Tuesday, September 26, 2017

WHEN IS A BLACKFEET NOT COLONIZED?


Reading the essay about post-colonial thought has provoked me to look for definitions.  They are “boxes” which confine thought, but they can also be platforms.  I’ve put all the quotes from Wikipedia in italics.

First off is defining a colony.  Formally, it is “a country or area under the full or partial political control of another country, typically a distant one, and occupied by settlers from that country.”  “A settlement, dependency, protectorate, satellite, territory, outpost, province.”

But then, derived from that first definition of colony is “a group of people living in colony, consisting of the original settlers and their descendants and successors.  A group of people of one nationality or ethnic group living in a foreign city or country, community, commune; district, ghetto "an artists' colony.”  We talk about “ex-pats”, ex-patriots.

Next:  Postcolonialism or postcolonial studies is an academic discipline that analyzes, explains, and responds to the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism. ... It also examines the effects of colonial rule on the cultural aspects of the colony and its treatment of women, language, literature, and humanity.”

And then the writing that focuses on the above definitions and theories:  Postcolonial literature often addresses the problems and consequences of the decolonization of a country, especially questions relating to the political and cultural independence of formerly subjugated people, and themes such as racialism and colonialism. A range of literary theory has evolved around the subject.”

Many of my cohort on Twitter belong to this area of thought because they have self-selected as Native Americans, defining reservations as colonial remnants — maybe still colonies.  This idea cuts two ways: first, that their thought and history is an intellectual property, an owned natural resource, and that they have entitlement to it.  A subset is the recovery of the original language and life-ways.  Second, that they must not be confined to being Other, but must have full entitlement to the main culture, oppressive though it might be.  

Forgive me for quoting so much, but I’m just learning these terms and people myself, so these lists are for my own reference, though I hope they might be useful to you.  “Amongst prominent theorists are Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Frantz Fanon, Bill Ashcroft, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Chinua Achebe, Leela Gandhi, Gareth Griffiths, Abiola Irele, John McLeod, Hamid Dabashi, Helen Tiffin, Khal Torabully, and Robert Young. Another important theorist is Harvard University professor Homi K Bhabha, (1949 – ). He is one of the most important figures in contemporary post-colonial studies, and has developed a number of the field's neologisms and key concepts, such as hybridity, mimicry, difference, and ambivalence.”  I assume he’s Eastern Indian by ethnic heritage, which means colonized, but now he is a professor at Harvard, which I assume means he’s now a colonizer but also Harvard is a result of English colonizers.  I don’t know whether he ever addresses North American indigenous people.

As far as I know, none of the above theorists are NA indigenous people.  I had to look up the four concepts above.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homi_K._Bhabha  I’ve downloaded them to study and will discuss them in a later post.  Some people will want to do that themselves.  It’s ironic that an ethnic Eastern Indian thinker from a “colony” with an older and more elaborate civilization than England should be discussing this subject.  (Shouldn’t it have been England that was colonized by India — or whatever they called themselves.)  Isn’t it even more ironic that theories devised by an ethnic Eastern Indian, British-educated, should be used to address the North American indigenous people mistakenly called “Indian,” and oppressed by countries that were originally colonies of England -- like the USA?  Clearly, these boxes are pretty asymmetrical and leaky.

French Algerian theories of deconstruction have made us realize that the old assumptions of colonizers sneak along underneath our “modern” discussions even though the colonies are now technically independent.  We see Ambivalence all the time on the Blackfeet reservation.  An amusing but touching example was the recent reactions to processing a bison donated by Boyd Evans.  There is always an assertion that Blackfeet have a special claim to the animals, since they lived off them for millennia, but when it came to butchering the beast, some found it stomach-turning!  Others were willing to sample raw liver.  It seems that there is a range of indigenous reactions.  Nothing "essentialist" as the technical term is for what is all the same for the category.

This vital experience was much different than the abstract arguments which Bhabha called “enunciation.”.That is, to be understood something must be described.  Now many Blackfeet kids are prepared to explain how to cut up a bison and to tell how it smelled, felt, tasted, and so on.  This connected them to their ancestors in a vivid and unforgettable way.  But even the white kids know what it’s like.  Is it okay for them to tell others about it?  Or are only enrolled kids entitled to do that?

Bhabha proposes a “Third Space” where categories are not frozen, but are dynamic, interacting, and capable of progress.  “As a result, the hierarchical claims to the innate originality or purity of cultures are invalid. Enunication implies that culture has no fixity and even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rehistoricized, and read anew.”  

Quite aside from the difficulty of learning to “see” a different culture one has not experienced, these theorists write such complex labyrinthine prose that it’s nearly impossible to understand.  Bhabha won a “bad writing” contest with the following sentence:  “If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to "normalize" formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.”

The over-elaborate prose seems to be the result of trying to talk like established stuffy English writing, not quite grasping the principle of simplicity.  As well, the English veneration of Latin allows the creation of new words (“neologisms”) by adding particles to pre-existing roots.  Also, antique Latin grammar rules applied to English don’t work very well as guides for contemporary writing.  Ironically, “the discourse of splitting violates rational enunciation.”  In short, muddled thinking makes bad sentences.

But then, mercy!  It’s tough to think about ideas no one has had before.  The “Third Space” can be a dark and passionate place where emotion IS a form of thought, sometimes obscene.  What is obscene?  “The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether 'the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined. . .”  (Any unknown culture is suspected of being “kinky.”)  This prissy little definition is totally inadequate.

The oppressor finds any resistance to be obscene, while the oppressed often use obscene language in their resistance.  In the first instance, the idea is righteousness and entitlement.  In the second instance, the idea is that emotional outrage is too high for “nice” to be relevant — intense language is part of defiance.

When I first came to the Blackfeet rez in 1961, I was told that any child in my classroom who called me a “Napi-aki” should be taken to the office for punishment at once.  The compound word only means “white woman,” since Napi is the mischief-maker identified with anything unusual, outside the norm, and “aki” is the particle that means “woman.”  It’s not an epithet unless the context and tone of voice makes it derogatory, maybe the way someone would say sarcastically,  “Okay, princess,” to a girl thinking she was superior.

But in the phrase is the lingering echo of white oppressors forbidding with harsh punishment the use of Blackfeet language.  In the Sixties this was still so strong that the first task of Piegan Institute, before they began reteaching the tribal language, was to demonstrate that people would not be whipped for it anymore.  That it had become a respectable thing to do.  So Darrell Kipp with his Harvard degree had to show he could speak Blackfeet without harm or loss of dignity.  It was not just that they were forced to speak English, which the immigrants from European who were non-English-speakers also had to endure, but that children were so harshly punished for anything.  The historical cultural assertion was that children should not be punished.  This conviction still persists in many tribal members.  But some have discarded it to the point of abusing their children, just as whites do.

So this short discussion is now “post-colonial” and if a white person wrote a story about a kid punished unjustly for speaking Blackfeet who was so outraged that he ran away, putting himself in danger, that would be “post-colonial literature.”  Would I be justified in writing that story, since I am not Blackfeet?  I would be working in print.  I’m not sure any Blackfeet I know could write such a story in printed Blackfeet, because the language itself is oral, but they could tell it on a video.  This would be hybrid, wouldn’t it — because the medium is modern.

Monday, September 25, 2017

WHEN IS MAGIC REALISM JUST A HOAX?


Sorting as I've been doing for months, I came upon an article I had saved with the sub-title of “Re-envisioning Magical Realism’s Relationship with Fakery” by Maria Takolander and Alyson Miller, of Deakin University near Adelaide, Australia.  Published in “Postcolonial Text,” Vol 9, No.13 (2014)  This tag won’t link to the specific article, but google it anyway.  Lots of amazing good stuff.  Australia is a goldmine of thought.

Let me tell you two little personal stories first.

One Christmas I got tired of all the exploits and wonders that my correspondents claimed in their annual reports, so I decided to create one of my own.  I explained that a Samoan man, huge but quite a bit younger than myself, had showed up in the congregation I was serving as a UU minister at the time.  He was very attentive and sympathetic and I discovered that he was a marvelous artist, a wood carver.  Over time, as two isolates, we were drawn together and now I was notifying my friends and family that we had decided to marry and move back to Samoa where I would act as a UU missionary.

People believed it.  I threw in some details I got out of Wikipedia.  Some were concerned that I wasn’t thinking this through carefully enough.  They knew about my history with a sculptor twice my age and thought I should consider the possibility that I was repeating it.  When I revealed that I made the whole thing up, they were angry.

The other story is just a kind of cultural twitch in America: the habit of calling old women “young lady.”  It’s thought to be a great compliment, just what an old woman would want.  Maybe at worst, a bit of teasing.  In truth, it’s insulting, wrong, and hides an underlying contempt for old women. Sometimes I take the trouble to fight it and sometimes I don’t.  If I do, people often get angry.

The journal called Postcolonial Text” is a refereed open access journal that publishes articles, book reviews, interviews, poetry and fiction on postcolonial, transnational, and indigenous themes."  As a loose translation for people who haven’t run into this context before, the focus is on defined groups that have been colonized — that is, controlled by bigger powerful organizations like the European countries that colonized other cultures whenever they found them -- and now these theories are considering the effects across the arbitrary nations formed out of that history while at the same time searching for the original people of that land.

The argument of this article, as I understand it, is that hoaxes and magic realism are closely related when it comes to this context.  The ideas that the “settlers” have about the people they are displacing and — even more the assumptions of folks back “home” who like to enjoy “literary tourism” by reading about exotic places — will swallow anything, even the impossible.  But beyond that, cultures that are whole and complete in their relationship to where they are can seem magical to those tamed and blinded by book-learning and authorities.  Sailors bring back home the stories, and they had better be good.  Anthropologists write accounts that are as much projection as analysis.

Examples given by this article are in this list below, which will surprise you because it mixes the “respectable” and even exalted tales with those flatly labeled hoaxes.  I have not included the one that was in the primary title of this article, though it was why I even knew the article existed.  I found it by googling the “hoaxer” who is also a writer of “magic realism,” often in poetry.


TEXTS CONSIDERED:

Angela Carter The Bloody Chamber”
Jeanette Winterson  “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit”
Tim O’Brien  “The Things they Carried”
Gunter Grass  “The Tin Drum
Mudrooroo   “Master of the Ghost Dreaming”
Alejo Carpentier (French-Cuban)  “The Kingdom of this World”  (African-Haitian)
Toni Morrison (African- American)  “Song of Solomon”, “Beloved” 
Gabriel Garcia Marquez  “Macondo”, “One Hundred Years of Solitude
Norma Khouri (Muslim-Australian)  “Forbidden Love”
Margaret B. Jones (Native American)  “Love and Consequences”
Merlinda Bobis “Fish-Hair Woman”
Salman Rushdie  “Midnight’s Children
Miguel Angel Asturias  “Men of Maize”
Helen Demidenko  (Ukrainian-Australian)  “The Hand That Signed the Paper”
Sherman Alexie (Native American)  “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fightfight in Heaven”
Araki Yasusada  (Japanese poet)  “Doubled Flowering”
Arundhati Roy  “The God of Small Things”
Richard Flanagan  (Anglo-Australian)  “Gould’s Book of Fish
Kim Scott (Aboriginal-Australian)  “Benang

One of the most egregious hoaxes is not listed here:  “The Education of Little Tree” by Asa Earl Carter, a white Supremacist with Nazi affiliations who wrote a stereotypical novel about an NA boy, a story that people love.

This paper that I'm referring to is a “clean” discussion, dealing with the texts and how they are read rather than delving into the characters of the writers.  Neither does it consider the cynical political and marketing motives of the publishing fates of the individual books, though they note that ethnic autobiography  is “highly valued for its exotic appeal” and for “the status it confers on the consumer as an enlightened, sympathetic, and politically correct individual.”  That’s the real difference between a hoax and a revelation of an Other life — the reflection on the reader’s pride and their appetite for titillation.

These analysts assert the idea that “a fictional autobiography inevitably exposes the rhetorical nature of all autobiography.”  K.K. Ruthven argues “authenticity is simply a rhetorical ‘effect’, supplying 'the spectre of authenticity'.”  Pretending a text was a letter is one device of authenticating, or that a hidden manuscript unearthed after the death of the author is another.  So far as I know, none has been presented as screams forced out of a captive by a torturer, but that would be fitting for our times of suffering and lies.  The more sex and violence are presented as evidence of reality, the more they are accepted.  Up to a tipping point. 

So far, our current political scandals have reached that tipping point for the majority of people, but we’re told that about one-third of voting citizens still do not believe they have been hoaxed by the president.  The irony is that the chief generator of those lies seems to believe them himself.

Irony is the most slippery part of this discussion.  Saying the opposite of what is true in order to ACCUSE the truth of domination is to risk the dominator crushing the truth-teller. Only if the readers can recognize what is being shown in shadow form, a metonymy of reversal, is the narrative fulfilled.  Many people today cannot tell what is true, even on a conditional basis.  The video cameras lie even more convincingly in that first-hand recounting, even more vividly than one’s own experience.  But there’s a kind of fascination in that hallucinatory shifting of perception.  It’s how brains work.

More to come.



Sunday, September 24, 2017

"GONE BABY GONE" Commentary


My premise is that our culture doesn’t derive either ethics or morality from religion, but rather from screen-writers.  “Gone Baby Gone” is an excellent illustration.  It’s adapted from a book, so I really should say authors instead of screen-writers.  The point is that we learn how to act by watching stories.

Ethics and morals relate to “right” and “wrong” conduct. While they are sometimes used interchangeably, they are different: ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, e.g., codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions. Morals refer to an individual's own principles regarding right and wrong.”

The trouble is that morality is always situational and ethics vary from one culture to another.  In a place with a rule of law and trained enforcers (cops) who are allowed violence, justice is always being compromised and even the goal is elusive.  In a slum ghetto life is a mix of danger and sentimentality.  Even the protection of children is conflicted.  Once it was children’s labor that destroyed a child’s well-being and now it is drugs that render parents toxic.  But a lost or endangered child is still emotional enough to cause a media circus, esp. a small blonde girl.

The protagonist, Casey Affleck, is presented as an effective intervenor because he knows all the people and his girl friend is a pure soul, so we follow him through the muck, corruption, and double-crosses.  The rule of law is footnoted by the girl friend’s sincere emotional reactions, in contrast to the shallow performances of people full of guilt and rage.  She dives in.

I don’t know about the book, but the film is schematic, outrageous, unreasonable, sensational, preposterous and possible.  The actors, besides Affleck, are idealistic people who gravitate to this sort of tale.  Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, and even Michael K. Williams, though minus Omar’s cornrows.  If you removed the “f word” from the dialogue, the movie would be half the length, but if you can get over the language, this sort of approach will tell you more than a course in “wisdom” from a fine university, even if the campus IS in the middle of a bad part of town.  

Now that we’ve all seen the photo of the suburban parents passed out in the front of their nice car while their kids patiently wait in the back, we’re over the fantasy that poverty causes addiction.  People who can’t wait to get high don’t make supportive parents: love is irrelevant, owning one’s kids, because you made them, becomes obscene.  There is talk of requiring a license to be a parent, rather than for a marriage.  Yet there is a contingent that wants to force children to be born, no matter the circumstances.  That may have made sense in an Old Testament tribe with extended families.

More than anything else, this plot is ambiguous in order to point out the irresolvability of life itself.  The author, Dennis Lehane, has worked on “The Wire”, which was acclaimed for many of the same reasons that this film attracts praise and admiration.  In spite of being packed with words so stigmatized that one can be hauled into court for using them, the “street slang” is praised.  Meanwhile, respectable people are fired for using the same words, even from high prestige positions.  Do we imagine that bad words are somehow real?  Why is saying “fuck” unforgivable but “duck” merely a bird?

Do we imagine that somehow hard, dirty, dangerous, sex-obsessed lives are more real than those of we couch potatoes?  That they have a license to curse?  And why do we only know four-letter words that rhyme with truck and stunt.

Is it different to address the morality of many people one-by-one in this video series way, although in much greater cumulative numbers than could be gathered in a theatre or a church?  More powerful or less?

Morality is often discussed in terms of “choices” rather than rules, which are the mode of ethics.  We speak of someone in bad trouble, even having done terrible things, as making “bad choices,” like the wrong sized shirt or flavor of ice cream.  Doesn’t that diminish the seriousness of choosing to abuse or “choosing” arson?  And what about "combat choices" -- instant reflex or death?

We often address limits on our choices, like those imposed by a cultural code, by changing the boundaries, sometimes by physically moving to a new place.  But choosing a place that seems more generous and possible than the previous place often means that one must give up cultural “choices” imposed by the previous place, like killing daughters who make the wrong “choice.”  The choice of wearing a veil in a place that forbids them in schools can remove the possibility of an education.  

Our obvious pluralism is curiously excused in moral terms if  “everyone else does it.”  The individual opposition to conformity that was characteristic of the Sixties and Seventies is now dismissed.  If one criticizes a bad politician, the response is “all the others are just as bad.”  So it is hopeless to try to oppose evil, because everyone is evil.  So what does choice mean? 

Once there was considered to be heroism in sticking to an ethical rule, as the protagonist does in this film — insisting that a child should be with her parent regardless of anything else.  Yet the official cops take the law into their own hands, so how can they be trusted?  The girl friend goes farther, operating on the basis of emotion/compassion, arguing that it is a higher command, a sort of New Testament contrast to her Commandment-based boyfriend.  

Films are censored through commerce: funding would not be provided to people who don’t “sell” movies.  Luckily, these specific people have enough money to also have control.  I happen to approve of their outlook, but there are other actors who are pretty seamy and sly.  The main way we have of controlling the morality of major corporations is through boycotts, non-attendance.  And yet such actions are sometimes capricious (Oprah’s suspicion of beef).  Good reviews can only go so far in attracting high quality viewers who will value the message, but the reviews ARE good in terms of choice.  This film was recommended.

“A superior, haunting thriller of abduction, deception and ethical dilemma with a sobering ending - a moral quandary that demands strong debate outside the cinema.”  Full review   Angie Errigo

“Ben Affleck's tumultuous tale of abduction, treachery and murder explores humanity's best and worst intentions—and questions the line that separates them. Full review”  Paul Asay

While the covers are being stripped off of the currrent political beds, revealing far worse things than cut-off horse’s heads or even drowned children (like millions of desperately ill children denied insurance coverage), we’ve got to do something besides screaming in the streets.  Thoughtful films do help.

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/sep/23/secrets-of-the-tv-writers-rooms-tv-narcos-silicon-valley-transparent?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=245033&subid=10790770&CMP=GT_US_collection

Saturday, September 23, 2017

BECOMING BRILLIANT IS HARDER THAN IT LOOKS

The Reverend Dr. Davidson Loehr (retired)

When I was in high school in the Fifties there was a lot of emphasis on “exceptionalism.”  Not the nation, but we students as individuals.  Lots of testing, lots of special programs, lots of praise and consciousness of obligations of the intellectually endowed to serve the nation . . . or whatever.  In a class of 500 I scored in the top 1%, which I thought was pretty special until I got to college and realized that everyone there was in the same top bracket.  At least I got a full-tuition scholarship out of it, but — alas — it didn’t lead to being in the top 1% of American incomes.  (One percent of 323.1 million people is still 3 million people.  Surely there are many fewer billionaires than that, altho now we discover that Trump has been bluffing all these years.)

The directive to be brilliant was internalized by me, though I suppressed it for a while by marrying a man considered and commanded to be brilliant.  The trouble with brilliance is that one is not really in control of it — the social context is crucial (small pond means even a small frog can shine, but even small ponds dry up) and even then happenstance can keep one out.  I went to seminary (which amounted to the backdoor of U of Chicago Div School, surely a key to brilliance) expecting everyone to be brilliant, but most turned out to be fairly pedestrian.  The Div School faculty included world class scholars and some of the students were stunningly intelligent, but being smart and educated is not all there is to brilliance.

One of my classmates has been more gripped by this “brilliance” thing than I have.  (I know when I’m licked.)  Davidson Loehr comes to mind now partly because of the Vietnam consciousness.  Among his several career-attempts (mostly successful -- for a while) was being a war correspondent’s guide and combat photographer during that war.  As a Marine he had graduated from officer’s school which was finally to him a certification that was at least very special.  Beyond that, he had once been targeted by a sniper in a tree but a convoy guard had shot the sniper before he could pull the trigger.  David kept the unfired bullet in his desk because when he was given the bullet out of the sniper’s gun, he was told it had his name on it.  This sort of thing goes over very well in seminary.

Among other skills, like photography, he played the piano and sang in a rich voice.  When I gave up being brilliant and decided to settle for narcissistic, I once persuaded him to sing both versions of the Ave Maria  (Schubert and Bach/Gounod) as part of my vespers — we each had responsibility for an occasional Friday night vespers.  I can’t remember what the sermon was.  No one nailed me for self-celebration, which I needed badly in my state of mediocrity.  If one can’t be brilliant, why not be scandalous?

David wanted to be the minister of the Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids, MI, whose pastor, David Rankin, he considered the cock of the walk.  When Brent Smith got there instead, he was upset, but then Brent left in two years and he smiled.  W. Fred Wooden is there now, along with others, and my eyebrows are up.  This is a very large free-standing church, ambiguously liberal Christian and flirting with the UUA, a denomination once considered brilliant.  Loehr settled for Kalamazoo. 1986 - 1995

This is their official account of his ministry.  “Davidson Loehr attracted large congregations. He began to include children regularly in a portion of the Sunday morning service. A scholar and gifted writer and speaker, Davidson played an active role in debating community issues. People's Church Presents appeared weekly on Cable Access TV. In 1991-92 the church began holding two Sunday morning services. Adult education classes were popular, as were discussions, open to the public, of televised presentations on religious topics. Congregational dissension resulted in the resignation of Dr. Loehr in 1995 and the departure of several members who formed the UU Community Church.”  

Then he went on to the Austin, Texas, UU Church where the Austin Chronicle reported in 2000: “The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin has undergone changes in recent months. During December, its senior minister, Davidson Loehr, was dismissed from the church. For many the dismissal process was unfair, upsetting, and wrong. While many others felt the dismissal was fair. Many remain distressed over the dismissal. Others are happy.”  Brilliant but iconoclastic clergy in iconoclastic institutions are liable to be explosive.  In this case, the precipitating cataclysm was the destruction of the World Trade Towers.  Loehr sided with those who believed the CIA had something to do with it and that explosives had been planted.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEhQBAVX9hQ
Here he is.  He’s on Facebook.  I'm not.  We haven't been in contact for decades.

In seminary Loehr made the Meadville faculty so angry that they threw him out.  He was brilliant enough to march over to the U of Chicago Divinity School and continue to a traditional Ph. D.  He was narcissistic enough to demand that I quit Meadville in solidarity with him.  But I was too mediocre to hack Div School and knew it.  HE knew it.  He just wanted company in his disgrace.  But he wasn’t all that disgraced anyway.  Langdon Gilkey and others were his champions.  He was an excellent carpenter and had made many friends that way.

So I’ll have to wait for brilliance to be thrust upon me.  All I wanted was to go back to Montana, and I did that.  He’s had one book published.    America, Fascism, and God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher  (Sep 15, 2005)  by Davidson LoehrPaperback  $2.97(42 used and new offers)


David’s old hero, John Wolf has just died in his Nineties.  Many considered him brilliant.  He had one church in his whole career and people are rumored to have given him sports cars in gratitude.  He’s in the Tulsa Hall of Fame, but not the Texas Hall of Fame.  Fame is always comparative.  He ran Meadville from behind the scenes, which is why David considered that seminary and was admitted.  But Wolf never split his church.  David always split his church — his inner uproar always prevailed.  But he nevertheless survived, so maybe Marine Officer’s School was worth something after all.

So what is brilliance?  What good is it?  Who defines it, certifies it, prepares someone for it?  Who even cares?  I no longer expect to find out.  Now I think in terms of “fittingness,” which is not about the three Middle Eastern Abramic religions so determined to dominate by being “best.”  Fittingness is a kind of Taoist thought.  Ecological.

Friday, September 22, 2017

I MISSED VIETNAM THE FIRST TIME


Along with many others, I’m sure, I’m watching the Vietnam War history on PBS, the one made by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.  I’m putting off reading the discussion until after I’ve seen the whole series.  I notice that there is suddenly a LOT of Vietnam comment and history which is interesting — it must mean something besides just cashing in on the publicity that always praises Burns and Novick.  Maybe it is our current political struggle with a renewed Cold War, now internet enabled.

I often say I missed the Sixties because instead I lived the 19th century over again in Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation where we were still digesting what had happened a century earlier.  Starvation, confinement, massacre, the Other as enemy, economic corruption, land theft.  It wasn’t that much different, but it was distant in time (not very) rather than place, and the Native Americans had not won.  (Yet.)  It was confusing and there were not many theories or permissions for analysis, because oil corporations were still picking up where the railroad industrialization had left off.  We still had a manufacturing park with a sawmill and a pencil factory.

In the Sixties kids either learned or left.  Just the first beginnings of new ways of looking at it were appearing.  The Catholics had started a parochial school, the Methodists had begun a version of Head Start, and by the Seventies Bill Haw had organized a “free school.”  By then Vietnam had triggered a major culture sea change.  JFK began the building of housing projects that continues today.  LBJ’s opposition to race stigma has faltered but not died.  

In the Sixties we had no television from the American side — we watched Lethbridge broadcasts so a lot of what we saw was hockey or Diefenbacher, and most of it was pretty snowy.  (No cable, no satellite, no video.)  When we saw race riots, they were not censored and they were incredibly vicious  But there was so much family and town turmoil to deal with that by the time we landed on the moon in 1969, only a few adults watched or believed it.  Our grandkids sat in the backyard and sang camp songs to keep their sanity amid warring adults, a dying mother, and an asymmetrical marriage.

Because Bob Scriver grew up there (he was the same age as George Kicking Woman) in a tiny minority of whites, and wanted to be an “Indian,” like his best friend who was the father of James Welch Jr., his grasp of prejudice was weak.  Because he was the City Magistrate, a Justice of the Peace, and the backup coroner, his distinction was pretty much drawn among the law abiding citizens, the dangerous criminals, the harmless drunks (we hired them when they were sober) and the corrupt whites.  His worst hatreds were aimed at the “big fat cigar-smoking officials in the back room who control everything” and the hypocrites who threw him out of the Masons for being divorced.

If that sounds like material for episodes of “Gunsmoke,” that was pretty much the world we lived in.  The 19th century West was our subject matter and the 19th century Roman Block bronze casting technique, a high-prestige version of lost wax casting, was our method.  The style was that of 19th century Paris, which was imported to the US for monumental statues.  As a child, Bob had absorbed the realistic but dramatic approach by studying the newspapers after WWI, often featuring big bronzes as the ultimate honor.  He and the tribal council at the time began a series meant to create a kind of parade route of Blackfeet heroic bronzes:  “No More Buffalo,” “Transition,” “Return of the Blackfeet Raiders,” were small versions of what was intended.  It never happened.

But the whole country had an abiding hunger for something grand and honorable.  When Phimister Proctor was commissioned to make portraits of American Indians on horseback (at least one was posed for by Eddie Big Beaver from Browning), it was said that the American Indian represented the true American.  In our usual contradictory way, we make saints of those we simultaneously shun and destroy.  
by Phimister Proctor

But then we go back to destruction, pulling down the monuments (anyway, they were cheap, poorly made, oversold) and debunking heroes.  There are no Native American people in this Vietnam series as far as I’ve watched.  Not even code-talkers.  Some of the veterans’ stories about that combat said it was a mistake to be NA because it was assumed they were out of Leatherstocking tales and had unnatural powers to track and sense danger, so they were made to walk at the head of the column, even though they were the ghetto-raised kids of people who had migrated to LA to build war materials in WWII.  It took a lot of movies to overcome the Fifties television series stereotypes.  Probably still hasn’t happened entirely.

When I was teaching in Heart Butte in 1990 and videos were just available, I showed every movie I could find about NA’s.  One of them was “Soldier Blue” which was meant to be an indignant comment on Vietnam — it was produced by Jane Fonda— and some of it was shot-for-shot from the evening news.  The kids just thought it was disgusting.  They had never seen the news.  They clung to the 19th century versions in the movies they knew, even though the “Indians” were often the losers. 

In the Sixties Ramon Gonyea was the first indigenous curator of the Museum of the Plains Indian.  For an art show he painted an NA version of a screaming person in Picasso’s “Guernica.”  No one recognized it, much less shared the sentiment.  He went on to a career as an artist and curator of American indigenous culture at The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art  https://www.eiteljorg.org, one of the many monumental museums that mark the conflation of cowboys and Indians, partly as a justification of Vietnam and partly as an attempt to dignify the enormous fortunes made from natural resources.  The CMRussell museum in Great Falls is a secondary version.


Business was good for Bob Scriver and the Cowboy Artists of America, but no one admitted directly that this mix of exploitation/indigenous peoples/frontier/empire wealth  was what was powering the sentiment.  And still is.  Check out the “lifestyle” magazines of baroque art leather/silver/turquoise/
sex material culture of the wealthy in the American SW.  They’re on every grocery store magazine rack.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

GETTING OLD IS REVERSED GROWING UP


Mary Scriver feeding chickens

Plainly, getting old is like going back down the steps of growing up.  In those days I was constantly discovering new skills, new abilities, new thoughts, new awareness of a widening circle.  Now it’s all the opposite.  I can’t walk as far, as stumble-free, as quickly as I used to.  I can’t open jar lids or even sealed cellophane wrappings, and pulling up the tab on the cat food cans only breaks my fingernails.  People talk too quickly and softly about things I care nothing about.  I’m more incoherent in my thinking, have to think longer to remember the word I want.

Yet strangely — except not that strange since I spend a good half-day at the keyboard knocking out these posts for my blog and in the process watching specialized vids  — I know far more about what goes on in the world than the people around me even know exists even though their TV screens are four times as big as my computer monitor.  It puts me more out-of-sync in the eternal tension between the individual and the group than I ever expected to be.  In fact, after twenty years in Valier, I’m more different from everyone else here than I was in the beginning, partly because they are so out-of-touch with the larger world that I see on my computer screen.  There’s a lot of danger in these boundaries, because there is a lot of fear in them.

On both sides.  I become afraid of locals — even the locality.  With reason.  Small problems, like the fact that the soil under our houses is gumbo, caleche, unstable fine clay formed by the PNW volcano eruptions in the primal times of the continent.  This has meant that doors only occasionally fit their doorways when the humidity and temperature matches the conditions when they were installed.  The rest of the time they stick, maybe don’t fit at all.

But now it appears that my house has sunk as a whole house, so that the web of plumbing under it is pressing against the floor joists and is deformed to the point of preventing proper drainage.  This may cost a couple of thousand dollars, but the alternative is sinks and toilet (only one) that don’t work.  At present it all vents through the shower drain instead of out the standing vent pipe that I had considered the problem.  I can only pay for the necessary work by borrowing, but if I had to borrow locally, I would not be able to.  Luckily, I knew that, so my credit arrangements are back in Portland, except that I had not predicted the Equifax hacking scandal.

Venting the drain system inside the house means that I’m occasionally breathing a miasma of methane, human ick, and — much more than that — possible toxic fumes from illicit meth labs.  I’m on the main trunk of the city sewer line, so there’s no way to figure out who’s putting it down the drain.  I don’t know what it does to our sewage lagoon digestive microorganisms.  The town does notice who suddenly has an unexplained excess of money.  Prosperity is something that is closely monitored here but the impulse to flaunt wealth is strong.  It’s easier for out-of-town ranchers to show off, though it would be a mistake to think the neighbors don’t notice shiny new machines of great cost.

At the same time that people become more intent on money-as-security, more willing to risk punishment, our town is becoming weaker, less able to self-govern.  The county, which is presumably the backup, is also part of this weakening, thinning, dynamic.  The state is controlled by continental corporations, mostly resource developers.  (It would be cynical to say “exploiters.”)  The whole country was treated to an example of our political leadership when Gianforte assaulted a reporter.  What they didn’t know, thank goodness, was how many locals saw Gianforte as justified.  The only thing worse than being an outsider is inquiring into matters that might be embarrassing.  Like health care.

And aging.  “Montana’s older population is one of the largest in the country. By 2025 Montana is presumed to rank between third and fifth in the nation in the percent of older adults 65+, which will account for at least 25 percent of the Montana population.”  http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/livable-communities/plan/planning/montana-state-plan-on-aging-2011-2015-aarp.pdf  If you’re not from Montana, you might not notice that the counties with low percentages of oldsters are the ones with NA reservations.  The Native American population is still young and increasingly better educated than adjoining communities.  My sympathies are with them.  30% of Valier is now Native American.

The aging white population is not just a new minority, but --significantly -- born a set of baby boomers.  We have been used to the ethos of the WWII veterans: their belief in working together, their care for future generations, their wide world-view from being in other cultures.  Now the John McCains are slipping away.  It is their children, full of their own entitlement, who are running things.

I’m not quite a baby boomer — some people think I pay too much attention to time-lines, but being born just before WWII puts me in a small category of people who came to consciousness during a period that emphasized heroism and asceticism.  Since my paternal side was homesteaders in Dakota with NO consciousness of the indigenous people they pushed out (they didn’t know any of them) and since they had only one short period of prosperity, it makes me nervous to have much.  

Publishers Clearing House tells me yet again that I might win $1,000 a day and my main reaction is worry — not about being passed over, but about winning.  Of course, to me $1,000 a day sounds like an immense amount of money.  But I’m aware that taxes will take at least half, which means $15,000 a month, not enough to buy a really good car.  It would be good for my plumbing, however, and that would be a positive development.

If I used my new found wealth to buy an incinerating toilet, which converts poop to ash, I would still need sink drains.  If I used it to reinforce this house enough to install a metal roof, a water-accumulating system, and solar panels, the town would sneer.  It wouldn't look like prosperity to them.  I’d still have the same neighbors, both good and bad, and the same pot-holed streets.  It would not affect the feral cat population.  Maybe I could fund some kind of program.

If I used the money to upgrade my back workshed, that would be a good thing, if I had the strength to work there.  I could also upgrade my so-called bunkhouse to make it mosquito-proof, install real beds, and decorate it "cute".  But that would attract visitors and cut back on my writing time.  


My real wealth is time to write.  If I become unable to write, then I would be impoverished and ready to die.

2nd grade writing -- illustrated