Two very different items popped up last night when I did a Google search on keywords Salman Rushdie and creolization. They are:

  • A 2001 article on “Creolization and the Lessons of a Watergoddess in the Black Atlantic” by Alex van Stipriaan that cites a Rushdie quote: “Mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world” (see screen shot below from online PDF file); the quote’s been used often by academics studying creolization, and this citation allows me to track it down.
  • A recent National Review article by Stanley Kurtz that managed to enlist Rushdie in his war against “was then [in the 1990s] called political correctness (now called “woke”),” critical race theory and other right-wing bugaboos. It’s a fine specimen (imho) of the burgeoning genre of white victimhood.

One thing they have in common: Neither Rushdie nor Kurtz actually uses the word “creolization,” but both are very much concerned with the concept. Here’s the quotation in van Stipriaan’s article:

See quote in Note 3, ‘Watergoddess in Black Atlantic‘ by Alex van Stipriaan

Let’s start by defining our terms (with a little help from Wikipedia). Several are in play here. Creolization is “the process through which creole languages and cultures emerge,” and a creole is a language, or culture, “that develops from the simplifying and mixing of different languages [or cultures] into a new one.” Closely related is cultural hybridity, a metaphor borrowed from plant genetics that, “in its most basic sense, refers to mixture” and “is used in discourses about race, postcolonialismidentityanti-racism and multiculturalism, and globalization, developed from its roots as a biological term” [links within the quotation marks are Wikipedia’s]. Discussions of creolization often occur in a context of cultural pluralism, “a term used when smaller groups within a larger society maintain their unique cultural identities, whereby their values and practices are accepted by the dominant culture, provided such are consistent with the laws and values of the wider society” [quoted links in the original]. This proliferation of academic terms will explain the appeal Rushdie’s quip, “a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world.”

Ulf Hannerz of the University of Stockholm and Thomas Hylland Eriksen of the University of Oslo, anthropologists who have written widely about creolization, prominently feature Rushdie’s quote. (They’re not alone in that — I quoted it in the title to my article “‘How Newness Enters the World’: Cultural Creolization in Swedish-American Hymnals Published at Augustana College, 1901–1925,” in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. See HERE for more.) Alex van Stipriaan’s contribution is that he quotes Rushdie more fully, and I followed his citation to a 1991 collection of essays titled Imaginary Homelands. (Which I’ve already ordered.)

Van Stipriaan also has a useful caveat. His research centers on the African disapora culture in Suriname, which has its origins in slavery, rather than the often more benign patterns of cultural interchange explored by Hannerz:

The creole continuum model that Ulf Hannerz adopted in the 1980s has been
presented in growing numbers of publications as the ideal concept to describe and
analyse the expanding cultural connections and networks of today’s increasingly
globalized world. In the functioning and positioning on this creole continuum, a
central factor is power imbalance, generally referred to in terms of the relation
between the centre and the periphery. Yet, remarkably, creolization is also used to
describe cultural interaction and merging, even by Hannerz, as illustrated by his remark that'[a]long the entire creolizing spectrum, from First World metropolis to
Third World village, […] a conversation between cultures goes on’ (Hannerz
1987:555). In this sense, creolization is therefore more a continuing intercultural
conversation – although within the asymmetry of centre-periphery relations – than
a description of confrontation and struggle.

This leaves the term creolization in a romantic – or perhaps politically
correct -‘learn-so-much-from-each-other’ kind of world. Yet the reality is quite
different. […] (86-87)

Since my research involves 19th-century Swedish immigrants, whose cultural exchanges in America were much more benign — “a relatively harmonious intercultural conversation,” as van Stipriaan might characterize it — I need to keep in mind that the original creole cultures, in the Caribbean and Latin America, were born out of the “erratic process of struggle, selection and survival” (87) of slavery and its aftermath.

My writing on the subject can have a learn-so-much-from-each-other vibe to it. I think it’s warranted by Édouard Glissant’s take on creolization — “le monde entier s’archipélise et se créolise” — which is almost impossible to translate but suggests the complex, difficult cultural blending in his native Caribbean islands can be a model worldwide (I’ve blogged about it HERE). Bottom line: I need to keep van Stipriaan’s caveat in mind as I write.

Decline and fall of a right-wing dog whistle

Which brings me to the second article: It’s an opinion piece by veteran culture warrior Stanley Kurtz in National Review that relates the stabbing of Salman Rushdie in early August to his longstanding grievances against what he considers a watering down of the “Western” canon in academia. It strikes me as standard fare — I’d paraphrase it like this: THE RADICAL “WOKE” LEFT is out to TOTALLY DESTROY everything we HOLD SACRED and the next thing you know, they’ll remove Tennyson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from the gen ed curriculum. I don’t find this stuff entirely convincing, and my paraphrase may not be entirely fair to Kurtz, so I’ll just quote from his article:

When the Rushdie affair took off in early 1989, America’s campus culture wars had only just begun. Although I was riveted by both controversies, I would not have connected them at the time. What was then called political correctness (now called “woke”) seemed to be something of a different order than the command of a religious ruler to execute a literary figure in the name of the Muslim faith.

Yet the professors who kicked off the campus culture wars did see a link. They argued that globalization requires us to demote or abolish the Western civilization narrative. Eurocentrism must go, they said, since the sensitivities of ethnically non-Western students were on the line. [Link in the original.]

I followed Kurtz’ link to see if it would take me to the unnamed professors who made that argument. Instead, it took me to a publisher’s blurb for his book The Lost History of Western Civilization. According to Wikipedia, he’s made quite a cottage industry out of writing about “family, feminism, homosexuality, affirmative action, and campus ‘political correctness’.” Nothing from the unnamed professors on the blurb sheet, although it did tout the book as an “extended case-study in the follies and limitations of deconstructionist, multiculturalist, postmodern, and intersectional thinking.” Well, OK. I turned back to Kurtz’ National Review piece and read:  

To put it differently, the same globalization that turns an Iranian Ayatollah’s death sentence into a proximate threat to Americans at a speaking event in Cambridge requires us to abandon our focus on the story of Western civilization — a story, as traditionally taught, of the rise of classical liberalism and the rights it nurtures and secures. The professors may not have put it in precisely that way, yet that is what their position amounted to. They could have responded differently to globalization, of course. Assimilating immigrants from across the globe by reaffirming the Western civilization narrative was the road not taken.

It may well be that Kurtz has actually read Salman Rushdie. I’ll certainly hold that possibility open in all fairness. But I saw no evidence of it in his article on “Salman Rushdie and the Decline of Western Civilization.” What I saw instead was an attempt to take the occasion of an attack on Rushdie by an Iranian-American youth as yet one more pretext for owning the libs and unnamed “woke” professors.

Links

Stanley Kurtz, “Salman Rushdie and the Decline of Western Civilization,” National Review, Aug. 14, 2022 https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/salman-rushdie-and-the-decline-of-western-civilization/.

Alex van Stipriaan, “Creolization and the Lessons of a Watergoddess in the Black Atlantic,” 2001, U.Porto, Biblioteca Central, Faculdade de Letras, Universidade do Porto https://ler.letras.up.pt/uploads/ficheiros/6945.pdf. His splash page features a picture of the goddess, Mama Wata, at https://www.alexvanstipriaan.com/research?pgid=kqpa5he4-c8f07d4e-5b42-42e7-863f-2037f0fc53a7.

[Cite for original: Stipriaan, Alex van, ‘Creolization and the lessons of a watergoddess in the Black Atlantic’, in Antoniónio Custódio Gonçalves (ed.), Multiculturalismo, Poderes e Etnicidades na Africa Subsariana/Multiculturalism/Power and Ethnicities in Africa, 83-103 (Porto, 2002).]

[Uplinked Sept. 7, 2022]

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