Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Today in Language: Aimé Césaire

Le martiniquais du 20ème siècle, Aimé Césaire, aurait eu 100 ans aujourd'hui. Il est né le 26 juin 1913. Dans Nègre je suis, nègre je resterai, un livre d'entretiens avec Françoise Vergès, il s'exprime le noyau de sa vue du monde et de sa philosophie, tout ce qui a informe et inspiré et sa politique et sa littérature : « Chaque partie du monde a droit à la solidarité universelle. Il s’agit de savoir si nous croyons à l’homme et si nous croyons à ce qu’on appelle les droits de l’homme. À liberté, égalité, fraternité, j’ajoute toujours identité. Car, oui, nous y avons droit » (69). Dans sa politique (appréciant mais dépassant le communisme et même le simple anticolonialisme), dans la littérature (appréciant mais dépassant le surréalisme et même le simple postcolonialisme) il a toujours songé à ce droit d'identité, revendiquant lui-même celle de la négritude.

The Martinican man of the 20th century, Aimé Césaire, would have been 100 years old today. He was born on June 26, 1913. He has left his mark not just on Martinique, or even just on France, but on the world--in politics, litterature, and philosophy. One of my favorite quotes of Césaire is from a collection of interviews he gave a few years before his death. Building on the famous French slogan, central to the country's republican, secular values, he said, "Every part of the world has a right to universal solidarity. Do we really believe in man and in human rights? To liberty, equality, fraternity, I always add identity." Questions of identity, particularly in relation to politics and literature, were always central to his thought. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

On Culture, Stereotypes, and the "French"

One of the simplest yet wisest statements I heard this year in Paris came from a professor in a course I took on literature and globalization. He said, "Je ne suis pas capable de vous dire ce que font les Français" (Translation: I am not capable of telling you what the French do). In other words, he didn't want to generalize and say "the French are like so," or "the French do so-and-so."

In fact, about all we can say generally of the French or the Serbs or Cubans or Americans and still speak the truth is that they are 1) human and 2) French, Serbs, Cubans, or Americans. That does not belittle the usefulness and place of generalizations and stereotypes in cultural studies, but it does remind us of how easily they can introduce intercultural misunderstanding.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Guide to Tourists for Parisians

As I am close to leaving Paris and moving back to the U.S., it is interesting that just now the tourist board and Chamber of Commerce of France's capital should come out with a guide for the capital's inhabitants to try to make the city more welcoming to tourists. A few observations about the "Do You Speak Touriste?" guidebook (or rather, a few observations about the idea because I haven't read the book itself):

1) In my now extended experience (at least by comparison to other tourists who come for just a few days), Parisians have not generally been "rude, overbearing, unpleasant [or] aggressive." I do think we almost have to resort to generalizations and stereotypes when discussing cultures and societies, but perhaps this is one that is changing.

2) There are general differences between being here and in, say, Japan. I do not know how helpful it is to discuss those generalized differences, though. Trying to teach those general differences in an informal way to one city's inhabitants could create as much confusion and misunderstanding as anything else.

3) According to American witnesses in The Greater Journey, the Parisian welcome was very warm and friendly for newcomers back in the 1800s. Interesting if, as a general rule, this was true as opposed to late-20th century Paris.

4) The guidebook idea is not a terrible idea. I would insist, however, that the burden should rather be on tourists to make an attempt to understand and adapt to the place where they want to practice their tourism. This should include adjustments in areas from eating times to personal salutations to public comportment to . My concern, of course, is related primarily to cultural studies and humans' undersanding of one another, while the Paris Chamber of Commerce is probably more focused on the economic considerations of being a welcoming tourist destination. (I am not obliquely criticizing that preoccupation.)