Codrescu on culture
A couple of years ago, I wrote a letter to a colleague in which I commented on New Orleans' curiously high poverty-to-culture ratio:
"I left New York in the early fall of 2001 in pursuit of "a real life," by which I suppose I mostly meant "a bigger, brighter, cheaper apartment," and I found both in New Orleans... New Orleans has been a real tonic for me in many ways, not all of them real estate-related. I don't know whether abject poverty breeds depth of culture, but this city makes a strong case in support of that argument...."
I was reminded of it again recently when I read Andrei Codrescu's column in this week's Gambit Weekly, in which he writes:
"The "culture of New Orleans" generally means good things: music, food, easy-going people, street festivals. It is invoked to bring business and tourists to the city. There is, no doubt, a real culture at the origin of this bloated gumbo, but that culture is not so easily described. For one thing, culture is poverty: the expression of people who can't afford the ready-made. Most Americans appreciate such a thing only if it comes packaged as a ready-made. Live culture, in New Orleans or anywhere else, is difficult to package because it is an evolving artistic activity whose purpose is to undo such generalities as the "culture of ..." In other words, most of what marketers, journalists and academics call "culture" is not."
Now, I haven't always read Codrescu's work very closely, and in fact it always feels a little accidental when I happen to, and I will confess that whenever I heard him on NPR, I used to picture The Count (Von Count). But I'll always remember hearing him on the radio just two desperate days after the storm as he delivered a beautiful eulogy for New Orleans. I had friends from elsewhere tell me later how they found it to be sort of annoyingly pretentious, especially coming from a non-native, which seemed to me to be missing the point. I'm not a native either, but just the same I remember how grateful I felt finally hearing a national report from someone who clearly got it, the whole awful picture.
I listened to it again recently, and picked up on a line I'd missed before. Again, there's this same theme of "the saving grace of New Orleans was it's music, it's food, it's festivals, and the poor..."
I don't quite know what to make of it, if anything really, but you can hear the rest of that piece here.
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