When She Reclines Her Head Is Lifted

” I don’t need your help. I just need you to recognize that this shit is killing you, too, however much more softly, you stupid motherfucker, you know?” – Fred Moten

If phenomenology is going to be ‘put to use,’ as Sara Ahmed would have us do, how are we to go about understanding the force of suffering? Phenomenology, situated as a post-Kantian enterprise, has wanted in its various guises to return to ‘the things themselves.” In Husserl at least, it has wanted to describe universal aspects of a transcendental consciousness in a scientific and universal matter, or the essences of the structure of consciousness. Here is where I think phenomenology actually offers a way out of essentializing experiences when trying to understand experience, especially of suffering. Continue reading

Blood, blood, everywhere…

…and not a drop to spare.  (my riff on Coleridge’s “water water everywhere and not a drop to drink”)

For those following the book event on Gil Anidjar’s recent Blood: A Critique of Christianity over at the AUFS blog might also want to check out this poignant piece by Rhyd Wildermuth over at The While Hung blog entitled “Blood Cries Out from the Soil”.

Original(izing) Sin and the Conquest of Native Bodies

In the conclusion of his book on sin, Derek Nelson proposes the following summary statements.  First, “How does sin relate to the human as soil?  The human can succumb to being less than one is called to be.  Karl Barth called this the sin of sloth.  Reinhold Niebuhr called it the sin of sensuality.”[1]  Second he asks, “How does sin relate to the human as spirit?  The human can claim to be more than one is called to be.  Barth, Niebuhr, and a whole host of others call this the sin of pride.”[2]

I recently saw an internet meme depicting an Inuit man with the following text overlay:
Eskimo: If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?
Priest: No, not if you did not know.
Eskimo: Then why did you tell me?[3]
This joke captures the sort of humour common among Native peoples exchanged around an often traumatic history of Christian colonization and conversion.[4]

Many authors have noted that Native peoples did not have a word for sin in their language, let alone original sin, akin to that of amer-european Christianity.[5]  The perceptions of the Native peoples that the missionaries had were, however, as sinners, pagans, heathens, and some even went so far as to refer to Native peoples “as Amelkites and Canaanites—in other words, people who, if they would not be converted, were worthy of annihilation.”[6]  The Canaanite identification was key in articulating the notion of sin, and particularly original sin, to both amer-european and Native peoples.  As Andrea Smith has astutely observed, “[i]n the colonial imagination, Native bodies are […] immanently polluted with sexual sin. […] What makes Canaanites supposedly worthy of destruction in the biblical narrative and Indian peoples supposedly worthy of destruction in the eyes of their colonizers is that they both personify sin.”[7] Continue reading

The Longest Night: Inhabiting the Darkness

Antrum Platonicum (“Plato’s Cave) Jan Saenredam, 1604

(Disclaimer: the genre of this post is more prose/poetry/reflection/ quote collage/episodic etc. than argumentative or even coherent. So, keep that in mind.)

Can you stand the shortest day? Can you endure the longest night?
Or do you hasten the morning, disregarding the shadows?
Do you pull the people quickly out of the darkness, into the light?

This past summer I attended an event calling on the Harper government to honour a statement  of apology he gave to the Native peoples of Canada in 2008. Harper was to honour the apology by releasing millions of residential school documents it still has to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. An elder told those gathered about his experiences of sexual abuse at the residential school he attended. Those gathered, wept. I doubt there was a dry eye in the circle. I do not feel I can tell this elder’s story here, but this can give you a sense of the atrocities done to Native peoples in residential schools. “In 2001, a report issued by the Truth Commission on Genocide in Canada maintained that the mainline churches and the federal government were involved in the murder of over 50,000 Native children through this system. The list of offenses committed by church officials includes murder by beating, poisoning, hanging, starvation, strangulation, and medical experimentation. Torture was used to punish children for speaking Aboriginal languages. Children were involuntarily sterilized. In addition, the report found that clergy, police, and business and government officials were involved in maintaining pedophile rings using children from residential schools.[1] Former students at boarding schools also claim that some schoolgrounds contain unmarked graveyards of murdered babies born to Native girls who had been raped by priests and other church officials.[2]Continue reading

“White despair: face to face with ennui in suburbia”

In a recent article in the Globe and Mail, entitled “Native despair: face to face with ennui on a reserve,” Richard Wagamese describes the despair he encountered in a northern Native reserve.  (Be sure to read his article. It’s definitely something I’ve encountered too. And read the comments. Some of them push back with other questions worth considering. Seriously, click on the link and read it. Now. It’s short. And then come back here and finish reading this post).

Wagamese suggests that The hardest battle in our fight to save our native children is against ennui. ”   Might it also be the case that the hardest battle in our fight to save our settler children from perpetuating colonialism is also against ennui? Much deeper than boredom, apathy, and hopelessness, ennui is the life-draining force that permeates communities in various ways and to differing degrees, including settler communities (shocking, I know. ). Wagamese describes ennui as something “about a ton heavier and a lot deadlier than simple boredom. It means a lifelong sort of tiredness. It means lassitude, an unrelenting feeling of nothingness. It means you give up trying, dreaming or seeing yourself doing something better. Ennui is a potentially fatal symptom of an oppressive and unjust socio-economic and political system. Continue reading