F. Lionnet on créolité and cosmopolitanism

I had taken some nice notes on this article, which appeared in Profession 2011, and lost them when the Internet went down. I will not reproduce them now, but rather try to recapitulate some of the things she says, from memory. I am leaving the article in Mexico as I cannot take everything home with me, but it will be available in the event I should need it.

Lionnet says that Creoleness and cosmpolitanism are not often “thought” together, and that if they are, they are thought of as polar opposites. I am not sure about this, since in my fields they more or less have to be thought of together (Lionnet is in French and works on the colonial and postcolonial French worlds). She suggests that they can be thought of together from the perspective of the Indian Ocean, which has been producing Creole cosmopolitans since the 18th century.

Here my question, for my purposes, would of course be: how is this different from the complicated combinations of Creole and cosmopolitan we get in Latin America (if we are to think of these things this way)? What about indios ladinos, and so on?

Early on in the piece, Lionnet points out that Creole is a cutural identity, whereas cosmopolitan is an attitude; cosmopolitan connotes an excess of knowledge and was, when our disciplines were created in the 19th century, associated with the universal; Creole, on the other hand, connotes a deficiency of knowledge and is associated with the regional and the particular.

But, given how much Creoleness there is and what kind of experience that is, one can in fact think of Creoleness as a much larger thing. And as has been pointed out, with globalization there is a new kind of Creoleness that resembles colonial Creoleness in many ways, although it is often thought of as a form of cosmopolitanism instead.

Lionnet has fascinating information on Indian Ocean authors and on the Chagossians, and on Chagossian writers. She points out that efforts to make Diego García a maritime preserve is a way to dispossess these people of their land forever; here a Creole people is deemed less valuable than marine life. She discusses Shenaz Patel’s novel on displaced Chagossians and I see that to read this book is essential to my own development as a writer.

Lionnet’s basic argument seems to be that one should, rather than diminish or ignore Creoleness or set it up to face off against the heritage of more established nation-states (e.g. England, France, USA), we should look at its layered political and cultural legacies. This is fine, but again I am startled at the Manichean way in which French and English, as fields, seem to look at things — we haven’t done this, this way, in a very long time in my fields, or at least it does not seem to me that we do.

This, once again, is why what I most like about this article is the information on authors, and the quotations of them, it contains; it also has a good bibliography. Yet theoretically it is odd; it speaks to something I am interested in but sees a set of methodological problems I do not. As I keep saying, I think this has to do with a difference in the state of our respective fields, but I fear I may be missing something.

Lionnet is responding to and expanding upon an article in PMLA by Isabel Hofmeyr, also about the Indian Ocean. Hofmeyr apparently also says that the Indian Ocean offers a privileged vantage point from which to look at the world. It is, according to Hofmeyr, and alternative axis of analysis to, say, the Atlantic. Hofmeyr does not discuss creolization or its theoretical models (e.g. mestizaje, hybridity). This, Lionnet says, is common among scholars of cosmopolitanism, and is symptomatic of a method which ignores the conceptual applicability of creolization outside fields like linguistics and anthropology (despite the fact that this is a large discussion).

Hofmeyr, says Lionnet, uses the binaries cosmopolitanism and nationalism, imperialism and mobility, old diasporic networks and new public spheres. She does say the Indian Ocean complicates binaries, but by not engaging the question of creolization she does not acknowledge the work the notion of creolization can do to open up these binaries and the forms of entanglement they hide.

Lionnet suggests it would be a good idea to provide a comprehensive account of old and new colonial dynamics, and that the notion of creolization can help do this.

Lionnet’s other important point is that Creole and cosmopolitan overlap, are not two distinct entities, are not polar opposites (that, actually, is what I would have said from my disciplinary point of view, although the words have a more complex set of connotations and common usages as well).

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