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1 - On Immersion: Academics and the Seductions of a Baroque Society

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 January 2021

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Summary

Everyone will understand that I prefer a big Saint-Bernard to a Mademoiselle Franfreluche who knows to perform the steps of the gavotte, and certainly a yellow man to a white man, a black man to a yellow man, and a black boxer to a black student.

When I came across these words by the Dadaist artist Arthur Cravan (in Shelton 1984: 323) they were instantly recognizable, their content and tenor effortlessly graspable, commonsensical to the point of simply being true. Who would not understand this set of preferences? Who would not opt for the possibility to trade the world of Mademoiselle Franfreluche and her well rehearsed steps for a place where experience has the immediacy of clean punches, left jabs and right uppercuts? Let me be dragged along over snow-covered mountains. Let me court ever-darker shades of black, with all the moving out of control, and all the risk-taking this courting might imply.

There is no denying that the promise of Saint-Bernard dogs and nègres boxeurs is what makes me end up in places like Bahia – hot, exuberant, ever-dripping Bahia, where a gringo such as myself is subjected to a 24-hours invitation to drop the studious attitude, to part from scholarly ways of getting to know the world, and enter into more immediate modes of being.

You would not want to be deceived, however, into picturing me as a kindred being to the pugilist, poet, traveler, crook, loudmouth, provocateur and troublemaker that was Arthur Cravan. I was raised under the sign of the gavotte: once a stamping peasant dance from the Dauphinée that had allowed ‘for the lord to kiss all the other ladies, and for the lady to kiss all the other lords’, but destined to become a baroque affair of elegant nodding and courteous bowing, ‘intricately choreographed both in terms of step execution and floor pattern’. From desirous kissing to courteous bowing: that pretty much characterizes all that I was made to be when growing up in a middle-class suburb in the Catholic deep south of the Netherlands. Here, the derivatives of the cultural and sexual revolutions of the late 1960s and early 1970s had arrived in such forms as homespun, hand-knitted sweaters, Bulgarian folk dancing, macrobiotic recipes, feminist inspired relational experimentation and indeed, the playing of distinctly pre-modern baroque music.

Type
Chapter
Information
Ecstatic Encounters
Bahian Candomblé and the Quest for the Really Real
, pp. 47 - 68
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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