I come back to what I was saying last week about insiders and outsiders and what they contribute to the interpretation of a national tradition, Spanish guitar music. These considerations might be generalized to other fields, such as writing.
Among writers, Camus is a good example of an insider addressing an audience of outsiders. He was a colonial, a French Algerian at a time when Algeria belonged to France. He felt his group were misunderstood and ignored by French society and he was saying, essentially, “look, we’re here too.” He could do this because he was writing in French and his audience was the same as the audience for mainstream French literature.
Recently in English Canada there has been a focus of attention on what is called “Indigenous CanLit”, literature written by Native people about themselves in the English language and in the form of fiction. This is essentially a matter of insiders addressing an audience of outsiders. They address that audience in its own terms: in English (not in their own native languages) and in the form of the novel or short story or play (not in traditional forms of their own oral literature).
There is a controversy about the Canadian writer Joseph Boyden, who has become very well known for his novels about Native life. As a result, many Native writers have been complaining that he is not a real Indian but a white guy, and is hogging the limelight. They are saying essentially that he is an outsider, not an insider, despite his vague claims to Native ancestry. They are saying furthermore that outsiders have no right to address the audience of outsiders on behalf of the insiders. These Native writers have also invoked traditional Native ideas about ownership of cultural material being vested in particular tribal lineages.
The trouble is, CanLit (Canadian literature in English) is a majority-culture game. It’s in English, it uses the literary forms of English literature, and it is mainly addressed to a mainstream audience of white guys in the big cities, they being the ones who buy books. If “Indigenous CanLit” meets a market need and becomes fashionable, then it can only be expected that outsiders, or insiders with dubious credentials, will want to get in on the act. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
What I said about outsiders in Spanish music could apply to these outsiders hovering around on the edges of “Indigenous CanLit”. The sympathetic outsider, explicitly “spelling out” what he consciously knows or has learned, may be able to contribute something to the understanding of the culture by the mass of outsiders – or even the insiders themselves. Apart from this, the outsider may have an important role to play in making the culture known to a wider audience of outsiders and thus creating a bigger market for the insiders in the long run.