middle class academic/professional, atheist, permissive, purveyor of both fine and folk art. There is also my culture(s). Cajun, yeah yeah yeah. But moreso, I'm a twenty-something writer, cultural (at least) Catholic, permissive, consumer. I dabble in many arts and am well "versed" in many subjects. I avoid opinions I find distasteful--racist, mysogynistic, homophobic, conservative. Both of us has "culture."

But you could say the same with any demographic, and now I'm conflating "culture" with "demographic group." (I can't help but think that's what culture is now, sorry.) But maybe I should look more toward what separates humans and animals. I don't buy the feel-good idea that animals somehow have culture, one of the defining things, I think, that cleaves that chasm between us and Those Others Who Live. One great big advance that humans made in evolutionary history is of course the capacity to engage in symbolic discourse.

Symbols. Signs for something else. Is this what culture is? In Cajana, there is of course the music, symbolic wailing and complaints not unlike Medieval French poetry. There is also symbols that have come to represent the people--the crawfish, the bayou, the French language, etc. There is also literature.

But for my purposes, can there be any culture? I am an artist. And as I've stated before, I am not doing this just to be the world's biggest Cajun. I really don't think I'm that exotic. And continuing in my writing and in my reading, what is there but culture? What is there that but what has nothing to do with culture?

Culture may be something only valuable to the two jobs offered by an MFA in creative arts: artists and marketing people. But maybe when either is address directly, the only thing that can happen is a war of generalizations (read tautologies) and the dehumanization of the individual. New postmodern dictum: you can have a culture / but have it slant.

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