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Thread: Cultural appropriation brouhaha

  1. #1
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    Default Cultural appropriation brouhaha

    The New York Times has an intriguing story today about this. Here is the lede:

    "The simmering debate over cultural appropriation took another turn on Wednesday, when the Writers Union of Canada apologized for a magazine editorial defending the right of white authors to create characters from other backgrounds, and announced that its author had resigned."

    For those who are interested, you can find it at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/11/a...opriation.html

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Cultural appropriation brouhaha

    Not a big fan of Lionel Shriver's novels, but I agree wholeheartedly with her stance.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Cultural appropriation brouhaha

    I've got a very complicated response to this, but I'm going to read the article that Liam has posted to (I've only read responses to Shriver's speech).

    On a personal note, as somebody who writes short stories for fun (I've got a long way to go before I've got something that can be published), I can say that I've struggled with this idea of appropriation and where, exactly, the line is drawn between that and appreciation. I've come to the conclusion that, at least for now, I don't understand other cultures well enough to write from within those perspectives. I've tried and it just doesn't sound real or honest, and I feel like it is how I imagine people from other experiences feel rather than how I understand them to feel. Does that make sense? To my mind, it requires an immense amount of writing and insightful maturity to pull it off, and a helluvalot of communication and connection with and knowledge of whoever it is you are trying to write about.

    Part of this comes down to historical relationships of power and oppression and how groups have been represented in literature in the past (and present) in ways that strip them of agency and good, honest representation.

    That said, as a person who is interested in race and culture and gender and all sorts of other things that are mostly unrelated to my experience, I've decided that, at least for now, I can write about them but as an outsider - where the narrator or protagonist is looking out from their privelege and trying to make sense of the world around them, one which is very different than the one that they grew up in and which doesn't conform to their perception of reality. Does that make sense?

    For what it is worth, I think that William T. Vollmann does this quite well - it is a good balance, even if it is, at times, concerning in some of its depictions and characters. His goal, though, always seems to be humanizing people, recognizing their inherent sophistication and beauty even when they do at times conform to certain stereotypes, which is something beautiful and important in literature as far as I'm concerned.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Cultural appropriation brouhaha

    I was actually asking myself how a novel like The Rifles or Fathers and Crows would be perceived if they were published today by a young, up and coming author.

    Personnally, one of the reasons I loved Fathers and Crows so much is because Vollmann totally challenges everything that I was taught in history class in high school. For instance, it is widely understood that the French were all buddy, buddy with the Natives, while the English were cruel capitalists. The truth is much more nuanced, and as far as I can tell, french-canadians don't have much respect these days for First Nations.

    As someone who has vast french-canadian ancestry, I did not find this to be insulting, but refreshing.

    More recently, there was a small contreversy in Quebec, because of the way the french are depicted in the movie The Revenant, with Leonardo DiCaprio. I wonder if this would have been the case 20 years ago? (once again, not insulted by the Revenant)

  5. #5

    Default Re: Cultural appropriation brouhaha

    I've been reading the Dying Grass (I read 50 pages or so, every few months. I'll eventually finish it), and I've been wondering if this whole cultural appropriation debate will hinder Mr Vollmans chances at winning major international literary prizes, maybe not the Nobel, but other prizes. Joseph Boyden got blasted in Canadian media for writing about First nations issues (the main difference being that he claimed to be Métis), but still. I think that Vollman has gone unnoticed because probably not that many people have actually read his books.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Cultural appropriation brouhaha

    And now, there's an op-ed in the NYT in defense of cultural appropriation. The gist of the argument (by Kenan Malik) is "The accusation of cultural appropriation is a secular version of the charge of blasphemy. It’s the insistence that certain beliefs and images are so important to particular cultures that they may not appropriated by others." You can find the op-ed at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/opinion/in-defense-of-cultural-appropriation.html.


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