Languages of the world

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« We are told, and it is true, that everywhere things are disordered, disoriented, decrepit, have gone completely mad, blood, the wind. We see and experience this. But this is the whole world talking to you, in so many muzzled voices. »
Eduoard Glissant*

Inevitable? Yes. It is now nigh on impossible to imagine the renouncing of economic globalisation. An ultra-liberal logic is invading the planet, accentuating the divide between the rich and the poor, facilitating the circulation of goods and capital but not people, serving financial interests to the detriment of humane values, and seeing man as nothing more than a consumer. Globalisation masks the inequality of access to education, and thus acts as an obstacle to democratisation.
As this race for modernity equates with a Westernisation of the world, it is as if the South had nothing to offer. The imbalance is growing. Worst still, cultural globalisation provokes a dumbing-down, standardises social practices and thought, and engenders what Aminata Traoré calls « the rape of the imagination ». In a century’s time, Unesco predicts that 90% of minor languages may well have disappeared.**
Yet, a wind opposes this « diluting of diversity ». It is not about withdrawing into an identity or a territory, nor is it something new. This irreversible blending process imposes a different logic. It is accelerating today, its immediacy reinforced by globalisation. Edouard Glissant calls it « Everyworld », which he defines as « the extraordinary adventure that we are all led to live today in a world that, for the first time, is understood as both multiple and unique ». His thoughts open up such horizons for us that we absolutely wanted to open this dossier with him. And if we have allowed ourselves to juxtapose Africa and his « Tout-monde » (« Everyworld ») concept (« our universe in all its changes and continuities brought about by exchanges, and, at the same time, the vision we have of it »***), it is because it strikes us as remarkably designating the African artists’ vision a « possible space », a vision sharpened by the memory and the persistence of Western hegemony, which fuels their demand for diversity.
It is a strategy of resistance against « standardised dilution ». As Landry-Wilfrid Miampika demonstrates, African artists enrich the literary imagination as they oppose a univocal and totalitarian History (p. 18). For a long time now, they have turned artistic tools round, subverting them to make them into weapons of free thought. The re-publishing of Yambo Ouologuem’s Devoir de violence (Bound to Violence) is a milestone in this respect. A mondialist before his time, Boniface Mongo-Mboussa demonstrates how he defined new sites of freedom (p. 23).
Africa has thus resisted and continued to survive the violence of a process identified by Elikia M’Bokolo thanks to its culture. A new cultural discourse needs to be invented for an alternative globalisation that respects the state of Africa today (p. 28). This will not involve ready-made solutions, but practices and ways of life that restore dignity. Rather than getting caught up in the mined terrain of Africanity, Sylvie Chalaye demonstrates, in her study of African playwrights, the extent to which this involves affirming that they are an integral part of humanity (p. 37).
But it is not a question of universalising in the way globalisation sees it, as it seeks to impose a global village in complete disrespect for the multiplicity of diversity. It is not about shutting ourselves into a reductive opposition between the universal and the specific either. Virginie Andriamirado insists on African artists’ desire to go beyond this antagonism. Resisting globalisation does not mean denying « globalness », but rather conceiving that it is the sum of specificities. Hence the importance of documenting them. The biennales that are flourishing in the South are self-affirmations, not ghettos (p. 111).
In order to avoid getting trapped in an ineffective universal, José Pliya defends the fecundity of exploring language. In his view, language’s alchemy defines a musical poetics that arises from the translation of its original languages (p. 45). Asserting diversity effectively implies the complex exercise of translating. Taina Tervonen calls for its study in Africa, where it is so present and necessary (p. 50). Chenjerai Hove redefines the role of the translator as a conveyor or a co-creator (p. 52), and Jean-Pierre Richard, his translator, notes the extent to which African literature is the poor relation of translation in the French publishing world (p. 55). His fascinating historical study of how they have filtered South African literature offers an edifying example (p. 59).
It is thus necessary to fight to survive. Taking the example of Antillean writers, Kathleen Gyssels demonstrates that this can involve appropriating the very tool of globalisation – the Internet (p. 117). The new technologies open up new opportunities if they are taken as a tool. They make it possible to set up networks that transcend frontiers. This is the strategy that Aminata Traoré suggests (p. 72), and can be found in all the artistic fields. Ayoko Mensah describes how African contemporary dance makes use of the Internet to propose alternatives to the paradigms imposed by the state subsidy networks (p 102).
For it is indeed a question of how to assert oneself over and above the definition that the Other gives of you. As Gérald Arnaud shows, World Music is a trap in which artists are forced to abandon some of their specificity to meet what are held up as universal criteria. They have to emigrate to survive, both literally and metaphorically. Gérald thus encourages them to assert incompatible music! (p. 79)
Utopian? Perhaps, but possible because this is already a reality. The coloniser has already been colonised. Resistance to the blandness of standardisation finds a fertile ground amongst those that initiated it in the first place. As Sylvie Chalaye notes in her study of Josephine Baker, even the aesthetical canons of beauty have been changed by their contact with black bodies (p. 93).
It is indeed a question of subversion. Africa’s cultural contribution helps us cast off the fetters and poeticises imaginations. The Africa that has never held power knows that it is possible to live without it! And that you can change the world without conquering it – an essential experience for our times. This requires a setting up of relationships – not dualistically, but in this entirety that the new technologies allow us to envisage, by creating a network of diversities.
The stake is to acquire the freedom to think one’s life without submitting or dominating, to live out projects that enable us to break out of dependency or domination in order to achieve a statute of equality. Freedom of thought thus supposes stopping seeing oneself as a victim whilst facing up to one’s History, so as to be rid of the legacy of submissiveness in our collective imagination. Art works help us to unravel this delicate contradiction.
At a time when, in a context of paroxysmal violence produced by an accumulation of humiliations, what is going on in Iraq demonstrates that international legitimacies struggle to replace the Nation-State’s loss of legitimacy, as was notably illustrated by the massive peace demonstrations. On the margins, the « alter-mondialist » practices for an « alternative » globalisation create an opening, an autonomy, a hopeful psychic and civic maturation, that might manage to uphold this redefinition.
The ambivalences of its History have made Europe into a point of contact for different civilisations. Its « old » experience of a cultural diversity representative of the rest of the world needs to be highlighted, to show the Americans that the world can not be American. Africa’s cultural contribution is essential in this respect, and must be promoted. It helps us go beyond the world imagined by the West, towards this « poetics of the imagination » that Glissant refers to, towards being ready to listen to the languages of the world.
This implies sharpening one’s gaze and knowing one’s origin. The eye and the root – that is what the Ghanaian adrinka signifying feminine attentiveness, patience and tenderness, that we chose for our Africultures logo seems to us to express. It sums up a programme and an attitude that we hope is anchored in critical clarity.
After 53 monthly issues published over a period of more than five years, and nearly 2500 articles published on our web site, we are today inaugurating a new, more in-depth quarterly format, in the hope that this will better meet the demand for in-depth analysis in an unsettled world. Recognising the stunning development of the Internet, we will now use our website, visited by some 2000 net surfers a day, to convey information and to serve as a forum for reacting to current affairs. Our reflection is for a seeking of markers. It involves being open to debate and letting artists speak out, as we so strongly believe that art can influence practices and thought.
Culture-based fixations will not achieve this. For our new layout we have thus chosen the provocative drawings of an illustrator – the Franco-Togolese William Wilson – who rises above the simplistic obviousness that people so often expect from African artists. He situates us there where people least expect us, and that is precisely where we want to be.

* Edouard Glissant, Traité du Tout-monde – Poétique IV, Gallimard, 1997, p. 15.
** Le Monde, 2 avril 2003, p. 26.
*** Ibid, p. 176.
This dossier is illustrated by works from the L’Europe Fantôme, Visions africaines de l’Europe et des Européens exhibition, 28 May to 6 July at the Vertebra Gallery, Brussels, which makes an important contribution to the examination of the South-North relation.///Article N° : 5676

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