“Reconciling Aboriginality and Modernity”

Lately I’ve been reading chapters (skipping about) of Bill Reid and Beyond. The one I keep going back to is “Reconciling Aboriginality and Modernity.” There is so much in here, but here are a few choice tidbits that resonate with me. (Mainly because I also concern myself with such things.)

“With the publication of Reid’s collected writings (2000), we learn how he worked out ways of thinking about Haida history and memory, and then struggled to make modern their resonances in the present. He understood it to be a solitary, modern struggle. It is not suprising that it pleased him to be given the name Yaahl Sgwansung, which translates as “the Only Raven,” by Florence Davidson.”

“In mourning cultural loss and forgetting, Reid seemed to imply that the best way to cut the losses was to be modern. Although he was using newly available technologies and never denied that the myths and histories–of the Raven, of Qaganjaat (the Mouse Woman), of the Bear Mother and her cubs–were supplemented from his own imagination, he expressed the hope that his work might relay some of “the old, universal magic.” ”

“It has often seemed that contemporary Native art grew out of the productive and mutually defining relationship between modernism and aboriginality. Now it appears that aboriginality, working by its own rules, is in the ascendant. And it has been put there by two succeeding generations of First Nations artists increasingly confident of furthering ideas and ways of articulating them that lie outside the parameters of knowledge formation inherited from the European Enlightenment. That they themselves, participating in a liberal humanist democracy, are also enmeshed in exactly this knowledge formation, is well enough understood and evident in their work: cross-cultural entanglement beyond deconstruction, heavily ironic encounters, mutual (mis)appropriation–beyond salvage and beyond reprieve–and some good jokes at everyone’s expense. And yet, as new ways are found of segueing the old into the new, of playing origins and futures off against each other, there is an attempt to disentangle, to separate out the indigenous.”


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