restricted access The Creolization of Theory ed. by Françoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih (review)
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Lionnet, Françoise and Shu-mei Shih, eds. The Creolization of Theory. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011.

This volume examines the notion of “creolization,” from its origins as a “historical process specific to particular colonial sites”(viii) to its later use as a more general theme, applicable to cultural mixing and hybridity throughout the world. As the editors point out, the term “creolization” illustrates many of the dilemmas faced in the production and general application of theory, which develops out of a specific context. “Creole” was first used in the Caribbean and Latin America to refer to settlers of Spanish origin born in the New World, before it came to designate the cultural mixing of the Caribbean. With Édouard Glissant, an author and philosopher from Martinique, the term took on a more general, almost universal dimension, since he describes “creolization” as a process, one that has occurred not only in the Caribbean, but elsewhere as well. For him, it refers to an intense mixing of cultures to establish new ones.

Accordingly, the authors of the volume define “creolization” both as an empirical, historical phenomenon that took place in the Caribbean as a result of the slave trade and colonization; and as a concept that describes a universal, dynamic process, one that has occurred or is occurring throughout the globe. In a passage quoted repeatedly in the volume, Glissant makes a key distinction between “créolité” and “créolisation”: “créolité,” best translated as “creoleness,” refers to a state, while “créolisation” to a process. In other words, while “creoleness” is a way of describing a particular kind of identity, one centered in the French Caribbean and Indian Ocean, in the former French colonies of Réunion and Mauritius, “créolisation” is an ongoing series of actions or events. Lionnet and Shih are particularly interested in how “créolisation,” as a broad historical process, has been appropriated—both explicitly and implicitly—by “French theory,” especially with respect to the study of minority, colonial and postcolonial cultures. According to the editors, these scholars face the challenge of using theory, with its generalizing tendencies, to analyze concrete events and situations, without losing an engagement with politics. The editors’ objective is twofold: first, to raise questions about the forms that theory can take with regard to postcolonial, ethnic and Francophone studies; second, to pose fundamental questions about the state of the academy, including the place of theory within it.

The lengthy introduction is in itself a significant theoretical essay about the relationship between theory and ethnic and postcolonial studies within the academy. It presents an extended reflection upon the interface [End Page 165] between theory and practice, and the notion of “creolization.” Lionnet and Shih state as their goal to theorize relations between peoples, at a time when the death of theory is frequently announced. As they indicate, the rise of theory in the “global 1960s” often involved the reading of French thinkers in English by American intellectuals, who depoliticized it, largely ignoring the generative context of the Algerian War, as the radical writings of Césaire, Fanon and Khatibi were put into dialogue with Hegelian, Nietzschean, and Sartrean thought. Lionnet and Shih write that during this time period, interrelations between peoples and cultures were transformed by decolonization (of which they consider the Civil Rights movement to be a part), the Vietnam War, and the resulting critique of Western rationalism and civilization, events which led to the institutional formation of ethnic studies and Francophone studies in the U.S.

The volume is divided into three parts. The first part, “Creolizing Methodologies,” comprises four chapters that consider the notion of creolization as a concept that prefigures the theoretical frameworks of postmodernism and postcolonial theory. In “Symptomatically Black: A Creolization of the Political,” Barnor Hesse writes about the history of “creolization” in the New World (both as a term and a practice), and its relationship to politics. He emphasizes that what ties creolization to the political is the question of race, and explores the implications for Western liberal and radical democratic theories (including humanism), which “routinely avoid addressing the colonial and racial as constitutive of Western polities”(48). In...