Monday, May 30, 2016

Feeling Historical

On our visit to the splash pad this weekend I finished a couple of articles.  The first was "Thinking about Feeling Historical" by Lauren Berlant.  I generally find Berlant very east to read and like her use of accessible examples that ground her argument.  However, despite easy examples, the aids crisis and post 9-11 security, this article was a difficult read.  Berlant is trying to explore how we experience some moments while simultaneously remaining conscious of their role in history, so that acts in these moments become performative with an existence outside of normal.  The idea is interesting, but she does not situated herself or the reader with why this is an issue to explore at this point.  Nevertheless, I found some interesting moments in the article.

In a footnote on page two there is a clue to her possible rationale with a note about Henri Bergsons's "Matter and Memory" which she explains, "...deems intuition the work of memory that shapes the present.  In the model I'm putting forth intuition is the subject's habituated affective activity, the sensorium trained to apperceive the historical in the present by a wide range of encounters and knowledges, not just memory."  This quote brings to mind the work of inventing tradition which I explored last week and the double edged experience of living/creating tradition.  She does not make this link herself, but I see a direct application.

Also in a footnote she speaks to, "Crisis ordinariness" as her preferred way of talking about traumas of the social that are lived through collectively and that transform the sensorium to a heightened perceptiveness about the unfolding of the historical and sometimes historic, moment."  I felt this keenly when we were at the last day of the closing ceremony for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  A very ordinary day, but also a part of a history.  People were telling chilling truths as we sat in a generic hotel board room.  Telling personal private truths to an unknown public collective.  The little ones ran, as the old ones cried.

Berlant speaks about how "...being overwhelmed by knowledge and life produces all kinds of neutralizing affect management -  coasting, skimming browsing, distraction, apathy, coolness, counter-absorption, assessments of scale , picking one's fights, and so on."  Again, Berlant makes no reference to indigenous peoples in this paper, but the quote seemed so relevant to all the distractions we use as a culture from the dangerous ones to those little pleasures that are too easy to over indulge in.  How often do we use these neutralizations to keep going?

As a long time worrier, I found her exploration of the roots of the word worry very interesting. "At root, "to worry: is to strangle, to choke, to bite."  She takes this definition from the dictionary.  This spoke to me making me think about how I strangle myself, my ideas, my relationship with community as a result of my worry.  She continues by linking this personal behavior to the wider community perspective,"Gathering up affectively and emotionally-saturated knowledge processed in so many different ways, demonstrating fidelity to the openness of the even that is not yet "stone" there is otherwise only so much grief.  This grief for the lost ordinary is the default feeling that they're refusing of being historical in the present." For Canadian indigenous peoples these moments are likely to be joint sorrows.  We see the creation of a history that we wish we did not see.  We see the imprint of this new history on the ordinariness of our lives going forward.  We are stuck moving forward through a journey that may not take us where we want nor be comfortable to experience, yet what is the option, but to continue forward?

In the final part of the article she critiques a poem by Hicok called "A Primer" looking at the stories we tell about where we came from and the need to re-find and re-tell our story as we are continuously in a new place in our journey with a new perspective on those places we came from and the role they play in our story.  Who you tell yourself you are today will become your historic self in the quickly passing moment. 

In the end, this paper left me thinking again about how we tell our personal stories and how that matters into the larger history we are part off.  This is not to create a falseness to the stories we tell, but to keep connected to the larger community that we are part of and understand how our stories intertwine to tell about who we are and where we came from.  But this is something we don't really require an journal article to remind us.  Live your gratitude in each day.  Your story and truth matters.  You are part of the historic chain.  What story are you telling right now?

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