Archive for the ‘Sexuality’ Category

 


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50.    IPA.    Redcap.  Stubby brown glass. A bottle-mouth my lips blow a whistle across.
Every Friday the beer truck delivered; we didn’t have a car.
I never really thought about why she put it up there, up there on the mantle.

“A freak of nature,” a neighbour whispered holding it up to the window, then looking at her.

The cap’s metal teeth biting down, sunlight filling the glass,
warming the small dead body inside.

“An omen” my mother said.

I.

The stone fireplace has a mantle (as all should);
a carved wooden crow with one glass eye
watches the room entirely      convinced.
She’d walk her dog, Rocco,
a grey German Shepherd, along the riverbank.
Pant leg hems muddy.  She comes in through the backdoor
wiping his paws with a tea towel.
Her dog swam out, brought driftwood back held tight between his teeth
Growled when she took it away.
A piece of fallen oak, she liked its uprootedness.
A boat with holes to secure her square Kodachrome snapshots
sepia-toned-passengers
set careful
beginning to curl, teetering
children clutching her hands on either side
next to the convinced crow with the glass eye
watching

en neem er vooral een glas koel bier bij?

II.

a case of twenty-four
a well     a spring    a fixture
in the middle of her kitchen floor
Rocco at her feet
she divines from a chrome chair
elbows on her bare legs
smoking a cigarette the driver left
pulls the kerchief from her hair
thinks about cracking open
glass rubbing glass clinking glass
hooked in her crooked fingers
brown headless bodies
full of ale “good for breast feeding” she says
a consolation prize

in one bottle she sees a small vagrancy
caught by its tail
as it slipped through the air vent the crack, the cage
breathless fugitive
weightless body
heavy plans gone awry
bottled then capped
“think i’m dead?”

they muse

her floating eyelids up and down
did she just wink?
“cheeky”
mouse inside her glass house
winks back
she places her bottled stowaway next to her boat next to her snaps next
to her cocky one eyed crow next
lighting another cigarette, she admires her mantle (as all should)

they both wonder:

“how shall i be got out?”
cigarette ash drops to the floor
“how             shall i be got out?”

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Kim Anderson, Métis writer and scholar, explains that “Native women [have] historically been equated with the land.  The Euro-constructed image of Native women therefore mirrors Western attitudes towards the earth.  Sadly, this relationship has typically developed within the context of control, conquest, possession, and exploitation” (100). Emma LaRocque borrows from Sarain Stump‘s poetry in There Is My People Sleeping when explaining the significance of hearing the voices that break the violent continuity of this ever present colonial misrepresentation:

I was mixing the stars and sand
In front of him
But he couldn’t understand
I was keeping the lightening of
The thunder in my purse
Just in front of him
But he couldn’t understand
And I have been killed a thousand times
Right at his feet

“Culture forms our beliefs” as Gloria Anzaldua argues, and “we perceive the version of reality that it communicates. Dominant paradigms, predefined concepts that exist as unquestionable, unchallengeable, are transmitted to us through the culture” (38). Stereotypes are not spontaneous phenomena; they require what John Durham Peters calls “the zone of intelligibility” (208) where a meeting of minds can take place – this takes time. But where does “the zone” or what Wilkie Collins used as his essay title, “The Unknown Public,” occur?  How does it happen? What are the power configurations at work and how are the images and their inscribed knowledge transmitted and what is their material and psychic impact?  When describing the representation of Aboriginal peoples in Canada’s nineteenth-century, historian, Lyle Dick explains “from the time of Confederation, the media has generated images of Canada, its constituent peoples and regions, exerting a wide-ranging impact on the country’s culture. To study these images, especially in the key period after 1867, is to witness the nation-state in the process of its ideological construction” (1).[1]

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Plate 1

The nineteenth-century newspapers in America, Britain, and Canada were the most ubiquitous agent of popular education (Anderson and Robertson 2011; Benjamin 1968; Brake 2009; Burke 2005) and as such constructed events using established stereotyped colonial ideologies to organize a meeting of minds or “imagined communities” among strangers (Anderson, “Imagined” 6). European whiteness mobilized the stereotype of the so-called “wild savage” and held within it the noble, the child, the feminine, and the enemy. Nancy Black argues that to determine a sovereign state there must be an enemy and it manifested in the Western illustrated press into the figure of “The Indian” (130). Understanding that the nation’s communication systems were saturated with the figure of  “The Indian,” in its multiple formations, begins to address Daniel Francis’ question:  “How did I begin to believe in the Imaginary Indian?” (18).  Francis’s query opens further questions concerning the shaping of a national consciousness that contributed to a unifying ideology that Eva Mackey calls Canadian-Canadians (3) or as Mark Cronlund Anderson and Carmen L. Robertson describe as “imagined Canadiana” (9).

How then is the mythical continuity of a unified “Canada” ruptured in the 2013 counter movement Idle No More; moreover, how does the present leadership of Chief Theresa Spence disrupt (in her demand to speak with the Prime Minister of Canada concerning land, governance, social and economic policies) the historical national framework that has endeavoured to make absent and silence Aboriginal women and girls: (in)actions that continue to wage an ignored colonial violence against them, and even in the real and statistical atrocities, that mark the evidence of their missingness and murders, their names are erased. What violence then, it must be asked, does the Prime Minister’s refusal to speak to Chief Theresa Spence continue to advocate and authorize?

It was not surprising to read the biased article reported by the CBC, a Canadian Crown corporation owned by the federal state: “Review of troubled Northern Ontario reserve’s finances says federal funds spent without records” If the audit report, that the CBC coverage presents inaccurately, is actually read it is clear that the audit conclusions criticize, in fact, the federal government’s department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada’s (AANDC) management, or rather mismanagement, of the Attawapiskat funding. The media and its “timely” slandering of Chief Theresa Spence’s leadership is a stark reminder (if indeed one needs to be reminded) of the colonial strategies and stereotypes that continue to be deployed by the government through the media when they are confronted with acts of resistance.

The line of attack is not new. The foundational media strategy is rooted as far back as the c1493 Basel woodcut, “Epistola de insulis nuper inventis” [“Concerning islands recently discovered”], from Columbus’ letters and the advent of print production; yet, its stronghold, within the material and psychic spaces of growing nationalism and printing press technology in Canada, is made by the mid-nineteenth century.

In the July 16, 1885 edition of The Regina Leader newspaper, for instance, under the headline Telegraphic News – Ottawa  – “Supplementary Estimates Brought Down,” paper editor and owner, Nicholas Flood Davin summarizes the federal budget report for the North West; the article proves insightful particularly when bearing in mind the ignored petitions and the grievances brought forward against the federal government by the Métis peoples, Aboriginal Nations, and white settlers concerning not only land, but also the social anxiety and violence by increased and aggressive policing along with an upswing in the government’s implementation of irresponsible and malignant policies that created the foundations of inadequate health, economic, educational, and social systems on Reserves – issues demanded to be constitutionally addressed and recognized in the Métis Bill of Rights (1869 and 1885).  Sound familiar? The report includes the 1885 federal budget forecasting $250,000 earmarked to the North West Mounted Police, $50,000 toward land surveys, $660,000 for the CPR, and $6,000 to the “Half-breeds” (1). The report on one level reflects the government’s exclusive priorities: security, ‘acquisition’ of land, military transportation and communication technologies through the North West specifically adhering to colonial objectives, while on another appeasing the apparent needs and sentiments of the Victorian settlers by disseminating propaganda that security is enforced, land is organized, mobility and communication services are accessible, and that the Métis, with Riel charged with high treason, were, according to their the under-funding, “disappearing,” and the Aboriginal Nations (not allotted a funding budget line) were not present at all. It was the era of the “Vanishing Indian” and similar to the 2013 CBC coverage, the numbers were presented to do colonial ideological legwork. Conventional to the Leader’s format, the article is followed by a travel narrative entitled “The North West as, a Home, for the Small Farmer” and on the following page, the headline “The End of the Rebellion.”

In the same issue, the article “The Mounted Police – The Report of the Commissioner” replicates the geographical specialization of race, the implementation of government policies in the Indian Act, as well as how the policies were not accepted by the Aboriginal communities but were instead forced upon them in the issuing of discipline and punishment through state policing.  In the report, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald condemns “the indiscriminate camping of Indians in the vicinity of towns and villages in the North West … Indians should not be allowed to leave their reserves without a permit from a local Indian agent.” The report

pointed out that the introduction of such a system [The Indian Act] would be  tantamount to a breach of confidence with the Indians generally, inasmuch as from the outset the Indians had been led to believe that compulsory residence on reservations would not be required of them, and that they would be at liberty to travel about for legitimate hunting and trading purposes … that discretionary power, according to circumstance should be vested in the officers of police, was wise and sound … The camping of Indians near towns is an unmitigated nuisance, and if they are to be allowed to wander off their reserves without even the small check of a permit from the local agent, what is the good of having reserves at all?

Davin’s extract taken from the House of Commons invites his readers into the sovereign zone of intelligibility as it reinforces the mapping of racialized spatial hierarchies and authorizes “community” surveillance as a “wise and sound” method to maintain security while it segregates boundary lines between the civilized “towns and villages,” and individuals from Native communities as “unmitigated nuisance.”  Within the loaded colonial tropology of “if they are to be allowed to wander” metaphorically transfers as it reduces the Aboriginal population as deviant and must be kept confined and more specifically aligned with the state protocols of incarceration. In 2012, with the prison population overwhelmed with individuals of Aboriginal descent, the nineteenth government policy as a racist template continues to have catastrophic implications: “Aboriginal people are four per cent of the Canadian population, but 20 per cent of the prison population … one in three women in federal prisons is Aboriginal and over the last 10 years representation of Aboriginal women in the prison system has increased by 90 per cent.”[2] Moreover, the imperial euphemism of discretionary power issued by the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) elides the colonial violence in the rhetoric of security; the police did not protect the rights and interests of the Indigenous population but, rather, collaborated closely with eastern business interests who paid their salaries.[3] By 1883, 70% of the Métis and more than 50% of the Native English (“Half-breeds”) had seen the lands they occupied in 1870 patented to others mostly Ontario Orangemen newcomers.[4]

The public slandering of Chief Theresa Spence in the national media, and the Prime Minister’s explicit disrespect in his refusal to meet with her as a leader of a community, within the nation of Canada, that has not only been mismanaged by its federal agents (as identified in the audit report) but has also been sanctioned into a state of crisis because of the AANDC’s delinquent and negligent methods, reflects how Harper continues in the colonial footsteps of his nineteenth century Conservative predecessor.

Macdonald_Nov20_1885

Plate 2

There was another figure who led, with others, two movements of resistance, whose leadership was also disparaged in the press, and who articulated his response to the nineteenth century Canadian federal government concerning parallel issues that remain to be addressed in 2013. To follow is one instance among many:

The only things I would like to call your attention to, before you retire to deliberate are:
1st. That the House of Commons, Senate, and ministers of the Dominion who makes laws for this land and govern it are no representation whatever of the people of the North-West.
2ndly. That the North-West Council generated by the federal Government has the great defect of its parent.
3rdly. The number of members elected for the Council by the people make it only a sham representative legislature and no representative Government at all. British civilization, which rules to day the world, and the British constitution has defined such Government as this which rules the North West Territory is an irresponsible Government, which plainly means that there is no responsibility, and by the science which as been shown here yesterday you[] are compelled to admit it, there is no responsibility, it is insane. (Louis Riel, Prisoner’s Address, 1885)

The Idle No More movement is also not a recent phenomena but a continuum of 500 years of resistance. Perhaps then, in the news media’s eagerness and the government’s colonial anxiety that attempt to misrepresent and undermine, once again, Aboriginal peoples issues, demands and leadership, make evident just how powerful Spence’s counter movement, and a growing solidarity, is.

List of Illustrations

Plate 1
“Canada West” (c. 1923-1925)
Immigration Poster
Issued under the direction of N. James Alexander Robb,
Minister of Immigration and Colonization, Ottawa, Canada

Plate 2
Glenbow Museum.  Edgar Dewdney Fond.
“J.A. Macdonald to Dewdney.” Correspondence with Sir John A. Macdonald – 1878-1888.
Series 8. M-320-p.587. On-line.

[1] Dick, Lyle. Manitoba History, 48. Autumn/Winter 2004/2005. Web. April 30 2012. http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/mb_history/48/nationalism.shtml

[2] Carolyn Bennett. “Aboriginal People Need Solutions, Not More Jail Time.” The Huffington Post. December 11, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/hon-carolyn-bennett/aboriginal-crime_b_1923856.html

[3] Metis Culture 1875-1885.”1883.” Retrieved from http://www.telusplanet.net/public/dgarneau/metis50.htm

[4] Metis Culture 1875-1885. Retrieved from -http://www.telusplanet.net/public/dgarneau/metis50.htm

The students – Megan Reback, Élan Stahl, and Hannah Levinson – used ‘the word’
during a public reading at John Jay High school
in a New York city suburb.

School principal Richard Leprine said the girls
were being punished because they disobeyed
an order not to use ‘the word.’

They used the word

Hang thee, young baggage!
Disobedient wretch.
I tell thee what – get thee to church Thursday
Or never after look me in the face
Speak not, reply not, do not answer me!
My fingers itch …
Out on her.             [Capulet in Romeo and Juliet]

The three girls
were a bit older than Juliet would have been
when she disobeyed

When a student chooses not to follow that directive, consequences follow.
[Leprine in NYTimes, Mar 8, 2007]

The girls said they never made such agreement.   [NYTimes, Mar 8,2007]

Megan, Élan, and Hannah took turns reading an excerpt
from the play; then they read the
offending passage together:

My short skirt is a liberation flag in the
women’s army – they read – I declare
these streets, any streets, my vagina’s
country.   [from Monologues, “My Short Skirt”]

Readings of the play [The Vagina Monologues]
are a common fund-raiser for sexual assault
and battered women’s centres
because [Eve] Ensler
suspends royalty payments for groups combating
violence against women

Plate 1. Francesca Woodman: From Angel series, Rome, 1977. George and Betty Woodman.

Plate 2. Francesca Woodman, Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1978. George and Betty Woodman.

“How does meaning get into the image?”  Roland Barthes‘ question remains an important one when considering the December 2011 FOX News images of riots that were reported to be taking place in Moscow and how the network was caught out by the public in their use of footage from riots occurring in Greece. The public’s critique of the news and its demand for  “authenticity” is, however, not new.  Nor is the displacement of particular landscapes for particular political purposes.  This is seen in nineteenth century Canadian landscapes, among other spaces, as being artistically represented as an English countryside. Here, Benjamin West’s 1770 painting, The Death of General Wolfe, comes to mind.  Wolfe did not die on the battlefield, nor was he surrounded by military personnel, nor was there a Native American kneeling at his feet (Wolfe, in fact, held an acute disdain for Aboriginal peoples).

The image was constructed to create a national fantasy of unification and to establish a collective mass memory around a military event.   The mechanical reproduction of an “image” at the point of its very operation, as Walter Benjamin argues, is no longer “real.” “Real” can never be reproduced and therefore declarations of its rendered authenticity are impossible. With this said, the suspension of belief in its many creative imaginings remains a compelling device and therefore a lucrative commodity and political strategy to instigate mass consent.  The nineteenth century, for instance, is seen as a social site where there was a massive increase in Western readership of the paper press.  Wilkie Collins called this elusive and temporal demographic  “The Unknown Public.” Wilkie’s foundational (yet problematic) essay was first published in Charles Dickens’ periodical Household Words in 1858.  The great subtext of “The Unknown Public” is the political and capital desire and simultaneous fear of the power of individual subjects and their sovereign and unleashed opinions.  The public bodies, particularly during times of conflict, wanted to know and were discerning enough to also know the power of political rhetoric and the methods of propaganda.  One reason for the rise of the institutionalization of the library in the nineteenth century was to take the public out of the coffee houses where lively debates would take place over The Sunday Times and marginalized Penny Presses and move them into libraries where silence was demanded.

C. Wright Mills, in The Power Elite, (1956) asks a question that underpins Barthes’ rhetorical conundrum:  “but who is this public?”  Mills sees the nineteenth century not only as a transformative period in a social visual ontology (the Victorian demand “to see” and “to know”) but as a site where the public was discursively separated into the mass: a shift determined by the power elite.

Mills explains the shift:

Public:

– many people express opinions and receive them.

– small and unauthorized venues of communications.

– outlets for effective action.

– authoritative institutions do not penetrate.

Mass:

– fewer people express opinions and received them.

– venues for communications difficult for individuals to effect.

– opinions controlled by authorities.

– mass has no autonomy from authorities.

Management, control, and surveillance of the elusive and potentially transgressive “public” functioned through and through the nineteenth century industrialized media apparatus and its freshly awakened bedfellow:  illustration.  The co-opting of text and image was and is a shape-shifting technology that continues to morph in its digital manifestations on the internet to accrue the mass.  What remains significant to note is that both media,  illustration and the internet, originate in the military along with its ideologies.  Rather than disqualify a comparison of the technologies as disparate because of their analogue and digital mechanics both rely on their relative cybernetic realities to enable production and reception.  Donna Haraway explains, “Cyborgs are not reverent. … They are wary of holism, but needy for connection– they seem to have a natural feel for united front politics, but without the vanguard party. The trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism. … But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential” (“Manifesto” 151).

The critique of the FOX falsification of time and space reveals the power elites attempt to homogenize the public demonstrations as an amorphous “mass” that lacks singularity, identification, or agency; moreover, it is, in the case of FOX, the resistance from “the public” that reveals the heterogeneity of the ubiquitous power bases that remain vigilant, uncontrollable, and always demanding to see the ever elusive real.

Are we witnessing in the twenty-first century Occupation of Space a sixteenth-century counter conduct palimpsest?

The opening line in Jean Bodin’s “On Sovereignty,” in his Six books of the Commonwealth, describes sovereignty as “that absolute and perpetual power vested in a commonwealth” (25). Bodin’s book was published in 1576, and similar to Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651), his tract was in response to the outbreak of civil war that plagued his country. Hobbes and Bodin, though their respective experiences occurred less than a century apart, had a distinct fear of anarchy and social division, both were resolute in their call for an absolute sovereign who under which all subjects would be controlled by the state through their complete submission to the sovereign’s authority. Bodin’s tract is comparable to Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince published in 1532 as a how-to manual, or a political pedagogy of sorts, for sovereign figures to effectively control the state. In circulation during Bodin’s writing, The Prince is considered to have had an influence in Bodin’s political notions of sovereignty.  Bodin, however, differs from Machiavelli’s manifesto in his insistence that even though the commonwealth must follow the sovereign’s ordering of natural and divine law, the sovereign’s power was not arbitrary and the sovereign should strive for amenity; in contrast, Machiavelli’s project was in the art of war and tailored for a more autonomous sovereign body. As Foucault points out, during “the sixteenth century we enter the age of forms of conducting, directing and government” (231).  This is reflected in the penchant of philosophers to write strategic tracts on how to conduct a subject: “the sovereign who rules and exercises his sovereignty now finds himself responsible for, entrusted with, and assigned new tasks of conducting [men]” (Foucault “Security,” 231). Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan is a beast, a mythical figure originating in the Hebrew Bible and with a lengthy description in the King James version, Job 41: “Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook? (Norton).

Shakespeare also utilized the figure of the Leviathan in A Mid Summer Night’s Dream, yet in a benevolent context reflecting upon its monstrosity, its remarkable speed and suggests that a subject might overtake it:

Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league.
I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes (2.1.174).

“The Leviathan” is captured in a particular performativity, a fable, and in a contained literary and visual state marks a division of bodies in the manufacturing of the sovereign while simultaneously making known the singularity of the beast – a prototype that continues to have significant impact.

The Hobbesian model is based on the urgency to avoid civil war and chaos within the state.  Hobbes believed, as Ian Shapiro points out in his Introduction to the Leviathan “Reading Hobbes Today,” that the state of nature “is terrible – depicted in perhaps the most frequently quoted of his memorable lines as a world in which life is ‘solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short’” (xix).  Hobbes believes that all subjects in the commonwealth must cede their judgment and submit to the prescribed conduct of the sovereign who is infused with divine law and judgment. If this conduct is countered, the Leviathan will return to the state of nature leaving individuals as singular subjects with no protection and security.  The images are significant here because in the seventeenth century frontispiece, for example (Plate 1), the body of the monster Leviathan, an automat, is constructed with the docile bodies, as a unity, creating a commonwealth.  Faces turned inward – individuality subsumed, and subjectified, in order to maintain the polis, and the good life.  As Derrida remarks when considering Hobbes:  “Sovereignty causes fear, and fear makes the sovereign” (40).  Something, however, is absent in this image; or, rather veiled: la bête (148). The beast, as Derrida argues, is impossible to translate but the wolf, a beast, in French is loup which also means a black velvet mask worn by women during masked balls (Derrida, “Beast,” 6).  It could also be a visor, similar to that worn by Hamlet’s ghost, or the veil that possibly cloaks the truth. Wolf as loup. The image of the beast. The beast for Hobbes is internalized in the sovereign, a unifying sensibility that requires all the power forces of the commonwealth to sustain it.  Significant, is what this fable is teaching.  The Leviathan, as beast, is unregistered.  Erased. The sovereign is coded divine; the state of nature is subtracted from the new ideology. What becomes apparent in the Hobbesian discourse is the need for an enemy in order for the sovereign body to be sustained, not unlike an Aristotelian tragedy, or a fable. For the sovereign every subject is a potential enemy and the potential enemy is the beast.

The biblical reference would be understood by the seventeenth century audience, this is crucial in order for the state to ensure obedience and instill the elements of fear of the beast that haunts the sovereign’s body: “the element of fabulation, in which the analogies between the beast and the sovereign, find their resources and their schema” (Derrida, “Beast,” 80).  A change takes place in the nineteenth-century in the image of the Leviathan created by Gustave Doré. In Plate 2, the Leviathan returns to its biblical origins seemingly drowning in the chaotic state of nature. Gustave Doré was a prolific nineteenth-century illustrator who produced among his many works Milton’s Paradise LostThe Bible (1866), as well the figure of the Leviathan, and Perrault’s Fairy Tales that include “Little Red Riding Hood.[1]

Here, Derrida’s comment on fables is apt:  “The fables themselves show that the essence of political force and power where that power makes the law” (“Beast,” 217).  Derrida delineates the lengthy lineage of the beast who is often portrayed as the “wolf” and how it walks across the stage for Hobbes, Rousseau as a self-proclaimed werewolf, Plato’s wolf-tyrant, as well, among others, La Fountaine’s Fables, fables illustrated, incidentally, by Gustave Doré (another wolf crosses the stage).

The sovereign in this space is represented explicitly as the enlightened divine law in the act of disciplining the beast that has turned rogue (a word created by Shakespeare).  The moral of the fable, recounted in wolves and sea monsters, is that obedience is a necessity;  the United States military and global sovereign forces in 2011 calls any counter conduct by alternative sovereign states, specifically the civil occupation of space as rogue, or perhaps Hobbes might have call it the contemporary Leviathan, unleashed.

Bodin, Jean. On Sovereignty.  Ed. Julian H. Franklin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Derrida, Jacques. The Beast & the Sovereign. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Foucault, Michel. Society must be Defended: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1975-76. New York: Picador, 2003.

…, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1977-78. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

–, History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Volume 1. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Random House, 1990.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan; or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

Shapiro, Ian. “Reading Hobbes Today.” Leviathan; or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill by Thomas Hobbes. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.


 [1] It is noted that Dore also illustrated The Tempest by William Shakespeare in 1860.

My mother would tell me this story, a fable, a legend of sorts as I sat on her kitchen floor; the broken linoleum was cool under my crossed legs. I remember tracing the torn bits of the floor with my finger tips; slowly I’d follow the sharp lines, the broken lines like a map that led me to my mother’s stove.

As she cooked, I played with one of her wooden spoons and I’d pull all the pots and pans from out of the open cupboard door beside her bare legs.

As she stirred, I stirred

and I’d watch her saute the onions and garlic; the smoke would rise in an alchemic cloud to the ceiling and disappear;  I’d watch her as the steam made her face turn like a ghost as she lifted the lid from the jasmine rice.

And she would stir.

It was a crazy legend, this story that she would tell.  It made no sense to me at all but I do remember liking the word “volcano” … even as she told the story I would repeat the word – volcano – over and over sometimes without making a sound:  only my lips would move:  vol cane oh.

“The volcano,” she would begin as she tamped the spoon on the edge of her iron pot, “was made by a daughter, a meisje, who, to win the love of her mother, had to dig a sea around the sand upon which she stood — in one night. This would not be an easy task, for you see the sand stretched out for as far as the girl could see until it slipped out over the edge of the world.  And all she had, all this girl could use was half a coconut shell, a klein kop – like this.  And so the girl began to dig; she made a circle, a wide circle.  She dug deep for she knew the sea was running beneath, and as she dug she piled the sand in the centre of the circle to make the volcano; she dug, and she dug,

and she dug

so deep that she stood hip deep in a water of sea and the sand pile had grown into a mountain so great that when she would hold her breath for a moment … she could hear a fire growing in its belly, and its groan beneath her feet.  The girl, you see, was doing very well, but she was doing so well that the gods got angry.  So angry because you see, meisje, they wanted her to fail.

It is here, in the story, that my mother would always look at me; her green eyes so clear and sharp that I thought I could hear them speak, “Meisje, what you must remember is that the gods were only afraid.  They were afraid that this girl, the daughter would make what couldn’t be made by mortals.”

“So the gods began to pound and POUND … pound seed between mortar and pestle. The sound of stone grew so great, so fierce that the dark sky shook.”  And my mother would have her stone and pestle resting in her hands, its centre still with bits of cumin husks. “Like so … the stone against seed against stone.   It was this sound of pounding, the sound of girls in the morning preparing meals around a fire and water boiling hot for washing as the sun would cut the night horizon with light, softening the dark … but you see,  it was a trick.  It was still dark.  The girl still had time but she did not know the trick that was being played.

and the roosters, they too were fooled; they thought the sun, the morning, was rising, ready to come up — so they began to crow

So, the girl, the daughter stood up, climbed out of the sea,  her hand over brow.  She looked at her mountain and then to the east.  The empty cup in her hand. The sky was still dark and filled with the sounds of cocks crowing and gods pounding.  It was then the girl knew the gods were fucking with her.  The gods were always always fucking with her.  The shape of the sky told her that much.  But by then it was too late.

And so the girl never completes the task.  And the daughter dies … longing, a half cup in her hand.   A broken sea of sand and an unfinished mountain was all that remained.

And my mother would stir.  Silent.  And I would follow the lines on the floor like a map, a map that led to my mother’s stove.  And I would for a moment hold my breath, like the girl, the daughter in the story … and it seemed as if the floor moved from somewhere below me and I could hear a fire from somewhere as I looked up at her, the steam rising and then disappearing into nothing.

I never knew what that word meant; the name she always called me:  Meisje.  No clue. But the funny thing is my body knew.  My arms, my legs, my face, my mouth all knew the meaning better than anything else I have ever known.  It felt — warm.  Like the heat from her oven.  Steam from her rice.  Her skin in an August garden.  Even though I never knew what it meant – I always went to her – always went to her — no matter what.

And I remember the two of us standing across from each other, each facing one other; our hands on our hips wanting to know more than anything else in the world the answers to the questions that could only be found in legends, the truth that could only be found in fables of sea and sand that were told to us.

—  excerpt from my play “red bridge”


making for the woods “then the river”
our august skin hears its coolness before we ever did
unlooked-for-band skipping rogue stones on curbless pavement
eight in all swearing loud for the hell of it, loose
and highly flammable

kerosene sloshes as kerosene sloshes
on the move “enough to make a jet engine …”
boasts shushed as porch lights catch hems
of shirtless backs running uncapped lapping
to ignite something anything out of breath
to show them to show them how our hands can

unmake

river mouth at our street’s very end
always unlocked and if it was a noon-time-water we’d see puddle-like-rainbows
float ’n swirl like on jenny’s asphalt black wet driveway just laid
searing leaning into her ’76 firebird.  and jenny’s shining hair

her shining hair …

row of bare foot beasts pour on past midnight
mouth to mouth filling the river full of unlit chemical giddy
shaking wooden matches shake shakeshake percussive pieces
striking one by one under johnny’s front tooth “only takes one, dumb ass”
to set it fine never thought just us could, i mean, burn up a river like that, “damn fine”
sky burnt whiteorange bare feet stomping hair caught faster than fast stomping
crinkling brows melting her two hands away (and she never did come back)

our awed bodies too hot to blink, burst skin doused in standing light baptized
small gods our dry lips
couldn’t pronounce

There may be solemn duty; and if it come we must not shrink from it…I shall be prepared. I shall get my typewriter this very hour and begin transcribing – Mina Harker, from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

“Diskursmaschinegewehr,” a word from Dracula’s Legacy (DraculasVermächtnis: Technische Schriften) by Friedrich Kittler, is Kittler’s 1993 wordplay to signal the late nineteenth-century social anxiety related to modernity, machines, and media – a triumvirate of consumption generated by the ink fabric carriage return of the typewriter or Kittler’s “discourseweaponmachine.”  Kittler’s critical appropriation is addressing Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic novel and Stoker’s object of choice, the typewriter, for his radical protagonist/stenographer, Mina Harker.  Embracing the vampiric technology and her role as the New Woman, Harker totally takes down (in not a few key strokes) not only the figure of Dracula but the epistolary framework of Stoker’s narrative.  Mina was, indeed, a post-Gutenberg proto-cyborg.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - featuring Mina Harker

Harker’s ontological hybridity of machine and organism is explained, in part, by Donna Haraway in “A Cyborg Manifesto“:

Cyborgs are  not reverent; they do not re-member the cosmos. They are wary of holism, but needy for connection — they seem to have a natural feel for united front politics, but without the vanguard party.  The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and partriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism.  But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their father, after all, are inessential. (151)

The Remington typewriter (1873), developed by the company that manufactured guns for the Civil War, is, in its very infrastructure, a discursive weapon of war, and was utilized as a frontline industrialized device in the proliferation of military communications and its handmaiden:  nineteenth-century media.  In April 2011, Godrej and Boyce, the last typewriter factory in the world announced that it would be closing its doors but the “discourseweaponmachine” does not falter:  during the nineteenth-century another data communication system, the telegraph, ran parallel to the typewriter and established the foundational apparatus for the twentieth-century world:  the internet. The inter-networking systems expanded in the 1950s with cyber gateways and bridges leading to mainframes held in the United States Department of Defense and its “Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network.

I feel not unconnected to Mina Harker, as a fellow cyborg, as I enter data into the machine and wonder if the twenty-first century’s pop cult fanaticism for Twilight, True Blood, Vampire Diaries et. al. is perhaps a continuum of the anxieties/fears/desires that were prevalent in the nineteenth-century: social, ecological, and economic cannibalism, the virtual fangs of Ebay consumerism, and the ever firing neo-engine discourse of the Military Industrial Complex?  As McLuhan explains in The Gutenberg Galaxy: “That every generation poised on the edge of massive change should later seem oblivious of the issues and the imminent event would seem to be natural enough.  But it is necessary to understand the power and thrust of technologies to isolate the sense and thus to hypnotize society (272).

If you’ve read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, read it again.  If you have not:  Read it; the film versions unfortunately do not include Harker’s cyborg intervention and also exclude significant layers of cultural, social, and economic symbolism that remain ever-present in the contemporary discourseweaponmachine.  To follow:  Nosferatu (1922); Dracula with Bela Lugosi (1931).

 

CCM Imperial Mark IV

I’m not the smartest fellow on the block.  That’s what they all tell me and chase me as I ride my electric-blue CCM Imperial Mark IV bicycle with side mirror, reflector pedals, dual-colour saddle seat, and back-wheel spokes clicking the clothes-peg-clipped Hank Aaron baseball card my dad gave me before he left: “For luck, son,” he said, on my thirteenth birthday.  I like gliding smooth and long, sometimes lifting one hand off the handlebar to wave or push my glasses up while riding around the block around the block around the block taking the corners no slowing down         leaning          leaning baseball card clicking for luck for luck for luck frluk frluk fluk fluk fluk fluk fluk. After dinner’s the best time, better than noon when the sun’s high and my back sweats, making my shirt all white cotton-sticky and the Three Deegan Sisters out roamin’ and whippin’ Mrs. Walsh’s old crabapples at anything “they set their goddamn beady eyes on,” my mom says, as she stands on the wood porch, arms crossed with a face mixing a happyworry.  She tries not to show it but I see as I wave and pedal away.  Her chestbreath holds        that I’m in Room One with Miss Sutherland who’s smart and smells real nice and I told my mom to get that kind of perfume but she slapped me and told me that kinda talk was “the seeds of sin, son … the seeds of sin.”   I don’t think Miss Sutherland is sinful.  She just smells like a spring river opening, like when I take my feet off the pedals, legs straight out, goin’ down the hill to the river and the wind makes my glasses go crooked, musses my hair-part to the other side.  That’s what I was doing, going fast, Hank Aaron clicking and I looked into the woods beside The Old Mill and I saw the Three Deegan Sisters in the second-oak-clearing with shovels digging a hole in between the trees. Digging.  I caught only a peek, going so fast and the leaves not-out-full-yet and one of the sisters (I can’t tell which one) saw that I saw, only I swore I didn’t see.   I swore I didn’t see but she kept running after me and even on my electric-blue CCM bicycle it was slow and hard and The Old Mill Road was all up hill and Hank Aaron clicking for luck     ffff ooorrr   lu       ck   ffffor   uck and my legs heavy because I’d been riding around the block, taking all the corners maybe twenty times – no stopping.  I felt her swearing on me, her feet sandpaper quick running, her hand grabbing the back of my shirt my mom pressed this morning and it began to tear top-button choking.  All I could think of, as I stood up pedaling and twisting, was my mom ironing and the smell of Niagara starch to lay my buttonholes down smooth and the ripping stopped as my bicycle crashed down on my leg.  My glasses fell off and all I could see was the three of them, circling out-of-breath blurs, standing over of me. A circling blur, like they where half-erased saying words I can’t say ’cause my mom would take my dad’s belt to me.    Glass crunching under one of the sister’s feet, her blurry hands on her hips lifting something, shaking it and even though it was after dinner my back started to sweat.  “I didn’t see!”  I said loud and tried to stand but one of the Deegan Sisters all blurry put her knee on my hand and called me names Miss Sutherland tells me to “never mind” and they put something in my mouth that tasted like blood and they said if I told they would             they would                You see I can’t tell that bit, not with my mom standing just there, arms crossed, face looking a way I’ve never seen before.  Mom says that from now on it’s best that I just sit right here on the porch’s bottom step, from now on “stay out of trouble” and not hang around the neighborhood trash, from now on just watch the cornerless windless street, hair nicely combed, but all I see are pieces of a baseball card falling through the air and my electric blue bicycle at the bottom of the river, red reflector pedal catching the noontime sun, handle bar streamers pulling long in the current like they were taking all the corners, no slowin’ down

“Memory is for me always fresh, in spite of the fact that the object being remembered is done and past” (Toni Morrison, 213).

In Dionne Brand’s novel At The Full and Change of the Moon food and memory are connected both figuratively and literally, rooted in to Marie Ursula’s acts of revolt and carried forward to her descendants.  As Erica Johnson points out, “as a source of psychological and transgenerational haunting, the horror of Marie Ursule’s story continues to have undeniably real effects on individual lives.  No longer is the question of accuracy the most important with regard to memory, for whether the event is recalled or not, it acts upon Marie Ursule and her descendants” (8).

Moon - Antares sequence of the medieval Castle of Sümeg in Hungary

Marie Ursule (“queen of malingerings and sabotages”) gathered the ingredients: methodically.  In an act of counter conduct, she plans and follows through in a mass suicide with her fellow slaves. Ursule, however, makes sure there is one survivor, her four-year-old daughter, Bola, who is taken away to another part of the island and then carries with her the weight of a memory she doesn’t remember.

Food is an oral element. The infusion of food develops multiple physical dimensions and celebrates “this is where I came from” and “this is where I am.”  Food enables the symbiosis between the two states:  accessing a traumatic past and the control of the present by articulating embedded memories of place and history.   As Susan Brison suggests in her essay “Trauma and Memory,” “the past is not simply there in memory, but it must be articulated to become memory” (42) and the process of articulation is shaped partly by the power dynamics that enter the discourse.

When considering the representation of “women who poison” it is important to recognize in Brand’s novel that the character of Marie Ursule shifts the balance of power in her act of poisoning and her representation differs from the colonial trope of women. The difference is in the articulation of motive, the counter-trope of food as medicine to heal her condition of slavery under her oppressors: “and in her goings about she discovered medicines that cure all sickness.  And life was a sickness itself” (297).  A striking image of women empowered by food in the course of subversion, resistance and social change occurs in Brand’s novel with Ursule countering the myth of victimization and resisting her oppressor, even in her death:  “meeting under curtains of heavy rains or unrelenting night, they had told Marie Ursule of the most secret way to ruin.  Woorara they called it, their secret to rigour and breathlessness” (2).  Consequently, Brand binds Marie Ursule to the land, a relationship of  respect and love that instills in her a power to wield it and send it forward into the future:

Wandering when she could wander, Marie Ursule husbanded the green twigs, the brown veins, the sticky bitterness, the most sanguine of plants.  She loved their stems, their surprise of leaves as veined as her palms, their desperate bundles of berries, their hang of small flowers, and most of all the vine itself, its sinewed grace.  She ground the roots to their arresting sweetness, scraped the bark for its abrupt knowledge.  She had though of other ways, bitter cassava, manchineel apples, but their agonies could last for days.  Woorara, the Caribs had told her, was simple and quick, though it had taken her years to collect.  And wait. (2)

“Starved with remembering” is a critical configuration since there is an inability for the protagonists to return to the primary location, a lament that simulates the inability to return to the location where memory is made.  A memory that boils, cooks, changes, cools, and comes from the same place but is no longer accessible.  Brand twists the metaphor of starved to articulate that the act of remembering is never completely fulfilling.   As well, the rock in the ocean that figures prominently in Brand’s novel, I found to double as a symbol of exile, as well as reclaimed territory:   “the rock out there seems another land, her own” (59); it is not connected, yet is wholly connected to the earth and the future.  A place of escape (60) “where she had succumbed to tastes and smells and the sharp graze and cool sting of the body” (62). From here, Bola loved to “put a warm stone in her mouth to comfort her hunger” (57).  Erica Johnson studies the corporeal and psychological impact of trauma that transcends the primal location of the event through the lives of subsequent generations and she refers to a phantom that circulates memory and knowledge or “a direct empathy with the unconscious … matter of a parental object … the phantom is alien to the subject who harbors it … the diverse manifestations of the phantom … we call haunting” (8).  Food narratives reveal how the edible is one of the diverse manifestations that arise in both metaphorical or practical applications.   Unforgetting the origin of the food-associated-rituals is essential to Sri Owen who retraced her roots in Northern Sumantra and imparts that Indonesian food is on the endangered species list:  “this is what made me want to contribute, in my own small way, to the work of saving ‘traditional’ food ways from oblivion,” keeping the ritual alive for subsequent generations (3).

Tamarind Tree

In Brand’s novel, Tamarindus Indica or the tamarind tree figures significantly and is a place where one of Bola’s children, Samuel, finds sanctuary: “he sat under this tree everyday.  A tree perhaps brought here from Africa in the seventeenth century.  Probably brought here by his great-great grandmother” (73).  Brand also shows how the seed of the tree passes through the body before sown into the ground (75). A core element in Brand’s narrative is the link between land/place to culture, memory, identity, survival and self and how this element is articulated.

As Diane McGee suggests, “in a complex of ways, food and the systems surrounding it make up an important text, one by which we – consciously or unconsciously – live our lives” (23).

Transgenerational memory and food are reflected in Brand’s work and represented with the plantation slaves detesting the estate food: “they didn’t want to see another estate and they didn’t want their children to see it either.  They hated cacao, they hated coffee, they hated cane.  If they could pass this hatred on in a chromosome they did, their hatred was so physical” (64). Interestingly, even though they wanted their children to “hate” these foods their descendants eat cacao throughout the novel.  Symbolically even “hated” history is consumed and constructs a parallel of how memories are chosen (and not chosen), and how food is ingested as an unconscious communion with the past.  Although the enslaved want their descendants to be detached from any food related to their violent history – their children are irrevocably linked to it.  They consume their history, their exile, whether realized or not – the past is present in food.

North Coast of Trinidad

“For her memory to thicken” is a metaphor Brand draws upon as an allusion to cooking and memory (23).  Something on the fire simmering, shifting, stirring.  Food is organic and individual relationships to it change, decay, renew, yet remain a memory to thicken.  For example, in Brand’s novel, when Bola licks the sand that came in an envelope she decides “maybe this was my mother’s way of taking me to the sea” to the place her great grandfather was born (284).  Food and place become a language, and as a discourse can illuminate, dominate or subvert collective memory.  As Mieke Bal imparts, redefining is also essential in the work of memorization.

Susan Brison suggests, “the struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” (49). Food makes accessible the silent gaps in history, creates a narrative path to otherwise inaccessible passages and makes memory tangible, offering those who are starved with remembering some nourishment.  “Life will continue,” as Bola imparts. ” No matter what it seems, and even after that someone will remember you.  And even after that it could be just the whiff or thoughts of things you loved'” (Brand 298).

 

Bal, Mieke, Jonathan Crewe and Leo Spitzer, eds. Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1999.

Brand, Dionne. Full and Change of the Moon. New York: Knopf, 1999.

Brison, Susan J. “Trauma Narratives and the Remaking of the Self.” Bal, Crewe and Spitzer. 39-53.

Johnson, Erica. “Unforgetting Trauma: Dionne Brand’s Haunted Histories.” Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal. V2.11. (Spring 2004): 1+.

McGee, Diane. Writing the Meal:  Dinner in the Fiction of Early Twentieth-Century Women Writers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001

Morrison, Toni “Memory, Creation and Writing” as featured in The Anatomy of Memory: An Anthology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Owen, Sri. Indonesian Regional Cooking. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.