23 February 2004

Syncretism vs. Hybridity vs. Creolization

The November 2003 issue of The Journal of Asian Studies (vol. 62, no. 4) contains a review by Tom Havens of the book, The Age of Creolization in the Pacific: In Search of Emerging Cultures and Shared Values in the Japan-America Borderlands, edited by Takeshi Matsuda (Hiroshima: Keisuisha, 2001). The book offers an interesting application of the notion of creolization. The following extract is from the review, which quotes from two chapters by David Blake Willis.
Long ago, the discourse on Japan's relations with the West emphasized cultural assimilation or syncretism. In the 1950s, Katô Shûichi recast the interaction as hybridity--still a powerful concept in literary and cultural criticism, although Willis believes Katô's formulation continues "to privilege a Japanese essence" (p. 6). As anthropologists and world historians use the term, "creolization" is a dynamic, interactive process based on "more even-handed horizontal relations" than in the somewhat static notion of hybridity. Creolization involves "a leveling and a borrowing that is two-way," creating "a new shared culture" that is "open-ended, eclectic, flexible, and mobile" (p. 6). Creolization facilitates transnational and transcultural (rather than international or intercultural) synergies, thus de-emphasizing states and national communities as units of analysis. Simultaneous multiple processes of creolization in various world regions today show that, "the globalization of culture is not the same as its homogenization" (p. 23)....

Willis offers an empirical chapter on the transcultural experiences of creole "JAmericans" educated at CA [my alma mater!], a well-known international school in Kobe barely masked as "Columbia Academy." He argues that cultural, not necessarily genetic, hybridity often leads to true creolization, concluding hopefully that "Pacific Creoles are the cross-fertilizing currents of new directions, the lubrication for the global cultural landscape" (p. 195).
EXEGESIS: Assimilation models imply you either remain who you are beneath the layers of outside influences (good, unless you were bad to begin with), or you lose your soul and become someone else (bad, unless you were bad to begin with). Hybridity models allow "in-betweeners" and "half-castes" but also imply the existence of purity at the cultural poles. For most people, I suspect (not me! not me!), purebreds are willy-nilly superior to mongrels, whether we're talking dogs, or cultures, or cultures gone to the dogs. Creolization models acknowledge the creation of uniquely new structures, with their own internal consistencies, arising out of a mixture of cultural (or linguistic) components, but shaped both by universal patterns and by new functions that none of the old structures adequately served.

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