Quebec Studies

The (French) Creole Turn?

Quebec Studies (2021), 71, (1), 19–40.

Abstract

In what ways can study of cultural mixing or métissages, often linked to histories of empire, colonization, and assimilation, help to better understand complexities in contemporary French and francophone societies? How can theories of creolization explain ambiguous ethnic, racial, and national phenomena that have long existed but have remained obscure? This article critically examines hybrid cultures that have coalesced as a result of pervasive French presence in the world over the last several centuries. The publications of Histoire mondiale de la France and its English translation France in the World: A New Global History sparked debate both inside and outside the Academy, on both sides of the Atlantic, about the global currents that have shaped nations like France and the United States. More readily acknowledged creolizations in French-speaking parts of the globe signal a noteworthy evolution. The analysis herein leans on oceanic thought developed by philosopher Édouard Glissant in his influential Traité du Tout-Monde. Glissant emphasizes the ephemeral, unpredictable, improvisational nature of creolizations. While common in the French and francophone world, creolizations know no boundaries and respect no borders; they are constantly and transgressively reinventing themselves. To what extent is the question of creolization in modern Québec relevant? The essay focuses in particular on French cultural cross-fertilization in the Americas and the compelling tensions between créolité and américanité.

De quelles manières l’étude des métissages culturelles, souvent liées aux histoires d’empire, de colonisation et d’assimilation, peut-elle nous aider à mieux comprendre les complexités des sociétés françaises et francophones actuelles? Comment les théories de la créolisation peuvent-elles expliquer l’ambiguïté de certains phénomènes ethniques, raciaux et nationaux qui existent depuis longtemps mais qui restent obscurs. Cet article examine de manière critique les cultures hybrides qui résultent d’une présence mondiale française depuis plusieurs siècles. L’édition d’Histoire mondiale de la France et de sa traduction anglaise, France in the World: A New Global History, a suscité des débats sur les courants mondiaux qui ont forgé des nations comme la France et les États-Unis à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur de l’académie, des deux côtés de l’Atlantique. Des créolisations plus facilement reconnues dans quelques régions du monde francophone signalent une évolution pertinente. Cette analyse s’appuie sur la pensée océanique du philosophe Édouard Glissant dans son influent Traité du Tout-Monde, dans lequel il met l’accent sur la nature éphémère, imprévisible et improvisée des créolisations. Quoique communes en France ainsi que dans le monde francophone, les créolisations ne respectent ni limite ni frontière; elles s’inventent de nouveau sans cesse et de manière transgressive. Dans quelle mesure la question de la créolisation est-elle pertinente au Québec actuel? Cet essai jette un regard particulier sur les métissages culturels français dans les Amériques et sur les tensions entre la créolité et l’américanité.

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Gosnell, Jonathan