"imperialist nostalgia"

Here is a painting by Jean-Leon Gerome, “The Snake Charmer” 1870…can anyone guess what book it acts as a cover of??? also, this painting is in relation to a conversation re: Lorca on Barbara’s blog, which I’ve finally cobbled together a response….so please visit her blog for context – she gives an amazingly researched outline of Arabic forms that Lorca experiments with…Well, here is my response and if anyone has any thought please feel free to comment………..

Thanks for the wonderful post on these forms, I will keep it as a valuable reference. I am struck by a couple of things: first, how migratory poetic forms are, how easy they are to carry from one place and time to another. Also, how poetic forms are not bound to any one place or time, how they too have their own changing lives beyond their creators (look at hay(na)ku!) and can shift meanings / significance as they change hands.

In relation to Lorca, I think your connection to Poeta in Nueva York, Lorca’s desire for the “dark powers” of the dark other is a powerful one. It seems to me that both of Spain’s generation of ’98 and generation of ‘27 poets had to deal with the failure of Spain’s imperial project. In Lorca particularly, I see what Renato Rosaldo (in Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis) calls “imperialist nostalgia” – the idea that:

“the peculiarity of their yearning, of course, is that agents of colonialism long for the very forms of life they intentionally altered or destroyed. Therefore, my concern resides with a particular kind of nostalgia, often found under imperialism, where people mourn the passing of what they themselves have transformed.”

Clearly I am stretching this definition to include a poet who was not necessarily an “agent of colonialism” – but who was involved in ethnographic projects in Spain and in Nueva York – from empire to empire. Duende becomes an expression of “imperialist nostalgia,” an othering that situates the other in what Ann McClintock calls “anachronistic space” – which I why I think he seeks it out, that yearning.

So then to face your statement that that’s what “poets do when writing — drawing from what exists in the spaces we inhabit, what rhythms and meters are ‘natural’ to us, what we hear in churches, in pubs, and around the fire…Whether poets do this “deliberately,” consciously or not, is hard to say, but I think of how prevalent hiphop rhythms, rhyme schemes, and themes are in “young,” “urban” American poetry, for these young poets are drawing from popular culture, which is daily life, which is daily practice, which informs their world views. Certainly, in Lorca’s time and place, the zajal/cantiga/sonetto forms had, for a long time, informed both “high” and “low” cultural/community practices…”

This seems true to me. The difficulty I have is that I truly believe that poetic forms are not bound, do not exist in “anachronistic space”, but are historical and transcultural. And that it is okay for Lorca to use these forms in the same way that it is okay for Claude McKay to write sonnets, or Cesaire to use surrealist techniques. On the other hand, I am very much against Jerome Rothenberg’s ethnographic imitation poems (and most of his ethnopoetic work anyways) – but I am against it in the way that it represents culture, not necessarily that he uses forms from other cultures. I have a similar struggle with let’s say Gauguin, Or with Olson’s interest in Mayan culture, or Pound’s interest in the Chinese….

if this is what poets do, it seems we have to throw the term “appropriation” out the window as an effective hermeneutic device in the New World Order. Then it seems we would also have to throw out the idea of cross-cultural borrowing as “problematic.” How can it be problematic if it is natural? Or perhaps what remains “problematic” is not the naturalness thru which these exchanges occur, but how the poet navigates these border crossings – this new multiperspectival ethnographic consciousness in which “only anthropophagy unites us”…



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