It’s a noble idea to talk about culture here, since the truth is, governments seem to have forgotten about the word. Culture is a ball and chain that governments drag around. Traditionally, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs constitutes a liability for politicians. They no longer know how deal with culture or what place to give it in our society. It’s no coincidence that in any government, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs is the first to be impacted by departmental reforms. Culture does not constitute a real issue. Hence, in my view, talking about cultural policy remains a contradiction.
Culture instills fear. How often have we seen the main candidates for a political position scale down their vision, their language, and often their intellectual status in order to reach a mainstream electorate. In this context, culture is a word to be avoided, a word that is too suggestive of exclusion or elitism. A university professor running as a candidate for a major political party was advised not to mention that he taught or wrote books in his interviews with journalists.
We live in a time where culture costs votes, where the word culture is vilified, just like the words thought, solidarity, virtue… Culture expands horizons and imaginations, whereas politics limits them, narrowing the focus on identities, fears, threats and wars. What meaning does the word culture hold when democratic dialogue is dying?
We can’t talk about policy without alluding to the lack of importance attached to culture. The only words that politicians have on their lips these days are entrepreneurship, the market, the competition. Any thought is a disgrace, any culture an abhorrence. Culture is detested and those involved in cultural activities are disdained. No need to get out the shotgun when the word culture is uttered. Politicians have done everything to ensure that the word is an empty shell, that entertainment and tourism replace any stimulating thought, creative act, or soul-searching—in fact, everything integral to culture.
Allow me to digress to explain the expression “cultural policy” in Haiti. There, the work culture is synonymous with resistance. Those who write or think often end up in jail. They have no subsidy. For them, simply being alive is a subsidy.
Having a library at the time of the dictatorship was in itself a death sentence. Duvalier’s Macoutes hated books. The occupants of a house with a bookshelf could be thrown in jail. If the books were read, the penalty was even stiffer. The book alone was an insurrectional object. Knowing full well that revolt begins with books, dictators do everything to prevent their free circulation.
What does a Ministry of Cultural Affairs represent?
In fact, culture leads to social unrest.
Translated by Elizabeth Vincent.
Born in Haiti, poet, essayist and publisher Rodney Saint-Éloi is the author of a dozen books of poetry. His work, à l’écoute du monde, is a long journey through cities and faces. Passenger of texts, forms, and memories, he founded the Mémoire d'encrier editions in Montreal in 2003. In 2012, he received the prestigious Charles Biddle Award, which "recognizes his exceptional contribution to the development of arts and culture in Quebec." In 2015, he was accepted as a member of l'Académie des lettres du Québec. His last collections of poetry are Je suis la fille du baobab brûlém (Mémoire d’encrier, 2015) and Moi tombée, moi levée (Le Noroit, 2016).