It has been a long ten weeks. I really had no idea what French 152 would entail, but the email I received was very convincing in the fact it would be a great class to fulfill a GEC requirement. I was a little curious of how the professor would incorporate French into the African and Caribbean worlds…keeping in mind the only information I knew of either came from the latest Blockbusters. After the first few classes, however, I knew that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary “GEC class.” This course started introducing me to big concepts like global awareness and the necessity and value of learning about other cultures. I became genuinely interested in my studies and actually read the texts that were assigned and didn’t regret doing my work on a Friday night.
That’s when I realized that before this class I had never really exposed myself to the acquisition of knowledge based on other cultures and beliefs, especially in the Francophone world. Our world is not diminishing but those of us living here are becoming closer and without the proper education of different countries and ideas, there isn’t much hope for the future. Come with me as I explore the thoughts of scholars and real ideas throughout the world and focus especially on why this cause is so important. I will finish by illustrating just how broad of a subject a culture can be and discuss the changing preoccupations of the Francophone world from anti-colonial protest to post-colonial social critique. Hopefully, others will follow me in the search of new knowledge and understanding.
Many Americans have been sheltered their entire lives when it comes to learning about different cultures, especially those of the eastern part of the world. Sure, the average American has heard of different religions and cultural values, but is that enough? Martha Nussbaum, author of the highly accredited Cultivating Humanity, believes that the problem of ignorance throughout the world of other cultures is hindering our ability to function as a nation as well as “citizens” of the world. She briefly discussed how Americans feel threatened when conferring the idea of a broader knowledge of culture because they believe if students take initiative to learn of other cultures, they will easily forget the values and beliefs that the American society is based upon.
Even though this thought is easy to succumb to, Nussbaum seizes this theory by stating, “This is a legitimate worry, and we should be sure that new knowledge does not lead to ignorance….We cannot afford to be ignorant of the traditions of one half of the world, if we are to grapple well with the economic, political, and human problems that beset us,” (pg. 114). The question that should be swimming through the minds of many Americans is, “Is this truly an important issue that we need to discuss and attempt to fix?” The answer is a simple yes and there are many reasons why this is the case.
The question is not necessarily how those who learn of other cultures can benefit from their knowledge, but what those who don’t must sacrifice in their everyday lives and their ultimate potential output towards the world. The fact that our world is globalizing is very obvious and if we continue to ignore that fact that we need to globalize ourselves in order to find our place within this interdependent world, then we will find ourselves in a very disadvantaged situation. The first disadvantage to this mindset would be that those who were not willing to learn and experience the world will have the inability to function economically in an efficient manner. I’ve developed a very good understanding of the economic concept of interdependency and trading within countries through my various economic classes this year. The main concept of economic gain is pretty easy to understand and it’s even easier to understand that specialization within different countries and the trading of other goods and services will benefit all parties involved. Without understanding those cultures and ideas that inhabit a certain country we cannot expect to be cooperative and efficient when it comes to economics and the delicate trade balance between the United States and other countries.
Another barrier that arises would be the barrier of the vast world of politics. Politics today does not only consist of local or even national issues. Take the occupancy of Iraq, for example. If people were only concerned for the well-being of the United States then we would technically not have any issue with countries overseas and their exasperating fight for democracy and freedom. Politics is becoming evermore dependent on international relations and how countries can connect and assist each other in both good and bad times. Along the lines of what I mentioned earlier with the economy crisis, the business sector would also not reach its potential with the absence of cultural understanding and the proper education of other societies.
This is especially obvious when it comes to the growing successes of China, who in the near future, will most likely top the United States and become the superior power of the world. Even if the United States is the superior power of the world right now, it is evident that this fact is not always ensured and that in the near future there might be a significant change in our attitude towards the relationships with these countries. Without their assistance, business ventures would become disabled, unequipped to grow and prosper like its present state. Perhaps now would be a good time to look more at these cultural interdependencies that surround us.
As I have said multiple times already, the world is globalizing at a significant rate and it’s our duty to make sure we stay up to speed. When those few proud and conceited Americans stand up and claim that students of this generation do not need cultural understanding and only need those few values and ideals that the American society has deemed worthy to learn about, we lose so many chances to start towards the goal of the global conception. What these proud, everyday Americans do not realize is that few aspects that we hold so dearly initially came from this country. Most would agree that mathematics has evolved overtime into a complicated and logical understanding of numbers and equations, but most would not agree that without the efforts of many Arabic and other middle-eastern societies, our understanding of mathematics would solely be based upon Greek and Roman mathematics, which were not very finite in themselves.
We underestimate other countries because we wish to not associate ourselves with what we think is inferior when in fact it was these countries that discovered the concepts and ideals that we hold ourselves so highly upon. There is nothing wrong for being nationalistic towards your country but the point when you reach those qualities known of a normative chauvinist, or someone who thinks that their culture is superior to all others without the proper education, it has gone too far. We as a country should hold high the goal of acceptance and comprehension of other cultures and learn that even toleration is a greater power than complete ignorance.
There are some certain key aspects when it comes to learning about different cultures that even the most esteemed scholars must keep in mind. The first of these aspects would be that real cultures are plural, or more easily that cultures are diverse in whole and have developed different classes, ethnicities, and religious groups throughout their geographical span. The United States is the prime example of this “melting pot” theory. It would be ignorant to describe the ultimate American values because there is no such thing as a monolithic portrayal of what our country stands for and it should be equally difficult to say this about any other country. Another aspect of cultural wisdom is that real cultures contain argument. There must be a totality of voice within the overview of a country because every argument has a dominant norm but it also has every resistant counter-argument to follow suit. The third aspect would be that we cannot fairly judge a country on the opinions and discussions of one famous artist or intellectual. It would be rather bizarre to say that Karl Marx represented all German values when in fact he represented the beginning of an idea instead.
The fourth aspect would be the fact that all real cultures have a varied sense of thought and it would be wrong to identify a culture by one stereotype. It would be unwise for someone to believe that just because someone is Asian that automatically excels them in the departments of science and math. The last aspect of cross-cultural learning would be that real cultures have all a past, present, and a future. The simplest example of this would be the ancient study of Confucius and its relationship with the country of China. Yes, Confucianism laid the foundation of ancient Chinese values but those values have also evolved over time to include critics of those ideals and other economists that have stated new thoughts that heavily weighed contemporary Chinese thought.
Nussbaum also ingeniously stated, “Beginning a cross-cultural comparison from these common problems will put us in a position to recognize a shared humanity and at the same time to notice the very considerable differences in the ways in which different cultures and individuals have faced these problems,” (pg. 138) referring to the idea that all cultures experience and face the same problems of humanity but attempt to solve them in different ways. A good example of this theory is that of love as a universal emotion of humanity. Love can be found anywhere on this planet but has been coded culturally within different societies. The idea is to crack this cultural code to more easily understand the culture within.
With these new guidelines, Nussbaum often referred to this strong act of cultural wisdom as a way of preparing for national and global citizenship. I have already briefly described the national citizenship views earlier but will discuss them once again now. It is obvious to see the repercussions of our actions through the political, economical, and business worlds. Cross-cultural learning affects politics in the idea that all countries are now interlinked in some way or another and because of this we now have a responsibility to acknowledge all countries as equals in humanity, all other concepts aside.
It affects the economy in the sense that through globalization it is becoming even more essential to trade with other countries to benefit our country. And it affects the business sector because as the United States slips from being the leading power within the world it is becoming more important to have ties with China and other booming countries to secure business transactions and finances to keep the free enterprise system within our country going. The main concept that ties all of these ideas into one is that Americans must start identifying themselves as uneducated in the category of other cultures and come to the realization that in order to grow as a country, the knowledge of other cultures is necessary.
Global citizenship is related to national citizenship but is definitely a much broader view of this concept. I will again mention the importance of realizing that the world is globalizing, with or without our consent, and we must change in order to accommodate this new wave of global interdependence. Some people may believe that this is a negative change within the world and that the United States would be better off if we were to curl up into a ball and wait alone while other countries prosper around us. I think it is a great opportunity to utilize our strengths and fortify our weaknesses to the degree where a better America is the outcome. Communication across the world is bringing everyone closer together and the sooner we realize this fact, the sooner we can start working towards bettering ourselves and everyone around us.
When finishing up her article, Nussbaum closed with a few thoughts to keep in mind when considering the subject of cross-cultural wisdom. The first is to live with an open mind toward the world and new ideas that may cross your way. It is important not to shut out an idea just because it is new and unfamiliar. The best way to learn is to experience something new and attempting to not judge that said experience until all sides have been heard and seen. The second thought to keep in mind, according to Nussbaum, is to have the ability to question thoughts and ideas that may come across as absurd or bizarre, keeping an open mind along the way, of course. And the last thought that I derived from the article is to be tolerant of other cultures and societies, no matter how different they are, because that culture may think that the United States is strange in many of the practices we perform. Until we can successfully decode the cultures to a level of understanding, we sit waiting to grow both nationally and globally.
As I said before, I will be discussing the broad idea of a culture while talking about the changing preoccupations of the Francophone world from anti-colonial protest and nationalist celebration to post-colonial social critique. There are those who believe that those inhabiting a country should feel blessed with what they have received and just accept the way that their life has been led, but it would be hypocritical to say that most people have this sort of philosophy. To get right down to it, everyone is a critic. I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing because if it wasn’t for people standing up for what they believe is true and just, our society today wouldn’t have the freedoms and rights that it does. It is a natural human response to criticize a person’s living situation and other qualities of life.
What it comes down to is common sense. In every cause of this world, there must be some sort of “oppressor” or obstacle standing in the way of those who believe in that cause or it wouldn’t need the cause in the first place. In some cases, there is an outside influence to the oppression, but in others, it is some form of institution or a widely based idea within that very society. The history of the Francophone literature from the 1940s to the present day describes the changing of oppressors from the outside forces to those actually located within the society or culture.
Taking a brief look at some examples of what would be classified as nationalist Francophone literature, our first glance comes from the poetry of Senghor. “New York”, a beautiful poem written by Senghor develops the idea of the anti-colonial movement, specifically geared toward the country of France. He refers to the colonial establishment of France within his country to be the “modern” ideal of the world and quickly changes the beneficial thought of modernity into a sickness that envelops everything it touches. He claims that his trip to New York was distressing and that even in all of the turmoil there, the entire area was void of life and freedom, two things that were well stocked in his homeland of Africa.
The French believe they are superior to Africa because they are contemporary and well adapted into the ideas of futuristic society but Senghor disagrees that this modernity they hold so high is devaluing their lifestyles because they are missing the basics of life in general. In another poem written by Senghor, he develops anger toward the French government for the manipulative use of African soldiers within their wars. “Luxembourg 1939” is a much stronger poem both visually and literally. As a comparison of both old and new, the old being the way of life before colonialism and the new being life with colonialism, it transfers all of the hate from the hard times to the country that had been colonizing them, specifically those who thought it would be a good move on the political spectrum. Senghor holds his forceful political voice against the government of both France and those who live within his home country and feel there is nothing that they can do. Overall, he displays the perfect anti-colonial ideals and develops his case through a beautiful rhythm of words and emotions.
Now we will explore an example of nationalist celebration through the African epic of Sundiata, translated and then written by Niane. This is obviously going to be a display of nationalist celebration because it is a revered African epic of the proud Mande people exhibiting many old and sacred African traditions and presenting an uplifting African heritage as well. It is an exaggeration of events that could have very well occurred but the exaggeration of some of the actions and events make the story seem even more supernatural and rewarding.
The idea that the fulfillment of destiny will occur whether or not the actions towards that destiny are intentional or they are unwanted is related to the idea that the African countries have a destiny to be free from the “outside oppressors” that come from other worlds to bind their hands into enslavement, just like the villain of Sundiata had done. This epic displays the triumph of good, the African people, over evil, the outside influences who believe they can control these diverse and wonderful lands. Overall, Niane uses the translation and his own little twist of words to describe the founding of a great African people through very extreme means. But because we discussed these examples more in depth during the midterm, I will now give some examples of post-colonial social critique.
The first example of this type of literature of the Francophone world comes from the novel written by Jacques Roumain, Governors of the Dew. This novel demonstrates many different types of conflict that are universal and generational, so it is easy for everyone to relate to. It also displays the story of the common man, which is a good attribute to have when trying to appeal to the working world. The first conflict is man versus earth, describing the challenge that still inflicts us today, and according to former vice president Al Gore, is one of our biggest problems. Many characters from the novel thought that the drought had been beset upon them due to their angering of the gods, but then Manuel comes to present a logical case that the men of the village were to blame for pillaging the land and all that it had until there was nothing left to live on. The devastation of the world Manuel knew was too much and it was as if the natural world had died, which Roumain adds by saying, “But the earth is like a good woman, if you mistreat her, she revolts.” This claims that all environmental issues we face today were ultimately caused by us as well, in which I am a firm believer.
The next conflict would involve the vast subject of religion and what the concept of religion entails. Throughout the novel, different types of religious practices were evoked and superstition made an appearance through the ritual found in the middle of the novel. Religion in this village has become more of an institution than the church it should be trying to become. Manuel represents the contestation of faith, even though in the end he is often referred by more than one scholar as Christ-like as he dies for the sake of the entire village. His sacrifice enables those around him to actually realize that he, a man, was able to change their destiny, even though his was sealed from the beginning. Although his fate or destiny is pre-determined, he tries to tell those around him that they are the makers of their own destiny and should not look to the gods for assistance but look to themselves and those around them for change. This sense of self-worth in the world rather than the pre-instituted subordinate frame of mind allows them to dwell more deeply into the concept of human responsibility and what they should be accountable for. In this case, the drought, the water shortage, and the overall outlook of life are those effects created by the villagers because of tradition and the refusal to contemporize.
The last conflict presented within this text would be that of rural villages versus the city. This classic conflict becomes an internal examination of society in the aspect that the rural dwellers, even though were not wise enough to know that they must get water in order to survive, were still the innocent people whereas those who dwell within the city lived low and corruptive lives. The leaders within the city were also considered insufficient, much like in how today’s average citizen criticizes those in charge. Again the city, even though modernized, has become a place where wicked and corrupt events occur. Governors of the Dew is a wonderful display of post-colonial social critique because it looks at all aspects of that particular village and calls the people out as traditional buffoons living in a contemporary world. Instead of accepting new ideas and living for themselves and not for their pagan gods and spirits, they have to rely on one man to show them the way. It is revolutionary when compared to those stories and poems presented earlier of the nationalist celebration movement. Even the thought of critiquing their own free society instead of an outside force is radical. But there is still yet another example of post-colonial social critique within the Francophone world.
Another example would include Three Suitors: One Husband, a play that takes place in the eastern Cameroun region, within a typical Bulu village. This is a comedic view of the flaws of society based upon the idea of stock characters from the Italian comedy group, Commedia Dell Arte. Through the use of characters such as the lover, the pantaloon, and the old man, the author was able to construct a hilarious view of what this society misconstrued as important and later created a way to turn this flaw against them. First of all the author flips the predetermined thoughts of the nationalist viewpoints of tradition and modernity and allows for once modernity to trump tradition throughout the story. Within the story plot, tradition comes across as being very negative toward the solution of the problem that the characters create. The first problem that tradition imposes on the characters is that of sexism. This thought is emphasized through the use of arranged marriages and the fact that Juliette’s approval was not even considered in such a heavy matter as marriage before the family had promised her to not one but two suitors. Another denotation of tradition within this story is the aspect of materialism, which is displayed by the amount of money given for the bride price of Juliette.
Even when MBIA comes to the village and is promised Juliette, he offers whatever the family needs in order to “seal the deal” and the family rattles off every little thing they can think of instead of taking heed to Juliette who is absolutely struck with grief because of the entire situation. They are blinded by money and materialism throughout the whole play. Another feature of traditional thinking throughout the play would be that of collectivity, or the struggle between the entireties of the group, the family, and the individual wants and beliefs, Juliette. The family is very concerned with their well-being and the stature of their name throughout the land in which they live when they should be concerned about Juliette’s happiness. They are willing to sacrifice her well-being in order to make their wants sufficient and in turn provide them with enough to last them the rest of their lives…or at least a couple of weeks! The next feature of tradition was also used in Governors of the Dew. Superstition was definitely viewed as ridiculous in one of the more humorous points of the play, in my opinion. The witch doctor is described as eccentric and willing to say anything in order to captivate his audience and deceive them into a large payment at the end of his performance.
The witch doctor displays the institution, rather than the helpfulness, of religion and the initial realization of the hoax spreads a shadow on the people because they didn’t believe that this “religion” was fake, just this occurrence. This is not the only story where religion can be conceived as an impending force that brings upon no answer and only produces more questions in its attempt to find a solution. The last conflict that tradition imposes on the story is the one of gerontocracy, or the form of government where the old rule. This can obviously displayed by the elders of the family. It is their greed that fuels the entire operation and their materialistic wants that deny Juliette the very happiness that they seek for themselves. Three Suitors: One Husband, as I said earlier, also displays the new side of modernity within the Francophone world. One of the new attributes of modernity found within this specific play would be the idea of individual interests. Juliette is the greatest example of individual interests because she clearly has been well educated and knows well what she wants out of life.
Her greatest ambition, which is love, alludes her because of her family’s wishes and she can only achieve love by using her family’s weaknesses against them. Another aspect that modernity brings to this story is the thought of young people overpowering and outsmarting their elders, which would be completely opposite of all other typical societies within Africa of whom hold the highest respect toward the elderly. Another aspect brought to play within the realm of modernity would include the value of choice. Because of the state of the gerontocracy, choice is especially out of the question for the younger generation within this society. This is such an underestimated freedom that we hold but yet so many people in Africa deal with this particular problem everyday. Another portion of the modernity within this play involves the broad idea of idealism. The thought of having aspirations and dreams; the wants, hopes, and fears of the future held by Juliette quickly turns into a nightmare when her family stresses two arranged marriages upon her, ,stripping away her own thoughts of what a life should be like. The last example of the “new modernity” is that of modern education.
We first learn of this modern form of education through the learning of Juliette in far away lands and schools. It is rare for someone to be well educated from that village, especially when the student is female. Among the many modern and traditional views of this society, there were also those defects that are often found within our own world that include corruption among leaders and delegates, the deprivation of certain things to ensure a good quality of life, and also trickery and deceit among peers and other colleagues.
There is also the frequent mentioning of the popular conflict of the city versus the rural regions. MBIA refers to the pompous attitude of those from the city while the rural inhabitants possess a simpler look on life, which is usually the case when it comes to farmers and the others who lead a worker’s life. I should know because I am a farmer! Overall, this play is a social critique of the institutions, values and beliefs held within this people of Africa and it develops a new comedic way to critic these aspects of this society. I feel the use of comedy through the criticizing problem allows for a much more successful point than a drama would incur. Now it is time to analyze why the change from anti-colonialism and nationalist celebration to post-colonial social critique actually occurs.
As I had mentioned before, societies will always have a need to criticize the ultimate power with that society as long as there are such problems as corruption and indecency. Like Martha Nussbaum said in her article, every real culture has a past, a present, and a future. I bring this up for the sole purpose that every society changes with time and what was held to be right may be wrong in the future and what may be considered wrong might be right. There is one thing that will always be constant, however, and that is the intent of the people to better themselves and their community through hard work and change. When there is a battle against an outside force, the fight is going to be fought until there is a winner and then after that the battle is fought inside the line. There is always a battle fought where there is conflict. It was during the 1940s and up to the 1960s when African countries started fighting for their independence from outside influences like France. Because of this fact, Francophone countries switched from their nationalist view to a more post-colonial social critiquing, just like other countries.
I have learned a lot through these past ten weeks and I definitely think it has been worth the time and effort it took in order to better understand the Francophone world. The main component I am taking from this class is that is very necessary for my benefit as both a national and global citizen to learn about different cultures and societies that I might have earlier deemed bizarre and different. Another lesson I will remember from this course will be to understand the changing preoccupations of countries from the anti-colonial way of thinking to the post-colonial version of social critique and also that learning both of these values comes along with time as well.
It is also important to keep in mind that the first step toward a better understanding is the ability to keep one’s mind open and try to be as less judgmental as possible. Before all other things though, it is important to respect those cultures different than ours and give them the benefit of the doubt that it is a legitimate belief because respect is the only thing most societies and cultures are searching for. I hope throughout the years of growing up in a great country like the United States, I am given ample opportunity to explore the world and different cultures that inhabit it, because after all, if we don’t become one the only option left for us is to become lost.