By Pius Adesanmi
When I was leaving Paris for Canada to begin my PhD in 1998, my French friends almost considered it a slap on the face of their culture and civilization that I was crossing over to North America. They considered it a lowering of culture in a way. Their only consolation? Well, at least he is going to Canada, not the USA.
Confused? Be patient. Come with me.
Gallic arrogance is such that the French see themselves – especially their language and culture – as the apex of Western civilization. It is from this national imaginary that they look down with supreme contempt on the language and culture of our own colonizers across the channel. Personally, I consider it ibinu ori and bad belle because English has a global reach they can only dream of and they cannot handle it.
Bad belle or no bad belle, they see themselves as the Oga at the top of Western civilization. If they look down on their neighbours in Britain, they almost consider the Americans across the Atlantic a cultural heresy. Or people of no culture. That is Gallic arrogance.
One measure of the fears of my French friends for my level of culture was constantly expressed in what would happen to my gastronomic culture in North America. We know that the French are the owners of haute cuisine and allied elaborate food culture. Add what I acquired in the aesthetics of food and cuisine in France to my foundation of elaborate Yagba and Yoruba food culture and owambe gourmandizing and you will understand the problem of my French friends – I was too gastronomically sophisticated for North America.
For the French, dinner can be a five-hour cultural ritual of numerous courses and excellent conversation. The journey from “aperitif” to “dessert” is a long and elaborate cultural ritual. For the American, dinner can be and usually is a five-minute drive through at McDonald’s. If he has money, he may later send a bottle of Budweiser to join the double Big Mac in his belly.
This is the cultural “sacrilege” that the French can’t handle. But, you see, the American culture of fast food is coming from somewhere much deeper. It is a much deeper metaphor, honed throughout the more than 200 years of their existence by their poets, artists, and philosophers. It is a science of the self as a swift, straight to the point, efficient persona, shorn of fioritura. The American will conquers swiftly, no stories, no detours. The American dream has no room for distraction. Straight to the point.
This is a marked difference from the cultural elaborateness of our friends in France and the notions of the self which devolve therefrom.
The metaphor of the fast food is the story is of the American approach to the self, to nation, to the world. It is his culture, his aesthetics and it is what shapes his science, his innovation, his industry. That is what all these things respond to.
If fast food is expressive of a national self-fashioning, somebody somewhere saw an opening in terms of how information can also be packaged and consumed swiftly as fast food, shorn of fioritura, expressive of the American way and personhood as defined by generations of that country’s writers, philosophers, and artists.
Twitter is a continuation of America’s fast food aesthetics of the self. How we eat – fast food – defines our approach to the production and consumption of information.
The French deceive themselves that the Americans are culturally inferior but there are millions of them eating the cultural fast food that is Twitter and being defined and shaped by it.
The ignorant Nigerian wants to know who culture and grammar “has epped”. But he is expressing it on Twitter. If we offer him a torchlight, he just might be able to peer into that tunnel and see how America’s poets elaborated the national cultural aesthetics which their science and innovation fed on to give him Twitter. He does not understand the relationship between a people’s food culture and Twitter.
Every time he is on Twitter or Facebook, he is using specific products of specific cultures and aesthetics of the self. He is so used to the ignorant disconnect that people make between “arts and science” in Nigeria that he does not understand that the societies he admires in the West see both as synergy and continuity.
So long as the Nigerian does not understand this, s/he will continue to spit on his own sages of culture while ignorantly worshipping other people’s sages of culture with every update, every Tweet.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada