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Canadian Identity -- Highway's Rez Sisters and Hall's Diaspora


Nov 29, 2006   #1
Authors Note: I couldn't get the footnotes to work properly, so scroll down or open another window on the footnotes if you can, since they are helpful. This isn't "traditional" essay format, with regards to the sense that I'm exploring the idea of Canadian Identity while revising older ideas as the essay progresses. The reference to the fictional text (Rez SIsters) may seem out of place, but, this is an english essay after all (requirement), so, forgive me that much. I did it in one night, so I realise there are mistakes (many, both in content and grammar) throughout the paper, but I'd like you guys to give it a read if ya have the time and tell me what you think, for my own piece of mind.

"Africa is the name of the missing term, the great aporia, which lies at the centre of our cultural identity and gives it a meaning which, until recently, it lacked. No one who looks at these textural images now, in the light of the history of transportation, slavery and migration, can fail to understand how the rift of separation, the 'loss of identity', which has been integral to the Carribean experience only beings to be healed when these forgotten connections are once more set in place.'"

In this sense, Canadian cultural identity becomes problematic; it lacks the great aporia that is the center of the Caribbean experience. In Canada's current cultural multiplicity, it has neglected that which is necessary to identity-a oneness of experience; a great separation from origin-the Canadian Africa[1]. In being a multicultural nation of no single geographical past[2] it has become multi-sporic; a country consisting of divided asporias[3] that reside in irreconcilable difference. Yet, however much this 'oneness' of historical experience evades Canadian cultural identity, Margaret Atwood suggests a convenient solution, "we are all immigrants." This becomes the essence of Canadian identity-the survival of the immigrant encounter-through which the cultural line can be drawn through everyone to establish a mosaic of linear experience, which then, leads to identifying the canadian[4] as Canadian.

However, "as well as the points of similarity, there are also critical points of deep and significant difference which constitute 'what we really are'; or rather - since history has intervened - 'what we have become'." (Hall 225) The ways in which each emigrating cultures have, and continue to, navigate the political and economic experience of immigration sets them apart from one another. In which case, the canadian comes to occupy a paradox of identity formation-that which contributes to Canadian cultural identity is the very thing which confounds the problem. How do we console the Canadian-British with the Canadian-Moroccan; the Canadian-British-Manitoban with the Canadian-British-Quebecan? The dashes are as innumerable as the differences that may divide them. Yet, however dissimilar, the Canadian immigrant's survival remains a point of common origin towards a national, cultural identity[5].

Or does it? The search for the Canadian has come to disregard those to whom this land is native. Since aboriginals do not fit into the convenient schema of immigrant survival, the native, or, aboriginal community has refused to fit into Canadian cultural identity.

The Native "problem" is complex-they are expected to relinquish their identity in exchange for an immigrant experience they cannot share. This "inner expropriation of cultural identity cripples and deforms. If its silences are not resisted, they produce, in Fanon's vivid phrase, individuals without an anchor, without horizon, colourless, stateless, rootless - a race of angels.'" (Hall 226) Thus, if the anchor for the canadian immigrant resides in the struggle for survival, which then makes him Canadian; the Native-Canadian is left to con-form within a space that he is incapable of identifying-that is, to be both Native and Canadian is an impossibility considering our current understanding of the similarity that binds Canadian identity[6].

There is a jostling of identities that is occurring. If we consider the Native to be Canadian then we exclude the immigrant experience, if we consider the immigrant to be Canadian then we exclude the native experience. In this case, a sense of national identity is one that caters to the dominant experience to avoid a being of statelessness-national identity, then, is not all-inclusive. It is within this exclusivity that we relegate to the periphery of society those cultures that do not conform to our sense of Canadian. In essence, we declare the Native as un-Canadian, or, subhuman within Canadian space[7].

Yet, in having seemingly solved the problem of the canadian by disregarding the Native experience, there is a strange sense of inadequacy that surrounds us-one that Judith Butler is able to shed light on: "Who 'am' I, without you? When we lose some of these ties by which we are constituted, we do not know who we are or what to do. On one level, I think I have lost 'you' only to discover that 'I' have gone missing as well." (Butler 22)

In relinquishing the Native from the Canadian we have stolen ownership of an identity that was originally constituted through the Native experience. There was a Canadian identity pre-colonialism and pre-immigration, and it was a Native one[8]-an identity that has been misrepresented and historically destroyed by dominating immigrant forces. Consequently, in order to unearth a Canadian cultural identity free of inadequacy, we must move away from the static understanding of identity proposed--we are all immigrants[9]--and into Derrida's differance.

Differance shows "how meaning is never finished or completed, but keeps encompassing other additional and supplementary meanings." (Hall 229) Canadian cultural identity operates within this play of differ and defer-it is a constant cultural identity that is never complete, or, always deferred, while consisting within difference. The immigrant Canadian is an identity understood through how we position our native past[10] beside the Native and Colonial past. Since Canadian identity "does not proceed, in a straight, unbroken line, from some fixed origin" (Hall 226) it must be understood as an identity framed within a common historical past that is constantly retold through foreign and native eyes-a hybridity of identity (Hall 235) that is illustrated in Tomson Highway's The Rez Sisters.

Highway's play is able to look upon a distorted Native past-the Native aporia-and retell the Native experience as a hyrbridised identity, an intercultural Native that still maintains origin. The form of the play as "dramatic" is one instance of this intercultural hybridity; the theatre becomes an extension from Native oral culture to neo-Native dramatic culture. It is both a Native form of expression, yet, a colonial influence as well; it compliments the oral tradition through similarity and difference. It is this repositioning, or, reappropriation of colonialism that Native identity embodies, which speaks to the intercultural play of hybridity, or, differance-the form of the play as a representative of the Other, yet, at the same time, a representative of the Native experience, and, ultimately, through this merging, the Canadian experience.

The presentation of language is also of particular importance. Cree is scattered throughout:
Marie-Adele:
Neee. Moo-tha ni-gus-kee-tan tu-pi-mi-tha-an [...] bird come **** on my fence one more time and you and anybody else look like you cook like stew on my stove. Awus! (Highway 19)

Awus! We-chee-gis. Ka-tha pu-g'wun-ta oo-ta [...] Go away! (Highway 19)
Pelajia:
Aw-ni-gi-naw-ee-dick. (Highway 5)

The Cree language is distinctly Native; yet, it is also presented beside English, and, of more importance, through it[11]; an intercultural moment that is distinctly aboriginal[12]. In addition, and what is of most symbolic importance within The Rez Sisters and, to a degree, indigenous identity is the presence of Nanabush. This mythological figure is Highway's way of re-imagining a colonially distorted mythical past into the present. Nanabushs' transformations-seagull to nighthawk to bingo master-also speak to the perpetually changing nature of identity. In addition, it is of no small consequence that Marie-Adele, the one character within the play who speaks both English and Cree simultaneously, a character possessing this sense of differance, is the only one capable of spotting Nanabush.

The play suggests that the "symbolic journey to the past is necessary - and necessarily circular." (Hall 232) However, this return to identity must be achieved, as Hall suggests and Highway confirms, "by another route" (Hall 232)-a route found through imaginary representation[13]. Yet, "this return to the beginning is like the imaginary in Lacan - it can neither be fulfilled nor requited [...] it is an infinitely renewable source." (Hall 236) By consequence, it is this representation of the 'return to past identity' through Highway's imaginative theatre that adds to the continuous production and formation of, not only Native identity, but also Canadian identity to which the Native is intrinsically linked[14].

To uncover the imaginative Canadian past, much as Highway has done for his Native community through Nanabush, there must be an acknowledgement of the presences of the past. In recognizing what is past as, also, continually present in the formation of the Canadian identity is the first step towards establishing a consciousness of what it means to be Canadian. As Hall elucidates, we are ever-presently surrounded by our historical presences.

The Presence Native[15] is that lingering sense of 'origin' that engulfs every action and reaction of our Canadian experience; its presence is underlined in every custom, spiritual life, art, craft, music and rhythm. Presence Colonial, then, is the 'nation state,' the government, the residual British and French colonial experience (oppressive or not) that has been absorbed into Canadian identity-The French and Indian war of 1756; Samuel de Champlain; The Hudsons Bay Company; The capture of Acadia; The Queen Anne War; William Lyon Mackenzie, among many others--that colonizing influence which is forever part of the Canadian as the Canadian is forever part of it. The third, and perhaps most important, Presence Americaine, is that 'New World' presence (Hall 234) of constant identity creation and production-the beginnings of a new hybrid experience, one, that as Hall remarks is not defined by "essence or purity, but by the recognition of a necessary heterogeneity and diversity; by a conception of 'identity' which lives with and through, not despite, difference; by hybridity." (Hall 235)

It is this difference and intercultural hybridity that The Rez Sisters illustrates, primarily through Marie-Adele and Nanabush-an illustration that provides a glimpse into a Canadian experience-one that is not characterized through the attempt to universalize the Canadian through similarity: "we are all immigrants" or "we are all survivors," rather, by another route-we are all different, we are all hybrids of presence, we are all involved in the continuous creation of Canadian cultural differance.

-----------

Note: I tried paralleling Hall's movement from static identity to not-so-static in the same circular motion that he does throughout his paper (which is why I'm constantly revising myself throughout the essay--it'd be safe to say this isn't a "traditional" essay format) while situating the Rez Sisters as the central fictional text through which his key resolutions-hybridity and re-imagining the past-are shown. If you want to pin down one clear thesis, it would have to be Hall's diaspora as a lens through which to view the rez sisters and provide a reflection into the question of Canadian identity-one that is not complacent with Atwood's static notion of (immigrant) surivival.

Footnotes:

[1] You could say that Britain (even France) become the 'Canadian Africa' although, I'd see it as problematic, considering that we are trying to get away from colonialism as subjugating influence on identity, and, that we are neither predominantly of French of British origin.

[2] Again, it could be argued that the nation of Canada shares its infant links with Britain--that, we are all, essentially, British to some degree. (Or, French, to an even smaller degree) Whose degrees do we chose? The multiple origins become a problem-so, I think it'd be safe to say that we have no single archaeological past in regards to the way that Caribbean's share Africa as a homeland they've been displaced from.

[3] Difference between Japanese-Canadian and the British-Canadian-the British subject draws his separation back to Britain, the Japanese back to Japan. How, then, do we come to achieve this oneness of Canadian identity if we do not share a common 'asporia.'

[4] canadian (one without identity) opposed to the Canadian (with identity)
[5] everyone has experienced the 'immigrants survival' through one generation or another
[6] We can have a native-Canadian or a Native-canadian (the two identities don't share that common immigrant experience which we have identified as the Canadian, hence the trouble. To be Native-Canadian is to be an immigrant and at the same time a non-immigrant.

[7] This is, to some degree, why I think there is this tension between the Canadian state and the Native state. The Canadian state was founded on colonial experience of immigration, one that the Native does not share.

[8] There was a "Canada" that existed pre-discovery and pre-unification. Hall's idea that present Caribbean (Canada) is as much tied to metaphorical past of a pre-Caribbean (pre-Canadian) state-Presence Africaine.

[9] Or, "we are all survivors"
[10] By native I mean to say that each immigrant brings his or her homeland into Canada. It is the way their homeland is positioned between/with/against the colonial and indigenous history of the country that makes one "Canadian." E.g. Colonial-Native-X (where X is the immigrants homeland). The way the X positions itself is how one comes to understand themselves as Canadian. You could say, for meanings sake, that the base ingredient of the Canadian is the Colonial-Native and that the X is that constant deference which persistently adds to the current identity of the Canadian.

[11] The thing that nags at me most is whether Highway presents these intercultural moments as harmonic or as moments of colonial oppression-I'd say that it's more in harmony with, simply because I cant seem to sense any strong tone of malice or resistance

[12] How can there be an intercultural moment that only belongs to one culture? I think that is the nature of Hall's hybridity, to be of many cultural identities while, at the same time, only being of one.

[13] I.e. Theatre/Art/Music/Fiction...

[14] Linked with regards to the Native experience being positioned by the Colonial experience, that is, since the Colonial exp. is inescapably Canadian, and has had many dealings with indigeneity, both past (Indian Act) and present (Oka Crisis, Caledonia), than how can we separate what is Canadian from what is Native if they position themselves withregards to one another.

[15] Native in the sense of what is original/native to each individual "Canadian," not native in the aboriginal/indigenous sense. I'm trying to map Hall's Presences to the Canadian experience

Greetings!

You have obviously put a lot of thought and feeling into this essay. It sounds as though you have done academic and/or professional writing--is that correct? My compliments! I would be glad to proof it for typos and give you my thoughts on content, keeping in mind that all suggestions are just that--suggestions. (And I must confess that I had to look up "aporia" in the dictionary. What a great word!)

"Africa is the name of the missing term, the great aporia, which lies at the centre of our cultural identity and gives it a meaning which, until recently, it lacked. No one who looks at these textural images now, in the light of the history of transportation, slavery and migration, can fail to understand how the rift of separation, the 'loss of identity', which has been integral to the Carribean experience only beings to be healed when these forgotten connections are once more set in place.'"

Is this a quotation? I don't see a cite for it. If you wrote it, I suggest that you identify whose cultural identity you are addressing in the first sentence. It's not clear whether you mean Canadians or perhaps a specific group of Canadians. Regarding the meaning of this paragraph, I'm not sure why Caribbeans are entering into the discussion. Would it be possible to draw a clearer connection? Did you perhaps mean "begins to be healed" rather that "beings to be healed"?

"Yet, however much this 'oneness' of historical experience evades Canadian cultural identity, Margaret Atwood suggests a convenient solution, "we are all immigrants." "

I suggest a semi-colon rather than a comma before the quotation.

"The ways in which each emigrating cultures have, and continue to, navigate the political and economic experience of immigration sets them apart from one another."

I would replace "each" with "various."

"How do we console the Canadian-British with the Canadian-Moroccan; the Canadian-British-Manitoban with the Canadian-British-Quebecan?"

Is "console" the right word here?

"Since aboriginals do not fit into the convenient schema of immigrant survival, the native, or, aboriginal community has refused to fit into Canadian cultural identity."

I think you meant the comma after "or" to be placed after "aboriginal."

"(Hall 226)"

Needs a period.

"Thus, if the anchor for the canadian immigrant resides in the struggle for survival, which then makes him Canadian; the Native-Canadian is left to con-form within a space that he is incapable of identifying-that is, to be both Native and Canadian is an impossibility considering our current understanding of the similarity that binds Canadian identity[6]."

Something seems wrong with the first part of the sentence; did you mean "this then makes him Canadian"? I'm not sure that the semi-colon that follows that phrase is correct. The hyphen in "con-form" is probably just a typo.

"There is a jostling of identities that is occurring."

A little passive. How about "A jostling of identities is occurring"?

"If we consider the Native to be Canadian then we exclude the immigrant experience, if we consider the immigrant to be Canadian then we exclude the native experience."

I would change the comma to a semi-colon.

"On one level, I think I have lost 'you' only to discover that 'I' have gone missing as well." (Butler 22)

The final period needs to go outside the citation.

Much as I'd like to proof the whole essay, time does not permit. I think I said enough to give you an idea of the things I was looking for, both nit-picky and significant. The main thing I would suggest is to remember that your average reader (like myself) has little background in this area and needs as much clarification as possible. Of course, if you are writing for an audience of academic professionals, this will not hold as true, but if this essay is for a class, I would keep the ignorance factor in mind. And on the footnotes, I noticed some of them are missing the mandatory space between. Probably a computer-translation problem, but just thought I'd mention it.

Best of luck, although you really don't need it! You seem to have talent in abundance; just combine that with a careful perusal and you'll do very well (in my humble opinion).

Cheers,

Sarah, EssayForum.com
Nov 30, 2006   #3
Err yes, it is begins to be healed... the start is a quote by Stuart Hall from his paper on identity. The Carribbean-Canadian connection is simply because Hall wrote his article on Carribbean identity and I'm trying to pull his thoughts into the world of Canadian identity (Hall addresses the problems of identity in a previously "colonised space" i.e. United States/Canada/Carribbean etc...

You're right on the mark, various suits that sentence better, and the semicolon would make more sense.

The reason I used "console" is because I feel, or at least I'm trying to set up the feeling that these differences work against the notion of "one" unified identity. However, I'm not so sure myself if console is the right word.

Yes, yes, yes, absolutely right, I see it on second glance--there is something that feels horribly wrong with the "which then makes him..."

They hyphen in con-form was just a little playfulness, it's the idea that if the aboriginal community were to conform/buy into Canadian identity, that it'd be more of a "con" than anything else...

"A jostling of identities is occuring" sounds better, although I'm begining to second guess my use of the word "jostling."

My biggest concern is that my thoughts aren't in the clouds-- that I, at least, seem to be making some sense and not spewing some philosophical gibberish. I realise that b/c you don't have prior knowledge on the subject that it may seem entirely foreign, but does it feel coherent to some degree?

And thanks a ton for the positive comments, I really appreciate it.
Greetings, and good morning!

It really helps to get someone else's perspective, doesn't it? Glad to be of service.

On first read, I missed the information that this is an essay for English class. With that in mind, I think you should consider simplifying your concepts and language for the sake of clarity. I'm sure academics would have no problem with concept-dense style, but it might be a bit high-flown for the average jane or joe. Of course, it all depends on what your instructor expects, and what you are comfortable with.

I can give you an example of what I'm talking about. You wrote:

"Highway's play is able to look upon a distorted Native past-the Native aporia-and retell the Native experience as a hyrbridised identity, an intercultural Native that still maintains origin."

I get what you're saying here, but it took several readings and a lot of concentration (and I'm reasonably bright). Something like, "Highway's play looks upon the Native past--the Native aporia [which, BTW, I suggest you define the first time you use it]--and retells it as a tale of distorted identity. The play's protagonists retain their Native character, but in a hybridized form that has been altered by the dominant culture."

There are any number of ways to express the same idea, of course; this is just one suggestion. The point is to assume that your reader, while not actually as dumb as a stump, isn't a genius, either. My philosophy is that an essay should be accessible to anyone of average intelligence who is willing to put a little bit of effort into reading it. If it is too erudite, the reader's eyes will quickly glaze over, and you've lost him or her.

I think your essay contains some well-thought-out ideas and good research. The quotations are apt, and your command of language and sentence construction is impressive. I also think that if you take the language down a notch, more people will be able to enjoy it.

I take it that the Rez Sisters play is a work of your own imagination and does not exist otherwise? I like the context it provides for an exploration of the fusion of Native and colonial identities.

And BTW, I like "jostling." It gives a clear picture of identities rubbing up against each other in a rather chaotic way. As to "con-form," I like the humorous touch, but it might require an explanation ("con-form, in the sense that . . . ", or something along those lines).

All in all, I think you are right on target in your assessment of your work so far. I would suggest that you run a spell- and grammar-check on it; I noticed a few uh-ohs. Your main ideas are excellent, the inclusion of The Rez Sisters is creative, and you obviously have no problem letting the words flow. You might want to get input from a few other readers; their opinions could be completely different from mine.

Good luck, and keep up the good work!

Sarah, EssayForum.com
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