HINGE Journal of Contemporary Studies Vol. XXII, 2016
Editor-in-Chief Katharine Thomas Assistant Editor Kayleigh Shield Publisher Jacob Baker-Kretzmar
Copy-Editors Paisley Conrad Emma Raenarts Kate Gotziaman Jennifer Hall Fred Hayward Aiden TamaĹĄauskas
Reviewers Ari Flanzraich Marielle Nicol Carrie Deleskie Melina Zaccaria Alex Bryant Sean Galway
Hinge is an undergraduate academic journal published annually by the Contemporary Studies Society of the King’s Students’ Union at the University of King’s College in K’jipuktuk (Halifax), Nova Scotia. The Contemporary Studies Society acknowledges that all of the scholarship at King’s, including Hinge, takes place on unceded traditional Mi’kmaq territory, and in English, a language of colonialism.
Hinge Editors c/o Contemporary Studies Society University of King’s College Halifax, NS B3H 2A1
Copyright, in all cases, remains with the author.
Original cover artwork by Jacob Baker-Kretzmar. Printed in K’jipuktuk (Halifax), Nova Scotia by etc. Press Ltd.
Contents Letter from the Editor
A Different Kind of Muse by Edie Reaney Chunn
The Fruits of Ennui by Paisley Conrad
Trinity Test by Evelyn Elgie
Down the Duck-Rabbit-Hole by Jake Norris
A Manifesto for the Cyborg Body by Bryn Shaffer
Thrasymachusaurus by Liam Eady
Oral History in the Canadian Legal Context by Matthew Green
A Basis for the Language of Promise by Liam Morantz
Red Strings, Mulberry Trees, China Dolls by Gwendolyn Moncrieff-Gould
Letter from the Editor Students of the Contemporary Studies Programme engage a variety of topics; the interdisciplinary approach of the program demands an array of choices that allow students to study diverse subjects—from critical race theory, to aesthetic judgement, philosophy, and literature. Moreover, as Hinge XXI made clear, the method in which students of the contemporary engage with their studies is just as diverse. In the face of the shifting landscape of both content and formal response, perhaps what is universal to the experience of a CSP student is the difficulty of having to determine what is Contemporary Studies? I’ve heard a number of different explanations, which oscillate from “It’s a combination of contemporary philosophy, politics and literature, and world events, with some art thrown in” to simply listing off a selection of CSP course titles, and letting whoever asked the question work it out for themselves. In selecting Hinge submissions, we found ourselves repeatedly asking that same question. We struggled even amongst ourselves to agree which papers fit into the broad theme of the journal, and faced by students asking the same questions we could only reply: “Whatever you think fits the bill—what papers could you see being published in a journal of Contemporary Studies?” As you read Hinge XXII, you will likely come across papers that fit comfortably into your idea of the Contemporary Studies Programme, and others that might strike you as being better suited to other disciplines—sociology, gender studies, or creative writing, for example. And yet, all but one of the papers we selected were written for, or in response to, a CSP class. I urge you to draw your attention to how you define “Contemporary Studies,” and why. I’m still desperately searching for a succinct description that encapsulates what it is to be a student in CSP, but its nebulous and interdisciplinary character resists such succinctness, and demands a broader and more involved account. Perhaps such an account is to be found only in looking closely at the work our students are doing, and taking it up together. — Katharine
A Different Kind of Muse
Walter Benjamin’s notion of redemption in the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm
Edie Reaney Chunn
The proper relationship of the present to the past is a question that may not intuitively find its solution in the fairy tale. These tales, however, and the practice of storytelling that accompanies them, provide a unique and compelling mode of reconciling and situating the present within the past. In his essay “The Storyteller,” Walter Benjamin argues that storytelling draws past experiences into the light of the present and deposits old memories into new recipients—the fairy tale, then, can be seen as one of the primary guardians of memory and preserver of our relation to the past. In particular, this essay will relate storytelling and fairytales to Walter Benjamin’s notion of the present’s duty to “redeem” the past, looking at the role of memory in the Brothers Grimm’s project of collecting and transcribing fairy tales. Additionally, it will discuss W. G. Sebald’s short story “Max Ferber” as a kind of modern fairy tale that explores the possibility of restoring the value of the past through different narrative techniques. The possibility of redemption for the past is best achieved through storytelling, providing a way to protect memories in a living, changeable form, offering us a direct and authentic way of experiencing and relating past and present. The Brothers Grimm collection of fairy tales, first published with the title Kinder- und Hausmärchen, is remarkable not only for its content, but also for Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s tremendous project of gathering the stories. The Grimms took their project as a matter of extreme urgency—the
stakes of their task was, in their eyes, the life or the death of German culture. A principal fear was that industry and modernization were quickly pushing storytelling onto a path towards obsolescence: in the preface to their first edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen, Jacob Grimm ruefully observes that “the custom of telling tales is [. . .] on the wane, just as all the cozy corners in homes and gardens are giving way to an empty splendour that resembles the smile with which one speaks of these tales—a smile that looks elegant but costs so little.”1 The will to preserve these tales went beyond nostalgia: it was a matter of maintaining the integrity and vitality of a people. Appropriately enough, the Grimms looked to the people for help in their undertaking: for their collection, the Grimms relied upon the memories of German common folk and peasants (fewer, however, than often believed) and transcribed them. One woman in particular, Dorothea Viehmann, had a particularly keen memory. In the preface to their second volume of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, the Grimm brothers recount how Viehmann, with “bright, clear eyes [that were] probably beautiful when she was young”—here the Grimms give her a bit of a story of her own—“has the stories clearly in her mind, a gift which she says is not given to everyone.”2 The ability to hold a tale in one’s mind is key to the art of storytelling, going beyond simply knowing them by rote. The memory of the storyteller is unique because it involves keeping something alive: the storyteller knows their tales by heart, in the truest meaning of the expression. Their understanding cannot be simply of the words used; it must also comprise of the feeling, of the pulse, that accompany a tale. Interestingly, memory is rarely thematized in fairy tales, despite playing an important role in the act of collecting and telling the tales. Elements of redemption, however, of uncovering the value of both the present and the past in a moment of remembrance—or in this case, in a moment of storytelling—occur throughout the Grimms collection. Donald Haase describes one example of this in his article “The Sleeping Script,” where he presents a reading of “Briar Rose” as a work of self-reflective literature that embodies the Grimm brothers’ project of collection and preservation. “Briar Rose,” one of the best-known stories in the Grimms’ 1 2
Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, 436. Ibid., 442-443.
canon of tales, features the princess who pricks her finger on a spindle so that she and the entire castle fall, cursed, into “a hundred year deep sleep.”3 While they sleep, “round about the castle a thorn hedge [begins] to grow, and every year it [becomes] higher, until it finally [surrounds] and [covers] the entire castle.”4 This hedge, frightening in appearance, creates a barrier, guarding and protecting those within the palace. Briar Rose in her castle, Haase argues, serves as a metaphor for the fairy tales themselves, insulated and kept safe until the day someone carefully makes their way through the thorns.5 A second point Haase takes care to note is how, within the tale itself, people tell the story of the sleeping princess in her castle, and it is the telling of these stories that results in her ultimate deliverance. As the Grimms write, “throughout the land, stories circulated about the beautiful Briar Rose, for that was the name given to the slumbering princess.”6 The prince who comes and breaks the curse first learns of Briar Rose and the kingdom’s plight when he listens to an old man recount the tale. Here Haase astutely remarks that “the memory embodied in the old man’s tale has the power literally to revive the past.”7 The prince who makes it through the hedge arrives to find the princess just as she wakes, and the coincidence of the old man’s tale with the prince’s success alludes to the ability of a story to invoke the past. While Haase considers this parallel to be somewhat self-congratulatory on the part of the Grimms, perhaps over-valuing and praising their own project, it can also be read as presenting a certain hopefulness. The telling of tales is a kind of revival, or reincarnation, of the past that can only have its effect when people listen and take the tale to heart. Another compelling link between redemption and the fairy tale is the recurring motif of animal transformations. These transformations, of which there are dozens in the Brothers Grimm (“The Frog King,” “The Juniper Tree,” and “Jorinda and Joringel” being but a few), depict a character somehow forgetting their human self. In most stories featuring a transformation of this kind, the task of the protagonist is to restore those who have 3 Grimm, 242. 4 Ibid., 242. 5 Donald Haase, “The Sleeping Script: Memory and Forgetting in Grimms’ Romantic Fairy Tale,” 171. 6 Grimm, 242. 7 Haase, 173.
been transformed to their human state. In the tale “The Six Swans,” an evil stepmother transforms all but one of her seven stepchildren into swans. The six brothers, transformed, fly away and disappear; their sister, who escaped their evil stepmother’s spell, takes on the responsibility of liberating them. This is no easy task—she must “go without speaking or laughing” for six years, and during that time “sew six shirts for [her brothers] from star flowers.”8 She resolutely begins, committing herself to the salvation of her brothers, steadfastly sewing in silence in the woods. The sister holds onto the memory of her brother’s human selves, sewing shirts to remind them of their proper identities once the six years have ended. During this time the sister marries a king, and, because she must remain silent, is unable to defend herself when her new mother-in-law accuses her of killing and eating her own child. Because she remains silent, her husband—the king—sentences her to burn at the stake. A happy turn of fortune saves this dire situation, as the day of the sister’s burning is the very day the six-year spell can be broken: “When she was led to the stake, she laid the shirts on her arm. Standing there, as the fire was about to be lighted, she looked around, and six swans came flying through the air. Seeing that their redemption was near, her heart leapt with joy.”9 The girl throws the shirts onto her brothers, though the left sleeve is missing from one of the shirts, leaving one brother with the wing of a swan, she breaks the spell, and speaks to declare her innocence. This particular use of the language of redemption at the end of the story resonates with Benjamin’s writings in his Theses on the Philosophy of History. For Benjamin, in the relationship between the present and the past, the present must fulfill or redeem the past: “There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one [. . .] Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim.”10 We, in the present, have a certain obligation to fulfil the past, and it is precisely this obligation that the sister completes in “The Six Swans.” The dramatic dénouement of the story shows a double salvation of past and present. The sister keeps her brothers, whose human selves belong to the past, alive and current in the present with her 8 Grimm, 235. 9 Ibid., 237. 10 Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, 254.
silence and thought, providing them with reminders of their forgotten identities. Similarly, the past arrives at the exact moment to claim its fulfilment, liberating and providing justice for the present—a mutual salvation that was, in view of the Grimms’ project, precisely the desired effect of the fairy tale.
W. G. Sebald’s “Max Ferber” can be read as a kind of modern-day fairy tale, though it differs from the Grimms’ collection, casting a sceptical glance at the possibility of the redemption of the past by the present
through storytelling. Like most fairy tales, the story begins with the protagonist setting out from home into the unknown and unfamiliar. In “Max Ferber,” our protagonist, an unidentified narrator, leaves home for bustle and industry in the city of Manchester. As the narrator explores the city, he stumbles across the art studio of Max Ferber. Over time, as the two become friends, Ferber tells the narrator his life story. The first thing to note is the striking choice of setting for the act of story telling: industrial, soot-covered mid-century Manchester bears little resemblance to “the places by the stove, the hearth in the kitchen, attic stairs” that Jacob Grimm describes as the places of storytelling.11 Still, in the “curious light” of the art studio, Ferber recounts his life to the narrator, who in turn passes it on to the reader. This act of passing on Ferber’s story is where the redemptive element of “Max Ferber” first becomes clear because, unusually, the narrator at times fully takes on Ferber’s voice. Instead of relating the events of Ferber’s life consistently in the third person, describing what Ferber did from a distance, the narrator switches, without warning, from third to first person. This quick transition appears, for instance, when Ferber, by way of the narrator—or perhaps the other way around—describes a dream about putting together an art show: “almost without exception, said Ferber, the works were items from his father’s holdings. In amongst them, however, were one or two of my own paintings.”12 Sebald blurs the distinction between storyteller and listener: the paintings described are at once Ferber’s and the narrator’s; the story being told belongs to Ferber, but, through its telling, is also the narrator’s. The actual experiences in the story are not the narrator’s own, however, the experience of the story is: the narrator possesses a memory of the story, and he redeems the story by taking it up and making it his own. As the narrator’s constant switching in and out of Ferber’s voice may suggest, this act of redemption is incredibly difficult, and Sebald leads us to believe that it may border on the impossible. As we later discover, Ferber too is implicated in redeeming the past—and it has defeated him. Ferber owns his mother’s memoirs, a collection towards which he feels a kind of responsibility or obligation, assuming they were written for him. During the time he has them, however, Ferber only reads the memoirs twice: the 11 Benjamin, 254. 12 W. G. Sebald, The Emigrants, 176.
first time to “[skim] over them” and the second time more “meticulously.”13 As the narrator relates, On that second occasion, the memoirs, which at points were truly wonderful, seemed to [Ferber] like one of those evil German fairy tales which, once you are under its spell, you have to carry on to the finish, till your heart breaks, with whatever work you have begun—in this case, the remembering, writing and reading.14 This passage is bursting with the sentiment of redemption: setting the tone is the invocation of “those evil German fairy tales” as windows from the present to the past which we are compelled to look through. Ferber, duty bound to the reading and taking up of his mother’s life, follows it through to the best of his ability—“till [his] heart breaks.” In this way, Sebald questions the individual’s ability to fulfil the task of redemption. Ferber’s defeat, and the narrator’s own admission of inadequacy, amount to a sense of doubt that shakes the Grimms’ fervent belief in the fairy tale as redemptive. Even so, Sebald finishes the narrative on a note with unresolved tension, allowing for some possibility of redemption. “Max Ferber” ends with a description of a photograph of three women weaving in a factory in the Littzmannstadt ghetto of industrialized Lodz, Poland. Sebald draws a connection between the three women and the Roman Parcae, or Fates, saying, “I wonder what their names were—Rosa, Luisa and Lea, or Nona, Decuma and Morta, daughters of the night, with spindle, scissors, and thread.”15 Weaving often stands as a metaphor for storytelling: the sister in “The Six Swans” is a weaver of sorts, and she successfully restores her brothers with her weaving—that is, with her storytelling. Sebald’s calling on the Fates invokes a different kind of muse. While the Fates stand in for storytelling, they are harsher and less forgiving than we are used to, reminding us that every story must have an ending. The possibility of redeeming the past is best achieved through the act of storytelling as a medium to transfer memories from person to person, transforming them into living, present articulations of the past. The daily 13 Sebald, 193. 14 Ibid. 15 Ibid., 237.
work of the storyteller is no easy undertaking; it is, however, one of the most rewarding. As creatures wholly bound up with the present, stories are bridges that span the gap between where we find ourselves and what we have lost to the past. The storyteller is constantly vigilant and attentive to these bridges, committing their life to the bridging of present and past as they weave life and memory together, forming new narratives that belong neither wholly to the past nor to the present—perhaps to some space in between. As Benjamin writes, “the storyteller: he is the man who could let the wick of his life be consumed completely by the gentle flame of his story”16. Jacob and Wilhelm with Dorothea; Sebald with his unnamed narrator and Ferber; the sister of the boys turned into swans—all commit themselves to the guardianship of the past and hold it as something precious. They allow the cultivation and protection of memory to take up their time in this world, thereby becoming yarn-spinners, storytellers, redeemers.
16 Benjamin, 108-109.
Works Cited Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Translated by Harry Zohn. Edited by Hannah Arendt. New York: Shocken Books, 2007. Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The Annotated Brothers Grimm. Translated and edited by Maria Tatar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004. Haase, Donald. “The Sleeping Script: Memory and Forgetting in Grimms’ Romantic Fairy Tale.” Merveilles & contes 4, no. 2 (December 1990): 166-176. Sebald, W. G. The Emigrants. Translated by Michael Hulse. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1997.
The Fruits of Ennui
Baudelaire’s Exposure of Meaning Within Meaninglessness
Spleen, Charles Baudelaire’s poetic quartet in Les Fleurs du Mal, reeks at once of disgust and disinterest. The spleen is a small organ, tasked with removing troublesome, disease-causing agents from the bloodstream. The irony of the title lies in that fact: the organ cleanses the body, whereas Baudelaire’s Spleen is characterized by its own brackishness, the speaker seeming likely to succumb to disease at any given moment. An exercise in alienation, Baudelaire’s careful diction is both engaged and disengaged: he writes of waste while not wasting a word himself. Heightened language is used to talk about the ultimate disengagement for Baudelaire: creative death. Boredom, also known as ennui, is “the feeling of mental weariness and dissatisfaction produced by want of occupation, or by lack of interest in present surroundings or employments”.1 For Baudelaire, spleen is a state of melancholy. The speakers of the four poems vary in tone and literal subject matter; however, each is beset by a perpetual state of boredom. The will to produce and the will to live are questioned in each line, as each speaker contemplates the potential of an artistic, poetic death. The figurative corpse of the poet is imagined next to sketches of physical decay and degradation. However disengaged the speaker is with both himself and his surroundings (which are often conflated), Baudelaire the poet is actively engaging 1 Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “ennui, n.,” accessed March 8, 2016, http://www. oed.com
in the use of rich language and allusion. In the careful crafting of Spleen, Baudelaire’s speaker intimates to his reader a fearful lack of engagement, while actively engaging in the act and tradition of poetry himself. Baudelaire’s anxiety about the potential of death as a release from boredom is intimately explored as it relates to his anxiety about his own will to create. At the outset of Spleen, body and environment are indistinguishable from one another; both are conduits of boredom and disengagement. The speaker carefully lays out the images and tones that are present in all four poems: rain, sickness, disengagement and death. The opening line of “Spleen (I)” is alliterative: “February, peeved at Paris, pours / a gloomy torrent on the pale lesses.”2 The speaker’s repetition of “p” draws the reader in, framing Paris with like sounds. Instantly, the sound of rain falling on the streets of Paris is heard in its very description. In this way, all of Paris is equally drenched by the downpour. The setting of this poem is both particular and indistinct: it is specifically Paris, but it is also struck with a gloom that renders the features of the city indistinguishable. As the personified February takes out its irritation on the city itself, everything that makes the city unique and bright is washed out. At the same time, the speaker breaks up the first line in half. This enjambment takes the “gloomy torrent” to the second line, lengthening the impact of the weather. Throughout, the speaker applies care and attention to “Spleen (I),” rendering it as stylistically beautiful, even in its dank anguish. Long vowels draw out the sentences, and the diction used is soft-spoken. Two lines in, “Spleen (I)” is already sluggish, drawing the reader slowly along with the speaker to “the graveyard next door.”3 Paris is a miserable place, cold, damp, and ripe with disease. In referencing the neighbourhood graveyard, the speaker reminds the reader of the proximity of death. The spirit of an indistinct poet “howls as if a ghost could hate the cold.”4 Here, the speaker makes direct reference to the art of poetry itself: “the soul of some old poet haunts the drains.”5 An unknown poet is trapped underground, “howl[ing]” and generally making a fuss. This line creates a chilling effect: even the ghosts are not free from the rain. Additionally, in death, the ghost still remains a tormented poet. However, much like the indistinguishable cityscape of Paris, the poet is anonymous 2 3 4 5
Charles Baudelaire, “Spleen (I),” in Les Fleurs du Mal, lines 1-2. Ibid., 3. Ibid., 8. Ibid., 7.
and largely unremembered. In this lies Baudelaire’s anxiety as he questions the potential freedom of a poet trapped by their own boredom. In this fashion, the speaker alludes to the difficulty of being a poet without any of the comforts of being a poet. Perhaps the “old poet” of “Spleen (I)” is unable (or unwilling) to be productive and engage in the act of poetry itself. Right from the start, the anxiety around being trapped in one’s own emptiness is imagined next to a seemingly unending rainstorm. The second poem is packed with images of life and death, as the speaker disengages with himself as he engages with his own inflicted ennui. Baudelaire’s speaker opens the poem smugly, saying, “Souvenirs? / More than if I had lived a thousand years!”6 He proceeds, vividly describing the contents of his brain. First, he mentions objects associated with a busy, engaged life: “love-letters, wedding-invitations, wills.”7 The speaker’s mind is fuller than a chest of drawers, as his lived experience is full. However, despite this fullness, the speaker is unable to absorb or engage with his surroundings. In this way, “Spleen (II)” inverts “Spleen (I)”. While “Spleen (I)” is characterized by damp emptiness, “Spleen (II)” is dry and full. However, the problem of true engagement remains: the speaker has so many memories that nothing is worth remembering. This sentiment is clearest in the following selection: Nothing is slower than the limping days when under the heavy weather of the years Boredom, the fruit of glum indifference, gains the dimension of eternity. . .8 Here, Baudelaire has the appearance of interacting with the tradition previously established in Spleen. By making reference to “heavy weather,” the speaker visually calls back to the first poem.9 The weather, explicitly associated with Boredom (now personified), is eternal. For Baudelaire, “the dimension of eternity” figuratively functions as a torrential downpour.10 As in the previous poem, the speaker is weighed down to the point where creation is no longer possible. In the wake of the multiplicity of memories 6 7 8 9 10
Baudelaire, “Spleen (II),” in Les Fleurs du Mal, 1-2. Baudelaire, “Spleen (I),” 4. Baudelaire, “Spleen (II),” 16-19. Ibid., 17. Ibid., 19.
held by the speaker, attention and focus cannot be held. Here, the emptiness of the poet takes a different form. For the speaker of “Spleen (II),” the noise of his own memories traps him in his own thoughts. He writes: “mortal clay, you are no more / than a rock encircled by a nameless dread.”11 The noise of personal recollection takes the form of “nameless dread” as Baudelaire’s speaker compares himself to a rock, inert and unresponsive. Inundated with too many ideas, the speaker retreats into himself, unable to react to his surroundings. However, in his non-reaction, the speaker acknowledges the dread that has been present since the start of Spleen as a whole. Interestingly, Baudelaire’s plight as a poet in “(II)” is that he is plagued by too many influences and ideas. Even in his attempts to disengage from the tradition, Baudelaire’s speaker alludes to Genesis, and the definitive trees of the Garden of Eden, imagining “Boredom, the fruit of glum indifference” alongside the fruits of the Tree of Good and Evil and the Tree of Knowledge.12 However, in his essay “Crowds”, Baudelaire (in reference to poets) claims that “if certain places seem closed to him, it is only because in his eyes they are not worth visiting.”13 For Baudelaire, the poet is active in their decision to engage or disengage from their surroundings. In this way, Spleen’s brand of boredom is particular in its relationship to agency. The speaker gives permission for his surroundings to flood him with boredom, therefore in his disengagement, he himself engages in the treatment of ennui. By “Spleen (III),” Baudelaire’s speaker endows himself with a new persona, taking the position of “the king of a rainy country, rich / but helpless.”14 For the first time in the entirety of Spleen, Baudelaire’s speaker shows interest in material, tangible goods. The enjambment here carries the richness of both the speaker and the king to the next line. The next line undermines the potential power the king’s wealth could possibly hold. Initially, being the ruler of a country plagued by weather is compensated for by the fact that the ruler is wealthy, however, the next line shows that this is not the case. By almost instantly countering wealth with helplessness, it is implicit that even luxury cannot save the king (or the speaker, for that matter) from his own sense of entrapment. Here, “nothing distracts” the 11 12 13 14
Baudelaire, “Spleen (II),” 20-21. Ibid., 18. Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen, 1869, 70. Baudelaire, “Spleen (III),” in Les Fleurs du Mal, 1-2.
speaker from his own boredom.15 In parallel to the voice of his speaker, Baudelaire focuses on one extended metaphor to explore the theme of ennui. This explicit focus is unique to “Spleen (III),” being the only poem to deliberately endow the speaker with character traits aside from boredom and alienation. However, the speaker undermines his own unbreakable focus a few lines later: “—the royal invalid is not amused—.”16 By interjecting a line into a poem that otherwise flows evenly, Baudelaire self-consciously admits his own distraction. In this way, Baudelaire consciously writes a break in the speaker’s otherwise intuitive self-awareness. Later in the poem, the speaker toys with the potential of his own redemption from the perpetual state of boredom: to purge the impure substance from his soul and baths of blood, Rome’s legacy recalled by certain barons in their failing days, are useless to revive this sickly flesh through which no blood but brackish Lethe seeps.17 Here, Baudelaire invokes Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. Baudelaire’s Lethe is brackish, unpleasant, slightly salty. By placing Lethe within the veins of the dying barons in lieu of blood, the speaker suggests if freedom from memory were possible, it would be achieved internally. However, Baudelaire’s speaker implies that even by recalling the rich history of Rome, the king will be unable to excite himself and productively engage with his subjects. However, when considered in broader terms, there appears to be a conscious self-contradiction. While the speaker is distrustful of the value in interacting with the tradition, Baudelaire the poet himself actively engages by alluding to Lethe, a well-established reference within the poetic tradition. Even as the speaker radically attempts to abandon self and rationality by seeking respite in both death and forgetfulness, the poet seeks respite in the act of poetry itself. In subtle contrast to “Spleen (II)” and its interaction and inundation with external stimuli, the speaker of “Spleen (III)” is unable to participate actively. As opposed to being overrun with images and memories, the speaker as “king” cannot (or will not) become sufficiently engaged with his surroundings in order to locate worthy subject 15 Baudelaire, “Spleen (III),” 5. 16 Ibid., 8. 17 Ibid., 15-18.
matter. Nevertheless, Baudelaire himself uses a lack of inspiration as the grounds to write a poem in the first place. By engaging with the tradition through allusions and references to creativity, Baudelaire is conscious of his use of ennui as a muse. Though hope and possibility briefly exist in the third poem, in “Spleen (IV),” both self and environment succumb to melancholy. Here, the speaker is suffocated by the environment, with the sky acting as a lid, trapping him in his present state. Again, Baudelaire uses an enjambment to set up a sentiment, only to slightly alter the situation in the next line. Though the sky is a lid, it only acts as such over the mind of the speaker. Baudelaire’s speaker describes himself as being stuck behind “the bars of some enormous jail.”18 The rain from the first poem is still present, and forms the jail. Though earlier in the cycle Paris was both the primary and literal target of the rain, Baudelaire’s speaker is now the sole focus of the downpour, which is described with “disgust.”19 By narrowing the focus of the storm and shifting from speaking in the literal to the figurative, Baudelaire’s speaker differentiates between boredom with himself, and boredom with his surroundings. Here, the source of boredom lies in the lack of engagement enacted by the speaker. The speaker describes himself as a bat “bumping its head against the rotten beams.”20 This image acknowledges the repetitive, pain-causing action carried out by the speaker, who is in control. However, Baudelaire’s speaker confronts the possibility that his inactivity will lead to his demise in the following excerpt: —And giant hearses, without dirge or drums, parade at half-steps in my soul, where Hope, defeated, weeps, and the oppressor Dread plants his black flag on my assenting skull.21 In this passage, another allusion to “Spleen (I)” is present. Here, at the end of the cycle, Baudelaire fulfills his own prophecy: Baudelaire the poet is left to weep after Dread has claimed his territory, much like the “old poet” howling in the drains underneath Paris. Baudelaire’s speaker’s anxiety surrounding the ownership of his own death is glaring. However, the funeral procession 18 19 20 21
Baudelaire, “Spleen (IV),” in Les Fleurs du Mal, 10. Ibid., 2. Ibid., 8. Ibid., 20-24.
“half-steps in my soul,”22 implying that the death is figurative. For the speaker, the triumph of Dread in life causes a spiritual, poetic death—the end of Baudelaire as a poet. Thus, the colourless grey of the previous poems is banished with the “black flag” of the figure of Dread. The final image of Spleen is of defeat. Here, the speaker has unceremoniously given himself over to the ultimate villains—Dread and Boredom. However, Baudelaire the poet remains unconquered. Through his demonstration of exquisite control over his use of both diction and allusion, he seamlessly interacts with the tradition. While Baudelaire’s speaker grapples with their own overwhelming mediocrity, through heightened speech and the use of high poetic form and style, Baudelaire finds himself occupied. Using enjambments in three of the four poems to alter a particular sentiment from one line to the next, his diction works to consciously undermine the expectations of the reader. For Spleen as a whole, the speaker persistently encounters himself with debilitating boredom and alienation as a poet, man, ghost, and king. His own passivity and inability to act, despite his self-awareness, drives the speaker to hit his head against the wall repeatedly, so to speak. The self-conscious tone is present in each poem, as the speaker dredges on about boredom even as the poet decadently engages in description and allusion. In this way, Baudelaire himself undermines the reader’s expectation of his own disengagement: Spleen is an explosion of carefully chosen sounds and allusions, disguised in the “gloomy torrent” of Paris.
22 Beaudelaire, 21.
Works Cited Baudelaire, Charles. Les Fleurs du Mal. Translated by Richard Howard. Jaffrey: David R. Godine, Publisher, 1983. Baudelaire, Charles. Paris Spleen, 1869. Translated by Louise Varese. New York: New Directions Publishing, 1970.
the only one in ten thousand who knew what god you truly served and the trinity was this: you and your second true love and your third true love: you and the desert and that merciless angel batter my heart you three-person god.1 remember: leave a city alone, a control group dead in the water leave two just in case. your god your god has not forsaken you this time. your god gives you power more important than cities, than lives, because the desert bursts with the splendor of the mighty one2 your chest, your bunker, rotten with fear, hope, hope, hope that drives scientists to gamble on slender probabilities:
1 John Donne, â€œHoly Sonnet 14.â€? 2 Robert Jungk, Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists, 201.
one. the detonation will be smaller than we expect, no. i will put down ten dollars that it will reach us in the bunker, that our bones will crack as the marrow fries that we will not even have time to know we failed— two. the atmosphere will catch. i will join the pool that says it will only destroy the state and not the planet’s surface but don’t worry, the betting pools are only to scare the technicians right? three. we do not know yet about radiation sickness but i will lay down good money that says: many of the men in this room will die of it. and how many of us will hang ourselves, how many will die redhanded because we are jubilant today? they will say later you strutted from the car radioactive sand itching yellow in your gums like nicotine presiding over the future, the merciless angel humbled at your feet, clouds in the shapes of hallucinogens, fate falling from your lips: we can propose no technical demonstration likely to end the war.3 but does it matter if you didn’t know the fullest depths of the future you created, you didn’t know how many bedsores and blind eyes and bodies this day would conceive— or did you? and was your choice the braver for it? Do not worry about what you did not control. It is only Science. You are only God.
Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, 96.
Works Cited Donne, John. “Holy Sonnet 14.” Poetry Foundation. http://www. poetryfoundation.org/poem/173362 Glover, Jonathan. Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000. Jungk, Robert. Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists. Translated by James Cleugh. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958.
Down the Duck-Rabbit-Hole
Considering ‘nonsense’ in Lewis Carroll and Ludwig Wittgenstein
Introduction Lewis Carroll was captivated by logic and nonsense—though he made sure that neither got the better of him. As Alice personifies in Wonderland, Carroll often pushed logic to the point of apparent absurdity, all the while managing to present nonsense with the utmost clarity. Never shying from the strange, or especially the impossible, Carroll created worlds rotten with rules and linguistic structures that ought not to exist at all, even fictionally. Wittgenstein, like Carroll, also frequently inquired into nonsense; though, where the latter seemed happy to be immersed in it, the former made it his duty to banish both hidden and obvious nonsense from philosophy. Around the time that I started to consider writing this paper, I also had my nose in On Certainty—specifically, trying to make sense of its ‘riverbed’ analogy.2 What it is that we choose (or do not even realize that we choose) to be our unshakable, simply given facts about the world was an important question for me. As I became interested in my own ‘riverbed’ and what I took as the truths from which all others followed, I decided also to start looking into what would become of this work. Opening Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I could not help but smile at where the book begins: “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of 1
Pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898). Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, §96-99.
having nothing to do.”3 Where I had recently become interested in my river, Alice was now growing tired of her own. Seeing the White Rabbit with its waistcoat and pocket watch, Alice is not much surprised. In fact, it did not dawn on her until much later that “she ought to have wondered at this.”4 We, like Alice, often fail to recognize nonsense when it presents itself. This is precisely what Wittgenstein worries about. From his early work in the Tractatus to his mature Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein implores that nonsense be banished from our thinking. Philosophy, as he sees it, does not contain it as a problem, but rather as a mere confusion. We have gone for too long not understanding nonsense as just this. Without thinking, we plunge ourselves into nonsense—much as Alice falls down the rabbit-hole, not realizing until far too late what she has gotten herself into. Concerning logic, language, forms of life, and most evidently ‘nonsense,’ Carroll and Wittgenstein work on similar ground. They are logicians whose main task is to exploit the mistakes, and realize the confines, of our language. This paper argues that Wittgenstein was influenced by Carroll’s work, and that he employs several examples from Carroll’s narratives to illustrate his Philosophical Investigations. After examining Wittgenstein and Carroll independently, I work through several parallels—most of which have already been outlined in George Pitcher’s essay, “Wittgenstein, Nonsense, and Lewis Carroll.” Following this, I present a critique of Pitcher’s argument using Leila S. May’s “Wittgenstein’s Reflection in Lewis Carroll’s Looking-Glass.” Finally, I offer my own contribution concerning the ongoing relation between Carroll and Wittgenstein, namely, that of narrative continuity. I consider there to be moments in the Investigations in which Wittgenstein writes with Carroll’s work in hand. He draws on, in the span of only a few sections in the Investigations, examples that we find Carroll illustrating in a single chapter, even a single page. To conclude, I argue that Wittgenstein was fluent in Carroll’s writings, and that he invokes Carroll, both explicitly and implicitly, for demonstrative examples of nonsense. Wittgenstein’s ‘nonsense’ In the penultimate proposition to his Tractatus, Wittgenstein declares 3 4
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, 9. Ibid., 10.
that his work is ‘nonsense,’ admitting that what he has thus gone about saying are things that can only be shown. The saying/showing distinction relates to what it means to create a picture of the world. For Wittgenstein, we have no way of depicting what an illogical world would look like. While we can use logic structurally in sentences and propositions, when we attempt to explain logic itself, we speak nonsense. Facts such as “The world is everything that is the case” are meaningless, in that no definition has been attached to them; their logic, as Wittgenstein emphasizes, remains outside of the world.5 It also follows that their truth and falsity can never be questioned. This is not because they contain an unquestionable truth or falsity; rather, it is that the propositions have nothing in them that we are able to question. Realizing the limits to what he can say, Wittgenstein asserts the following: “My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless [nonsense/unsinnig], when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed on it).”6 Nonsense, in this case, arises “when we construct apparent sentences containing meaningless words—words for which we have failed to make a determination of meaning.”7 The problem Wittgenstein recognizes in his picture theory is that he has gone about depicting logical form, which is impossible. There is a special kind of nonsense at work in the Tractatus, however, and it lies in its ability to enlighten. As Lynette Reid states, “there is no such thing as grasping the propositions of the Tractatus, no such thing as saying that they are true, but that they nonetheless cannot be stated. To say ‘the world is everything that is the case’ is no better than to say ‘piggly-wiggle’: both are simply noises to which no meaning has been assigned.”8 When we realize Wittgenstein’s nonsense, we are able to place limits on what can be said. In coming up against the limits of language, we begin to appreciate that most problems in philosophy are a matter of trying to make sense out of nonsense. It is an act of toying with words that have not been assigned meaning, with sentences which seem coherent despite their intrinsic incompatibility: “Most propositions and questions, that have been written about philosophical matters, are not false, but senseless [nonsensical/unsinnig]. We cannot, therefore, 5 6 7 8
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, §1. Ibid., §6.54. Michael Kremer, “The Purpose of Tractarian Nonsense,” 41-42. Lynette Reid, “Wittgenstein’s Ladder: The Tractatus and Nonsense,” 100.
answer questions of this kind at all, but only state their senselessness.”9 Wittgenstein follows this with an example: “whether the Good is more or less identical than the Beautiful.”10 For Wittgenstein, when we come upon a standstill in trying to make sense of this phrase, it is not a matter of our inadequacy. It simply is meaningless, unusable. Carroll’s ‘nonsense’ In his Philosophy of Psychology—A Fragment, Wittgenstein inquires into his impression of the word “Pleasure” as it appears when written forwards and backwards. He then makes a note to “Compare a remark of Lewis Carroll’s.”11 Here, Wittgenstein is certainly thinking of Carroll’s famous ‘nonsense poem,’ Jabberwocky. Alice first encounters the poem in an unreadable form, where everything on the paper is backwards: “She puzzled over this for some time, but at last a bright thought struck her. ‘Why, it’s a Looking-glass book, of course! And if I hold it up to a glass, the words will all go the right way again.’”12 Not surprisingly, Carroll is playing with us, given that there really is no “right way” to read this poem. There is only ever an apparent feeling that we understand it, and this derives from its addicting rhythm: ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wave: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe. . .13 Just as Wittgenstein is careful never to accept something as meaningful because it reads tidily, so too is Carroll. By way of Alice, Carroll depicts how reserved we often are to call something nonsense, and stresses that we should be less wary. We are usually correct in calling nonsense when we see it: “‘It seems very pretty,’ [Alice] said when she had finished it, ‘but it’s rather hard to understand!’ (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all).”14 Carroll had invented the 9 10 11 12 13 14
Wittgenstein, Tractatus, §4.003. Ibid. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §151. Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, 134. Ibid., 191. Ibid., 136.
Jabberwocky specifically without any meaning attached to the majority of its words. His diction purposefully offers nonsense, though he has Alice cling to the poem despite her intuition telling her to accept its meaninglessness. The Jabberwocky embodies Carroll’s relationship with nonsense. He, as Wittgenstein also does, wants nonsense to be pushed out of hiding. His poems and stories epitomize our encounter with the meaningless and linguistically unusable, both in the everyday and the unusual. Threads of Carroll in Wittgenstein In his 1965 essay, “Wittgenstein, Nonsense, and Lewis Carroll,” George Pitcher develops five examples in which Wittgenstein converses with Carroll. Pitcher finds this especially clear where ‘nonsense’ arises in Wittgenstein. Since it is difficult to get a single reading on Wittgenstein’s nonsense, it is valuable to give Pitcher’s “narrow technical” definition of the term: “a combination of words is nonsensical when it cannot possibly be understood because no sense is or can (except trivially) be accorded it.”15 Pitcher cites TLP §4.003 as the strongest example of ‘nonsense’ before stating that TLP §6.54 (which states that the Tractatus is itself a work of nonsense) leads directly to §7 and its declaration that nonsense, including the Tractatus, must be given over to silence. Despite this apparent “silence” placed on nonsense, the topic still remains of deep concern for the later Wittgenstein. While the later Wittgenstein presents what could be seen as a new leniency toward language—allowing words not to have fixed definitions, or language always needing pre-established rules—he still condemns language when it turns into nonsense. For Pitcher, if we are to pick a line to summarize Wittgenstein’s later philosophy, PI §90 is a suitable candidate: “Our inquiry is . . . a grammatical one . . . clearing misunderstandings . . . concerning the use of words, brought about, among other things, by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of our language.”16 Treating this as the vantage point from which we should compare Carroll and Wittgenstein, Pitcher effectively opposes the difference between saying and meaning in Wittgenstein with the character of Humpty Dumpty in Carroll’s work. For one, it is as if Carroll, like Wittgenstein, is ridiculing the possibility of language purely being guided by what we 15 George Pitcher, “Wittgenstein, Nonsense, and Lewis Carroll,” 591. 16 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §90.
intend, which is Humpty Dumpty’s claim. In fact, rather than stepping on eggshells, Carroll and Wittgenstein go as far as to deride Humpty Dumpty’s logic. Quite falsely, Humpty Dumpty equates all of language with “a special mental act”, to use a term from Pitcher.17 Wittgenstein does not consider there to be some unique, non-linguistic set of ideas, which we generate into words by way of sounds and intentions. Language relates to definitions by and through use, and should not recoil into questions of mental processes, such as memory or intention. Where Wittgenstein opposes the former in PPF §x, for the latter Pitcher directs us to the toothache example of the Investigations: “can’t I say ‘By ‘abracadabra’, I mean toothache’? Of course I can; but this is a definition, not a description of what goes on in me when I utter a word.”18 In this section of the Investigations, Pitcher identifies Wittgenstein as likely responding to Humpty Dumpty’s argument with Alice in Through the Looking-Glass. As Pitcher does, it is worth quoting this exchange at length, and then situating it in relation to Wittgenstein’s note between PI §35 and §36: “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knockdown argument for you!’” “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”19 Pitcher takes us from this narrative immediately into Wittgenstein: “Can I say ‘bububu’ and mean ‘If it doesn’t rain, I shall go for a walk’? – It is only in a language that I can mean something by something. This shows clearly that the grammar of ‘to mean’ does not resemble that of the expression ‘to 17 Pitcher, 603. 18 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §665. 19 Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, 190.
imagine’ and the like.”20 Wrapped up in Humpty Dumpty’s claim is the presumption that he has a clear idea of his thoughts. This, however, overlooks that language is not a matter of clarifying intention; rather, its structure is inherently social, and need be a matter of practice and use, not primarily that of prior cognitive aim. A fundamental aspect of Pitcher’s essay is to convey the similar interplay of disguised and patent nonsense, as each pertains to Carroll and Wittgenstein.21 Appealing to the Investigations, Pitcher finds Wittgenstein’s goal to reside in translating hidden nonsense into that of the obvious; “Wittgenstein still finds that philosophers—including the author of the Tractatus—are professionally given to uttering nonsense. Not obvious nonsense, but hidden nonsense: and he conceives the job of good philosophy to be that of revealing it for what it is.”22 Thus, the allure of Carroll for Wittgenstein is that the nonsense he presents is explicit—nothing is ever meant to be hidden. And although it is rarely unknown to the reader, Alice always cues us when things move to the stranger. As Chapter II of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland begins, for instance, we read what has now grown into a catchphrase for Alice, and indeed Carroll’s entire work: “‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ cried Alice.”23 What inspires such exclamations in Alice are usually her encounters with Wonderland’s language games, which are predicated on the paradox of an apparently understandable linguistic structure with truly meaningless words or demands. The characters she encounters speak with such confidence and conviction, to the point that it seems what they declare is sensible. At the Mad Tea-Party, as they talk of the Hatter’s “funny watch,” a gadget that tells the day of the month though not the time, Alice feels puzzled; “The Hatter’s remark seemed to her to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English.”24 Simply because a sentence appears to read well enough, it does not follow that it makes sense; in Pitcher’s words, which he positions in relation to Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, “Wittgenstein makes the point that one must not be seduced into thinking that one understands a certain sentence simply because it is 20 21 22 23 24
Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §35-§36. Pitcher, 592. Ibid., 591-592. Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 16. Ibid., 62.
grammatically well-formed.”25 Language is held together by its application just as much as by its structure. When we read a sentence, or are given a command, our approach is always a matter of what we can do with its words. Nonsense, although Wittgenstein considers it to be of one type altogether, can arise commonly in two ways: when words have no established meaning, or, when “nothing of the right sort follows from them.”26 Unlike the first way, the second is a matter where—despite our mastery over each word it contains—we realize upon application that its meaning falls apart in conjunction. In Chapter II of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice, attempting to reach a key on a table much too high for her, eats a cake that makes her grow to nine-feet tall. Yet worrying about her sudden distance from and lack of control over her feet, she imagines now having to appease them—perhaps by sending them Christmas presents. She soon realizes “what nonsense” she had been talking.27 This calls to mind a similar absurdity that Wittgenstein plays with: “Why can’t my right hand give my left hand money? – My right hand can put it into my left hand . . . But the further practical consequences would not be those of a gift.”28 Eleven sections later, exactly two pages after §268, Wittgenstein offers the example of measuring one’s height by putting a hand on one’s own head: “Imagine someone saying, ‘But I know how tall I am!’ and laying his hand on top of his head to indicate it!”29 Similarly, Alice faces this problem two pages prior to her “self-gift giving” conundrum: “She ate a little bit, and said anxiously to herself ‘Which way? Which way?’, holding her hand on the top of her head to feel which way it was growing; and she was quite surprised to find that she remained the same size.”30 The content of these examples, together with their proximity in the Investigations, gives a strong sense that Wittgenstein is writing with Carroll in mind. In section three of his work, Pitcher aligns Carroll with the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus. This is an important insight because it anticipates in Wittgenstein’s early writings the turn to language-as-use in the Philosophical Investigations. The Tractarian similarity between Carroll 25 26 27 28 29 30
Pitcher, 594. Ibid., 595. Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 17. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §268. Ibid., §279. Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 15.
and Wittgenstein comes in their views on tautologies, or the “senseless.” In Wittgenstein, we read that tautologies have “no truth-conditions, for it is unconditionally true; and the contradiction is on no condition true”—for example, “I know . . . nothing about the weather, when I know that it rains or does not rain.”31 Thus, it follows that both tautologies and contradictions “are not pictures of . . . reality. They present no possible state of affairs. For the one allows every possible state of affairs, the other none.”32 While I cannot settle completely that Wittgenstein inherited this from Carroll, it is clear that both are working within the same worlds. Before turning to Leila S. May’s response to Pitcher, it is worth noting two final pieces of obvious nonsense in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: the Caterpillar and the Caucus-race. In Chapter V, Alice encounters a Caterpillar whom she recites a poem for. Upon finishing it, the Caterpillar is absurdly critical, indeed to the point that his critique is nonsense. “That is not said right,” said the Caterpillar. “Not quite right, I’m afraid,” said Alice, timidly: ‘some of the words have got altered.” “It is wrong from beginning to end,” said the Caterpillar, decidedly; and there was silence for some minutes.33 The nonsense of the Caterpillar’s critique lies in how, for Alice to recite the tune improperly, she would still have to get some of it correct. What he should have said to Alice is that what she spoke was not the poem at all; therefore, she was not reciting it in the first place: “for although it is quite possible to recite a poem and get some of the words wrong, it is not possible to recite a given poem and get all of the words wrong.”34 The second example that Pitcher directs us to is the Dodo’s declaration at the Caucus-race that all had won the race: The Dodo suddenly called out “The race is over!”, and they all crowded round it, panting and asking “But who has won?” This question the Dodo could not answer without a 31 32 33 34
Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, §4.461. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §4.611. Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 45. Pitcher, 600.
great deal of thought, and it stood for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.”35 Carroll wants us to see the declarations of the Caterpillar and the Dodo as containing set definitions. This is to say, to understand the nonsense each contains, we must consider the use of “reciting” and of “winning” with strict definitions. For something to be nonsense in these contexts, it is necessary for “reciting” to involve getting some words right, and in “winning,” it must also be the case that only one (or at least not everybody) has won. If one accepts a strict definition of these words, just as we are supposed to understand Alice, the Caterpillar, and the Dodo all as having done, he or she commits nonsense when simultaneously using the word incorrectly. May’s response to Pitcher, distinguishing ‘nonsense’ from ‘strangeness’ Leila S. May brings up an essential question that Pitcher fails to address: “Are these lands possible worlds, or are they loony bins? That is, do rules exist there governing discourse and sociality that are possible rules, even if they are alien and incomprehensible to us, or are the rules there all self-defeating, producing no possible language-game?”36 For May, Wonderland is indeed (as the Cheshire Cat says) a ‘madhouse’—yet it is also a world of characters with “hyper-logic.”37 Exemplifying this kind of logic, May directs us to Alice’s discussion with the White Queen. The Queen, wishing to hire Alice, offers “‘Two pence a week and jam every other day’” only then to clarify that “‘It’s jam every other day: to-day isn’t any other day, you know.’”38 As May sees it, the Queen is following a rule—one that Alice could indeed learn, no matter how strange it may seem. Like May, I am inclined to concede that there are numerous examples in Wonderland that, despite Alice’s constant objection that it is all nonsense, could indeed 35 36 37 38
Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 26. Leila S. May, “Wittgenstein’s Reflection in Lewis Carroll’s Looking-Glass,” 81. Ibid., 83. Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, 174.
create a useable language. May brings us to a deeply relevant passage in the Investigations: “[perhaps] it comes naturally to a person to react to the gesture of pointing with the hand by looking in the direction from fingertip to wrist, rather than from wrist to fingertip.”39 Custom has shaped us into believing that to follow such a rule would be nonsensical; we believe it must be obvious what the gesture means to someone else. Yet running throughout Wittgenstein’s Investigations is the claim that rules can always be interpreted falsely, albeit it is also the case that rules can be added on to others simply instinctually. Missing this is a mistake Alice perhaps makes in Wonderland. Defending the logic of Wonderland, May distinguishes the feeling that we have in fact gone down the rabbit-hole (symbolizing nonsense) from simply finding ourselves in a novel circumstance. May’s interpretation of Wonderland is reasonable. She comes to see it and what lies on the other side of the Looking-Glass as logical possibilities, and does so by appealing to Wittgenstein’s cryptic category, “forms of life.” May’s is a convincing reading, though I fear she overlooks a fundamental intention in Carroll’s stories. The question Carroll asks throughout his writing can be reduced to the following: what happens when we, like Alice, encounter words and phrases with which we can do nothing? For Carroll, as for Wittgenstein, it is correct to equate our inability to use words with a kind of nonsensicality. Perhaps the world Carroll has created (as May interprets it) is not one of absolute nonsense—there are indeed ways in which Alice could come to follow its structure, and make use of the characters’ commands. Still, I interpret Carroll as most interested in what becomes of our world when we encounter a language that we can never master, and where we constantly run up against commands and explanations with which we can do nothing. Syncing Alice Chapter VI with Investigations §79-80 Along with the theoretical similarities between Carroll and Wittgenstein, there is also continuity among their narrative structures. Upon reading selections from Carroll and Wittgenstein side-by-side, we see that the two begin to line up. Consider, for example, Wittgenstein’s transition between §79 and §80 of the Investigations, as it compares to Alice’s second exchange with the Cheshire Cat. As he sits perched on a branch, the Cat playfully tempts Alice to accept that he is mad: “‘you see a dog growls 39 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §185.
when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.’”40 Although Alice tries to differentiate ‘purring’ from ‘growling,’ the Cat considers this distinction to be unimportant: “Call it what you like,” he says.41 Turning to Wittgenstein, following his Moses example (which demonstrates that we often neither have nor need an essential description to use a name meaningfully), Wittgenstein presents the claim ‘N is dead’: “Would I be prepared to declare the proposition ‘N is dead’ false – even if what has turned out to be false is only something which strikes me as insignificant? But where are the boundaries of what is insignificant?”42 Summarizing this point, Wittgenstein asserts, “I use the name ‘N’ without a fixed meaning. (But that impairs its use as little as the use of a table is impaired by the fact that it stands on four legs instead of three and so sometimes wobbles).”43 Like the Cheshire Cat, Wittgenstein appeals to how often unnecessary a fixed definition is for someone to understand another’s argument. Even in their discord between ‘purring’ and ‘growling,’ it does not necessarily follow that Alice cannot accept the Cat’s self-proclaimed ‘madness’. As we read again at §79 of the Investigations, “Should it be said that I’m using a word whose meaning I don’t know, and so am talking nonsense? – Say what you please, so long as it does not prevent you from seeing how things are.”44 The same relaxed acceptance of fluid definitions seems to emerge in Wittgenstein’s “Say what you please” and the Cat’s “Call it what you like”—though the striking parallel in these two dialogues is where each turns next. Immediately following the Cat’s talk of ‘madness’, he begins to disappear and reappear in front of Alice: “the Cat . . . vanished” and while Alice “was still looking at the place where it had been, it suddenly appeared again.”45 Similarly in Wittgenstein, §80 and its “disappearing chair” illustrate the effect, if any, that strange, newly-encountered properties can have on our working definitions: “‘Have you rules ready for such cases? – rules saying whether such a thing is still to be called a ‘chair’ . . . are we to say that we do not really attach any meaning to this word, because 40 41 42 43 44 45
Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 58. Ibid., 58. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §79. Ibid. Ibid. Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 58.
we are not equipped with rules for every possible application?”46 Like the chair, the disappearance of the Cheshire Cat leads Alice to question her definition—though she nevertheless finds that she can use the name ‘Cat’ appropriately: “‘Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,’ thought Alice; ‘but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life.’”47 This radical alteration in both her understanding of ‘cat’ and ‘grin’ need not have her conclude that the Cheshire Cat was not a cat to begin with, or that it no longer exists. The argument between Alice and the Cheshire Cat, as well as between Wittgenstein and his interlocutor, transitions from what it means to play along with an argument, and use a word, immediately into what happens when our definitions then shift. Joint custody / In closing I have not intended to suggest that Wittgenstein derived his concept of nonsense from Carroll, or that he always had works like Jabberwocky, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking-Glass on his mind in crafting examples. Rather, my goal has been to show that both Carroll and Wittgenstein are working directly in the same field. Understanding this himself, I suggest, Wittgenstein knew that he could call upon examples from Carroll to illustrate his points. That Wittgenstein is doing this is clear, and he would sometimes address Carroll by name in such circumstances. Indeed, in other instances, it takes more of a search to realize that Wittgenstein is conversing with Carroll in his Investigations. Still, Wittgenstein builds off of Carroll, recognizing that his work contains insightful remarks and enjoyable examples for a critique of the current state of philosophy and language. As an image to remember them by, I suggest that we understand Carroll and Wittgenstein as having “joint custody” over nonsense. Carroll plays with nonsense, takes it on adventures—he, so to speak, has it on the “holidays.” Wittgenstein ends up being the one to take it to school; he is, as it were, the one who grounds ‘nonsense,’ realizing when and where it must be punished. Nevertheless, both Carroll and Wittgenstein have a crucial role in its formation. It was necessary for nonsense to mature from its subtle form—which Wittgenstein both worries about and sees in most of philosophy—to its outright obviousness. Carroll did not worry himself 46 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §80. 47 Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 59.
as much with subtle, inchoate nonsense, though he rarely intends for it to be unnoticeable in his writing. In Wittgenstein’s style and the examples he uses, there are both remnants of, and responses to, Carroll’s work. In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein presents the problems that Alice faces in Wonderland and on the other side of the Looking-Glass. In recognizing this motif in Wittgenstein, we see the impact of Carroll’s work on the examples Wittgenstein uses to illustrate his Philosophical Investigations, and his understanding of nonsense more broadly speaking.
Works Cited Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. Edited by Peter Hunt. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Kremer, Michael. “The Purpose of Tractarian Nonsense.” Noûs 35, no. 1 (2001): 39-73. May, Leila S. “Wittgenstein’s Reflection in Lewis Carroll’s Looking-Glass.” Philosophy and Literature 31, no. 1 (2007): 79-94. Pitcher, George. “Wittgenstein, Nonsense, and Lewis Carroll.” The Massachusetts Review 6, no. 3 (1965): 561-611. Reid, Lynette. “Wittgenstein’s Ladder: The Tractatus and Nonsense.” Philosophical Investigations 21, no. 2 (1998): 99-151. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations (revised 4th edition). Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe, P.M.S. Hacker, and Joachim Schulte. Edited by P.M.S. Hacker and Joachim Schulte. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Tranlated by C.K. Ogden. New York: Cosimo Classics, 2007.
A Manifesto for the Cyborg Body
“By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.” – Donna Haraway1 “In my life, I have been a boy, a girl, a man, a woman, an academic, a drag queen, a theatre director, a teacher, a reality TV star, a stripper, a whore, a columnist, a nightlife hostess, a mistress, a storyteller, an aesthete, an art object, a cyborg, an icon, Barbie, an actress, a faery, a witch, and an ascetic.” – Nina Arsenault2 Item One Diagnosis constructs the deviant body.3 A way to quantify, categorize, 1 Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late 20th century.” 2 Nina Arsenault, “A Manifesto of Living Self-portraiture (Identity, Transformation, and Performance).” 3 The definition of diagnosis is here meant in the way Michel Foucault explains it as a linguistic tool of the medical gaze which seeks to clinically separate the identity and body of the patient. This is done through the institutionalization of the gaze which works against the self-reflective nature of personal identity formation and re-working that arises from shifting medical states. Diagnosis therefore is a form of labelling that enacts and attempts to justify the medical gaze and its institutionalized paradigms upon bodies and identities. See Foucault, Naissance De La Clinique: “First, it was no longer the gaze of the observer, but that
box, and otherwise alienate states of being that are not the constructed norm. A false dichotomy of the one and the other, the norm and the deviant, which construct the meaning of ‘healthy’.4 Diagnosis is a social label. Codified information delivered as prison sentence. Diagnosis is a false title. A message delivered as if it shaped your identity. Your diagnosis is not the totality of your identity. Your identity is not an infection. It is not a disease. Item Two Cyborgification is a re-birth into a new physical state. It is always an enabling-becoming. Willingly undertaken. Embraced. The meshing of body and machine. Of body and pill. Of body and tech.5 These intersections are the genesis of cyborgification. An emancipatory process. It does not ‘fix’. It does not ‘cure’. It is self-creating and affirming in its realization. It is a personal quest for body confidence. Item Three The cyborg affirms their own body, while also participating in the collective work needed against oppression. Their transformations are revolutionary acts, lashing against binaries of gender, stigmas of ability, and medical labels of deviance, in a spirit that is brave and empowering. Their bodies are the battleground of a fight played out across medical dogma, market opinion, and social judgement.6 Their becoming is a point of a doctor supported and justified by an institution, that of a doctor endowed with power of decision and intervention. Moreover, it was a gaze that was not bound by the narrow grid of structure [. . .] always receptive to the deviant”. 4 I see the term healthy as a paradox – a state that exists without a baseline of comparison. To accept there is such a form as the perfect bodily state of being works against celebrations of physical difference. In the realm of mad studies this is especially ridiculous, for to say the way one person perceives the world should be labelled as social abnormality, while another’s perspective is correct and ‘healthy’ simply due to its alignment with entrenched institutionalised models of thought is outrageous. This a dark path that leads easily to the social construction of diseases such as Hysteria. See Maines, The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction. 5 Tech is not taken here to mean the technology of the philosophic technicism movement – a perspective that is based in the empirical science of human domination of the natural realm through industrialization and mechanical invention. For this, I use ‘machine’. The term ‘tech’ therefore stands for non-mechanical forms of enabling technology. 6 See Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era: “I’m not only taking the hormone, the molecule, but also the concept of a hormone, a series of signs, texts, and discourses, the process through which the hormone came to be
of contention, of alienation, of othering. But in self-manufacturing a body that will knowingly be alienated, the cyborg bravely stands against those who other it. Without knowing they become revolutionaries, activists, role models, and warriors. Item Four Knock the socio-biologists from their pedestals!7 Genetic code is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. The cyborg rejects pre-coded modes of being. Techno-infused bodies challenge the boundaries of genetic programing and use splicing to choose their identity. Cyborgification via chemical infusion, techno-pairing, and bio-coding, permits the individual to melt the corporeal chains of their genetic strands. Biology is no place for prophecy and fate. Item Five The owner determines the utility of their body. There is no model of biologic purpose to which they must conform. ‘No beauty without pain’ and ‘the ticking clock womb’ are market fallacies that transform our bodies into bio-degrading calculable integers with reproductive potentiality in the cacophony of spreadsheets and ad space.8 The monitored bio-processes of hair growth, or menstruation or otherwise algebraically conceived bodily synthesized, the technical sequences that produce it in the laboratory. I inject a crystalline, oil-soluble steroid carbon chain of molecules, and with it a fragment of the history of modernity. I administer to myself a series of economic transactions, a collection of pharmaceutical decisions, clinical tests, focus groups, and business management techniques. I connect to a baroque network of exchange and to economic and political flow-chains for the patenting of the living. I am linked by T to electricity, to genetic research projects, to mega-urbanization, to the destruction of forests and the biosphere, to pharmaceutical exploitation of living species, to Dolly the cloned sheep, to the advance of the Ebola virus, to HIV mutation, to antipersonnel mines and the broadband transmission of information. In this way, I become one of the somatic connectives that make possible the circulation of power, desire, release, submission, capital, rubbish, and rebellion.” 7 These pedestals are self-built and so grow almost as quickly as their egos, reaching precariously dangerous heights. 8 Atwood, Oryx and Crake: “Jimmy, look at it realistically. You can’t couple a minimum access to food with an expanding population indefinitely. Homo sapiens doesn’t seem to be able to cut himself off at the supply end. He’s one of the few species that doesn’t limit reproduction in the face of dwindling resources. In other words - and up to a point, of course - the less we eat, the more we fuck.” “How do you account for that?” said Jimmy. “Imagination,” said Crake. “Men can imagine their own deaths . . . human beings hope they can stick their souls into someone else . . . and live on forever.”
functions, are not problems. They are opportunities for cyborgification, if so chosen. Potential points for technology to help blur personal gender experience. Item Six Cyborgs are stigmatized for fusing bodily and technologic function. The cyborg body is not in crisis. It is neither broken, nor unhealthy. Rather it is actualized and transgressive of corporeal dictation. Free from submission to bodily states of being. There is no shame in using technology to become a cyborg. Meshing body and machine is a source of revolution, empowerment and ascension beyond the social construction of ability. However, the panoptic state of using technology must be adapted to. This is a stage of transition and difficulty, this re-birthing of the new technocratic body.9 Item Seven The cyborg body self-determines gender through shunning bio-coding and bodily function, replacing them with empty space to be filled with performance and identity. Gender is personal and self-determined; no longer subject to extraneous arbitrary factors such as genetics, hormones, mobility, sensory perception, etc. The cyborg becomes free to explore gender in all its potentialities. Their cybernetic state resides in multiplicities of gender, shifting constantly into states beyond definition and conformity.10 Item Eight The myth of motherhood is the ideology that parenthood is achieved through the biologic action of birth. Motherhood exists on planes of 9 The Panopticon is a concept of self-adherence to a power structure, as both observer and participant, elaborated upon by Foucault. See Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison: “He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.” 10 A cybernetic state enables the individual to explore gender in all its states, and here the term ‘shifting’ is used to explain those states as residing along a spectrum rather than the arbitrary dichotomy of male and female we have entrenched into our modes of thinking. The inclusive advantages of understanding states and expressions of gender as residing along a spectrum is that we are able to perceive them as an infinite – having midway points along the spectrum only in the way such dividing points exist in the paradoxes of Zeno (they don’t).
multiplicity beyond biology. Cyborgification challenges social condemnations and biologic imperatives of ability to become mother. Infertility is not a life sentence. The cyborg mother sees such limitations as ridiculous, taking into her arms the children yet to spring from the technologic fires of her cybernetic womb. Item Nine Cyborgification is difficult, like any act of revolution. The individual that undertakes a re-programming of their body is the designer-subject of their own experiment. They need help. But we stigmatize instead of celebrate. We label doomed, instead of brave. We point instead of embrace. It is our duty to encourage cyborgification, and the individual’s transformation. In our courts,11 in our media,12 in our policy,13 a revolution is needed. A call to action made by ever rising population of cybernetic beings, who rightfully demand a shift in our bodily paradigms, enlarging our narrow perspectives. Item Ten There is empty space in the code, in the cyber, in the tech. This space is all encompassing, swallowing until body and tech are indiscernible. In this void there is room to form, to become. There is no prescribed gender in this void, no biologic law to follow. The technocratic being will enter this cybernetic void as one and emerge as another. We create this void in our computers, in our hospitals, in our language. And those of us who dare to enter it will embrace its cold emptiness. We will sit and let it whisper to us that all is transient. That all is changeable. That you are changeable. That you are cyborg.
11 See Bill C-279 on the inclusion of equal protection clauses for individuals with transidentities into the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Criminal Code of Canada: Bill C-279: An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity). 12 Played out in the constant misogynistic control exerted over attempts to generate empowering female oriented advertising. See Rinkunas, “Women’s Underwear Company Getting Hassled Over Subway Ads.” 13 For example the long standing discriminatory MSM Canadian blood ban policy which excludes gay donors from donating blood. See MSM Policy, Canadian Blood Services.
Works Cited Arsenault, Nina. “A Manifesto of Living Self-portraiture (Identity, Transformation, and Performance).” Canadian Theatre Review 150 (2012): 64. Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. Toronto: Seal Books, 2004. Canadian Blood Services. MSM Policy. 2016. https://www.blood.ca/en/ about-us/chronology-events-related-msm-policy Foucault, Michel. Naissance De La Clinique. Paris: Presses Universitaires De France, 1975. Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 1st American edition. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977. Government of Canada. Bill C-279: An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity). http://www.parl. gc.ca/content/hoc/Bills/412/Private/C-279/C-279_3/C-279_3.PDF Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, technology, and socialistfeminism in the late 20th century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 149-181. New York: Routledge, 1991. Maines, Rachel. The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. Preciado, Beatriz. Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era. New York, NY: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2013. Rinkunas, Susan. “Women’s Underwear Company Getting Hassled Over Subway Ads.” The Cut. October 21, 2015. http://nymag.com/ thecut/2015/10/womens-underwear-company-hassled-by-mta. html
Roland Barthes’ book “Mythologies” is a compilation of his takes on a variety of cultural phenomena in mid 20th century France. He takes interest in car ads, stereotypical Roman haircuts in films, and the disenfranchised working class’s fascination with wrestling-as-theatre alike. Barthes’ contention is that all works of art, high or low, and all forms of discourse serve an ideological function or manifest an ideological standpoint, intentionally or not. The very term “mythology” suggests that every advertisement, jingle, and magazine cover is part of a story—a story which serves as the impetus and origin of these works, and a story without which we will not be able to understand them. Below is my attempt at a mythology, roughly following Barthes’ formula. I strove to find something as outlandish to analyze as half of his own examples. The aim is emphatically not to connect all works of discourse in an overarching conspiracy theory. Rather, it is to show that these works, however apolitical they may appear, cannot ever be separated from the social, political, and economic contexts out of which they emerge. The depiction of dinosaurs in animated nature documentaries, a bizarre idea in itself, certainly calls for some artistic license. The paleontologist is doubtless capable of inferring much from the bone fragments and fossilized footprints left behind, but it remains necessary to fabricate many
details of dinosaurs’ physicality, habits, and interactions before one can bring them to life before the viewers’ eyes. The fictionalized documentary assures us of its basis in pure science, yet it serves primarily to display the ideological principle of survival of the fittest in action. It repeatedly features the moment of the kill as the culmination of a struggle between predator and prey. This scene serves as the kairos, or the event, which reveals a true and immutable law of nature. By displaying this principle in scenes of prehistoric predation, the documentary becomes a theatrical, gladiatorial spectacle. Dinosaurs play out the ruthless behaviour that those who control the lion’s share of economic power today ascribe to the natural rulers of the world. In this way they legitimize the latter’s domination in the present. The spectacle of the animated dinosaur documentary features vicious power, suspense, and tragedy, so it is no surprise that they elicit such fascination today. However, the theatrics of prehistoric speculation contain several peculiarities. First, dinosaur faces are remarkably legible to the viewer, as eyes widen in terror or narrow in bloodthirsty determination. The innocent argentinosaurus hatchling resembles a mewling kitten, or even a human infant.1 In contrast, hungry utahraptors descend on their prey like a gang of malicious bandits.2 One is immediately able to decipher the reptiles’ emotions precisely because their features are not reptilian. Ostensibly, these images informed by scientific research put life into dinosaurs’ ancient bones through animation, which the viewer is to understand merely as a reanimation. Giving dinosaurs a human countenance not only makes their interactions identifiable and gripping; the documentary also gives the impression that the rulers of the world in any given time period share the same type of consciousness. This effectively erases the difference of 65 million years between ourselves and the dinosaurs. Such an oversimplification is not a matter of essentializing the dinosaur as such, but rather of defining the essence of the world-ruler as one with a rational, emotional, human, and eminently Western bourgeois consciousness. The second peculiarity is the assertion that dinosaurs as a collective body ‘ruled the world’ at all. The owners of the means of production in contemporary society find the notion that some group must always dominate the rest self-evident. The repeated claim that ‘man’ succeeds the dinosaur as 1 2
BBC Earth, “Biggest Dinosaur Ever!” Discovery TV, “Reign of the Dinosaurs - Survival Tactics preview.”
master of the Earth legitimizes the bourgeoisie’s rule by distorting reality in two ways. It first suggests that a multitude of heterogeneous reptile species collectively established dominion over the planet. This naturalizes the idea that the world must always have a singular ruler, and imposes this as an immutable law upon the age of dinosaurs. Second, and more insidiously, it draws attention away from the bourgeoisie’s exploitation of the rest of humanity by positing ‘man’ as a whole to be the master of Earth. The viewer comes to believe that they too rule over the world as a member of ‘man,’ making them more at ease with the real, exploitative relations between themself and the bourgeoisie. The belief that one group will inevitably dominate the world at any given time is entirely in opposition to discussions of alternate arrangements of power relations. Thus, its ideological dominance files down the teeth of any possible revolution, or any challenge to the idea of a necessary hierarchy. A third aspect of this documentary format worth noting is that the narrator of the animated documentary typically meets a number of criteria: he is male, he speaks in an authoritative but kindly voice, and he holds a distinguished place within the paleontological field. His authoritative yet sage demeanour conveys wisdom and a measured thoughtfulness that balance out the fantastical events on screen. Specifics of his character may vary, so long as he is able to perform his overall function of convincing the audience that the portrayal of dinosaurs before them, although clearly fictionalized, is based entirely upon scientific findings. Sometimes he does so by stating without hesitation that “everything you are about to see is true.”3 In other cases, he recalls scholars’ enlightening discoveries and thoughtful inferences to support the behaviour displayed in the documentary.4 Whether or not this behaviour truly has an unshakable foundation in science, the choice of repeated focus on predation betrays the ideological function of both the documentary and its narrator. The fourth peculiarity of the theatrical representation of the dinosaur is the excessive reiteration of scenes of predation and competition. In one example, a group of argentinosaurus grazes in a clearing, several mapusaurus emerge from the forest to terrorize them, and a fight for life ensues. The less agile predators who fail to dodge the argentinosaurs’ crushing feet suffer 3 4
BBC HQ, “Killer Dinosaurs Part 2 by BBC HQ.” BBC Earth, “Predator X hunts in deep water - Planet Dinosaur - BBC.”
casualties, and the weakest, youngest, sickest, or slowest of the enormous prey species succumbs to the strongest, smartest, and fastest mapusaurus.5 In another feature, two majungasaurs fight like gladiators over a carcass and the victor feasts on the fresh corpse of the vanquished. Our narrator tells us, “it might seem shocking, but it’s a behaviour that clearly shows the most successful killers will exploit any situation to their maximum advantage.”6 Here, success and survival relate directly to a willingness to risk everything and take advantage of one’s situation. In a competition between cryolophosaurus over a mate, the larger male defeats and humiliates the weaker due to his greater strength and aggressiveness.7 The result is predictable from the beginning, as this episode recapitulates that the ambitious and able individual will claim his rightful prize from his inferiors. The principle that drives the dinosaurs is that of survival of the fittest, which paints nature as a perpetually violent struggle for resources, reproduction, and security. By imposing both this principle and the title of world rulers upon dinosaurs, the animated documentary naturalizes the ideological standpoint of the bourgeoisie, who justify economic inequality by applying this logic to the world of capital and labour. The somber narrator balances out the strong emotions that the slaughter evokes, and reminds the audience that this competition is unavoidably natural: science has found it to be so. Thus, the anthropomorphizing of dinosaurs, even inadvertently, reinforces two ideological claims: that one group or another will and should always rule the world, and that to do so it is necessary to manifest the ruthless and combative truth of nature. To serve this function, the documentary treats dinosaurs as both a unity that rules the world, and as a duality of predator and prey. Paleontology is not necessarily at fault here. Rather, it is the use of pseudoscientific theatre that naturalizes the ideology of survival of the fittest. The bourgeoisie manifest this principle with free-market capitalism, and become the ideological successors to dinosaurs as the reigning rulers of the world. One may ask why the capitalist ruler seeks legitimization through portrayals of creatures which are so profoundly distant from the present. However, the enormous separation in time between humans and dinosaurs shows that the principle of survival of the fittest endures 5 6 7
BBC Earth, “Mapusaurus gang Vs. Argentinosaurus - Planet Dinosaur - BBC.” BBC Earth, “Dinosaur Cannibalism - Planet Dinosaur - BBC.” Discovery TV, “Cryolophosaurus Battle - Reign of the Dinosaurs.”
unfathomable durations. What better way could there be, then, of establishing such a principle as an immutable law of nature than to impose it upon these distant, primal beings? Such documentaries put prehistory to use here as a model state-of-nature to demonstrate that justice truly is the advantage of the stronger.
Works Cited BBC Earth. “Biggest Dinosaur Ever!” posted by BBC Earth. YouTube. 5 July 2013. https://youtu.be/3QUK8gN1oSY BBC Earth. “Dinosaur Cannibalism - Planet Dinosaur - BBC.” posted by BBC Earth. YouTube. 7 June 2013. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=Qqs8uRBD56A BBC Earth. “Mapusaurus gang Vs. Argentinosaurus - Planet Dinosaur - BBC.” posted by BBC Earth. YouTube. 12 July 2013. https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=CpaZkVqQAFA BBC Earth. “Predator X hunts in deep water - Planet Dinosaur - BBC.” posted by BBC Earth. YouTube. 28 June 2013. https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=54acHHUqObM BBC HQ. “Killer Dinosaurs Part 2 by BBC HQ,” posted by Plexter Bakutis. YouTube. 7 June 2013. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=AhfTDdtmJgA Discovery TV. “Cryolophosaurus Battle - Reign of the Dinosaurs.” posted by Discovery TV. YouTube. 19 November 2013. https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=XBzYtDOoXFk Discovery TV. “Reign of the Dinosaurs - Survival Tactics preview.” posted by Discovery TV. YouTube. 31 May 2013. https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=RG6clIGD8iA
Oral History in the Canadian Legal Context The Decontextualization and Petrification of Memory
The following is an excerpt from the transcript of the 1987 trial, Delgamuukw v. The Queen, held in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The case was launched by the chiefs of the Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en peoples in an effort to maintain a relationship with their land and resources.1 Much of the evidence for the claim rested on the adaawk, or oral traditions, of the Gitksan. P. Grant, Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en counsel: [W]hy is that important, to tell the Adaawk? Chief Gyoluugyat, Gitksan witness: Because the Adaawk tells, in a Feast House, that who are the holders of fishing places, creeks and mountains that belong to each House of the chiefs, where they get food, like berry picking, they have – they tell the owner and the location in a Feast House. So, through this – this is how I have my knowledge now, is by attending the feastings of any chief, even if it’s my own feasting, I hear the chiefs repeat or tell of the Adaawk of theirs and ours. This is the importance of the feasting, that these Adaawks are told. 1
Val Napoleon, “Delgamuukw: A Legal Straightjacket for Oral Histories?,” 124.
P. Grant: How accurate are the Adaawk of – is the Adaawk of your House, in other words, how close to the truth of those histories? Gyoluugyat: In Gitksan law all Adaawks are true. Mr. Goldie, Provincial Government Counsel: Yes, isn’t that a conclusion for your lordship to reach? (…) Gyoluugyat: How could the Adaawk be repeated if it’s not true to the Gitksan people? They got to be accurate and I know this from experience of myself that they are accurate. And I believe in it.2 This exchange points to the question that came to stand at the very heart of the case: that is, the extent to which oral traditions can serve as evidence representing a true account of the past in a legal context. In Delgamuukw v. The Queen, two different understandings of the past confronted each other: one oral, collective, and living; the other inert and distant, prioritizing objectivity. This paper will investigate the terms on which this confrontation occurred, and its implications. I will argue that attempting to fit the adaawk into a modern western understanding of history resulted in their decontextualization and petrification. This act deprived them of their essential character as re-enacted rituals exhibiting a dynamic relationship with both past and present circumstances. If they are to be successfully understood in a legal context, the adaawk must be recognized as constituting an internally coherent and complete system with its own integrity. This system cannot be subjected to modern western standards of chronology, objectivity, and historical truth. In Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire, Pierre Nora suggests that the dominant paradigm of our society is one that sanctions the conquest and eradication of true memory by history. Nora defines true memory as “integrated, unself-conscious, all-powerful [. . .] a memory without a past that ceaselessly reinvents tradition [. . .] a bond tying us to 2
Quoted in Napoleon, “Delgamuukw,” 123.
the eternal present.”3 Societies that participate in true memory, therefore, do not remember by representation or even recollection, but by action in the present. The dominant mode of engagement with the past recognizes the past as continuous with the now. The hallmark of societies of memory are rituals, and they are a particularly good way of illustrating this continuity between past and present. In ancient Babylonia, for example, the new year festival involved a reading of the creation epic Enuma Elish, in which the hero-god Marduk triumphs over Tiamat, the goddess of chaos. The festival also involved a ritual re-enactment of the epic, in which the king embodied Marduk.4 Most scholars agree that the re-enactment affirmed and confirmed the cyclical, seasonal order on which the agricultural society depended. The Babylonians understood that at the end of every year, during the 12-day intermediary period before the new year, the primordial battle between order and chaos reoccurred, and the ritual triumph of the king was necessary to restore order and set the seasonal cycle in motion.5 The past is thus perpetually recurring and re-enacted. The mythic quality of this ritual also demonstrates that for societies of true memory, accounts or enactments of the past access emic truth. Nora describes this posture as “unself-conscious” because it does not seek outside confirmation.6 When the past is represented and objectified rather than lived and acted, we distance ourselves from it. This is how Nora understands modern history: obsessed with indiscriminately preserving and archiving traces of the past, because this is the only way that it can be accessed. Thus, modern memory “relies entirely on the materiality of the trace, the immediacy of the recording, the visibility of the image.”7 The yearning to evoke and feel the past is, paradoxically, the greatest indicator of our distance from it. The proliferation of so-called living history museums only serves to illuminate a fundamental discontinuity between past and present as we marvel at 3 Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire,” 8. 4 Catherine Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions, 17. 5 Ibid., 18. 6 This is not to say that it may not also be acknowledged as true by others outside that society. Under normal circumstances, etic recognition is not sought by societies of true memory; it would hold little to no value. Nora states that “memory is blind to all but the group it binds” (“Between Memory and History,” 9). 7 Nora, 13.
how people lived back then. Only a past that is inert and no longer lived in the present would require such conscious resuscitation. As we demand increasingly more vivid, objective, and historically accurate representations of the past, we construct a past that is radically other. As will be shown, it is precisely this inert and detached quality of the past that allows us to judge the validity of objective historical claims based on normative standards. The distinction Nora draws between true memory and history is mirrored in the 1987 trial, Delgamuukw v. The Queen. The chiefs of the Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations in northeastern British Columbia launched their aboriginal title action in an effort to claim ownership of their land and resources. Although the Gitksan supplemented their claim with evidence from western natural and social sciences, the key evidence delivered by witnesses was in the form of oral histories, or adaawk.8 The adaawk are formal, collective, owned narratives usually recounted by House Chiefs at feasts,9 which are held for significant socio-political events such as marriages, births, and pole-raisings.10 They preserve the identification and conceptual foundation of the House, recounting past migrations, currently owned territories, crests, songs, names, major events, and relationships with other Houses.11 While preserving these details, the adaawk also incorporate contemporary events. For example, as time passes, transgressive behaviour and its consequences might be included in the adaawk to serve as a legal precedent for the future. Far from being arbitrarily included, these events enter the adaawk only after they have passed “through the process of witnessing and validation, having been told and retold in the feasts.”12 This character of the adaawk – adapting to and incorporating new experiences, including the Delgamuukw trial itself, while still preserving historical events and customs over hundreds and thousands of years – demonstrates that the historical paradigm of the Gitksan participates in Nora’s true memory.13 Julie Cruikshank observes that the emphasis in these narratives is on providing continuity between events of the past and of the 8 Napoleon, 126. 9 The wilp (House) is the main political unit of Gitksan society, a matrilineal kinship group of about 150 people. 10 Margaret Anderson and Marjorie Halpin, Potlatch at Gitsegukla, ix. 11 Ibid., 15. 12 Napoleon, 152. 13 Ibid., 152-153.
present.14 To that end, the adaawk are repeated principally at pole-raising feasts, rituals which commemorate the incorporation of a new chief into the hereditary line.15 This use of the adaawk aligns with Nora’s claim that memory is “in permanent evolution [. . . and] transformed by its passage through history.”16 What is remembered is transformed, and sometimes mythologized, by successive historical circumstances. For example, in one adaawk recounted by Antgulilibix, a supernatural bear is responsible for the destruction of an ancient Gitksan village.17 The plaintiffs attempted to explain the supernatural bear as a representation of some extreme natural disaster, or an unusually large bear, which was responsible for destroying the village at some point in the past.18 What underlies such an attempt is the imperative the Gitksan faced from the very outset of the Delgamuukw trial: to fit their adaawk and their cultural memory into a modern, western historical paradigm. This is the historical paradigm to which the Canadian legal system and courts subscribe, and this, along with a deeply-embedded ethnocentrism, informs the legal requirements for standard form evidence and for title claims. For example, in order for their title claim to be legally recognized, the Gitksan were obligated by the Court to satisfy the “organized society” legal test. They had to prove: 1. That they and their ancestors were members of an organized society; 2. That the organized society occupied the specific territory over which they assert aboriginal title; 3. That the occupation was to the exclusion of other organized societies; 4. That the occupation was an established fact at the time England asserted sovereignty.19 There are numerous ethnocentric implications in this test. It suggests that 14 Julie Cruikshank, The Social Life of Stories: Narrative and Knowledge in the Yukon Territory, xiii. 15 Anderson and Halpin, 49; Napoleon, 126, note 19. 16 Nora, 8, 13. 17 Napoleon, 150. 18 Ibid. 19 Ibid., 128-129.
some societies are so “unorganized” that their rights cannot be recognized in Canada, and that some sort of yardstick for civilization determined by a society that considers itself “organized” and civilized should be the basis for this judgment. The test also assumes that the histories of Aboriginal peoples are arranged in a linear sequence and can be apprehended chronologically. The Gitksan explicitly cautioned the presiding judge, Chief Justice McEachern, against expecting chronological accuracy from the adaawk.20 In societies of true memory, connections with past events are not understood in terms of temporal distance and sequence, but in terms of present remembrance and retelling. Justice McEachern’s interpretation of the rules for standard form evidence also demonstrates a modern western understanding of history and the past. The rule against hearsay evidence excludes any information considered second-hand from being stated as true in court, as that information has not been provided under oath.21 There are exceptions to this rule for oral histories, but these exceptions did not prevent the adaawk from being classified as inadmissible evidence. This was due in part to the tendency of the adaawk to blend what Justice McEachern described as “mythology” with “history.” Since there is no clear distinction between the human and spirit worlds in Gitksan reality, Justice McEachern’s attempt to reduce and dissect the adaawk in the name of historical accuracy was unsuccessful. 22 The adaawk were also rejected because of their changeable nature. Justice McEachern found that the adaawk had been corrupted by European contact, stating that, “these adaawk are sprinkled with historical references making them suspect as trustworthy evidence of pre-contact history. They refer to such matters as guns, moose, The Hudson’s Bay Company and other historical items.”23 Because the Canadian legal system demands evidence that depicts a static history, the Judge saw the adaptive nature of the adaawk as an indication of their corruption. Historical documents are prized because they are seen as incorruptible, and believed to represent an unbiased and factual account of the past.24 The past must be represented as 20 Napoleon, 130. 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid., 151. 23 Ibid., 131. 24 As Napoleon points out with reference to another Canadian case, assumptions and biases do inform written documents, and often these documents only tell one side of the
it really was, and not as it really is. Justice McEachern was therefore unable to comprehend Chief Gyoluugyat’s statement that the adaawk are both changing and unchanging.25 Justice McEachern thus attempted, and failed, to fit the adaawk into a legal understanding and historical paradigm to which they were completely foreign. It is clear that the Canadian legal system was unable to accommodate or recognize the lived memories of the Gitksan on their own terms. Moreover, the act of telling the adaawk in a court setting meant that the Gitksan had to compromise the integrity of their cultural memory in order to preserve their relationship with their land and resources. The adaawk are property of one or more Gitksan families and can only be told by them, or with their permission.26 While the Gitksan witnesses obtained permission from the relevant parties to recount certain adaawk during the trial, the appropriation of their stories may well have been a sacrifice the families felt compelled to make, given the gravity of the case. Even more fundamentally, recounting the adaawk in court meant that they were transcribed. The implication of this act is described by Richard and Nora Dauenhauer: “The writing down of oral literature, no matter how well-intentioned or how well carried out, petrifies it. It is like a molecule by molecule replacement of an organic plant by stone.”27 In the context of the Delgamuukw case, the transcription of the adaawk meant that their organic, changeable nature was extinguished. A single de-ritualized version of the adaawk now exists in court documents,which can no longer be updated over time to reflect changing circumstances. Of course, oral traditions are often written down and shared within Indigenous communities where they continue to be told, and scholars have noted that this has helped to incorporate them into social practice.28 But this act occurs within a context where oral traditions have “self-evident power,” rather than one where they are laid bare for evaluation by the state.29 The decontextualization and petrification of oral histories, as evidenced in this case, also contributes to the story. In other words, they do not necessarily approach “objective truth” any more than oral histories do (Napoleon, 135). 25 Napoleon, 152. 26 Anderson and Halpin, 193. 27 Cruikshank, xiii. 28 Ibid. 29 Ibid., 64.
common conception of Indigenous culture as static and unchanged since European contact. This view of Indigenous people portrays them as stuck in the past, and incapable of adapting to new circumstances. As the adaawk demonstrate, this could not be farther from the truth. Val Napoleon concludes her treatment of the trial by stating that “Delgamuukw really was about one legal system (western) judging another (Gitksan).”30 In fact, the preceding analysis demonstrates that the confrontation was even more fundamental – that it involved the dismissal of one culture’s historical understanding, and its relationship with the past. Going forward, I do not suggest that our judicial system should adopt the Gitksan legal model and historical paradigm. In a pluralistic society, however, our legal institutions must do their utmost to guarantee a fair and even judgment that takes all perspectives into account. This must be done before Western legal systems can entertain pretensions to objective truth. With regards to the Gitksan, this would entail recognizing their historical and legal traditions as an internally coherent “complete system,” and not a cultural artefact.31 Then, as Napoleon states, “the only truth that a court would look at is whether there is an adaawk.”32 The strict protocol for incorporation of new events into the adaawk would have to be respected, honoured, and trusted in a legal context. Still, it remains to be seen whether the two paradigms of true memory and modern history can truly be reconciled at a fundamental level. Certainly, in Delgamuukw v. The Queen, an unequal confrontation resulted in the dismissal of the adaawk as corrupt and historically unreliable. This was due to a gulf, which the Court did not attempt to bridge, between a dynamic and a static understanding of the past, and of the relationship between past and present. In this respect, recognizing the integrity of the adaawk would certainly constitute a step in the right direction. As Cruikshank notes: An enduring power of [narratives] is [their] power to subvert official orthodoxies and to challenge conventional ways of thinking. Such systems of knowledge [. . .] can be understood as having the power to inform and enlarge other forms of 30 Napoleon, 154. 31 Ibid., 151. 32 Ibid.
explanation.33 The inclusion of alternative understandings of history into our legal system can only serve to expand its perspective beyond an objective one which understands the past as static and inert. Our justice system would then be better equipped to treat all perspectives fairly and equally.
33 Cruikshank, xiii.
Works Cited Anderson, Margaret and Marjorie Halpin. Potlatch at Gitsegukla. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2000. Bell, Catherine. Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Cruikshank, Julie. The Social Life of Stories: Narrative and Knowledge in the Yukon Territory. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1998. Napoleon, Val. “Delgamuukw: A Legal Straightjacket for Oral Histories?” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 20, no. 2 (2005): 123-155. Nora, Pierre. “Between Memory and History: Lieux de Memoire.” Representations 26 (1989): 7-24.
A Basis for the Language of Promise Notions of Truth and Vulnerability in Benjamin and Heidegger
The obligation to fidelity that overtakes us daily is well known. We have a friend or a partner to whom we give our word—a word that, at the same time and later, we are somehow expected to ‘keep’. This process is at its ground infuriating, for the one who promises must understand the word as his own, and now as another’s: this frustration comes from the proprietary notion we attribute to words, and words that form promises. We should perhaps say instead that we lease and lend little words, small ideas, that are not our own. We understand, then, that there is no word that is our own to give, and no word that is our own for another to receive. Radically, then, a promise is the acknowledgment of mutual not-having, of vulnerability—a wound, which is an opening. We shall see that this same vulnerability inherent in the promise, which is an exchange and interpretation of meaning, is present in the notion of translation for Benjamin, as well as the notion of truth in Heidegger’s thought. I concern myself with the issue of making promises in response to the ostensible peculiarity of Benjamin’s essay “The Task of the Translator.” It is certainly one thing to search for or inspect similarities and discordances between the notion of truth in Heidegger’s “On the Essence of Truth” and that same notion in Benjamin’s essay. However, the greater significance of Benjamin’s thought concerning translation and truth more fruitfully disposes itself when one brings it outside that context of translation. More critically put, I am concerned with whether translation
needs to occur as an event between languages, or through languages, or if it is a function of openness between beings in time. I shall proceed by examining Heidegger’s outline concerning vulgar notions of truth—that is, truth as propositional correctness; I shall compare this understanding to Benjamin’s qualifiers for poor translators. Subsequently, I shall inspect Benjamin’s dictum for good translation, which relies on both fidelity and freedom, and further interpret it by drawing upon Heidegger’s position that freedom is the essence of truth. Lastly, I shall demonstrate that a ‘proper’ Benjaminian translation is one that expresses pure language, and relies on the same attunement towards beings that Heidegger posits as a necessary prerequisite to the expression of truth. We shall see, conclusively, that the language of promise is one daily manifestation of the Benjaminian pure language—and so a language which may express truth. Heidegger begins “On the Essence of Truth” by describing the structure of a vulgar understanding of truth. Something that is said to be true vulgarly, or colloquially, is called genuine.1 Heidegger asserts that what one means by genuine is that thing, “the actuality of which is in accordance with what, always and in advance, we ‘properly’ mean” when we name or understand the thing in the first place.2 This notion of genuineness pertains to an intellectual understanding of the object; similarly, statements themselves, in this colloquial sense, will be true if that name which they impose on a thing is in accord with the matter of the thing itself. Heidegger summarizes this initial account of accord by stating that “[t]he true, whether it be a matter or a proposition, is what accords.”3 Heidegger then traces this conception of truth as accordance between matters and propositions to a correlation with a divine idea, as per the medieval period. However, for my purposes, I shall not inspect this notion of divine accord any further here. Rather, it is worthwhile to attend at greater length to Heidegger’s treatment of accordance in the vulgar sense. Indeed, Heidegger is concerned with the possibility of propositions being able to accord with matters in the first place. For “wherein are the thing and the statement supposed to be in accordance, considering that the relata are manifestly different in their 1 2 3
Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings: Martin Heidegger, 117. Ibid. Ibid.
outward appearance”?4 Heidegger takes the example of a coin, and proposes that for a statement that considers the coin to be accordingly ‘true’ “[i]t would have to become the coin and in this way relinquish itself entirely” as a statement.5 To be sure, statements, if they are statements at all, are not coins. If it were the case that statements are coins, the statement could not come into accord with the coin, but would instead ignore the coin, as it is as a coin. Accordance, then, is primarily not reiteration, or ignorance, or mere standing-by. There is another corollary to this colloquial understanding of accordance: if the statement did not relinquish itself to the coin it would identify the coin with itself. In a sense the statement would colonize it, appropriate the coin such that its alterity would become a subsidiary notion of the statement’s own ‘ego’ (I use this last term metaphorically, whereas Heidegger does not use it at all). Thus, in the second place, accordance is not identification, or subsumption. To move away now from the vulgar notion of accordance: accordance, in a propositional manner, must for Heidegger allow the object to present itself to the statement. The possibility for accordance rests in the proposition letting “the thing stand opposed as object.”6 To be in opposition is to imply a space through which, or an area against which, contrary postures might be leant dimension and relation to one another. This ‘medium’ that signals and mediates opposition Heidegger identifies as an “open region.”7 What is thus positioned in the opened space is opened up and available to the posture of what Heidegger refers to as the statement. This statement comes from a stating human being. This posture of the statement, which the object is open towards, is comportment. Comportment is that statement of a stating subject, or human being in the world, “which subordinates itself to the directive that it speaks of beings such-as they are.”8 To use a (more) concrete analogy, the comportmental statement plies itself to the openness of the being; in this way its presentation of the being is true, insofar as the content of its presentation is its form. And yet we still have not seen “[w]hence . . . the presentative statement receive[s] the directive to conform to the object and to accord by way 4 5 6 7 8
Heidegger, 120. Ibid., 120-121. Ibid., 121. Ibid. Ibid., 122.
of correctness.”9 To acknowledge the being such-as it is can only occur if the stating human being “has already entered freely into an open region for something opened up.”10 We understand, then, that “[t]he essence of truth is freedom.”11 However, we cannot understand this freedom as a lack of restraint on action, nor as a license to set restraints upon oneself. At this point, Heidegger expands the meaning of truth from an accordance of a statement with a being to the disclosedness of beings towards the recognition of the human being. This disclosedness, or aletheia (unconcealment) of beings with respect to human beings results from the human’s “letting beings be.”12 Letting beings be, Heidegger further elucidates, is a certain engaged comportment with respect to beings, wherein the human neither loses herself in them (which would be an ignorant standing-by), nor identifies with the beings in question. This letting-be is freedom. We may orient ourselves further by saying that to let beings be in an open region requires that both human being and being withstand in themselves. This withstanding is for the human “an exposure to the disclosedness of beings.”13 In sum, then, we understand that freedom is the human’s ability to withstand the openness of beings towards herself—it is her pliability that she activates in herself in response to the openness of the open object. Freedom is the human’s responsibility. I will say more on this in course, though for now it is useful to make some preliminary comparisons to Benjamin’s thought concerning translation. Translation for Benjamin is based on the correlation between the original text in its own language and a presentation of the text in another. At this point, I wish to establish why it is that the “task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original.”14 One must first emphasize that this theory of translation, for Benjamin, pertains to “literary” linguistic texts. (Of course non-literary texts, such as textbooks, may be translated, but such activity is here of little theoretical interest.) 9 10 11 12 13 14
Heidegger, 123. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid., 125. Ibid., 126. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, 76.
A defining characteristic of literature, moreover, is that “[i]ts essential quality is not statement or the imparting of information.”15 Accordingly, any translation that seeks only to transmit the corresponding sense of the original’s language into that of the translation’s shall be a poor one. It is immediately apparent that good translation for Benjamin is not, as truth is not for Heidegger, an accordance of propositions with states of affairs. We have understood that the poor translation merely transmits the sense of the original. We find such a method’s poverty in what is essentially a denial of the literary text’s life. That is, one does not find the ‘life’ of the literary text in its sense, or significance. In a Heideggerian sense, a poor translation ignores and reiterates rather than acknowledges the original text-object to which it attempts to correspond. We must note that “[t]he concept of life is given its due only if everything that has a history of its own . . . is credited with life.”16 Here, life is only indirectly defined; its meaning is clarified, however, when one attends to the distinction between things that are “merely settings for history,” and things that have, as mentioned, “a history of [their] own.”17 Mere sites of history are understood in terms of that history. They are read as textual quotations in the greater context of the historical site in which they were crafted. Conversely, objects that have history fashion historical contexts for other events and for themselves. One may say that living texts are not quotations, but proclamations. The quotational translation—one without life, without history—shall always be in Heideggerian terms a genuine translation, though not an expression of Heideggerian truth. These poor, genuine translations deny the life of the text by denying its proper history. Whereas “[t]he life of the original attains in . . . [good translations] to its ever-renewed latest . . . flowering,” poor translations do not give flowering to the original: they impart upon the original a stasis.18 Further, we understand that this kind of life does not have its end in itself (in life), “but in the expression of its nature, in the representation of its significance.”19 This representation is expressed in and as the afterlife of the original, from out of which the translation springs. It is helpful to understand representation as presenting for the first time or bringing to 15 16 17 18 19
Benjamin, 69. Ibid., 71. Ibid. Ibid., 72. Ibid.
the fore, and not as re-presenting. This is all to say that in the afterlife of the literary text the life of this original text first receives expression. The good translation is responsible for most poignantly expressing this afterlife (and thus the significance of the original’s primary vitality). The translation achieves such representation by attending and corresponding to the changes of the original’s language as well as to the changes in its own. For an “afterlife . . . could not be called that if it were not a transformation and a renewal of something living.”20 A merely genuine, transmissive translation ossifies the past and fossilizes language. “A real translation is transparent; it does not cover the original, does not block its light.”21 Otherwise put, the good translation allows the past to shine in the present, not such that it would code it, but that it would exist along side it. We shall see that this existing-along-side is not mere standing-by. A good translation will not only correspond to the meaning, or sense, of the original but to its intention. It is through this correspondence (which is a response, and a responsibility) that the translation shall give flowering to the original’s life, and so to its history. What is this intention? Surely the translational correspondence to such an intention is not a psychologizing of the author (i.e., what he was trying to ‘get at’); neither can it be a sheer reproduction of the connotation a certain word has, for this too would be a merely genuine translation. The intention of the original, Benjamin explains by analogy, may be understood with respect to what a vessel, now divided, calls for in its incompletion—that space, in other words, which the positive space of the broken vessel first characterizes as empty. Etymologically, intention (here the German is Intention, and therefore cognate) means a stretching out, or an effort of oneself towards (intendere). Truly, the intention of an original work is characterized by an innate incompletion—which manifests as a longing. The intention of the original is an effort towards what Benjamin calls pure language. As we have seen, Benjamin questions what fidelity, or literalness, in translation can “really do for the rendering of meaning.”22 The meaning of a word confines itself to the object of description; whereas sense, the significance of a word, is brought out by the connotations that this word 20 Benjamin, 73. 21 Ibid., 79. 22 Ibid., 78.
has. Indeed, cyan and cerulean are both shades of blue, but where the former may connote the print industry, the latter will elicit the image of waves. The good translation must not attune itself only to the object of intention (the meaning of the word), but to the mode of intention—that is, the desirousness, the stretching out for a life in afterlife that the original expresses. Therefore when we acknowledge that the original has intention, we acknowledge that it has an object of intention and a mode of intention. The expression of pure language (which is the original’s mode of intention) that occurs in the resonance or “complementation” of original and translation is a resonance of past with present. This resonance in the last case is no superimposition of the past onto the present, no Heideggerian identification; nor is it a reproductive transmission that stands-by—but a lamination. Without the one, the other would be without life: a lamination implies a mutual dependency, which is a mutual vulnerability. Without the resonant translation, the original would be entrenched in its own past or, in the case of the poor translation, a quotation that humans merely recall to themselves. This is all to say that the translation gives life to the original by first acknowledging its intention towards “linguistic complementation,” and subsequently providing a complementary rendering of the original that respects the connotations of each word—that is, an object of intention. The translation, then, “produces in it[self] the echo of the original” in two ways: by allowing the connotations of the original to be in it, and by echoing its mode of intention, which is, as we have seen, a distinct vulnerability.23 The language of complementation in translation expresses what Benjamin calls pure language, which is the “language of truth.”24 The responsible acknowledgement by the translation to the vulnerable intention of the original—this is the force that through time drives the original’s life. In Heideggerian terms, the good translation will let the original stand in open relation as object. To reiterate, Benjamin understands that a good translation requires both the “freedom of faithful reproduction and, in its service, fidelity to the word.”25 Benjamin’s seemingly abstract claim concerning freedom and fidelity is illuminated when we consider the same concepts in Heidegger’s own thought concerning truth. We come to 23 Benjamin, 76. 24 Ibid., 77. 25 Ibid., 78.
understand freedom in the Benjaminian sense as an open vulnerability, a receptivity, or care towards the intention of the text. This reception guides, shapes, the echo of the original in it, and manifests as a reproduction of the connotations of individual words. The translation is a medium through which sounds the proclamation of the original text. The Benjaminian translation lets the original be. And yet for Benjamin “[i]n all language and linguistic creations there remains in addition to what can be conveyed something that cannot be communicated.”26 Likewise for Heidegger “[p]recisely because letting be always lets beings be in a particular comportment that relates to them and thus discloses them, it conceals beings as a whole.”27 For Benjamin, this intransmissible essence is attended to in the complementary intention of the translation with respect to the original. For Heidegger, concealment must be emphasized so that the human may recognize his privilege in witnessing or being towards the unconcealed being in the first place. This is the human’s wonder at what has come to light, and his acknowledgment at its not having had to happen. To understand the lamination of unconcealedness and concealedness is to acknowledge one’s own vulnerability. The colloquial language of promise is more rightly called the language of prophecy. The language of promise, when another does not receive it in a comportmental way, if it is not heard, is a prophecy. These can be either genuine or ingenuine. Prophecies are texts without life, without history: they are only quotations. A true promise is not an accordance of a statement with a state of affairs. A promise is a promise when it is heard and received in the language of the original, and echoed in the receiver’s comprehension (which is the reproduction of connotation). To make a true promise occurs when both parties acknowledge the fact that the promise does not necessarily have to ‘come true’. Promises are broken if the receiver expects the promise to be fulfilled—this is the receiver pronouncing the promise to herself as prophecy. More, the language of promise is useless to the language of condemnation; it rather wholeheartedly belongs to the use of intimacy and forgiveness. Heideggerian concealment and the notion of freedom, as it is expressed in both Heidegger and Benjamin, are what allow for promises to 26 Benjamin, 79. 27 Heidegger, 129-30.
possibly withstand. Yet concealment for Heidegger does not allow or cause the truth to come to light. Thus while I say that concealment allows in part for promises to withstand, and while this is in discord with Heidegger’s understanding, perhaps it is merely a genuine discordance. The possibility for truth to exist amidst a genuine discordance (the disagreement of a statement with a state of affairs)—the structure of possibility that allows for translations to express pure language—this same structure allows for meaningful dialogue to occur between texts over time. It is my hope that the dialogue I have constructed between Heidegger and Benjamin has been somewhat revealing—or at the least truthful.
Works Cited Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Edited by Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken, 1986. Heidegger, Martin. Basic Writings: Martin Heidegger. Edited by David Farrell Krell. London: Harper Perennial, 2008.
Red Strings, Mulberry Trees, China Dolls
Concepts of Cultural and Racial Identity in the Canadian and American Chinese Adoption Community
Many of those who write on transnational or transracial adoption choose to open their works with prefaces, inscriptions, or images drawn from the country or culture that is being adopted from. Karin Evans, writing on her own experience adopting from China, prefaced her book with an image of calligraphy, presumably Chinese, left untranslated.1 Rose Lewis, writing a picture book for her recently adopted child, closed the work with the character for love in a Chinese script, an explanation printed underneath.2 These fleeting, perhaps appropriated representations of Chinese culture as understood by the authors are meant to situate the reader, evoking the artistic and cultural legacy of China. These single images and impressions will often be the first exposure that children adopted from China will have to their birth culture, as they open their first picture book or have their parents explain the story of their adoption to them for the first time. Adoption from China to the United States and Canada began in 1992, when China passed the Adoption Law of the People’s Republic of China, allowing foreigners to adopt orphans.3 Adoption from China peaked in the mid-2000s,4 bringing a cohort of Chinese children across an ocean to be 1 Karin Evans, The Lost Daughters of China: Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America and the Search for a Missing past, xxi. 2 Rose A. Lewis and Jane Dyer, I Love You like Crazy Cakes. 3 Government of Canada, “International Adoptions - China.” 4 Government of Canada, “International Adoptions,” and US Department of State,
raised by predominantly white parents in a Western cultural tradition.5,6 Due to China’s stringent one-child policy, and a cultural preference for male children, a large number of infant females were abandoned by their parents. These children, almost all still in arms or crawling, would be raised in predominantly white settings.7 Unlike the cohort of Korean adoptees before them, children adopted from China would be brought into families sworn to raise them with an understanding of and respect for their birth culture, resulting in a hybridization of Chinese and American culture, art, spirituality, and identity. While most of the children adopted from China are still in their teens, and have yet to write about their own experiences, the wider Chinese adoption community has created an adoption narrative that spans continents and ethnicities, creating a racial identity for adopted children that affirms both their biological and adopted cultures, races, and experiences. Transracial adoption has been a fairly recent event in North American history, beginning with the adoption of children from various parts of Asia after the Second World War, and continuing with an influx of adopted children from South Korea after the Korean War.8 In these first instances of transnational and transracial adoption, emphasis was put not on the race or heritage of the adopted child, but on that of the adoptive family. As is usually the case with transracial adoptions, children were brought into predominantly white communities, often far away from any significant population of people of colour.9 Children adopted from Korea were raised to be white. When questioned, they often remarked that they were “a white person in an Asian body,” or “a Caucasian, except when looking in the mirror.”10 One “Adoptions by Year.” 5 Wendy L. Hellerstedt et. al, “The International Adoption Project: Population-based Surveillance of Minnesota Parents Who Adopted Children Internationally,” 1. 6 I would like to note that despite the plethora of information about transracial and transnational adoption, it was incredibly difficult to find any data that included the racial identity of the adoptive parents. Many essays and articles made a point of noting when they were speaking of an adoptive parent who was not white, but rarely if ever made clear that they were themselves white. Studies done on adoption from China usually did not note the race of the adoptive parents; this data comes specifically from Minnesotan families. 7 Elisa Rosman, “State of Adoption from China” 3. 8 Arnold R. Silverman, “Outcomes of Transracial Adoption,” 1. 9 Adolfson, quoted in T. A. Volkman, “Embodying Chinese Culture: Transnational Adoption in North America,” 31. 10 Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, quoted in Volkman, 37.
parent, interviewed several years after adopting, was thrilled to report that her adopted child had become “a little Scandinavian.”11 The purposeful ignorance of the ethnicity and culture that the children were born into was not meant to be a malicious attempt to strip them of their heritage, but rather an attempt to make the children and parents feel comfortable in their predominantly white surroundings. Race in this first wave of transracial adoptions was not thought of as important to a child’s upbringing, and initially, the children seemed to conform to this belief. Research done with Korean adoptees indicates that most children and teenagers did not identify as Korean, instead labelling themselves only as ‘American’ or ‘European’.12 It was only once these children had grown to adulthood that they began to question their background and racial identity, forming support groups in order to better explore their heritage. Also-Known-As (AKA) became one of the first networks for transracially adopted children, and continues to host events meant to assist adult Korean adoptees to explore and reclaim their Korean heritage.13 The transracial adoption of Korean children in the 1950s was closely followed by a surge in the adoption of black and Aboriginal children into white families.14 Popularized by citizen advocacy groups, adopting black children from within the country (both the United States and Canada) became something of a cultural phenomenon. The adoption of Aboriginal children at the same time has since been termed the 60s scoop, referencing the large scale and abrupt removal of the children from their home communities. Unlike the tacit acceptance of the adoption of children from Asia, however, both Aboriginal and African-American communities argued vehemently against the practice, with the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) arguing that “black children belong physically, psychologically and culturally in black families in order that they receive the total sense of themselves.”15 Research on black children adopted by white families carries this thesis out, suggesting that adopted black children 11 Volkman, 37. 12 Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, quoted in Volkman, 37. 13 Also-Known-As, “About.” 14 Both black and Aboriginal adoption followed centuries of abuse and attempted genocide by both Canada and the United States, and was part of a historical pattern of racial violence that continues to this day. 15 Simon & Altstein quoted in Silverman, 3.
were less adapted to life in their communities, had lower levels of self-confidence, greater behavioral issues, and did not have the tools to deal with the racism that pervaded their white communities.16 The NABSW further characterized these adoptions as a â€œform of genocide.â€?17 Though the Korean and wider Asian communities in North America did and continue to face racism, children adopted from Korea were better able to adapt to their white communities post-adoption. Unlike black and Aboriginal children adopted in the same time period, Korean adoptees were adopted transnationally. Korean adoptees were brought into white communities from other countries, while black and Aboriginal children were removed from racialized communities that had faced decades of abuse and attempts at destruction at the hands of their governments. While black and Aboriginal children were adopted in order to destroy black and Aboriginal identities, Korean children were not adopted as part of a genocidal process. Adoption from South Korea to North America slowed instead at the urging of the South Korean government, who moved to encourage adoption within the country.18 Aboriginal and black adoption into white families has also slowed, at the insistence of the African American and Aboriginal communities, increasing the welfare of adopted children from those groups. The adoption of Chinese children to Canada and the United States began in earnest in the 1990s, in the shadow of the Korean, black, and Aboriginal adoption cohorts. In light of the trauma that Aboriginal and black adoptees had suffered, North American adoption agencies mandated that parents be ready and willing to provide their adopted children with an understanding of the culture and country that they had come from.19 The Chinese government further mandated that adoptive parents swear an oath for the same purpose, promising to raise their children with an understanding of and respect for Chinese heritage and culture. Children adopted from China were thus adopted into both the culture and race of their parents, and the conception of Chinese culture that their parents had, learning fragments of Chinese history and participating in select Chinese cultural activities. Families who adopt from China now juggle multiple cultures and racial identities, creating a hybridized version of Chinese, western, and adopted 16 17 18 19
Silverman, 8. Simon & Altstein quoted in Silverman, 3. Silverman, 1. Volkman, 37.
identities that encompasses multiple narratives, but also leaves much out. The history of adoption in China is often portrayed as a dark one; those within the adoption community often have to address insensitive, if well-meaning questions from strangers remarking on the abandonment and abuse of children in Chinese orphanages.20 Adoptive parents try to deflect such questions, focusing instead on the positive and caring aspects of their children’s past—affirming that birth mothers gave their children up because they cared for them so deeply, for example.21 Strangers often refer to adopted children as “the lucky ones,” as though adoption is a charitable duty that children are lucky to benefit from.22 While these assertions of luck are also firmly rebuffed by adoptive families (who feel that they are the lucky ones, for having been able to adopt), one adoptive mother remarked that her daughter often reflected on the arbitrariness of her fate, all too aware that had a different file been matched to her parents she could have spent most of her childhood in an orphanage.23 Many adoptive families feel that their adoption was predestined or fated, and the adoption community has been quick to adopt the story of the red thread.24 In China, the red thread once symbolized the connection between future spouses (in a context of arranged marriages)—families picturing a red thread are linking adoptive parents to their children, and to the wider adoptive community.25 The thread serves to reassure both parents and children that they were fated to meet and to form a family together. It eliminates fears and provides reassurances that the adopted child would never have been left alone, mythologizing the act of abandonment and adoption into a cornerstone of the child’s identity. The reality of children abandoned in China was, of course, far from the safety and love that adopted children are assured of. Facing an exploding population and a desire to match the ‘tiger’ economies of neighbouring countries, China had implemented a one child per family rule, forcing 20 Kim Kelley-Wagner, “Things Said to or About My Adopted Daughters.” 21 Carol Antoinette Peacock and Shawn Costello Brownell, Mommy Far, Mommy Near: An Adoption Story. 22 Ann Rauhala, The Lucky Ones: Our Stories of Adopting Children from China, ix. 23 Klatzkin, quoted in Volkman, 41. 24 Paloma Gay Y. Blasco, “‘A Wondrous Adventure’: Mutuality and Individuality in Internet Adoption Narratives,” 331. 25 Volkman, 41.
women to have permission from the state before they conceived, and limiting them in most circumstances to a single child.26 Chinese culture, influenced by a patriarchal system promoted by Confucianism, tended to favour boys over girls.27 Women were married into their husband’s families, leaving their own parents behind; men were seen as the only children who would be able to provide for their parents in their old age. This patriarchal attitude coupled with the zealousness of the implementation of the one child rule to force many Chinese women to abandon infant daughters in the hopes of having a son, usually at the insistence of their grandparents and fathers.28 This created a large cohort of abandoned healthy girls, usually left in public places, to be found and taken to orphanages. The one-child policy unfortunately applied to children who were adopted as well, preventing most otherwise eligible families in China from adopting and forcing the Chinese government to allow transnational adoption as a means to deal with their overfull orphanages. The adoption narrative has been disproportionately crafted by female adoptive parents.29 Picture books, essays, and novels have all been written predominantly by women, and books aimed at children often focus exclusively on the adoptive and birth mothers.30 Though the decision to abandon a child is typically made by a male figure, birth fathers feature even less in tales of adoption than adoptive fathers do.31 The attachment to the narrative of the birth mother abandoning the child to be found by loving adoptive parents emphasizes the biological heritage that each child has. The idea of the birth mother becomes the first link to the adopted child’s birth race, culture, and country, providing an explanation for why the child does not resemble the rest of their family, or the rest of their community. The birth mother also becomes the first site of longing for an adopted child’s identity. Though biology is dismissed as a determinant of race, it is upheld as a way of understanding race in the adoptive context, marking children adopted from China as different both through their familial history and the colour 26 Kay Johnson, Huang Banghan, and Wang Liyao, “Infant Abandonment and Adoption in China,” 383. 27 Ibid., 381. 28 Ibid., 475. 29 Helena Grice, “Transracial Adoption Narratives: Prospects and Perspectives,” 129. 30 Peacock & Brownell and Lewis & Dyer. 31 Johnson, Banghan, and Liyao, 475.
of their skin.32 Biology is also perhaps the easiest part of an adopted child’s identity to explain, following similar patterns for all those in the Chinese adoptive community. Adoptive families usually try to create a hybridized cultural space in which to raise their children, careful to include positive links to Chinese culture and heritage within their own Western backgrounds. What is left out of these spaces and understandings, however, can complicate a sense of ‘Chinese’ identity. Pandas and silk dresses get the stamp of approval, but it is rare to hear of parents explaining the Cultural Revolution or Maoist era to their children. Parents understandably introduce elements of Chinese culture to their children slowly, often tying in lessons with explanations of their personal tale of adoption, but one study found that as children gained knowledge of Chinese history and culture, parents did not.33 Parents with adopted children tended not to continue to research or learn about any aspect of China as their children grew, suggesting that they were teaching their children morsels from a stagnant pool of information, likely acquired as the parents were themselves preparing to adopt. Thus, the cultural education that children adopted from China obtain is far from complete, hardly equivalent to the understanding that someone born and raised in China would have. Despite the circumstances of their upbringing, society will still expect that someone who is visibly Chinese will identify as ‘Chinese’, whatever the definition of the term may be. Emily Prager, an adoptive mother, remarked in her book that she is identified as American and white when she visits Chinatown, but that her daughter LuLu would always be identified as Chinese (Prager herself identifies her daughter as Chinese-American), though Prager is the custodian of her daughter’s cultural Chinese experiences.34 Karin Evans sums up the difficulty when she writes that “to impart Chinese culture to [her] daughter is to impart a culture in translation—with the pitfalls attendant to any translation.”35 Adoptive parents are instrumental in forming an adopted child’s hybridized racial identity. Even before they give a racial identity to their children, as Emily Prager did, parents select names for their adopted 32 33 34 35
Leopold Senghor, “What Is ‘Negritude?’” in The Idea of Race, 137. Rosman, 9. Emily Prager, quoted in Grice, 193. Evans, 175.
children, usually changing them from the original to something more anglicized. Ann Rauhala’s family, when struggling to select a name for their adopted daughter, dismissed several innocuous anglicized names like ‘Phoebe’ as likely to make the child a target for bullies; traditional Chinese names would be out of the question by this standard.36 Helena Grice points out the contradiction in the practice of anglicizing the adopted children’s names. Adoptive parents will go out of their way to include elements of Chinese culture in their children’s lives, and are often desperate to maintain what little they know about their children’s backgrounds when they are adopted, but almost always rename them, fulfilling their “desire to impose a new identity on the child.”37 Children’s Chinese names, usually given to them by their orphanage, are quickly turned into middle names by adoptive parents, acknowledged as important links to a child’s past but not quite representative of who the parents believe they are. Even in name, children adopted from China are hybridized, caught between two cultures, races, and traditions. Linda Alcoff writes of a sort of torn hybridity in her theory of Mestizo identity, outlining how mixed-race persons exist between, within, or outside of multiple cultures. Similarly to Emily Prager’s experience, Alcoff finds that her perceived race changes as she moves between geographic or cultural locations, passing as a white angla, or native English speaker, in the United States and as Panamanian in Panama.38 Because of the colour of their skin, children adopted from China will always be identified as ‘Chinese’, regardless of how they choose to self-identify. Adopted children are further expected to have an understanding of their Chinese heritage and of Chinese culture because they are identified by society as Chinese. Thus children adopted from China come to occupy the racial bridge that Alcoff speaks of, standing between two cultures, raised in the West but not entirely Western, presenting as ethnically Chinese but hardly fluent in Chinese culture.39 Children adopted from China also break the normalized racial state of white families, forcing them to consider their own position in society relative to their culture. Emily Prager claims to “hate this race thing,” but understands that conceptions of racial identity will only become more 36 37 38 39
Rauhala, 72. Grice, 138. Linda Alcoff, “Mestizo Identity,” in The Idea of Race, 157. Ibid., 160.
important for her adopted daughter as she grows older. Prager, a white woman, very likely never had to confront the privilege that her race afforded her before adopting from China.40 Her frustration with “the race thing” is a manifestation of the breakdown of racial norms that adoption causes.41 Prager has personally mediated all experiences of China that her daughter has had growing up in Western society, and has experienced them herself, and yet the two are divided by society’s conception of race, separated though they are of the same family. The hybridized racial identity of adopted children forces parents and families to re-examine not only their own definitions of race, but how they identify (or simply take for granted) their place in a society dominated by white values. Alcoff ’s conception of Mestizo identity further outlines people of mixed race as “rejected by the dominant race as impure and therefore inferior, but also disliked by the oppressed race for their privileges of closer association with domination.”42 In this aspect children adopted from China do not conform to Alcoff ’s Mestizo identity. Instead of being rejected by the dominant race, children (girls in particular) adopted from China are often subjected to unwanted praise and attention. Labelled the ‘China Doll Syndrome’ by adoptive parents, girls adopted from China frequently attract the attention of complete strangers, who are quick to praise them because of their ethnic Chinese features—straight black hair, wide eyes, and smooth skin.43 While gender certainly plays a part in these compliments, some adoptive parents noticed that when they went out in public with white girls, they received fewer comments than they would with their adopted children.44 The reinforcement of ‘China Doll’ characteristics are problematic both from a gendered and racial perspective. The only compliments these girls receive from strangers praise their physical appearance, ignoring any positive characteristics that the girls may have actively worked to achieve, while simultaneously affirming the characteristics that make them ‘other’. Singular praise of a person’s physical appearance is problematic for people of 40 Prager, quoted in Grice, 139. 41 Grice, 139. 42 Alcoff, 160. 43 Carrie Howard, “The ‘China Doll’ Syndrome: When Excessive Attention Sets Children Apart,” 2. 44 Ibid., 4.
all races, but forces adopted children to be constantly aware of their physical projections of race, and thus differences from the society and family they exist in. When an adopted child is forced to confront their own ethnicity and otherness, they also confront their separation from the community that they were raised in, and from their own family, leaving them without an immediate group to empathize with. Similar to AKA, the Chinese adoption community has also formed an international group of adoptive families, called Families with Children from China (FCC). FCC often provides its members with opportunities to engage in and experience Chinese culture, hosting banquets and parties on most major Chinese holidays. In addition to helping adoptive families understand their Chinese heritage, FCC also creates a forum in which adoptive children can explore their hybrid identity with others who have shared experiences.45 Those who share in Alcoff â€™s Mestizo identity will all have widely varied experiences which are defined by the uniqueness of their identity.46 Children adopted from China, while perhaps unique in their respective communities, are thus able to draw on the shared experiences of thousands of children like them as they form their identities. The Chinese adoptive community has been able to create an identity that includes both Chinese and Western cultures and traditions, but also one that affirms an adoptive identity. Thus adopted children are Chinese, Canadian, American, Scandinavian, but also always adopted, belonging to a community of children with beginnings the same as their own. The adoption community has been able to publish novels, picture books, and documentaries of their experiences, ensuring that children adopted from China have a rich pool of resources to draw from as they question their identity and race, and providing them with a forum in which they can express themselves. Like the waves of adoption from Korea, and from the black and Aboriginal communities, adoption from China is coming to an end. Fewer girls are being abandoned, perhaps thanks to changing cultural values and the relaxation of one-child policies. Orphanages that remain in operation now care predominantly for children and teenagers with mental and physical disabilities, who are still frequently abandoned but who are rarely adopted. The number of adoptions from China to Canada and the United 45 Volkman, 50. 46 Alcoff, 158.
States has sharply declined as a result of these changing demographics.47 Before transnational adoption rose to prominence in China, children were adopted within the country. Adoptive families within China would use the metaphor of a wasp stealing baby silk worms from mulberry trees, trapping them in a nest and buzzing around them until they emerged as wasps themselves.48 The metaphor denied heredity and biology as influences on identity, instead placing the emphasis on upbringing and relationships.49 While adoptive families in Canada and the United States still recognize the importance of upbringing in a child’s development and identity, the Chinese adoption community has found a way to embrace both heritage and adoptive culture, creating a celebration of all aspects of a child’s past and present. The only voice now missing from the adoption narrative is that of the children themselves, hopefully a voice that will be increasingly heard in the years to come.
47 Government of Canada, “International Adoptions,” and US Department of State. 48 Johnson, Banghan, and Liyao, 484. 49 Ibid.
Works Cited Alcoff, Linda. “Mestizo Identity.” In The Idea of Race, edited by Robert Bernasconi and Tommy Lee Lott. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000. Also-Known-As. “About.” 18 April 2014. http://www.alsoknownas.org/ index.php/organization/ about.html Blasco, Paloma Gay Y. “‘A Wondrous Adventure’: Mutuality and Individuality in Internet Adoption Narratives.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18, no. 2 (2012): 330-48. Cardinal, Richard. Cry from the Diary of a Métis Child. Directed by Alanis Obomsawin. Montréal: National Film Board of Canada, 1986. Evans, Karin. The Lost Daughters of China: Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America and the Search for a Missing past. New York: J.P. Tarcher/ Putnam, 2000. Government of Canada. “International Adoptions.” 18 April 2014. http:// www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-402-x/2012000/chap/c-e/c-e02-eng.htm Government of Canada. “International Adoptions - China.” 18 April 2014. http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/china-chine/visas/ intl_adoption_itl.aspx Grice, Helena. “Transracial Adoption Narratives: Prospects and Perspectives.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 5, no. 2 (2005): 124-48. Hellerstedt, Wendy L., Nikki J. Madsen, Megan R. Gunnar, Harold D. Grotevant, Richard M. Lee, and Dana E. Johnson. “The International Adoption Project: Population-based Surveillance of Minnesota Parents Who Adopted Children Internationally.” Maternal and Child Health Journal 12, no. 2 (2008): 162-71. Howard, Carrie. “The ‘China Doll’ Syndrome: When Excessive Attention Sets Children Apart.” Adoptive Families (Sep-Oct 1999). Johnson, Kay, Huang Banghan, and Wang Liyao. “Infant Abandonment and Adoption in China.” Population and Development Review 24, no. 3 (1998): 469-510. Kelley-Wagner, Kim. “Things Said to or About My Adopted Daughters.”
Boredpanda. 24 March 2014. Lewis, Rose A., and Jane Dyer. I Love You like Crazy Cakes. Boston: Little, Brown, 2000. Peacock, Carol Antoinette, and Shawn Costello Brownell. Mommy Far, Mommy Near: An Adoption Story. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman, 2000. Rauhala, Ann. The Lucky Ones: Our Stories of Adopting Children from China. Toronto: ECW, 2008. Rosman, Elisa. “State of Adoption from China.” Adoption Advocate 18 (2009): 1-10. Senghor, Leopold. “What Is ‘Negritude?” In The Idea of Race, edited by Robert Bernasconi and Tommy Lee Lott. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000. Silverman, Arnold R. “Outcomes of Transracial Adoption.” The Future of Children 3, no. 1 (1993): 104-18. US Department of State. “Adoptions by Year.” 18 April 2014. http:// adoption.state.gov/about_us/statistics.php Volkman, T. A. “Embodying Chinese Culture: Transnational Adoption in North America.” Social Text, 74th ser., 21, no. 1 (2003): 29-55.
Authors Edie Reaney Chunn is a second-year student studying English and Contemporary Studies who likes clouds, sea glass, and theatre. This paper was originally written for Sarah Clift’s illuminating Memory course; Edie would also like to thank Bridget Garvey of the German department for her thoughtful approach to teaching volkspoesie, and hopes to continue looking into where folk and fairy tales meet with philosophy. Paisley Conrad is a former waitress and current student of English and Contemporary Studies. Her research interests include Canadian Modernist poetry and the importance of political recognition in Star Wars. “The Fruits of Ennui” was written for Modern Social and Political Thought. Evelyn Elgie is a third-year student pursuing a Combined Honours in Contemporary Studies and Creative Writing. She wrote “Trinity Test” based on a mind-twisting Science and Culture lecture by Mark Burke. Evelyn enjoys slacklining, intersectional feminism, and ambient lighting. Her favourite food is ice cream. She is lactose intolerant. Jake Norris is a fourth-year student working towards a combined honours in Early Modern Studies and Philosophy with a minor in Contemporary Studies. His interests extend from aesthetic shocks in Baudelaire to linguistics and philosophy in literature. Jake’s EMSP honours thesis traces Deleuze’s “infinite fold” through Bernini, El Greco, and Baroque transitional spaces. “Down the Duck-Rabbit-Hole” was written for Dr. Michael Hymers’ Wittgenstein course at Dalhousie University. Its allusions to Lewis Carroll in Wittgenstein remain an ongoing project. Bryn Shaffer is an undergraduate honours student of the History of Science and Technology program at the University of King’s College and the Sociology program at Dalhousie University. Her research focuses are biopolitics, bioethical law, and intersectional feminist science. “A Manifesto for the Cyborg Body” was written for Dr. Dorota Glowacka’s course Rewriting Gender. Liam Eady, since coming to King’s, has been both fascinated and more than a little scared by the ways that manmade environments influence our behaviour. The question of our relationship to our surroundings, our shelters, our tools, and our toys is a constantly recurring one for him, and
the paper found in this year’s Hinge is one of the first attempts he made at posing it. He wrote this paper for the Roland Barthes section of Laura Penny’s Fall 2013 Structuralism and Post-Structuralism class. Matthew Green is a fourth-year student in Classics and the History of Science and Technology. He’s interested in the intersections of science, metaphor, language, and gender—and trying to keep the planet green, so we can all go hiking with our dogs. “Oral History in the Canadian Legal Context” was written for The Concept of Memory in Late-Modernity. Liam Morantz is a third-year Contemporary Studies and English student at King’s and Dal. He’s from Toronto. His Contemporary Studies thesis will look at the structures of vulnerability and authority in digitally mediated telepresence. He also thanks Hinge very much for including his paper. “A Basis for the Language of Promise” was written for Heidegger: Science, Poetry, Thought. Gwendolyn Moncrieff-Gould is a fourth-year student completing a combined honours degree in Contemporary Studies and Political Science, with a minor in French. Focusing her research on violence, persecution, and genocide in North American political structures, Gwendolyn frequently writes on issues of race and cultural identity, in Canada in particular. Gwendolyn currently resides in Halifax with her partner and cat, but still calls Toronto home. “Red Strings, Mulberry Trees, China Dolls” was written for The Idea of Race.
Editorial Team Katharine Thomas is studying Contemporary Studies and Psychology, and pursuing certificates in Animal Behaviour and Neurotechnology. Last year, she was on the Hinge executive team as the designer and producer of XXI. This year she took on the roll of editor-in-chief. Katharine has a dog at home in Yellowknife, and a cat in Halifax. She’s fairly certain that their relationship would be antagonistic. Kayleigh Shield is a fourth-year student currently finishing her degree in Contemporary Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies. In the fall, she will be starting her Master’s degree at the Centre for Theory and Criticism at the University of Western Ontario. She thinks the phallic order is hilarious. Jacob Baker-Kretzmar is a third-year student in Contemporary Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies. His interests are diverse and ever-changing, but currently include web and graphic design, intersectional feminisms, and social media. In case you were wondering, this edition of Hinge is set in Minion Pro, ITC Kabel, and Palatino. Jacob is always wondering, and can’t stand it when this information isn’t included.
Hinge is an undergraduate journal of contemporary theory, philosophy, literature, and poetry.