On reading the preface to a book of Haitian Kweyol poetry, I was a bit overwhelmed by the leftist, Marxist, revolutionary rhetoric. Anyone would be sympathetic to protest over conditions in Haiti, but couched in terms that hold Cuba up as a model, it causes one to swoon a bit and not out of worshipful enthusiasm, more a gag reflex. But what to do? When we move out of the leftist realms in Latin-America, what do we have left? The more cautious tones of comfortable academic scholarship, objective and detached, as it should be. Truly, I am much more comfortable with that.
However, we then are buffeted from the other side of things, what the Marxist philosophers call cultural hegemony, where staid professors assure us that and here I’m greatly exaggerating all art, to be art, must conform to standards. So a piece of drama staged anywhere must conform to Aristotle’s and Racine’s and Shakespeare’s presentation of drama because we know they either wrote great drama or wrote intelligently and critically about drama. What that leaves out is a great deal of the world’s drama, the world’s art, the world’s politics, economics, religions, languages,
and so forth. In other words, we are back to the ethnocentrism of the 19th century.
My own predilection is to play it safe and stay with the academics, the scientists, the scholars because it is they who have transformed our humanities and social sciences over the decades from the 19th century racist ideology to 20th century investigation of all cultures wherein we found objects of great value. Paul Radin wrote Primitive Man As Philosopher. Hoebel wrote Primitive Law, and we slowly transformed our understanding of “primitive” and took the gleanings from our colonial possessions to discover that people outside Europeans had governments, songs, kinship networks, economic practices, and on and on that were valuable and workable for their circumstances. That led to relativism, the bane of conservatives everywhere because it strips away their authority.
As the world truly does get smaller and smaller I remember the first African students to arrive on AzSU campus in 1960 and our president’s father was from Kenya we can begin to sift and evaluate cultural practices in a more realistic and pragmatic way. But this openness requires us to be open to our ideological colleagues, on both the right and the left. In the library yesterday I saw a book on computational linguistics by Geoffrey Sansom, a major linguist who is so racist he was drummed out of the U.K. Conservative Party. He opposes Chomsky and I think I know why: Chomsky’s universal grammar assumes all human beings have the same brain and that does not sit well with those who would divide us into superior and inferior types. Nevertheless, we must entertain all these ideas.
What scares me about ideologues on either side is they have no interest in wide-ranging debate and collaboration. To me, that’s how we advance and I’d like to work with that rather than throw in my lot with folks who would have me shot for “deviationist tendencies”.