Borders have, in contemporary discourse, had a rather rough time of it. Perhaps, at the end of a century that saw the partition of India and Pakistan, the ruler-happy imperialist line-drawing in Africa and the Middle East, and the blood-soaked, increasingly microscopic division of the Balkans, it is simply impossible to believe that borders are anything but a sign of failure. After all, even the gentlest uses of the word suggest something to be overcome, something to be crossed, and the images most commonly associated with it – barbed wire fences, armed guards, desperate refugees, watchtowers, customs officers – are steeped in the biometric panopticism of the modern state. Even to the white middle class, perhaps the most privileged of all international travelers, the border is an ambiguous site of anxiety and potential trouble. In the academy, the border has become increasingly fashionable as a site of transgression. “Border Crossing” and “Liminality” are celebrated as ways of resisting the totalizing logic of the centre, and even those who criticize (consider, for example, Roy Miki’s excoriation of those who are drawn to the margin’s “curious exoticism”) do so from the position that the border still names a painful division. It would seem that transgression is all the border is good for in the modern world. Continue reading →
The Nature of Citizenship and Democracy in Joy Kogawa’s Obasan
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 →
There are some places in our world so evil, that the very ground you walk upon can drain you of hope. Places where cruelty is the norm, where persons are transformed into numbers, and where good people say nothing.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is one of those places. While the deceptive grass now hides the crimes committed in the name of the nation, you don’t have to dig too deep before you find the ashes. Continue reading →