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Coolitude. Please be vigilant...

Khal Torabully

Last week, I posted a text in French on my FB page, following friends’ advice from the artistic and academic world, as well as my Facebook friends, warning me that my ideas and paradigms of coolitude have been taken up by some individuals who acted as “friends” on my page.

These “friends” have behaved as if they had invented its tenets by divesting them of the generic term of coolitude (which elaborated an innovative methodology), so as to appropriate my work rather freely, for their own profits.

In this process, they just replaced this one word with two words, while making theirs the theoretical groundbreaking work of coolitude. A kind of online marketing, if you see what I mean, using the recipe which was patiently elaborated but changing the packaging, so as to reap what one did not sow…

We have now to face this sad truth more and more in a type of predatory “academia” developing online the day after...
Indeed, what is ongoing with coolitude is a strong case of lack of credit and quotation marks in the entreprise of those more than indelicate “borrowers”, trading quotations without quotation marks which are being aired on internet widely.

I agree with my peers. I have the duty to react, as I may well find myself indebted to my own work – which is being transformed into “theirs - through the thin discursive makeup of so-called “Indianist theorists” relating, for instance, Les Indes/Indias and créolité and creolization, exhibiting archipelagic thought stemming from the Indias and the centrality of the Indian ocean and my perspective of the tessera or fragments, stating they are engaging in a transoceanic perspective, as this they had invented this complex methodology and conceptual vision - just by using the magic wand an internet platform to harvest ideas and visions patiently developed over the years. And some people, unaware, seem to respond to this “new vision”…

In case these people would (still) feign to ignore a fact, let me get it straight: coolitude was the very first paradigm to start this pioneering work more than 30 years ago. You can easily google this for evidence ; that is also widely shared by serious people online.

AS A QUICK REMINDER: Coolitude developed a complex pioneering poetics, a multilayered theory by relating History, Literature, the Arts, the Humanities and the archives from an oceanic perspective, struggling to give visibility to the Indian Ocean through indenture and diasporic perspectives.

It also highlighted a novel approach: oceanic centrality when reading History and the archives through the Indian Ocean, not with a view to close on a mare nostrum, but to go beyond, to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic (see, for instance, Véronique Bragard, "Transoceanic echoes: coolitude and the work of the Mauritian poet Khal Torabully", International Journal of Francophone Studies, 2005.

This innovative methodology, as there was none before my exploration of this field thirty years ago, was extended to migrations, diasporic studies, poetics of migrations, the necessity of approaching identities through a fragmentary and complex perspective while archipelizing the various layers of meanings, signs and spaces of the reality one explores.

Amitav Ghosh, with whom I have exchanged, agreed that coolitude allowed him to engage with a complex oceanic perspective of the Indias, enacting Indians and indentured persons with fragmented and complex selves in his trilogy. The ship (the idea of the oceanic centrality of narratives and archives) itself becomes a full character (a first in Indian novels), investing the idea of exploring a plural India through an archipelago of fragments. As a serious writer, one can just appreciate his humility and intellectual probity. A real intellectual, from the margins or not, gives credit to others and does not try to overshadow them…

This quick summary is the nexus of my work. I am stating a simple fact, and to those who reap it without sowing the huge amount of work, pretending to bring out a new intellectual and artistic or aesthetic perspective in the approach of a fluid, plural India, through the archipelago of fragments and a construction of diasporic and indenture poetics, are just making a pale copy of my constructions.

I will remind them of a simple reality : you cannot reinvent the wheel by pretexting you “ignore” it was invented before… Specially when you knew the wheel was already posted as an invention on facebook or simply in a book called Coolitude (co-author, Marina Carter).

This is just thinking outside a respectable frame, may be through the ephemeral and often deceptive use of internet, which can, for honest users, be a medium for a more respectful exchange of work and ideas…

“Borrowing” and episteme

As one knows, Michel Foucault considers epistémè as a hybrid concept articulating History, Sociology and Philosophy (Les Mots et les Choses) in which epistemology refers to a genealogy of knowledge.

While studying sciences, episteme puts knowledge in context and describes what it is constituted of at a given period, whether one goes “beyond” or not. Ideas have a memory, their archeology of archives. And each time one uses the ideas, works, poetics of another author, one has to quote him/her and put quotation marks, signal his name and work, I mean, in any attempt at honest intellectualization.

There is a “function citationnelle”, a “quotation function”, which, in semiology, is an important element of speech, as it refers to a genealogy of knowledge. And to an archeology of ideas and intellectual constructions.

Therefore, a trick of language or an ellipsis in that field is an intellectual flaw, not to say more.

Clearly, those “borrowers” who think they have (re)invented a “new methodology” regarding plural India and créolité or creolization, the transarchipelagic/transoceanic approach with archives, identities, memories or relation between Indianness and otherness, namely through creolization/créolité choose to ignore episteme.

This a very scary type of methodology to me and I hope younger people will make this work for themselves, to avoid falling in the traps of easy “borrowing” and misuse of the work of others.

I can read what is going on right now on internet and this is just dumbfounding. The method is quite obvious: the “borrowers” surf on internet, befriend you, show they are interested in your work, get information from you and your posts, befriend your contacts, then use your circles of friend, invest your networks, to reinvent your methodology and poetics by truncating your patient construction. By simply giving it a new packaging. So as to mislead their “fans” online or others who have not yet read your work.

But in this operation, they forget that writing has its own memory. One of the tragicomic details of this operation is that, after many solicitations from both on facebook, then exchanges (namely through messenger), where they seemed to “like” and “appreciate” your methodology, you believe these people are disinterested.

Earlier this year, after one of the “borrowers” sent me his book, after promising events in two countries regarding coolitude or one of my films (the baits used are now clearer), I wrote about one of them on my page, calling him a coolitude author. I generously wanted to encourage this author, but this same person was more than dubious in return.

From this post, another hooker connected with this “friend”, and the rest was transformed into the erasure of the poetics on which they met, to use it to their own ends.

I was quite dumbfounded with this way of being friends…

Therefore, honest friends of the academic and artistic world, when you write something honestly to bring someone in the limelight. Whilst one should not expect gratefulness, one can expect a willingness to “go beyond” your work, while constantly repeating, with a different package, what you have been doing for years… Beware also, they who are lured in this ambiguous entreprise.

I hope they will understand one cannot expect the symbolism of a location in their platform they use to overshadow the foundation on which they lay…

Détournement of speech and attempt to distort coolitude fragments

For instance, the borrowers speak offhandedly, outside the methodological framework of coolitude, of the “archipelization of fragments”. Knowing they have read me, this truncation of ideas and appropriation is more than suspicious to me… Serious people conversant with coolitude have signaled this shameful tactique to me.

The relation to fragments or archipelago of fragments, for instance, through my writing (cf Cale d’étoiles coolitude, Chair corail, “fragments” coolies) is based on published work, starting 30 years ago.

This fragmentation and collocation of fragments has clearly been explored by serious academics and intellectuals. I give the example of an analysis of scholar Ottmar Ette, who writes that coolitude “developed a poetics of global migration, as was already expressed in 1992 volume Cale d’Etoiles—Coolitude. (https://ailleurs.hypotheses.org/files/2017/07/Cplt-2.-Mondialisation-IV-Khal-Torabully.pdf).

Professor Ette quotes the transoceanic perspective of my work, where fragments are archipelized through different symbolical locations:

«You from Goa, from Pondicherry, from Chandernagar, from Cocane, from Delhi, from Surat, from London, from Shanghai, from Lorient, from Saint-Malo, you people of all ships who took me to another I, my stardock is my travel plan, my free space, my vision of the ocean that we all cross, even if we do not see the stars at the same angle. [...]»

Ottmar Ette bears testimony to the fact that through coolitude, it was the very first time in World Literature that indenture, seen as an Indian, Chinese and transnational episode of labour, was envisaged through an oceanic perspective, the fragment being a stylistic and semiotic device to link histories, identities, memories and archives through a corallian and archipelagic perspective. It also gave rise to the first theorization in that part of the world and through indenture and the relation of the Indias and otherness in post-hybrid constructions.This is a fact one cannot seriously dismiss lightly.

The “borrowers” have taken substantial parts of my work, its methodology, its praxis, by erasing the source and “rearranging” the wording. Even if they posted once on my page to say their “adventure” (sic) started here… This facebook “reconnaissance” may mean it is an internet or virtual way of killing the “father”or of saying now that we have said this, we “owe” you nothing... I wonder if they signified in that strange post of thanks, that, with good conscience, they have sealed the inexistence of my work which inspired them. Did it also imply that thereon I had to calmly accept their attempt at thinning or disguising my methodological construction to come up with their own divulgations of a “revolutionary” vision “ex nihilo?

Indeed, is this the “ethical” geste or imprimatur of internet for this type of academia, coming to say their platform or “collectif” started on your page, through coolitude, as a way of pushing you aside… For me, academia has another set of ethics which is not a form of solipcism or something else…

The archipelapo of fragments of coolitude

The archipelago of coolitude, to quote Ottmar Ette again, is set in motion through “a globalization of migrants who cross oceans in search of work. In lyrical compression, a truly world-wide network of such “travelers” arises, who as the objects of extreme exploitation connect the islands and cities of India, China, and Oceania with the European colonial harbors”(idem). This movement through the connecting dots of the oceans has been ongoing for decades in my poetics.

As such, there is an epistemology of coolitude which has, for 30 years, elaborated a methodology rooted in an archipelago of fragments, a transoceanic vision arising from a coherent and consistent work.

I am sorry to state these facts. I have better to write about, believe me, but the methods of these “friends” is bewildering.
Therefore, friends, it is not about blowing my own trumpets. One thing I know, which these people disregard too fast: it is the amount of work generated for this construction when nobody showed interest in that field.

It is therefore my duty to ask for accrued vigilance so as to help writers, artists, theorists, academics not to let people misuse or abuse me through dubious tactics online or beyond.

Indeed, things are going too far, despite earlier soft “warnings”…

I therefore need to reiterate a fact: before coolitude, there was no theorization regarding the Indes/indes and creolization/créolité, no transoceanic perspective of indenture or diasporic Indian or Chinese identity theories, no dialogue between the imaginaries, memories, histories of slavery and indenture (cf my work with UNESCO, the International Indenture Labour Route and the Aapravasi Ghat).

There was no complex theory arising from indenture and Indian diasporic history, no archipelago of fragments, no oceanic centrality to view History and identities in the humanities of these areas of geography and studies. These people have been on my page for years, they cannot say they ignore these facts.

It is a fact that Coolitude filled a gap in postcolonial and postmodern thought: “That which was never written down, that which has slipped away from recollection and memory, that which no one wished to integrate into their respective identity construction is concentrated in Khal Torabully’s writings both poetically and poetologically into a rational understanding of historical processes which cannot be viewed as territorializing and centering on one point, but instead must be understood movement-historically—and no longer spatial-historically—from an oceanic perspective (or from a perspective of Oceania). The figura of the coolie then, once “discovered,” is present everywhere. For it is far more than a figura of memoria: it brings word in multiple senses from another time”. (idem).

Those who ignore the foundations of speech and do not give credit to prior work are at fault. So, one small word “en passant” on your page is not an academic exercise.

I said earlier that through Oceania, which fragments and connects, a methodology was developed and one who tries to use our paradigms without referring to the whole work is just falling prey to a new kind of “academia”online.

But is this real and flawless work? On internet, generally, going fast, taking and advertising the idea of others to build an audience, piling “likes” to flatter one’s ego, is all but misleading and goes against the ethics of serious academic work.

As a contrast, in a serious scholarly construction, Ette writes in the epistemological perspective, considering the transarchipelagic vision of coolitude and its transformative capacity: “The diversity of language so important to Torabully’s writing and both the Übersetzen and the Übersetzen to other shores depict unceasing transfer procedures that again and again become transformation processes: “no longer the Hindu person writing and at the same time a culture theory that are both constructed in an unmistakably transarchipelagic manner”(idem).

Therefore, in the work and archives of theorization and knowledge, the reference to Indias or plural India and creolization processes and créolité, diasporic imaginations, construed through the oceans, have a precedence in episteme.

One cannot “use” my work while pretexting one is going “beyond”. It clearly inspires them, and they are not being clear about their sources. A change of terms or a play of words cannot obscure this fact.

I am therefore forced to denounce this “methodology” of the “day after”. Especially, young people need to know what is honest and serious intellectual, artistic and academic work and pursuits, in compliance with ethics. Not to speak about the real values of human relationships… As a matter of fact, my facebook page has been open to their posts (I cannot post on theirs…) and now I am restricting their audacity to advertise their projects on the page they met on, expecting me to like their posts… I spoke of a tragicomedy and this makes me really laugh at such légèreté.

Pandemic and infodemic of poetics online

In the context of this type of “borrowing”, I have the impression that the pandemic, which has severed us from cultural and intellectual contacts, events, exchanges in real life, has been instrumentalized by some to use internet as a means of breeding events and “methodologies” hastily, to fill a void, even if this means pillaging the work of others or abusing episteme.

I think that when one has a platform, a duty or an art, one has to connect honestly to the history of ideas and archives and “rendre à César ce qui est à César”…

I am not the only one in this case.

Other persons in academia, who have been aware of those “indelicate détournement of speech” have signaled these dubious methods to me. And spoke about their own experience…

Believe me, to pen down, dear friends and peers, I have no time to waste with pseudo intellectuals online, busy networking...
But the risk of keeping silent in an age of infodemic can be detrimental to the work I have been doing for 30 years and which some do not respect.

I have kindly (too kindly may be?) brought their attention to this fact, which they chose to ignore. The fact is that this process is ongoing.

They are just using it to their own profits.

One cannot go beyond episteme and intellectual honesty and no one can pretend devising a “methodology” ex nihilo after, ironically, been in the field of your ideas for years. Facebook bearing witness to this...

I respect the work of others, and will continue to do so.

As a matter of fact, for my friends ignoring my academic background, in my PHD thesis, I wrote about intertextuality and I know what I am talking about. Quotations and credits to prior work are markers of honesty, far from the serendipity of internet.

In that endless work of discourse, I know one thing: ONLY THE WRITTEN WORD REMAINS INDOMITABLE…

© Khal Torabully, 23 October 2020


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