Sunday, October 31, 2004

Cultural Identity

Returning to my earlier theme of place determining identity, many artists have reinvented their persona based on their country of adoption in preference to their country of birth.
Hemingway's preference for Europe, particularly Spain, in no way diminished his American roots, or American attitudes. Other artists, such as, Mark Knopfler have become more American than British. A similar adoption, though in the reverse colonial direction was Sir Nirad Chaudhuri, who became very British - so much so as to write "The Autobiography Of An Unknown Indian", and dedicate it to

"To the memory of the British Empire in India, which conferred subjecthood upon us but withheld citizenship; to which yet every one of us threw out the challenge "Civis Britannicus sum" [I am a British citizen] because all that was good and living within us was made, shaped, and quickened by the same British rule."

In Sailing To Philadelphia, Mark Knopfler drew on many American-specific idioms to paint a canvas that was redolent of Anytown, USA. He continues this trend with Shangri-La, referencing Ray Kroc and crime stories. He keeps in touch with elements from the British musical journey such as skiffle, referencing the legendary skiffle artist, Lonnie Donegan in Donegan's Gone

Donegan's gone, Lonnie Donegan
Donegan's gone
Gone, Lonnie Donegan
Donegan's gone
Play that big grand Coulee dam
Nobody loves like an Irishman


Cultural affinity often, especially for the adoptee, translates to cultural exceptionalism. This is when the culture is treated as better, superior or more refined. The French are the most guilty of overweening pride, going so far as to raise protests against the opening of Disneyland in Paris, and calling it a "Cultural Chernobyl". The overlooking of European themes in Disney classics, such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty & Fantasia is de rigeur. An excellent article on this theme is at The New Criterion

Contrary to what Jacques Chirac maintained, globalization is not a “cultural steamroller.” It is and always has been an engine of enrichment. Think, for example, how the French artistic sensibility was revitalized by the discovery—or rather fuller knowledge—of Japanese painting afforded at the end of the nineteenth century, or by the arrival in France of African art ten or twenty years later.



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