Wednesday, September 16, 2009

An Odd Position: On Being an Ex-Pat Americanist

So, I've been in Canada for most of the past year. I like it here. Culture shock has largely worn off. I still think poutine sounds gross, but I'm okay with the fact that it exists. I appreciate the fact that having an advanced degree is a good thing and not a prohibitive factor for people planning on running for public office.

There are still things I find odd or inexplicable, but much in the same way that I found things in Nashville inexplicable by virtue of being a native of the North. I'm used to the occasional befuddlement, and it just a part of living somewhere other than where I was born.

What still absolutely discombobulates me, however, are certain issues around my professional life. As a musicologist, I generally work on North American music (my pop music interests include the Barenaked Ladies, and not just to sound more Canadian on my OGS and SSHRC applications, so I can claim the continent), and I tend to do it from the perspective of how music is a reflection of the culture that uses it or creates it. Here's where I get at a loss for words: any time I have to have an extended discussion of "Americanness" in one of my classes. After all, the vast majority of my professors, fellow students, and students I teach are not from the United States. So when they are talking about "Americanness" (by which I specifically mean "in regards to the United States of America"), they are doing it from the outsider's perspective.

This isn't a bad brain place to be in from a scholarly perspective: while I am too much of a post-modernist to really believe in absolute objectivity, I do think a certain degree of intellectual detachment leads to better work. At the same time, I always get caught up in the strangeness of my personal position in these discussions: on the one hand, I am more or less obligated to participate at the same level of abstraction as my colleagues. On the other, however, I have a huge string of attachments to the U.S. that they don't have, and I want to defend my home just by virtue of it being, well, home.

In a certain sense, this is like having or being a sibling: they can torment, mock, taunt, and tease, but will defend you against outside attack. I feel like I can criticize my country, its politics, its wars, its culture, but I get a trifle defensive when someone else does. This comes into play in these discussions of "Americanness," and I feel like I have to be almost continually vigilant about it.

In the end, I think this will make me a stronger musicologist, better able to articulate my positions, but at the moment, it stresses me out a bit.


Charlene said...

Following the adventures of the Osprey led me to your blog. As a ex-pat American, who has lived in Canada now for over half my life, I can tell you that the healthcare system here is great, e.g. there is no waiting in line for months to get a cast as is rumoured...As well I have learned to staunch US criticism by accusing the perpetrators of being jealous! A little humour (note the Canadian spelling!) goes a long way! Enjoy your stay, eh!

Jess said...

Charlene: I couldn't agree more. I've had nothing but good experiences here. (Well, except for 1 slightly incompetent ER resident, but we'll assume that residents every where are slightly incompetent... he did get me referred to the right people, though.)