I bought the book. I read the book.
Was I consumed?
The question arises in part from the vampire-inspired figure raised by Judith Barry in her critical and art work.
Architecture has become transparent, a giant screen into which social life dissolves. By making explicit certain unspoken yet intensely felt subject relations, my work attempts to develop a theory of mass/media consumer culutre, whereby as opposed to Baudrillard’s schizophrenic, we inhabit the world like vampires, those last great, sentient beings of the 19th century imagination who are neither dead nor alive.
Public Fantasy, an anthology of critical essays, fictions and project descriptions published to coincide with an ICA Exhibition, Public Fantasy 20 June – 14 July 1991
Project description “In the Shadow of the City … Vamp R Y …” 1982-8
I love that line … those last great, sentient beings of the 19th century. What are we to do in the 21st?
This vampire figure is taken up by Jean Fisher in Vampire in the text: narratives of contemporary art (2003) which includes an essay on Judith Barry’s video and installation work. There is also a piece called “Other Cartographies” which takes up the vampire analogy in a postcolonial setting:
The colonized body is a vampirised body; it arises as a debt — a depletion of blood, of identity — and it cannot be settled or buried since it inherits a perpetual and inexhaustible demand. If we consider the symbolic function of the grandmother in relation to this draining of colonized communities, then she appears as the site of recollection: of the recounting of stories that are the bearers of beliefs and values. She is the sign of continuity: a genealogy, a line back to cultural memory. Hence in Harold of Orange what otherwise refuses to be laid to rest, what constantly appears is tradition — tradition, not in the sense of nostalgia for what once was, but a continuous production of meaning. The debt, the circulating residue in the exchange between disparate cultural entities, is the constant production of otherness.
Can we take this highly gendered perspective to a reading of a reading of The Orenda by Joseph Boyden? Hayden King in a review published in Muskrat Magazine and represented by CBC.
The consequences of these themes – the marginalization of the perspective of the Haudenosaunee, the centering of the Jesuit point of view and the cultivation of old tropes, specifically the savage Indian – amount to a tale about the inevitability of colonization. The vanishing Indian was ordained (even desirable) because of his/her character. Indeed the un-named Sky People who open each section of the book observe the carnage below and conclude the grim history was pre-determined partly because of the selfishness, arrogance and short-sightedness of the Huron. Even Christophe’s torturer, Tekakwitia, will be converted: soon after the events of the book take place Kateri Tekakwitia is born, living a Christian life and eventually becoming a Catholic saint. It’s a grim reality and a difficult book to read. At least it will be for many Native peoples. For Canadians, The Orenda is a colonial scribe and moral alibi.
First the persistent Sky People. Theirs is the final word. They preside over more than beginnings; they have ends in view. Their words do open the book by stating the Jesuit view of the Orenda as unclean. They state the view, they do not endorse it. Indeed, this wrongmindedness is linked to bad behaviour. Orientations matter. In the final passage, they present a call for accountability and by implication a striving for a better future. It is difficult to read their words as simple colonial alibi.
But hindsight is sometimes too easy, isn’t it? And so maybe this is what Aataentsic wants to tell. What’s happened in the past can’t stay in the past for the same reason the future is always just a breath away. Now is what’s most important, Aataentsic says. Orenda can’t be lost, just misplaced. The past and the future are present.
King claims in his reading that The Orenda characterizes the Haudenosaunee as torturers and a continual threat. As the plot unfolds the Huron are the first to torture two captured Iroquois; the Haudenosaunee do not have a monopoly on treating prisoners to caressing with hot coals. Indeed, at one point, one Jesuit addressing another says the Europeans are no different with their Inquisition. It is difficult to see the Haudensaunee as relentlessly depicted as the bad guys.
King offers historical extrapolation to point towards some triumph of colonial power and Christianity. But one could point to other passages in the novel that undermine any such triumphalism. On more than one occasion the Jesuit remarks on the lack of corporal punishment in the Huron child rearing practices and that will change once they are “civilized”. Readers need not be reminded of residential schools to feel a foreshadowing shiver of abuses and almost — fast upon that dark image — to recall cultural resilience.
Indeed, the play of polyphony throughout the novel is often displayed with an economy of detail. You have to be attentive to the almost musical patterns to appreciate the ironies. Take for instance, the Crow (characterized by King as “the doomed hero that reinforces colonial myths of savagery on the one hand, and salvation, on the other”) who after speaking with his companions about witnessing sorcery and trickery and admonishing “You’ll be confronted by this type of foolery on a daily basis” turns his attention to our other two main characters sitting on the shore. His is a view outside-looking-in.
Bird must have said something funny to the girl, for she smiles brightly, looking up at him. She allows her hand to stay in his. A pang of jealousy roots about in my gut.
In King’s reading readers would identify with the jealousy of the Jesuit, the instance of the narrating “I”. [But this is more complicated because King separates out readers into Natives and Canadians.] But I will point out that the Sky People — not to mention the narration which shifts perspectives — have conditioned readers to view the scene as a whole regardless of who is relating the story. There is here to recall Fisher “constant production of otherness”. All the fictional foolery leads to a variety of authenticity – something sentient in our imaginations.
And so for day 1313