A Critique of Purity

Andre Forget

In my post last month about power relations in Canada, I suggested that multiculturalism has obscured the fact that the majority of real financial and political power in this country is still largely held by the descendants of European colonizers. I suggested that until power is more equally shared – until, that is, we see the same cultural and ethnic diversity on Bay Street and Parliament Hill that we see in Kensington Market or Ellice Avenue – we will remain haunted by the problems of racism and ethnic discrimination. I do not think this is an easy or straightforward goal to accomplish, nor do I think that accomplishing it will mean an end to oppression, bigotry, or inequality. The human race has a truly astounding capacity for nastiness, and I suspect that if racism is ever put to rest we will find other, equally irrational reasons to mistreat each other. Just as cancer and AIDS have replaced smallpox and Spanish influenza, racially-motivated hatred will be replaced with some other kind; however, just as the knowledge that cancer and AIDS will in turn be replaced by other diseases does not stop us from searching for cures, awareness of humanity’s stubborn capacity for violence should not keep us from resisting the violence we see around us.

But what does this resistance look like? Continue reading

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

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

The Gunfighter and the Nation State Part II

“When The Legend Becomes Fact, Print The Legend”

Andre Forget

Westerns are origin stories. Myths about taming the frontier, they narrate the first encounters between colonists and indigenous peoples, the lawless feudal era of the cowboy and the cattle baron, and the arrival of law, order, and the state. A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that Shane shows how order is built on a mythic violence which sits uncomfortably between the feudal age and the age of the nation; it uses feudal means to undo the feudal order. This violence, however, is kept at arm’s length from the peaceful community that benefits from it. John Ford’s 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance takes up a lot of the same questions but ends on a significantly more cynical note. Continue reading

The Gunfighter and the Nation State Part I

“There’s No Living With A Killing”

Andre Forget

It’s a familiar image. The screen brightens to reveal a ruggedly picturesque landscape of rolling plains, high bluffs and twisting rivers; in the distance we can see a small speck that slowly grows larger until it is identified as a lone horseman riding towards us. The origin of the horseman is unimportant. He has appeared out of the landscape, and we already know that when the film closes we will see him disappear back into the landscape: he is elemental, barely human. Continue reading

I Am Not The 99%

Andre Forget

I’m am not part of the 99%. I mean this in both a global and in a local sense. While many university graduates struggle to find any work at all, let alone work in their field or work that uses their degree in some way, I find myself employed by my alma mater in work that I find stimulating, meaningful and lucrative. Does this mean that I am part of the 1%? I pay my taxes fairly willingly (knowing that I will get the bulk of it back), would have voted NDP in both the federal election and the Manitoba provincial election had I been allowed, and am entirely on board with wealth redistribution. Perhaps others in my position could lend their support to the Occupy movement whole-heartedly, without a shadow of doubt. I cannot. Continue reading

Voices in the Desert

An Interview with Bill Blaikie

by Andre Forget

“The most important battles of my career were, unfortunately, the ones which were lost. We tend to think of important battles as victories….most of my victories were in the early part of my career.”

This was not quite how I had expected my interview with Bill Blaikie, one of the foremost parliamentarians of his generation, to start. Yes, many of the causes Blaikie championed – nuclear disarmament, anti-globalization, justice issues for aboriginals – have been marginalized or ignored by mainstream politics, but in the wake of the massive growth of the NDP both nationally and in Manitoba (where he served as an MLA from 2009-2011, after leaving federal politics) over the last ten years, it seems as though Blaikie’s withdrawal from active politics comes at a time when his party is stronger than it has been in years. Continue reading

Getting to Mt. Athos

Andre Forget

Orthodoxy.  The word has always had a strange taste in my mouth, as if it were an arcane branch of medicine or an obscure and ancient legal state of affairs.  Until this past year, when I moved naively to Istanbul on a vague and ill-defined search for an experience of the Other, my knowledge of Orthodoxy was almost purely academic.  I’d read Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World in my first year of university (and probably missed the point), and I’d had a few conversations with a former Anglican of my acquaintance who had gone on to be baptized Orthodox in his late twenties, but in my limited understanding of the Orthodox I thought of them as a sort of eastern Catholic – all liturgy and incense and icons.  I was to find out exactly how wrong I was, and how impoverished my understanding of global Christianity had been.  Continue reading

A Rotten Heart

The Left’s Response to the Tea Party and what it Reveals

Andre Forget

Without a doubt, the rise to concrete govermental power of the Tea Party has been one of the most important political developments in 2010.  Much has already been written about the origins and developments of this movement, starting as it did from a variety of grassroots libertarian or conservative movements and blossoming as more American citizens became outraged 7at the government’s willingness to provide bailouts in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown.  But what interests me most is the left’s reaction to this upwelling of violent anger.  It is not hard to understand why the left has serious problems with the movement: it is radically individualistic, against social programs, in favour of a small government and an unregulated or minimally regulated economy, and violently opposed to anything that appears liberal, leftist, or socialist.  That the Tea Party lacks a coherent platform and presents contradictory demands has been pointed out by numerous pundits; but if we look at the movement as a sociological phenomenon – a grassroots political uprising led by fairly ordinary and minimally educated citizens based in a strongly-held moral ideology – there is much to commend it.  We may completely disagree with everything that the Tea Party is saying, but the very fact that the people saying it are ordinary citizens who are passionate about the direction of their country and willing to organize themselves politically to change it is important, and worth taking seriously.  And yet the overwhelming response from the left in both America and Britain has been either dismissive or hysterical, with a few noteworthy exceptions.  I want to argue that the response of the left has been both problematic and troubling; problematic in the sense that it has only led the Tea Party to more heated rhetoric and an even more determined attack, and troubling because it points to what  is a growing rottenness at the core of the Left. Continue reading