Day of Absence 2010: First Response - Clarity

The critique(s) offered by Ward Minnis about the Day of Absence concept on his blog, Mental Slavery, and on Bahama Pundit, are both comprehensive and impressive. And he's right, in several places. Particularly when he writes

Her Day of Absence clouds over and conflates many different and unrelated ideas while advancing an awkward historical agenda and a cumbersome theory of cultural development. It is political and apolitical, about something and about nothing, clear and blurry, all at the same time.

he's got a point.So I figure that if I'm going to begin to answer him, I'd better make my assumptions clear. I'm not so convinced that the ideas that Day of Absence floats are either "different and unrelated" or entirely deserving of the adjectives "awkward" and "cumbersome", but that could just be me. What I will admit is that the way in which the concept was presented mashes together all sorts of concepts in what could be read as an unholy mess; and so the first part of the response will attempt to address this issue and to clear a couple of ideas up.So let's start with premises. Here are my assumptions.

  1. Culture is separate from neither history nor politics. It is not a discrete, bounded entity that we can neatly stow in anything at all. An anthropological definition (there are many) might suggest that culture is what occurs when specific groups of people respond to the environment in which they find themselves, and that that environment is geographical and historical. Culture helps shape and respond to identity. It occurs both subconsciously and consciously, and it is elastic and malleable. Central to culture is change, and that change happens whether we try to make it happen or not. When a group of people ignores its culture (in the anthropological sense) culture change will occur without direction and without purpose. I believe that The Bahamas, by ignoring artists (whose main function in society, if we want to be really crass, is to make manifest the subconscious elements of collective cultures), has consigned itself to having its culture change on it without realizing, comprehending, or affecting that change.
  2. Bahamian culture is not a discrete or bounded entity. It never was; the idea of bounded cultures is a myth of convenience that served numerous political agendas in the past. But in the twenty-first century, its boundaries have dissolved almost altogether. Every culture's have. All cultures are melting into one global culture, one real-time, international, digital cloud. It is not possible to separate our daily consumption of culture (in most cases, other people's) from our infrequent production of it. Ward is completely correct when he says
  3. The reality is that most, if not all, of the images and products that filter our way from the great foreign cultural creators, such as the United States, have been produced by professionals who have already been compensated.

    That has always been my point. However, that reality does not stop us from continuing to compensate those professionals by paying for their creations. Ward misses the point when he assumes that I am drawing some artificial line between Bahamian (which he takes the trouble to underline) artists and other professional artists. I can't. I could only do so if we all stopped consuming international cultural products. Consumption and production are two sides of the same coin, and no amount protectionism, favouritism, or nationalism will affect them. It's Ward's decision to talk about Bahamian artists, not mine. But more on that later.

  4. I don't call from an abstention from all art not because I believe Bahamian artists are absent (absence is not the same thing as invisibility, which is what led me to Douglas Turner Ward's play in the first place), but because I believe that it is important for us all to reflect on the centrality of culture and cultural production to our lives -- and then to ask where we are in the equation. Culture is a global entity. Our consumption of it crosses borders without thought most of the time. But where we are lacking is in presence not merely in the local environment, but (perhaps more importantly) in the global one. Who are we? The answer is far far more than the name of our favourite Junkanoo group; but do we know?
These are the premises from which the idea of Day of Absence was born. They don't have to be agreeable to everybody; but I articulate them so that they can be understood. If they are still "cumbersome" and "awkward", so be it; they are where I stand.