A State of Exception

The Nature of Citizenship and Democracy in Joy Kogawa’s Obasan

Andre Forget

As a seminal Canadian text that has been used as a pedagogical-political tool to instruct Canadians about the Japanese internment since its publication in 1981, Joy Kogawa’s Obasan contains some rather troubling elements for the contemporary critic. The healing moment that comes for Naomi, the novel’s narrator (who was interned as a child and who has tried as an adult to forget the experience) is an internal one dealing largely with the personal overcoming of silence by herself and her family unit after her uncle’s death. I will not get into the theme of silence which runs through the novel except to say that if this novel is, as Erika Gottlieb suggests, about turning “silence into sound” (52), then the sound is a quiet and private one. Even as Naomi struggles to fully face what happened to her, her family, and her people after 1942, she is never tempted to join her activist aunt, Emily Kato, in her battle for justice. She says shortly after introducing Aunt Emily that “people who insist on bringing up their own victimization make me uncomfortable” (Kogawa 36), and while she learns from Emily the importance of facing the pain of her memories, she still affirms at the end of the novel that “this body of grief is not fit for human habitation. Let there be flesh. The song of mourning is not a lifelong song” (270). What is troubling to the critical reader about Naomi’s progression is that, unlike her Aunt’s, it seems centripetal; Naomi does not view herself as an agent for greater change the way Emily does, indeed at one point she silently queries that “[g]reed, selfishness, and hatred remain as constant as the human condition, do they not? Or are you thinking that through lobbying and legislation, speech-making and story-telling, we can extricate ourselves from our foolish ways? Is there evidence for optimism?” (219). I want to argue that this is not constitutive of an abdication from politics, but is in fact the result of a specific politics born out of different assumptions regarding citizenship and the nature of the state. Continue reading

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A Strange Serenity

A Review of Xavier Dolan’s Film Laurence Anyways

Sherry Coman

Laurence Anyways is the story of a man who wants to continue a life-long committed soulmate relationship to a woman, while embarking on gender reassignment to become a woman also. It is about love that endures and also fails, even while the lovers cannot expunge each other from the soul. And I’m not sure which is more astonishing: the fact that at age 23, Québecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan has already made a third fine film, or that at age 23, he has already understood so much, and with such maturity, about the complexity of human relationships. Continue reading

Preaching the Good News After Auschwitz

The Responsibility, Judgment, and Risk of Homiletic Thoughtfulness

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.

Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.

Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.

Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.

Never.

–       Elie Wiesel, Night[1]

Night, smoke, bodies, silence, flames, and ashes: these are the words that describe a shattered faith and a murdered God. Seven times Wiesel tells us life after Auschwitz can never be the same, that he shall never forget. Yet the question remains: can we? Or, perhaps more accurately as church leaders, have we? Continue reading

The True Temptation of Eve

Imagination, Commodity and Forbidden Knowledge in Paradise Lost

 Andre Forget

There is something strangely literary about the economy, functioning as it does through the marshaling of symbols, metaphors and allegories, never taking material shape and yet responsible for so much concrete human action. Given our modern propensity for examining literature through the lenses of psychology, anthropology, history, gender, and any number of other social-scientific methodologies, perhaps it is time for us to experiment with the reverse: an examination of economics through the lens of literature. Continue reading