Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Creolization of American Culture: from the Illinois U Press Author's Q&A

Q: Were there any common misconceptions of “creolization” that you examined in your research for the book?

I wouldn’t necessarily say there were “misconceptions,” so much as gaps in the record. The book certainly argues that creolization—the process by which two languages, or rhythmic vocabularies, or music & dance idioms, collide and create a shared dialect—was much more widespread in a much wider array of locations, and much earlier, than previous scholarship has perhaps understood. The argument would be that contact between disparate groups—black/white, African/European, slave/free, working-class/middle-class—would have yielded this exchange, whether participants intended or even recognized that it was happening. People heard other people’s music and they learned to move and experience sound differently, and in this new, shared dialect. I think, in fact, that this phenomenon—maybe we could call it “a creolization of bodily experience”—happens everywhere disparate populations come into close proximity with one another. I think it’s at the core of where urban culture arises.

I might suggest that one useful contribution the book provides to that sort of study is to develop a set of analytical tools (particularly rhythmic and iconographic) which let us “see” creole or Afro-Caribbean characteristics—rhythms, body postures, body movements—in tunes or scenes which, on the surface, seem to be “simply depicting” idealized Anglo-Celtic culture. The book suggests that we can identify creole motion—of the pelvis, hips, shoulders; of melodic shapes and rhythms—in the bodies of the dancers, even if they “seem” to be idyllic, pastoral shepherd boys and girls. I don’t necessarily think that Mount intended or consciously imported creole aesthetics into those body vocabularies—quite the contrary: I think that he was simply, accurately, precisely, and sympathetically providing visual reportage on the way that his neighbors and artistic models moved—and that those body vocabularies were already creole, even if the individuals he depicted didn’t consciously realize this.

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