Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

102. Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native”

Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native first page

Patrick Wolfe’s name appears on almost every bibliography of every text I’ve read on settler colonialism. So it’s time to sit down and read his work, instead of relying on how other people talk about it. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native” begins with the word “genocide”: “The question of genocide is never far from discussions of settler colonialism. Land is life—or, at least, land is necessary for life. Thus contests for land can be—indeed, often are—contests for life” (387). That doesn’t mean, he continues, “that settler colonialism is simply a form of genocide,” or that genocide can’t take place without settler colonialism (387). However, he continues, in this essay, he “shall begin to explore, in comparative fashion, the relationship between genocide and the settler-colonial tendency that I term the logic of elimination” (387). His contention, he writes, is that settler colonialism should be distinguished from genocide; while it is “inherently eliminatory,” is is not “invariably genocidal” (387).

Wolfe begins exploring this claim by noting that “both genocide and settler colonialism have typically employed the organizing grammar of race,” and that even though race is a social construct, “different racial regimes encode and reproduce the unequal relationships in to which Europeans coerced the populations concerned” (387). Those relationships were different: in the United States, for instance, because Africans were enslaved, the offspring of an enslaved person and “any other parent” would be enslaved as well, a “taxonomy” that “became fully racialized in the ‘one-drop rule,’ whereby any amount of African ancestry, no matter how remote, and regardless of phenotypical appearance, makes a person Black” (387-88). For Indigenous people in the United States, in contrast, “non-Indian ancestry compromised their indigeneity, producing ‘half-breeds,’ a regime that persists in the form of blood quantum regulations” (388). Unlike enslaved Africans, “whose reproduction augmented their owners’ wealth, Indigenous people obstructed settlers’ access to land, so their increase was counterproductive. In this way, the restrictive racial classification of Indians straightforwardly furthered the logic of elimination” (388). All that Indigenous people have to do “to get in the way of settler colonization,” Wolfe writes, citing Deborah Bird Rose, “is stay at home” (388). The “primary motive for elimination” of Indigenous peoples, then, is simply “access to territory. Territoriality is settler colonialism’s specific, irreducible element” (388).

“The logic of elimination not only refers to the summary liquidation of Indigenous people, though it includes that,” Wolfe continues (388). He suggests that “settler colonialism has both negative and positive dimensions” (388). “Negatively, it strives for the dissolution of native societies,” he writes. “Positively, it erects a new colonial society on the expropriated land base—as I put it, settler colonizers come to stay: invasion is a structure not an event” (388). Elimination of Indigenous populations, then, “is an organizing principal of settler-colonial society rather than a one-off (and superseded) occurrence,” and that elimination can include activities familiar to Canadians: “child abduction, religious conversion, [and] resocialization in total institutions such as missions or boarding schools” (388). “Settler colonialism,” Wolfe states, “destroys to replace” (388)

Renaming is one form of symbolic elimination or erasure. However, Wolfe notes that in Australia, 

the erasure of indigeneity conflicts with the assertion of settler nationalism. On the one hand, settler society required the practical elimination of the natives in order to establish itself on their territory. On the symbolic level, however, settler society subsequently sought to recuperate indigeneity in order to express its difference—and, accordingly, its independence—from the mother country. (389)

For that reason, Australian official symbolism, sports teams, and corporations “are distinguished by the ostentatious borrowing of Aboriginal motifs” (389). That’s true in this country as well: think of the appropriation of the inukshuk for the Vancouver Winter Olympics, or of the way totem poles became a national symbol. (I just saw artist and academic David Garneau give a talk on this very subject.) “For nationalist purposes, it is hard to see an alternative to this contradictory reappropriation of a foundationally disavowed Aboriginality,” Wolfe continues (389).

“In its positive aspect, therefore, settler colonialism does not simply replace native society tout court,” Wolf writes. “Rather, the process of replacement maintains the refractory imprint of the native counter-claim” (389). “In short,” he concludes, 

elimination refers to more than the summary liquidation of Indigenous people, although it includes that. In its positive aspect, the logic of elimination marks a return whereby the native repressed continues to structure settler-colonial society. It is both as complex social formation and as continuity through time that I term settler colonization a structure rather than an event, and it is on this basis that I shall consider its relationship to genocide. (390)

That assertion of complexity clarifies a great deal about the relationship between Settlers and Indigenous peoples and about the way Settlers have tended to represent Indigenous peoples and celebrate their cultural artifacts while they are appropriating their land and abducting their children.

Wolfe now returns, in a new section of the essay, to the past, to “the European sovereigns who laid claim to the territories of non-Christian (or, in later secularized versions, uncivilized) inhabitants of the rest of the world” did so through multiple versions of “the doctrine of discovery” (390). The discourse around such claims, though, “was primarily addressed to relations between European sovereigns rather than to relations between Europeans and natives” in an attempt “to restrain the endless rounds of war-making over claims to colonial territory that European sovereigns were prone to indulge in” (390). In Australia, for instance, where “British dominion was effectively unchallenged by other European powers, Aborigines were accorded no rights to their territory, informal variants on the theme of terra nullius being taken for granted in settler culture” (390-91). In North America, on the other hand, “treaties between Indian and European nations were premised on a sovereignty that reflected Indians’ capacity to permute local alliance networks from among the rival Spanish, French, Dutch, Swedish and Russian presences” (391). However, even where Indigenous sovereignty was recognized, “ultimate dominion over the territory in question was held to inhere in the European sovereign in whose name it had been ‘discovered’” (391). There was, Wolfe continues, a “clear distinction between dominion, which inhered in European sovereigns alone, and natives’ right of occupancy, also expressed in terms of possession or usufruct, which entitled natives to pragmatic use (understood as hunting and gathering rather than agriculture) of a territory that Europeans had discovered” (391). For Wolfe, this distinction “between dominion and occupancy illuminates the settler-colonial project’s reliance on the elimination of native societies” (391).

Those who claimed to discover a particular territory thereby “acquired the right, on behalf of his sovereign and vis-à-vis other Europeans who came after him, to buy land from the natives,” a right known as pre-emption (391). This notion “would seem to pose little threat to people who did not wish to dispose of their land to anyone,” but in practice, Wolfe writes, quoting Harvey Rosenthal, “‘The American right to buy always superseded the Indian right not to sell’” (391). This sense of priority is crucial, Wolfe suggests:

Why should ostensibly sovereign nations, residing in a territory solemnly guaranteed to them by treaties, decide that they are willing, after all, to surrender their ancestral homelands? More often than not (and nearly always up to the wars with the Plains Indians, which did not take place until after the civil war), the agency which reduced Indian peoples to this abjection was not some state instrumentality but irregular, greed-crazed invaders who had no intention of allowing the formalities of federal law to impede their access to the riches available in, under, and on Indian soil. (391)

Canadians may shake their heads and mutter something about greedy Americans, but the behaviour of squatters in the Haldimand Tract in Ontario, which was deeded to the Haudenosaunee in 1784, was not much different, and, like Wolfe’s example of the removal of Indigenous peoples from the American South that made way for the development of “the slave-plantation economy” (391) the governments of Upper Canada and later Canada West supported the rights of those squatters over the rights of the Haudenosaunee to their own land. 

To Wolfe, the behaviour of the soldiers who drove the Cherokees from their homes illustrates “the structural complexity of settler colonialism” (392). Those soldiers, he notes, were “economic immigrants “ who

were generally drawn from the ranks of Europe’s landless. The cattle and other stock were not only being driven off Cherokee land; they were being driven into private ownership. Once evacuated, the Red man’s land would be mixed with Black labour to produce cotton, the white gold of the Deep South. To this end, the international slave trade and the highest echelons of the formal state apparatus converged across three continents with the disorderly pillaging of a nomadic horde who may or may not have been “lawless” but who were categorically White. (392)

“In this light,” Wolfe states, “we are in a position to understand the pragmatics of the doctrine of discovery more clearly”:

 Understood as an assertion of Indigenous entitlement, the distinction between dominion and occupancy dissolves into incoherence. Understood processually, however, as a stage in the formation of the settler-colonial state (specifically, the stage linking the theory and the realization of territorial acquisition), the distinction is only too consistent. (392)

What does Wolfe mean? He returns to the point that Indigenous people could only transfer “their right of occupancy to the discovering sovereign and no one else” (392). “They could not transfer dominion because it was not theirs to transfer; that inhered in the European sovereign and had done so from the moment of discovery,” he continues. “Dominion without conquest constitutes the theoretical (or ‘inchoate’) stage of territorial sovereignty” (392). “In other word,” Wolfe writes,

the right of occupancy was not an assertion of native rights. Rather, it was a pragmatic acknowledgment of the lethal interlude that would intervene between the conceit of discovery, when navigators proclaimed European over whole continents to trees or deserted beaches, and the practical realization of that conceit in the final securing of European settlement, formally consummated in the extinguishment of native title. (393)

That conceit might have been, as Eva Mackey suggests, a fantasy, but it had tangible consequences. And, remember, in this country, the goal of the federal government in negotiating treaties with First Nations was “the extinguishment of native title.” That’s the purpose of the clauses in the numbered treaties—which Sheldon Krasowski argues, convincingly, were never discussed during the negotiations of those treaties—which claimed that, by making treaty, First Nations were signing away their land. “In sum, then, settler colonialism is an inclusive, land-centred project that coordinates a comprehensive range of agencies, from the metropolitan centre to the frontier encampment, with a view to eliminating Indigenous societies,” Wolfe writes. “Its operations are not dependent on the presence or absence of formal state institutions or functionaries” (393). For that reason, “the occasions on or the extent to which settler colonialism conduces to genocide are not a matter of the presence or absence of the formal apparatus of the state” (393). That genocide can be conducted by priests and nuns and dormitory supervisors in residential schools, or by men who prey on Indigenous sex workers. Our discomfort with the use of the term “genocide” to describe the actions of those people—and I’m thinking of Canadian Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s rejection of that term in the conclusions of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG)–has less to do with the reality of what is happening than our own squeamishness at calling something what it really is. Wolfe, however, would disagree, as the final sections of his essay indicate.

Here Wolfe begins third section of his essay, in which he points out that while “the pace, scale and intensity of certain forms of modern genocide requires the centralized technological, logistical and administrative capacities of the modern state,” settler colonialism is not pre-modern, and that “some of the core features of modernity were pioneered in the colonies” (citing W.E.B. Dubois, Hannah Arendt, and Aimé Césaire) (393). He notes that many of the Nazis’ victims were murdered “in deranged shooting sprees that were more reminiscent of sixteenth-century Spanish behaviour in the Americans than of Fordism, while millions of Slav civilians and Soviet soldiers were simply starved to death in circumstances that could well have struck a chord with late-eighteenth-century Bengalis or mid-nineteenth-century Irish people” (394). The point, he continues, is not that the Holocaust can be divided into “modern and atavistic elements”; rather, the point is that colonialism was modern (394). In fact, he continues, settler colonialism “was foundational to modernity” (394). “[A] global chain of command” linked “remote colonial frontiers to the metropolis,” he argues, and “[b]ehind it all lay the driving engine of international market forces, which linked Australian wool to Yorkshire mills and, complementarily, to cotton produced under different colonial conditions in India, Egypt, and the slave states of the Deep South” (394). He quotes Cole Harris on the dispossession of First Nations in Canada: “‘Combine capital’s interest in uncluttered access to land and settlers’ interest in land as livelihood, and the principal momentum of settler colonialism comes into focus’” (394). The Industrial Revolution “required colonial land and labour to produce its raw materials just as centrally as it required metropolitan factories and an industrial proletariat to process them, whereupon the colonies were again required as a market” (394). For that reason, “[t]he expropriated Aboriginal, enslaved African American, or indentured Asian is as thoroughly modern as the factory worker, bureaucrat, or flâneur of the metropolitan centre. The fact that the slave may be in chains does not make him or her medieval” (394).

“Of itself, however, modernity cannot explain the insatiable dynamic whereby settler colonialism always needs more land,” Wolfe writes at the outset of his essay’s fourth section (395). Agriculture is one reason, but so are other “primary sectors” that “can motivate the project,” including forestry, fishing, pastoralism, and mining (395). However, he argues, agriculture “not only supports the other sectors,” but is “inherently sedentary and, therefore, permanent” (395). “In contrast to extractive industries, which rely on what just happens to be there, agriculture is a rational means/end calculus that is geared to vouchsafing its own reproduction, generating capital that projects into a future where it repeats itself,” he writes (395). (Of course, one could argue that agriculture is extractive as well.) Agriculture also supports a larger population than other modes of production (395). “In settler-colonial terms, this enables a population to be expanded by continuing immigration at the expense of native lives and livelihoods,” he continues. “The inequities, contradictions and pogroms of metropolitan society ensure a recurrent supply of fresh immigrants—especially, as noted, from among the landless. In this way, individual motivations dovetail with the global market’s imperative for expansion” (395). Thus, agriculture “progressively eats into Indigenous territory, a primitive accumulation that turns native flora and fauna into a dwindling resource and curtails the reproduction of Indigenous modes of production,” rendering Indigenous people to a dependency “on the introduced economy” or reducing them “to the stock-raids that provide the classic pretext for colonial death-squads” (395). Wolfe could be talking about Saskatchewan.

Wolfe notes that whether Indigenous people practise agriculture or not, “natives are typically represented as unsettled, nomadic, rootless, etc., in settler-colonial discourse” (396). Agriculture thus becomes “a potent symbol of settler-colonial identity” because of its “life-sustaining connectedness to land” (396). “Accordingly,” he continues, “settler-colonial discourse is resolutely impervious to glaring inconsistencies such as sedentary natives or the fact that the settlers themselves have come from somewhere else” (396). Even if the Indigenous people are already farmers, however, their productivity cannot be simply incorporated into the colonial economy:

At this point, we begin to get closer to the question of just who it is (or, more to the point, who they are) that settler colonialism strives to eliminate—and, accordingly, closer to an understanding of the relationship between settler colonialism and genocide. To stay with the Cherokee removal: when it came to it, the factor that most antagonized the Georgia state government (with the at-least-tacit support of Andrew Jackson’s federal administration) was not actually the recalcitrant savagery of which Indians were routinely accused, but the Cherokee’s unmistakable aptitude for civilization. Indeed, they and their Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole neighbours, who were also targeted for removal, figured revealingly as the “Five Civilized Tribes” in Euroamerican parlance. (396)

The Cherokees, he notes, had become successful farmers “on the White model, with a number of them owning substantial holdings of Black slaves, and they had introduced a written national constitution that bore more than a passing resemblance to the US one” (396). Why would the Georgians “wish to rid themselves of such cultivated neighbours?” (396). Because “the Cherokee’s constitution and their agricultural prowess . . . all signified permanence” (396). The first thing the soldiers did was to burn the Cherokees’ houses (396).

Another reason for the removals was that tribal land was owned collectively. “Indians were the original communist menace,” Wolfe contends (397). The Choctaws who stayed in Mississippi “became individual proprietors . . . of separately allotted fragments of what had previously been the tribal estate, theirs to sell to White people if they chose to” (397). But without the tribe, Wolfe continues, those who remained were “for all practical purposes no longer Indians. . . . Here, in essence, is assimilation’s Faustian bargain—have our settler world, but lose your Indigenous soul. Beyond any doubt, this is a kind of death. Assimilationists recognized this very clearly” (397). That’s what links Richard Pratt, the founder of the Carlisle boarding school and leader of “the philanthropic ‘Friends of the Indian’ group” to General Phil Sheridan, “scourge of the Plains and author of the deathless maxim, ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian’”:

Given the training in individualism that Pratt provided at his school . . . the tribe could disappear while its members stayed behind. . . . In a paper for the 1892 Charities and Correction Conference held in Denver, Pratt explicitly endorsed Sheridan’s maxim, “but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him and save the man.” (397)

Remember, the Carlisle boarding school was one of the models for the Canadian residential school system, and Regina’s own Nicholas Flood Davin drew on his visit to that institution when he wrote his 1879 work, “Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds” (“The Davin Report”).

The death that is involved in assimilation is, Wolfe argues, a form of genocide: “Richard Pratt and Phillip Sheridan were both practitioners of genocide,” he writes (398). He rejects the term “cultural genocide” (often used in Canada) because “it confuses definition with degree,” and because of “the practical hazards that can ensue once an abstract concept like ‘cultural genocide’ falls into the wrong hands”—the “elementary category error” that claims genocide is either biological (“the real thing”) or cultural “and thus, it follows, not real” (398). “In practice, it should go without saying that the imposition on a people of the procedures and techniques that are generally glossed as ‘cultural genocide’ is certainly going to have a direct impact on that people’s capacity to stay alive,” he argues, noting that in the decades after the creation of Indian boarding schools in the US, “Indian numbers hit the lowest level they would ever register” (398-99). That situation is reflected in contemporary Aboriginal life expectancy and infant mortality rates in Australia. “Clearly, we are not talking about an isolated event here,” he writes. “Thus we can shift from settler colonialism’s structural complexity to its positivity as a structuring principle of settler-colonial society across time” (399).

Wolfe now begins a new section of his essay. He describes the westward expansion of the frontier in the United States in terms of the temporary nature of the removals of Indigenous peoples, “which kept time with the westward march of the nation” (399). When the frontier no longer existed, “when the crude technique of removal declined in favour of a range of strategies for assimilating Indian people now that they had been contained within Euroamerican society, we can more clearly see the logic of elimination’s positivity as a continuing feature of Euroamerican settler society” (399). In other words, “elimination turned inwards, seeking to penetrate through the tribal surface to the individual Indian below, who was to be co-opted out of the tribe, which would be depleted accordingly, and into White society” (399). In the last 30 years of the 19th century, assimilationist legislation and Supreme Court decisions “which notionally dismantled tribal sovereignty and provided for the abrogation of existing treaties . . . relentlessly sought the breakdown of the tribe and the absorption into White society of individual Indians and their tribal land, only separately” (399-400). This “‘New Colonialism’” was “a discursive formation based on reservations and boarding schools,” and it attacked “‘every aspect of Native American life—religion, speech, political freedoms, economic liberty, and cultural diversity,’” Wolfe writes, quoting John Wunder (400). “The centrepiece of this campaign was the allotment programme, first generalized as Indian policy in the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 and subsequently intensified and extended, whereby tribal land was to be broken down into individual allotments whose proprietors could eventually sell them to White people,” he continues, noting that in the 50 years after 1881, “the total acreage held by Indians in the United States fell by two thirds” (400). “Needless to say, the coincidence between the demographic statistics and the land-ownership rates was no coincidence,” he writes. “Throughout this process, reformers’ justifications for it (saving the Indian from the tribe, giving him the same opportunities as the White man, etc.) repeatedly included the express intention to destroy the tribe in whole” (400). The New Deal introduced blood quantum requirements, whereby “one’s Indianness progressively declines in accordance with a ‘biological’ calculus that is a construct of Euroamerican culture,” a procedure that Juaneño/Jaqi scholar Annette Jaimes has called “‘statistical extermination’” (400). “In sum, the containment of Indian groups within Euroamerican society that culminated in the end of the frontier produced a range of ongoing complementary strategies whose common intention was the destruction of heterodox forms of Indian grouphood,” Wolfe concludes (400).

In both the US and Australia, “the full radicalization of assimilation policies . . . coincided with the closure of the frontier, which forestalled spatial stop-gaps such as removal” (400). But, Wolfe writes, “assimilation should not be seen as an invariable concomitant of settler colonialism. Rather, assimilation is one of a range of strategies of elimination that become favoured in particular historical circumstances. Moreover, assimilation itself can take on a variety of forms” (401). These strategies might be “‘softer’ than the recourse to simple violence,” but they “are no necessarily less eliminatory” (401). He notes that the UN’s Convention on Genocide “includes among the acts that constitute genocide (assuming they are committed with intent to destroy a target group in whole or in part) the imposition of ‘measures intended to prevent births within the group’” (401). Practices of forced adoption such as, in Canada, the Sixties Scoop, a misnomer because Indigenous children continue to be taken from their parents at astonishing rates, which are intended to “bring about a situation in which second-generation offspring were born into a group that was different from the one from which the child/parent had originally been abducted,” would therefore be examples of genocide, according to the UN’s definition (401). “Though a child was physically abducted, the eventual outcome is as much a matter of a social classification as it is of a body count,” Wolfe writes. “Nonetheless, the intentional contribution to the demographic destruction of the ‘relinquishing’ group is unequivocal” (401).

Wolfe begins the next section of his essay with a question: why does he use the term “logic of elimination rather than genocide?” (401). Settler colonialism, he repeats, “is a specific social formation and it is desirable to retain that specificity. . . . an understanding of settler colonialism would not be particularly helpful for understanding the mass killings of, say, witches in medieval Europe, Tutsis in Rwanda, enemies of the people in Cambodia, or Jews in the Nazi fatherland (the Lebensraum is, of course, another matter)” (401). These examples of mass killings “would seem to have little to tell us about the long-run structural consistency of settler colonizers’ attempts to eliminate native societies” (402). Use of the term “genocide” would invite comparisons to the Holocaust, creating “hyphenated genocides” which would only “devalue Indigenous attrition” (402). However, 

[n]o such problem bedevils analysis of the logic of elimination, which, in its specificity to settler colonialism, is premised on the securing—the obtaining and the maintaining—of territory. This logic certainly requires the elimination of the owners of that territory, but not in any particular way. To this extent, it is a larger category than genocide. For instance, the style of romantic stereotyping that I have termed “repressive authenticity,” which is a feature of settler-colonial discourse in many countries, is not genocidal in itself, though it eliminates large numbers of empirical natives from official reckonings and, as such, is often concomitant with genocidal practice. Indeed, depending on the historical conjuncture, assimilation can be a more effective mode of elimination than conventional forms of killing, since it does not involve such a disruptive affront to the rule of law that is ideologically central to the cohesion of settler society. When invasion is recognized as a structure rather than an event, its history does not stop—or more to the point, become relatively trivial—when it moves on from the era of frontier homicide. Rather, narrating that history involves charting the continuities, discontinuities, adjustments, and departures whereby a logic that initially informed frontier killing transmutes into different modalities, discourses and institutional formations as it undergirds the historical development and complexification of settler society. (402)

“How, then, when elimination manifests as genocide, are we to retain the specificity of settler colonialism without downplaying its impact by resorting to a qualified genocide?” Wolfe asks (402-03). He offers the term “structural genocide,” suggesting that it would avoid “the questions of degree—and, therefore, of hierarchy among victims—that are entailed in qualified genocides, while retaining settler colonialism’s structural induration” (403). “Given a historical perspective on structural genocide,” he continues, “we can recognize its being in abeyance (as, mercifully, it seems to be in contemporary Australia) rather than being a thing of the past—which is to say, we should guard against the recurrence of what Dirk Moses terms ‘genocidal moments’ (social workers continue to take Aboriginal children in disproportionate numbers, for example)” (403). “Structural genocide” would also enable us to understand “some of the concrete empirical relationships between spatial removal, mass killings and biocultural assimilation” (403). For instance, “assimilation programmes can reflect the ideological requirements of settler-colonial societies, which characteristically cite native advancement to establish their egalitarian credentials to potentially fractious groups of immigrants” (403).

Wolfe begins the final section of his essay with another question: “How, then, might any of this help to predict and prevent genocide?” (403). For one thing, “it shows us that settler colonialism is an indicator. Unpalatable though it is (to speak as a member of a settler society), this conclusion has a positive aspect, which is a corollary to settler colonialism’s temporal dimension” (403). That is, “[s]ince settler colonialism persists over extended periods of time, structural genocide should be easier to interrupt than short-term genocides” (403). (There is no evidence anywhere to support that conclusion, I’m afraid.) In addition, he argues that “[s]ince settler colonialism is an indicator, it follows that we should monitor situations in which settler colonialism intensifies or in which societies that are not yet, or not fully, settler-colonial take on more of its characteristics” (403). He argues that “Israel’s progressive dispensing with its reliance on Palestinian labour would seem to present an ominous case in point” (403). Apartheid in South Africa was not a genocide because the country’s economy depended on African workers; “[t]he same can be said of African American slavery,” Wolfe writes (404)—a shockingly uninformed thing to say, given the mass death that happened before slavery was abolished. He suggests that because enslaved Africans were “valuable commodities, slaves had only been destroyed in extremis” (404), something that might appear true in theory but that I doubt accurately conveys the numbers of Africans who died during the Middle Passage or on the huge plantations of Mississippi. “Today in the US, the blatant racial zoning of large cities and the penal system suggests that, once colonized people outlive their utility, settler societies can fall back on the repertoire of strategies (in this case, spatial sequestration) whereby they have also dealt with the native surplus,” he writes (404). The West Bank barrier, he continues, is such an example of spatial sequestration, as was apartheid, and “as Palestinians become more and more dispensable, Gaza and the West Bank become less and less like Bantustans and more and more like reservations (or, for that matter, like the Warsaw Ghetto)” (404). What an astonishing thing to say.

I’m not sure Wolfe’s conclusion is of much value—there is, after all, nothing in this country that would suggest settler colonialism is easy to interrupt—and I’m honestly not convinced that avoiding the term genocide is actually useful in thinking about the way Indigenous people have experienced settler colonialism. By the UN’s definition of genocide, all of the institutions of settler colonialism–in this country, anyway–are genocidal. We might not want to admit this is true, but it is. Perhaps “attempted genocide” would be a better term, since Indigenous people, cultures, languages and ways of thinking about the world remain vital and relevant. Nevertheless, the rest of Wolfe’s essay is helpful to me in understanding the significance of the oft-repeated claim that settler colonialism is a structure rather than an event. It carries on in new forms, and those new forms are always rooted in the occupation of land by settlers. And the discussion of American boarding schools brings home how I’ve benefitted—or was intended to benefit—from residential schools in this country. Yesterday was Orange Shirt Day in Canada, a day when we wear orange T-shirts and remember the children who were incarcerated in this country’s Indian residential schools. Some 150,000 children were sent to those places, and about 5,000 died (the exact number may never be known). Those institutions, Wolfe would argue, were established in order to assimilate Indigenous children, a process of assimilation that was supposed to benefit settlers by eliminating competing Indigenous claims to the land—by destroying Indigenous languages, cultures, families, and communities. To think that those places were part of a system in which I am enmeshed—against my will, and for most of my life without my knowledge—is disturbing and painful. But it seems to be the truth. And the truth must come before reconciliation; at least, that’s what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada would argue. The truth of settler colonialism isn’t pretty, but it has to be faced before reconciliation, or decolonization, can happen. 

Works Cited

Krasowski, Sheldon. No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous, University of Regina Press, 2019.

Mackey, Eva. Unsettled Expectations: Uncertainty, Land and Settler Decolonization, Fernwood, 2016.

“The Davin Report, 1879.” Nishnawbe Aski Nation Indian Residential Schools in Ontario, 2005, http://rschools.nan.on.ca/article/the-davin-report-1879-1120.asp.

Wolfe, Patrick. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research, vol. 8, no. 4, 2006, pp. 387-409. DOI:10.1080/14623520601056240.

101. RoseLee Goldberg, Performance Now: Live Art for the 21st Century

goldberg performance now

In a way, it makes no sense for me to be reading another book on performance by RoseLee Goldberg. Am I not risking getting only one narrow opinion on performance by relying on one author? Has no one else written on performance? And yet, she is an important expert on the field, and Performance Now wasn’t cheap, and it took Amazon forever to get a copy to me, so why not make use of it? That said, if anyone reading this has other ideas about books on performance art, please leave a comment on this post and let me know what they are.

This new book “charts the development of live visual art across six continents in the years since the new millennium” (7). It’s a survey, then, but a geographical one, rather than a chronological one. “It shows how performance, so integral to the history of art in the 20th century but largely ignored by art museums and academia,” she continues, “has, in the opening years of the 21st century, become one of the most highly visible art forms in museums as well as at biennials and art fairs around the globe” (7). That dissemination activity, along with the development of performance art departments at museums, dedicated performance spaces, and graduate work in performance studies, has resulted in “a revisionist art history of the last hundred years” being written (7). No doubt she considers her earlier writing on performance part of that revisionist history. But Goldberg goes further:

performance art is now being inserted into the timeline of a broad range of cultural studies, including theatre and dance history, film, video and architecture, with equal parts theory and analysis. These new areas of study are shifting understandings of “the live” as a significant visual art form, emphasizing, among other facts: the ways in which performance allows for the layering of ideas and commentary, to reflect the multi-tasking ethos of our times; how it incorporates fast-paced new technologies that are available to most; and its potential for reaching ever broader audiences as a result of the interactive engagement and communal viewing experience that are in this work’s very nature. (7)

There appears to be little room in Goldberg’s version of performance, it seems, for private performance (that is, performance that is not directed explicitly or directly at an audience), or performance that eschews technology and multi-tasking. Perhaps such work is outside of the mainstream of performance, or perhaps Goldberg simply doesn’t find it interesting and so leaves it out of consideration. I’m not sure.

Goldberg now turns to summarizing the book’s contents. Its first chapter, she writes, “focuses on the work of visual artists whose powerful performances are integral to their overall oeuvre,” particularly those “whose material since the 1970s has consistently used performance as one of the many media for expressing complex content, about both society and the functioning of art and museums within it, giving as much weight to the stylistic signature of the work to its subjects” (8). That chapter also looks at the influence of live performance on video and film, “in such a way as to make these media inseparable” (9). Video art, in particular, “has a great deal to do with the structure and evolution of artists’ performance, particularly in terms of close-up focus on the body, spatial configurations and durational non-narrative material” (9). “Attention to these elements,” she continues, “can reveal a kind of filmic ‘solidification’ of performance, where work begins as performance yet ends up as film” (9). She’s clearly not talking about video documentation alone; she discusses the way that, through editing, “the artist-director heightens the dramatic juxtaposition of assembled objects, bodies and music, and further articulates the separate parts of the performance, creating a visual assemblage unlike anything seen in traditional films” (9). In these “films”—for some reason, Goldberg doesn’t refer to them as videos, although they are probably made with video technology and intended to circulate in the ways video art circulates—“performers, not actors, are one element among many, to be rearranged in the editing process as needed” (9). Such work requires “a combination of expertise and sensibilities” derived from film, visual art, and live performance (9).

Next, Goldberg discusses the connection between performance and online forms of communication. She suggests that “performance is especially suited to communicating cultural differences,” and that it “does so across language barriers and geographic borders” (9). Moreover, she continues, [g]iven the inherent narratives implied by live performance—because every individual body tells a story—it is also surprisingly accessible,” and for artists from all over the world performance “serves as a passport to the international art arena that would be somewhat more elusive for an artist working in painting or sculpture” (9-10). I wonder if that’s true, but nevertheless that is the contention of the book’s second chapter, which explains “the ways in which its use of the body, local rituals and customs, music, costumes and objects, give the work an eloquence and insistent relevance that makes it possible to transfer ideas and sensibilities far beyond the place of origin” (10). The reference to “local rituals and customs” in that sentence makes me wonder how transparent performance might be to audiences outside of the context of its production, and whether performance is really that different in global reach than other forms of visual art. 

Goldberg’s third chapter “looks at the ways in which artists working amid day to day turmoil use the multi-layered nature of performance to record shifting political templates” (10). That’s an awkward sentence—why not talk about political engagement instead of “templates”?—but it’s clear that chapter will look at work that emerges from countries “where war has been a continuous backdrop for many decades” (10). Her fourth chapter will look at contemporary dance, and her fifth chapter explores “why performance art is not theatre” (11). “Until recently,” she writes,

there has been very little interest shown between practitioners from each side in the other’s work. For artists who view performance through a visual lens, and playwrights and directors for whom the text might be the first point of departure, the crossover has been minimal. In the last few years, however, visual artists have been using the stage as a means of focusing their audiences frontally on works designed for the proscenium, while theatre artists are using the blank slate of the “white cube” in a museum or gallery to deconstruct the elements of theatre. (11)

I find that suggestion interesting, since Goldberg’s earlier book points out the way that, for twentieth-century avant gardes, theatre was an essential part of performance art, and that performance artists early in that century often used text. So too, for that matter, did the performance artists who became well-known in the 1980s, like Spalding Gray. Nevertheless, Goldberg suggests that “each side is finally taking note of the other, while the dividing line of text keeps the two separated in parallel but distinct worlds” (11). Since text is a big part of my work, I wonder whether Goldberg would consider it to be performance at all. I don’t know.

Goldberg’s sixth chapter looks at the relationship between architecture and performance. Apparently, contemporary architects consider “the meticulous methods of architecture—building spaces for people to move through, act upon, and act within”—are “essentially methods of performance” (11). “Considering how spaces are felt and how participants within their parameters are transformed into performers,” she continues, “this expanded awareness of the theatre of constructed spaces is shaping both education and sensibilities in architecture today” (11). “‘Architecture as performance,’” Goldberg writes, “has grown as a theoretical discourse as much as a practical application” (11). That chapter will also look at “the urban activism that has emerged alongside the idea of architecture as performance, showing a broad range of investigative experimentation by individual architects and collectives” (11). From Goldberg’s summary, that chapter would seem to be pretty far from my concerns.

Performance Now is a book, of course, which means it must compress “time and layers of information into a single publication” (11). In other words, it relies on photographs of performance. “Are these images best considered as a storyboard for a documentary film, each a window into a visual world of live performance?” Goldberg asks. “Or should they be viewed as one might a shard of pottery from another civilization; a starting point in a much longer trail?” (11). She notes that photographs themselves are art works, mediated and recorded by a photographer who is capturing the work of performance, and that “in the process produces a genre of photography unlike any other” (11). Those photographs, she insists, are not just documentation: “Rather, the photographs in this book are to be read, detail for detail, for colour, composition, rhythm and content, as one would the elements of a painting or sculpture” (11). Those photographs, she continues, tell us “something about the complicated context in which each performance was made, they are essential references in contemporary art history” (11).

“As a platform for the examined life, from multiple viewpoints and in many registers, performance draws filmmakers as well as playwrights, choreographers, composers, architects and designers into its avant-garde realm,” Goldberg concludes. “It offers a license for untrammelled invention, and its study necessarily encompasses a plurality of histories, and an understanding of where these intersect” (11). The intersections that Goldberg explores in this book, she continues, are those “between performance art and film, between art and theatre, between dance in the dance world and dance in the art world, between architecture as building and architecture as experience” (11). “Overall, the material offers readings of a vastly and rapidly changing society,” she argues. “With each visual clue and accompanying caption, an artist can be sen to render a fragment of the humanism we seek, their insights and sensibilities making us more alert to our endlessly shifting world” (11). Of course, words like “humanism” and “sensibilities” suggest that Goldberg might be a rather old-fashioned critic, which may suggest the need to find other sources on performance art.

Chapter one, “Performance as Visual Art,” begins with a description of Marina Abramović’s “memorial for the wounded city” of New York after 9/11, The House with the Ocean View. “A work of meditation and direct engagement with the public, it provided a quiet gathering place for viewers from ten in the morning to midnight for twelve days,” Goldberg writes (13). The peacefulness and elegance of the rooms Abramović inhabited was somewhat undercut, it seems, by the fact that she could only reach the platform where she lived “by step ladders with rungs made of butcher’s knives” (13). Which way were the cutting surfaces of the blades facing? Up or down? The text doesn’t say. The photographs that accompany Goldberg’s later discussion of this work, though, do explain that yes, in fact, the blades point upwards, and I don’t understand how Abramović was able to move from one performance space to another without leaving a trail of blood (no such trail is visible in the photograph). The purpose of the performance, according to Abramović, was “to find a rigorous way of living, of purification, to change the attitude of people who came to see me” (qtd. in Goldberg 39). “[F]or long stretches of time during the performance,” Abramović “sat and looked directly at people, making eye contact and creating a web of empathy between strangers” (39). “The House with the Ocean View was a summation of Abramović’s work as both visual artist and performance artist,” Goldberg writes, noting that her use of eye contact with her audiences “anchored each viewer in place, establishing the physical presence of the artist as the focal point linking the work’s various parts and reinforcing ideas about the audience as participant and as witness” (14). 

More importantly, along with other performances that took place at the beginning of the decade—including Vanessa Beecroft’s VB 42 Intrepid (2000), Shirin Neshat’s Logic of the Birds (2001), or Catherine Sullivan’s Five Economies (Big Hunt/Little Hunt) (2003)—The House with the Ocean View 

marked a turning point for performance art. Rich in content and complex in iconography, these works were also irresistible to look at. Loaded with meaning, the material was as sophisticated and aesthetically exhilarating as the best artwork being made in the 2000s in film, photography and video installation. (14)

A number of artists, including Steve McQueen, Gillian Wearing, Stan Douglas, and William Kentridge, Goldberg continues, “made work that in scale and imagery, as well as structure and pacing, looked a lot like live performance transposed to film” (14). “Projected life size or larger onto long walls in a gallery or museum, many of these films were shot amid intricately constructed sets or on locations where the action was made up of visually compelling tableaus and mostly wordless performances,” she continues (14). This work—and Goldberg provides another lists of artists, including Isaac Julien, Paul McCarthy, and Douglas Gordon—“provided a landscape of never-before-seen imagery that had been constructed as a sequence of live, non-narrative scenes that would become a delirium of unexpected pictures in the process of transposing them from one medium to another” (14). While these works “could be ‘read’ as film, they could also be viewed as stylized performances” (14). As Pierre Huyghe suggested, film was just a way of making his performances “solid” (14).

“The performances and performance-films of these artists are some of the finest examples of the highly mediated artwork of the first decade of the 21st century,” Goldberg writes. “Visually seductive, their cinematic surfaces were produced by state-of-the-art camerawork and editing,” but because of their “focus on figuration and composition, their aesthetics had more to do with a late-20th-century history of visual art and artists’ performance than with the history of cinema” (14). So Goldberg is using “film” in a strange sense: I doubt film was the technology used, and that word does not refer to cinema either. The camerawork in these videos (I’m guessing that’s what they are), she continues, “seemed to be framing and following the bodies of performers precisely in order to make expansive, elegantly composed cinematic landscapes rather than to create character or narrative” (14). (Goldberg seems to be unaware of the history of experimental or avant-garde cinema, some of which does what she is describing.) The “all-encompassing pictorial effect” of these works is part of the explanation for its appeal to audiences (14). These installations were large, and their size “allowed viewers to take in expansive projections stretching over many feet, while the process of watching, whether standing, seated, lying down or walking across a space from one gallery to the next, became integral to the experience of the work itself” (14-15). 

This form of watching, she continues, “made for a new kind of self-conscious viewing among gallery-goers; they shared an active engagement with the work and with each other, collectively witnessing an event but participating in it too” (15). I wonder if that’s true—or at least whether it’s any truer than other forms of projected artwork—but apparently Goldberg is no longer talking about filmed performance exclusively, as her example of Abramović’s The House with the Ocean View suggests: viewers “might settle in for hours to feel the full duration of time inside their own minds and bodies as specified by the artist, as with Abramović’s House” (15). Alternatively, viewers “might move from space to space in various parts of a building, as in Francesco Vezzoli’s Right You Are (If You Think You Are), 2007, which took place simultaneously throughout the Guggenheim Museum, in the ground-floor rotunda, on the spiralling ramps, and also in the below-ground auditorium” (15).Other examples of durational work—not necessarily performance—of the time included Olafur Eliasson’s 2003 The Weather Project, “an elaborate construction in the vast Turbine Hall at Tate Modern,” where “hundreds of people came daily to watch the progress of a giant circle of orange light mimicking the arc of the sun in its diurnal trek across the sky,” which is a description of an installation work rather than a performance (16).  Another example Goldberg suggests sounds more like social practice than performance to me (and perhaps she would argue that I’m parsing definitions too finely): Carsten Höller’s 2006 Test Sight, also at Tate Modern, in which “audiences donned crash helmets and protective elbow and knee pads to fall feet-first through a curling metal tube-like sculpture that dropped the viewer very rapidly from a second-floor landing into the Turbine Hall below” (16). Those people weren’t viewers; they were participants. I wonder whether Goldberg’s definition of performance isn’t too broad, and whether it isn’t capturing art forms that properly belong in other categories.

Museums, Goldberg notes, were changing in the first decade of the twenty-first century, to appeal to “a generation of viewers expecting cultural experience to be as fast-paced and as easily accessible as the smartphones and computers that animated their lives day to day” (16). Of course, Abramović’s The House with the Ocean View, or The Artist is Present (2010), aren’t fast-paced works, and they demand commitment from their viewers (or even participants). In addition, as performance events became held more regularly, a repertoire and “reference bank of material” was constructed, which could generate “comparative study and critique” (16). By the turn of the century, performance “had become widely accepted as standard museum fare,” and curators and art historians began to “find a language for describing performance that would change the conversation about live art and its role in contemporary art in the most profound ways” (16).

As the history of performance “became exhibition material,” “reconstructions of past performances” became “a genre all its own” (17). Such re-performances, “executed with sensitivity and appreciable awareness of the paradox of re-performing material that had intentionally been performed only once or twice when originally conceived, provided a means to revisit and invoke the political and cultural ethos of the times in which they were made” (17). So Abramović re-performed works by Joseph Beuys in 2005, and Allan Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in Six Parts was re-performed in Munich and New York in 2009. “Articulating the history of performance became a priority in art museums, which in turn raised questions of preservation and conservation,” and methods were devised “for recording and notating artists’ living wills in terms of how they would wish such projects to be maintained and re-performed in the future” (17). In addition, other material about performance—photographs, collages, drawings, videos, films, and even paintings—“were acknowledged for what they were,” and in some museums they were “reassigned to the performance art departments” (17).

In addition, the decade “saw an accumulation of entirely new possibilities for performance by visual artists, both conceptually and aesthetically” (17). She cites work by Abramović, Kentridge, Sullivan, Matthew Barney, Jesper Just, Vezzoli, Beecroft, Francis Alÿs, Huyghe, Tino Sehgal, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, John Bock, and Zhang Huan as introducing “a level of expertise and command of material that was increasingly sophisticated and polished” (17). “Production values and a keen awareness of the relationship of performer to audience became integral to material that was simultaneously expanding in scope and ambition,” she continues (17).“These highly produced, beautifully rendered productions raised the bar of expectation for a medium that had long been considered outside the reach of critical assessment and peripheral to the main business of art,” she writes, citing Elmgreen and Dragset’s 2005 Drama Queens and Matthew Barney’s 2010 KHU, Act Two of Ancient Evenings as examples (17). “Performance artists were now expected to make objects that could hold up to ongoing scrutiny over time,” she writes, suggesting both that the punk aesthetic was dead, along with any sense of performance as a DIY activity, and that performance was not focused on objects as well as actions (17). “With this new work that was increasingly dense with content, and demanded close attention on the part of viewers,” Goldberg argues,

the argument that performance was difficult to incorporate into contemporary art history or into the collection of a museum because of its ephemeral nature became irrelevant. The more prolonged the time spent with a work, the more evident its conceptual complexity, the easier it became to accept performance as critical to an artist’s overall oeuvre, and to the overall discussion of contemporary art. Performance was seen to be a nuanced artistic practice capable of simultaneously conveying layers of meaning in intensely visual and visceral ways. It was finally accepted as integral to museum programming and a precedent was set for a new generation of artists who would be entirely comfortable with creating live art expressly for the museum context. (17)

I could be wrong, but I don’t read those words as neutral description; rather, I think Goldberg considers this inclusion of performance within museums as a good thing, as a long-delayed acceptance of the form, and I wonder what happened to the old notion (dating back to the 1970s) that performance could be a critique of the institutions of art. It’s out of date, I suppose.

The photographic documentation of performances provided by the rest of the chapter includes Beecroft’s 2005 work VB 55, in which “one hundred women stood in tight formation inside the glass box that is Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin,” inviting an audience outside the building “to stare and wonder at the women,” who were nude except for “flesh-coloured nylon leggings” and a coating of almond oil (18). The women, she writes, “are at once inanimate mannequins and Aphrodites, girls-next-door and Barbies lined up against a giant display case. Their nudity is transformed into a kind of art-historical catwalk, drawing on painting, sculpture and pop cultural references from antiquity to Titian to contemporary culture” (18). The performance was carefully documented in video and photography, “for future exhibition, archiving, and sale” (18). Goldberg concludes that “VB 55 is an exercise in the aesthetics of ‘product,’ creating material for visual and cultural consumption and daring its audience to stare for an extended period of time at the living goods on display” as a way of playing with “the boundaries of empowerment and abjection” (18).

A very different example is Barney’s 2010 KHU, the second act of a longer work, River of Fundament, loosely based on Norman Mailer’s 1983 novella. Each act, Goldberg wries, “tackles a different stage of the soul’s transformation from death to rebirth, in accordance with Mailer’s contemporary retelling of Egyptian mythology” (21) In the performance, “assembly-line machinists” working “at an abandoned glue factory” “turn steel sheets into working viols” which “are played in a mournful aria before blues singer Belita Woods belts out incantations from the Egyptian Book of the Dead” (21). Afterwards, a “small audience, packed on to a barge that floats down the Rouge and Detroit Rivers, stumbles upon a crime-scene investigation. As four towboats loaded with musicians circle the barge, the cadaver of the Chrysler from REN, a previous act that took place in Los Angeles, is pulled from the river” (21). After the sun sets, the audience watches as “the car’s body is cut into pieces that are melted into liquid, to be incorporated into a future chapter” (21).

Ryan McNamara’s 2013 MEEM: A Story Ballet About the Internet “is a performance of seventeen choreographed tableaus that play inside a theatre’s auditorium, corridors, music pit, stage and stair wells in homage to the boundless momentum of free, open and immediate sharing of information online” (22). The “highly mediated dances overlap each other, sending the audience’s attention in all directions as stage hands wheel each viewer’s seat on specially devised ‘people movers’ to different ‘staging areas’ throughout the theatre” (22). Those “people movers” and the lack of control of the viewers over their position suggests not freedom but its opposite, and I wonder if the performance is perhaps more critical of the internet than Goldberg allows.

Paul McCarthy’s 2003 Piccadilly Circus is about the war on terror; it features a “volatile, slapstick encounter between caricatures of George W. Bush, Osama Bin Laden and multiple iterations of the Queen Mother” in “an irreverent nod to the violence of impending war” (23). The performers, wearing styrofoam heads, “destroy their own bodily integrity and that of their fellow players, punching, hacking and tearing away at their foam heads, force-feeding and struggling against each other in a frenzied scene that might be mistaken for a manic children’s television show” (23). It is, Goldberg states, a “powerful political critique” that “explores power and grandiosity via the exaggerated colours and gestures of Hollywood-style make-believe” (23). A similar performance (or video) is John Bock’s 2002 Boxer, a two-minute video about boxing that captures “the collision of comedy and violence” of that sport (27). “Clad in clownish ensembles with food stuffed appendages, Bock and his opponent throw punches with increasing frenzy until they are entirely undone, smashing heads that spill cauliflower into the ring and spatter red cabbage across the walls,” Goldberg writes (27). The work references Dada and classic Hollywood performers, including Buster Keaton and the Marx brothers, and its “visually arresting sets reveal the theatricality in painting, sculpture and film, as media combine deliciously in his complete version of the ‘total artwork’” (27).

Another response to the war on terror, or at least to 9/11, is Shirin Neshat’s 2001 Logic of the Birds, which Goldberg discusses in detail in Performance Art (that’s where I got the idea that it’s a response to 9/11 [228]). Here, she describes that work as an adaptation of “the poetry of 12th-century Persian mystic Farid ud-Din into a contemporary dreamscape of painted hills and valleys, weaving an arduous and surreal narrative as ‘thirty birds in search of a leader risk life and limb, traverse fire, flood and drought’” (24). The performance is preceded (I think) by a “triptych of exquisite films” in which “thirty chador-clad performers,” situated on the edge of a lake, “‘walk off’ the screens onto the stage in a remarkable melding of live performance and projection” (24). “Inhabiting the space between fantasy and reality, here and there, then and now” Goldberg writes, “the production wordlessly communicates how, in the protagonists’ longing for direction, all are leaders and all are followers” (24). “Performance,” she concludes, “offers Neshat a chance to immerse viewers in the complex politics of her visual and intellectual content” (24).

Roman Ondák’s 2007 Measuring the Universe “takes its audience as subject and object” by recording “[t]racings of each visitors height” as well as “their names and the day’s date” in black magic marker on the gallery walls (25). “Unfolding across the length of the exhibition, the lines progressively clutter the gallery, overlapping and rendering each other illegible,” Goldberg writes. “Each measure, anonymous and uniform, serves as a placeholder for the thousands of individuals who visit, such that they fill the room across time and space. Nobody who enters ever leaves” (25). Here’s my question: why is that a performance rather than a work of relational aesthetics or social practice? Is there a distinction between those practices? I think there is, but that distinction is erased here. Why is that? Who did the measuring and the recording? The viewers themselves? It’s not clear. I would have to do more research, I suppose, to get a sense of what happens in this work.

Adam Pendleton’s 2007 The Revival “fused the disjunctive genres of Southern-style religious revival and avant-garde spoken poetry” (28). “Centred on a podium in the role of ‘preacher’ and flanked by two bandstands on which a thirty-person gospel choir is divided,” Pendleton “delivers a secular revival with ecstatic religious fervour,” with the words he speaks derived not from the Bible but from experimental writing—his own along with texts by Larry Kramer, Leslie Scalapino, John Ashbery, Jesse Jackson and Howard Barker” (28). (Jesse Jackson the politician and experimental writing? Really?) “With ‘testimonials’ from Liam Gillick and Jena Osman,” she continues, “the whole was underscored by the original music and performance of jazz composer Jason Moran” (28). It was, perhaps surprisingly, Pendleton’s first performance work.

Another work of filmed performance is Ryan Trecartin’s 2004 A Family Finds Entertainment, a “camp epic” which “chronicles the story of a manic teenager named Skippy,” played by Trecartin himself, “and his absurdist and existential struggle to come out to his family and friends, hiding himself in a literal closet” (29). “Drawing complex and obscure references from philosophy and popular culture,” Goldberg writes, “the delirious 40-minute film weaves hyperactive narrative threads that interrupt and cross each other, disorienting the viewer with bursts of visual effect and animation” (29). The work’s “desperate melodrama,” which is “punctuated by clownish violence,” is, Goldberg contends, a portrait “of a generation both validated and hopelessly damaged by media bombardment, unable to escape its constant self-reference” (29).

Robin Rhode’s 2008 Promenade is a series of 36 photographs documenting (I think) performances in which Rhode creates wall drawings which “become make-believe objects: a bicycle that the artist pretends to mount, a grand piano that he pretends to play” (30). “The total work is captured in serial photographs and stop-motion videos before being painted over again,” Goldberg writes. “Promenade was performed on an interior wall in a gallery in Turin as part of a body of work that would become the visual component for a concert of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition the following year” (30). The drawings appear and disappear magically from Rhode’s hand—that must be in the video documentation, or the live performance, because the photographs could not show that happening—and “[t]he impression is of an artist who is both master of and subject to his own creative process,” Golberg concludes (30).

K.62 and K.85, a pair of performances by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Ari Benjamin Meyers, presents “a series of diverging and then converging experiences” for audiences who are also, it seems, participants in the work. At a ticket booth outside a theatre, visitors are asked to choose between two tickets. “Those with tickets reading ‘K.62’ are shown to a Lower East Side theatre where films are screened and fictional production assistants on walkie-talkies track the locations of persons referred to as ‘K’s,” Goldberg writes (31). (Why would production assistants be wandering around a film screening? What films are screened?) “Those with ‘K.85’ tickets are led on a scripted journey around lower Manhattan, stopping at scenes from Martin Scorcese’s film After Hours, and finally trickling into the large theatre through an onstage door until all are accounted for,” she continues (31). “Each audience is the other’s show, unaware of the separate journeys they will take,” Goldberg concludes (31), but I don’t understand how the people in the theatre are the audience of those who are on the site-specific walking tour of lower Manhattan, nor how (until the very end) those inside the theatre are even aware of the group taking that tour. Something is missing from this description.

Candice Breitz’s 2009 New York, New York is a live version of “the fast-paced videos for which she is known” (32). “Working with four sets of identical twins,” Goldberg writes, “Breitz created two casts of actors (each from a pair of twins), and in intensive character development sessions asked each pair to work on a single fictional character” (32). The resulting improvised performances explore “sameness, difference, and the fragile condition of individuality, creating on set”—doesn’t Goldberg mean “on stage”?—“an ambiguous ‘scripted life’—another powerful theme in Breitz’s oeuvre” (32). A very different project is Cory Arcangel’s 2008 Bruce Springsteen “Born to Run” Glockenspiel Addendum, in which Arcangel performed the glockenspiel along with “all but the three songs that already feature the instrument” on Springsteen’s “canonical 1975 album” (33). “This audacious play with the popular is central to Arcangel’s body of work,” Goldberg writes, “where celebrity, pop music, and allusions to video games and the internet are brought together to recombine wholly familiar scenes and render them new” (33).

Pipilotti Rist’s 2005 Homo Sapiens Sapiens is a video installation (again, I’m wondering about Goldberg’s definition of performance art) which “invites viewers to lie on bright oval beds and look up at kaleidoscopic projections—soft scenes of nature and open skies. A woman floats through the images, splitting and twisting as though directed by external forces” (33). Where’s the performance here? Is it in the action viewers make by lying on the beds? In that case, might this not be described as a work of relational aesthetics or social practice? I don’t understand how performance gets to define other art practices. Another work Goldberg considers to be performance but which is clearly an example of relational aesthetics is Carsten Höller’s 2005 Mirror Carousel, “a functional, large-scale, interactive carousel with surfaces lined with mirrors, inviting visitors to a slow-turning ride that is equal parts opulence and whimsy” in which (on which?) they “watch themselves see and experience, reflecting their presence and collaboration back at themselves and others in the room” (36). Yet another work that seems to belong to relational aesthetics rather than performance (or as much as performance) is Paweł Althamer’s 2009 Common Task, in which “150 of the artist’s friends and neighbours” are transplanted “from their community in Warsaw to locations across the world, exploring transience, otherness and what it means to belong to a place or nationality” (37). Participants wore “gold spacesuits that draw visual allusions to science fiction,” and are transported “in a golden Boeing 737 of Althamer’s design,” and they participate “in social actions and interactive performances in Brasilia, Brussels, Mali and Oxford that recontextualize daily life in terms of the unexpected” (37). This is, obviously, art star territory: I’ve never met an artist who could afford to lease (and paint) an airliner to fly people around the world. But it seems that Goldberg is only interested in performance that has extraordinary financial backing. Low-budget work is excluded here. That’s unfortunate, because the only performance work I’ve ever seen has clearly been made with few resources and little money.

Laurie Simmons’s 2005 The Music of Regret is a 40-minute video, shot on 35mm film (perhaps it was presented in that format as well). “A mini-musical presented in three acts,” the work is “an extension of Laurie Simmons’ canonical photographic work, where dolls, collectors’ miniatures and children’s toys become the unlikely protagonists of desperate domestic scenes recalling the family life and catalogue images of the 1960s” (34). In The Music of Regret, those props are expanded “to human proportions, presenting life-sized puppets and dummies . . . that share in very human expressions of family conflict, lost romance and longing to be noticed” (34). Another video work is Rineke Dijkstra’s 2009 I See a Woman Crying, in which “nine British schoolchildren” were “filmed in front of Picasso’s 1937 painting Weeping Woman” (41). The children describe the painting, which is never shown on-screen, making “simple observations that grow into imaginative, descriptive and emotional insights into the life of the work and the woman pictured therein” (40). That work sounds wonderful, but how is it performance rather than video art? I am getting more and more confused by Goldberg’s sense of what is considered to be performance. I don’t understand how Yang Fudong’s 2007 five-part film, Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, is performance, either. It “references the Seven Sages—intellectuals from the Wei and Jin Dynasties represented often in traditional Chinese art”—in “a series of tableaus where the figures . . . commune with nature and each other, stripping away their identities and scholarly attributes to transform themselves across the film’s parts into rowdy drunks, naturalists and humble farmers, eventually being transported through time to modern-day Shanghai” (42). How is this an example of performance and not video?

Nathalie Djurberg’s 2007 Untitled (Working Title Kids and Dogs) is another film that Goldberg describes as a “live work” (45). It’s a 33-minute-long “claymation odyssey” which depicts “a violent war between a group of grenade-throwing children and a pack of pedigree dogs” (45). Eventually the wounded end up in hospital, where they are treated by doctors and nurses.  All the characters, it seems, are animated. How can a work of animation be considered live performance? Similarly, how is Pierre Huyghe’s 2003 Streamside Day, a 26-minute film in which “[a] parade, songs, speeches, costumes and decorations are organized and form a backdrop to the experience of wilderness” (46) an example of performance. “Part-documentary, part-fantasy, the film contrasts what was and what is, and how our society and culture have transformed nature, putting model homes in its place,” Goldberg writes (46). This sounds interesting enough, but again, how is a film or video performance? I have the same question about Guy Ben-Ner’s 2007 Stealing Beauty (the first thing Goldberg includes in this book that I’ve actually seen). It’s an 18-minute video in which Ben-Ner lives in an IKEA. With his wife and daughters, Ben-Nur “boldly inhabits a display ‘bathroom,’ ‘kitchen’ and ‘bedroom’ (each with price tags still attached to the objects for sale), acting out everyday interactions in the rooms of a generic house” (47). Ben-Ner made the video without permission from IKEA, and “was immediately shut down the moment authorities discovered the impromptu performance,” and everyone involved was asked to leave the store (47). It’s very funny—I remember the work well—but it was identified as video art, as I recall, rather than performance. I would describe Christian Marclay’s 2010 The Clock as video as well: it’s a 24-hour film that “presents a variety of time pieces—from wristwatches to clock towers to digital displays—that show the incremental progression of time” (49). It seems to be a collage video, in which those time pieces were taken from other films, but the description is not clear. I’m sure it’s fabulous, but how is it performance? Is this a book about performance or about contemporary time-based art practices? Another video work is Christian Jankowski’s 2007 Rooftop Routine, an homage to Trisha Brown’s 1973 work Roof Piece, but featuring Jankowski’s neighbour Suat Ling Chua hula-hooping on the roof of her building (54). Again, interesting, maybe, but live? No. 

Elaine Sturtevant’s 2009 Spinoza in Las Vegas, in contrast, is a “theatre piece”—again, I’m confused about what’s being captured under the term “performance” in this book—that “presents the unlikely adventures of 17th-century Dutch rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza as a character radically displaced in the postmodern landscape of today” (35). That landscape is Las Vegas, where hotels “fantastically simulate places and environments from the pyramids in Luxor to Classical Rome” (35). Sturtevant plays the role of Spinoza in the work, which Goldberg contends is a comment “on the nature of authorship, questioning the truth of reality and the invention of its replica” (35).

I’m not sure I understand Puppets, a 2006 work by Philippe Parreno and Rirkrit Tiravanija. According to Goldberg, it consists of “[a] group of five puppets representing Philippe Parreno, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Pierre Huyghe, Liam Gillick and Hans Ulrich Obrist” as they “prepare to watch a film featuring each puppet figure in a panel discussion on a new book by Obrist entitled Interviews, supposedly published a year earlier” (40). The puppets apparently have a conversation, but is that conversation live or do they watch the film or is the installation, pictured in an accompanying photograph, the entire work? The last possibility seems unlikely, because Goldberg states that “Parreno’s alter-ego was also his own argumentative interlocutor, while Tiravanija’s stand-in served as a demonstration of ‘how individuals can be active contributors to their own media culture, rather than mere consumers of it,’” both of which suggest that the puppets do something. But in what context? Where did the puppeteers operate the puppets? I don’t get it.

It’s easy to see why Korakrit Arunanondchai’s 2017 Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 4 would be considered a performance: it’s live art. The work “creates a haunting, mangled sci-fi forest growing within a white-walled gallery space” in which “[h]umanoid figures, naked except for body paint, move through the apocalyptic debris in primal contorted motions, light glowing from their mouths” in a scene reminiscent “of carnal, alien ritual” (44). Similarly, the 2008 work Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy No. 1 is live: a classical pianist, sitting in a hole cut into the bottom of a grand piano, plays the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony while moving the piano around a gallery space. “Nudging viewers out of the path of the piano as she creates an immersive setting for sound and concept,” Goldberg writes, “[t]he result is a structurally incomplete version of the ode—the hole in the piano renders two octaves inoperative—that fundamentally transforms both the player/instrument dynamic and the signature melody, disrupting the famous anthem and its overriding metaphors” (39). And Nick Cave’s HEARD NY (2013) is obviously live performance: dancers wear Cave’s “dazzling costumes,” which represent horses, and disrupt New York’s Grand Central Station, “inserting international, cross-cultural politics and histories in a visually joyous, fantastical interruption of public space” (48). The audience for HEARD NY, I suppose, was the bemused commuters who witnessed the event—unless people were invited, in which I’m not sure “interruption” would be the right word to use to describe its occupation of public space. 

Eddie Peake’s 2013 Endymion is a dance piece in which the dancers “speak through movement with a physical vocabulary that addresses our most basic universal instincts and sentiments,” Goldberg writes (52). “Fully painted in either black or gold, the nude performers recall statues from antiquity,” and as they gradually entwine around each other during the hour-long performance, their “distinct colours blend, all becoming burnished versions of their former selves, less like sculptures or abstractions as the veneer of perfection strips away” (52). Liam Gillick’s 2008 Three Perspectives and a Short Scenario / Mirrored Image: A “Volvo” Bar is an eight-act play about the loss of car manufacturing in Birmingham since the 1970s (53). Another theatrical work is Francesco Vezzoli’s 2007 Right You Are (If You Think You Are), a restaging of a play by Luigi Pirandello whose cast was made up of celebrities (including Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, and Natalie Portman) who gossip about an absent female character who obsesses them (53). I have a hard time believing that Vezzoli managed to get those celebrities to perform in the Guggenheim at the same time, and the accompanying photograph suggests that the work is, indeed, on video rather than live. That’s okay, but again I’m confused by Goldberg’s definition of performance. Jacolby Satterwhite’s 2012 six-channel video installation, Reifying Desire 6, is also included here as an example of live art (56). 

I’m not at all confused about why Kelly Nipper’s 2004 Floyd on the Floor is included here as an example of live art. It’s a “choreographic investigation of disaster” that “uses prognostication patterns of weather systems and shifts in barometric pressure to direct the movement of eight masked dancers” (56). Similarly, Ragnar Kjartansson’s 2011 Bliss repeats “the 2-minute climax of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro for an uninterrupted 12 hours,” an epic performance that “was a mesmerizing feat of vocal strength, with audience members welcome to come and go over the course of its endless, euphoric repetition” (57). Brody Condon’s 2009 Case “is a 6-hour rehearsal-like reading of the classic cyberpunk novel Neuromancer by William Gibson” using live performers and “Bauhaus-inspired sculptural props,” along with a Gamelan ensemble (58). “The piece is an examination of role-playing, performance and identity,” Goldberg asserts (58). William Kentridge’s 2009 I am not me, the horse is not mine, which Goldberg describes as “[p]art-installation, part-animation and part-theatrical lecture,” is “a live video and projection performance” made in preparation for Kentridge’s production of Shostakovich’s opera The Nose, based on the Gogol story (59). On the other hand, Philippe Parreno’s 2014 How Can We Tell the Dancers From The Dance is an installation: “a circular white dance platform” with a soundtrack “of dancers’ footsteps, breathing and jumping—recordings of five Merce Cunningham choreographies” (60). “[A] thick curved wall moves in slow motion around its perimeter,” Goldberg continues, “bringing an architectural element into the choreographic conversation” (60). Yes, Parreno’s work refers to performance, but no, it isn’t performance in and of itself. And Doug Aitken’s 2007 large-scale film installation Sleepwalkers is an installation documenting the activities of five workers—“a bicycle messenger, a postal worker, a businessman, an electrician and an office worker”—as they wake up and travel across New York at night (61). It was projected on the interior facade of the Museum of Modern Art, and according to Goldberg, the relationship “between viewer and physical exhibition space . . . produces overlapping relationships between the environment and the material of the work itself” (61). Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s 2008 Where is Where? is a 55-minute film that “examines how individual and collective pasts shape lives in the present” (65). It weaves together “two interconnected realities that consider the consequences of past actions,” liked by the murder by two Arab boys of their French friend during the Algerian war in the 1950s (65). 

Mike Kelley’s 2009 Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #32 is a live performance of his film Day is Done, “an intentionally absurd take on the tropes of American education” (63). Maurizio Cattelan’s 1999 Untitled (Picasso) involves an actor wearing a metre-high mask of Picasso’s head along with the kind of sweater and sandals the artist often wore, and mingling among visitors at the Museum of Modern Art, thus commenting “on the museum’s role in creating art world icons” (64). In Jesper Just’s 2005 True Love is Yet to Come an actor struggles with ghost-like figures of men projected around him in a work that “explores suffocating gender roles and intergenerational romance” (64). Joan Jonas’s 2009 Reading Dante II brings together video and performance (66), and Cast No Shadow, a 2007 live performance event by Isaac Julien and Russell Maliphant, blends film projection and dance performance (Julien is a filmmaker, Maliphant a choreographer) (68). But Olafur Eliasson’s magnificent 2003 installation The Weather Project is just that: an installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in which the space “was transformed into an artificial sky, representing the transitional time of sunrise or sunset” (69). Why Goldberg considers that installation to be an example of live performance is not clear to me.

After reading Goldberg’s introduction and first chapter, I found myself wondering about her definition of performance. She seems to be arguing that it must have a big budget, that it must have an audience, and that the term “performance” includes film, video, relational or social art, and installation as well as live art. I was frustrated. It’s a beautiful book—each page features large colour photographs of the works Goldberg is discussing—and she clearly is an expert on contemporary art. But her definition of performance is simply too broad. Moreover, I was seeing very little that had anything to do with walking, or site-specific performance more broadly, and I was wondering whether something as simple as walking could ever fit her definition of performance as something frenetic and multi-layered. It’s a long book, too, and time is short. Is it worth carrying on with this text, I wondered, or should I be turning to something else?

I decided to quickly skim the book’s second chapter, “World Citizenship: Performance as a Global Language.” In that chapter’s introduction, Goldberg argues that “performance art has become a viable medium for reaching across national borders and language barriers” (71). “As artists working in painting or sculpture may find it difficult to enter the international art conversation from locations further afield of major art institutions, performance-based art has proved itself to be surprisingly accessible across regions and cultures,” she writes. “‘Figurative’ in its rendering of a panorama of world cultures, and ‘real’ in its tendency towards the literal, it stands outside of art theory or institutional critique and distances itself from the ‘Western’ model” (71). As a result, performance has the ability “to transport audiences back in time and place to the worlds from which these artists came” (71). Of course, her first chapter featured artists from all over, although the work under discussion tended to have been presented in New York (which seems to be the world’s art capital, still). This chapter, she suggests, will feature artists from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, China, Egypt, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa, each of whom “use performance to articulate complex viewpoints and value systems specific to their countries of birth, where various ethnicities, dialects, gender and class hierarchies converge in a complicated kaleidoscope of culture and social mores” (72). I’m curious about how performance, which can be abstruse and difficult to understand, can articulate all of that. In addition, this global performance work expresses “an individual, autobiographical identity comprised of many parts,” which might “be recognized and shared easily with others,” or “might be a combination of source material and experiences particular to the artist” (72). In addition, “much of this work is made without consideration of public exhibition in countries that until recently had no gallery system to speak of” (72). For that reason, performance “is a medium of choice for artists working outside the mainstream of the art marketplace. These artists may communicate out of necessity and belief within their immediate communities, yet in doing so are also enable[d] to gain attention in the larger international art world,” through presentations at biennials and fairs which provide “art world outsiders both a way out and a way in” (72). 

Goldberg goes on to discuss important performance artists from South Africa, India and Bangladesh, China, Russia, Argentina, and Mexico. “Though responding to political turmoil,” she writes, “much of this work is not overtly political. Such art actions are in themselves radical departures from conventional painting or sculpture” (75). “For many artists living and working outside of the limited European modernist traditions,” Goldberg continues, “making art is a part of life. Its ceremonies and rituals, power systems and linguistic histories provide rich sources that the artists are entirely comfortable mining for their own creativity” (75). In addition, “the physical experience of growing up in geographically and culturally distinctive settings translates into movement and music, clothing and adornment, storytelling and vocalization in ways that can themselves be infinitely performative” (75). The performance that results “speaks of deeply human concerns, and does so with a level of experimentation that can keep the viewer enthralled, watchful and surprised” (75).

At this point, Goldberg begins her examination of specific works of performance. The first work she discusses, Tania Bruguera’s 2008 Tatlin’s Whisper #5, was presented in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, making me wonder why it was chosen for this chapter rather than the previous one. Where is Bruguera from? Brazil? It’s not clear. In any case, in the work, two mounted policemen perform crowd control, “corralling, and separating spectators,” displaying “the mechanisms of authority” and “implying the nascent violence in tightly managed political regimes” (76). Perhaps it’s the overt political content that led Goldberg to include this work in this chapter? But can’t work by North Americans or Europeans also be political? I don’t understand.

South African artist Nandipha Mntambo’s 2009 Inkunzi Emnyama is, Goldberg tells us, “a photographic work in which Mntambo bows in repetition of the final gestures of a bullfight” while wearing “the costume of a toreador” and “with a cow hide wrapped around her waist as formal tails” (77). “Mntambo is both hunter and hunted, cow and bull, man and woman, revelling in the machismo of the male-dominated Spanish sport,” she continues (77). But, again, how is this photographic work performative? Am I missing something? Similarly, Ming Wong’s 2004 Whodunnit? is a film that reworks Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap, using English actors from a variety of immigrant backgrounds who “perform their soap opera in heavy but shifting accents on a multi-cultural battleground” and thereby “raise the separate question of the identity of the individual” (78). Dora García’s 2013 Die Klau Mich Show was a weekly TV talk show that was broadcast in Kassel, Germany, as part of Documenta 13 (79). Our Lady of Velankanni, a 2003 collaboration between Indian artist Pushpamala N. and British photographer Clare Arni, is “a series of performance photographs that recreate South Indian female archetypes from across the region’s iconic art history and visual culture” (81). Seen at Secunderabagh, a 2013 work by New Delhi’s Raqs Media Collective,” features performers in front of a projected nineteenth-century staged photograph of the aftermath of “a violent rebellion against the British East Indian Company” in order to “respond to the image—its manipulation, the reality of violence and colonialism around it and the complexities of conveying truth through medium” (80). I understand how that work is performance; it has live performers. But Goldberg’s definition of performance is still confusing me. Could she be confusing the vague and modish adjective “performative” with the concrete noun “performance”? I’m not sure.

Similarly, Chinese artist Liu Bolin’s photographs of himself camouflaged against store shelves are marvellous, but they are photographs rather than live performances (82). Fast Food, a 2008 photograph by South African twins Hasan and Husain Essop, is a photograph, not a performance (84). Mumbai-based Shilpa Gupta’s 2009 Don’t See Don’t Hear Don’t Speak is an installation of large-scale photographs (86). Puerto-Rican artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’s 2004 A. Listens is a video about a young, agoraphobic Londoner who describes her superhuman hearing ability (93). Hong-Kai Wang’s 2011 Music While We Work, presented at the Venice Biennale, is a video installation about “five retired sugar factory workers and their wives” whom Wang invited “to return to the century-old plant in Huwei, Taiwan,” where the men once worked (97). “Trained by a composer in using microphones and recording devices,” Goldberg writes, “the couples move across the space, documenting the industrial noises of the factory and its surroundings” (97). The video, it seems, documents that process of documentation. Jeremy Deller’s 2001 The Battle of Orgreave (an injury to one is an injury to all) is typically considered an example of relational aesthetics. It is a re-enactment of a confrontation between striking workers and police at the coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire, and apparently that re-enactment was documented on video and presented as an installation (100). Hito Steyerl’s 2014 Liquidity Inc. is a video installation (101), as is Subodh Gupta’s 2013 Spirit Eaters (102) and Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s 2008 Two Planets: Manet’s Le Déjeuneur sur l’herbe and Thai Farmers, which Goldberg describes as a “performative video” rather than performance (my hunch was right) (104).

There are live works included in this chapter, however. It seems that Bangladeshi artist Mahbubur Rahan’s 2005 Transformation, based on a story by Syed Shamus Haq, is a live work in which the artist wears “a horned headdress and a mask made of jute,” a “suffocating costume” that “transforms him into a beast of labour” who “moves, swims and lumbers, barely able to see,” a struggle that, Goldberg writes, reflects the way “so many in India continue to suffer the social and economic consequences of a colonial past” (86). Where the audience is in Rahan’s performance, though, isn’t clear to me, and it’s possible that it is presented on video rather than live, given its location (a beach). Russian artist Elena Kovylina’s 2010 Would You Like a Cup of Coffee? is a performance before an audience, “a radical tea party . . . where the artist adopts the role of aggressive social critic in a performance that harkens to past and present political dissent in Russia” (87). At the climax of the performance (which, since it involves audience participation, could also be considered social practice or relational aesthetics), Kovylina sets fire to the tablecloth, “destroying the classed ritual and its artefacts in an ironic moment of protest” (87). South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga’s 2011 Ilulwane, “a haunting, synchronized swimming ceremony,” was performed live in a swimming pool and then repeated at a beach in Cape Town (89). Argentinian artist Amalia Pica’s 2013 ABC involves dancers creating patterns which recall Venn diagrams, which were prohibited by the Argentinian military dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s because “the teaching of intersection . . . might encourage collaboration and dissent” (89). Mexican artist Carlos Amorales 2007 Spider Galaxy is a combination of sculptural installation that suggests “the negative space in a spider’s web” and a dance performance (90). St. Petersburg-based collective Chto Delat’s 2008 Perestroika Songspiel is a play (91), which makes me wonder why it’s been included here, while in Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s 2008 Voz Alta people tell stories about their connection to the 1968 student massacre in Mexico City while searchlights “point to local landmarks and government buildings” (92). The event was broadcast live on radio, “a phantom voice over Mexico City that reminded its inhabitants of those lost” (92). This powerful event seems to be an example of relational aesthetics, though, rather than performance. Wael Shawky’s three-year project Dictums 10:120 (2011-2013), performed at the Sharjah Bienniel, involves 32 men chanting and clapping, but instead of traditional spiritual lyrics, they chant fragments of talks held at the Biennial (95).

Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, a 2013 “live installation” by Chinese artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, was, Goldberg writes, “deeply disturbing and rightfully controversial” (96). The work involved “eight caged pit bulls trapped in cage-like mechanical treadmills. Paired to face each other, inches apart, in ferocious attack mode, this cruel event was for the artists a symbolic reference to the repression experienced and expressed by many Chinese artists of the period,” Goldberg states, noting that video documentation of the work “sparked considerable public objection for its abuse of animals” (96). Brazilian artist Marepe’s 2005 Vermelho-Amarelo-Azul-Verde is a dance performance in which the dancers’ costumes, filled with multicoloured balloons, create “transient, sculptural forms” (99). South African artist Kendell Geers’s 2012 Ritual Resist is a live performance in which a naked man and a naked woman lean against a mirror placed between them. “Neither sees the other, but each stares at their own reflection,” Goldberg writes, and as the performance continues, “sweat looses the ability to keep the object aloft, and balance wavers in a compromised and precarious action where failure is a constant possibility” (106). Geers, Goldberg continues, has “a longstanding interest in the spectatorship of impending disaster,” which “is both metaphorically and viscerally represented in this aesthetically charged work” (106). Nicholas Hlobo’s 2008 work Ungamqhawuli is definitely a performance, in which the artist is “[s]trapped into a cot” and uses “a pully to lift himself off the floor into the air,” after which he “lies still, and sometimes falls asleep” (107). “The suspended figure can be seen as a grown-up child or as an adult longing to be a well-behaved child again,” Goldberg suggests (107). Zhang Huan’s 2003 Buddhist Relics is a performance critical of the Chinese government’s “infamously negligent response” to the SARS outbreak in China (108), and Sanford Biggers’s 2007 THE SOMETHIN’ SUITE “was a psychologically disorienting, cross-cultural variety show” that “interrogated the formation of stereotypes and confronted the implications and legacy of blackface in music, culture and industry (perhaps our Prime Minister should have travelled to New York to see it). 

I have to say that I don’t understand Golden + Senneby’s 2010 work The Decapitation of Money, Walk in Marly Forest with Angus Cameron at all, but it involves (in part) taking a group of people for a walk—which would locate it within relational aesthetics rather than performance, I think, but never mind: I’ve complained enough about Goldberg’s overly broad definition of performance. According to Goldberg, “[t]he transformation of money from physical capital into abstracted value is explored in a walking tour of the Marly forest near Versailles,” followed by a gallery exhibition that refers to “George Bataille’s secret society,” which met in the 1940s “to celebrate the murder of King Louis XVI” (83). A copy of Bataille’s 1949 essay “La Part Maudite,” which discusses “economies of excess,” is displayed in that exhibition, and a video lecture in an adjacent space explains the connection between that essay and the Euro (83). I don’t understand the connections the artists are making between currency and royalty, between a forest and money. A Walk to Pikes Peak, a 2012 work by Harrell Fletcher and Eric Steen, is a socially engaged project: a three-day hike during which participants “trekked from Colorado Springs to Pikes Peak,” a summit in the Rocky Mountains (85). “Preparing a short lesson on the area—whether an oral history, personal memory or scientific presentation—each participant becomes an artist, educator and student, considering the geography not only as land but as a deeply personal, constantly evolving marker for the individuals who experience it,” Goldberg writes (85). I really like the idea of this work, although why it is included in this chapter, rather than the first chapter, though, is unclear. Nikhil Chopra’s 2009 Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX was a five-day performance in which the artist travels every day to Ellis Island and draws large charcoal drawings of Manhattan, which Chopra hangs in the lobby of the New Museum every night while performing “domestic rituals in an anachronistic investigation of evolution, voyeurism and perception in urban life” (90). The place of the audience in this work is unclear; they are clearly present at or outside the New Museum, but do they follow him to Ellis Island, or is that part of the performance relatively private? The accompanying photograph shows Chopra in Victorian costume drawing while a woman with a stroller walks past.

Theaster Gates’s work is represented here by Stony Island Arts Bank, which began in 2012. Gates, Goldberg writes, “combines the machinations of city government and housing authorities with art world economics to reanimate and transform blocks of neglected houses and storefronts on the South Side of Chicago,” work that would seem to belong to social aesthetics rather than performance, although Goldberg states that “intimate theatre performances” are involved, and that Gates is a “singer, poet, playwright and performer” (94). “Together, these elements combine into a powerful and rigorous aesthetic whole,” she concludes (94). Perhaps Gates’s work is unclassifiable. Similarly, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s project The Land, which began in 1998, is “an exercise in community-building, discourse and social engagement” that properly belongs in the category of relational aesthetics or social practice than to performance (105). 

Zhu Ming’s 2008 14 O’clock, July 27th is a continuation of the artist’s “bubble series” (103). In this work, “over a dozen individuals occupy an enormous clear bubble perched in the fog-covered high altitudes of Sichuan” (103). “Geographically removed from artificial influence or any semblance of civilization, the mesmerizing orb is foreign to its surroundings,” Goldberg writes. “The individuals within it, naked as they rest, create an unobtrusive communal space, also a metaphor for suffocation and isolation” (103). The work is presented to audiences in still photographs, however—not surprising, given where the bubble was situated.

Goldberg’s third chapter, “Radical Action: on Performance and Politics,” looks at the connection between protest movements and performance. The focus of her introduction is primarily “artists living in regions where upheaval is chronic and war is the ongoing backdrop to their lives,” artists for whom “creating an aesthetic out of a constant state of anxiety is both a necessity and relief” (112). She writes about Walid Raad’s artistic response to the civil wars in Lebanon, and about artists in Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Kazahkstan, Bangladesh, and Mexico (112). “While many of the artworks discussed in this chapter come to be known in the international art world through video installations,” she writes, “the liveness at the heart of the original dramas power through the limitations of any fixed screen” (113). The performances might have lasted for days and the video might be a five or six minute edited version, but Goldberg argues that live performance and video “are inextricable, for the form and content of the film-to-be is embedded in the premises of such live performances, with their abstract experimental approach to narrative, frequent focus on architecture and bodies, and staging as sculpture or installation” (113). “The film itself becomes a kind of shard,” she writes: “evidence of a step-by-step process, with each step along the way being aesthetically and conceptually whole” (113). “The final film installation, edited and sized for projection in a gallery, and not for release in a cinema, would be entirely different were it the product of even the most experimental filmmaker,” she concludes, leaving me to ask how it would be different, and what (if anything) in Goldberg’s terms distinguishes video art from performance (113).

“The shared experience of live performance adds a dimension to contemporary art that has been growing steadily over the past several decades,” Goldberg writes, although of course she has just acknowledged that the work is not quite live performance (114). “Audiences now desire close proximity to artists and their working process, and the corollary is that artists get to watch audiences in the act of viewing” (114)—but not, of course, if the work is presented on video in an art gallery, unless the artist is present after the work is installed. Artists who work outside of galleries—those who want “to communicate pressing issues in under-served neighbourhoods”—find ways to connect “to community through aesthetic means” (114). William Pope L., for example, “gathers people around him in a host of provocative actions to measure the social and political strains of being black in America” (114). His 2005 work The Black Factory “took place in a large truck decked out as a mobile exhibition and performance space,” Goldberg writes. “Moving from Memphis to Missouri, it picked up followers en route who were asked to contribute symbols of blackness to the on-the-go collection” (114). Is that performance or relational aesthetics? Similarly, Goldberg discusses Theaster Gates and his “social practice” in this paragraph, along with Rick Lowe’s Project Row Houses in Houston, another example of social practice, and Mark Bradford’s Art + Practice in Los Angeles (114). Goldberg’s definition of performance is (metaphorically) imperalistic: it invades other art forms and claims them for itself. For instance, Goldberg discusses the work of Ai Weiwei (not all of which is performance) and of LGBT artists as examples of “ethically driven artwork” that “comes from a sense of urgency to change the minds of people who consider themselves to be far removed from issues of race, class or gender, and to give public support to those suffering under the weight of such disregard” (115-16). Such work is important; I would never argue that it is not. But is it all performance? Again, Goldberg’s definition seems to be too broad—or else I’m missing something fundamental about her argument.

Not surprisingly, the examples Goldberg presents in this chapter reflect that broad definition of performance. For instance, she includes William Pope L.’s 2013 Pull! as an example of performance. In the work, she writes, “[t]he artist invites members of the public to pull a 10-ton GMC step van for 40 km (25 miles) over a period of three days from the east to the west side of Cleveland” (119). “This gruelling mobile performance,” she continues, “reflects on the collaborative nature of labour and the potential of citywide community performance to instigate new social relations” (119). Her description clearly suggests that Pull! is a work of relational aesthetics or social practice, so why is it considered performance here?

Anri Sala’s 2003 Dammi i Colori is a video that documents a project in which “blank, decrepit buildings” in the city of Tirana, Albania, were “coated . . . with technicolour paint” (121). In the film, the city’s then-mayor Edi Rama (who is also an artist) “mediates on poverty, community and what it means to project utopia onto crumbling walls” (121). I’m sure that work is fascinating, but it’s not performance; it’s a video. Erbossyn Meldibekov’s 2000 My Brother, My Enemy is a photograph (123). Sigalit Landau’s 2000 Barbed Hula is a video (125). In Emily Jacir’s 2006 Material for a Film (Performance), the artist “enters a shooting range and fires at one thousand white, blank books, later assembling them as a minimalist installation” as a eulogy for Wael Zwaiter, “a Palestinian translator assassinated in 1972 by Israeli operatives” (128). The performance at the shooting range must have been private—how could an audience follow here there—and the means through which it was documented is not clear; it seems that the installation is what was presented to audiences. Lida Abdul’s 2006 video What We Saw Upon Awakening and 2005 video White House are videos of site-specific performances (130). Aman Mojadidi’s 2009 Payback is video documentation of a site-specific performance in which the artist, dressed in as a police officer and at a fake roadblock in Kabul, paying drivers $2 each—“the average cost of a police bribe,” according to Goldberg—instead of demanding it (134). Yael Bartana’s And Europe Will be Stunned (2007-2011) is a “dramatic three-part film installation” (139). Phil Collins’s They Shoot Horses, from 2004, is a seven-hour video documenting a dance marathon in Ramallah (141). Carlos Motta’s 2015 Patriots, Citizens, Lovers. . . is a video installation of interviews with Ukrainian LGTBI and queer people (142). Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2017 Carne y Arena is a “visceral hybrid of installation, virtual reality (VR) and re-enactment centred on the edge of the United States-Mexico border” (143). Audiences participate in the work—they remove their shoes in a run-down holding cell before putting on VR goggles to view the work, and some visitors “kneel reflexively, the environment simulating the traumatic, haunting experience immigrants face daily” (143). Rashaad Newsome’s 2009 Shade Compositions might be performance, but it might also be relational aesthetics, depending on where the 25 women who constitute its make-shift orchestra came from (147). Ai Weiwei’s S.A.C.R.E.D. (2011-2013) is “a harrowing, visceral installation depicting his eighty-one-day incarceration in solitary confinement” (148). Santiago Sierra’s 2009 Sumision involves the artist hiring unemployed labourers in a town bordering the United States to dig the word “SUMISION” into the ground (155). I don’t think there would have been an audience at this site-specific performance, and it seems to have been documented with photographs taken from a helicopter.

But some of the works she includes in this chapter are obviously live performance. Walid Raad’s 2011 Scratching on Things I Could Disavow, for instance, “is a series of 1-hour presentations comprising a powerpoint lecture reporting facts and figures about changing art world economics in the Middle East, and a guided tour through an installation of Raad’s artworks” (120). Emily Roysdon’s 2008 Work, Why Why not groups performers in a circle, “then as a dancing line or a family portrait—arrangements that audiences can easily identify,” and Roysdon addresses her audiences directly, “asking individuals to respond to key actions” (124). Shirin Neshat’s 2011 OverRuled is “a live performance based on an earlier video by the artist,” using “the same set and cast of characters as the former,” but expanding “the theme of censorship and interrogation of a poet to incorporate the political turmoil of the Green Movement, and the trials and imprisonment of artists and intelligentsia that had occurred just two years later” by staging “an Islamic court of theocratic law” (126). Rabih Mroué’s 2013 lecture-performance The Pixelated Revolution Performance is a live event with projected material (127). Derrick Adams’s 2015 Pablow Fanque’s Circus Royal/SIDESHOW is “a 4-hour variety show of musical interludes, jugglers, readings from writers such as James Baldwin and songs from Erykah Badu” (131). 

Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performance, which dates all the way back to 1978-1984 (a date that makes me wonder why it’s been included in a book about 21st-century performance) “was a series of five durational performances, each lasting one year,” in which Hsieh “spent one year locked in a cage, another punching a time clock hourly, the next never going indoors, another tied to someone else without ever touching them, and the last without making art, seeing art, reading or speaking about art or setting foot in a museum or gallery” (133). Given the duration of these works, they must have been private actions (how could an audience be there all day, every day, for a year?). In 2009, an exhibition of these performances was installed at the Museum of Modern Art. Wu Tsang’s 2011 Damelo Todo is a 20-minute film with an accompanying performance; according to Goldberg “[t]he film and performance are interchangeable: film provides an extravagant backdrop to performance, while performance generates material for film” (135). Pussy Riot’s 2012 Punk Prayer involved the artists seizing “the sanctuary of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour with a full-blown rendering of their protest song Punk Prayer—Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” that led to the arrest and imprisonment of three members of the group (136). Coco Fusco’s 2006 to 2008 A Room of One’s Own: Women and Power in the New America is (I think) a series of lecture-performances intended “[t]o shed light on the art of interrogation” (137). Omer Fast’s 2009 Talk Show is “a mock-up TV talk show set before an audience” that uses “the game of ‘telephone’ as its underlying structure” (138). Cassils’s Becoming an Image Performance Still No. 8 (2013) is part of an ongoing series of performances that pits the artist “against a mass of clay . . . which they beat as though in a boxing match” (144). The performance is staged in a dark room and is only lit by a photographer’s flash; the audience sees “brief, fleeting glimpses of the clay’s evolution” (144). Cassils shapes “both the sculpture and themselves—alluding to the fluidity of bodies and the violence enacted against transgender individuals” (144). Juliana Huxtable’s 2015 There Are Certain Facts That Cannot Be Disputed is a live, three-act performance, a “gripping, poetic epic” about “the potential of the virtual as a radically inclusive archive while confronting its ephemerality” (145). Martin Creed’s 2009 Work No. 1020 is a 70-minute dance performance with interruptions to talk about the work’s meaning (146). Teresa Margolles’s 2009 What Else Could We Talk About? is an installation of large, cloth banners that had been used “to mop up the remains at sites of gunfights and murder in Culiacán, Mexico, a city rife with drug trafficking” in which relatives of the dead intermittently mop the floors, “using water containing traces from the crime scenes, including the blood of victims” (151). Terry Adkins’s Sacred Order of the Twilight Brothers from 2013 is a live performance on invented musical instruments—5.5 metre horns the artists calls Akrhaphones (154).

There are walking performances included in this chapter. Francis Alÿs’s The Green Line is either a video of a walking performance (with an audience), or a relatively private walking performance documented on video—but one without an audience, or at least an unmediated audience, because it is site specific. The work found audiences through the video documentation, which was included in an exhibition called Sometimes Doing Something Poetic Can Become Political, and Sometimes Doing Something Political Can Become Poetic, which included the video, drawings and maps of the Green Line, and video interviews with people who responded to Alÿs’s walk through Jerusalem (133). Regina José Galindo’s ¿Quién Puede Borrar Las Huellas?, from 2003, is video documentation of a site-specific performance in Guatemala City, in which the artist soaked her feet in a basin of animal blood and then left bloody footprints on a walk from the Court of Constitutionality to the National Palace (149). That seems to have been a relatively private performance, in that the only people to have seen it would be passersby and police and soldiers guarding those buildings. Site-specific performances like those of Galindo or Alÿs need to be thought of differently from other forms of performance because it’s possible they may not have an unmediated audience. Not considering site-specific performance as a separate category is a weakness in this book’s account of contemporary performance.

I skimmed the book’s fourth chapter, “Dance After Choreography,” as quickly as I could. The chapter begins by suggesting that dance in the late 1990s “could be called ‘conceptual dance,’ both for its rigorous intellectual underpinnings and for the ways in which talking about dance while dancing created a form of lecture in performance as well as deconstructing dance itself” (157). The dancers’ bodies were “‘material,’” Goldberg writes, and “the venue, whether black box or proscenium, was ‘space.’ Watching dance was as much a thought-process as it was a visual or visceral pleasure” (157). Dance in the late 1990s also referred to avant-garde dance of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly the Judson Dance Theater and Grand Union in New York. (157). Those groups worked “with the ‘democratic body’ as a plain-spoken instrument for questioning the nature of dance and its place in the politicized society of the times,” and their work was interdisciplinary, involving collaborations with artists in other disciplines, “including sculpture, film, poetry and music” (157). 

From here, Goldberg turns to developments in Europe. French choreographers in the 1990s “studied, reimagined and reconstructed” that revolution in dance (158). In Germany, “Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal was producing vivid dance theatre at an extraordinary pace, creating material that expanded and deepened Bausch’s view of dance as an agglomeration of political geographies and literary and musical references” (158). In Belgium, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker “impeccably combined highly conceptual and physical worlds, bringing text, film footage, music and architecture into her rigorous, methodical and emotional investigations of the rhythms and rituals of dance” (158). Dance festivals across Europe created venues for the work of these choreographers and others (158-59).  By the early 2000s, “[a]n inventive new generation of French choreographers, trained in classical and contemporary dance but also, surprisingly, in biology, philosophy, and literature, emerged” (159). Influenced by French philosophers (Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Rancière), “they shaped a philosophical and poetic sounding board for dance concepts that reflected the physical and mental acuity essential to their medium. By 2005 Jérôme Bel, Xavier Le Roy and Boris Charmatz had emerged as a triumvirate of exceptional thinkers about dance, its history and its execution” (159). All three “shared a commitment to speaking directly to audiences, and having them empathize with both the thinking and doing of the performers in their midst” (159).

“In the United States,” Goldberg writes, “the turn of the century brought a new wave of dance in the form of polemical choreographic visions that were the work of strong individuals, some quite maverick in their approach to constructing dance in the vanguard downtown venues of New York,” including Sarah Michelson, Maria Hassabi, Trajal Harrell, Miguel Gutierrez, Ralph Lemon, Tere O’Connor and Faye Driscoll, who “made performances that were distinguished by idiosyncratic personal styles and vocabularies of movement” and by their “strongly articulated subject matter” (160). Their choreography drew on the work of Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Yvonne Ranier, and Steve Paxton, “the ABC of every young choreographer’s career, and essential frame of reference for modern dancers in the United States” (160). Unlike dance in Europe, which benefitted from state support, dance in New York received little public support and relied on non-profit venues (161). “Since 2010,” Goldberg continues, “several of these spaces have begun to produce analytically probing and context-setting programmes” (161). Dance was also included in performance art programmes in art museums, leading to commissions and performance exhibitions (including at the Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina), supporting “the perennially under-served dance community” and archiving its work (161). 

The individual works that Goldberg discusses reflect the choreographers she considers to be important, and unlike her discussions of other forms of performance, the dance she considers is live rather than on film or video, or suggested by an installation. These works include Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s 2011 reworking of her 1982 Fase, Four Movement to the Music of Steve Reich at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London (162); Trajal Harrell’s 2012 Antigone Sr./Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, which combined “dance and street styles, runway walking, spoken word and song” (163); Faye Driscoll’s  2010 There is so much mad in me, which considered “the ‘feedback loop’ between performers and audience” (165); and Maria Hassabi’s 2013 PREMIERE, in which five dancers “took an entire hour to rotate their positions almost imperceptibly, ending in the same place as where they began” (166). Goldberg also touches on Jérôme Bel’s 2013 Disabled Theater, in which a group of actors between the ages of 18 and 51 “react freely to a series of tasks proposed by the artist” and then present the work “in three different venues, offering a different reading for dance in each” (170). I’d like to know more: what venues? what tasks? why actors and not dancers? She also considers Tere O’Connor’s 2013 BLEED, “the culimation of a two-year project involving three earlier works,” with “a cast of eleven dancers and ‘ghosts’ of the earlier movement phrases” that functions not just as a conclusion, but also as a beginning (171). Pablo Bronstein’s 2007 Plaza Minuet is intended to be performed “in four different public plazas around Lower Manhattan, making visceral to passers-by the spatial design of each architectural setting” (173). That work is clearly site-specific and I’m curious about how the sites selected informed it.

In Anne Imhof’s 2017 Faust, 14 performers (some trained dancers, others artists, singers, or actors) “fall, lie, bunch up in a heap or hoist themselves onto pedestals set in the walls of the dramatically scaled building of Venice’s German Pavilion” (174). Cheap Lecture (2009) is a duet between dancer Jonathan Burrows and musician Matteo Fargion, one of a series in which they “combine their droll delivery in rhythmic, musically shaped phrases about dance and music, composition and space, audience and performer” (175). Boris Charmatz’s 2014 Musée de la dance: Enfant “calls on viewers to consider the dancer’s body as a container for the history of dance, its forms and techniques, and to recognize that muscle memory is shaped by endless quotation from 20th-century choreography,” and at the same time, it uses children as performers (177). Xavier Le Roy’s 2012 Retrospective “was a milestone in being the first dance installation in a museum to use the term ‘retrospective’—more typical for an artist than for a choreographer” (180). Keith Hennessy’s 2009 Crotch (all the Joseph Beuys references in the world cannot heal the pain, confusion, regret, cruelty, betrayal, or trauma . . .) is “[i]ntentionally chaotic,” and its “motifs include poems read from torn notepaper, a manic lecture on German philosophy and dance, an athletic solo from a performer wearing a Halloween mask and an extended vignette of Hennessy weeping” (182). Miguel Gutierrez’s 2012 And Lose the Name of Action “crafts a landscape of paranormal and hallucinatory movement, inspired in part by the artist’s experience of his father undergoing operations to manage blood clots in the brain” (183). La Ribot’s Panoramix (1999-2003) is a retrospective of her “Distinguished Pieces,” “short performances of several minutes each, using ‘readymades’—bed sheets, folding chairs, a coat—as triggers for her expansive and quirky movements” (185). According to Goldberg, “La Ribot brings a dancer’s body-awareness and stage presence to the Fluxus artists’ fascination with chance and indeterminacy” (185). Pina Bausch’s 2006 Vollmond is both mellow and acrobatic: “[a] dark pool of water holds centre stage, through which dancers race creating dramatic arcs of spray as pouring rain drenches their unstoppable motion,” creating an “exhilarating spectacle of human energy mixed with nature’s essence” that “maintains the vivid symbolism for which Bausch’s classic dance theatre is known” (192). Sarah Michelson’s 2012 Devotion Study #1—The American Dancer seems to be a site-specific work: in it, the fourth floor of the Whitney Museum in New York “was covered with a blueprint of the original floor plan,” while the geometry of architect Marcel Breuer’s “cut-out window onto Madison Avenue provided a sharp counterpoint to a large green neon portrait of Michelson hanging on the opposite wall, as if overseeing the action” (195). In the work, six dancers, “relentlessly stepping backwards in circles for almost 90 minutes, fill the space with their precision movements, while Michelson designs and directs all the other parts—sound, lighting and costumes—and provides a live voiceover, in conversation with playwright Richard Maxwell, about history, religion and devotion to dance” (195)

At the same time, some of the dance work she considers here are site-specific and only available to audiences through film or video. Such works include Ralph Lemon’s 2010 Untitled, a work that explores “a close friendship and collaboration between the artist and Little Yazoo resident Walter Carter” (168); and Elad Lassry’s 2012 Untitled (Presence), which “treats performance as a mediated experience, presenting ten dancers from the American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet as if witnessed through a screen” by using “framing devices that recall a lens’ aperture and treating reality as pictorial space,” showing the dancers “cut off and composed, in detail and in full” (172). Noémie Lafrance’s 2006 Agora II is a work of relational aesthetics, “a vast social experiment offering a narrative about the evolving community of Williamsburg” in Brooklyn (184). The work “joined over seventy-five performers with thousands of viewers,” and its audience, “who have been tasked with learning dance movements before their arrival, are instructed to play a ‘choreographed game’ of collective actions”—including, according to the photograph included in the book, riding bicycles on a large pool that had been abandoned for 20 years (184). Video artist (or filmmaker) Tacita Dean’s 2009 film Craneway Event “follows avant-garde choreographer Merce Cunningham and his company as they rehearse a new piece—one of his last—in an abandoned Ford factory. . . . Observing both the company and the late choreographer himself, the film is a soft, breathtaking meditation on movement and an icon’s process” (190). 

Because I’ve written plays (and even had one produced), I really couldn’t skip Goldberg’s fifth chapter, “Off Stage: New Theatre.” “In the mid-2000s,” she begins, “several productions that had all the markings of theatre—a script, actors, and a director—began to be shown in museums and galleries, deconstructed so that all traditional ‘theatre’ elements, including backstage, might be exposed and exhibited” (197). “At the same time, several visual artists were taking to the stage,” she continues. “These artists made use of proscenium, curtains and wings, and took into account the fact that audience members would be seated in rows, viewing the work frontally” (197). According to Goldberg, “seeing the two forms’ ‘trade tools,’ as it were, shifting contexts and expectations, served above all to underline their differences. Theatre performed by trained actors and directors proved quite distinct from performance by vidual artists in just about every aspect of expertise, vision and intent” (197).

“The extent to which the differences between these types of performance serve to define them,” Goldberg writes, 

goes a long way towards illuminating the nature of performance art, the more paradoxical of the two. A visual art performance is most often the vision of a single artist, responsible for every element of the work. The artist is director, playwright, performer and lighting, costume and set designer rolled into one. The work rarely contains text or spoken word, often has no narrative arc, and is not required to ‘make sense’ in the way that theatre productions are frequently expected to resolve character relationships and plot by a play’s end. More abstract than literal, performance by visual artists draws on the trajectory of art history, and its references are frequently to the aesthetic sensibilities of the times and to other artists. Such work is often highly personal; the artist might even be described as “performing the self,” their personal signature being very much the essence of the work. (197-98)

Of course, theatre artists also make performance, and performance work often does involve text, as the examples of performance Goldberg includes in Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present suggest. 

Goldberg’s description of theatre is incomplete—it ignores the existence of devised work entirely—but it’s more or less accurate:

Theatre more often than not begins with a script—with spoken lines and stage directions for the actors—including descriptions of the time and location of each scene change. It is made by a team effort of professionals, each with distinct functions—playwright, director, actor, producer, dramaturge, set designer, costume designer, lighting designer—and, because it involves many parts, typically takes longer to realize than does performance by a single visual artist. By the time a theatre production premiers, the highly personal vision of the playwright may be many times removed. Even so, the performers, who are the most visible manifestation of the entire enterprise, are reassured by the team effort and the clear demands of their profession. Their activity is acting, and they work to perfect the techniques of their métier, providing, with each play, a seamless rendering of the combined values and ideas of themselves, the playwright and the director. (198)

Okay: most (but not all) theatre productions look more or less like that. Performance, on the other hand, is very different:

The professionalism expected of the theatre actor—modulated voice, precise enunciation, solid stage presence and capability of projecting into large theatrical halls—becomes somewhat irrelevant in the visual art world, which disregards the accepted standards of theatrical etiquette and design. Actors predominantly work on the basis that an audience will pay attention to their deliver, comprehend the meaning of their words, and grasp the significance from start to finish of a tale well told. In the art world, the performer communicates very differently with his or her audience. In this context, the work is assembled in the manner of a collage or drawing, layered with image, sound or words combining eventually, if not at first, to suggest meaning. Without expecting to take away anything conclusive, art audiences have a greater role in completing the work for themselves, whether in the process of viewing or just as often, afterwards. (198)

But not all theatre—and not the site-specific work I’ve been involved in—is about tales well told; not all of it is based solely on text; not all of it eschews layers of text, image, and sound. An artificial line is being drawn here between performance work by visual artists, and performance work by theatre artists, and Goldberg’s suggestion that all theatre artists construct plays is not correct.

From here, Goldberg looks back to the history avant-garde performance in the 1970s in New York (although I’m sure performance happened elsewhere, too). “The freedom to create a performance with the immediacy of the lone artist working in a studio” was central to that community of performance (198). “Performers could play themselves, were encouraged to take off in any number of untried directions and to pursue ideas about the body as an object in space and time,” she continues. “This flexibility and experimentation with a broad range of materials, crossing new music with dance, film and conceptual art, would come to influence many emerging playwrights and directors in Europe” (198). Not just in Europe, either. Now Goldberg’s account of the distinction between performance art and theatre is beginning to make more sense to me. European playwrights and directors, she continues, “recognized in this way of working the promise of a self-directed theatre, and material that probed and deconstructed the essence of their chosen medium when reduced to its basic elements” (198). In the United States, “directors and performers, including Meredith Monk, Robert Wilson, Elizabeth LeCompte, Richard Foreman, Laurie Anderson, Spalding Gray, Eric Bogosian and Karen Finlay . . . were understood to represent a new kind of performance that could exist on the boundary between visual art and theatre” (198). In Europe, young directors (who were also influenced by avant-garde theatre) “took the freely idiosyncratic and inventive styles of the Americans’ highly personalized performance-theatre as license to create works of their own that stood outside of theatre history” (198). In fact, theatre directors and producers all over the world, including Robert Lepage and Forced Entertainment, “created a landscape of intensely visual theatre and distinctive performance styles that were highly imaginative in their mixing of politics, literature, history and music” (198). This work, Goldberg states, “was sometimes described under the heading ‘post-dramatic theatre’ for the ways in which traditional expectations were disrupted or abandoned entirely as conservative and oppressive to the imagination” (198).

Goldberg suggests that “Berlin-based Christoph Schlingensief’s career provides a prime example of a personality-driven thinker moving reflexively across disciplines,” from acting to directing film and theatre and opera, to hosting TV talk shows and entering politics, to working as a visual artist (198). “Taking elements from each discipline as needed, Schlingensief articulated the shifting cultural and political sands in a Berlin emerging rapidly from its isolation as a divided city, as well as a personal worldview that was as existentially complex as it was surreal” (198). His productions were “part vaudeville, part punk concert,” and they “disturbed audiences with their chaotic, satirical and hysterical renderings” (199). Schlingensief’s references included Luis Buñuel, 1970s German cinema, Joseph Beuys, and Richard Wagner (199). His “manic and unstoppable energy took final shape in his most ambitious project,” Goldberg writes: “an ‘Opera Village’ in Burkina Faso” (199). “This,” she continues,

was an artistic space for cultural encounters and exchange, to which he applied the fierce humanism at the heart of his brazen and provocative drive. A school, a hospital, an opera house and a community would live on there after his death in 2010 from cancer at age forty-nine. Honoured with a posthumous “retrospective” in the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennial the following year, Schlingensief would win the Golden Lion award for best national pavilion—recognition from the art world that lent a new perspective on his earlier material. (199)

Between 1992 and 2016, theatre director Frank Castorf, another Berliner, “turned his incisive focus on theatre itself, creating volatile productions that would set the stage throughout the 1990s for an extraordinarily inventive and violently radical generation of theatre directors” (199). Castorf’s work “included brash deconstructions of classical plays and literature as well as wildly provocative 5-hour staged rampages involving nudity, drunkenness, thrown food, bad jokes and screaming at the audience” (199). For Castorf, theatre “was a thought-carrier for powerful, expressionistic content—politics, philosophy, poetry—as well as an irresistible spectacle through which to evoke the day-to-day” (199). Castorf, whose influences include Brecht and Heiner Müller, “introduced his own obsession with crossing theatre and cinema, producing a hybrid that he believed could not be achieved by one or the other medium alone” (199). His “marathon productions with their varied directorial approaches, opinionated cast of regular actors, and frenetic play on the margins between rock and roll, popular culture and visual art . . . were a call for a theatre of meaning—proud advertisements for the power of the art of the stage to get under peoples’ skin and to change their minds” (199-200).

“Such boisterous combinations,” Goldberg writes, “were particular to post-unification Berlin theatre, where politics and art, East and West, capitalism and old-style communism, and the visible discrepancies between these—on people’s faces, in their clothing and on disintegrating building facades—were an inescapable part of everyday reality” (200). In France, on the other hand, “performances by Philippe Quesne or Gisèle Vienne conjured a very different mindscape” (200). Their works were “sophisticated reimaginings of the day-to-day, of history and philosophy, and of society with a futuristic lean” (200). Quesne, who studied visual art and graphic design, “works across a spectrum of disciplines and exhibition spaces from galleries to urban parks,” and “who writes and directs his own plays,” creates “subtle theatrical works of few words that offer rich commentary on society nevertheless” (200). His sets create experiences “of unexpected wonder,” and “[h]is close studies of human beings in an imaginatively reconfigured daily life are just as often presented under dance as under theatre banners, as though the distinction between the two did not apply here or, rather, suggesting that concentrating on narratives of bodies moving in space can be understood as a melding of both” (200). Vienne’s work is also seen as dance and theatre (200). “Working with professional dancers and trained actors,” Vienne “considers each as an object in space to be moved, with dancers playing out the underlying rhythm of a work and actors signalling its psychological threads” (200). Mixing live actors and life-sized puppets, “Vienne’s uncanny ceremonies are designed to have each part—image, sound, bodies, text—pull at the seams between dream and reality” (200).

In the United States, or at least in New York, there were different developments. “On the one hand, a do-it-yourself aesthetic was the hallmark of several collectives,” such as Big Art Group and Hoi Polloi, whose rough, chaotic, and intimate productions “had a found-object quality” that “had as much to do with the economics of maintaining a theatre company amid the rising values of downtown real estate as with the ethos and preoccupations of a generation inured to spectacle” (200). Some of their work was presented in lofts in old industrial buildings outside of Manhattan (200). “Another group of downtown playwrights and directors were analytical in their approach to parsing the elements of theatre—words, bodies, audience—and used as their springboard seminal figures of the 1970s and ’80s avant-garde such as Richard Foreman . . . and Elizabeth LeCompte and the Wooster Group” (200-01). These groups, including playwrights Richard Maxwell and Young Jean Lee, “produced highly original material that by the end of the first decade of the 2000s constituted a new kind of downtown theatre: sparse, intellectual, unfettered by media or staging devices, yet clever in its transparent questioning of the ‘thing itself’—theatre” (201). Some of these theatre companies created scripts collectively; some did so through interviews, but they all focused “on transforming a textual artwork into a theatrical one” (201), which really isn’t all that surprising for theatre, I have to say. “Not surprisingly, this stripped-down approach to theatre and its conceptual guide rails appealed to artists and art critics who took note of its similarities to the theory of ‘relational aesthetics’ that made connections between viewer, object, surrounding space and the combination of these, suggesting a kind of multi-dimensional theatre of the self,” Goldberg writes, citing Richard Maxwell’s 2012 Untitled at the Whitney Museum of American Art as an example of “just such an amalgamation of ideas” (201):

Presented in a large floor-through gallery in the museum as part of a week-long residency, it made all aspects of the creative process visible, showcasing the mechanisms of theatre, its silences and stillnesses, as well as the coming and going of visitors. . . . Maxwell and his theatre company rehearsed his new play from 11 a.m until 6 p.m. daily, with a lunch break from 2 until 2.45 p.m. The ideal viewer, Maxwell said, would stay for an entire day. (201)

In contrast, Paul Chan’s 2007 production of Waiting for Godot was produced in the streets of New Orleans, still scarred by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

The magnitude of Chan’s achievement lies in the visual artist’s expansive approach to relating a play about interminable waiting and desolation to a community’s catastrophic desolation and interminable waiting for relief and repair. Using the comforting traditions of New Orleans—a gumbo dinner, a marching band—Chan had viewers follow signage nailed to several posts along the way, marked “A Country Road. A Tree. Evening” (the opening words setting the scene in Samuel Beckett’s script) to a street corner in the Lower Ninth Ward. Seamlessly transitioning from life into Beckett’s play, the two-act tragicomedy seemed to have been written on the spot. . . . Perhaps it is only in the hands of a visual artist that such a work could have unfolded with so much space to insert personal imaginings, and with so many doors left ajar for viewers to step onto the borderless stage and become one of the dramatis personae themselves. (201)

Maybe, although let’s not forget Beckett’s incredible achievement in writing that play: even a production in a community hall might generate similar effects.

“Using the stage as exhibition space, or the theatre and its textual and narrative traditions as materials to manipulate at will is the prerogative of the visual artist,” Goldberg writes (201), a statement that completely ignores the fact that theatre artists can and do the same things—something that her examples have already demonstrated. “It is expected of these artists to experiment and surprise, to work without the safety net of tradition, and to take that step with the intention of venturing into untried territories, forcing fresh responses to the unfamiliar upon themselves,” she continues (201), leaving me to wonder whether she thinks theatre artists are expected to bore and stick to tradition and evoke stale responses. “Such work is approached with the same care and sophistication that an artist might apply in other media, but above all with an exact understanding of their reason for choosing one medium over another,” she concludes (201). Wow. Visual artists good; theatre artists bad. What a thing to say.

As with the other chapters in this book, Goldberg now moves on to brief discussions of individual productions and/or works. For instance, Elevator Repair Service’s 2006 Gatz was a six-hour performance of The Great Gatsby, “which included every work of the 1925 text” (203). “The production invited the audience to imagine the action as if they were reading it themselves, with the cast of thirteen actors in a shabby office of a mysterious small business, instead of opulent 1920s Long Island,” Goldberg writes, suggesting that in the production suggests that “the book and its language are transforming are transforming the actors” (203). I find the shift to past tense interesting here; Goldberg has used present tense when talking about performance by visual artists, but in discussing this theatre production she uses past tense. Why? Is she suggesting that performance lives on in an eternal present while theatre is consigned to the past?

Hoi Polloi’s 2012 All Hands was “a play about the eccentric characters, rituals and codes in the world of secret societies” in which, as “the performance becomes more abstract, the absurdist and theatrical qualities of the secret world offer reflection on the world of experimental theatre itself” (204). In Radiohole’s 2006 Fluke, “the small ensemble of four performed Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick with their eyes closed, and fish-like eyes painted on the back of their eyelids,” in a production that created “an elaborate sensory overload of enigmatic riffs on Moby-Dick, including gurgling sounds of the deep ocean and quick light changes” (206). Grace Notes: Reflections for Now, a 2016 performance by writer, photographer and filmmaker Carrie Mae Weems, “follows” (note Goldberg’s shift to present tense when talking about the work of a visual artist) “a woman who, like a modern Antigone, must grapple with her brothers’ deaths and with those who deny them a proper burial, all the while maintaining a sense of self through unspeakable challenge” (208). The work uses “street dance, opera and spoken word,” as well as documentary video (208). Rashid Johnson’s 2013 Dutchman reimagined a 1964 play by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones as he was known in the early 1960s). “A political allegory that wanders into the surreal, its presentation in the steam rooms of an old bathhouse instigates a journey through physical sensations and emotional atmospheres for actors and audiences alike,” Goldberg writes. “The extreme conditions disrupt the narrative flow of the play—a tense confrontation between a black man and a white woman on a subway train that continually teeters on violence—so that the drama unfolds in fits and starts, and explodes at a point when the unbearable heat and horrific end of the play coincide” (209). 

Gisèle Vienne’s 2013 The Pyre explores the “frantic, dystopian exploration of the tension between narration and abstraction” through a performance in which “a woman jolts in contorted, unsettling motions, the stage around her dark except for curved walls that form a tunnel of flashing light,” until a young boy joins her, responding to her movements (210). The pair “appear trapped in the pulsating, otherworldly tunnel, confined as they struggle against reality and their predetermined narrative fate” (210). Simon Fujiwara’s 2011 The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a “richly detailed narrative set on a revolving stage” in which “Fujiwara’s childhood, family history, and life as an artist and human being are mined to create a series of engaging episodes that simultaneously sample excerpts from political and cultural history,” thereby questioning “our notions of historical and collective memory” and examining that memory’s malleability (213). Gob Squad’s 2010 Western Society is a recreation of “an obscure, homemade YouTube video of a family gathering” (214). According to Goldberg, “[a] moveable screen splits actors and live audience as the action is live-streamed to a second set of viewers,” and the actors “use the family scene to discuss their own personal, difficult relationships as the play simultaneously satirizes, mocks and expands the domestic space” (214). David Levine’s 2012 Habit brought together durational performance and theatre: Levine’s “voyeuristic 90-minute play was performed by three actors continuously for 8 hours a day over one week” in “the cavernous space of the former Essex Street Market” in New York “in a four-walled, fully furnished and functional American ranch house . . . where audience members could peer through open windows or move around as they pleased” (215). Richard Maxwell’s 2006 The End of Reality “stages a series of conversations between security guards who rarely interact, and who deliver long speeches that elicit feelings of apathy and despair” (218). Every once in a while, “comically clunky fight scenes between the guards and criminals” interrupt those monologues, highlighting “the banality of violence and ordinary disaffection in everyday American life” (218).

Frank Castorf’s 2004 Meine Schneekönigin “dismantles Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, throwing players together on a set that involves storms of fake snow, broken mirrors and roaming Nazi soldiers among other violently cast debris,” Goldberg writes. “In this 3-hour adaptation, Castorf draws form his arsenal of theatrical disturbances . . . including ‘flying potato salad, inserted theoretical texts, urinating in a zinc bucket, booming music, film projections, hysterical family life, nude madness, improvised speeches and plenty of slapstick’” (221). The Quiet Volume, a 2010 collaboration between Ant Hampton and Tim Etchells, “is a play set in a library that exploits the tension common to any such setting—a combination of silence and concentration within which different people’s experience of reading unfold” (223). It’s also a site-specific work, since the 2010 production was staged in the reading room of the Universitätbibliothek der Humboldt in Berlin. In contrast, Luciano Chessa’s 2009 Music for 16 Futurist Noise Intoners was a concert of 16 reconstructed intonarumori, “crank-operated instruments originally designed by avant-garde musician Luigi and destroyed in the early 20th century” (222). How is this an example of theatre? I do not understand the categories Goldberg is using, although I’m certain that I’ve said that already.

Philippe Quesne’s 2010 La Mélancholie des Dragons is about six heavy-metal musicians stranded in a car in the middle of a snowy forest “deciding on how to construct an amusement part there with the help of an elderly woman” (226). “Throughout this surreal adventure,” Goldberg writes, “Quesne mixes dream and reality, music and language, in a visually arresting style, stemming from his work as a visual artist, to contrast atmospheres of mystery and magic with moments of mundanity and awkwardness” (226). Greek theatre director Dimitris Papaioannou, who was trained as a painted, “makes large-scale spectacles with an obsessive attention to visual detail, paying close attention to the seduction and presence of the human body, its gestures and its emotional potential” (227). In his 2009 Nowhere, 26 performers “move, measure and mark out a large mechanical structure of pulleys and levers on the stage using their bodies, pitting themselves against a highly complex machine of considerable dimensions and technical capabilities,” and in his 2012 Primal Matter, he “performs with a nude male dancer in sequences that explore relationships between the primitive and the modern, identity and otherness” (227).In Il Tempo Del Postino (2009), Hans Ulrich Obrist and Philippe Parreno gave visual artists 15 minutes “to present a piece in any medium besides film or video,” resulting in diverse performances that included a cattle auction, “opera singers moving through the aisles singing Madame Butterfly,” and “a live orchestra playing back any sound made in the crowd” (229). The event, Goldberg writes, produces “a radical, spontaneous reimaginging of the presentation and reception of visual arts” (229). Maybe that’s true, but what’s its connection to theatre? Why include it here, in this chapter? The Book of Ice was a 2011 concert by Paul Dennis Miller, better known as DJ Spooky, based on his experiences during a trip to the Antarctic (232). I’m sure it was interesting, but why is it included in a chapter ostensibly on the relationship between theatre and performance? On the other hand, the presence of The Wooster Group’s 2000 play TO YOU, THE BIRDIE! (Phèdre) needs no explanation. It’s a reimagining of Racine’s classical French play using “video production and technological installation to dramatize the cultural reproduction of the past” (231). Neither is it difficult to understand why Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s 2008 retelling of Romeo and Juliet is included in this chapter. It uses “nearly verbatim language transcribed from phone interviews with either people, who were asked to recount the play in their own words,” thereby extending the play’s authorship “into the outside world” (231). Johannesburg-born Nelisiwe Xaba’s 2011 They Look at Me and That’s All They Think is based on the biography of Sarah Baartman, “a South African Khoi who became known as the ‘Hottentot Venus’ when exhibited in London and France in the 1810s” (234). Paul Chan’s 2007 production of Waiting for Godot sounds amazing, and its use of social practice suggests that it was a hybrid between theatre and relational aesthetics (235).

Not all of the projects Goldberg discusses in this chapter are live. Robert Wilson’s 2004 Steve Buscemi, Actor, is a video portrait (211). Claire Fontaine’s 2011 Situations (the work of a Paris-based feminist collective named Clare Fontaine rather than a single artist) is a video that “instructs viewers in how to behave in a street fight” (217). Liz Magic Laser’s 2011 I Feel Your Pain is a “mixed-media performance” which “restaged America’s recent political contests as a romantic drama” by using “a variety of agit-prop theatre tactics, particularly the Russian constructivist idea of a ‘living newspaper’” to examine “how emotion is used to establish authenticity on America’s political stage” (225). The performance was staged in a movie theatre, and “took place simultaneously in the midst of the audience and on the cinema’s screen” (225). “As the actors perform,” Goldberg continues, “live film from two cinematographers in the audience is projected onto the screen as a continuous feed, with Laser acting as a real-time editor, seated at monitors in the projection booth choosing camera angles for the audience to see” (225). Christoph Schlingensief’s “opera village” in Burkina Faso (233) would seem to be neither theatre nor performance, but an example of social practice or relational aesthetics, and his The Animatograph was an installation work, “a claustrophobic rotating carousel of technical and sculptural debris,” which was controversial because it was covered in images that included swastikas and Hitler- and Stalin-themed pornography (233).

The works included in Goldberg’s sixth chapter, “Performing Architecture,” appear to be either installation works, examples of relational aesthetics, or performances, although Studio Miessen’s Performa 09 Hub (2009) was clearly architectural, and functioned as the biennial’s office, bookshop, lounge, performance and screening area, and as “a small, tiered amphitheatre” (256); and Tobias Putrih’s 2006 Design studio for MUDAM was a “sculptural environment-as-studio for education and public workshops within the MUDAM museum” which could be reconfigured by its users. How these are performance, though, isn’t clear to me. If people in a space interact with it, does that make the work—the space—a performance? Maybe it does. I don’t know. I certainly see the performative element in ReActor House, a 2016 work by Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley, “a precarious home that balances on a 4.5-metre (15 ft) concrete pillar, allowing the house to rotate 360 degrees and tilt depending on the whereabouts of the two inhabitants” (264). Mike Nelson’s 408 Tonnes of Imperfect Geometry (2012) sets “individually cast pieces of concrete” on a wooden floor, “deliberately confronting the load-bearing capacity of the infrastructure” (265). Adjacent to it is the production workshop, separated from visitors by a glass wall. “They are thus given access to the elegant and precarious balance of design, engineering, emotion and movement—all persistent elements of architecture,” Goldberg states.

The more obviously installation work includes Raumlabor’s 2013 Monuments, which seems to have been a mobile, site-specific installation (242); Michael Beutler’s 2006 Yellow Escalator, a staircase that cannot be climbed (246); Diller Scofido + Renfro’s 2002 Blur, an “ephemeral building . . . made of artificial cloud” (247); Sophie Calle’s 2011 Room, a “staged installation-memoir” in the Lowell Hotel in New York (250); Renata Lucas’s 2012 Kunst-Werke (255); Ernesto Neto’s 2009 anthropodino (257); and Los Carpinteros’ 2007 Show Room, a reconstruction of “the explosion of a brick wall” (259). Some of these are related to architecture as a theme, but does that make them performances? The relational aesthetics or social practice work—again, which includes architecture as a theme—includes Thomas Hirschhorn’s 2000 Gramsci Monument, 2001 Bataille Monument, and 2013 Gramsci Monument, all three of which were built by community members and became “makeshift playgrounds, offering public programming, jobs and an information hub to the community” (243); Ann Hamilton’s 2012 the event of a thread, an “oversized playground in Park Avenue Armory’s vast Drill Hall” which featured “more than forty giant swings and a billowing white curtain” (244); and Laura Lima’s 2015 Gala Chickens, which was both an installation (a full-sized chicken coop) and social practice (it “culminated in an event that involved viewers selecting from sixty Renaissance costumes that they wore over their clothes” [263]). 

On the other hand, there are performances included here for reasons that aren’t clear. Yve Laris Cohen’s 2015 performance Fine chronicles “the failed execution of an unrealized piece” (245); I’m not sure why it’s in this chapter and not elsewhere in the book, unless that project was architectural. It’s also not clear how Arto Lindsay’s 2009 Somewhere I Read, which involves 50 dancers wearing identical coats synchronously parading in Times Square, is anything other than a site-specific performance,  or how it’s related to architecture (other than through its location) (254). Other performances, though, do relate (in different ways) to architecture. Gerard & Kelly’s site-specific dance performances at the Glass House in Connecticut and the Schindler House in California were phenomenological explorations of “the emotional states of home” set in and around those modernist structures (251). In Gelitin’s 2005 Tantamounter 24/7, the four-person collective lived inside “a makeshift plywood contraption” for seven days and made “life-sized replicas of personal objects that viewers were invited to submit through a large hatch in the outer wall” (252). Bryony Roberts’s 2015 We Know How to Order was a site-specific performance that “disrupted a modernist space,” the plaza at Chicago’s Federal Center, designed by Mies van der Rohe. Andrés Jaque’s 2011 IKEA Disobedients was a “makeshift domestic environment” made of “purposefully mis-assembled IKEA furnishings” in which people “were invited to perform their alternative household routines” (262). 

So I’m not sure what to make of Goldberg’s Performance Now. It operates according to a broad definition of performance—one that is, as I’ve stated repeatedly in this summary, too broad. Perhaps my definition(s) are too narrow; perhaps an installation that invites visitors to interact with it is performative. In that case, though, wouldn’t such a work be an example of social practice or relational aesthetics? And would that mean that the Henry Moore sculpture outside the Art Gallery of Ontario is a performance, because people like sitting on it? Am I wrong in expecting a book about performance to focus on, well, performance, rather than the rather vague adjective, “performative”? Maybe I am. In any case, after a while, I started to wonder whether a more accurate title for this book might’ve been Contemporary Art I Like, Some of Which is Performance. It is a beautifully produced book, though, and it does present a survey of performance art (among other things) since 2000. But for a book subtitled Live Art for the 21st Century, there’s a lot of art included here that isn’t “live.”

Was it useful for my purposes? Not really—mostly because it doesn’t consider site-specific performance to be separate from other forms of performance, or consider its unique characteristics, such as the fact that it may not have a direct audience. In fact, some site-specific performances Goldberg includes—Regina José Galindo’s ¿Quién Puede Borrar Las Huellas?, for example—aren’t identified as such. I probably need to move away from this kind of general survey and read something focused on site-specific performance; that might be a way to explore the relationship between performance and walking art. But, hey, I stuck with this one, right to the end—even though that might’ve been the wrong decision, I do like to finish what I start.

Works Cited

Goldberg, RoseLee. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present, third edition, Thames & Hudson, 2011.

———. Performance Now: Live Art for the 21st Century. Thames & Hudson, 2018.

100. David Evans, ed., The Art of Walking: A Field Guide

evans art of walking

The last book I summarized in this space was RoseLee Goldberg’s Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. When I finished that book, I found myself wondering whether the best way to think about walking as an art practice is to think of it as a performance. Some walking artists—Richard Long, for example—don’t consider their walks to be performative (Long, Selected Statements and Interviews 67). Perhaps, I thought, walking ought to be considered a theme, or even an interdisciplinary methodology, rather than tying it to a specific art form, such as performance.

David Evan’s collection of documentation of many different walking-art projects confirms that hunch, I think. The work collected in this book covers a wide range of different art forms: performance (both private and public): Marina Abramović and Ulay’s The Lovers—The Great Wall Walk, 1988; Susan Stockwell’s Taking a Line for a Walk, 2003; Francis Alÿs’s The Green Line, 2004; Franko B.’s I Miss You, 2000; Regina José Gallindo’s Who Can Erase The Traces, 2003; Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Marches, 2008-2009; Rut Blees Luxemburg’s Chance Encounters, Broadgate, 1995; Sophy Rickett’s Old Street, Vauxhall Bridge, and Silvertown, all 1995; Simon Faithfull’s 0°00 Nagivation, 2008;  Simon Faithful’s Going Nowhere 2, 2011; Mona Hatoum’s Performance Still, 1985-1995; Marcus Coates’s Stoat, 1999; Bruce Nauman’s Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk), 1968; Matthias Sprling and Siobhan Davies Studios’ Walking Piece, 2012; Francis Alÿs’s The Collector, 1990-1992; and, finally, Oleg Kulik’s Mad Dog, or Last Taboo Guarded by Alone Cerberus, 1994. 

But there are other art forms represented in the book as well: text (Fiona Robinson’s The Journey Sequence, 2007; Alec Finlay and Guy Moreton’s The Wittgenstein House (Skjolden), 2001-2005; Dara Birnbaum’s Robert Walser, Translated, 1994); drawing (Fiona Robinson’s The Journey Sequence, 2007); conceptual art (Chloé Regan’s Untitled (After Paul Klee), 2012; Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking, 1967; Christian Edwardes’s Walking the Dog on Google Earth, 2008); sculpture (Richard Long’s A Line in the Himalayas, 1975, and A Line Made by Walking, 1967; Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Homeless Vehicle, 1988, and Alien Staff, 1992-1993); photography (Peter Liversidge’s photographs; Ingrid Pollard’s Wordsworth Heritage, 1992; Alec Finlay and Guy Moreton’s The Wittgenstein House (Skjolden), 2001-2005; David Bate’s Zone, 2001; Sophy Rickett’s Old Street, Vauxhall Bridge, and Silvertown, all 1995; Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking, 1967; Simon Faithfull’s 0°00 Nagivation, 2008; Tom Lovelace’s In Preparation no. 11 Diptych, 2012; Keith Arnatt’s Walking the Dog, 1979; Tim Edgar’s Nature Trail, 2012); map art (Jan Estep’s Searching for Ludwig Wittgenstein, 2007; Dara Birnbaum’s Robert Walser, Translated, 1994); relational aesthetics or social practice (Simon Pope’s The Memorial Walks, 2007; Francis Alÿs’s The Modern Procession, 2002; Melanie Manchot’s Walk (Square), 2011-2012; Hamish Fulton’s Slowalk (In support of Ai Weiwei, 2011; Jeremy Deller’s Procession, 2009); digital and audio art (And While London Burns, 2006; Catherine Yass’s High Wire, 2008; Janet Cardiff’s Louisiana Walk, 1996; Conor McGarrigle’s WalkSpace: Beirut-Venice, 2012); and one unclassifiable project, the Long March Project, 2002 and after. I’ve classified some of those works in more than one category, and guessed at where to place others; it’s not always clear from the book’s photographs what kind of work I’m looking at. Evans’s short explanatory essays are helpful, but not every work or artist gets one. The point of the book, I think, is that readers can use it as a guide to further explorations and research; it’s an excellent place to begin learning about walking art.

Evan’s introduction adds to Goldberg’s Performance Art as well, in a surprising way. He notes that “traversing the city street on foot was treated by every major avant-garde group from Paris to Moscow as a form of creative activity, anticipating the eventual merging of art and everyday life” (13). That’s true—the Russian Futurists, for example, “walked the streets in outrageous attire, their faces painted, sporting top hats, velvet jackets, earrings, and radishes or spoons in their buttonholes” (Goldberg 32). The key detail there, of course, is that those artists were walking; it’s easy to miss that detail in the midst of Goldberg’s detailed descriptions of the Russian Futurists’ activities. Moreover, Evans continues,

By the mid-twentieth century the institutionalisation of the avant-gardes was well under way, and generally took the form of reducing these movements to tangible artefacts like paintings and sculpture that could be easily stored and displayed in museums. In other words, performative but ephemeral activities like walking were forgotten or marginalised. Yet it was precisely such activities that were excavated and re-activated by experimental artists across Europe, North America and elsewhere from the 1960s onwards. (13)

That is also borne out by Goldberg’s book; Vincent Trasov’s 1974 mayoral campaign in Vancouver, dressed as Mr. Peanut, was a walking performance (180), as was, in a very different way, Gilbert and George’s 1975 work, The Red Sculpture (168). Trasov’s performance took place in the street, while Gilbert and George’s was staged in a gallery, but walking was a central method—even methodology—in both. I really ought to re-read Goldberg’s book, looking for examples of performance that involve walking. I’ll think about that as I read other general texts on performance.

So, The Art of Walking: A Field Guide is an excellent place to begin an exploration of walking as an artistic theme, or an interdisciplinary methodology, and it’s chockfull of examples of walking in many different art forms. Not only that, but it was my 100th book in this project: a milestone. What’s not to like about either of those things?

Works Cited

Evans, David, ed. The Art of Walking: A Field Guide, Black Dog, 2012.

Goldberg, RoseLee. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present, third edition, Thames and Hudson, 2011.

Long, Richard. Selected Statements and Interviews, edited by Ben Tufnell, Haunch of Venison, 2007.

99. RoseLee Goldberg, Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present

goldberg

RoseLee Goldberg’s Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present was first published in 1979; this edition, the third, brings the story of performance art up to the end of the first decade of the 21st century. In the forward, she notes that the 1970s were an important time in the history of performance:

Performance became accepted as a medium of artistic expression in its own right in the 1970s. At that time, conceptual art—which insisted on an art of ideas over product, and on an art that could not be bought and sold—was in its heyday and performance was often a demonstration, or an execution, of those ideas. Performance thus became the most tangible art form of the period. Art spaces devoted to performance sprang up in the major international art centres, museums sponsored festivals, art colleges introduced performance courses, and specialist magazines appeared. (7)

When the first edition of this book was published—the first history of performance art—it showed “that there was a long tradition of artists turning to live performance as one means among many of expressing their ideas,” even though up to that point performance “had been consistently left out in the process of evaluating artistic development . . . more on account of the difficulty of placing it in the history of art than of any deliberate omission” (7). “The extent and richness of this history made the question of omission an even more insistent one,” Goldberg continues (7).

Artists have considered performance to be “a way of bringing to life the many formal and conceptual ideas on which the making of art is based. Live gestures have constantly been used as a weapon against the conventions of established art” (7). This “radical stance has made performance a catalyst in the history of twentieth-century art; whenever a certain school, be it Cubism, Minimalism or conceptual art, seemed to have reached an impasse, artists have turned to performance as a way of breaking down categories and indicating new directions” (7). Moreover, performance was at the forefront of every twentieth-century avant garde (7). Movements like Futurism, Constructivism, Dadaism and Surrealism “found their roots and attempted to resolve problematic issues in performance” (7). The manifestos about performance produced by these groups, Goldberg writes, “have been the expression of dissidents who have attempted to find other means to evaluate art experience in everyday life” (8). That reference to “everyday life” is an important part of her argument:

Performance has been a way of appealing directly to a large public, as well as shocking audiences into reassessing their own notions of art and its relation to culture. Conversely, public interest in the medium, especially in the 1980s, stems from an apparent desire of that public to gain access to the art world, to be a spectator of its ritual and its distinct community, and to be surprised by the unexpected, always unorthodox presentations that the artists devise. (8)

Performance spaces can be art galleries or museums, or an “alternative space” such as a theatre, café, or street corner (8). However, unlike theatre, in performance “the performer is the artist, seldom a character like an actor, and the content rarely follows a traditional plot or narrative” (8). The presence of the artist in a performance “can be esoteric, shamanistic, instructive, provocative or entertaining” (8). All of this suggests the importance of audiences to performance work, something I’m going to come back to at the conclusion of this lengthy summary.

Examples of performance art range from “tribal ritual” to medieval passion play, Renaissance spectacle, or the “soirées” organized by Parisian artists in their studios in the 1920s (8). “Renaissance examples even show the artist in the role of creator and director of public spectacles, fantastic triumphal parades that often required the construction of elaborate temporary architecture, or allegorical events that utilized the multi-media abilities attributed to Renaissance Man,” Goldberg writes (8). Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Bernini staged large spectacles (8-9). I had no idea of this history; in fact, I had no idea that so many 20th century avant-garde movements relied so heavily on performance, although I knew a little about Dada and Surrealist performance. According to Goldberg,

The history of performance art in the twentieth century is the history of a permissive, open-ended medium with endless variables, executed by artists impatient with the limitations of more established forms, and determined to take their art directly to the public. For this reason its base has always been anarchic. By its very nature, performance defies precise or easy definition beyond the simple declaration that it is live art by artists. . . . No other artistic form of expression has such a boundless manifesto, since each performer makes his or her own definition in the very process and manner of execution. (9)

This book, she continues,

describes the huge increase in the number of twenty-first century artists around the globe turning to performance as a medium for articulating “difference”—of their own cultures and ethnicities—and for entering the larger discourse of international culture in our highly mediated times. It indicates the extent to which academia has focused on performance art—whether in philosophy, architecture or anthropology—examining its impact on intellectual history, and how museums, which once were the targets of the artists’ protests, now have performance art departments that fully embrace ‘the live’ as a serious artistic medium. (9)

However, Goldberg provides us with a disclaimer: this book “does not pretend to be a record of every performer of the past century”; instead, “this account pursues the development of a sensibility” (9). The word “sensibility” is a little vague, and perhaps a little old-fashioned, but Goldberg is interested in a relatively brief, general history of performance and the impulses that lead artists to engage in performance work. There’s no question that if this book were to be a catalogue of performance artists, it would be much longer than 250 pages.

The first five chapters of the book focus on performance in avant-garde movements before the Second World War. In the first chapter, Goldberg discusses Futurism. “Early Futurist performance was more manifesto than practice, more propaganda than actual production,” she writes, noting that the first Futurist manifesto was published in Le Figaro on 20 February 1909 (11). Its author, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, was a poet; he had been in Paris the year that Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi was produced (11). Ubu Roi’s use of profanity led to a violent response from its audience (12). According to Goldberg, given Marinetti’s desire to shock his audience it was not surprising that, in April 1909, he presented his own play, Roi Bombance, at the same theatre where Ubu Roi had been performed. Marinetti’s play “caused no less of a scandal than Jarry’s pataphysician. Crowds stormed the theatre to see how the self-proclaimed Futurist author put into practice the ideals of his manifesto” (13). However, Roi Bombance “only hinted at the kind of performances for which Futurism would become notorious” (13).

Marinetti then returned to his native Italy, where he produced his play Poupées électriques in Turin; it “firmly established Marinetti as a curiosity in the Italian art world” and the founder of a new form of theatre, “declamation” (13). Then, in January 1910, in Austrian-occupied Trieste, Marinetti and his companions presented the first Futurist evening, “singing the praises of patriotic militarism and war,” upsetting the Austrian police and gaining reputations as troublemakers (13). Marinetti gathered painters from Milan into the Futurist movement; they organized another Evening in Turin in March 1910; the painters later published a manifesto of Futurist painting and a year later had their first group showing of paintings as Futurists; the work they presented “illustrated how a theoretical manifesto could actually be applied to painting” (13-14). “Futurist painters turned to performance as the most direct means of forcing an audience to take note of their ideas,” which consisted of an “ill-defined insistence on ‘activity’ and ‘change’ and an art ‘which finds its components in its surroundings’” (14). “Performance was the surest means of disrupting a complacent public. It gave artists licence to be both ‘creators’ in developing a new form of artists’ theatre, and ‘art objects’ in that they made no separation between their art as poets, as painters or as performers,” Goldberg continues (14-16).  “Subsequent manifestos made these intentions very clear: they instructed painters to ‘go out into the street, launch assaults from theatres and introduce the fisticuff into the artistic battle,’” and the responses of audiences were violent: they threw “missiles of potatoes, oranges, and whatever else the enthusiastic public could lay their hands on from nearby markets” (16). “Arrests, convictions, a day or two in jail and free publicity in the next days followed many Evenings” (16).

Marinetti believed that the audience should be despised; applause merely meant the performance had been mediocre, while booing suggested that the audience was alive (16). He “admired variety theatre for one reason above all others: because it ‘is lucky in having no tradition, no masters, no dogma’” (17). Theatre’s mixture of elements, including ‘“the whole gamut of stupidity, imbecility, doltishness, and absurdity, insensibly pushing the intelligence to the very border of madness,’” “made it an ideal model for Futurist performances” (17). In addition, variety theatre or cabaret—the kind he liked—had no story-line (17). Its actors and authors and technicians only existed “‘to invent new elements of astonishment’” (17). Also, its audiences collaborated with its performers (17). It explained problems and political events “‘quickly and incisively’” to its audiences as well (17). “[A]nother aspect of this cabaret form which appealed to Marinetti was the fact that it was ‘anti-academic, primitive and naive, hence the more significant for the unexpectedness of its discoveries and the simplicity of its means’” (17). In other words, it destroyed the solemnity and seriousness of Art “‘with a capital A’” (17).

Futurism’s declamation technique was a kind of performance (18). Marinetti wrote that the Futurist declaimer “‘should declaim as much with his legs as with his arms,’” and stated that declaimers should hold “different noise-making instruments” in their hands (18). Futurist performances in 1914 included noise music and mechanical movements (20-21). The noise music was primarily used as background music; it used special instruments to generate mechanical sounds (21). Another Futurist manifesto, Dynamic and Synoptic Declamation, “outlined rules for body actions based on the staccato movements of machines” (21). Other Futurist performances used life-sized puppets that “performed” together with live actors (24). Futurist ballets also attempted to incorporate mechanical movements (24). However, the dancers themselves “remained only one component of the overall performance. Obsessively, the numerous manifestos on scenography, pantomime, dance or theatre, insisted on merging actor and scenography in a specially designed space” (24). 

This “‘synchronism’ had been outlined in detail in the manifesto Futurist Synthetic Theatre of 1915”: it meant the compression of “‘innumerable situations, sensibilities, ideas, sensations, facts and symbols’” into just “a few minutes, int a few words and gestures” (26). “The Futurists refused to explain the meaning of these Syntheses,” Goldberg writes. “It was ‘stupid to pander to the primitivism of the crowd,’ they wrote, ‘which in the last analysis wants to see the bad guy lose and the good guy win.’ There was no reason, the manifesto went on, that the public should always completely understand the whys and wherefores of every scenic action” (27). Nevertheless, many of the Syntheses “revolved around recognisable gags on artistic life,” and they were “timed very much like brief variety theatre sequences, with introductory scene, punchline, and quick exit” (27). 

Simultaneity was an essential aspect of Synthetic theatre:

A section of the Synthetic theatre manifesto was devoted to explaining the idea of simultaneity. Simultaneity “is born of improvisation, lightning-like intuition, from suggestive and revealing actuality,” it explained. They believed that a work was valuable only “to the extent that it was improvised (hours, minutes, seconds), not extensively prepared (months, years, centuries).” This was the only way to capture the confused ‘fragments of inter-connected events’ encountered in everyday life, which to them were far superior to any attempts at realistic theatre. (27-28)

Marinetti’s 1915 play Simultaneity attempted to “give form to this section of the manifesto” (28). “The logic of simultaneity led also to scripts written in two columns” (28). “Some Syntheses could be described as ‘play-as-image,’” and others “described sensations,” while still others “dealt with colours” (28).

“By the mid-twenties the Futurists had fully established performance as an art medium in its own right,” Goldberg contends:

In Moscow and Petrograd, Paris, Zurich, New York and London, artists used it as a means to break through the boundaries of the various art genres, applying, to a greater or lesser extent, the provocative and alogical tactics suggested by the various Futurist manifestos. Although in its formative years Futurism had seemed to consist mostly of theoretical treatises, ten years later the total number of performances in these various centres was considerable. (29)

One sign of their success was the fact that “companies of Futurist performers toured throughout Italian cities, venturing to Paris on several occasions” (29). “With their limited budgets the companies were forced to bring even more of their genius for improvisation into play, and resort to even more forceful measures to ‘provoke absolutely improvised words and acts’ from the spectators” (29). There was a Futurist film, Vita futurista (29). There was also a manifesto of Futurist Aerial Theatre, the text of which was scattered from the sky in the middle of an aerial ballet that used a device that controlled the sound of the aircraft’s engine (30). Futurism thus “attacked all possible outlets of art, applying its genius to the technological innovations of the time. It spanned the years between the First and Second World Wars, with its last significant contribution taking place around 1933” (30). At that time, Marinetti recognized that radio was “a formidable instrument of propaganda in a changing political climate” and wrote five radio Syntheses in the early 1930s (30). “Futurist theories and presentations covered almost every area of performance,” Goldberg concludes.” This was Marinetti’s dream, for he had called for an art that ‘must be an alcohol, not a balm’ and it was precisely this drunkenness that characterized the rising circles of art groups who were turning to performance as a means of spreading their radical art propositions” (30). Marinetti looked to a future when life itself would become a work of art: “This was a premise that was to underlie many subsequent performances” (30).

In her second chapter Goldberg discusses performance in Russian Futurism and Constructivism. “Two factors marked the beginnings of performance in Russia,” she writes: 

on the one hand the artists’ reaction against the old order—both the Tzarist régime and the imported painting styles of Impressionism and early Cubism; on the other, the fact that Italian Futurism—suspiciously foreign but more acceptable since it echoed this call to abandon old art forms—was reinterpreted in the Russian context, providing a general weapon against art of the past. (31)

Like Marinetti’s Futurists, the Russian Futurists began with a manifesto:

Such attacks on previously held art values were now expressed in the quasi-Futurist manifesto of 1912 by the young poets and painters Burlyuk, Mayakovsky, Livshits and Khlebnikov, entitled A Slap in the Face to Public Taste. In the same year, the “Donkey’s Tail” exhibition was also organized as a protest against “Paris and Munich decadence,” asserting the younger artists’ commitment to developing an essentially Russian art following in the footsteps of the Russian avant garde of the 1890s. . . . [T]he new generation promised . . . to make their impact on European art from an entirely new Russian viewpoint” (31).

These activities met with widespread interest: “Groups of writers and artists sprang up throughout the major cultural centres of St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and Odessa. They began to arrange exhibitions and public debates, confronting audiences with their provocative declarations. The meetings soon gathered momentum and an enthusiastic following” (31). Audiences were interested as well: “The Futurists were a guaranteed evening’s entertainment, drawing crowds in St Petersburg and Moscow. Soon tired of the predictable café audience, they took their ‘Futurism’ to the public: they walked the streets in outrageous attired, their faces painted, sporting top hats, velvet jackets, earrings, and radishes or spoons in their buttonholes” (32). The Russian Futurists, Goldberg continues, “set the stage for art performance, declaring that life and art were to be freed from conventions, allowing for the limitless application of these ideas to all the realms of culture” (33).

Mayakovsky’s tragedy, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and the Futurist poet Alexei Kruchenykh’s “opera,” Victory Over the Sun, were produced in 1913 (34). “The two productions were an enormous success,” Goldberg writes. “Police stood in large numbers outside the theatre. Crowds attended the more than forty lectures, discussions, and debates organized in the weeks following. Yet the St Petersburg press remained in a state of complete ignorance and perplexity about the importance of these events” (36-37). “The changes that many found so indigestible included a complete displacement of visual relationships, the introduction of new concepts of relief and weight, certain new ideas of form and colour, of harmony and melody and a breakaway form the traditional use of words” (37). The “non-sense and non-realism” of the opera’s libretto had led to the use of 

puppet-like figures and geometric stage sets. In turn, the figurines determined the nature of the movements and therefore the entire style of the production. In later performances mechanical figures appeared, developing the ideals of speed and mechanization expressed by the . . . Futurists’ paintings. The figures were visually broken by blades of lights, alternately deprived of hands, legs and torso, even subjected to total dissolution. (37)

This abstraction had a considerable influence on artist Kasimir Malevich’s later work:

It was to Victory Over the Sun that Malevich attributed the origins of his Suprematist paintings, with their characteristic features of white and black squares and trapezoid forms. Victory Over the Sun represented a comprehensive collaboration by the poet, the musician and the artist, setting a precedent for the years to come. Yet its complete breakaway from the traditional theatre or opera did not ultimately define a new genre. . . . In retrospect, it was a transitional event: it had succeeded in suggesting new directions. (37)

According to Goldberg, “Victory Over the Sun and Vladimir Mayakovsky had clinched the close relationship between painters and poets. Encouraged by their success, writers went on to plan new productions which would incorporate the newly established artists as designers, and the painters organized new exhibitions” (37).

These collaborations “saw the gradual adaptation of Futurist and Constructivist ideas to theatre in the name of ‘production art’” (38). “Production art was virtually an ethical proclamation by the Constructivists,” Goldberg writes. “[T]hey believed that in order to oust the reigning academicism, speculative activities such as painting and the ‘outmoded tools of brushes and paint’ must be put aside. Moreover they insisted that artists use ‘real space and real materials’” (38). They also insisted that the work contain “news of social and political events, ideology and the new spirit of Communism” (38). Forms like circus, music hall, puppet shows, and variety theatre “seemed the perfect vehicles for communicating the new art as much as the new ideology to a wide public” (38). Nikolai Foregger, a theatre artist who searched for “physical means by which to mirror the stylized designs of the pre-Revolutionary avant garde,” was important in this new art (38). Foregger’s productions brought together music hall, “cinefication” (the use of spotlights that were projected onto spinning disks, producing cinematic effects), circus, dance and theatre (38-39). He also invented “tafiatrenage,” a combination of dance and physical training that saw the dancer’s body as a machine (39):

Foregger’s Mechanical Dances were first performed in February 1923. One of the dances imitated a transmission: two men stood about ten feet apart and several women, holding onto each other’s ankles, moved in a chain around them. Another dance represented a saw: two men holding the hands and feet of a woman, swinging her in curved movements. Sound effects, including the smashing of glass and the striking of different metal objects backstage, were provided by a lively noise orchestra. (40)

“While Foregger was developing a purely mechanistic art form, which was appreciated more for its aesthetic than ethical inspiration,” Goldberg continues, “other artists, playwrights and actors favoured the new propaganda machine, for it made immediate and comprehensible the new policies and new life styles of the revolution” (40-41).

Mayakovsky, for example, believed that propaganda was crucial, and he was among the many artists who joined ROSTA, the Russian Telegraph Agency, which translated news into posters and degrees into slogans, creating a new form of communication (41). “Soon, the success of the windows and billboard posters led to live events. Posters were projected in sequence in a series of images,” Goldberg writes. “Travelling productions began with the filming of a title such as ‘All Power to The People!’ This was followed by static images demonstrating and elaborating the idea of the slogan” (41). “Agit-trains and ships, ROSTA and agit-street theatre were only some of the outlets available for the young artists intent on abandoning purely ‘speculative activities’ for socially utilitarian art” (41). In this political context, performance took on a new importance and meaning, “far from the art experiments of the earlier years. Artists masterminded May the First pageants depicting the Revolutionary takeover, decorating the streets and involving thousands of citizens in dramatic reconstructions of highlights from 1917” (41). These productions “brought just about every possible technique and style of painting, theatre, circus and film into play,” Goldberg continues. “As such the limits of performance were endless: nowhere was there an attempt to classify or restrict the different disciplines. Constructivist artists committed to production art worked continuously on developing their notions of an art in real space, announcing the death of painting” (44).

Theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold “sensed that Constructivism led the way to militating against the worked out aesthetic tradition of theatre, enabling him to realise his dream of extra-theatrical productions removed from the box-like auditorium, to any place: the market, the foundry of a metal plant, the deck of a battleship” (45). His 1922 production of Crommelynck’s The Magnificent Cuckold used a set which 

consisted of frames of conventional theatre flats, platforms joined by steps, chutes and catwalks, windmill sails, two wheels and a large disc bearing the letters CR-ML-NCK (standing for Crommelynck). The characters wore loose-fitting overalls, but even with their comfortable dress would need acrobatic skills to ‘work’ the set. Thus the production became the ideal forum for Meyerhold’s system of biomechanics . . . which he had developed shortly before. (45)

“The success of The Magnificent Cuckold established the Constructivists as the leaders in stage design,” Goldberg writes. “This work was the culmination of an exchange between the arts, for in this production, the artist not only responded to the theatrical needs of an innovative director, but actually transformed the nature of acting and the very intent of the play through devising such complex ‘acting machines’” (46).

The Blue Blouse Group formed in 1923. It was, Goldberg writes, 

overtly political, it employed avant-garde as well as popular techniques, specifically intended for a mass audience. At its height, it probably involved more than 100,000 people, with its numerous clubs in cities throughout the country. Using agit-prop, ‘living newspapers’ and the tradition of the club theatre, their repertory was essentially made up of film, dance and animated posters. In many ways it was the ultimate realisation, on a grand scale, of Marinetti’s variety theatre. (46)

“Another source for these extravaganzas was Eisenstein’s staging of Ostrovsky’s Diary of a Scoundrel, which included a montage of twenty-five different attractions: film, clown acts, sketches, farcical scenes, choral agit-song and circus acts,” Goldberg continues (46). In 1930, Mayakovsky prepared a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the attempted 1905 Revolution, entitled Moscow is Burning, “an entirely new phenomenon in the field of circus pantomime” (48). “A sharp political satire, it told the story of the first days of the Revolution, in motion-picture style,” with 500 performers (circus artistes, theatre students, and cavalry units) involved (48). The events of 1905 had triggered “a theatrical and artistic revolution in Russia,” Goldberg writes, but the year 1934 “dramatically marked a second turning-point in theatre and artists’ performance, putting a stop to almost thirty years of extraordinary productions” (48). That’s because in that year, “at the Writers Congress in Moscow . . . Zhdanov, the party spokesman for matters affecting the arts, delivered the first definitive statement on socialist realism, outlining an official and enforceable code for cultural activity” (49). It was the end of Russian Futurism, Constructivism, and any other form of avant-garde art in the Soviet Union.

Goldberg begins her third chapter, on Dada, with a discussion of the importance of cabaret theatre in Europe around the time of the First World War. “Long before Dada’s activities began at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1916,” she writes, “cabaret theatre was already a popular night-life entertainment in German cities” (50). “[O]n small platform stages, dancers and singers, poets and magicians played out their satirical sketches” (50). In Munich, in “these so-called ‘intimate theatres,’ eccentric figures flourished, among them Benjamin Franklin Wedekind, better known as Frank Wedekind” (50). A provocateur, Wedekind would often masturbate or urinate on stage, and his plays were no less controversial: “each play was censored by Kaiser Wilhelm’s Prussian officials, and often abridged by his publishers. Financially drained by prison sentences and generally ostracized by nervous publishers, he was to work again the popular cabaret circuit . . . in order to earn a living” (50-51). “These irreverent performances, bordering on the obscene, endeared Wedekind to the artistic community in Munich, while the censorship trials which inevitably followed guaranteed his prominence in the city” (51). Hugo Ball was a fan of Wedekind’s work (51). “Wedekind’s performances revelled in the licence given the artist to be a mad outsider, exempt from society’s normal behaviour,” Goldberg writes. “But he knew that such licence was given only because the role of the artist was considered utterly insignificant, more tolerated than accepted. Taking up the cause of the artist against the complacent public at large, Wedekind was soon joined by others in Munich and elsewhere who began to use performance as a cutting edge against society” (52).

Wedekind’s notoriety spread beyond Munich, but he rejected any attempts to align his work with Expressionism (52). “[T]he prototypical Expressionist production, Kokoschka’s Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen (‘Murderer, Hope of Women’)” was presented in Vienna in 1909, to public outrage (52-53). “By 1912, the year in which Sorge’s Der Bettler, generally regarded as the first Expressionist play, was published, Kokoschka’s production was the centre of conversation in Munich,” Goldberg continues. “Although few explicitly Expressionist plays had actually yet been performed, the new notions of performance were already being seen as a possible means of destroying earlier realistic traditions by such people as the twenty-six-year-old Hugo Ball, who was by then deeply involved in the planning of performances of his own. To Ball, the Munich years meant plant to initiate a collaborative Küunstlertheater” (54). Ball teamed up with Kandinsky and they published in Expressionist periodicals in Munich (54). “It was a period according to Ball when common sense had to be opposed at all times”:

Within this disturbing milieu Ball imagined that the “regeneration of society” would come about through the “union of all artistic media and forces.” Only the theatre was capable of creating the new society, he believed, But his notion of theatre was not a traditional one: on the one hand, he had studied with the innovative director Max Reinhardt, and sought new dramatic techniques; on the other, the concept of a total artwork, or Gesamtkunstwerk, put forward over half a century earlier by Wagner, involving artists from all disciplines in large-scale productions, still held a fascination for him. (54)

If Ball had had his way, his theatre would have involved many collaborators, including Kandinsky (54). Although he brought together these artists later in Zurich, his plans did not materialize in Munich, because he did not find sponsors and failed in his bid for the directorship of the Staatstheater in Dresden; he left Germany for Switzerland (54). According to Ball, “‘The importance of the theatre is always inversely proportionate to the importance of social morality and civil freedom.’ For him social morality and civil freedom were at odds and in Russia as well as Germany, theatre was crushed by the war” (54).

Ball and Emmy Hennings arrived in Zurich in the summer of 1915 (55). Ball joined a touring nightclub troupe and “wrote endless texts on the philosophical and spiritual malaise of the time” (55). “However, the cabaret performances and his writings conflicted with each other,” Goldberg writes. “Ball was writing about a kind of art that he was increasingly impatient to implement,” an art that would be “‘irrational, primitive, complex,’” and “‘speak a secret language and leave behind documents not of edification but of paradox’” (55). Early in 1916 Ball and Hennings decided to start their own café-cabaret (55). Cabaret Voltaire began on 5 February 1916; it became a nightly affair featuring poetry and music; contributors included Arp, Tristan Tzara Georges Janco, Hennings, Richard Huelsenbeck, among many others (56). “Under pressure to entertain a varied audience, they were forced to ‘be incessantly lively, new and naive. It is a race with the expectations of the audience and this race calls on all our forces of invention and debate’” (58). Ball believed “there was something specially pleasurable in cabaret. . . . Live reading and performance was the key to rediscovering pleasure in art” (58). Each evening was built around a particular theme (58), and performers wore strange costumes (60-61). Ball invented sound poetry for the cabaret; he hoped to renounce the language “‘devastated and made impossible by journalism’” with his sound poetry (60-61). By the end of March the cabaret was a roaring success, but Ball was exhausted (58). 

The core group of performers was divided on whether or not to publish an anthology of work presented at the Cabaret Voltaire (62). Those divisions helped to bring Cabaret Voltaire to an end after just five months in operation. The owner of the space was disturbed by the goings-on, Ball was tired, and Tzara was interested in moving on to either Rome or Pairs, while Arp wanted to revolutionize art by doing away with painting and sculpture entirely (63). On 14 July 1916, Dada moved to the Waag Hall in Zurich; Ball saw the event as the end of his involvement with Dada. The evening involved the reading of various Dada manifestos; that same month a magazine Collection Dada, appeared, and plans were afoot for a Dada gallery (64). “While Tzara was creating a literary movement out of the Dada idea, he was slowly alienating Ball,” Goldberg writes. “Huelsenbeck collaborated for a while, but he shared Ball’s reservations about what Dada was becoming, but for different reasons. Huelsenbeck saw the move [to publish a magazine] as codifying Dada, while Ball merely wanted to get away from it all to concentrate on his own writing” (64). The Dada gallery opened in January 1917: “The nature of the work had changed, however, from spontaneous performances to a more organized, didactic gallery program” (65). “The Galerie Dada lasted just eleven weeks. It had been calculated and educative in intent with three large-scale exhibitions, numerous lectures (including one by Ball on Kandinsky), soirées and demonstrations” (66). Before the gallery had officially closed down, Ball had left for the Alps, and Huelsenbeck had departed for Berlin (66).

Dada performances began in Berlin, but that city’s “literary bohemians had little in common with Zurich’s pacifist exiles,” and “they were soon to influence Dada towards a political stance that it had not known before” (67). “Dada was determined to conquer Berlin, to banish Expressionism from the city limits and to establish itself as an adversary to abstract art,” Goldberg states (69). “Manifestos appeared in quick succession. But the mood had changed; Berlin had transformed Dada, adding a more aggressive spirit than before” (70). However, by 1920 the scene was exhausted and coming to an end (70). Visiting foreign Dadaists and local groups began holding performances in German, Dutch, Rumanian and Czechoslovakian cities; Kurt Schwitters helped to organize a “‘Holland Dada’” in 1923; in Cologne, Marx Ernst organized a Dada exhibition (71). “Chained to an object of Ernst’s was an axe, providing an open invitation to any willing passer-by to destroy the object” (72). Meanwhile, “Dada’s last years in Zurich were in the hands of Tristan Tzara. There he had transformed Dada from a haphazard series of mostly improvised events into a movement with its own mouthpiece, the magazine Dada (first issued in July 1917), which he would soon take with him to Paris” (72). The last Dada event in Zurich took place in April 1919 (73); Tzara moved to Paris that year (74).

The fourth chapter, “Surrealism,” begins with Tzara’s arrival in the French capital. There, “he soon became the focus of attention of the avant-garde circles, just as he had anticipated” (75). At the first Dada event in Paris, in January 1920, Tzara upset the audience by reading a “‘vulgar’ newspaper article” that he called a poem, “accompanied by ‘an inferno of bells and rattles’” shaken by two collaborators and by large chalk drawings on a blackboard by Francis Picabia (75).  The event ended in an uproar, which the Dadaists described as “‘an extremely fruitful experiment,’” according to Ribemont-Dessaignes, who stated: 

The destructive aspect of Dada appeared to them more clearly; the resultant indignation of the public which had come to beg for an artistic pittance, no matter what, as long as it was art, the effect produced by the presentation of the pictures and particularly of the manifesto, showed them how useless it was, by comparison, to have Max Jacob’s poems read by Jean Cocteau. (qtd. in Goldberg 75)

According to Goldberg, “[o]nce again, Dada had ‘triumphed.’ Although the Zurich and Paris ingredients were the same—provocations against a respectful audience—it was clear that the transplant had been successful” (75). The following month, another Dada event, this one advertised as an appearance by Charlie Chaplin (75). The crowd instead reacted to “thirty-eight people reading various manifestos” by throwing garbage at the stage (75-76). 

“Despite the apparent outrage of the Parisian public, the audience of the twenties was not entirely unfamiliar with such provocative events,” Goldberg notes:

For example. Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi of twenty-five years earlier still retained a special place in the history of performance scandals and, needless to say, Jarry was somewhat of a hero to the Parisian Dadaists. The music of the eccentric French composer Erik Satie, for example the one-act comedy  Le Piège de Méduse and his concept of “furniture music” . . . contained many anticipations of Dada. (76-77)

The 1917 ballet Parade was a collaboration between Satie, Picasso, Cocteau and Léonide Massine had “come in for its own noisy opposition from press and public alike. Indirectly employing Jarry-style tactics, Parade provided the Parisian public, just recovering from the long crises of the war, with a taste of what Guillaume Apollinaire described as the ‘New Spirit’” (77). Parade “set the tone for performance of the postwar years” (77). The ballet’s scenario “revolves around the idea of a travelling troupe whose ‘parade’ is mistaken by the crowd for the real circus act,” and the 1917 production featured one dancer in a ten-foot-high Cubist costume by Picasso, another dressed as a skyscraper, and a third “who mimed the actions of catching a train, driving a car, and foiling a bank robbery,” along with acrobats “who tumbled to a fast waltz of xylophones” (77). “Parade was greeted with outrage,” Goldberg writes. “Conservative critics dismissed the entire production” as “‘unacceptable noise’” because Satie employed mechanical sound effects in the orchestration (78). Critics also objected “to the enormous costumes which they felt made nonsense of traditional ballet movements” (78). Nevertheless the scandal confirmed Satie’s reputation (78). 

Parade was important for another reason:

Apollinaire’s preface to Parade had correctly anticipated the emergence of the New Spirit; moreover, it suggested that the New Spirit contained a notion of ‘surrealism [surréalisme].’ There was, in Parade, he wrote, ‘a sort of surrealism in which I see the point of departure for a series of manifestations of the New Spirit.’” (78)

Apollinaire presented his own play Les Mamelles de Tirésias the following month; in his introduction, he expanded on his notion of surrealism: “‘I have invented the adjective surrealist . . . which defines fairly well a tendency in art, which if not the newest thing under the sun, at least has never been formulated as a credo, an artistic and literary faith’” (80). The idea, he continued, was that surrealism was a protest against realism in theatre (80). Four years later, in 1921, Cocteau “elaborated this new aesthetic in his first solo production, Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel,” which used many of the same techniques as Parade and Les Mamelles de Tirésias, “particularly the habit of representing crowds in one person, as though this were the most basic and effective means to counteract traditional realist theatre. It also employed the vaudeville habit of a master and mistress of ceremonies announcing each new sequence and explaining the action to the audience” (80). “Typically the action was accompanied by noise music,” Goldberg writes. “But Cocteau had anticipated a new mixed media genre in French performance which would remain on the edges of theatre, ballet, light opera, dance and art” (81). According to Cocteau, it would allow the “‘new generation to continue its experiments in which the fantastic, the dance, acrobatics, mime, drama, satire, music and the spoken word combine’” (81). “Les Mariés, with its mix of music hall and absurdity, seemed to have taken the irrationality of Jarry’s Pataphysics as far as it could go,” Goldberg continues. “Yet at the same time, the profusion of such performances provided an excellent excuse for the Dadaists to devise entirely new strategies” (81).

The Parisian Dadaists were interested in tearing down what existed rather than devising alternatives; they “refused to provide . . . a blueprint for anything better than what had gone before” (82). Nevertheless, the question of what would arise from the ashes of the past “did cause a rift in the new Dada contingent” (82). For that reason, 

they decided to stage a demonstration before a less homogenous crowd, at the Salle Berliosz in the famed Maison de l’Oeuvre; on 27 March 1920 they  presented a carefully planned performance which according to Ribemont-Dessaignes was arranged in a mood of collective enthusiasm. “The attitude of the public was one of amazing and unprecedented violence,” he wrote, “which would have seemed mild beside Mme Lara’s performance of Apollinaire’s Mamelles de Ti[r]ésias.” The Dada-Surrealist group of Breton, Soupault, Aragon, Eluard, Ribemont-Dessaignes, Tzara and others, presented their own plays in what was, in many ways, not unlike a grand variety show. (82)

“The Salle Berliosz performance had been an attempt to give a new direction to Dada activities,” Goldberg notes. “But it did nothing to placate those of the group strongly resisting the inevitable standardization of Dada performances” (82). 

The next event was the Dada Festival, “held at the plush Salle Gavreau on 26 May 1920,” where a large crowd, 

lured by past performances and the advertisement that the Dadaists would have their hair shaved on stage, gathered at the hall. Although the hair cutting did not take place, a varied programme and curious costumes had been prepared beforehand for their amusement. Breton appeared with a revolver tied to each temple, Eluard in a ballerina’s tutu, Fraenkel in an apron, and all the Dadaists word funnel-shaped “hats” on their heads. Despite these preparations, the performances themselves were unrehearsed, so that many of the events were delayed and broken up by shouts from the audience as performers attempted to straighten out their ideas. (84)

“Nevertheless the madness that manifested itself that night in the elegant hall created an enormous scandal, which of course was regarded as a great achievement by the somewhat disenchanted group, despite the fact that they were by the considerably at odds with one another,” Goldberg writes (84).

“The performers were slow to recover from the Salle Gaveau festival,” she continues:

They met at Picabia’s home or in the cafés to discuss a way out of the impasse of regular soirées. It had become obvious that the public was by then ready to accept “a thousand repeat performances” of the evening at the Salle Gaveau, but Ribemont-Dessaignes instisted that “at all costs, they must be prevented from accepting a shock as a work of art.” (85)

This sense of a dead end was the context of the first example of walking art: 

they organized a Dada excursion to the little-known, deserted church of St Julien le Pauvre on 14 April 1921. The guides were to be Buffet, Aragon, Breton, Eluard, Fraenkel, Huszar, Péret, Picabia, Ribemont-Dessaignes, Rigaut, Soupault and Tzara. However, Picabia, long dissatisfied with the course of Dada’s activities, withdrew from the excursion on the actual day. Posters advertised the event throughout the city. They promised that the Dadaists would remedy the “incompetence of suspect guides and cicerones,” offering instead a series of visits to selected site, “particularly those which really have no reason for existing.” Participants in these events, they assured, would immediately ‘become aware of human progress in possible works of destruction.’ In addition the posters contained such aphorisms as “cleanliness is the luxury of the poor, be dirty” and “cut your nose as you cut your hair.” (85)

“Despite the promise of an unusual excursion led by Paris’s youthful celebrities, the lack of an audience, partly attributed to the rain, was not encouraging,” Goldberg writes. “‘The result was what followed every Dada demonstration; collective nervous depression,’ commented Ribemont-Dessaignes” (85). 

That depression was short-lived, and they abandoned the idea of future tours, “and turned instead to their second alternative to soirées, arranging the Trial and Sentencing of M. Maurice Barrès by Dada on 13 May 1921 at the Salle des Sociétés Savantes” (85). Barrès, the object of their attack, was an eminent writer who, just a few years before, “had been somewhat of an ideal for the French Dadaists,” but apparently he “had turned traitor when he became the mouthpiece of the reactionary newspaper L’Echo de Paris” (85-86). At the event, all the court officials and witnesses wore scarlet caps, and Barrès was represented by “a wooden tailor’s dummy” (86). “The trial gave a public airing to the deep-rooted enmities that had been slowly brewing between Tzara and Breton, Picabia, and the Dadaists,” Goldberg suggests. “In fact, Dada itself was on trial. It was also a signal for those for and against Dada to state their positions” (86). “Following the trial, relations were strained between Picabia, Tzara and Breton,” she continues. “Those on the sidelines of this battle, Soupault, Ribemont-Dessaignes, Aragon, Eluard and Péret, organised a Dada Salon and exhibition at the Galerie Montaigne, which opened in June 1921. Breton and Picabia refused to have anything to do with it. Duchamp, who had been invited to contribute from New York, replied by telegram: ‘peau de balle’ [balls to you!]” (87). Tzara presented his work Le Coeur à gaz (“The Gas Heart”) at this show, a performance that Tzara described as “‘the only and greatest three-act hoax of the century’” (87). The “characters” chanted monotonously a series of unrelated sentences, “always at cross-purposes,” and ended with the cast chanting “go lie down” (87). “Typically this verbal event ended in a brawl, with Breton and Eluard leading the attack against Tzara” (87). 

Meanwhile, Breton was planning something called the Congress of Paris, which would bring together 

all the various tendencies in Paris and elsewhere, with various groups represented by the artist-editors of the new magazines. . . . But the failure of the congress also marked the final break of Breton, Eluard, Aragon and Péret with the Dadaists. For Tzara contested the whole day, finding it a contradiction in terms of Dada attitudes, to be presented on a comparative platform with Purists, Orphists and so on. Even before the event was finally cancelled, magazines published the various arguments for and against the congress. Breton made the mistake of using a “common newspaper” in which to describe Tzara as an “interloper from Zurich” and a “publicity-seeking imposter.” This brought about the Dada contingent’s resignation. (87-88)

A soirée held under the name Le Coeur à barbe (“The Bearded Heart”) in July 1923 “provided the ideal platform for the antagonisms that had brought about the failure of the congress to be aired once more” (88). It included the second performance of Tzara’s Le Coeur à gaz, and the play “became the focus of a nasty scene. Breton and Péret protested loudly from the stalls, before climbing onto the stage to engage in a physical battle with the performers” (88). Afterwards, “Tzara stood firmly for the rescue and preservation of Dada,” while “Breton announced its death” (88).

However, 1925 marked the official foundation of the Surrealist movement with the publication of the Surrealist Manifesto, and by December of that year, the group had published the first issue of La Révolution Surrealiste, its magazine (88). They had their own premises, the Bureau of Surrealist Research (88). “Press releases were issued carrying the address of the bureau, and newspaper advertisements specified that the research bureau, ‘nourished by life itself,’ would receive all bearers of secrets: ‘inventors, madmen, revolutionaries, misfits, dreamers’” (89). “Automatism” formed the basis of Breton’s early definition of Surrealism (89). Surrealism, for Breton, was “‘pure psychic automatism,’” and it “rested on the belief in the ‘higher reality of certain hitherto neglected forms of association, in the omnipotence of the dream, in the disinterested play of thought” (89). “Indirectly, these definitions provided for the first time a key to understanding some of the motives behind the seemingly nonsensical performances of the preceding years,” Goldberg suggests:

With the Surrealist Manifesto those works could be seen as an attempt to give free rein in words and actions to the oddly juxtaposed images of the dream. Actually, Breton had already by 1919 become “obsessed with Freud” and the examination of the unconscious. By 1921 Breton and Soupault had written the first “automatic” Surrealist poem, Les Champs magnétiques (“Magnetic Fields”). So although the Parisians accepted the term ‘Dada’ as a description of their works, many of the performances during the early twenties already had a definitely Surrealist flavour and could in retrospect be considered as Surrealist works. (89)

However, even if some Dadaist performances followed that movement’s “principles of simultaneity and chance as much as they did the Surrealist dream notions, some had fairly straightforward plots” (89). Other performances, however, “directly interpreted Surrealist notions of irrationality and the unconscious,” such as Roger Gilbert-Lecomte’s The Odyssey of Ulysses the Palimped (1924), which “defied all performance possibilities by inserting into the script long passages ‘to be read silently’” (89). “While such Surrealist principles became more strongly asserted in the performances of the mid-twenties, the conflicts between Surrealists, Dadaists and anti-Dadaists continued” (90). 

One tremendous success was Erik Satie’s ballet Relâche, which Goldberg describes as “a dazzling spectacle” (90). The music was “affectedly plain orchestration” and the dancing was a  “burlesque ‘ballet’” (90). The performance included a film, Picabia’s Entr’acte, which was projected during the interval (92). “The evening ended inevitably in tumult,” and the press attacked Satie; the resulting scandal “was to remain with him until his death less than a year later” (95). Nevertheless, Picabia was delighted, as was Fernand Léger, who declared it “‘a break, a rupture with traditional ballet’”: “’To hell with the scenario and all literature! Relâche is a lot of kicks in a lot of backsides whether hallowed or not’” (95). Léger also “celebrated the fact that Relâche had broken the watertight compartment separating ballet from music hall”: “‘The author, the dancer, the acrobat, the screen, the stage, all these means of “presenting a performance” are integrated and organized to achieve a total effect’” (95). “The success of Relâche did nothing to deter the Surrealists’ own directions,” Goldberg writes:

Although Entr’acte, more than the “ballet” itself, had contained elements of the nightmare farces that Surrealists would develop in subsequent performances and films, the unstageable Surrealist “plays for reading” by Salacrou, Daumal and Gilbert-Lecomte were leading to a dead end. Antonin Artaud was soon to provide a way out of that impasse: he and Roger Vitrac founded the Théâtre Alfred Jarry in 1927, dedicated to that innovator, to ‘return to theatre that total liberty which exists in music, poetry, or painting, and of which it has been curiously bereft up to now. (95)

Artaud’s 1927 play Le Jet de sang (“The Jet of Blood”) “only barely escaped the classification ‘play for reading’” because it relied on cinematic and unstageable images: “Despite the brevity and virtually unrealisable images of the play, the work reflected the Surrealist dream world and its obsession with memory” (95-96). Roger Vitrac’s Les Mystères de l’amour (“The Mysteries of Love”) ended with a character firing a shot into the audience, pretending to kill a spectator; this play “was perfectly consistent with Surrealism’s ‘automatic writing’ and its own brand of lucidity” (96). “Such lucidity was to dominate the extensive writings of Breton and the numerous Surrealist writers, painters and film makers,” Goldberg continues. “But by 1938 when Surrealism had showed its ability to dominate political, artistic and philosophical life, the Second World War was to put a stop to further group activities and performances” (96). The last gesture was the 1938 International Exhibition of Surrealism in Paris (96). 

“Despite this exhibition and subsequent shows in London and New York, Surrealist performance had itself already marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new one,” Goldberg contends: 

In Paris, from the 1890s on, Jarry’s and Satie’s inventions had radically altered the course of “theatrical” developments as well as providing the breeding-ground for the New Spirit, punctuated through the years by Roussel, Apollinaire, Cocteau, the “imported” and local Dadaists and Surrealists, to name only a few of the extraordinary figures who made Paris a thriving cultural capital for so many years. Surrealism had introduced psychological studies into art so that the vast realms of the mind literally became material for new explorations in performance. 

“Actually Surrealist performance was to affect most strongly the world of the theatre with its concentration on language, rather than subsequent performance art,” she concludes. “For it was to the basic tenets of Dada and Futurism—chance, simultaneity and surprise—that artists, indirectly or even directly, turned following the Second World War” (96).

In the book’s fifth chapter, Goldberg writes about Bauhaus performance. “The development of performance in the twenties in Germany was due largely to the pioneering work of Oskar Schlemmer at the Bauhaus,” she argues (97). The Bauhaus, an art school, opened in April 1919. “Unlike the rebellious Futurist or Dada provocations, Gropius’s Romantic Bauhaus manifesto had called for the unification of all the arts in a ‘cathedral of Socialism,’” Goldberg states. “The cautious optimism expressed in the manifesto provided a hopeful yardstick for cultural recovery in a divided and impoverished postwar Germany” (97). “A stage workshop, the first ever course on performance in an art school, had been discussed from the first months as an essential aspect of the interdisciplinary curriculum” (97). That workshop was established under its first teacher, Lothar Schreyer, an Expressionist painter and dramatist (97). “Schreyer’s workshop introduced few innovations: essentially these early productions were an extension of Expressionist theatre of the previous five years in Munich and Berlin,” Goldberg writes (98). “Subsequently feelings became the significant form of theatrical communication, which was at odds with the Bauhaus goal of achieving a synthesis of art and technology in ‘pure’ forms” (98). Not surprisingly, given these different perspectives, “opposition to Schreyer caused severe ideological battles and, under constant fire from students and staff alike, Schreyer’s resignation was inevitable” (98).

“The direction of the Bauhaus Stage was immediately transferred to Oskar Schlemmer, who had been invited to the school on the basis of his reputation as a painter and sculptor as much as on that of his early dance productions in his native Stuttgart,” Goldberg continues (98). Schlemmer’s first performance, The Figural Cabinet I, used “cabaret techniques to parody the ‘faith in progress’ so prevalent at the time,” and it was “a great success precisely because its mechanical devices and overall pictorial design reflected both the art and technology sensibilities of the Bauhaus,” Goldberg writes. “Schlemmer’s ability to translate his painterly talents . . . into innovative performances was much appreciated within a school which specifically aimed at attracting artists who would work beyond the boundaries of their own disciplines” (99). Because of “Schlemmer’s refusal to accept the limits of art categories,” his performances “quickly became the focus of Bauhaus activities, while his position as overall director of the Bauhaus Stage became firmly established” (99). “The ‘Bauhaus Festivities’ soon became famous and drew party-goers from the local communities of Weimar (and later Dessau), as well as from surrounding cities such as Berlin” (99). Parties were organized around themes and everyone attending was instructed to appear in a costume typically devised by Schlemmer and his students (99). According to Goldberg,

Schlemmer’s theory of performance was a unique contribution to the Bauhaus. In it he obsessively analysed the problem of theory and practice that was central to such an educational programme. Schlemmer expressed this questioning in the form of the classical mythological opposition between Apollo and Dionysius: theory pertained to Apollo, the god of intellect, while practice was symbolized by the wild festivities of Dionysus. (103)

Schlemmer considered theatre and painting “as complementary activities”: he described painting as “theoretical research,” and performance as practice (103). 

Schlemmer also considered space to be “the common denominator of the mixed interests of the Bauhaus staff (104). Space was “‘felt volume’” to Schlemmer, and he believed that each of his dance productions originated from this “‘sensation of space’” (104). The “‘stereometry of space’” evolved, according to Schlemmer, “‘by the moving vertical line of the dancing figure’” (104). “The relationship of the ‘geometry of the plane’ to the ‘stereometry of the space’ could be felt if one were to imagine ‘a space filled with a soft pliable substance in which the figures of the sequence of the dancer’s movements were to harden as a negative form,’” Goldberg suggests, quoting Schlemmer (104):

In a lecture-demonstration given at the Bauhaus in 1927, Schlemmer and students illustrated these abstract theories: first the square surface of the floor was divided into bisecting axes and diagonals, completed by a circle. Then taut wires crossed the empty stage, defining the “volume” or cubic dimensions of the space. Following these guidelines, the dancers moved within the “spatial linear web,” their movements dictated by the already geometrically divided stage. Phase two added costumes emphasizing various parts of the body, leading to gestures, characterization, and abstract colour harmonies provided by the coloured attire. Thus the demonstration led the viewers through the “mathematical dance” to the “space dance” to the “gesture dance,” culminating in the combination of elements of variety theatre and circus suggested by the masks and props of the final sequence. (104)

In contrast to Schlemmer’s theories, “the students Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack and Kurt Schwerdtfeger, independently of the Stage workshop, experimented with ‘flattening’ space in their Reflected Light Compositions” (106). They experimented with “light plays,” originally shadow-shows, by multiplying the sources of light, adding colour, and projecting the images on the back of a transparent screen, “producing kinetic, abstract designs” (106).

In addition, “Schlemmer emphasized the ‘object’ quality of the dancers and each performance achieved his desired ‘mechanical effect,’ not unlike that of puppets,” Goldberg writes (107). “By 1923 puppets and mechanically operated figures, masks and geometrical costumes had become central features of many Bauhaus performances. Kurt Schmidt designed a Mechanical Ballet in which abstract, moveable figures, identified by the letters A, B, C, D, E, were carried by ‘invisible’ dancers, creating an illusion of dancing automatons” (108-09). In 1924, Xanti Schawinsky used animal puppets in his performance of Circus: 

dressed in black leotard, Schawinsky invisibly played the lion-tamer to von Fritsch’s cardboard lion (with a traffic signal for the tail). Performed for the Bauhaus community and guests on the stage of a dance hall about a half-hour’s walk form the institute, the work was “essentially of a formal and pictorial concept. It was visual theatre, a realisation of painting and constructions in motions, ideas in colour, form and space and their dramatic inter-action,” Schawinsky wrote. (109)

The notion of visual theatre suggests the way that the relationship between painting and performance “was a constant preoccupation in the development of Bauhaus performance” (110).

No theatre facility existed at the school during its Weimar period, so Schlemmer and his students developed performances in their studios, “considering each experiment a search for the ‘elements of movement and space’” (113). However, when the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925, the situation changed. There Gropius had designed the campus, and 

the theatre workshop had become important enough to warrant a specially designed theatre. Even that remained a simple elevated stage in a cubelike auditorium, constructed in such a way as to accommodate the various lighting, screens and steplike structures which Schlemmer, Kandinsky, Xanti Schawinsky, and Joost Schmidt, among others, needed to realise their work. (113-14)

Another member of the Bauhaus faculty, Moholy-Nagy, “was describing ‘a theatre of totality’ as a ‘great dynamic-rhythmic process, which can compress the greatest clashing masses or accumulations of media—as qualitative and quantitative tensions—into elemental form’” (116). Moholy-Nagy believed that performances could use complex devices, including film, automobiles, elevators, aircraft, along with other machinery, optical instruments, and reflecting equipment (116-17). He wrote, “‘It is time to produce a kind of stage activity which will no longer permit the masses to be silent spectators which will allow them to fuse with the action on the stage’” (117).

After 1926, during the Dessau years, 

Bauhaus performance gained an international reputation. This was made possible because Gropius strongly supported the Bauhaus theatre, and the students were enthusiastic participants. So much importance and encouragement were given the theatre experiment that Schlemmer announced in his lecture demonstration of 1927: “the point of our endeavour: to become a travelling company of actors which will perform its works wherever there is a desire to see them.” (117-18)

Schlemmer and his company toured numerous European cities; their repertory was a summary of three years of Bauhaus performance (118). They met with favourable responses. However, the Dessau Bauhaus was finally closed down in 1932: 

Its then director, Mies van der Rohe, attempted to run the school as a private institution in a disused telephone factory in Berlin. But by then, the Bauhaus stage had firmly established its significance in the history of performance. Performance had been a means for extending the Bauhaus principle of a “total art work,” resulting in carefully choreographed and designed productions. It had directly translated aesthetic and artistic preoccupations into live art and “real space.” (120)

 Although its performance work was often playful and satirical, the Bauhaus “was never intentionally provocative or overtly political as the Futurists, Dadaists or Surrealists had been,” Goldberg concludes. “Nevertheless, like them, the Bauhaus reinforced the importance of performance as a medium in its own right and with the approach of the Second World War there was a marked decrease in performance activities, not only in Germany but also in many other European centres” (120).

Goldberg’s sixth chapter, “Living Art c. 1933 to the 1970s,” shifts locations, from Europe to the United States. “Performance in the United States began to emerge in the late thirties with the arrival of European war exiles in New York,” she writes. “By 1945 it had become an activity in its own right, recognised as such by artists and going beyond the provocations of earlier performances” (121). One focal point in the development of performance in America was Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Established 1933, it was very small, with 22 students and just nine faculty members. Director John Rice invited Josef and Anni Albers to join the school; Josef had taught at the Bauhaus and he “provided just that necessary combination of discipline and inventiveness that had characterized his years at the Bauhaus” (121). Albers argued that art was concerned with form rather than content: “‘The performance—how it is done—that is the content of art,’” he stated in a lecture to students (121). In 1936, Albers invited Xanti Schawinsky to join the faculty; Schawinsky started a “stage studies” program that was “largely an extension of earlier Bauhaus experiments” (121). Schawinsky’s course would be “a general study of fundamental phenomena: ‘space, form, colour, light, sound, movement, music, time, etc.’” (121).

Meanwhile, also in the 1930s, musician John Cage and dancer Merce Cunningham “were beginning to make their own ideas felt in small circles in New York and on the West Coast” (123). In 1937, Cage, who had studied composition with Schoenberg, wrote “‘wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. . . . Whether the sound of a truck at 50 mph, rain, or static between radio stations, we find noise fascinating.’ Cage intended to ‘capture and control these sounds, to use them, not as sound effects but as musical instruments’” (123). In 1943, Cage was invited to give a concert at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the instruments used in the performance included jawbones, Chinese soup bowls, and oxbells; the audience, according to Life magazine, “‘listened intently without seeming to be disturbed by the noisy results’” (123). It seems that New York audiences “were far more tolerant of these experimental concerts than the audiences of almost thirty years earlier that had angrily attacked the Futurist ‘noise musicians,’” Goldberg notes. “Indeed, Cage’s concerts soon produced a serious body of analysis of his and earlier experimental music, and Cage himself wrote prolifically on the subject” (123-24).

“On a theoretical level, Cage pointed out that composers who chose to be faced with the ‘entire field of sound’ necessarily had to devise entirely new methods of notation for such music,” Goldberg writes:

He found models in oriental music for the ‘improvised rhythmic structures’ proposed in his manifesto, and although largely “unwritten” the philosophy on which they were based led Cage to insist on the notions of chance and indeterminacy. “An indeterminate piece,” he wrote, “even though it might sound like a totally determined one, is made essentially without intention so that, in opposition to music of results, two performances of it will be different.” Essentially, indeterminacy allowed for “flexibility, changeability, fluency and so forth,” and it also led to Cage’s notion of “non-intentional music.” Such music, he explained, would make it clear to the listener that “the hearing of the piece is his own action—that the music, so to speak, is his, rather, rather than the composer’s.” (124)

Cage’s theories and attitudes reflected his interest in Zen Buddhism, and they “found a parallel in the work of Merce Cunningham who, like Cage, had by 1950 introduced chance procedures and indeterminacy as a means of arriving at a new dance practice,” Goldberg writes. “Just as Cage found music in the everyday sounds of our environment, So too Cunningham proposed that walking, standing, leaping and the full range of natural movement possibilities could be considered as dance” (124). However, “[w]hile Cage had noted that ‘every smaller unit of a larger composition reflected as a microcosm the features of the whole,’ Cunningham emphasized ‘each element in the spectacle.’ It was necessary, he said, to take each circumstance for what it was, so that each movement was something in itself” (124).

By 1948 Cage and Cunningham had been collaborating on several projects for almost a decade and both were invited to join the summer school at Black Mountain College that year (125). Cage experimented with what he called “prepared piano”: its strings were “jammed with odd materials—rubber bands, wooden spoons, bits of paper and metal—creating the sounds of a compact ‘percussion orchestra’” (125). “In 1952, Cage took these experiments even further, Goldberg writes,

arriving at his famous silent work. 4’ 33” was a “piece in three movements during which no sounds are intentionally produced”: it abandoned intervention by the musician altogether. The work’s first interpreter, David Tudo, sat at the piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, silently moving his arms three times; and within that time the spectators were to understand that everything they heard was “music.” “My favorite piece,” Cage had written, “is the one we hear all the time if we are quiet.” (126)

At a performance event at Black Mountain College in 1952, Cage read a text about the relationship between music and Buddhism and performed a “‘composition with radio’” while “Rauschenberg played old records on a hand-wound gramophone and David Tudor played a ‘prepared piano’” (126). Later, 

Tudor turned to two buckets, pouring water from one to the other while, planted in the audience, Charles Olsen and Mary Caroline Richards read poetry. Cunningham and others danced through the aisles chased by an excited dog, Rauschenberg flashed “abstract” slides (created by coloured gelatine sandwiched between the glass) and film clips projected onto the ceiling showed first the school cook, and then, as they gradually moved from the ceiling down the wall, the setting sun. In a corner, the composer Jay Watt played exotic instrumental instruments and “whistles blew, babies screamed and coffee was served by four boys dressed in white.” (126-27)

“The country audience was delighted. Only the composer Stefan Wolpe walked out in protest, and Cage proclaimed the evening a success” (127). The evening was “‘anarchic’” and “‘purposeless,’” for Cage, and “it suggested endless possibilities for future collaborations” (127), It also introduced Cunningham to his new scenographer and costume designer, Rauschenberg (127).

“Despite its remote location and limited audience, news of the untitled event spread to New York, where it became the talking-point of Cage and the students who were pursuing his course on the composition of experimental music, begun in 1956 at the New School for Social Research,” Goldberg writes (127). Cage’s small classes included painters and filmmakers, musicians and poets: “Each in their different ways had already absorbed Dada and Surrealist-like notions of chance and ‘non-intentional’ actions in their work. . . . Most were to be deeply influenced by Cage’s classes and by reports of the Black Mountain event” (127). Live art, she continues,

was the next logical step from environments and assemblages. And most of these events would directly reflect contemporary painting. For [Allan] Kaprow, environments were “spatial representations of a multileveled attitude to painting,” and a means to “act out dramas of tin-soldiers, stories and musical structures that I once had tried to embody in paint alone.” Claes Oldenburg’s performances mirrored the sculptural objects and paintings he made at the same time, providing a means for him to transform those inanimate but real objects—typewriters, ping-pong tables, articles of clothing, ice-cream cones, hamburgers, cakes, etc.—into objects of motion. Jim Dine’s performances were for him an extension of everyday life rather than of his paintings, even if he acknowledged that they were actually about “what I was painting.” Red Grooms found inspiration for his paintings and performances in the circus and amusement arcades, and Robert Whitman, despite his painterly origins, considered his performances essentially as theatrical events. . . .  Al Hansen, on the other hand, turned to performance in revolt against “the complete absence of anything interesting in the more conventional forms of theater.” The artwork that interested him most, he said, was one that “enclosed the observer [and] that overlapped and interpenetrated different art forms.”  Acknowledging that these ideas stemmed from the Futurists, Dadaists and Surrealists, he proposed a form of theatre in which “one puts parts together in the manner of making a collage.” (128)

Cynically, one might suggest that this was one of those rare times when a university course actually meant something to the participating students. It was, one might also add, the beginning of performance in the United States.

Certainly it led to Kaprow’s 1959 performance event, 18 Happenings in 6 Parts at the Reuben Gallery in New York. This event “was one of the earliest opportunities for a wider public to attend the live events that several artists had performed more privately for various friends”: 

Having decided that it was time to “increase the ‘responsibility’ of the observer,” Kaprow issued invitations that included the statement “you will become a part of the happenings; you will simultaneously experience them.” Shortly after this first announcement, some of the same people who had been invited received mysterious plastic envelopes containing bits of paper, photographs, wood, painted fragments and cut-out figures. They were also given a vague idea of what to expect: “there are three rooms for this work, each different in size and feeling. . . . Some guests will also act.” (128)

This was the first “happening.” “The audience was left to make what it could of the fragmented events, for Kaprow had warned that ‘the actions will mean nothing clearly formulable so far as the artist is concerned,’” Goldberg continues. “Equally, the term ‘happening’ was meaningless: it was intended to indicate ‘something spontaneous, something that just happens to happen.’” However, “the entire piece was carefully rehearsed for two weeks before the opening, and daily during the week’s programme. Moreover, performers had memorized stick drawings and time scores precisely indicated by Kaprow so that each movement sequence was carefully controlled” (130). 

“The apparent lack of meaning in 18 Happenings was reflected in many other performances of the time,” Goldberg writes. “Most artists developed their own private ‘iconography’ for the objects and actions of their work” (130). Performances followed each other in quick succession (131). “Despite the very different sensibilities and structures of these works,” Goldberg continues,

they were all thrown together by the press under the general heading of “happenings,” following Kaprow’s 18 happenings. None of the artists ever agreed to the term, and despite the desire of many of them for clarification, no “happening” group was formed, no collective manifestos, magazines or propaganda issued. But whether they liked it or now, the term “happening” remained. (132)

“Happening” may have “covered this wide range of activity,” even though “it failed to distinguish between the different intentions of the work or between those who endorsed and those who refuted Kaprow’s definition of a happening as an event that could be performed only once” (132). Also in New York, Fluxus formed in 1961, the name coming from George Macunias’s title of an anthology of work by many of the artists who became Fluxus; the group”soon acquired their own exhibition spaces, Fluxhall and Fluxshop” (132). Other visual artists and dancers were making performances at the same time (132).

“The only common denominator of these diverse activities was New York City, with its downtown lofts, alternative galleries, cafés and bars that housed the performers of the early sixties,” Goldberg writes. “Outside America, however, European and Japanese artists were developing an equally large and varied body of performances at the same time,” including Joseph Beuys and Nam June Paik (132). Nevertheless, Goldberg’s focus remains on New York, where a festival of performance art, the Yam Festival, ran for an entire year in 1962 and 1963 (133). Performance concerts were organized at the Carnegie Recital Hall in 1963 (133). Events took place all over New York, from Central Park to the 69th Street Armory, “where performances by Cage, Rauschenberg and Whitman, among others, celebrated ‘Art and Technology’ in 1966” (134). Other audio-visual performances took place at the Filmmaker’s Cinémathèque (136). “Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy . . . performed at the Judson Memorial Church, New York, transformed the body itself into a moving ‘painterly’ collage,” Goldberg continues. “A ‘flesh celebration’ relating to ‘Artaud, McClue, and French butcher shops,’ it used the blood of carcasses instead of paint to cover the writhing naked and near-naked bodies” (138). John Cage’s Variations V, a collaboration with Cunningham, Barbara Lloyd, David Tudor and Gordon Mumma, was performed in 1965: “its script was written after the performance by chance methods, for possible repeats. The performance space was crossed with a grid of photo-electric cells, which when activated by the movement of the dancers, produced corresponding lighting and sound effects” (138).

“Essential to the evolving styles and exchange of ideas and sensibilities between artists from all disciplines which characterized most performance work of this period, was the influence of dancers in New York from early 1960,” Goldberg argues:

Whether inspired by Cage’s initial exploration of material and chance or the permissive Happenings and Fluxus events, these dancers betan to incorporate similar experiments in their work. Their introduction of quite different movement and dance possibilities added, in turn, a radical dimension to performances by artists, leading them far beyond their initial “environments” and quasi-theatrical tableaux. On matters of principle the dancers often shared the same concerns as the artists, such as the refusal to separate art activities from everyday life and the subsequent incorporation of everyday actions and objects as performance material. In practice, however, they suggested entirely original attitudes to space and the body that the more visually oriented artists had not previously considered. (138)

Indeed, Goldberg suggests that while “the Futurist and Dada precedents of performance of the fifties are the most familiar, they are not the only ones. The view of ‘dance as a way of life, that uses everyday activities such as walking, eating, bathing and touching’ had its historical origin in the work of dance pioneers like Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Rudolf von Laban and Mary Wigman” (139). In the Dancers’ Workshop Company, formed just outside San Francisco in 1955, “Ann Halprin picked up the threads of those earlier ideas,” collaborating with dancers and musicians, “as well as with architects, painters, sculptors, and untrained people in any of these fields, encouraging them to explore them to explore unusual choreographic ideas, often on on outdoor platform” (139). These dancers were to form the core of the Judson Dance Group in New York, which came into being in 1962 (139). Halprin used improvisation and free association (140). “When the members of the Dancers’ Workshop Company arrived in New York in 1960,” Goldberg writes, 

they translated Halprin’s obsession for an individual’s sense of the straightforward movement of their own bodies in space into public performances, in programmes of happenings and events held at the Reuben Gallery and the Judson Church. The following year Robert Dunn began a composition class at the Cunningham studios which was made up of these same dancers, some of whom were then studying with Cunningham. Dunn separated ‘composition’ from choreography or technique and encouraged the dancers to arrange their material through chance procedures, experimenting at the same time with Cage’s chance scores and Satie’s erratic musical structures. Written texts, instructions (e.g. to draw a long line across the floor, which lasted the whole evening), and game assignments, all became part of the exploratory process. (140)

Gradually the class built up its own repertory and by the summer of 1962 there was enough material for their first public concert, at the Judson Church, a three-hour marathon (140). “With a regular venue for their workshop, as well as a readily available concert space, the Judson Dance Group was formed, and dance programmes followed in quick succession throughout the following year, including works by Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Sally Gross, Carolee Schneemann, John McDowell and Philip Corner, among others,” Goldberg notes (141). Indeed, by 1963, “many artists involved in live events were actively participating in the Judson Dance Group concerts”: Rauschenburg, Robert Whitman, and Robert Morris (141). “That the dancers were leading performance beyond the earlier happenings and their Abstract Expressionist painterly origins is exemplified by the fact that a sculptor like Morris created performances as an expression of his interest in the ‘body in motion,’” Goldberg points out “Unlike the earlier task-oriented activities he was able to manipulate objects so that they ‘did not dominate my actions nor subvert my performances’” (141-42).

“At the same time, the increasing preoccupation towards ‘minimalism’ in sculpture could, for those who wished, explain the entirely different performance sensibilities,” she writes (143). “[T]he objects of minimal sculptors—for example ‘role of artist’s hand,’ ‘simplicity,’ ‘literalness,’ ‘factory fabrication’—provided an interesting contrast to the ‘phrasing,’ ‘singular action,’ ‘event or tone,’ ‘task-like activity’ or ‘found’ movement of dancers” (143). Therefore, Goldberg continues,

when Meredith Monk presented her own performance, Juice, at the Guggenheim Museum in 1969, she had already absorbed the happening procedure (as a participant in many early works) as well as the new explorations of the Judson Dance Group. The first part of Juice—a “three-part theatre cantata”—took place in the enormous spiralling space of the Guggenheim, with eighty-five performers. With the audience seated on the circular floor of the museum, dancers created moving tableaux at intervals of forty, fifty and sixty feet above their heads. The second part took place in a conventional theatre and the third in an unfurnished loft. (144)

“The separation of time, place and content, of different spaces and changing sensibilities, would later be combined by Monk into large operetta-like performances such as Education of a Girl Child (1972) and Quarry (1976),” Goldberg writes (144).

“The development of European performance in the late fifties paralleled that in the United States in so far as performance came to be accepted by artists as a viable medium,” Goldberg states:

Only ten years after a debilitating major war, many artists felt that they could not accept the essentially apolitical content of the then overwhelmingly popular Abstract Expressionism. It came to be considered socially irresponsible for artists to paint in secluded studios, when so many real political issues were at stake. The politically aware mood encouraged Dada-like manifestations and gestures as a means to attack establishment art and values. By the early sixties, some artists had taken to the streets and stated aggressive Fluxus-style events in Amsterdam, Cologne, Düsseldorf and Paris. Others, more introspectively, created works intended to capture the “spirit” of the artist as an energetic and catalytic force in society. (144)

Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, and Joseph Beuys exemplified these developments (144). Klein, born in Nice in 1928, “was throughout his life determined to find a vessel for a ‘spiritual’ pictorial space,” and this ambition eventually led him to live actions (144). He believed that “painting was ‘like the window of a prison, where the lines, contours, forms and composition are determined by the bars’” (144). Monochrome paintings “freed him from such constraints” in the mid-1950s (144), and in 1957 and 1958 he presented an exhibitions of invisible paintings—entirely empty spaces which, he claimed, were “‘crammed with a blue sensibility within the frame of the white walls of the gallery” (145). In 1960, he rolled nude models in blue paint and asked them to “press their paint-drenched bodies” against canvases; the models thus became “‘living brushes’” (145). He presented this work live in 1960 accompanied by an orchestra (145). “Klein considered these demonstrations as a means to ‘tear down the temple veil of the studio . . . to keep nothing of my process hidden’; they were ‘spiritual marks of captured moments,’” Goldberg writes (147).

“In Milan, Piero Manzoni went about his work in a not unsimilar manner,” Goldberg writes. “But Manzoni’s actions were less a declaration of ‘universal spirit’ than the affirmation of the body itself as a valid art material”:

Both artists believed that it was essential to reveal the process of art, to demystify pictorial sensitivity, and to prevent their art from becoming relics in galleries or museums. While Klein’s demonstrations were based on an almost mystical fervour, Manzoni’s centred on the everyday reality of his own body—its functions and its forms—as an expression of personality. (147)

Manzoni began signing “some part of the live sculpture’s anatomy,” and the individual concerned “would receive a ‘certificate of authenticity’” from the artist (148). “A logical development from this was that the world too could be declared an artwork. So Manzoni’s Base of the World (1961), erected in a park on the outskirts of Herning, Denmark, metaphorically set the world on a sculptural pedestal” (149). Notoriously, “in May 1961, Manzoni produced and packaged ninety cans of Artist’s Shit (weighing thirty grams each), naturally preserved and ‘made in Italy.’ They were sold at the current price of gold, and soon became ‘rare’ art specimens” (149). The point, of course, was to make the forms and functions of the artist’s body into art.

“The German artist Joseph Beuys believed that art should effectively transform people’s everyday lives.” Goldberg continues. “He too resorted to dramatic actions and lectures in an attempt to change consciousness” (149). “Beuy’s actions often resembled Passion plays with their stark symbolism and complex and systematic iconography. Objects and materials—felt, butter, dead hares, sleighs, shovels—all became metaphorical protagonists in his performances” (149). Goldberg describes one example:

At the Galerie Schmela in Düsseldorf, on 26 November 1965, Beuys, his head covered in honey and gold leaf, took a dead hare in his arms and quietly carried it round the exhibition of his drawings and paintings, “letting it touch the pictures with its paws.” Then he sat on a stool in a dimly lit corner and proceeded to explain the meaning of the works to the dead animal, “because I do not really like explaining them to people,” and since “even in death a hare has more sensitivity and instinctive understanding than some men with their stubborn rationality.” (149-50)

“Such meditative conversation with himself was central to Beuy’s work,” Goldberg writes:

In terms of artists’ performances it marked a turning point from earlier Fluxus actions. Yet his meetings with Fluxus had confirmed Beuys’s own teaching methods at the Düsseldorf Academy where he had become professor of sculpture in 1961, at the age of 40. There he had encouraged the students to use any material for their work and, more concerned with their humanity than their eventual success in the art world, conducted most of his classes in the form of dialogues withe students. (150)

In 1963, he organized a Fluxus Festival with many American Fluxus artists participating (150). However, “Beuys’s polemical art and anti-art attitudes soon began to disturb the authorities” and he was dismissed, amidst student protests, in 1972 (150).

Goldberg gives an account of Beuys’s 1974 performance Coyote: I Like America and America Likes Me, a “dramatic one-week event which began on the journey from Düsseldorf to New York: 

Beuys arrived at Kennedy Airport wrapped head to toe in felt, the material which was for him an insulator, both physically and metaphorically. Loaded into an ambulance, he was driven to the space which he would share with a wild coyote for seven days. During this time, he conversed privately with the animal, only a chainlink fence separating them from the visitors to the gallery. His daily rituals included a series of interactions with the coyote, introducing it to objects—felt, walking stick, gloves, electric torch, and the Wall Street Journal (delivered daily)—which it pawed and urinated on, as if acknowledging in its own way the man’s presence. (150-51)

Coyote was an ‘American’ action in Beuys’s terms, the ‘coyote complex’ reflecting the American Indians’ history of persecution as much as ‘the whole relationship between the United States and Europe,’” Goldberg suggests (151). Beuys himself stated, “‘I wanted to concentrate only on the coyote. I wanted to isolate myself, insulate myself, see nothing of America other than the coyote . . . and exchange roles with it’” (151). “According to Beuys, this action also represented a transformation of ideology into the idea of freedom,” and “this transformation remained a key to his actions” (151). Beuys’s idea of “‘social sculpture,’ consisting of lengthy discussions with large gatherings of people in various contexts, was a means primarily to extend the definition of art beyond specialist activity,” Goldberg concludes. “Carried out by artists, ‘social sculpture’ would mobilize every individual’s latent creativity ultimately moulding the society of the future” (151). It also arguably prefigures the relational aesthetics or social practice that became important in the 1990s and after.

Goldberg’s seventh chapter, “The Art of Ideas and the Media Generation 1968-2000,” covers a tremendous amount of territory. It begins with 1968:

The year 1968 prematurely marked the beginning of the decade of the seventies. In that year political events severely unsettled cultural and social like throughout Europe and the United States. The mood was one of irritation and anger with prevailing values and structures. While students and workers shouted slogans and erected street barricades in protest against “the establishment,” many younger artists approached the institution of art with equal, if less violent, disdain. They questioned the accepted premises of art and attempted to re-define its meaning and function. Moreover, artists took it upon themselves to express these new directions in lengthy texts, rather than leave that responsibility to the traditional mediator, the art critic. The gallery was attacked as an institution of commercialism and other outlets sought for communicating ideas to the public. (152)

“The art object came to be considered entirely superfluous within this aesthetic and the notion of ‘conceptual art’ was formulated as ‘an art of which the material is concepts,’” Goldberg continues: 

Disregard for the art object was linked to its being seen as a mere pawn in the art market: if the function of the art object was to be an economic one, the argument went, then conceptual work could have no such use. Although economic necessities made this a short-lived dream, performance—in this context—became an extension of such an idea: although visible, it was intangible, it left no traces and it could not be bought and sold. Finally, performance was seen as reducing the element of alienation between performer and viewer—something that fitted well in to the often leftist inspiration of the investigation of the function of art—since both audience and performer experienced the work simultaneously. (152)

Conceptual art, according to Goldberg, led to an increased interest in performance:

Performance in the last two years of the sixties and of the early seventies reflected conceptual art’s rejection of traditional materials of canvas, brush or chisel, with performers turning to their own bodies as material, as Klein and Manzoni had done some years previously. For conceptual art implied the experience of time, space and material rather than their representation in the form of objects, and the body became the most direct medium of expression. Performance was therefore an ideal means to materialize art concepts and as such was the practice corresponding to many of those theories. For example, ideas on space could just as well be interpreted in actual space as in the conventional two-dimensional format of the painted canvas; time could be suggested in the duration of a performance or with the aid of video monitors and video feedback. Sensibilities attributed to sculpture—such as the texture of material or objects in space—became even more tangible in live presentation. (152-53)

“This translation of concepts into live works resulted in many performances which often appeared quite abstract to the viewer since there was seldom an attempt to create an overall visual impression or to provide clues to the work through the use of objects or narrative,” Goldberg continues. “Rather the viewer could, by association, gain insight into the particular experience that the performer demonstrated” (153).

“The demonstrations which concentrated on the artist’s body as material came to be known as ‘body art’”: 

However, this term was a loose one, allowing for a wide variety of interpretation. While some body artists used their own persons as art material, others positioned themselves against walls, in corners, or in open fields, making human sculptural forms in space. Others constructed spaces in which both they and the viewer’s sensation of space would be determined by the particular environment. (153)

“Some artists, dissatisfied with the somewhat materialist exploration of the body, assumed poses and wore costumes (in performance and also in everyday life), creating ‘living sculpture,’” Goldberg continues (153). This focus on personality led to the creation of “autobiographical” works—autobiographical “since the content of these performances used aspects of the performer’s personal history” (153). Another performance strategy, Goldberg writes, 

relied on the presence of the artist in public as an interlocutor, as earlier in Beuy’s question and answer sessions. Some artists gave instructions to the viewer, suggesting that they enact the performances themselves. Above all, audiences were provoked into asking just what were the boundaries of art: where, for instance, did scientific or philosophical enquiry end and art begin, or what distinguished the fine line between art and life? (153-54)

“Four years of conceptual art, from about 1968 on, had an enormous effect on an even younger generation of artists emerging from art schools where conceptual artists were teaching” (154).

“Some early conceptual ‘actions’ were more written instructions than actual performance, a set of proposals which the reader could perform or not, at will,” Goldberg notes (154). Some examples of this tendency involved walking: Yoko Ono, “in her contribution to the exhibition ‘Information’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in the summer of 1970, instructed the reader to ‘draw and imaginary map . . . go walking on an actual street according to the map’” (154). Dutch artist Stanley Brouwn suggested that visitors to the exhibition “Prospect 1969” “‘walk during a few moments very consciously in a certain direction’” (154). “In each case those who followed the instructions would supposedly experience the city or countryside with an enhanced consciousness,” Goldberg writes. “It was after all with just such a heightened awareness that artists had painted canvases of their surroundings; rather than passively viewing a finished artwork, the observer was now persuaded to see the environment as though through the eyes of the artist” (154). 

Another artist whose performances involved walking—and, interestingly, ignored the question of audience—was Vito Acconci, who set out “to translate the essential elements of one discipline into another”:

Around 1969, Acconci used his body to provide an alternative “ground” to the “page ground” he had used as a poet; it was a way, he said, of shifting the focus from words to himself as an “image.” So instead of writing a poem about “following.” Acconci acted out Following Piece as part of “Street Works IV” (1969). The piece consisted of Acconci following randomly chosen individuals in the street, abandoning them once they left the street to enter a building. It was invisible in that people were unaware what was going on; Acconci made several other pieces which were equally private. Though introspective, they were also the work of an artist looking at himself as an image, seeing “the artist” as others might see him: Acconci saw himself “as a marginal presence . . . tying in to ongoing situations.” (156)

Acconci’s private performance activities “only underlined even more emphatically the self-contradictory character of his attitude; for whatever discoveries he made in this process of self-searching, he had no way of ‘publishing’ them as one would a poem. It became necessary, therefore, for him to make this ‘body poetry’ more public” (156). For instance, in Telling Secrets (1971) he whispered secrets to late-night visitors to an abandoned shed on the Hudson River; those secrets “‘could have been totally detrimental to me if publically [sic] revealed,’” he wrote (156). Not long afterwords Acconci moved away from performance entirely.

The performances of Dennis Oppenheim showed traces of his training as a sculptor in California: 

Like many artists of the time, he wished to counteract the overwhelming influence of minimalist sculpture. According to Oppenheim, body art became “a calculated, malicious and strategic ploy” against the minimalists’ preoccupation with the essence of the object. It was a means to focus on the “objectifier”—the maker—rather on the object himself. So Oppenheim made several works in which the prime concern was the experience of sculptural forms and activities, rather than their actual construction. (157)

“Oppenheim believed that body art was limitless in its application,” Goldberg continues. “It was both a conductor of ‘energy and experience’ and a didactic instrument for explaining the sensations that go into making artwork. Considered in this way, it also represented a refusal to sublimate creative energy into producing objects” (158). By 1972, though, Oppenheim was tired of live performance and “devised works which suggested performance but which often used puppets rather than human performers,” works which “continued to ask the fundamental questions raised by conceptual art; what were the roots of art, what were the motives for making art, and what lay behind seemingly autonomous artistic decisions?” (158).

California artist Chris Burden began “with performances that carried physical exertion and concentration beyond the bounds of normal endurance,” and withdrew “from performance after several years of death-defying acts” (159). For instance, he locked himself in a 2 foot by 2 foot by 3 foot locker for five days, “his only supplies for this tight-fitting stay being a large bottle of water,” and for Shooting Piece, he had a friend shoot him in his left arm (159). Burden’s most extreme action was the performance Deadman: he lay wrapped in a canvas bag in the middle of a busy Los Angeles boulevard; the performance ended with his arrest for causing a false emergency to be reported (159). “Burden’s painful exercises were meant to transcend physical reality: they were also a means to ‘re-enact certain American classics—like shooting people,’” Goldberg writes. “Presented in controlled conditions he hoped that they would alter people’s perceptions of violence” (159). Other artists at the time were developing “more structured performances which explored the body as an element in space,” Goldberg continues:

For example, the Californian artist Bruce Nauman executed works such as Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square (1968), which had a direct relationship to his sculpture. By walking round the square, he could experience at first hand the volume and dimensions of his sculptural works which also dealt with volume and the placement of objects in space. (159)

German artist Klaus Rinke 

methodically translated the three-dimensional properties of sculpture into actual space in a series of Primary Demonstrations begun in 1970. These were “static sculptures” created with his partner Monika Baumgartl: together they made geometric configurations, moving slowly from one position to the next, usually for several hours at a time. (159)

“The study of active and passive conduct of the viewer became the basis of many of the New York artist Dan Graham’s performances from the early seventies”:

However, Graham wished to combine the role of active performer and passive spectator in one and the same person. So he introduced mirrors and video equipment which would allow performers to be the spectators of their own actions. This self-scrutiny was intended to set up a heightened consciousness of every gesture. (160-62)

Graham’s theory of audience-performer relationships was based on Bertold Brecht’s idea of the alienation effect, the imposition of “an uncomfortable and self-conscious state on the audience in an attempt to reduce the gap between the two” (162). 

“The New York performer Trisha Brown added a further dimension to the viewer’s notion of the body in space,” Goldberg suggests:

Works such as Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1969), or Walking on the Wall (1970), were designed to disorient the audience’s sense of gravitational balance. The first consisted of a man, strapped in mountaineering harness, walking down the vertical wall-face of a seven-story building in lower Manhattan. The second work, using the same mechanical support, took place in a gallery at the Whitney Museum, where similar performers moved along the wall at right angles to the audience. (162)

“In contrast to performances which dealt with formal properties of the body in space and time, others were far more emotive and expressionistic in nature,” such as Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch’s works involving ritual and blood, which he described as “‘an aesthetic way of praying’” (163). Rudolf Schwartzkogler, another Austrian artist, “created what he called ‘artistic nudes—similar to a wreckage’: but his wreckage-like self-mutilations ultimately led to his death in 1969” (165). “In Paris, Gina Pane’s self-inflicted cuts to her back, face and hands were no less dangerous. Like Nitsch, she believed that ritualized pain had a purifying effect: such work was necessary ‘in order to reach an anaesthetized society’” (165). And in 1974, Belgrade artist Marina Abramović created a harrowing work, Rhythm O, in which 

she permitted a room-full of spectators in a Naples gallery to abuse her at their will for six hours, using instruments of pain and pleasure that had been placed on a table for their convenience. By the third hour, her clothes had been cut from her body with razor blades, her skin slashed; a loaded gun held to her head finally caused a fight between her tormentors, bringing the proceeding to an unnerving halt. (165)

The work Abramović created with her collaborator Ulay “explored the pain and endurance of relationships,” both “between themselves, and between themselves and the public” (165). For example, Imponderable (1977) “consisted of their two naked bodies, standing facing each other against the frames of a door; the public was obliged to enter the exhibition space through the small gap between their bodies” (165). Another work, Relation in Movement (1977), involved “Ulay driving a car for sixteen hours in a small circle, while Marina, also in the car, announced the number of circles over a loudspeaker” (165). And in London, Stuart Brisley’s actions “were equally a response to what he considered to be society’s anaesthetization and alienation”: in And for Today, Nothing (1972) he lay for two weeks in a bath filled with black liquid and floating debris in a darkened bathroom at Gallery House, London (165).

“Much performance work originating in a conceptual framework was humourless, despite the often paradoxical intentions of the artist. It was in England that the first signs of humour and satire emerged” (167). Goldberg cites the example of Gilbert and George, students at St. Martin’s School of Art in London, along with other young artists (Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, John Hilliard) who were to become the focus of English conceptual art (167):

Gilbert and George personified the idea of art; they themselves became art, by declaring themselves “living sculpture.” Their first “singing sculpture” Underneath the Arches, presented in 1969, consisted of the two artists—faces painted gold, wearing ordinary suits, one carrying a walking stick and the other a globe—moving in a mechanical, puppet-like fashion on a small table for about six minutes to the accompaniment of the Flanagan and Allen song of the same name. (167)

“For Gilbert and George were was . . . no separation whatsoever between their activities as sculptors and their activities in real life,” Goldberg continues (167-68). So 1969’s The Meal was a dinner for 30 guests; Drinking Sculpture was a tour of pubs in London’s East End (168-69). However, some of their performances were situated in gallery spaces:

Their work Red Sculpture (1975), first presented in Tokyo, lasted ninety minutes and was perhaps their most ‘abstract,’ and their last, performance work. Faces and hands painted a brilliant red, the two figures moved into slowly paced poses in intricate relation to command-like statements which were taped and played on a tape recorder. (169)

Other artists were engaged in autobiographical performances:

Scrutiny of appearances and gestures, as well as the analytical investigation of the fine edge between an artist’s art and his or her life, became the content of a large body of work loosely referred to as “autobiographical.” Thus, several artists recreated episodes from their own life, manipulating and transforming the material into a series of performances through film, video, sound and soliloquy. (172)

According to Goldberg, the performance work of Laurie Anderson which “often included a description of its own making,” is one example of this trend (172). Julia Heyward drew on her childhood as the child of a Presbyterian minister in the American south, adopting “the southern minister’s characteristic sing-song rhythm in her monologues,” although she “soon tired of the limits of autobiography” (172-74). A “fascination for performance as a means to increase the audience’s awareness of their position as victims of manipulation . . . ran through Adrian Piper’s Some Reflected Surfaces, presented in 1976 at the Whitney Museum”:

Dressed in black clothes, with white face, false moustache and dark glasses, Piper danced in a single spotlight to the song “Respect” as her taped voice told the story of how she had worked as a disco-dancer in a downtown bar. Then a man’s voice sharply criticized her movements, which she altered according to his instructions. Finally the light went out and the small dancing figure was seen briefly on a nearby video screen, as if implying that she was finally acceptable for public broadcast. (174)

“Autobiographical performances were easy to follow and the fact that artists revealed intimate information about themselves set up a particular empathy between performer and audience,” Goldberg suggests. “This type of presentation thus became a popular one, even though the autobiographical content was not necessarily genuine; in fact, many artists strongly objected to being called autobiographical performers, but nevertheless continued to rely on the willingness of the audience to empathize with their intentions” (174). Some autobiographical performances displayed the influence of feminism, which “allowed many women performers to deal with issues that had been relatively little explored by their male counterparts” (174). Performance thus became a way to investigate issues of power and powerlessness (176).

“While some artists created performances which raised the level of public consciousness, others dealt with private fantasies and dreams,” such as Susan Russell’s 1976 Magnolia, a “thirty-minute visual story of the dreams of a southern belle” (176). “The Californian artist Eleanor Antin illustrated her own dreams in the form of various performances where, with the aid of costumes and make-up, she became one of the characters of her fantasies” (176). “Impersonation, autobiographical and dream material, the re-enactment of past gestures—all opened performance to a wide variety of interpretation,” Goldberg continues. “The Parisian artist Christian Boltanski, dressed in an old suit, presented cameos from his childhood in a series of works, such as My Mother Sewed in which he himself sewed in front of an intentionally childish painting of the fireplace of his family home” (177). “The intimate and confessional nature of much so-called autobiographical performance,” Goldberg writes, 

had broken the reign of cerebral and didactic issues associated with conceptually oriented performance. Those younger artists who refused to separate the world of art from their own cultural period—from the world of rock music, extravagant Hollywood movies (and the life styles they suggested), television soap opera or cabaret—produced a wide variety of works which were, above all, decidedly entertaining. (177)

For instance, General Idea, founded in Toronto in 1968, “parodied the overly serious nature of the art world”; their ambitions were to be “‘rich—glamorous—and artists’” (179). Other artists did costume performances: “Vincent Trasov walked the streets of Vancouver in 1974 as Mr Peanut in a peanut shell, monocle, white globes and top hat, campaigning for the office of Mayor” (180). “Performance artists drew on all aspects of spectacle and entertainment for the structure of their works,” Goldberg notes. “Some turned to cabaret and variety theatre techniques as a means to convey their ideas, in much the same way that the Dadaists and Futurists had done before,” such as Ralston Farina, who did magic shows in which he used art as his props, or Stuart Sherman, whose Fourth Spectacle at the Whitney Museum in 1976 “was presented in the manner of a travelling showman: pillows, doorknobs, safari hats, guitars, and shovels were produced by him from cardboard boxes and he then proceeded to demonstrate the ‘personality’ of each object through gestures and sound produced on a nearby cassette recorded” (180-81).

Museums and galleries began including performance work in their exhibitions, but this acknowledgement 

only spurred many younger artists on to finding less sedate venues for their work. Historically, performers had always been free form any dependence on establishment recognition for their activities and had, moreover, purposefully acted against the stagnation and academicism associated with that establishment. In the mid-seventies it was again rock music that suggested an outlet. (181)

That is, it was punk rock, music that Goldberg describes as “intentionally and aggressively amateur” (181). “In London, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Genesis P. Orridge alternated between art performances, as COUM Transmissions, and punk performances, as Throbbing Gristle” (182). Other artists who performed as musicians included Alan Suicide (also known as Alan Vega) who, along with jazz musician Martin Rev, played at the New York punk club CBGB’s, often on the same bill as The Erasers, another groups of artists turned punk (182). “The transition from art to anti-art punk was, for many artists, not absolute, in that they still considered much of their work as artists’ performance,” Goldberg writes. “The punk aesthetic did, however, have an effect on the work of many performers. . . . The mood of many of these works was disruptive and cynical; in many ways it came closest to some Futurist performances, in that it rejected establishment values and ideas, claiming art of the future as something completely integrated into life” (182). “This generation of artists in their late twenties, who began performing publicly in 1976 or 1977, clearly had a view of reality and art that was already quite different form the work of artists only a few years older,” she continues. “Their new style of performance, while reflecting the punk aesthetic, with its anarchistic and overtly sadistic and erotic attitudes, was, at the same time, a sophisticated blend of recent performance precedents with their own life styles and sensibilities” (182-83).

“Some of the younger generation artists also started using performance in conjunction with film making, painting and sculpture,” Goldberg writes, suggesting the interdisciplinary nature of performance (183). For example, “Robert Longo translated the mood of his ‘solid photography’—painted reliefs made from drawings deriving from movie stills—into a performance triptych, Sound Distance of a Good Man” (184). However, she continues, 

while a considerable number of younger artists went straight from art school into performance as their chosen medium, an increasing number of playwrights and musicians in the United States also worked directly in the performance context, just as the dancers and musicians who had dominated the sixties . . . had done. Young performers using music as the main element of their work, such as the “classically” oriented Connie Beckley, or “New Wave” groups such as Peter Gordon and his Love of Life Orchestra, The Theoretical Girls or the Gynecologists, also appeared at performance art venues like the Kitchen and Artists Space. (184-85)

Meanwhile, “the grand spectacles of Robert Wilson and Richard Foreman showed how far some of the current ideas in performance could be taken when presented on a larger scale” (185). The work of Wilson and Foreman was quite different from that of their contemporaries:

While performances were usually one-off, brief events, minimally rehearsed and lasting from about ten to fifty minutes, the ambitious works of Wilson and Foreman went through several months of rehearsal, ran from at least two hours to as long as twelve, in the case of Wilson, and had repeat performances over several months. Such works represented a development of American experimental theatre from The Living Theatre and The Bread and Puppet Theatre and showed the influences of Artaud and Brecht (in the productions of Foreman) or Wagner’s music dramas (in those of Wilson), having also assimilated ideas from Cage, Cunningham, new dance, and performance art. The work of what is called here the performance fringe was a synthesis of these streams. (185)

The performance fringe, Goldberg continues, 

was non-literary: a theatre dominated by visual images. The absence of straightforward narrative and dialogue, plot, character and setting as a “realistic” place, emphasized the “stage picture.” Spoken words focused on the manner of presentation by the performers and on the perception of the audience at the same time. (185)

For Foreman, theatre was a place to put ideas (185). His play Pandering to the Masses was a series of stylized visual tableaux, 

accompanied by “aural tableaux”: sound blasting from surrounding stereo speakers. Foreman’s overlaying of taped voices and sound from the action attempted to penetrate the consciousness of the audience—the voices that filled the space were the author thinking aloud, as it were. These clues to the intentions behind the work—presented within the work—were meant to trigger off similar unconscious questioning in the audience. (186)

The performance fringe, Goldberg argues, “gave considerable importance to the psychology of making art” (186).

For his part, Robert Wilson collaborated with an autistic teenager, Christopher Knowles, in his productions, associating Knowles’s “extraordinary fantasy world and use of language with preconsciousness and innocence” (187). “Wilson used the phenomenology of autism as aesthetic material,” Goldberg suggests (187). Wilson’s works 

had no beginning or end in the conventional sense, but were a series of oneiric or free association declamations, dances, tableaux and sound, each of which might have its own brief theme, but which did not necessarily relate to the next. Each section served as an image, as a medium through which the playwright expressed a particular sensibility whose starting point might or might not be evident to the audience. (188)

Wilson described his works Queen Victoria and Einstein on the Beach as operas, “and his ‘unifications of the arts’ in these productions represented a modern counterpart to Wagner’s aspirations. They brought together the talents of some of the most inventive art performers, also using the more ‘traditional’ media of theatre, film, painting and sculpture” (189). “At the same time,” Goldberg writes, 

the extremely elaborate and large-scale requirements of enterprises such as Wilson’s made his work appear far more traditional than most performance art. Indeed, if its scale was symptomatic of the increased importance of performance by the end of the seventies, this overtly theatrical aspect also indicated a new direction for the eighties. (189)

Text began to “play a significant but still somewhat abstruse role” in Wilson’s productions in the 1980s (189). Wilson stated that his intentions were “to reach a broader audience, to create works ‘on the scale of large popular theatre’” (189). The purely visual work he had made previously, it seems, could not reach such an audience.

“By 1979, the move of performance towards popular culture was reflected in the art world in general, so that by the beginning of the new decade the proverbial swing of the pendulum was complete,” Goldberg writes:

in other words, the anti-establishment idealism of the sixties and early seventies had been categorically rejected. A quite different mood of pragmatism, entrepreneurship and professionalism, utterly foreign to the history of the avant garde, began to make itself apparent. Interestingly enough, the generation that created this about-turn mostly comprised students of conceptual artists who understood their mentors’ analysis of consumerism and the media but broke conceptual art’s cardinal rule, of concept over product, by turning from performance and conceptual art to painting. The new paintings were often quite traditional—many were figurative and/or expressionistic in content—even though they were sometimes also filled with media imagery. Responding to this accessible and bold work, a few gallery owners and their affluent clients, as well as the occasional public relations team, insinuated a new, very young generation of artists into the art market; within a few years, by 1982, some artists were transformed from struggling unknowns into wealthy art stars. Thus the eighties art world, in New York in particular, was criticized for its disproportionate attention to “hype” and the commercial business of art. (190)

According to Goldberg,

this return to the bourgeois fold had as much to do with an overwhelmingly conservative political era as it did with the coming of age of the media generation. Raised on twenty-four-hour television and a cultural diet of B movies and “rock ’n roll,” performances artists in the 1980s interpreted the old cry to break down barriers between life and art to be a matter of breaking down barriers between art and the media, also expressed as a conflict between high and low art. (190)

Laurie Anderson’s United States, “an eight-hour opus of song, narrative and sleights of hand and eye,” was “a landmark crossing of these borders” (190). “United States was a flattened landscape that the media evolution had left behind: projected hand-drawn pictures, blown-up photographs taken from TV screens and truncated film formed operatic-size backdrops to songs about life as a ‘cloooosed circuit,’” Goldberg writes (190). It also led to Anderson’s hit single “O Superman,” which was “at the heart of the show, was an appeal for help against the manipulation of the controlling media culture; it was the cry of a generation exhausted by media artifice” (190). “Anderson’s endearing stage presence and her obsession with ‘communication’ were qualities that enabled her to reach the broadest possible audiences” (191). “United States marked the beginning of the ‘coming out’ of performance into the mass culture” (191).

Two other New York artists “set precedents for this transfer: Eric Bogosian and Michael Smith both began as comic acts at the end of the seventies . . . and both within five years successfully appeared on the ‘other side’ while retaining the always paradoxical title of performance artist” (191). Bogosian was a trained actor whose models for solo performance included Lenny Bruce and Anderson herself (191). Bogosian, Goldberg writes,

created a series of characters that stepped out of radio, TV and cabaret scripts of the fifties; beginning in 1979 with “Ricky Paul”—a belligerent, macho entertainer with a twisted, old-fashioned dirty humour—he added new portraits that by the mid-eighties comprised a picture gallery of American male types: angry, often violent of hopelessly subdued. (191-92)

His solo performances—Men Inside (1981) and Drinking in America (1985-86)—“were a cumulative diatribe against an uncaring society” (192). “As much concerned with form as with content, Bogosian’s portraiture took the best from performance, its imagistic focus and appropriations form the media which were fashionable at the time, and matched them with the finesse and confidence of the highly skilled actor,” Goldberg notes (192). Like Anderson, this led to success beyond the world of performance art for Bogosian (192). Michael Smith’s 1982 performance Mike’s House presented a “picture of a performance artist dreaming of becoming a celebrity in the media world,” and it “perfectly captured the ambivalence of the performance artist: how to make the crossover without losing the integrity and the protection—to explore new aesthetic territory—of the art world” (194).

Performances artists in New York in the early 1980s tended to make

rough, quickly sketched works that explored the edges between television and real life, without suggesting that they were ready for either. Post-punk media scavengers and mass culture connoisseurs, they created their own version of art cabaret with some old-fashioned pizazz from favourite TV and vaudeville shows, touched here and there with a little seediness that sufficed for parody. (194)

Examples included John Kelly; Karen Finley, who “defied the passivity of her audiences with threatening themes of sexual excess and deprivation”; and Anne Magnusson, who “appeared as various TV soap-opera stars” (194). The influence of media could be seen in the work of John Jesurun, a filmmaker and sculptor, who presented work “which used staging techniques adapted from movies: camera pans, flashbacks or jumpcuts. Jesurun did not simply take out pictures from the media or hold up fine art to the cultural mainstream. Rather, he stepped right inside film and television, opposing the realities of celluloid and flesh and blood” (194). “Jesurun’s ‘video theatre’ was an important indicator of the time; for its high-tech drama was as much an example of the prevailing media mentality as of the new theatricality of performance,” Goldberg notes (195).

“By the mid-eighties, the overwhelming acceptance of performance as fashionable and fun ‘avant-garde entertainment’ . . . was largely due to the turn of performance towards the media and towards spectacle from about 1979 onwards,” Goldberg argues: 

More accessible, the new work showed attention to décor—costumes, sets and lighting—and to more traditional and familiar vehicles such as cabaret, vaudeville, theatre and opera. On large or small scales—in an opera house such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music or on an intimate, “open stage” such as London’s Riverside Studios—dramatization of effects was an important part of the whole. It is interesting that performance came to fill the gap between entertainment and theatre and in certain instances actually revitalized theatre and opera. (195-96)

The result, Goldberg contends, was a hybrid of performance and theatre:

the return to traditional fine arts on the one hand, and the exploitation of traditional theatre craft on the other allowed performance artist to borrow from both and create a new hybrid. The ‘new theatre’ gained the licence to include all media, to use dance or sound to round out an idea, or splice a film in the middle of a text. . . . Conversely, “new performance” was given the licence to acquire polish, structure and narrative. (196)

“Other works, including Spalding Gray’s autobiographical tours of landscapes from his past, such as Swimming to Cambodia (1984),” Goldberg continues, “were later seen as often on the performance as on the theatre circuit” (196).

At the same time, “major European centres witnessed a burgeoning of performance-theatre. Artists responded to the thoroughly open-ended medium of performance, and took courage form what was then an acceptable introduction of theatrical elements which made it possible to reach a wider audience” (198). “[T]he division between traditional theatre and performance became blurred,” Goldberg writes,

to the extent that even theatre critics began to cover performance, though until 1979 they had almost totally ignored it, leaving its reviewing to fine arts or avant-garde music critics. Nevertheless, they were forced to acknowledge that the material and its applications had emerged from performance art and the the playwright/performer was indeed trained as an artist. For there was no comparable movement in current theatre to which the energy of the new work could be attributed. Likewise, there had been no revolution within opera to suggest that the impetus for the many new operas, with their bold visual architecture and intricate new music, had come from a source other than in performance’s recent history. (199)

Goldberg sees the influence of Robert Wilson’s and Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach on operas in the 1980s (199). “While the term opera could not always be applied strictly to these visual-theatre musicals, their opulence was indeed operatic, and they did provide a context for unusual vocal material and renowned opera singers,” she writes (200).

“It is not surprising that dance paralleled these developments by moving away form the intellectual underpinnings of the seventies’ experiments to work that was both far more traditional and entertaining,” Goldberg continues:

With a renewed interest in highly trained bodies, beautiful costumes, lighting and backdrops, as well as in narrative, the new choreographers took what they had learned from the preceding generation and blended those lessons in ‘accumulation,’ natural movement and choreography of geometric patterning with classical dance techniques and recognizable movements appropriated from a broad spectrum of dance. From the seventies, they also retained the practice of working closely with artists and musicians, which meant having elaborately painted sets designed by “media generation” artists, and rhythmically charged music that was a blend of punk, pop and serial music. (202)

“The ultimate dance theatre was that of Pina Bausch and her Tanztheater Wuppertal,” Goldberg argues: 

Taking the permissive vocabulary of the seventies as her yardstick—from classical ballet to natural movements and repetitions—Bausch devised adventures in visual theatre on the scale of Robert Wilson’s. These she mixed with the kind of ecstatic expressionism associated with northern European drama . . . thus introducing dramatic and compelling theatre that was also dramatic and visceral dance. . . . Bausch’s dance dramas explored in minute detail the dynamics between women and men—ecstatic, combative and eternally interdependent—in various body languages determined by the strikingly individual members of her company. (205)

Bausch’s dancers “made movements that were repetitive, obsessive and fastidious. They were played out over long hours as behavioural discourses between the two sexes. Walking, dancing, falling, strutting or just sitting, women and men held and shoved, caressed and tortured one another in extraordinary settings” (205-06). “With a ritualistic intensity that recalled European body art of the sixties, and with symbolism ascribed to materials like earth and water, Bausch’s dance theatre was the antithesis of the media-conscious work emanating from the USA,” Goldberg continues. “[H]er dances eschewed easy accessibility and instant pleasures” (206).

In England, performance went in several new directions, including living sculpture (derived from the earlier work of Gilbert and George) (207). Stephen Taylor Woodrow’s “living paintings,” were one example (207). Another was Raymond O’Daly’s The Conversion of Post Modernism: an “eight-hour tableaux performance of two figures draped around a horse cut from styrofoam, based on the composition of Caravaggio’s The Conversion of St Paul, it was “intended to emphasize ‘the stillness of painting and drawing, and to give a sense of the painting as always being there, on the wall’” (208). In London, Goldberg suggests, “the connections between painting, new music, dance and performance art made for a small experimental art world” (209). That would seem to be a quite different situation from New York, where performance art was becoming more mainstream.

In addition, from the late 1980s, “minorities were increasingly pressing the issue of ethnic identity and multiculturalism” (210). “Cuban-born Ana Mendieta’s photographs of her ritualistic performances based on the Afro-Cuban spiritualism of Santeria were among the many performance, installation and art works” presented in “The Decade Show” in New York at the New Museum, Studio Museum of Harlem, and the Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art, in a broad survey of American “ethnic identities” (210). “In London, a performance series Let’s Get it On: The Politics of Black Performance at the ICA in 1994, showed an increasing acknowledgment of the multicultural nature of the British population” (210-11). “The swell of a Latino consciousness inspired many performance artists, among them cabaret-parodist Cuban-American Carmelita Tropicana (Alina Troyana), performance activist Papo Colo, as well as the energetic scene around the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in New York’s East Village” (212). “The identity of ‘otherness’ also provided a platform for marginalized groups—gays, lesbians, sex-workers, cross-dressers, even the chronicallhy ill and disabled developed performance material that was intentionally deeply disturbing” (212). Goldberg includes the political work of ACT UP in her survey of performance, citing the “die-ins” it organized on the steps of drug companies (212). “Reza Abdoh, self-styled ‘outsider, queer, HIVpostive, emigré artist of colour, born in Iran, and educated in London and Los Angeles,’ created complex theatrical events on as many as ten fragmented platforms in a large warehouse on Manhattan’s West Side” (212).

“Public display of sex and death and other private concerns was a statement of artistic solidarity against the conservative backlash of the early 1990s,” Goldberg continues. “The material was unquestioningly shocking to even the most emancipated of audiences” (212). “Male strippers, drag queens and drug-abusers participated in Ron Athey’s Martyrs and Saints (1993), an hour-long work which included self-inflicted wounds so gruesome that several members of the audience passed out” (212). “In 1996, Elke Krystufek, lying in a bathtub of water, masturbated with a vibrator in a glass-walled room at the Vienna Kunsthalle in view of hundreds of gallery visitors” (212). “It was the shift in context, from specialist S & M club or hospital to art-world venue, with attendant headlines, reviews, general audiences and theoretically inclined critics, that came to dominate an academic debate on performance art, particularly in the USA but also in Europe,” she argues (212-13). However, she continues, “[e]ven as ‘extreme performance’ became a subject for theoretical speculation, the performance art monologue that had begun in the late 1970s with the work of Bogosian, Finley, and Gray, grew in popularity over two decades, making it the longest-running and most mainstream of performance forms in the USA,” because its “straightforward structure” made it accessible to audiences, and because of “its appeal to a broad spectrum of artists who introduced signature elements of their own” (213). Goldberg includes playwright Anna Devere Smith as a performance artist—I had no idea that’s where her career began (214).

“Performance in the European Community of the nineties was governed as much by generous federal funding intended to elevate the cultural status of capital cities as it was by the maturation of artists whose training was grounded in the avant-garde of the seventies and eighties,” Goldberg writes. “The energy of this work was further stimulated by the availability of a well-organized network of theatres . . . and the festivals and conferences that took place around them” (215). There was a “New Wave” of performance in Belgium (215-17), and something called “anti-choreography” in France (217-18). Relational aesthetics became part of performance, or perhaps vice-versa:

No longer concerned with barriers between high art and low, presentations in museums by these late-nineties artists frequently resembled informal playrooms or wreck-rooms. Thai-born New Yorker Rirkrit Tirivanija, for example, built a kitchen and fed visitors to a Lucerne gallery in 1994; he also constructed a recording studio in which viewers could practice musical instruments, as in his sculpture piece in Münster in 1997. (218)

“These social sculptures had much to do with conceptually oriented works from the seventies by Acconci, Nauman, Beuys, Jonas and Graham,” Goldberg notes. “Their later successors in the nineties were different in that interactivity, pop debris and appropriation from performance history were accepted as contemporary art vocabulary” (218). Groups in the U.K., such as Forced Entertainment, produced “large-scale, site-specific work that hovered on the edge of performance art and theatre, the former with its emphasis on visual imagery and the latter on texts—spoken, recorded and projected. Needless to say, these innovative groups used media extensively” (221). 

There was an intensifying interest in using technology in performance as well: “In the opening years of the nineties, the intricacies of inventing ways to incorporate technology on stage was mostly in the hands of seasoned artists, such as Elizabeth LeCompte (of the Wooster Group) and Robert Ashley, who continued to develop techniques established in their seminal productions of the seventies” (221). Other theatre makers, such as Robert Lepage, “utilized technology not merely as an illusory device but as a technique for layering information and creating conceptually provocative and visually sensual landscapes on stage” (222). Video art also became part of performance:

Performance videos of the nineties were frequently enacted in private, exhibited as installations and considered extensions of live actions. These works had none of the didactic intentions of earlier material by Jonas or Peter Campus, which explored the artist’s body in space and time within a decidedly conceptual framework. Rather, videos by Matthew Barney or Paul McCarthy began with their highly original reading of contemporary American mass culture and geography, expressed as fantastical, image-rich, disjunctive narratives. (222)

In addition, “[t]he staging of extravagant scenarios for large photographic work was a powerful attraction for artists of the generation that followed Cindy Sherman’s. Disguises, dreamscapes, worlds inhabited by modern trolls and centaurs were executed with the kind of attention to allegorical detail more usually associated with nineteenth-century Victorians’ (223). Film installation also became part of performance:

The centrality of the human figure is strongly in evidence in the cinematic installations of artists such as Shirin Neshat, Steve McQueen, Gillian Wearing or Sam Taylor Wood. Their room-size moving pictures are as much about creating textured surfaces that envelop audiences as they are about the choreography and structure of film, and it is the overwhelming presence of slow-moving larger than life-size figures that connects this work to the previous thirty years of performance history. Watching McQueen’s looped black and white projection The Bear (1993) of two naked men engaged in a boxing match, or Sam Taylor Wood’s Brontosaurus (1995) of a single naked man wildly dancing to his own beat, brings to mind performances of Acconci, Abramovic or Nauman, although their monumental scale gives them a mural-like quality. By contrast, artists working with the new palm-sized digital video equipment use the camera as an extension of the body, in much the same way as did Jonas or Dan Graham in the seventies. (225)

“Much of this work was an indication of how seamless is the transition between live performance and recorded media, reinforced by easy access to computers, the digital transfer of images around the globe through the Internet, and the rapid cross-pollination of styles between performance, MTV, advertising and fashion,” Goldberg concludes. “In this infinitely linked system, with its ability to transmit sound and moving images, and to engage audiences in real-time exchanges, the Internet was quickly recognized by artists and presenters as an exciting new venue for performance art” (225). It also speaks to the interdisciplinary nature of performance—not to mention its apparently imperialistic ability to colonize other art forms, at least in Goldberg’s account. (It’s possible that a history of film installation or video art or site-specific work would treat performance differently.)

Goldberg’s final chapter, “The First Decade of the New Century 2001 to 2010,” begins by suggesting that the increased globalization of the art world “meant acquiring at least a general understanding of cultural developments around the globe” (227). “Peripatetic curators, critics, dealers and collectors travelled to far-off places, introducing a vast spectrum of aesthetic practices to the international art circuit, and at the same time identifying emerging artists whose work could stand up to critical scrutiny but who could also provide enlightened clues as to the context in which their art was produced,” she writes (227):

Performance was the ideal medium for conveying the myriad ideas emanating from such vastly different places. It was predominantly visual, so translation was not a problem; it was ephemeral and therefore the perfect medium for evading government watchdogs in countries where artists’ activities were considered politically subversive; it was cutting edge, in that it frequently used technology to produce sound and image, recording and projection; and it was timeless and accessible in its use of the body, naked or clothed, with its universal figurative language of gestures and movement. Moreover, with its extended time frames, sometimes lasting hours or even days, performance was a vehicle that could carry a complex layering of iconographic information regarding the histories and rituals of different nations, as well as individual emotional or psychic states. (227)

“On a critical level this material defied evaluation alongside Western traditions of painting and sculpture, while consideration of its meaning and sources frequently indicated a burgeoning art scene to follow,” she suggests (227). However, she continues,

[a]nother reason for performance’s upsurge in the first decade of the twenty-first century was the fact that the 1970s had become history and needed to be incorporated into the timeline of the contemporary art museum. It quickly became evident to curators that most of the conceptual art of the period was performance art, and that most of the artefacts, photographs and videos produced were the direct outcome of performances. For the first time archivists, registrars and conservators, as well as curatorial and educational departments, had to confront the complexities of displaying, collecting, preserving and explaining material that had so profoundly shaped artistic developments in the final decades of the twentieth century, yet which, paradoxically, was ephemeral and almost invisible. (227)

There were numerous publications and exhibitions of conceptual art, which “fed an emerging generation’s fascination with its poetic rigour and focus on intellectual means” (227-28). In addition, museums were changing from places of “contemplative study” to “cultural pleasure-palace[s] of engagement” (228), and the newest museums included performance spaces (228). Festivals and biennials were also important: in 2005, a new biennial in New York established “the first dedicated festival to visual art performance,” including in its mission the history of performance (228). “Thus, by the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century performance had become integral to contemporary art exhibition and biennial planning, not only in art institutions in large cities but in smaller towns, on college campuses and beyond” (228).

Performance, Goldberg continues, “provoked critical questions about the meaning of art in our highly mediated daily lives. It also instigated a larger conversation about the scope of global culture and how art might, in an expanded world, generate empathy for so many disparate ways of living” (228). “Numerous performances at the start of the decade directly reflected the restlessness of continuous migration and the sharp points of ethnic and religious conflicts and misunderstandings between players on all sides” (228). For instance, Shirin Neshat’s first live performance, Logic of the Birds, was a rendering of a 12th-century poem by a Sufi poet, just a month after 9/11 (228). “Neshat’s rendering of this masterpiece of Persian culture provided an exquisitely poignant counterpoint to the horrors of downtown Manhattan and the fraught politics and history of the Middle East” (228). Another example was Marina Abramović’s 2002 performance House with an Ocean View: 

For twelve days Abramović lived in a Chelsea gallery, standing, sitting, bathing or resting on a brightly lit altar-like platform six feet off the ground that could only be reached by three ladders, their rungs made of sharp butcher’s knives. Abramović’s only sustenance throughout her self-imposed confinement was water, but the aura that she generated was not one of deprivation; rather it was of infinite time and intimate connections between artist and viewers. For those who came daily to sit with her, to watch but also to participate, it would be an unforgettable experience, their quietly meditative presence in the dimly lit space as dramatic in its stillness as in the visual composition of figures forming impromptu tableaux vivants. (228-29)

“Both Neshat’s and Abramović’s work showed the power of live performance to convey multiple layers of meaning and history and to evoke intense visceral responses at the same time,” Goldberg contends. “Without words or text, their visual storytelling achieved a level of aesthetic mastery, creating mobile, three-dimensional pictures in real time that were at least as effective as their still photographs after the event” (229).

Performance was now an international phenomenon, as Goldberg suggested at the beginning of the chapter. For example, “performance by artists in China provided an ongoing insight into the seismic social shifts throughout the country. . . . and the visual material that emerged from these activities would be seen in several travelling exhibitions in the United States and Europe” (231). Performance and video from Mexico, Poland, South Africa, Lebanon, Guatemala, Albania, and Israel “provided compelling and sophisticated windows into politically troubled and war-torn environs, reflecting the heightened social conscience of individual artists growing up amidst such inescapable pressure” (232-33). The links between performance and installation work, as in the case of Clamor (2006) by Puerto Rican-based artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, continued to be demonstrated, along with links to video, sculpture, film and sound art (235). “In Mexico City Francis Alÿs, originally from Brussels, and Madrid-born Santiago Sierra create very different work in response to the perpetual clamour of their adopted mega-city and the edges where various populations and classes intersect,” Goldberg writes. “Alÿs approaches the city with the eye of a trained architect and urbanist, investigating its pathways and layers of historic memories with a series of staged interventions” (236). In contrast, “Sierra uses destitute individuals in his performances as a way of staging societal indifference to human degradation and desolation”:

in 160cm Line Tattooed on 4 People (2000) four drug-addicted prostitutes, hired for the price of a single shot of heroin, have a line tattooed across their backs. Sierra chooses the art world as his platform for such disturbing events, he says, because it provides “a narrow margin through which one can convey blame.” (236)

In Guatemala, poet and performer Regina José Galindo’s actions exhibited 

the violence and psychological duress that she witnessed coming of age towards the end of the thirty-six-year Guatemalan Civil War (1960-96), a period of relentless government-sponsored genocide and political tyranny. In Who Can Remove the Traces (2003) she walked in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City carrying a basin of blood, into which she stepped barefoot from time to time, leaving a trace of bloody footprints on the pavement before the armed guards who watched her. (237)

“In South Africa it could be said that the body is an instrument of communication as profound as any language,” Goldberg continues. Performance “speaks across the eleven official languages of the country with an immediacy ingrained in South African audiences of all backgrounds, from traditional Zulu war dances with shield and assegai, to percussive gum-boot dances by gold-miners, to the side-by-side toyi-toyi that announced mass demonstrations in the final years of the apartheid era” (238). In addition, “Performance by visual artists is integral to their making objects, films or installations, as is clear in the work of William Kentridge. His films, drawings and performances cannot be separated from one another if one is to understand the arc of his ideas or the creative process” (238).

“Performance in France from the mid-1990s stemmed from a cultural pedigree of political rigorousness, both intellectual and sociological, that included Situationist theory, so-called psycho-geography, and the ‘production of space’ outlined by sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre in the mid-1960s” (240). The art of Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster “investigates the exhibition space and the viewer’s role in it, among a broad range of aesthetic and conceptual considerations” (240). French Fluxus artists Ben Vautier and Robert Filliou claimed that “‘everything is art’” in the 1960s, and their work was part of the conceptual lineage of French performance as well (240). Performance also connected with “relational aesthetics” in the work of Maurizio Cattelan, Carsten Höller, Vanessa Beecroft, Gabriel Orozco, Angela Bulloch, Liam Gillick, Christine Hill and Rirkrit Tiravanija: 

They all, it could be said, viewed the audience “as material” in their art, setting up situations where the viewer entered into a work as an active and critical participant; they each shared a strong belief in the idea that art must occupy time as well as space; and they viewed art as a democratic process of choices made by viewers whose judgment would incorporate their knowledge of the limitless world of pop culture and the internet. (240)

French artists also had a particular interest in film “as a yardstick for measuring everyday reality and the world of the imagination” (240). 

“The work of these media-savvy artists, with their highly sophisticated understanding of institutional and social critique, is part of an ongoing conversation among artists and theorists in academic circles,” Goldberg argues: 

Their examination of the relationships between artists, viewers and the institutions where they meet, even as those institutions are rapidly changing function and shape, is strongly connected to the intellectual enquiries that marked conceptual art of the 1970s, leading to much of this material being referred to as “post-conceptual.” (241)

One example is the work of Slovakian artist Roman Ondák (241). Other artists conduct “investigations into the hierarchies of the art world,” such as Tino Sehgal (242-43). Still others examine hierarchies outside the art world; the U.K. artist Jeremy Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave (2001) was “a recreation of an actual battle between striking miners and armed police that occurred in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain in 1984, was compelling first as a live performance, then as dramatic film, and finally as installation, exhibited with video and documentation of the original battle” (244).

“Performance may well shape the coming decades of the twenty-first century as profoundly as it did the twentieth century, perhaps even more overtly than it did before,” Goldberg concludes:

Texts and images spin around the globe at lightning speed, reaching billions through ever more exquisitely designed computer screens and applications. In this fluid matrix, artists’ performance—multi-layered, multi-disciplinary, and media driven—is ideally suited to communicating online with audiences present and future. As such, it is increasingly a medium of choice for emerging artists in major cities as well as for those entering the international art world from afar. (246)

Video internet sites, such as YouTube and Vimeo, became important as dissemination tools (246). “In addition, the history of performance is now better known through the internet itself and through the focus of biennials, museums and publications dedicated to this material,” Goldberg continues:

“100 Years of Performance Art” (2009), a touring exhibition of one hundred video monitors showing the history of performance from the Futurist Manifesto of 1909 to the present, provides a powerful animated record of this history as well as a touchstone for future directions. Also of importance to new generations of artists and to the museum-going public are recreations of seminal performances from the past. This practice has now become a genre in itself, even as it raises questions about earlier artistic values that privilege performances by the original artist. (246-47)

For instance, Marina Abramović has recreated works by Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman and Valie Export, as well as some of her earlier performances, and Allan Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in Six Parts was reconstructed for a touring retrospective in 2006 (247). “Artists such as Zach Rockhill and Clifford Owens now specialize in the field” (247). 

New commissions “have opened the possibilities, both in terms of scale and ambition, to entirely new directions of performance for the twenty-first century” (247). “The exponential increase in the number of artists creating performances in almost every country, the numerous books and academic courses on the subject, and the many contemporary art museums curating year-round programmes of live performance,” Goldberg writes,

indicate that performance art is as much a driving force as it was when the Italian Futurists used it to capture the speed and energy of the new twentieth century. Performance art today reflects the fast-paced sensibility of the communication industry, but it is also an essential antidote to the distancing effects of technology. For it is the very presence of the performance artist in real time, of live performers “stopping time,” that gives the medium its central position. Indeed, this “liveness” also explains its appeal to the audiences who are following modern art into the new museums, where engagement with actual artists is as desirable as the contemplation of works of art. (248)

Because the term “performance” captures live performances of all kinds, it obliges “viewers and reviewers alike to unravel the conceptual strategies of each, testing whether they fit into performance studies or more mainstream analysis of popular culture” (248-49). Scholars have come up with a vocabulary for critical analysis and theoretical debate: “the term ‘performative,’ used to describe the unmediated engagement of viewer and performer in art, has also crossed over into architecture, semiotics, anthropology, economics and gender studies” (249). 

“In the first decade of the twenty-first century performance art at last became folded into the history of art proper, in the process moving from the margins to the very centre of broader intellectual discourse,” Goldberg writes (249). Whereas in the past performance art came and went, “sometimes obscure or dormant, while other issues have been the focus of the art world,” since the 1970s 

its history has been more continuous; rather than giving up performance after a short period of lively engagement and moving on to mature work in painting and sculpture—as did the Futurists in the 1910s, Rauschenberg and Oldenburg in the 1960s, or Acconci and Oppenheim in the 1970s—numerous artists, such as Monk, Anderson, Abramović, Barney and Tiravanija, have worked consistently in performance. Bodies of work built over several decades are finally being understood as a rich catalyst in shaping cultural ideas. Even as it is absorbed and acknowledged, the extraordinary range of material in this long, complex and fascinating history shows that performance art continues to be a highly reflexive, volatile form—one that artists use to articulate and respond to change. (249)

Performance art, she concludes, “continues to defy definition, and remains as unpredictable and provocative as it ever was” (249).

This book taught me a great deal about performance; I had no idea its roots in the 20th century went all the way back to Italian Futurism, or that it had antecedents in Renaissance spectacles. However, my purpose in reading about performance was so that I could begin to understand the distinction between performance, on the one hand, and walking art, on the other. One issue, as far as solo walks are concerned, is the lack of an audience able to experience the walk directly. Photography or writing can provide a mediated form of audience engagement, but it is indirect. Perhaps this is one reason that the walking artist Richard Long refuses to consider himself a performance artist; instead, he argues that his walks are sculptures. After all, video documentation seems to be a central part of performance, and Long’s walks are not recorded in that way. However, there are private performance practices, such as Acconci’s urban walks in the late 1960s. At the same time, the claim made by many avant-garde artists that all aspects of life can be considered art—a claim that would include walking—would suggest that walking (for most of us, a common, everyday activity) can be an art form. Certainly there are many examples of walking art; books filled with them, in fact. Perhaps the best way to frame the distinction between walking art and performance is to say that sometimes walking art is performance, and sometimes it’s something else. I don’t know. That’s something I’m going to have to figure out during the next couple of months.

Work Cited

Goldberg, RoseLee. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present, 3rd edition, Thames and Hudson, 2011.

98. Craig Mod, “The Glorious, Almost-Disconnected Boredom of My Walk in Japan”

mod photo.jpg

Looking down over Hirasawa post town, Nagano Prefecture.
Photo by Craig Mod.

 

My friend Geoff Travers sent me a link to Craig Mod’s discussion of his 620-mile walk along Japan’s “Nakasendo,” or “inner mountain route,” one of the longest historical walks in that country. I’ve been thinking about that article for a couple of weeks now, and although I promised myself I would read about other things than walking until the end of this project, Mod’s comments about boredom and walking are important, and I want to give myself a chance to think about them by writing about them.

Because Mod’s article was published in Wired, it’s not surprising that much of its focus in on technology—or, to be more clear, Mod’s decision to avoid as much of the internet as possible, and his use of technology to achieve that goal. “In practice this meant going cold turkey on all social networks and most news and media sites,” Mod writes. He used an app called Freedom that blocked his access to most websites and social-media apps. He only allowed himself access to a few websites—one about the route he was walking, Wikipedia, and some Japanese blogs—that gave him some historical background on the towns he was walking through, and he downloaded a GPX route file (whatever that is) into an app on his phone. That file contained the historical Nakasendo road overlaid on a contemporary map, so that he could locate his route when there were no way markers. “I was able to deviate from the historical route with greater freedom, knowing just where the original line lay,” he tells us. “I could do this with essentially zero cognitive overhead, which is an advantage the ever-updating smartphone map has over a paper map.” He also used Google Maps to find cafés called kissaten in villages. Apparently those cafés are the best way to meet regular Japanese people.

Mod shared his walk, but he writes that he wanted to avoid “getting caught up in the small loops of contemporary sharing platforms,” so he used a custom-build SMS tool to send out one text every day, and one photo, to an unknown number of recipients. He didn’t know who was subscribing to the messages: subscribers joined by sending a text to a number he wrote on his website and in his newsletters. Recipients could respond, but he wasn’t able to see what they said. “Those responses have been collected in a print-on-demand book that’s waiting for me when I get home,” Mod writes. “My intent is then to respond to the responses in aggregate, long after the walk is finished.” The point of “this convoluted system,” he continues, “is to use the network without being used by it”:

the purpose of time-shifted conversation is to share the walk without being pulled away from it. I could use a tool like Instagram to approximate this, but I’d have to fight with its algorithm and avoid looking at the timeline. I’m not superhuman. I would look at the notifications, the likes, and comments. Reply to them. Become intoxicated by the chemicals released by the tiny loops. Invariably this process would make me think about that audience and how they would be reacting to the next text and photo. I would have lost the purity of the experience.

“The daily SMS became a forcing function that deepened my experience of the walk, made me more aware of how painful or joyful or crushingly boring the days were,” Mod continues. “Being able to share in somewhat real time and not be pulled out of the moment was just an issue of tools and framing.” 

Mod also shared sound files of his walk, recorded every day at around 9:45 a.m. He would take out a small Sony recorder, plug in a microphone preamp, and then plug in a pair of binaural microphones. “The microphones sit in my ears, sucking in sound like audio microscopes, so it just looks like I’m listening to music,” he writes. “But I’m not; I’m recording high-fidelity audio.” At the end of the day, after sending out his SMS, he would publish the audio file to a podcast called SW945. “For me,” he states,

the recording process was a little beat—15 minutes of mediation each morning. It forced me to think about the sounds of the day. I recorded in front of temples, standing next to rice paddies full of croaking frogs, in screaming pachinko parlors, bowling alleys, cafes, hotel lobbies. Anywhere that seemed to typify that day, that moment, that chunk of the road. I’d close my eyes and marvel at the sheer volume and specificity of sound around me.

Like the SMS, it seems that the recording was a way of deepening the experience of the walk for Mod; it drew his attention to what he was hearing. “Both the SMS and podcast publishing systems are ‘open’ systems, with no controlling entity like Facebook or Twitter,” he points out. “And they are ‘quiet’ systems, in that production and consumption spaces are separated. You don’t have to enter a timeline of consumption in order to produce.” Mod’s ways of sharing the walk are thought-provoking. When I use the WordPress app on my phone to blog my walks, I do end up responding to comments and checking the statistics of how many people are reading. And I always end up using Facebook to publicize the blog, which inevitably draws me into its web and out of the experience of walking. Mod has found ways to engage with others without getting sucked into a social media platform. It’s very smart.

But I was most interested in Mod’s comments about “the grand, pervasive boredom” of his walk. “Let me be clear,” he writes: “I was luxuriously, all-consumingly bored for most of the day. The road was often dreary and repetitive. But as trite as it may sound, within this boredom, I tried to cultivate kindness and patience”:

A continuous walk is powerful because every day you can choose to be a new person. You flit between towns. You don’t really exist. And so this is who I decided to be: a fully present, disgustingly kind hello machine. I said hello to bent-over grandmothers and their grandchildren playing in rice paddies. I said hello to business folk about to hop into their Suzuki Jimny jeeps, to Portuguese workers on break from car factories, to men in traditional fundoshi underwear about to carry a portable shrine in a festival. I greeted shop owners cranking open their rusted awnings and a man selling chocolate-dipped bananas. I’d estimate a hello return rate of almost 98 percent. Folks looked up from their gardening or sweeping or bananas and flung a hello back, often reflexively but then, once their eyes caught up with their mouths and they saw I was not a local, not one of them, their faces shifted to delight.

I felt as if the walk itself was pulling that kindness from me, biochemically. The feedback cycle was exhilarating. It was banal. It was something I rarely felt when plugged in online: kind hellos begetting hellos, begetting more kindness.

More importantly, though, from my perspective—because of course he wanted to engage with people when he was walking and bored: those interactions were a form of stimulus, a way out of the boredom of the walk—are Mod’s comments about how that experience of boredom fostered “a heightened sense of presence”:

In the context of a walk like this, “boredom” is a goal, the antipode of mindless connectivity, constant stimulation, anger and dissatisfaction. I put “boredom” in quotes because the boredom I’m talking about fosters a heightened sense of presence. To be “bored” is to be free of distraction.

That “heightened sense of presence” enabled Mod to perceive things he thinks he would have missed otherwise: the hidden Christian messaging in small signs along the way, the fact that every small village had “no fewer than three barbers or hairdressers,” the existence of classical statues in small gardens, the playgrounds that looked as if no child had touched them in decades. If he had been listening to podcasts or looking at his phone, Mod would have missed those details–or so he believes.

I think he’s probably right, and he’s talking about an experience that anyone engaged in a long solo walk probably has. It’s not exactly a meditative experience, or at least it isn’t for me: my mind is constantly running with trivia of one sort or another, including how much my feet hurt and how much farther I can go before I allow myself to have a rest. I’m thinking of my walk to Wood Mountain in particular, and how the notebook I scribbled in reveals how gruelling that experience was, while my memories tell me I was having a great time. Maybe both statements are true. I was bored, among other things, and that boredom did lead to what Mod calls a “heightened sense of presence.” I think that’s why I’ve been writing about the experience of space and place in that walk; I’ve been trying to get at that aspect of the experience of walking. I think Mod’s comments open up a new direction for my thinking about walking. That “heightened sense of presence” might even by why so many long-distance walkers describe their experience as somehow spiritual.

The length of the walk is an important part of breaking old habits, which helps to lead to that sense of presence. For the first week of his walk, Mod experienced a form of withdrawal from news and social networks. But as the walk progressed and his body changed, his perceptions changed as well:

Around 10 days in, after the skin had peeled off my pinkie toes and my shoulders started to heal and accept their fate, I found that my general musculature acclimated to the daily grind. Walking shifted from a laborious act of biomechanics, to something that simply happened. This sounds crazy, but it was as if walking became part of my autonomic nervous system, like breathing. With stronger leg and gluteus muscles, the world felt like an extremely high resolution simulation, and I was merely a floating consciousness, bobbing between rice paddies and up and down mountains saying hello to anything that moved. Everything still hurt at the end of the day, but the movement was effortless, and sometimes I found myself yelping with joy, alone in the woods, at the beauty and smoothness of it all. 

That was when his urge for information and digital stimulation faded away. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a solo walk as long as Mod’s, but even on a relatively short walk, like my nine-day trek to Wood Mountain, I’ve felt similar emotional changes as my body began to change. 

One day an old woman asked Mod if his walking was an ascetic practice. He laughed, but for weeks afterwards, as he walked, he considered that question more seriously: “The grueling pace. The boredom. The pain. And then doing it over again the next day. It certainly starts to sound like an ascetic practice.” And it led to an insistent thankfulness: Mod uttered prayers of gratitude every day as he passed Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. “I recognize what a strange give and incredible privilege it is to take the time to do a walk like this,” he writes. “And the disconnection from online chaos and the creating of space to think, to be present does feel somewhat religious, even if it’s a religion of contemporary woe: to stop being a ding-dong who can’t pull his eyes away from Twitter.” 

Mod doesn’t expect much of his experience to continue into his regular routine now that his walk is over. “But one chief purpose for this kind of monastic walking,” he writes, 

is to literally pound into your body, step after step, the positive habits that can be found only through repetition. To create a physiological template of stillness, or kindness, or focus that you can then attempt to bring back to the ‘real’ world. Stillness is then no longer an idea, but a muscular configuration.

And that awareness, that experience of presence or focus, is one of the reasons that I find the current dismissal of long, solo walks as anti-democratic or exclusionary, as falsely heroic, quite frustrating. The only kind of walking performance that’s now considered appropriate, it seems, are walking performances with other people, performances that fall under the rubric of relational aesthetics or social practice. That refusal of solo performance is hard for me to understand. If solo walks are anti-democratic, what about other forms of solo performance? Are they anti-democratic as well? Has relational aesthetics become the only allowable art form? Isn’t that more than a little prescriptive? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with relational aesthetics, with curating walks with or for others. I like walking with people. But walking alone is good, too. It’s a different kind of experience, a different kind of performance. It might not be for everyone, but that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be.

Work Cited

Mod, Craig. “The Glorious, Almost-Disconnected Boredom of My Walk in Japan.” Wired, 29 May 2019, https://www.wired.com/story/six-weeks-100s-miles-hours-glorious-boredom-japan/.

97. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

fanon

I was told that I might find something useful for my work in Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. I’m not sure I did, to be honest. It’s an important book, of course: a classic work about colonialism and decolonization. It was written (or rather dictated) under harrowing circumstances; Fanon was seriously ill with leukemia during its composition. From my perspective, however, Fanon’s model of decolonization, which is derived from his experience during the Algerian liberation struggle, is one that perhaps cannot be universalized. Is every struggle for decolonization going to be like the bloody war of liberation that took place in Algeria? That model also leads Fanon to a kind of romantic apotheosizing of violence, even though in the case studies of the psychological effects of war he presents in the first part of the fifth chapter, it’s clear that the war he sees as the only way to reconstruct the humanity of colonized peoples can result in post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things. Nevertheless, this is an important book, and this summary is necessarily lengthy, because I’ve tried to follow Fanon’s arguments carefully. 

Postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha wrote a long foreword to the new translation of The Wretched of the Earth (I used to own the older translation but somewhere along the line it’s gone missing). Bhabha is always interesting to read, and so I decided to include the foreword in this summary. From the outset, Bhabha is, not surprisingly, full of praise for Fanon’s text:

In my view, The Wretched of the Earth does indeed allow us to look well beyond the immediacies of its anticolonial context—the Algerian war of independence and the African continent—toward a critique of the configurations of contemporary globalization. This is not because the text prophetically transcends its own time, but because of the peculiarly grounded, historical stance it takes toward the future. The critical language of duality—whether colonial or global—is part of the spatial imagination that seems to come so naturally to geopolitical thinking of a progressive, postcolonial cast of mind: margin and metropole, center and periphery, the global and the local, the nation and the world. Fanon’s famous trope of colonial compartmentalization, or Manichaeanism, is firmly rooted within this anticolonial spatial tradition. (xiii-xiv)

That Manichaeanism, the binary opposition between colonizer and colonized, structures Fanon’s thinking about colonialism. That relationship is spatial, yes, but I would argue it’s more than spatial: it is historical and psychological as well.

However, for Bhabha, Fanon’s work looks ahead to the future, to the end of the Cold War and its aftermath:

there is another time frame at work in the narrative of The Wretched of the Earth that introduces a temporal dimension into the discourse of decolonization. It suggests that the future of the decolonized world . . . is imaginable, or achievable, only in the process of resisting the peremptory and polarizing choices that the superpowers impose on their ‘client’ states. Decolonization can truly be achieved only with the destruction of the Manichaeanism of the cold war; and it is this belief that enables the insights of The Wretched of the Earth . . . to provide us with salient and suggestive perspectives on the state of the decompartmentalized world after the dismemberment of the Berlin Wall in 1989. (xiii-xiv)

Bhabha takes Fanon’s brief mentions of the Cold War (in the book’s first essay, a lengthy meditation on violence) very seriously:

There are two histories at work in The Wretched of the Earth: the Manichaean history of colonialism and decolonization embedded in text and context, against which the book mounts a major political offensive; and a history of the coercive ‘univocal choices’ imposed by the cold warriors on the rest of the world, which constitute the ideological conditions of its writing. (xv)

According to Bhabha, 

Fanon intriguingly projects unfinished business and unanswered questions related to the mid-twentieth century and the “end” of empire into the uncertain futures of the fin de siècle and the end of the cold war. It is in this sense that his work provides a genealogy for globalization that reaches back to the complex problems of decolonization . . . and it could be said, both factually and figuratively, that The Wretched of the Earth takes us back to the future. (xv)

How is this possible? For Bhabha, it’s because “Fanon’s vision of the global future, post colonialism and after decolonization, is an ethical and political project—yes, a plan of action as well as a projected aspiration—that must go beyond ‘narrow-minded nationalism’ or bourgeois nationalist formalism” (xvi). It is, in Fanon’s words, a humanistic project.

Stuart Hall called The Wretched of the Earth the “Bible of decolonisation,” Bhabha points out (xvi), and he reads Fanon’s universalism “in relation to a concept of the Third World as a project marked by a double temporality” (xvii). “Decolonization demands a sustained, quotidian commitment to the struggle for national liberation,” Bhabha writes:

But the coming into being of the Third World is also a project of futurity conditional upon being freed from the “univocal choice” presented by the cold war. Fanon’s invocation of a new humanism . . . is certainly grounded in a universalist ontology that informs both its attitude to human consciousness and social reality. The historical agency of the discourse of Third Worldism, however, with its critical, political stance against the imposed univocal choice of “capitalism vs. socialism,” makes it less universalist in temper and more strategic, activist, and aspirational in character. (xvii)

I considered that argument as I read The Wretched of the Earth; I saw Fanon’s Marxism on display throughout the text, and I wondered just how much Fanon was resisting that “univocal choice” after all. I’m still not sure, although my reservations might be completely wrongheaded. Nevertheless, as Bhabha points out,

Fanon’s call for a redistribution of wealth and technology beyond the rhetorical pieties of “moral reparation” is a timely reminder of the need for something like a “right” to equitable development (controversial though it may be) at a time when dual economies are celebrated as if they were global economies. And coming to us from the distances of midcentury decolonization, Fanon’s demand for a fair distribution of rights and resources makes a timely intervention in a decades-long debate on social equity that has focused perhaps too exclusively on the culture wars, the politics of identity, and the politics of recognition. (xviii)

I’ve read similar calls for reparations in the work on settler colonialism that I’ve been reading, and it makes sense that if Canadians (for example) need to make amends for the theft of Indigenous land, then former (and continuing?) imperial powers need to understand development not as “aid” but as reparations.

What is particularly interesting about The Wretched of the Earth is the way Fanon’s other occupation—as well as a writer, he was a psychiatrist—informs his analysis. Bhabha writes,

By seeing the need for equitable distribution as part of a humanistic project, Fanon transforms its economic terms of reference; he places the problem of development in the context of those forceful and fragile “psycho-affective” motivations and mutilations that drive out collective instinct for survival, nurture our ethical affiliations and ambivalences, and nourish our political desire for freedom” (xviii)

In this book, Bhabha continues, Fanon explores 

the psycho-affective realm, which is neither subjective nor objective, but a place of social and psychic meditation. . . . It is Fanon’s great contribution to our understanding of ethical judgment and political experience to insistently frame his reflections on violence, decolonization, national consciousness, and humanism in terms of the psycho-affective realm—the body, dreams, psychic inversions and displacements, phantasmatic political identifications. A psycho-affective relation or response has the semblance of universality and timelessness because it involves the emotions, the imagination or psychic life, but it is only ever mobilized into social meaning and historical effect through an embodied and embedded action, an engagement with (or resistance to) a given reality, or a performance of agency in the present tense. (xix)

The racial and cultural discriminations that are embedded in colonialism, “the economic divisions set up to accommodate and authorize them,” and “the Manichaean mentality” that goes along with both of these, ends up creating “the violent psycho-affective conditions that Fanon describes in The Wretched of the Earth” (xx).

“The originality of the French phenomenological approach to colonialism and decolonization lies in its awareness of the abiding instability of the system, however stable its institutions may appear,” Bhabha continues, citing Albert Memmi (whose work I have yet to read) as an example (xxii). “On the one hand, France is the supreme bearer of universal Rights and Reason,” Bhabha writes, but on the other, 

its various administrative avatars—assimilation, association, integration—deny those same populations the right to emerge as “French citizens” in a public sphere of their own ethical and cultural making. The principle of citizenship is held out; the poesis of free cultural choice and communal participation is withheld. (xxii)

“[A] phenomenological condition of nervous adjustment, narcissistic justification, and vain, even vainglorious, proclamations of progressive principles on the part of the colonial state” reveals “the injustices and disequilibrium that haunts the colonial historical record,” Bhabha argues. “Fanon was quick to grasp the psycho-active implications of a subtly punishing and disabling paternalistic power” (xxiii).“Without the rights of representation and participation, in the public sphere, can the subject ever be a citizen in the true sense of the term? If the colonized citizen is prevented from exercising his or her collective and communal agency as a full and equal member of civil society, what kind of shadow does that throw on the public virtue of the French republic?” Bhabha asks. “This does not merely make an ass of the law of assimilationist colonialism; it creates profound ethical and phenomenological problems of racial injustice at the heart of the psycho-affective realm of the colonial relation” (xxiv). 

For Bhabha, though, more is at stake in anticolonial movements than just the establishing of national sovereignty and cultural independence: 

the visionary goal of decolonization is to dismantle the “either-or” of the cold war that dictates ideological options and economic choices to Third World nations as an integral part of the supranational, xenophobic struggle for world supremacy. Cold war internationalism, with its dependant states and its division of the spoils, repeats the Manichaean structure of possession and dispossession experienced in the colonial world. (xxvi)

“Fanon was committed to creating a world-system of Third World nations that fostered a postcolonial consciousness based on a ‘dual emergence’ of national sovereignty and international solidarity,” Bhabha continues (xxvi). There are traces of these ideas in The Wretched of the Earth, yes, but I think Bhabha is overstating their importance, although I could be wrong. 

Much more important to my understanding of The Wretched of the Earth is its immediate context, the Algerian war of liberation. As Bhabha writes,

Fanon forged his thinking on violence and counterviolence in . . . conditions of dire extremity, when everyday interactions were turned into exigent events of life and death—incendiary relations between colonizer and colonized, internecine feuds between revolutionary brotherhoods, terrorist attacks in Paris and Algiers by the ultra right-wing OAS (Organisation Armée Secrète) and their pieds noirs supporters (European settlers in Algeria). As a locus classicus of political resistance and the rhetoric of retributive violence, The Wretched of the Earth captures the tone of those apocalyptic times. (xxxiv-xxxv)

Bhabha doesn’t like Hannah Arendt’s response to Fanon’s treatment of violence in this book (a response I haven’t read but should):

Hannah Arendt’s objection to The Wretched of the Earth has less to do with the occurrence of violence than with Fanon’s teleological belief that the whole process would end in a new humanism, a new planetary relation to freedom defined by the Third World. . . . Arendt is, at best, only half right in her reading of Fanon. He is cautious about the celebration of spontaneous violence . . . because “hatred is not an agenda” capable of maintaining the unity of party organization once violent revolt breaks down into the difficult day-to-day strategy of fighting a war of independence. (xxxv-xxxvi)

It’s true that in the essay on spontaneity Fanon does state that “hatred is not an agenda” (89), but elsewhere, even after his lacerating descriptions of the effects of war on combatants on both sides, he still carries on with the belief that violence leads to a new humanism. Perhaps, as Bhabha suggests, Arendt’s real problem was with Jean-Paul Sartre’s preface to the book: 

On the other hand, Sartre’s preface to The Wretched of the Earth (the nub of Arendt’s attack on Fanon’s ideas) is committed to bringing the colonial dialectic to its conclusion by carrying home—to metropolitan France—the lessons and the lesions of its anticolonial violence. . . . For Arendt, Fanon’s violence leads to the death of politics; for Sartre, it draws the fiery, first breath of human freedom. (xxxvi)

Bhabha proposes a different understanding of the role of violence in this text:

Fanonian violence, in my view, is part of a struggle for psycho-affective survival and a search for human agency in the midst of the agony of oppression. It does not offer a clear choice between life and death or slavery and freedom, because it confronts the colonial conditions of life-in-death. Fanon’s phenomenology of violence conceived of the colonized—body, soul, culture, community, history—in a process of “continued agony [rather] than a total disappearance.” (xxxvi)

That’s true, but at the same time, the violence Fanon extolls also results in psycho-affective damage to the subject caught up in the struggle for liberation (or the subject fighting on the other side of that struggle: among those Fanon treated are French torturers and their families).

According to Bhabha, “Fanon’s style of thinking and writing operates by creating repeated disjunctions—followed by proximate juxtapositions—between the will of the political agent and the desire of the psycho-active subject”: 

His discourse does not privilege the subjective over the objective, or vice versa, nor does his argument prescribe a hierarchy of relations between material reality and mental or corporeal experience. The double figure of the politician-psychiatrist, someone like Frantz Fanon himself, attempts to decipher the changing scale (measure, judgment) of a problem, event, identity, or action as it comes to be represented or framed in the shifting ratios and relations that exist between the realms of political and psycho-affective experience. (xxxvii)

Bhabha notes that the roots of the violence Fanon describes (or extolls) are an example of the juxtaposition of material reality and psychological experience:

The origins of violence lie in a presumptive “false guilt,” which the colonized has to assume because of his powerless position; but it is a guilt that he does not accept or interiorize. . . . The eruption of violence is a manifestation of this anxious act of masking, from which the colonized emerges as a guerrilla in camouflage waiting for the colonist to let down his guard so that he might jump; each obstacle encountered is a stimulant to action and a shield to hide the insurgent’s intention to take the colonist’s place. Because he is dominated by military power and yet not fully domesticated by the hegemonic persuasions of assimilation and the civilizing mission, the anticolonialist nationalist is able to decipher the double and opposed meanings emitted by the sounding symbols of society, the bugle calls or police sirens: “They do not signify: ‘Stay where you are.’ But rather ‘Get ready to do the right thing.’ From the torqued mind and muscle of the colonized subject “on guard” emerges the nationalist agent as mujahid (FLN soldier) or fidayine (FLN guerilla). (xxxviii-xxxix)

In Bhabha’s reading of the text, “another scenario . . . runs through this narrative of violence and is somewhat unsettling to its progress, although not unraveled by it:

Here the psycho-affective imagination of violence is a desperate act of survival on the part of the “object man,” a struggle to keep alive. The “false” or masked guilt complex . . . emerges, Fanon tells us . . . when the very desire to live becomes faint and attenuated. . . . At this point, the splitting, or disjunction, between being dominated and being domesticated—the irresolvable tension between the colonized as both subject and citizen from which anticolonial violence emerges—is experienced as a psychic and affective curse rather than, primarily, as a political “cause” (in both senses of the term). The native may not accept the authority of the colonizer, but his complex and contradictory fate—where rejected guilt begins to feel like shame—hangs over him like a Damoclean sword; it threatens him with an imminent disaster that may collapse both the internal life and the external world. At this moment, the political agent may be shadowed—rather than stimulated—by the psycho-affective subject who also inhabits his bodily space. (xxxix)

“The aspiration to do the right thing might be felled by the fragility of the individual, by atavistic animosities, by the iron hand of history, or by indecision and uncertainty,” Bhabha continues, “but these failures do not devalue the ethical and imaginative act of reaching out toward rights and freedoms” (xl).

“Fanon, the phantom of terror, might be only the most intimate, if intimidating, poet of the vicissitudes of violence,” Bhabha writes. “But poetic justice can be questionable even when it is exercised on behalf of the wretched of the earth” (xl):

Knowing what we now know about the double destiny of violence, must we not ask: Is violence ever a perfect mediation? Is it not simply rhetorical bravura to assert that any form of secular, material mediation can provide a transparency of political action (or ethical judgment) that reveals ‘the means and the end’? Is the clear mirror of violence not something of a mirage in which the dispossessed see their reflections but from which they cannot slake their thirst? (xl)

Those comments reflect my unease with Fanon’s discussions of violence in this book. Violence has a terrible cost, as Fanon’s case studies indicate, and it’s hard for me to understand how someone who treated those who were paying that price could also celebrate violence as the price of individual and national liberation. Not just liberation, either; for Fanon, violence is the way that colonized subjects reconstruct themselves, and the necessary midwife to the creation of new nation-states. Perhaps that’s true, and perhaps there’s something wrong with me for doubting Fanon. Perhaps it’s just that I fear that it would be my head stuck on a pike, my broken body lying in the street after a bomb explodes. Or, worse, that I would be called upon to perpetrate acts of violence. I wouldn’t want to experience either possibility.

Sartre’s preface (if I’m going to spend time on the foreword, why not the preface as well?) begins by describing the moment when “black and yellow voices . . . talked of [European] humanism, but it was to blame us for our inhumanity” (xliii). “Then came another generation, which shifted the question,” Sartre continues: 

Its writers and poets took enormous pains to explain to us that our values poorly matched the reality of their lives and that they could neither quite reject them nor integrate them. Roughly, this meant: You are making monsters out of us; your humanism wants us to be universal and your racist practices are differentiating us. (xliv)

Then, Sartre states, comes Fanon’s voice, stating that Europe is heading towards the brink, that it is finished (xliv-xlv):

When Fanon . . . says that Europe is heading for ruin, far from uttering a cry of alarm, he is offering a diagnostic. Dr. Fanon claims he neither considers it to be a hopeless case—miracles have been known to exist—nor is he offering to cure it. He is stating the fact that it is in its death throes. As an outsider, he bases his diagnostic on the symptoms he has observed. As for treating it, no: he has other things to worry about. Whether it survives or perishes, that’s not his problem. For this reason his book is scandalous. (xlv)

Sartre reads The Wretched of the Earth as a text about revolution, which of course it is:

The true culture is the revolution, meaning it is forged while the iron is hot. Fanon speaks out loud and clear. We Europeans, we can hear him. The proof is you are holding this book. Isn’t he afraid that the colonial powers will take advantage of his sincerity? 

No. He is not afraid of anything. Our methods are outdated: they can sometimes delay emancipation, but they can’t stop it. And don’t believe we can readjust our methods: neocolonialism, that lazy dream of the metropolises, is a lot of hot air. . . . Our Machiavellianism has little hold on this world, which is wide awake and hot on the trail of every one of our lies. The colonist has but one recourse: force or whatever is left of it. The “native” has but one choice: servitude or sovereignty. What does Fanon care if you read or don’t read his book? It is for his brothers he denounces our old box of mischief, positive we don’t have anything else up our sleeve. It is to them he says: Europe has got its claws on our continents, they must be severed until she releases them. (xlvii-xlviii)

However, Sartre does think that Europeans should read Fanon’s book, despite its author’s apparent lack of interest in whether they do or not. He offers two reasons. First, “because Fanon analyzes you for his brothers and demolishes for them the mechanism of our alienations. Take advantage of it to discover your true self as an object. Our victims know us by their wounds and shackles: that is what makes their testimony irrefutable” (xlviii). Second, 

you will find that Fanon is the first since Engels to focus again on the midwife of history. And don’t be led into believing that hotheadedness or an unhappy childhood gave him some odd liking for violence. He has made himself spokesman for the situation, nothing more. But that is all he needs to do in order to constitute, step by step, the dialectic that liberal hypocrisy hides from you and that has produced us just as much as it has produced him. (xlix)

The midwife of history, of course, is violence. Revolutionary violence is the only response to the racist violence of the colonies, where the colonized subject is not considered human:

orders are given to reduce the inhabitants of the occupied territory to the level of a superior ape in order to justify the colonist’s treatment of them as beasts of burden. Colonial violence not only aims at keeping these enslaved men at a respectful distance, it also seeks to dehumanize them. No effort is spared to demolish their traditions, to substitute our language for theirs, and to destroy their culture without giving them us ours. We exhaust them into a mindless state. Ill fed and sick, if they resist, fear will finish the job: guns are pointed at the peasants; civilians come and settle on their land and force them to work for them under the whip. If they resist, the soldiers fire, and they are dead men; if they give in and degrade themselves, they are no longer men. Shame and fear warp their character and dislocate their personality. (l)

That description of colonization rings true; it reflects what has taken place in North America since Europeans began arriving here in the seventeenth century. Nevertheless, Sartre continues, despite the work of soldiers and experts in psychological warfare, “nowhere have they achieved their aim” (l). Indeed, the colonizer, having failed “to carry the massacre to the point of genocide, and servitude to a state of mindlessness . . . cracks up, the situation is reversed, and an implacable logic leads to decolonization” (1i). 

Moreover, violence is taught to the colonized by the colonizer, according to Sartre: 

at first the only violence they understand is the colonist’s, and then their own, reflecting back at us like our reflection bouncing back at us from a mirror. Don’t be mistaken; it is through this mad rage, this bile and venom, their constant desire to kill us, and the permanent contraction of powerful muscles, afraid to relax, that they become men. (li-lii)

According to Sartre,

it is not first of all their violence, it is ours, on the rebound, that grows and tears them apart; and the first reaction by these oppressed people is to repress this shameful anger that is morally condemned by them and us, but that is the only refuge they have left for their humanity. Read Fanon: you will see that in a time of helplessness, murderous rampage is the collective unconscious of the colonized. (lii)

“This repressed rage, never managing to explode, goes round in circles and wreaks havoc on the oppressed themselves,” he continues. “In order to rid themselves of it they end up massacring each other, tribes battle against the other since they cannot confront the real enemy” (lii-liii). Fanon, Sartre writes, 

shows perfectly clearly that this irrepressible violence is neither a storm in a teacup nor the reemergence of savage instincts nor even a consequence of resentment: it is man reconstructing himself. I believe we once knew, and have since forgotten, the truth that no indulgence can erase the marks of violence: violence alone can eliminate them. And the colonized are cured of colonial neurosis by driving the colonist out by force. Once their rage explodes, they recover their lost coherence, they experience self-knowledge through reconstruction of themselves; from afar we see their war as the triumph of barbarity; but it proceeds on its own to gradually emancipate the fighter and progressively eliminates the colonial darkness inside and out. (lv)

“[W]e were men at his expense, he becomes a man at ours,” Sartre writes. “Another man: a man of higher quality” (lvii).

Here Sartre’s preface moves in a surprising direction. If Fanon “had wanted to describe fully the historical phenomenon of colonization, he would have had to talk about us—which was certainly not his intention,” he writes (lvii). “[W]e, too, peoples of Europe, we are being decolonized: meaning the colonist inside every one of us is surgically extracted in a bloody operation. Let’s take a good look at ourselves, if we have the courage, and let’s see what has become of us” (lvii). “First of all,” he states, 

we must confront an unexpected sight: the striptease of our humanism. Not a pretty sight in its nakedness: nothing but a dishonest ideology, an exquisite justification for plundering; its tokens of sympathy and affectation, alibis for our acts of aggression. The pacifists are a fine sight: neither victims nor torturers! Come now! If you are not a vicim when the government you voted for, and the army your young brothers served in, commits “genocide,” without hesitation or remorse, then, you are undoubtedly a torturer. (lvii-lviii)

Sartre decries the inconsistency of “empty chatter” about liberty and equality existing alongside racism: 

Noble minds, liberal and sympathetic—neocolonialists, in other words—claimed to be shocked by this inconsistency, since the only way the European could make himself man was by fabricating slaves and monsters. As long as the status of “native” existed, the imposture remained unmasked. We saw in the human species an abstract premise of universality that served as a pretext for concealing more concrete practices: there was a race of subhumans overseas who, thanks to us, might, in a thousand years perhaps, attain our status.  In short, we took the human race to mean elite. Today the ‘native’ unmasks his truth; as a result, our exclusive club reveals its weakness: it was nothing more and nothing less than a minority. There is worse news: since the others are turning into men against us, apparently we are the enemy of the human race; the elite is revealing its true nature—a gang. Our beloved values are losing their feathers; if you take a closer look there is not one that isn’t tainted with blood. (lviii-lix)

“[W]e were the subjects of history, and now we are the objects,” he continues. “The power struggle has been reversed, decolonization is in progress; all our mercenaries can try and do is delay its completion” (lx). He concludes by accusing his French readers of remaining silent about the crimes being committed in their names:“At first you had no idea, I am prepared to believe it, then you suspected, and now you know, but you still keep silent. . . . France was once the name of a country; be careful lest it become the name of a neurosis in 1961” (lxii). Rather than remain silent, then, he is calling on his readers to speak out, to acknowledge what is happening, to recognize themselves in Fanon’s description of the colonizer.

Finally we arrive at Fanon’s text, and his first chapter, “On Violence.” He states at the outset that “decolonization is always a violent event. . . . decolonization is quite simply the substitution of one ‘species’ of mankind by another. The substitution is unconditional, absolute, total, and seamless” (1). Decolonization, he writes, 

starts from the very first day with the basic claims of the colonized. In actual fact, proof of success lies in a social fabric that has been changed inside out. This change is extraordinarily important because it is desired, clamored for, and demanded. The need for this change exists in a raw, repressed, and reckless state in the lives and consciousness of colonized men and women. But the eventuality of such a change is also experienced as a terrifying future in the consciousness of another “species” of men and women: the colons, the colonists. (1)

“Decolonization, which sets out to change the order of the world, is clearly an agenda for total disorder,” Fanon continues. “But it cannot be accomplished by the wave of a magic wand, a natural cataclysm, or a gentleman’s agreement”: 

Decolonization, we know, is an historical process: In other words, it can only be understood, it can only find its significance and become self coherent insofar as we can discern the history-making movement which gives it form and substance. Decolonization is the encounter between two congenitally antagonistic forces that in fact owe their singularity to the kind of reification secreted and nurtured by the colonial situation. The first confrontation was colored by violence and their cohabitation—or rather the exploitation of the colonized by the colonizer—continued at the point of the bayonet and under cannon fire. The colonist and the colonized are old acquaintances. And consequently, the colonist is right when he says he “knows” them. It is the colonist who fabricated and continues to fabricate the colonized subject. The colonist derives his validity, i.e., his wealth, from the colonial system. (2)

“Decolonization never goes unnoticed, for it focuses on and fundamentally alters being, and transforms the spectator crushed to a nonessential state into a privileged actor, captured in a virtually grandiose fashion by the spotlight of History,” Fanon continues. “It infuses a new rhythm, specific to a new generation of men, with a new language and a new humanity. Decolonization is truly the creation of new men. But such a creation cannot be attributed to a supernatural power: The ‘thing’ colonized becomes a man through the very process of liberation” (2). Therefore, decolonization “implies the urgent need to thoroughly change the colonial situation. Its definition can, if we want to describe it accurately, be summed up in the well-known words: ‘The last shall be first.’ Decolonization is a verification of this. At a descriptive level, therefore, any decolonization is a success” (2). I wonder what he means by “any decolonization” here: he seems to be suggesting that any decolonization is a success, although later in the book he gives examples of how decolonized nation-states have failed to live up to their promise.

How does decolonization happen? According to Fanon, it happens through violence; it “reeks of red-hot cannonballs and bloody knives. For the last can be the first only after a murderous and decisive confrontation between the two protagonists” (3). Decolonization can only succeed “by resorting to every means, including, of course, violence” (3). “You do not disorganize a society . . . with such an agenda if you are not determined from the very start to smash every obstacle encountered,” he writes. “The colonized, who have made up their mind to make such an agenda into a driving force, have been prepared for violence from time immemorial” (3). 

The colonial world is compartmentalized, and only by understanding “its geographical configuration and classification” will we be able “to delineate the backbone on which the decolonized society is reorganized” (3). “The colonized world is a world divided in two,” with the border between them “represented by the barracks and the police stations” (3). There is a “native” sector, and a European sector: “The two confront each other, but not in the service of a higher unity. Governed by a purely Aristotelian logic, they follow the dictates of mutual exclusion: There is no conciliation possible, one of them is superfluous” (4). The colonist’s sector is “built to last, all stone and steel,” while the colonized’s sector 

is a disreputable place inhabited by disreputable people. . . . It’s a world with no space, people are piled on top of the other, the shacks squeezed tightly together. The colonized’s sector is a famished sector, hungry for bread, meat, shoes, coal, and light. The colonized’s sector is a sector that crouches and cowers, a sector on its knees, a sector that is prostrate. (4-5)

“This compartmentalized world, this world divided in two, is inhabited by different species,” Fanon writes; “what divides this world is first and foremost what species, what race one belongs to” (5). Violence is a foundational characteristic of the compartmentalization inherent in colonialism: “In the colonies the foreigner imposed himself using his cannons and machines. . . . the colonist always remains a foreigner” (5). “To dislocate the colonial world does not mean that once the borders have been eliminated there will be a right of way between the two sectors,” Fanon writes. “To destroy the colonial world means nothing less than demolishing the colonist’s sector, burying it deep within the earth or banishing it from the territory” (6). 

“Challenging the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of viewpoints,” Fanon suggests. “It is not a discourse on the universal, but the impassioned claim by the colonized that their world is fundamentally different. The colonial world is a Manichaean world” (6). One symptom of that Manichaeanism is the way the colonizer represents the society that has been colonized:

Colonized society is not merely portrayed as a society without values. The colonist is not content with stating that the colonized world has lost its values or worse never possessed any. The “native” is declared impervious to ethics, representing not only the absence of values but also the negation of values. He is, dare we say it, the enemy of values. In other words, absolute evil. A corrosive element, destroying everything within his reach, a corrupting element, distorting everything which involves aesthetics or morals, an agent of malevolent powers, an unconscious and incurable instrument of blind forces. (6)

“Sometimes this Manichaeanism reaches its logical conclusion and dehumanizes the colonized subject,” Fanon writes. “In plain talk, he is reduced to the state of an animal” (7). However, he continues, “[t]he colonized . . . roar with laughter every time they hear themselves called an animal by the other. For they know they are not animals. And at the very moment when they discover their humanity, they begin to sharpen their weapons to secure its victory” (8). “In the colonial context the colonist only quits undermining the colonized once the latter have proclaimed loud and clear that white values reign supreme,” Fanon states. “In the period of decolonization the colonized masses thumb their noses at these very values, shower them with insults and vomit them up” (8). 

Not surprisingly, Fanon argues that the land is central to decolonization: “For a colonized people, the most essential value, because it is the most meaningful, is first and foremost the land: the land, which must provide bread and, naturally, dignity. But this dignity has nothing to do with ‘human’ dignity. The colonized subject has never heard of such an ideal” (9). But it seems that there are other essential values involved in decolonization. For one thing, the colonized subject “is determined to fight to be more than the colonist. In fact, he has already decided to take his place. As we have seen, it is the collapse of an entire moral and material universe” (9). “The colonized subject thus discovers that his life, his breathing and his heartbeats are the same as the colonist’s,” and as a result, “his world receives a fundamental jolt”:

The colonized’s revolutionary new assurance stems from this. If, in fact, my life is worth as much as the colonist’s, his look can no longer strike fear into me or nail me to the spot and his voice can no longer petrify me. I am no longer uneasy in his presence. In reality, to hell with him. Not only does his presence no longer bother me, but I am already preparing to waylay him in such a way that soon he will have no other solution but to flee. (10)

According to Fanon, the apparently liberal values “which seemed to ennoble the soul prove worthless because they have nothing in common with the real-life struggle in which the people are engaged”: individualism turns out to be false; what actually matters is the collective (11-12). Truth also becomes an issue, or perhaps a tactic, during the struggle to decolonize: “For the people, only fellow nationals are ever owed the truth. . . . In answer to the lie of the colonial situation, the colonized subject responds with a lie. Behavior toward fellow nationalists is open and honest, but strained and indecipherable toward the colonists” (14). All of this reflects a fundamental truth of decolonization: “the Manichaeanism that first governed colonial society is maintained intact during the period of decolonization. In fact the colonist never ceases to be the enemy, the antagonist, in plain words public enemy number 1” (14). 

“The first thing the colonial subject learns is to remain in his place and not overstep its limits,” Fanon writes. “Hence the dreams of the colonial subject are muscular dreams, dreams of action, dreams of aggressive vitality” (15). “The colonized subject is constantly on his guard.”:

Confronted with a world configured by the colonizer, the colonized subject is always presumed guilty. The colonized does not accept his guilt, but rather considers it a kind of curse, a sword of Damocles. But deep down the colonized subject acknowledges no authority. He is dominated but not domesticated. He is made to feel inferior, but by no means convinced of his inferiority. He patiently waits for the colonist to let his guard down and then jumps on him. (16)

The symbols of society—the police, the army, the flag—“serve not only as inhibitors but also as stimulants”: they don’t just mean “Stay where you are”; they rather mean “Get ready to do the right thing” (16). (Note the echoes of Roland Barthes in those sentences.) 

The colonized experience is one of lateral violence and, for Fanon, a wrongheaded religious mystification: “At the individual level we witness a genuine negation of common sense,” he writes. “[T]he colonized subject’s last resort is to defend his personality against his fellow countryman” (17). Indeed, “one of the ways the colonized subject releases his muscular tension is through the very real collective self-destruction of these internecine feuds” (17-18). Moreover, “[f]atalism relieves the oppressor of all responsibility since the cause of wrong-doing, poverty, and the inevitable can be attributed to God” (18). All of that changes during the liberation struggle: “this people who were once relegated to the realm of the imagination, victims of unspeakable terrors, but content to lose themselves in hallucinatory dreams, are thrown into disarray, re-form, and amid blood and tears give birth to very real and urgent issues” (19). Traditional religious practices lose their appeal: “With his back to the wall, the knife at his throat, or to be more exact the electrode on his genitals, the colonized subject is bound to stop telling stories” (20).

Fanon draws a line between the colonial elites and the peasantry outside the capital. Political parties and the colonized business and intellectual elite tend to be “violent in their words and reformist in their attitudes”; in other words, they are not engaged in the revolution, partly because of their separation from the peasantry (21-23). That is a serious problem, because “colonialism is not a machine capable of thinking, a body endowed with reason. It is naked violence and only gives in when confronted with greater violence” (23). That violence is necessary, according to Fanon, but it is what the nationalist parties and colonized elites want above all to avoid:

Nonviolence is an attempt to settle the colonial problem around the negotiating table before the irreparable is done, before any bloodshed or regrettable act is committed. But if the masses, without waiting for the chairs to be placed around the negotiating table, take matters into their own hands, and start burning and killing, it is not long before we see the ‘elite’ and the leaders of the bourgeois nationalist parties turn to the colonial authorities and tell them: “This is terribly serious! Goodness knows how it will all end. We must find an answer, we must find a compromise.” (23-24)

However, coming to an acceptable decolonizing compromise is not simple: “[t]he adherents of the colonial system discover that the masses might very well destroy everything,” and so they offer themselves as mediators, willing to negotiate (24). Fanon believes that the masses—and by masses, he means the rural peasantry—are the only ones willing to resort to the violence necessary for decolonization to succeed. Those who look to mediation, he writes, “are losers from the start. Their incapacity to triumph by violence needs no demonstration; they prove it in their daily life and their maneuvering” (25).

International capitalism, Fanon states, “objectively colludes with the forces of violence that erupt in colonial territories” (27). “The moderate nationalist political parties are . . . requested to clearly articulate their claims and to calmly and dispassionately seek a solution with the colonialist partner respecting the interests of both sides” (27). Nationalist political leaders are “mainly preoccupied with a ‘show’ of force—so as not to use it” (29). However, the people are willing to use force. “In order to maintain their stamina and their revolutionary capabilities, the people . . . resort to retelling certain episodes in the life of the community”: stories about outlaws who killed police officers become role models and heroes (30). Violence becomes “atmospheric”: “a number of driving mechanisms pick it up and convey it to an outlet. . . . violence continues to progress, the colonized subject identifies his enemy, puts a name to all of his misfortunes, and casts all his exacerbated hatred and rage in this new direction” (31). “But how do we get from the atmosphere of violence to setting violence in motion?” he asks (31). The catalyst comes from the colonizers, who know something is happening and begin to demand “drastic measures,” which the authorities take. As the authorities clamp down, “[a] dramatic atmosphere sets in where everyone wants to prove he is ready for everything,” and as a result, any “trivial incident” can set off “the machine-gunning” (31-32). 

But, Fanon asks, what constitutes this violence? “As we have seen, the colonized masses intuitively believe that their liberation must be achieved and can only be achieved by force” (33). “The colonized peoples, these slaves of modern times, have run out of patience,” he continues. “They know that such madness alone can deliver them from colonial oppression” (34). They seem to intuit the truth: “no colonialist country today is capable of mounting the only form of repression which would have a chance of succeeding, i.e., a prolonged and large scale military occupation” (34). “Heartened by the unconditional support of the socialist countries the colonized hurl themselves with whatever weapons they possess against the impregnable citadel of colonialism,” Fanon writes, using a phrase (“the socialist countries”) that in some ways undercuts Bhabha’s argument in his foreword. “Although the citadel is invincible against knives and bare hands, its invincibility crumbles when we take into account the context of the cold war” (38). In that context, “the Americans take their role as the barons of international capitalism very seriously,” and they worry about disruptions in the economic life of the colony and, more importantly, “that socialist propaganda might infiltrate the masses and contaminate them” (38-39). “Today the peaceful coexistence between the two blocs maintains and aggravates the violence in colonial countries,” Fanon continues (39). In any case, the imperial powers don’t recognize what is happening; they “are convinced that the fight against racism and national liberation movements are purely and simply controlled and masterminded from ‘the outside’” (39). 

According to Fanon,

[t]his threatening atmosphere of violence and missiles in no way frightens or disorients the colonized. We have seen that their entire recent history has prepared them to “understand” the situation. Between colonial violence and the insidious violence in which the modern world is steeped, there is a kind of complicit correlation, a homogeneity. The colonized have adapted to this atmosphere. For once they are in tune with their time. (40)

That reference to “the insidious violence in which the modern world is steeped” seems to be another reference to the Cold War. Fanon suggests that once independence is achieved, the leaders of nationalist parties (now the leaders of independent nation-states) “hesitate and choose a policy of neutrality” (40). That neutrality can consist of “taking handouts left and right”; such a neutrality is “a creation of the cold war” which “allows underdeveloped countries to receive economic aid from both sides,” but “it does not permit either of these two sides to come to the aid of underdeveloped regions the way they should” (40-41). Instead the two blocs spend “astronomical sums” on nuclear arms (41). “It is therefore obvious that the underdeveloped countries have no real interest in either prolonging or intensifying this cold war,” Fanon continues. But they are never asked for their opinion. So whenever they can, they disengage” (41). This interlude seems to be the source of Bhabha’s contention that Fanon is trying to get beyond the stark binaries of the Cold War.

Then he returns to the topic of the violence of the decolonial struggle: 

The existence of an armed struggle is indicative that the people are determined to put their faith only in violent methods. The very same people who had it constantly drummed into them that the only language they understood was that of force, now decide to express themselves with force. In fact the colonist has always shown them the path they should follow to liberation. (42)

“The colonial regime owes its legitimacy to force and at no time does it ever endeavor to cover up this nature of things,” he notes (42). “‘It’s them or us’ is not a paradox since colonialism . . . is precisely the organization of a Manichaean world, of a compartmentalized world” (43). The colonizer’s fantasy of the elimination of the colonized “does not morally upset the colonized subject. He has always known that his dealings with the colonist would take place in a field of combat. So the colonized subject wastes no time lamenting and almost never searches for justice in the colonial context” (43). “For the colonized, this violence represents the absolute praxis,” Fanon continues (44). “To work means to work towards the death of the colonist” (44). In fact, he argues, “[t]he colonized man liberates himself in and through violence. This praxis enlightens the militant because it shows him the means and the end” (44). “The greater the number of metropolitan settlers, the more terrible the violence will be. Violence among the colonized will spread in proportion to the violence exerted by the colonial regime” (46-47). 

The Manichaeanism of the colonizer is returned by the colonized: “To the expression: ‘All natives are the same,’ the colonized reply: ‘All colonists are the same’” (49). “On the logical plane, the Manichaeanism of the colonist produces a Manichaeanism of the colonized,” Fanon writes.” The theory of the ‘absolute evil of the colonist’ is in response to the theory of the ‘absolute evil of the native.’” (50). Indeed, colonization is inherently violent: “[t]he arrival of the colonist signified syncretically the death of indigenous society, cultural lethargy, and petrification fo the individual. For the colonized, life can only materialize from the rotting cadaver of the colonist” (50). Violence restores life, and it creates national unity:

The violence of the colonized . . . unifies the people. By its very structure colonialism is separatist and regionalist. Colonialism is not merely content to note the existence of tribes, it reinforces and differentiates them. . . . Violence in its practice is totalizing and national. As a result, it harbors in its depths the elimination of regionalism and tribalism. (51)

Moreover, for the individual, 

violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. It emboldens them, and restores their self-confidence. Even if the armed struggle has been symbolic, and even if they have been demobilized by rapid decolonization, the people have time to realize that liberation was the achievement of each and every one and no special merit should go to the leader. Violence hoists the people up to the level of the leader. (51)

Fanon make similar claims throughout the book, and as I’ve already suggested, I find them hard to accept, particularly given the case histories of people affected by colonial violence that constitute the bulk of the book’s fifth chapter.

However, I can’t quibble with Fanon’s analysis of the sources of European (and by extension settler colonial) wealth:

European opulence is literally a scandal for it was built on the backs of slaves, it fed on the blood of slaves, and owes its very existence to the soil and subsoil of the underdeveloped world. Europe’s well-being and progress were built with the sweat and corpses of blacks, Arabs, Indians, and Asians. This we are determined never to forget. (53)

“Europe,” he continues,

has been bloated out of all proportions by the gold and raw materials from such colonial countries as Latin America, China, and Africa. Today Europe’s tower of opulence faces these continents, for centuries the point of departure of their shipments of diamonds, oil, silk and cotton, timber, and exotic produce to this very same Europe. Europe is literally the creation of the Third World. The riches which are choking it are those plundered from the underdeveloped peoples. The ports of Holland, the docks in Bordeaux and Liverpool owe their importance to the trade and deportation of millions of slaves. And when we hear the head of a European nation declare with hand on heart that he must come to the aid of the unfortunate peoples of the underdeveloped world, we do not tremble with gratitude. On the contrary, we say among ourselves, “it is a just reparation we are getting.” So we will not accept aid for the underdeveloped countries as “charity.” Such aid must be considered the final stage of a dual consciousness—the consciousness of the colonized that it is their due and the consciousness of the capitalist powers that effectively they must pay up. (58-59)

Of course, European (and North American) governments don’t see things that way:

it is obvious we are not so naive as to think this will be achieved with the cooperation and goodwill of the European governments. This colossal task, which consists of reintroducing man into the world, man in his totality, will be achieved with the crucial help of the European masses who would do well to confess that they have often rallied behind the position of our common masters on colonial issues. In order to do this, the European masses must first of all decide to wake up, put on their thinking caps and stop playing the irresponsible game of Sleeping Beauty. (61-62)

Will European—or Canadian—people ever wake up to the way they have benefited and continue to benefit from colonialism? There’s no sign that Fanon’s call to awareness is likely to be heard, let alone heeded. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The book’s second chapter, “Grandeur and Weakness of Spontaneity,” expands on the discussion of violence in the first chapter. This chapter presents a chronology of the liberation movement—whether a typical one, or the Algerian one, isn’t quite clear. This chronology comes from his thoughts on violence. In fact, he tells us that his reflections on violence made him realize “the frequent discrepancy between the cadres of the nationalist party and the masses, and the way they are out of step with each other” (63). “The peasants distrust the town dweller,” he writes. “Dressed like a European, speaking his language, working alongside him, sometimes living in his neighbourhood, he is considered by the peasant to be a renegade who has given up everything which constitutes the national heritage” (67). Meanwhile, the Indigenous intellectuals end up criticizing the nationalist party’s “ideological vacuum” and its “dearth of strategy and tactics”: “They never tire of asking the leaders the crucial question: ‘What is nationalism? What does it mean to you? What does the term signify? What is the point of independence? And first how do you intend to achieve it?’” (77). In addition, “senior or junior cadres whose activities have been the object of colonialist police persecution,” whose activism “is not a question of politics but the only way of casting off their animal status for a human one,” demonstrate, “within the limits of their assigned activities, a spirit of initiative, courage, and a sense of purpose which almost systematically make them targets for the forces of colonialist repression” (77). When those activists are arrested, tortured, and convicted, “they use their period of detention to compare ideas and harden their determination” (77). They are the ones who launch the armed struggle (78).

Meanwhile, the peasants “have never ceased to pose the problem of their liberation in terms of violence, of taking back the land from the foreigners, in terms of national struggle and armed revolt. Everything is simple” (79). The peasants are coherent, generous, and prepared to make sacrifices (79). And those who live on the margins of the capital, the criminal “lumpenproletariat” who exist in its shanty towns, signify “the irreversible rot and gangrene eating into the heart of colonial domination. So the pimps, the hooligans, the unemployed, and the petty criminals, when approached, give the liberation struggle all they have got, devoting themselves to the cause like valiant workers” (81-82). (I can’t help thinking that Fanon is indulging in some serious idealizing in his description of the peasants and the “hooligans.”) “As long as colonialism remains in a state of anxiety, the national cause advances and becomes the cause of each and everyone,” he continues. “The struggle for liberation takes shape and already involves the entire country. During this period, spontaneity rules. Initiative rests with local areas” (83). Part of this spontaneity lies in the nature of the struggle:

In guerrilla warfare . . . you no longer fight on the spot but on the march. Every fighter carries the soil of the homeland to war between his bare toes. The national liberation army is not an army grappling with the enemy in a single, decisive battle, but travels from village to village, retreating into the forest and jumping for joy when the cloud of dust raised by the enemy’s troops is seen in the valley. (85)

Meanwhile, “the leaders of the insurrection realize that their units need enlightening, instruction, and indoctrination; an army needs to be created, a central authority established” (86). Spontaneity is not enough; the “peasant revolt” must be transformed “into a revolutionary war” (86). According to Fanon, “in order to succeed the struggle must be based on a clear set of objectives, a well-defined methodology and above all, the recognition by the masses of an urgent timetable” (86). 

Part of the need for a more structured struggle lies in the colonizer’s tactics, which include psychological warfare and successful attempts “to revive tribal conflicts, using agents provocateurs engaged in what is known as countersubversion” (86). In addition, according to Fanon, traditional chiefs and “witch doctors” accept money to be the colonizer’s collaborators (86-87). The colonizer “identifies the ideological weakness and spiritual instability of certain segments of the population” and will use the mass of people “whose commitment is constantly threatened by the addictive cycle of physiological poverty, humiliation, and irresponsibility” (87). As a result, “[n]ational unity crumbles” and the insurrection ends up “at a crucial turning point” (88). At that turning point, “[t]he political education of the masses is now recognized as an historical necessity” (88). 

Part of that political education involves understanding the need to pursue the struggle to the end: “[t]he people and every militant should be conscious of the historical law which stipulates that certain concessions are in fact shackles” (92). “Whatever gains the colonized make through armed or political struggle, they are not the result of the colonizer’s good will or goodness of heart but to the fact that that he can no longer postpone such concessions” (92). “All of this clarification, this subsequent raising of awareness and the advances along the road to understanding the history of societies can only be achieved if the people are organized and guided,” Fanon continues (92). When “[t]he people . . . realize that national independence brings to light multiple realities which in some cases are divergent and conflicting,” then 

clarification is crucial as it leads the people to replace an overall undifferentiated nationalism with a social and economic consciousness. The people who in the early days of the struggle had adopted the primitive Manichaeanism of the colonizer—Black versus White, Arab versus Infidel—realize en route that some blacks can be whiter than the whites, and that the prospect of a national flag or independence does not automatically result in certain segments of the population giving up their privileges and their interests. (93)

He suggests that some colonists who “condemn the colonial war” or who “volunteer to undergo suffering, torture, and death” will 

defuse the overall hatred which the colonized feel toward the foreign settlers. The colonized welcome these men with open arms and in an excess of emotion tend to place absolute confidence in them. In the metropolis . . . numerous and sometimes prominent voices take a stand, condemn unreservedly their government’s policy of war and urge that the national will of the colonized finally be taken into consideration. Soldiers desert the colonialist ranks, others explicitly refuse to fight against a people’s freedom, are jailed and suffer for the sake of the people’s right to independence. (94)

As a result of these complexities, “[c]onsciousness stumbles upon partial, finite, and shifting truths” (95). However, as the struggle gains its “new political orientation” as a result of all of these changes, it becomes “national, revolutionary, and collective” (95-96). 

“This new reality, which the colonized are now exposed to, exists by action alone,” Fanon argues: 

By exploding the former colonial reality the struggle uncovers unknown facets, brings to light new meanings and underlines contradictions which were camouflaged by this reality. The people in arms, the people whose struggle enacts this new reality, the people who live it, march on, freed from colonialism and forewarned against any attempt at mystification or glorification of the nation. Violence alone, perpetrated by the people, violence organized and guided by the leadership, provides the key for the masses to decipher social reality. (96)

“Without this struggle, without this praxis,” Fanon concludes, “there is nothing but a carnival parade and a lot of hot air. All that is left is a slight readaptation, a few reforms at the top, a flag, and down at the bottom a shapeless, writhing mass, still mired in the Dark Ages” (96). And, as the next chapter indicates, some struggles for national liberation end up with little more than a new flag and new leadership. 

In the book’s third chapter, “The Trials and Tribulations of National Consciousness,” Fanon continues where the previous chapter ended:

History teaches us that the anticolonialist struggle is not automatically written from a nationalist perspective. Over a long period of time the colonized have devoted their energy to eliminating iniquities such as forced labor, corporal punishment, unequal wages, and the restriction of political rights. This fight for democracy against man’s oppression gradually emerges from a universalist, neoliberal confusion to arrive, sometimes laboriously, at a demand for nationhood. but the unpreparedness of the elite, the lack of practical ties between them and the masses, their apathy and, yes, their cowardice at the crucial moment in the struggle, are the cause of tragic trials and tribulations. (97)

“Instead of being the coordinated crystallization of the people’s innermost aspirations, instead of being the most tangible, immediate product of popular mobilization, national consciousness is nothing but a crude, empty, fragile shell,” Fanon warns. “The cracks in it explain how easy it is for young independent countries to switch back from nation to ethnic group and from state to tribe—a regression which is so terribly detrimental and prejudicial to the development of the nation and national unity” (97).

For Fanon, “such shortcomings and dangers derive historically from the incapacity of the national bourgeoisie in underdeveloped countries to rationalize popular praxis, in other words their incapacity to attribute it any reason” (97-98). “The characteristic, virtually endemic weakness of the underdeveloped countries’ national consciousness is not only the consequence of the colonized subject’s mutilation by the colonial regime,” he contends. “It can also be attributed to the apathy of the national bourgeoisie, its mediocrity, and its deeply cosmopolitan mentality” (98). The failure of the national bourgeoisie in underdeveloped countries is the result of the fact that it “is not geared to production, invention, creation, or work. All its energy is channeled into intermediary activities. Networking and scheming seem to be its underlying vocation” (98). That’s because “[u]nder the colonial system a bourgeoisie that accumulates capital is in the realm of the impossible” (98). 

“In an underdeveloped country, the imperative duty of an authentic national bourgeoisie is to betray the vocation to which it is destined, to learn from the people, and make available to them the intellectual and technical capital which it culled from its time in colonial universities,” Fanon states (99). However, “the national bourgeoisie often turns away from this heroic and positive path, which is both productive and just, and unabashedly opts for the antinational, and therefore abhorrent, path of a conventional bourgeoisie, a bourgeois bourgeoisie that is dismally, inanely, and cynically bourgeois” (99). (Often? When has it not turned away from this path?) In addition, independence does not change the economy or its reliance on agriculture or commodities: “We continue to ship raw materials, we continue to grow produce for Europe and pass for specialists of unfinished products” (100). Economic development is therefore necessary, and for Fanon, economic development means nationalization. However, for the national bourgeoisie, “to nationalize does not mean placing the entire economy at the service of the nation. . . . For the bourgeoisie, nationalization signifies very precisely the transfer into indigenous hands of privileges inherited from the colonial period” (100). “The national bourgeoisie discovers its historical mission as intermediary”: 

its vocation is not to transform the nation but prosaically serve as a conveyor belt for capitalism, forced to camouflage itself behind the mask of neocolonialism. The national bourgeoisie, with no misgivings and with great pride, revels in the role of agent in its dealings with the Western bourgeoisie. This lucrative role, this function as a small-time racketeer, this narrow-mindedness and lack of ambition are symptomatic of the incapacity of the national bourgeoisie to fulfil its historic role as bourgeoisie. The dynamic, pioneering aspect, the inventive, discoverer-of-new-worlds aspect common to every national bourgeoisie is here lamentably absent. (100-01)

For those reasons, “the national bourgeoisie assumes the role of manager for the companies of the West and turns its country virtually into a bordello for Europe” (102). 

In addition, after independence the national bourgeoisie “wages a ruthless struggle against the lawyers, tradespeople, landowners, doctors, and high-ranking civil servants ‘who insult the national dignity’” (103). The “urban proletariat, the unemployed masses, the small artisans, those commonly called small traders, side with this nationalist attitude,” and they “pick fights with Africans of other nationalities” (103). As a result, there is a shift “from nationalism to ultranationalism, chauvinism, and racism” (103). Fanon puts the blame on the national bourgeoisie:

wherever the petty-mindedness of the national bourgeoisie and the haziness of its ideological positions have been incapable of enlightening the people as a whole or have been unable to put the people first, wherever this national bourgeoisie has proven to be incapable of expanding its vision of the world, there is a return to tribalism, and we watch with a raging heart as ethnic tensions triumph. (105)

Those tensions are also the result of the way that “colonial domination gave preferential treatment to certain regions. The colony’s economy was not integrated into that of the nation as a whole. It is still organized along the lines dictated by the metropolis” (106). Colonialism, or perhaps neocolonialism, continues extracting and exporting natural resources, “while the rest of the colony continues, or rather sinks, into underdevelopment and poverty” (106). 

Religion is another problem, but it too can be traced back to the failure of the national bourgeoisie. Religious tension on a continental scale “can take the shape of the crudest form of racism”: 

Africa is divided into a white region and a black region. The substitute names of sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa are unable to mask this latent racism. . . . The national bourgeoisie of each of these two major regions, who have assimilated to the core the most despicable aspects of the colonial mentality, take over from the Europeans and lay the foundations for a racist philosophy that is terribly prejudicial to the future of Africa. Through its apathy and mimicry it encourages the growth and development of racism that was typical of the colonial period. (108)

“Achieving power in the name of a narrow-minded nationalism, in the name of the race, and in spite of magnificently worded declarations totally void of content, irresponsibly wielding phrases straight out of Europe’s treatises on ethics and political philosophy,” Fanon continues, “the bourgeoisie proves itself incapable of implementing a program with even a minimum humanist content” (109). In addition, the national bourgeoisie is likely to be corrupt: “in region after region,” they “are in a hurry to stash away a tidy sum for themselves and establish a national system of exploitation,” and thereby “multiply the obstacles for achieving this ‘utopia’” of African unity (110). “The national bourgeoisies, perfectly clear on their objectives, are determined to bar the way to this unity, this coordinated effort by 250 million people to triumph over stupidity, hunger, and inhumanity” (110). 

The dominance of the national bourgeoisie in the newly independent state leads to tyranny rather than democracy:

Instead of inspiring confidence, assuaging the fears of its citizens and cradling them with its power and discretion, the State, on the contrary, imposes itself in a spectacular manner, flaunts its authority, harasses, making it clear to its citizens they are in constant danger. The single party is the modern form of the bourgeois dictatorship—striped of mask, makeup, and scruples, cynical in every aspect. (111)

This dictatorship “never stops secreting its own contradiction”: because the national bourgeoisie is busy “lining its own pockets not only as fast as it can, but also in the most vulgar fashion,” it doesn’t have the resources “both to ensure its domination and to hand out a few crumbs to the rest of the country,” and therefore, “in order to hide this stagnation, to mask this regression, to reassure itself and give itself cause to boast, the bourgeoisie has no other option but to erect imposing edifices in the capital and spend money on so-called prestige projects” (111). Thus the national bourgeoisie “turns its back on the interior, on the realities of a country gone to waste, and looks towards the former metropolis and the foreign capitalists who secure its services” (111). After independence, “the leader will unmask his inner purpose: to be the CEO of the company of profiteers composed of a national bourgeoisie intent only on getting the most out of the situation” (112). The result is neocolonialism (112). The national party is transformed “into a syndication of individual interests” (115). “Inside the new regime . . . there are varying degrees of enrichment and acquisitiveness,” Fanon suggests:

Some are able to cash in on all sides and prove to be brilliant opportunists. Favors abound, corruption triumphs, and morals decline. Today the vultures are too numerous and too greedy, considering the meagerness of the national spoils. The party, which has become a genuine instrument of power in the hands of the bourgeoisie, reinforces the State apparatus and determines the containment and immobilization of the people. The party helps the State keep its grip on the people. It is increasingly an instrument of coercion and clearly antidemocrati.” (116)

The nationalist party “skips the parliamentary phase and chooses a national-socialist-type dictatorship,” the kind of “shortsighted fascism that has triumphed for a half a century in Latin America,” which “is the dialectical result of the semicolonial State which has prevailed since independence” (116-17). In addition, “[t]he national bourgeoisie sells itself increasingly openly to the major foreign companies. Foreigners grab concessions through kickbacks, scandals abound, ministers get rich, their wives become floozies, members of the legislature line their pockets, and everybody, down to police officers and customs officials, joins hands in this huge caravan of corruption” (117). Fanon uses a striking image to describe this situation: “The behavior of the national bourgeoisie of certain underdeveloped countries is reminiscent of members of a gang who, after every holdup, hide their share form their accomplices and wisely prepare for retirement” (118). “Such behavior reveals that the national bourgeoisie more or less realizes it will lose out in the long term. It foresees that such a situation cannot last for ever, but intends making the most of it” (118).

The exploitation and the resulting “distrust of the State inevitably trigger popular discontent,” Fanon writes: 

Under the circumstances the regime becomes more authoritarian. The army thus becomes the indispensable tool for systematic repression. In lieu of a parliament, the army becomes the arbiter. But sooner or later it realizes its influence and intimidates the government with the constant threat of a pronunciamento. (118)

The national bourgeoisie “increasingly turns its back on the overall population” and “fails even to squeeze from the West such spectacular concessions as valuable investments in the country’s economy or the installation of certain industries” (120). There is some resistance to this state of affairs: some intellectuals and officials “sincerely feel the need for a planned economy, for outlawing profiteers and doing away with any form of mystification,” and they are also “in favor of maximum participation by the people in the management of public affairs” (121). However,

[t]he profoundly democratic and progressive elements of the young nation are reluctant and shy about making any decision due to the apparent resilience of the bourgeoisie. The colonial cities of the newly independent underdeveloped countries are teeming with the managerial class. . . . observers are inclined to believe in the existence of a powerful and perfectly organized bourgeoisie. In fact we now know that there is no bourgeoisie in the underdeveloped countries. What makes a bourgeoisie is not its attitude, taste, or manners. It is not even its aspirations. The bourgeoisie is above all the direct product of precise economic realities. (122)

In other words, according to Fanon, the cause of this situation of continuing underdevelopment, corruption, and political authoritarianism is the historical failure of colonies to create a true bourgeoisie capable of leading economic development. Fanon’s Marxist teleology is obvious in that argument, and I think he’s letting the fact of colonization off rather lightly. The distortions caused by colonization are to blame, aren’t they? And those distortions are many. They include national boundaries that make little sense; multiethnic, multilinguistic states are harder to manage than states that are more clearly and easily defined as nations, and it’s possible that those colonial boundaries needed to be redrawn (although that can lead to violence as well). Moreover, as Fanon is aware, the colonizer’s violence doesn’t teach the colonized anything about democracy or the rule of law, and the colonizer’s theft doesn’t teach the colonized to avoid corruption. In addition, wouldn’t the horrific violence of the anticolonial struggle do the opposite of what Fanon argues in the long term? Yes, during the struggle it might be a unifying force, but afterwards, is a history of violence or civil war likely to lead to unity? I wish Fanon had provided a historical example to support his claims about violence. I can’t think of any offhand.

Fanon’s Marxism also comes out in his proposed solution to the problems he is describing: nationalization. “If the authorities want to life the country out of stagnation and take great strides toward development and progress, they first and foremost must nationalize the tertiary sector,” he writes (123).“But it is evident that such a nationalization must not take on the aspect of rigid state control,” he continues. “This does not mean putting politically uneducated citizens in managerial positions. Every time this procedure has been adopted it was found that the authorities had in fact contributed to the triumph of a dictatorship of civil servants, trained by the former metropolis, who quickly proved incapable of thinking in terms of the nation as a whole” (123). Of course, the last 50-odd years of history has taught us that even those who are “politically educated” can become corrupt and authoritarian. That seems to be a very human failing. I can’t help thinking that Fanon’s belief in the efficacy of the kind of political education he is advocating for here is naive.

The problems Fanon is describing inevitably lead to political repression: “Instead of letting the people express their grievances, instead of making the free circulation of ideas between the people and the leadership its basic mission, the party erects a screen of prohibitions” (126). They also lead to divisions within the nascent state: “The party will also commit many mistakes regarding national unity. For example, the so-called national party operates on a tribal basis. It is a veritable ethnic group which has transformed itself into a party” (126). Sometimes the result is “a genuine ethnic dictatorship” (126). 

Fanon continues to believe, however, that “[a] country which really wants to answer to history, which wants to develop its towns and the minds of its inhabitants, must possess a genuine party. The party is not an instrument in the hands of the government. Very much to the contrary, the party is an instrument in the hands of the people” (127). He argues in favour of regional development strategies, to halt “the chaotic exodus of the rural masses toward the towns” (128). It is important to allocate resources to the interior, where the majority of the population lives: “The myth of the capital must be debunked and the disinherited shown that the decision has been made to work in their interest” (129). “Instead of delving into their diagrams and statistics, indigenous civil servants and technicians should delve into the body of the population,” he writes. “They should not bristle every time there is mention of an assignment to the ‘interior.’” (129). Indeed, he suggests, “[o]ne of the greatest services the Algerian revolution has rendered to Algerian intellectuals was to put them in touch with the masses, to allow them to see the extreme, unspeakable poverty of the people and at the same time witness the awakening of their intelligence and the development of their consciousness” (130).

When the population is politically educated, Fanon contends, the new nation-state is more likely to be a success:

The more the people understand, the more vigilant they become, the more they realize in fact that everything depends on them and that their salvation lies in their solidarity, in recognizing their interests and identifying their enemies. The people understand that wealth is not the fruit of labor but the spoils form an organized protection racket. The rich no longer seem respectable men but flesh-eating beasts, jackals and ravens who wallow in the blood of the people. Moreover the political commissioners had to rule that nobody would work for anyone else. The land belongs to those who work it. This is a principle which through an information campaign has become a fundamental law of the Algerian revolution. The peasants who employed agricultural laborers have been obliged to distribute land share to their former employees. (133)

In the regions of Algeria where “these enlightening experiments” were carried out, “where we witnessed the edification of man through revolutionary teachings, the peasant clearly grasped the principle whereby the clearer the commitment, the better one works” (133). In Algeria, “the people have a very clear notion of what belongs to them. The Algerian people now know they are the sole proprietor of their country’s soil and subsoil” (134). “We have taken the Algerian example to clarify our discourse—not to glorify our own people, but quite simply to demonstrate the important part their struggle has played in achieving consciousness,” he writes (134). “But we should be aware that the victory over the pockets of least resistance—the legacy of the material and spiritual domination of the country—is a requisite that no government can escape” (135).

Fanon also believes that an “information campaign” can lead to increased economic productivity: “Public business must be the business of the public” (135-36). He also advocates that recruits to a “civilian national service” ought to carry out “major public works projects of national interest” (141-42). But the most important thing is political education:

If nationalism is not explained, enriched, and deepened, if it does not very quickly turn into a social and political consciousness, into humanism, then it leads to a dead end. A bourgeois leadership of the underdeveloped countries confines the national consciousness to a sterile formalism. Only the massive commitment by men and women to judicious and productive tasks gives form and substance to this consciousness. It is then that flags and government buildings cease to be the symbols of the nation. The nation deserts the false glitter of the capital and takes refuge in the interior where it receives life and energy. The living expression of the nation is the collective consciousness in motion of the entire people. It is the enlightened and coherent praxis of the men and women. The collective forging of a destiny implies undertaking responsibility on a truly historical scale. Otherwise there is anarchy, repression, the emergence of tribalized parties and federalism, etc. If the national government wants to be national it must govern by the people and for the people, for the disinherited and by the disinherited. No leader, whatever his worth, can replace the will of the people, and the national government, before concerning itself with international prestige, must first restore dignity to all citizens, furnish their minds, fill their eyes with human things and develop a human landscape for the sake of its enlightened and sovereign individuals. (144)

Unlike Fanon, I’m not a revolutionary, and I just don’t possess the kind of optimism that would lead me to believe that political education alone can lead a majority of people to set aside their short-term self-interest and work together. And I don’t believe that a collective experience of violence can lead to that result, either. In how many countries has the positive outcome Fanon imagines come to fruition? Not that many. Yes, that’s partly the result of superpower meddling, and it’s definitely the result of the way colonization deforms societies. But individually and socially, we are what we do; we become what we enact. So if we engage in acts of horrific violence, however justified they may be, how likely is it that we will end up as peaceful democrats? I can’t help thinking that such outcomes would be too much to hope for.

Fanon’s fourth chapter, “On National Culture,” focuses on the role of intellectuals and artists in anticolonial struggles and the nation-states that come into being as a result of those struggles. He begins on a somewhat ominous note, with its suggestion of the possibility of betrayal:

Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity. In the underdeveloped countries preceding generations have simultaneously resisted the insidious agenda of colonialism and paved the way for the emergence of the current struggles. Now that we are in the heat of combat, we must shed the habit of decrying the efforts of our forefathers or feigning incomprehension at their silence or passiveness. They fought as best they could with the weapons they possessed at the time, and if their struggle did not reverberate throughout the international arena, the reason should be attributed not so much to a lack of heroism but to a fundamentally different international situation. More than one colonized subject had to say, “We’ve had enough,” more than one tribe had to rebel, more than one peasant revolt had to be quelled, more than one demonstration to be repressed, for us today to stand firm, certain of our victory. (145-46)

“For us who are determined to break the back of colonialism, our historic mission is to authorize every revolt, every desperate act, and every attack aborted or drowned in blood,” he continues (146). That leads him to the subject of this chapter: “the fundamental issue of the legitimate claim to a nation” (146).

“We now know that in the first phase of the national struggle colonialism attempts to defuse nationalist demands by manipulating economic doctrine,” Fanon writes. “At the first signs of a dispute, colonialism feigns comprehension by acknowledging with ostentatious humility that the territory is suffering from serious underdevelopment that requires major social and economic reforms” (146). Nevertheless, 

we must persuade ourselves that colonialism is incapable of procuring for colonized peoples the material conditions likely to make them forget their quest for dignity. Once colonialism has understood where its social reform tactics would lead it, back come the old reflexes of adding police reinforcements, dispatching troops, and establishing a regime of terror better suited to its interests and its psychology. (147)

“Faced with the colonized intellectual’s debunking of the colonialist theory of a precolonial barbarism, colonialism’s response is mute,” Fanon suggests. “It is especially mute since the ideas put forward by the young colonized intelligentsia are widely accepted by metropolitan specialists” (147). 

Colonized intellectuals tend to turn to the past, because they are repulsed by the present:

Since perhaps in their unconscious the colonized intellectuals have been unable to come to loving terms with the present history of their oppressed people, since there is little to marvel at in its current state of barbarity, they have decided to go further, to delve deeper, and they must have been overjoyed to discover that the past was not branded with shame, but dignity, glory, and sobriety. Reclaiming the past does not only rehabilitate or justify the promise of a national culture. It triggers a change of fundamental importance in the colonized’s psycho-affective equilibrium. Perhaps it has not been sufficiently demonstrated that colonialism is not content merely to impose its law on the colonized country’s present and future. Colonialism is not satisfied with snaring the people in its net or of draining the colonized brain of any form or substance. With a kind of perverted logic, it turns its attention to the past of the colonized people and distorts it, disfigures it, and destroys it. This effort to demean history prior to colonization today takes on a dialectical significance. (148-49)

“At the level of the unconscious . . . colonialism was not seeking to be perceived by the indigenous population as a sweet, kind-hearted mother who protects her child from a hostile environment, but rather a mother who constantly prevents her basically perverse child from committing suicide or giving free reign to its malevolent instincts,” Fanon continues. “The colonial mother is protecting the child from itself, from its ego, its physiology, its biology, and its ontological misfortune” (149). 

“The colonized intellectual who wants to put his struggle on a legitimate footing, who is intent on providing proof and accepts to bare himself in order to better display the history of his body, is fated to journey deep into the very bowels of his people,” Fanon writes (149). That journey is “not specifically national” (149); rather, it is “on a continental scale” (150), because colonialism’s distortions and lies are on a continental scale as well (150). “[T]he major responsibility for this racialization of thought, or at least the way it is applied, lies with the Europeans who have never stopped placing white culture in opposition to the other noncultures,” Fanon continues. “Colonialism did not think it worth its while denying one national culture after the other. Consequently the colonized’s response was immediately continental in scope”—example of negritude, “the affective if not logical antithesis of that insult which the white man had leveled at the rest of humanity” (150). However, Fanon wants to see the development, at some point, of national cultures: “In Africa, the reasoning of the intellectual is Black-African or Arab-Islamic. It is not specifically national. Culture is increasingly cut off from reality” (154). Because the colonized intellectual risks becoming alienated from “his people,” 

in other words the living focus of contradictions which risk becoming insurmountable, the colonized intellectual wrenches himself from the quagmire which threatens to suck him down, and determined to believe what he finds, he accepts and ratifies it with heart and soul. He finds himself bound to answer for everything and for everyone. He not only becomes an advocate, he accepts being included with the others, and henceforth he can afford to laugh at his past cowardice. (155)

“This painful and harrowing wrench is, however, a necessity,” Fanon writes. “Otherwise we will be faced with extremely serious psycho-affective mutilations: individuals without an anchorage, without borders, colorless, stateless, rootless, a body of angels” (155).

Most colonized intellectuals will have been educated in Europe, and Europe offers them very little that applies to their situation:

The intellectual who has slipped into Western civilization through a cultural back door, who has managed to embody, or rather change bodies with, European civilization, will realize that the cultural model he would like to integrate for authenticity’s sake offers little in the way of figureheads capable of standing up to comparison with the many illustrious names in the civilization of the occupier. History, of course, written by and for Westerners, may periodically enhance the image of certain episodes of the African past. But faced with his country’s present-day status, lucidly and “objectively” observing the reality of the continent he would like to claim as his own, the intellectual is terrified by the void, the mindlessness, and the savagery. Yet he feels he must escape this white culture. He must look elsewhere, anywhere; for lack of a cultural stimulus comparable to the glorious panorama flaunted by the colonizer, the colonized intellectual frequently lapses into heated arguments and develops a psychology dominated by an exaggerated sensibility, sensitivity, and susceptibility. (156-57)

Abandoning the colonial or European intellectual or aesthetic models is a blow against colonialism: “Every colonized intellectual won over, every colonized intellectual who confesses, once he decides to revert to his old ways, not only represents a setback for the colonial enterprise, but also symbolizes the pointlessness and superficiality of the work accomplished” (158).

According to Fanon, there are three stages in the development of colonized writers. “First, the colonized intellectual proves he has assimilated the colonizer’s culture” (158).  Second, 

the colonized writer has his convictions shaken and decides to cast his mind back. This period corresponds approximately to the immersion we have just described. But since the colonized writer is not integrated with his people, since he maintains an outsider’s relationship to them, he is content to remember. (159)

Finally, there is the third stage, “a combat stage where the colonized writer, after having tried to lose himself among the people, with the people, will rouse the people. Instead of letting the people’s lethargy prevail, he turns into a galvanizer of the people. Combat literature, revolutionary literature, national literature emerges” (159). According to Fanon,

[s]ooner or later . . . the colonized intellectual realizes that the existence of a nation is not proved by culture, but in the people’s struggle against the forces of occupation. No colonialism draws its justification from the fact that the territories it occupies are culturally nonexistent. Colonialism will never be put to shame by exhibiting unknown cultural treasures under its nose. The colonized intellectual, at the very moment when he undertakes a work of art, fails to realize he is using techniques and a language borrowed from the occupier. He is content to cloak these instruments in a style that is meant to be national but which is strangely reminiscent of exoticism. The colonized intellectual who returns to his people through works of art behaves in fact like a foreigner. . . . the ideas he expresses, the preoccupations that haunt him are in now way related to the daily lot of the men and women of his country. (159-60)

“Seeking to cling close to the people,” the colonized artist “clings merely to a visible veneer:

This veneer, however, is merely a reflection of a dense, subterranean life in perpetual renewal. This reification, which seems all too obvious and characteristic of the people, is in fact but the inert, already invalidated outcome of the many, and not always coherent, adaptations of a more fundamental substance beset with radical changes. Instead of seeking out this substance, the intellectual lets himself be mesmerized by these mummified fragments which, now consolidated, signify, on the contrary, negation, obsolescence, and fabrication. Culture never has the translucency of custom. Culture eminently eludes any form of simplification. In its essence it is the very opposite of custom, which is always a deterioration of culture. Seeking to stick to tradition or reviving neglected traditions is not only going against history, but against one’s people. When a people support an armed or even political struggle against a merciless colonialism, tradition changes meaning. What was a technique of passive resistance may, in this phase, be radically doomed. . . . This is why the intellectual often risks being out of step. The peoples who have waged the struggle are increasingly impermeable to demagoguery, and by seeking to follow them too closely, the intellectual turns out to be nothing better than a vulgar opportunist, even behind the times. (160-61)

Aren’t intellectuals or artists typically out of step with the times, or with the majority of their fellow citizens? Or is that a cynical question? Fanon really wants to see a connection between intellectuals and artists and the people—even a sense of the former belonging to the latter—and I wonder how likely that is to happen.

In the visual arts, for example, 

the colonized creator who at all costs wants to create a work of art of national significance confines himself to stereotyping details. . . . these creators forget that modes of thought, diet, modern techniques of communication, language, and dress have dialectically reorganized the mind of the people and that the abiding features that acted as safeguards during the colonial period are in the process of undergoing enormous radical transformations. (161)

“This creator, who decides to portray national truth, turns, paradoxically enough, to the past, and so looks at what is irrelevant to the present,” Fanon argues (161). And that irrelevance is a problem. At the same time, do artists really attempt “to portray national truth”? How many artists have that kind of ambition (or hubris)?

According to Fanon,

the first duty of the colonized poet is to clearly define the people, the subject of his creation. We cannot go resolutely forward unless we first realize our alienation. We have taken everything from the other side. Yet the other side has given us nothing except to sway us in its direction through a thousand twists, except lure us, seduce us, and imprison us by ten thousand devices, by a hundred thousand tricks. (163)

“It is not enough to reunite with the people in a past where they no longer exist,” he continues. “We must rather reunite with them in their recent counter move which will suddenly call everything into question; we must focus on that zone of hidden fluctuation where the people can be found, for let there be no mistake, it is here that their souls are crystallized and their perception and respiration transfigured” (163). It’s not that using or drawing from the past is wrong. Rather, Fanon contends, “[w]hen the colonized intellectual writing for his people uses the past he must do so with the intention of opening up the future, of spurring them into action and fostering hope. But in order to secure hope, in order to give it substance, he must take part in the action and commit himself body and soul to the national struggle” (167). “The colonized intellectual is responsible not to his national culture, but to the nation as a whole, whose culture is, after all, but one aspect,” Fanon argues. “One cannot divorce the combat for culture from the people’s struggle for liberation” (168). I can’t help finding all of this to be very prescriptive. No doubt that’s because Fanon subsumes everything underneath the national, anticolonial struggle. Everything needs to serve that struggle, including painting and poetry. “[N]o speech, no declaration on culture will detract us from our fundamental tasks which are to liberate the national territory; constantly combat the new forms of colonialism; and, as leaders, stubbornly refuse to indulge in self-satisfaction at the top,” he writes (170).

Colonization was an experience of dislocation and “cultural obliteration,” Fanon points out:

The sweeping, leveling nature of colonial domination was quick to dislocate in spectacular fashion the cultural life of a conquered people. The denial of a national reality, the new legal system imposed by the occupying power, the marginalization of the indigenous population and their customs by colonial society, expropriation, and the systematic enslavement of men and women, all contributed to this cultural obliteration. (170)

“The reactions of the colonized to this situation vary,” he continues:

 Whereas the masses maintain intact traditions totally incongruous with the colonial situation, whereas the style of artisanship ossifies into an increasingly stereotyped formalism, the intellectual hurls himself frantically into the frenzied acquisition of the occupier’s culture, making sure he denigrates his national culture, or else confines himself to making a detailed, methodical, zealous, and rapidly sterile inventory of it. (171)

Both reactions “result in unacceptable contradictions”:

Renegade or substantialist, the colonized subject is ineffectual precisely because the colonial situation has not been rigorously analyzed. The colonial situation brings national culture virtually to a halt. . . . But if we follow the consequences to their very limit there are signs that the veil is being lifted from the national consciousness, oppression is being challenged and there is hope for the liberation struggle. (171)

“National culture under colonial domination is a culture under interrogation whose destruction is sought systematically,” Fanon writes. “Very quickly it becomes a culture condemned to clandestinity” (171). 

However, the fact that this culture continues to exist is vitally important:

This persistence of cultural expression condemned by colonial society is already a demonstration of nationhood. But such a demonstration refers us back to the laws of inertia. No offensive has been launched, no relations redefined. There is merely a desperate clinging to a nucleus that is increasingly shriveled, increasingly inert, and increasingly hollow. (172)

But there are costs to the culture’s survival: “[a]fter a century of colonial domination culture becomes rigid in the extreme, congealed, and petrified. The atrophy of national reality and the death throes of national culture feed on one another. This is why it becomes vital to monitor the development of this relationship during the liberation struggle” (172). “Gradually, imperceptibly, the need for a decisive confrontation imposes itself and is eventually felt by the great majority of the people,” Fanon states. “Tensions emerge where previously there were none” (172). “These new tensions, which are present at every level of the colonial system, have repercussions on the cultural front:

In literature, for example, there is relative overproduction. Once a pale imitation of the colonizer’s literature, indigenous production now shows greater diversity and a will to particularize. . . . the intelligentsia turns productive. This literature is at first confined to the genre of poetry and tragedy. Then novels, short stories, and essays are tackled. There seems to be a kind of internal organization, a law of expression, according to which poetic creativity fades as the objectives and methods of the liberation struggle become clearer. There is a fundamental change of theme. In fact, less and less do we find those bitter, desperate recriminations, those loud, violent outbursts that, after all, reassure the occupier. (172-73)

“The crystallization of the national consciousness will not only radically change the literary genres and themes but also create a completely new audience,” Fanon argues. “Whereas the colonized intellectual started out by producing work exclusively with the oppressor in mind . . . he gradually switches over to addressing himself to his people” (173). “It is only from this point onward that one can speak of a national literature. Literary creation addresses and clarifies typically nationalist themes. This is combat literature in the true sense of the word, in the sense that it calls upon a whole people to join in the struggle for the existence of the nation” (173). 

In this revolutionary situation, oral literature begins to change, and storytellers become creative and imaginative and inventive: 

The storyteller responds to the expectations of the people by trial and error and searches for new models, national models, apparently on his own, but in fact with the support of his audience. Comedy and farce disappear or else lose their appeal. As for drama, it is no longer the domain of the intellectual’s tormented conscience. No longer characterized by despair and revolt, it has become the people’s daily lot, it has become part of an action in the making or already in progress. (174-75)

As before, that description seems unnecessarily prescriptive. Do these changes happen everywhere? Is it true that people lost their interest in comedy? Fanon presents no evidence and that’s a weakness in his argument.

As these changes take place, the colonizer sees that the culture is changing and becomes a defender of the traditional artistic styles (175). However, that defence makes little difference to the culture’s revival and reinvigoration: “By imparting new meaning and dynamism to artisanship, dance, music, literature, and the oral epic, the colonized subject restructures his own perception. The world no longer seems doomed. Conditions are ripe for the inevitable confrontation” (176). According to Fanon, “this energy, these new forms, are linked to the maturing of the national consciousness and now become increasingly objectivized and institutionalized. Hence the need for nationhood at all costs” (176-77). All of this leads to “one fundamental question”: “What is the relationship between the struggle, the political or armed conflict, and culture? During the conflict is culture put on hold? Is the national struggle a cultural manifestation? Must we conclude that the liberation struggle, though beneficial for culture a posteriori, is in itself a negation of culture? In other words, is the liberation struggle a cultural phenomenon?” (178). For Fanon, “the conscious, organized struggle undertaken by a colonized people in order to restore national sovereignty constitutes the greatest cultural manifestation that exists” (178). That successful struggle leads to the demise of colonialism and of the colonized: “This new humanity, for itself and for others, inevitably defines a new humanism. This new humanism is written into the objectives and methods of the struggle” (178). In fact, “the future of culture and the richness of a national culture are also based on the values that inspired the struggle for freedom” (179).

“If man is judged by his acts, then I would say that the most urgent thing today for the African intellectual is the building of his nation,” Fanon concludes:

If this act is true, i.e., if it expresses the manifest will of the people, if it reflects the restlessness of the African peoples, then it will necessarily lead to the discovery and advancement of universalizing values. Far then from distancing it from other nations, it is the national liberation that puts the nation on the stage of history. It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness establishes itself and thrives. And this dual emergence, in fact, is the unique focus of all culture. (180)

This, I think, is Fanon’s way of resolving the apparent conflict between the universal and the particular. And it is also his way of subordinating cultural expression to “the manifest will of the people,” to the struggle for liberation. As I recall, ideas about political engagement in literature were not uncommon in the 1950s and 1960s, and I wonder to what extent Fanon’s arguments here are drawing on them. Perhaps what I’ve been seeing as annoying prescriptiveness was, at the time, a common perspective on the relationship between art and culture, on the one hand, and politics and political struggle, on the other.

Fanon’s fifth chapter, “Colonial War and Mental Disorders,” begins with a defence of its inclusion in the book: “Perhaps the reader will find these notes on psychiatry out of place or untimely in a book like this,” Fanon writes. “There is absolutely nothing we can do about that” (181). Clearly he feels compelled to include this chapter, which is mostly a collection of case histories or notes of patients he treated in Algeria, in the book. In my reading, this chapter is about the different ways that PTSD is expressed in people affected by both colonization and the national liberation conflict. Fanon emphasizes the former in his introduction, however: “Because it is a systematized negation of the other, a frenzied determination to deny the other any attribute of humanity, colonialism forces the colonized to constantly ask the question: ‘Who am I in reality?’” (182). “The defensive positions born of this violent confrontation between the colonized and the colonial constitute a structure which then reveals the colonized personality,” he continues. “In order to understand this ‘sensibility’ we need only to study and appreciate the scope and depth of the wounds inflicted on the colonized during a single day under a colonial regime” (182). As he typically does, Fanon sees armed conflict as the way such wounds can be healed: “When colonization remains unchallenged by armed resistance, when the sum of harmful stimulants exceeds a certain threshold, the colonized’s defenses collapse, and many of them end up in psychiatric institutions” (182). Of course, the armed resistance can become another form of “harmful stimulants”—at least, many of the people Fanon treated, and whose case notes he presents, were damaged not only by colonialism, but by the armed conflict against the colonizer. I’m skipping over the details of the case histories Fanon presents here, but he treats both victims of colonial violence, fighters against that violence, and the perpetrators of that violence and their families—including a French soldier who tortures Algerian revolutionaries. All of them, in my reading, are damaged by the violence they have experienced, witnessed, or perpetrated. Nobody engages in armed conflict and emerges without psychological scars.

Nevertheless, Fanon continues to believe in the power of collective political violence:

the aim of the militant engaged in armed combat, in a national struggle, is to assess the daily humiliations inflicted on man by colonial oppression. . . . The militant very often realizes that not only must he hunt down the enemy forces but also the core of despair crystallized in the body of the colonized. The period of oppression is harrowing, but the liberation struggle’s rehabilitation of man fosters a process of reintegration that is extremely productive and decisive. (219)

“The combat waged by a people for their liberation leads them, depending on the circumstances, either to reject or to explode the so-called truths sown in their consciousness by the colonial regime, military occupation, and economic exploitation,” he continues. “And only the armed struggle can effectively exorcize these lies about man that subordinate and literally mutilate the more conscious-minded among us” (220). Armed conflict is the only way that the colonized can reassert their humanity:

As soon as you and your fellow men are cut down like dogs there is no other solution but to use every means available to reestablish your weight as a human being. You must therefore weigh as heavily as possible on your torturer’s body so that his wits, which have wandered off somewhere, can at last be restored to their human dimension. (221)

One way that the French colonizers in Algeria denied the humanity of Algerians was by dwelling on Algerian criminality. They considered the criminal behaviour of the Algerians to be congenital, apparently, according to the examples Fanon provides. “Today everyone on our side knows that criminality is not the result of the Algerian’s congenital nature nor the configuration of his nervous system,” he writes. Instead, 

in the colonial situation the colonized are confronted with themselves. They tend to use each other as a screen. Each prevents his neighbor from seeing the national enemy. . . . Exposed to daily incitement to murder resulting from famine, eviction from his room for unpaid rent, a mother’s withered breast, children who are nothing but skin and bone, the closure of a worksite and the jobless who hang around the foreman like crows, the colonized subject comes to see his fellow man as a relentless enemy. (230-31)

So that criminal behaviour was the product of the colonial situation. However, Fanon continues,

everything has changed since the war of national liberation. The entire reserves of a family or metcha can be offered to a passing company of soldiers in a single evening. A family can lend its only donkey to carry a wounded fighter. And when several days later the owner learns the animal was gunned down by a plane he will not sling curses or threats. Instead of questioning the death of his donkey he will anxiously ask whether the wounded man is safe and sound. (232)

As usual, Fanon is idealizing the peasants: is anyone really that perfect, that committed to the struggle that they will sacrifice their only draught animal to the cause without complaint? Maybe the peasants in Algeria were that engaged in the liberation struggle, and maybe I’m just being cynical.

In any case, Fanon argues that the criminality the French complained about, and sent experts to study, was caused by their oppression of the Algerians: “In a context of oppression like that of Algeria, for the colonized, living does not mean embodying a set of values, does not mean integrating oneself into the coherent, constructive development of a world. To live simply means not to die. To exist means staying alive” (232). In such an environment, stealing something valuable from someone, something they need to survive, is tantamount to attempted murder (232). “The criminality of the Algerian, his impulsiveness, the savagery of his murders are not, therefore, the consequence of how his nervous system is organized or specific character traits, but the direct result of the colonial situation,” he writes (233). “Once again, the colonized subject fights in order to put an end to domination,” Fanon concludes: 

But he must also ensure that all the untruths planted within him by the oppressor are eliminated. In a colonial regime such as the one in Algeria the ideas taught by colonialism impacted not only the European minority but also the Algeria. Total liberation involves every facet of the personality. The ambush or the skirmish, the torture or the massacre of one’s comrades entrenches the determination to win, revives the unconscious and nurtures the imagination. When the nation in its totality is set in motion, the new man is not an a posteriori creation of this nation, but coexists with it, matures with it, and triumphs with it. This dialectical prerequisite explains the resistance to accommodating forms of colonization or window dressing. Independence is not a magic ritual but an indispensable condition for men and women to exist in true liberation, in other words to master all the material resources necessary for a radical transformation of society. (233)

Again, we see the claim that revolutionary violence is salutary rather than scarring, that it “revives the unconscious and nurtures the imagination” rather than crippling both. It’s a claim I find hard to accept, and one which the evidence provided in Fanon’s own case notes would tend to disprove.

Finally, Fanon comes to a conclusion. It is time to take sides, he writes: “We must abandon our dreams and say farewell to our old beliefs and former friendships. Let us not lose time in useless laments or sickening mimicry. Let us leave this Europe which never stops talking of man yet massacres him at every one of its street corners, at every corner of the world” (235). “For centuries Europe has brought the progress of other men to a halt and enslaved them for its own purposes and glory; for centuries it has stifled virtually the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called ‘spiritual adventure,’” he continues. “Look at it now teetering between atomic destruction and spiritual disintegration” (235). The future lies with the newly independent, formerly colonized countries, rather than with Europe:

The Third World must start over a new history of man which takes account of not only the occasional prodigious theses maintained by Europe but also its crimes, the most heinous of which have been committed at the very heart of man, the pathological dismembering of his functions and the erosion of his unity, and in the context of the community, the fracture, the stratification and the bloody tensions fed by class, and finally, on the immense scale of humanity, the racial hatred, slavery, exploitation and, above all, the bloodless genocide whereby one and a half billion men have been written off. (238)

“So comrades, let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions, and societies that draw their inspiration from it,” Fanon continues. “Humanity expects other things from us than this grotesque and generally obscene emulation” (239). Instead, “[f]or Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must make a new start, develop a new way of thinking, and endeavour to create a new man” (239).

The Wretched of the Earth is a powerful read, and although I have a lot of questions about Fanon’s argument—particularly his belief in the unifying and healing power of violence—his analysis of the effects of colonization is, I would think, exactly right. It certainly conforms to the kinds of things I’ve seen and read about here in Canada. Maybe that analysis is what I should take from reading The Wretched of the Earth, and maybe I should leave his discussion of violence aside. Perhaps I’m not completely sold on his evocation of the power of violence because, first of all, as a Settler, I can easily imagine myself being the victim (if that’s the right word) of anticolonial violence. What separates Canadians from the pieds noirs, the French settlers (who included in their number Albert Camus and Jacques Derrida) who lived in, and were often born in, Algeria? Not a lot. But I wouldn’t want to be forced into a situation where I would perpetrate that kind of violence, either. Perhaps he’s right, and that decolonization can only be achieved through violent struggle. I hope that’s not the case. I hope that there is another way forward. Fanon would likely describe my reaction as naive. And maybe he would be right. But at the same time, I think he is romanticizing violence, and I don’t see the point of doing that.

Works Cited

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth, 1961, translated by Richard Philcox, Grove, 2004.

96. Warren Cariou, “Haunted Prairie: Aboriginal ‘Ghosts’ and the Spectres of Settlement”

cariou haunted prairie.jpg

I took a break this afternoon from putting together notes on Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and did a little searching for material on hauntings and settler colonialism. One of the texts I discovered was this short essay by Warren Cariou, whose memoir, Lake of the Prairies: A Story of Belonging I blogged about here some time ago. Cariou begins with a speculation that parallels my own sense of what ghosts and spectres might mean for Settlers:

spectral native figures have long been a part of the iconic vocabulary of Euro-American Gothic romances, but it seems that in recent years there has been a resurgence of the Aboriginal ghost motif in descriptions of land on the prairies. This reflects a widespread and perhaps growing anxiety suffered by settlers regarding the legitimacy of their claims to belonging on what they call “their” land. This fear can be described in Freudian terms as a kind of neocolonial uncanny, a lurking sense that the places settlers call home are not really theirs, and a sense that their current legitimacy as owners or renters in a capitalist land market might well be predicated upon theft, fraud, violence, and other injustices in the past. The driving psychological force behind these Aboriginal hauntings as they are imagined by non-Native writers, then, is as in most ghost stories the return of the repressed. (727-28)

Cariou refers to Freud’s essay “The Uncanny” as a source, among others; I’ll have to dig out those Pelican paperbacks of Freud’s writings if I intend to pursue this notion any further.

Cariou finds this phenomenon in Sharon Butala’s The Perfection of the Morning, where the author visits a circle of stones on “her” land “and is confronted there by the ghostly figure of a Native man,” a shaman, apparently; she feels pushed away from the place, and she hears a voice inside her head that says, “Because you are not worthy” (qtd. 728). For Cariou, that figure is “a reminder that the legitimacy of her belonging on the prairie is open to challenge by prior claims. The charge of unworthiness that she is confronted with is not so much a personal accusation as a condemnation of the entire settler tradition” (728). Butala, he continues, 

is not allowed to forget that there has already been an expulsion of sorts, under the auspices of the Indian Act. There is no talk of redress here, perhaps because there are no living Native people present in this prairie. They are all ghosts, denizens of a half-forgotten and sacralized past. (728-29) 

“The narrative suggests that the best thing a settler can do is respect the wishes of these spirits,” he concludes (729). The Perfection of the Morning could easily be on my reading list, and perhaps given Cariou’s discussion, I ought to include it.

Another haunted Settler text is Maggie Siggins’s Revenge of the Land. There is no ghost in that book, “but the parcel of Saskatchewan farmland in question is clearly haunted by an avenging poltergeist” (729). “While many of the farmer/settlers who live there over the years claim to love this land and want to hand on to it at any cost, Siggins portrays the land itself enacting revenge upon these settlers, causing financial ruin, marital discord, personal misery, and even indirectly the deaths of the owners,” Cariou writes (729). Why is this land so vengeful? “Revenge is of course the return of something: an injury for an injury. It has an economy which is fundamentally uncanny: misdeeds of the past create a climate in which dangerous symptoms must erupt into the present” (729). On the piece of land Siggins writes about, “injuries and injustices pile up over the years, and even though these are forgotten by successive generations of owners, the land itself seems to remember, seems to be keeping an account” (729). Two injuries or injustices stand out. The first is the breaking of the land, “the quintessential act of homestead settlement,” initiates this curse (729), but in a more directly political way, there is also “the fraudulent means by which much of the land comes to be in the settlers’ hands at all”: the cheating of Métis people out of their “government-appointed scrip land” by “unscrupulous white speculators” (729). Cariou suggests that

this colossal injustice in the settlement of the West has been successfully repressed by settler culture. But like anything in the Freudian economy of repression, for Siggins, this willed forgetting always eventually finds its way out into the light of consciousness, often dragging horrid consequences along with it. The effect of this geographical revenge is to make all of settler culture feel more than a little unsettled. (730)

That’s very close to my sense of how past (and present) injustices are repressed, and how such repression leaks out into behaviour and beliefs. 

Can “such uncanny fear be productive in any way,” or does it create “only a horrified sense of inevitability, a passive conviction that colonial sins will be punished, and [that] therefore it is not necessary to work towards reconciliation with those who have been wronged?” Cariou asks (730). “This is where contemporary Native writings about spirits on the prairies can be particularly useful, because these writings tend to focus more on the necessity of present action” (730). “Of course,” Cariou continues, “for Native readers and writers, there is no reason that these Indigenous ghosts or spirits should be frightening. Native people already have plenty of evidence in their daily lives of how the legacies of colonialism have been passed down through the generations; they do not need to summon spectres to fulfill that action” (730). Thus, although Indigenous writers do represent spirits in their work, “these spirits are not necessarily figures of uncanny terror”: they might be the wihtiko “or the skeleton-spirit Pahkakos,” but “they may also be figures of healing, ceremony, or political action. Or they may simply be ancestors. And while many such spirits do seem to address the transgressions of the colonial past, they usually do so as part of a call for some kind of redress or change in the present” (730).

For instance, Louise Halfe’s book-length poem, Blue Marrow, “is marked in several ways by the legacy of the Ghost Dance”; the book is not just a poem “but also an elaborate ceremony, designed to call the spirits of the Grandmothers to come forth and tell their stories in order to heal the present generation” (731). Much of the poem is narrated by these “unnamed ancestral spirits, who recount their stories of the settlement of Canada’s northwest” (731). These spirits “simply tell their stories and leave the rest to the narrator and the reader” (732). Another example is Thomas King’s novel Truth and Bright Water, which begins with an uncanny scene—a woman’s disappearance over the edge of a cliff (732). That figure isn’t a woman, however, nor is she, or he, “hiding the results of some terrible crime” (733). Rather, that figure, the artist Munroe Swimmer, has liberated bones of Indigenous ancestors from museums around the world, “and he has taken them back to his home to return them to the earth” (733). In this way, that first uncanny scene in the novel “becomes transformed into an aesthetic of action rather than one of fear” (733).

Cariou’s essay is short, and while it is literary criticism (and thus not quite the kind of work I’m looking for), it’s useful, if only because it confirms my suspicions about the settler colonial repressed and its return. I’ve found several other essays on this topic, and over the next few days I’ll write about them here. Even if this particular strand of inquiry is somewhat off-topic, it’s still interesting and potentially fruitful.

Work Cited

Cariou, Warren. “Haunted Prairie: Aboriginal ‘Ghosts’ and the Spectres of Settlement.” University of Toronto Quarterly, vol. 75, no. 2, 2006, pp. 727-34.

95. Eve Tuck and C. Ree, “A Glossary of Haunting”

handbook-of-autoethnography

In my last blog entry, I wondered whether some of the strange justifications Eva Mackey describes settler descendants making about their occupation of Indigenous land—the claim, for instance, that there were no Indigenous people living on the land when settlers  first arrived—might come from “a deeply buried recognition that the claims Settlers make about Crown sovereignty and the rightness of their presence on Indigenous lands are, frankly, specious.” I wondered if there might be any evidence to support that suspicion. That’s the reason I decided to read Eve Tuck’s and C. Ree’s strange, short text (it’s not an essay), “A Glossary of Haunting.” I was hoping it might suggest something about the effect such hidden recognitions might have on settlers. I was disappointed, though; that’s not what Tuck and Ree are thinking about in this text. I might have to return to Gabriele Schwab’s book Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma to find evidence of those kinds of hidden recognitions, since Schwab talks about the transgenerational effects of the trauma perpetrators experience, if I’m serious about following up my hunch. Or perhaps I might find some discussion of that idea somewhere else. I’m sure I’m not the first person to wonder if it’s a possibility. 

In any case, Tuck and Ree begin by stating that their text presents an alphabetized glossary about justice, but more specifically, “about righting (and sometimes wronging) wrongs; about hauntings, mercy, monsters, generational debt, horror films, and what they might mean for understanding settler colonialism, ceremony, revenge, and decolonization” (640). The authors describe this glossary as “a fractal,” because “it includes the particular and the general, violating the terms of settler colonial knowledge which require the separation of the particular from the general, the hosted from the host, personal from the public, the foot(note) from the head(line), the place from the larger narrative of nation, the people from specific places” (640). “This glossary is a story, not an exhaustive encyclopedia,” “a story that seethes in its subtlety,” they write (640). Strangely, they state, “In telling you all of this in this way, I am resigning myself and you to the idea that parts of my telling are confounding. I care about you understanding, but I care more about concealing parts of myself from you. I don’t trust you very much. You are not always aware of how you can be dangerous to me, and this makes me dangerous to you” (640). It seems, then, that they are writing in the voice of one of the monsters they describe in their text. The adoption of the voice of that monster–of the colonized subject–occurs at other points in this text as well.

Such monsters are similar to the creatures one sees in American or Japanese horror films, although they explain that there are important differences between horror films produced in those two countries. “Mainstream narrative films in the United States, especially in horror, are preoccupied with the hero, who is perfectly innocent, but who is assaulted by monstering or haunting just the same,” they write (640). Audiences “are meant to feel outrage in the face of haunting, we are beckoned to root for the innocent hero, who could be us, because haunting is undeserved, even random,” and “[t]he hero spends the length of the film righting wrongs, slaying the monster, burying the undead, performing the missing rite, all as a way of containment” (641). Japanese horror films are very different; they invoke, instead, “a strategy more akin to wronging, or revenge” (641). “The difference between notions of justice popularized in the US horror films and notions of justice in these examples of horror films from Japan,” they explain,

is that in the former, the hauntings are positioned as undeserved, and the innocent hero must destroy the monster to put the world in balance again. . . . In the latter, because the depth of injustice that begat the monster or ghost is acknowledged, the hero does not think herself to be innocent, or try to achieve reconciliation or healing, only mercy, often in the form of passing on the debt. (641)

Japanese horror films, then, recognize past injustices, while American horror films pretend that those injustices don’t exist.

The particular form of injustice Tuck and Ree are interested in is colonialism. “Colonization is as horrific as humanity gets,” they write, noting that it inevitably involves genocide (642). Because settler colonialism is a structure (following the work of Patrick Wolfe) “and not just the nefarious way nations are born,” it is “an ongoing horror made invisible by its persistence” (642). Settler colonialism, in particular,

is the management of those who have been made killable, once and future ghosts—those that had been destroyed, but also those that are generated in every generation. . . . Settler horror, then, comes about as part of this management, of the anxiety, the looming but never arriving guilt, the impossibility of forgiveness, the inescapability of retribution. (642)

I wonder if the same thing couldn’t be said of other forms of colonialism as well: they all seem to be about what Tuck and Ree call “making-killable,” a way of “making subhuman, of transforming beings into masses that can be produced and destroyed, another form of empire’s mass production” (648). In any case, if settler horror is part of the management of the anxiety produced by the genocidal actions of settlers, haunting, on the other hand, “is the relentless remembering and reminding that will not be appeased by settler society’s assurances of innocence and reconciliation. Haunting is acute and general; individuals are haunted, but so are societies” (642). “The United States is permanently haunted by the slavery, genocide, and violence entwinted in its first, present and future days,” they write (642). “Haunting doesn’t hope to change people’s perceptions, nor does it hope for reconciliation. Haunting lies precisely in its refusal to stop. . . . this refusal to stop is its own form of resolving. For ghosts, the haunting is the resolving, it is not what needs to be resolved” (642). “Haunting is the cost of subjugation,” they continue. “It is the price paid for violence, for genocide” (643).

Tuck and Ree retell the Homeric story of Cyclops, making her into an anti-hero who only wants to be left alone: “Her enormous eye sees through deceptive Odysseus who feigns codes of hospitality to receive the sheep as gifts. She will keep her land and sheep out of reach, a thing of myth. She does things that are monstrous to violate the colonizer and to wage vengeance for future ghosts, none of which is legible to Homer” (644). Cyclops, in this version, “walks the vastness of [Odysseus’s] kingdom, slowly becoming a ghost. . . . Her revenge feeds her, making her opaque, anti-gravity, a black hole. . . . She will strand Odysseus in constant unease, bereft of his cherished and clever reason” (644). “Revenge requires symmetry with the crime,” they argue:

To the (purported) (would-be) hero, revenge is monstrous, heard but not seen, insatiable, blind with desire, the Cyclops robbed of her eye. To the self-designated hero, revenge hails a specter of something best forgotten, a ghost from a criminal past.

To the monster, revenge is oxygen. (644)

In this reading, then, Cyclops stands in for the colonized, for the Indigenous or enslaved peoples whose genocide formed the basis for the existence of the American nation-state, while Odysseus is a paradigmatic figure for the greedy and heedless colonizer, taking what is not his.

What, then, of decolonization, the subject of Tuck’s and K. Wayne Yang’s essay “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor”? “Decolonization must mean attending to ghosts, and arresting widespread denial of the violence done to them,” Tuck and Ree write (647).  But decolonization isn’t really about social justice (a claim Tuck and Yang make in their essay):

Decolonization is a (dearly) departure from social justice. . . . Listing terrors is not a form of social justice, as if outing (a) provides relief for a presumed victim or (b) repairs a wholeness or (c) ushers in an improved social awareness that leads to (a) and (b). That is not what I am doing here, saying it all so that things will get better. Social justice is a term that gets thrown around like some destination, a resolution, a fixing. “No justice, no peace,” and all of that. But justice and peace don’t exactly cohabitate. The promise of social justice sometimes rings false, smells consumptive, like another manifest destiny. Like you can get there, but only if you climb over me. (647)

There’s little hope here, or elsewhere in the essay, about the possibilities of decolonization. The effects of colonization, instead, are ongoing and irreparable.

Next, Tuck and Ree describe “damage narratives,” adopting the perspective of the colonized to do so. “Damage narratives are the only stories that get told about me, unless I’m the one that’s telling them,” they write. “People have made their careers on telling stories of damage about me, about communities like mine. Damage is the only way that monsters and future ghosts are conjured” (647). Instead of damage, this voice prefers to speak of desire, “a refusal to trade in damage; desire is an antidote, a medicine to damage narratives” (647). Desire is 

a recognition of suffering, the costs of settler colonialism and capitalism and how we still thrive in the face of loss anyway; the parts of us that won’t be destroyed. When I write or speak about desire, I am trying to get out from underneath the ways that my communities and I are always depicted. I insist on telling stories of desire, of complexity, of variegation, of promising myself one thing at night, and doing another in the morning. (647-48)

Desire “is productive, it makes itself, and in making itself, it makes reality” (648). Narratives of desire, then, are better than narratives about the damage done by colonization.

The only way that decolonization can occur, it seems, is through an act of mercy towards the colonizer by the colonized, although the version of mercy that Tuck and Ree provide is complicated:

Mercy is a temporary pause in haunting, requiring a giver and a receiver. The house goes quiet again, but only for a time. Mercy is a gift only ghosts can grant the living, and a gift ghosts cannot be forced, extorted, seduced, or tricked into giving. Even then, the fantasy of relief is deciduous. The gift is an illusion of relief and closure. Haunting can be deferred, delayed, and disseminated, but with some crimes of humanity—the violence of colonization—there is no putting to rest. Decolonization is not an exorcism of ghosts, nor is it charity, parity, balance, or forgiveness. Mercy is not freeing the settler from his crimes, nor is it therapy for the ghosts. Mercy is the power to give (and take). Mercy is a tactic. Mercy is ongoing, temporary, and in constant need of regeneration. Social justice may want to put things to rest, may believe in the repair in reparations, may consider itself an architect or a destination, may believe in utopic building materials which are bound to leak, may even believe in peace. Mercy is not any of that. Mercy is just a reprieve; mercy does not resolve or absolve. Mercy is a sort of power granted over another. Mercy can be merciless. (648-49)

I have to admit that while I recognize the rhetorical move in the last sentences of that quotation, the authors’ desire to express a paradox, I honestly don’t understand how mercy is merciless. Are all forms of power merciless? Is that the suggestion? 

“People who deny the persistence of settler colonialism are like the heroes in American horror films, astonished that the monster would have trouble with them,” Tuck and Ree continue (649). But those monsters have been wronged, they seek justice, and there is no way to permanently defeat them: “monsters can only be deferred, disseminated; the door to their threshold can only be shut on them for so long” (649). This argument returns to their earlier discussions of decolonization and mercy. “Unruly, full of desire, unsettling, around the edges of haunting whispers revenge,” they continue. “The rage of the dead, a broken promise, a violent ruin, the seeds of haunting, an engine for curses. It can and cannot be tolerated. Not like justice. Everyone nods their head to justice. Who can disagree with justice?” (651). Revenge, however, “is necessarily unspeakable to justice. We have better ways to deal with revenge now. But revenge and justice overlap, feed and deplete the other” (651-52). “Revenge is one head of the many-headed creature of justice,” they claim (652). They suggest that we are always told that revenge is wrong, that it is “wronging wrongs, a form of double-wronging” (654). (Two wrongs don’t make a right—that kind of thing.) “At the same time, righting wrongs is so rare,” they continue. “Justice is so fleeting. And there are crimes that are too wrong to right” (654). But “wronging wrongs” is the work of monsters:

Wronging wrongs, so reviled in waking life, seems to be the work of nightmares and hauntings and all the stuff that comes after opportunities to right wrongs and write wrongs have been exhausted. Unreadable and irrational, wronging wrongs is the work of now and future ghosts and monsters, the supply of which is ever-growing. You’ll have to find someone to pull on your ears to bring you out of the nightmares, to call you home and help you remember who you are, and to hope that the ghosts will be willing to let you go. (654)

If I’m understanding this conclusion correctly, only an act of mercy on the part of the wronged monster(s) can end the “nightmares” that settlers experience.

I’ve left a lot out of this summary—all of the descriptions of Ree’s installation artwork, and the strange appendix, “The Haunting of the Form O.” Like many attempts by social scientists to appropriate creative forms in the expression of scholarly arguments, the result here is odd and not entirely effective, I think, but it’s an interesting and potentially useful text. It’s certainly pessimistic about the possibilities of settler decolonization, which is more or less the way I would read “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor” as well. Tuck and her collaborators don’t hold out many possibilities for settler decolonization, I think. Perhaps that’s correct; perhaps decolonization (as a way to end the haunting this text describes) would have to be an act of mercy on the part of the colonized (and decolonizing) subject. I don’t know. I would like to know more about the haunting this text talks about, though. What form does that haunting take? That question remains unanswered. Perhaps I do need to reread Gabriele Schwab’s book, or do some more research into haunting and colonization, if I’m going to be able to substantiate my hunch, to turn it into something more than just a hunch.

Works Cited

Schwab, Gabriele. Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma, Columbia University Press, 2010.

Tuck, Eve, and C. Ree. “A Glossary of Haunting.” Handbook of Autoethnography, edited by Stacy Holman Jones, Tony E. Adams, and Carolyn Ellis, Routledge, 2013, pp. 639-58.

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1-40.

94. Eva Mackey, Unsettled Expectations: Uncertainty, Land and Settler Decolonization

eva mackey.jpg

I read Eva Mackey’s Unsettled Expectations: Uncertainty, Land and Settler Decolonization on airplanes and in hotel rooms over the past week or so. It’s an important book, and as an ethnography of Settlers opposed to Indigenous land rights movements, and of Settlers allying themselves with Indigenous peoples, it presents a unique perspective on issues of settler colonialism. At the same time, it tends to be somewhat repetitive, and that quality is likely to be reproduced in this summary, because I doubt that I’ll have time to eliminate it. I’m not sure if that repetitiveness is necessary. Perhaps, because Mackey is presenting difficult ideas, it helps communicate the points she’s making. On the other hand, perhaps it’s just a sign that the book needed a good editor. Either way, this summary is likely to be longer than I would like, and certainly longer than anyone reading it would like as well. I apologize for that in advance. 

Unsettled Expectations is in three parts, each consisting of an introduction and two chapters. Part One, “Contact Zones and the Settler Colonial Present,” begins with an introduction entitled “Settler Colonialism and Contested Homelands.” Mackey starts by setting out the questions she wants to address: 

Why do protestors against Indigenous land rights, in Canada and the United States, so often sing the national anthem? How do warlike images of “standing on guard” for the nation (including ritual gunshots in New York) figure in anti-land rights sentiment? Why and how do land rights—which challenge long-standing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people as well as the “progress” and mythologized history of nation-states—unearth deep-seated desires and brutal angers? What are the shapes this resistance takes? What kinds of self-evident ideas and histories inflect them?” (3-4)

She describes the book as “a critical multi-site ethnography that examines conflicts over Indigenous land rights in Canada and the United States as a lens through which to understand historical and ongoing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in settler colonies” (4). The goal of her research, she continues, “is to try to understand the lived practices and discourses of people defending and countering Indigenous land rights—as a grounded point of departure to examine the limits and possibilities of decolonization” (4). Her work “focuses on struggles over land because in this way attention is directed to foundational conceptual and material dilemmas in settler nations, dilemmas deeply interlaced with historical, cultural and economic issues,” and while confronting the “legacies of colonial pasts,” it also considers “the possibilities and limits of imagining and building decolonized futures” (4). 

Land is at the centre of settler colonialism. Mackey cites Cole Harris’s suggestion that the “experienced materiality of colonialism” is grounded in “dispossessions and repossessions of land” and Edward Said on land being the purpose of empire (4). However, the dispossession of Indigenous peoples not only about “guns, laws and boundaries,” but also “ideas and concepts that enabled and legitimized that dispossession: a range of complex and often contradictory ideas about progress, property, entitlement, categories of personhood and relationships between different peoples” (4). Despite her use of the past tense here, she notes that those ideas and practices aren’t in the past; they live on today (4). Mackey cites Shiri Pasternak’s definition of settler colonialism: it is a form of colonialism based on land acquisition and population replacement (4). The creation of states, nations, and legal systems is organized around domination of Indigenous populations and over immigrants who are imported as labour, although in the 20th century those immigrants become part of the reinvention of national identities through ideologies of multiculturalism or the “melting pot” (4). Because the settler never leaves, “the native” must disappear, she suggests, citing Patrick Wolfe’s 1999 book Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event (a book I’m going to have to read) (5). “Land rights conflicts are . . . deeply embodied, grounded, and material disputes that are also about interpretations of history, justice and identity, because they raise the difficult question of who is entitled to ownership of the national homeland,” she continues, noting that the survival of Indigenous peoples depends on their ability to overcome dispossession from their homelands and be at home “in nations built upon the appropriation of those very homelands” (5). “Contemporary claims for land and culture cannot be separated from demands for recognition of past injustices, which means colonial and national pasts—how those lands were taken—inevitably live in the present,” Mackey writes. “Questions about home, then, raise subsequent, necessary queries about past and present injustice and about property, possession and dispossession” (5).

Mackey began this research because, as a Settler in Canada, she 

wanted to understand, in a more complex, nuanced and historicized manner, how and why the same events and processes could be experienced and explained so differently by people who inhabit the same territory, and yet who are socially located in very different ways in terms of power, history and space. (6)

That desire led to many more specific questions:

How and why can so many non-Indigenous people see assertions of Indigenous “rights” as “invasion” of their lands, or even “terrorism”? How do legal frameworks, enacted nationally, regionally and locally actually function in the context of land claims? Who uses law and how? What are the effects? In the context of such conflict over history, colonialism and contemporary Indigenous land rights, how might we imagine de-colonized and just versions of citizenship, belonging and space? Can we really imagine de-colonizing “our home” on “Native land” (now seen as property) when property, power and history are so contested? What gets in the way? How might it be possible for diverse peoples with complex and overlapping histories of injustice and collusion, to live together justly, when history, property and the division of lands, resources and power are so contested? What gets in the way of decolonizing relationships and territorial spaces? How is it possible to even imagine a collective project of diverse people living together in a settler colony in a way that does not reproduce the brutal and subtle violence of ongoing colonialism, modernity and capitalism? (6-7)

That last question, “lately often framed as how to ‘decolonize’ settler nations, has no definitive answer,” she continues, citing Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang. “But can we even begin to imagine what it might entail? This book is an exploratory examination of such issues that builds from ethnographic research on communities experiencing conflict over land rights” (6-7).

Mackey conceptualizes the sites of conflict over land as “contact zones,” a term derived from the work of Mary Louise Pratt: for Pratt, a “contact zone” is a space of colonial encounter in which peoples previously separated come into contact and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, inequality, and intractable conflict (7). Settler nations have tried to settle those “ongoing relations” through ideologies and laws that produce their various nation-states “as settled, secure and legitimate national spaces” rather than “unsettled colonial ‘contact zones’”; however, the “ongoing conflict over land rights indicates that the process remains ‘unsettled’” (7). Her research with settlers, particularly those opposed to Indigenous land rights actions, suggests that they have 

a deep sense of entitlement and a supposedly natural right (even a responsibility) to own and develop property/land, even if it may have been taken from Indigenous people. They felt they had laboured and improved the land and helped build the nation and that they were entitled to their private property. On these grounds, they felt certain of their entitlement to the land and expected it to be ongoing and unchallenged. They also consistently expressed powerful feelings of uncertainty, crisis and anxiety about the future within the context of the land claims. They felt angry about this uncertainty, treating it as unexpected and unfair. The angry uncertainty as a result of Indigenous land rights . . . is a result of having those expectations of ongoing entitlement challenged. The anger implicitly constructs an opposite normative state of affairs in which settlers and the settler nation-state did, or believed it did, have certain and settled entitlement to the land taken from Indigenous peoples. These are what I call the “settled expectations” that have been unsettled as a result of land rights. (8)

Mackey continues:

The angry sense of ongoing entitlement led me to the question of how, on what grounds, to settlers feel entitled, settled and certain about their right to own and control the territory? How is it possible for the colonizers to claim to have stronger and more legitimate sovereignty over the territory, simply through arriving and asserting the claim, despite the vibrant collectivities of Indigenous people living there who did not consent to the land being taken and owned in this way? Why are Indigenous sovereign nations forced to ‘claim’ land from the nation-state when it was theirs in the first place? (8)

Is it just a matter of numerical superiority, or is something else going on? (8). “On what grounds can and do settler nations claim such an all-encompassing sovereignty?” (8).

The answer, Mackey argues, lies in the philosophical and legal assumptions that inform settler-colonial nation-states:

Western philosophy, law and land claims policy have all sought, in distinct and flexible ways, to attain certainty in “settled expectations” for settler projects. For example, the Crown and the nation-state’s legitimacy are based on the legal assumption (or as I call it, the ‘fantasy of entitlement’) that their sovereignty is necessarily superior, stronger and deeper than any claims of Indigenous people because underlying title belongs to the Crown. This is settler law, even if such claims have not been proven or if Indigenous people are not themselves “reconciled” to that interpretation. This is settler certainty, both assumed and defended with philosophy, law, legislation and bureaucratic policy. (9)

Mackey notes that her use of the word “entitlement” suggests “a longstanding, structured, collective privilege. In this sense it is more akin to class because it has been socially legitimized as a ‘right’ to land and other privileges, historically and in the present, through colonial and national projects” (9). For example, important court decisions in Canada have stated that the inherent right to self-government in the Canadian Constitution of 1982 only exists as long as it can be reconciled with Crown sovereignty (10). Why does Crown sovereignty take precedence over Indigenous sovereignty? Where does Crown sovereignty come from? “These so-called ‘logics’ of settler national sovereignty of land are what I call the elaborate and illogical (though extensively rationalized) ‘fantasies of possession’ and ‘fantasies of entitlement’ that have built settler certainty,” Mackey writes. “Even though they are ‘fantasies’ they have powerful effects on the world, often through their materialization in law” (10). These fantasies have become embedded, unconscious expectations of how the world will work “to reaffirm the social locations, perceptions and benefits of privilege,” she continues, citing Avril Bell.

These philosophical and legal fantasies have material and emotional effects, and it structures the way many Settlers respond to Indigenous land-rights movements:

This longstanding pattern, in which colonizers assume entitlement to claim sovereignty over Indigenous lands, continues to be repeatedly re-enacted post-facto in law as well as in the discourses of the people I interviewed. Colonization and settler nation-building have entailed the repetitive embedding and realizing of settler assertions of certainty and entitlement, and the repeated denial of Indigenous personhood and sovereignty, all of which are embedded in the interpretation of early moments of colonial/settler assumptions of sovereignty over territory. This pattern emerges from a set of stories that, as I will discuss, are grounded in delusions of entitlement based on arguments that should make no sense even to those who created them and turned them into laws. At the same time, these rationales have a particular pattern and “logic” that I trace throughout this book. They are socially embedded, unconscious expectations of how the world will work, and are relied upon to reaffirm social locations, perceptions and benefits of privilege that have been legitimated through repeated experiences across lifetimes and generations. Thus, I find the term “settled expectations” a powerful and polysemic metaphor for the taken-for-granted settler frameworks and practices of entitlement and expectation of ongoing privilege that I examine in this book. (11)

Not surprisingly, then, Mackey returns to the terms “settled expectations,” “unsettled expectations,” and “uncertainty” throughout the book.

While legal, political, and economic acts of redistribution are necessary to make amends for centuries of colonial oppression, those acts 

may not be possible or sufficient without a fundamental shift in settler common-sense frameworks, a shift in concepts for thinking about and experiencing relationships and power within spaces. In other words, it is necessary to unsettle “settled expectations.” The change we need, I contend, has to do with how we—and by “we” I mean relatively privileged non-Indigenous citizens of settler nations—think and act when it comes to the dominant and self-evident frameworks that many of us share. These frameworks, as I discuss in the chapters that follow, are so longstanding and self-evident that they are most often invisible (as other than truth and/or “common-sense”) to those who share them. Indeed, to even begin to imagine meaningful structural changes in Indigenous-settler relationships may first require the kind of epistemological shifts I discuss here. (11)

Mackey is also interested in the question of alliances between Indigenous people and Settlers, and raises questions about how such alliances might work and the need for Settlers to get engaged in the process of decolonization: 

What roles can and should non-Indigenous people play in decolonizing processes? Who is responsible for the hard and necessary work of decolonizing relationships? Colonization and decolonization are about relationships, and therefore the possibility of decolonization depends on all parties changing how they relate to one another. For too long, decolonization has been seen as an Indigenous issue. Thus, it makes sense that we, as settler descendants, take responsibility and engage in learning how to participate in this process. (12)

At the same time, Mackey notes that her book doesn’t provide “a general model of decolonial practice,” nor an argument “that a change in settler viewpoints could ever, on its own, obliterate colonial relations”:

Clearly, having a few settler people change the way that they think about Indigenous-settler relations will not immediately challenge the centuries of common-sense political, economic and legal oppression that Indigenous peoples have faced, nor the ontologies and epistemologies that have supported it. It could not suddenly solve the many problems Indigenous peoples face in terms of lands and sovereignty, education and health, poverty, racism, or the Indian Act. I suggest that fundamental shifts in settler perspectives must happen not instead of but in addition to serious structural, economic and political changes. However, if settlers are ever to fully engage with decolonization, and actually work mindfully on developing solutions to some of the above issues without reproducing the kinds of overt and subtle colonialism discussed in this book, it must begin somewhere. This book is offered as a gesture towards possible ways to imagine some of that necessary work. It is a small first step towards viewing how settlers might begin to deal with the “settler problem.” This book, therefore, is an exploratory contribution to an important journey—both imaginative and political—of learning how to unsettle expectations and move beyond the traps and limitations of ongoing settler colonialism, in order to learn new ways of building relations of both autonomy and interconnection with our Indigenous neighbours. (12)

For that reason, Mackey’s focus is on the “settler problem” and the logics of settler colonialism: “the social, ideological, and institutional processes through which the authority of the settler state is enacted,” she writes, citing the work of Mark Rifkin (another writer I need to read) (13).

Mackey suggests that “[k]eeping Indigenous sovereignty at the centre of my analysis provides a key foundation of my critical project, because I hope to undercut the ubiquitous and self-evident assumption that the settler state was and is entitled to assert sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and territories” (13). Sovereignty, in fact, is one of the central issues her book tackled:

Non-Indigenous citizens of settler nations might not see sovereignty (either their own or Indigenous sovereignty) as a central concern. Most of us go about our daily lives as if questions of ownership of land and jurisdiction of territory do not need to be asked or answered. We take it for granted that we are citizens of our countries, and that these countries have sovereignty and jurisdiction over these territories we live in. If we think about Indigenous people, it may be that we wish to help them become “equal” to other Canadians or Americans, and yet also able to maintain their “cultures,” not imagining or understanding that their vision of this land and their place in it and relationship with it is not encompassed or erased by the settler nation-state’s jurisdiction. These are the tricks enacted by the “normalizing logics” of settler colonialism that I discuss throughout this book: settler sovereignty and jurisdiction are assumed to be always-already settled, over, complete. Indigenous sovereignty appears to have been silenced, except in moments of “crisis” such as the conflicts that I explore in this book, when settler certainty and “settledness” become deeply disturbed by its vibrant re-emergence. (14)

However, “sovereignty” in relation to Indigenous peoples doesn’t mean quite the same thing it does in connection to Western nation-states. Mackey cites Taiaiake Alfred’s argument that sovereignty is a Western concept that implies a nation-state as a model, and that Indigenous traditional nationhood is very different, without absolute authority, coercive enforcement of decisions, hierarchy, or a separate ruling entity (15). Her use of the term “sovereignty,” then, is based on her interpretation of how the Onondaga Nation uses the term: it “includes autonomous relationships to territory, law, spirituality, ontologies and lifeways, a form of autonomy (and difference) that cannot be encompassed as simply another ‘minority’ within an overarching Western nation-state paradigm” (15). Decolonization, Mackey continues, will require what Alfred calls “radical imagination”: that is, settlers seeing themselves as being in equal and respectful relationship with other human beings and the natural environment (15-16). The important question to start with, she suggests, is “[w]hat is the relationship of other citizens of Canada and the United States . . . to Indigenous sovereignty?” (16). She distinguishes between land claims—the kind of processes established by the Canadian federal government, for example—and land rights. Engaging in land claims processes has negative effects; they are “based on an assimilative logic of incorporation into existing power structures” and therefore cannot promise decolonization (17). However, struggles over land rights “are fruitful sites (‘contact zones’) for analyzing both the deep tensions and possibilities of change within Indigenous-settler relations” (17). 

Mackey expresses some sympathy with the Settlers she interviewed who are opposed to Indigenous land rights:

The passionate anger expressed by the non-Indigenous people that I interviewed should not be surprising. It makes sense that, if people feel that their property and their expectations of a particular life and future might be suddenly and unexpectedly destroyed, they feel endangered, uncertain and angry. We can imagine that generations of settlers have grown up steeped in ubiquitous narratives about how their families (and other families like them) have worked hard on the land to build the nation. Such narratives have never before seemed to be at odds with the national narrative, or with the settled laws of the land. The people I spoke to appeared to feel as though they had been thrown into a state of vertigo: their settled worlds seemed to have been turned upside down. (18)

However, while those responses might not be surprising, she doesn’t condone them. Nor does she blame people for experiencing or acting on them. “The point here is that no matter how emotionally potent or understandable these emotions may be, they are also not simply individual emotions that occur naturally or spontaneously”; rather, they are reflections of the way colonial power shapes reality, creating an illusion of the permanency and inevitability of existing power relations (18).

Mackey uses the term “settler structures of feeling,” taken from Mark Rifkin, itself building on Raymond Williams’s concept “structures of feeling” as a way of understanding the effects of ideologies (19). I’ve always thought Williams’s term could be fruitful, because it suggests something about the emotional effects of ideological structures. Indeed, Mackey writes that she is investigating “how individual and collective emotions—as well as their broader social and legal common-sense frameworks—both reflect as well as reproduce key assumptions and ‘logics of settler colonialism,’ including the certainty, uncertainty and anxiety that land rights conflict engenders” (19). 

At the same time, Mackey notes (following the arguments of Alyssa Macoun and Elizabeth Strakosch, that there are limits to what focusing on settler colonialism can produce, and that scholars need to avoid using settler colonial theory neutrally. “Contestation and resistance are often not fully taken up in settler colonial theory, an approach that defines itself primarily as a project that focuses on the critique and deconstruction of dominant ideas and practices,” she writes. “Settler colonial theory has been successful as the critique of settler colonialism, but less successful at the more constructive project of documenting resistance and imagining alternatives” (23). While decolonization requires such critiques, she continues, “it also needs the constructive project of imagining and living regenerative ways of . . . being” (23). Thinking about moves to decolonization and Settler-Indigenous alliances “require a more speculative and imaginative approach because . . . the shape of decolonization is necessarily unknown” (23). For that reason, this book 

juggles the two fronts of decolonization, contributing both to settler colonial understandings of the complex logics of settler colonialism as well as to imaginings of decolonization often taken up by Indigenous studies. The conceptual lens that links these two thrusts together examines how certainty and uncertainty operate in both these fronts. (23)

Mackey’s contribution to settler colonial studies is her claim “that certainty and uncertainty are central to the multi-sited logics, practices and ‘states of feeling’ in analysis of the ‘two fronts of decolonization,’ the critique and dismantling of the logics of settler colonialism, and the imaginative process of rebuilding” (23). Both critique and imagination are necessary, and her work examines both possibilities.

In the book’s next chapter, “Genealogies of Certainty and Uncertainty,” Mackey begins with the anger, fear, and uncertainty her research subjects expressed over Indigenous “land claims”:

It was an unexpected crisis they felt would threaten their entire life’s work and future. They felt victimized and angry. They did not see themselves as personally responsible for what their ancestors may or may not have done. How is it that they could possibly deserve what is happening to them? They felt betrayed by elites in government who were allowing such threats to their security, property and futures. Land rights for Indigenous peoples appeared to disrupt deep and longstanding feelings they have about their rights and entitlements as citizens within nations, particularly with regards to their own property and their rights to fully control that property in the present and the future. (27-28)

The “discourses about danger, risk and uncertainty” she examines in her ethnography, however, also “construct some political and moral positions as natural and rational, and define opposing positions as irrational, disloyal and dangerous” (30). In other words, “[t]he imagined dangers of land rights are based less on facts about actual risks and dangers than they are on moral and political assessments of risks and dangers that emerge from historically constructed characteristics of settler colonialism” (30). She notes that a sense of loss and uncertainty and danger is integral to neoliberalism as well: “Thus, some of the anger people express about danger and uncertainty also likely reflects how late modern subjects may experience precarity in this era of flexible accumulation and neoliberal economics” (31). Those insecurities, along with 

“the deep uncertainties and insecurities that could perhaps have disrupted colonial and nation-building processes were often displaced onto Indigenous peoples” (32). Neither Settlers nor their governments have seriously addressed the “potential uncertainty about their entitlement to land ownership and the establishment of colonies,” though (32). Instead, they have expressed “assertions of sovereignty based on an imagined and continually theorized superiority made that question both unspeakable and irrelevant, elided in the march of progress” (32). 

The terms “certainty” and “uncertainty” are central in her argument, and she goes on to indicate how she understands them:

I use the terms “certainty” and “uncertainty” in this book, therefore, not to indicate axiomatic, self-evident states; instead, I assume that they are socially, culturally and politically constructed in specific historical contexts and are pivotal to broader political strategies. They are also experienced emotionally as “settler states of feeling.” I use the terms “ontological certainty” and “ontological uncertainty” in this book in order to refer to the importance of how different ontologies (that is, theories about ways of being-in-the-world) intersect with questions of certainty and uncertainty. I hope to highlight how particular Western settler ontologies construct the relationship between land, property and people, as well as how such ontologies of certainty may be challenged. (33)

According to Mackey, “Western notions of private property, as well as hierarchical and racialized categories of personhood, are deeply related to securing certainty in land and ontological security for settler society” (33). That certainty or security can only be created through the construction of binaries: “the settled order of sedentarist boundaries and fences, versus the chaos and unsettled mobility of a ‘state of nature’ that is believed to exist outside of those boundaries. This is a very Hobbesian vision of the safety and security of reason versus the constant and repressed threat of irrational savagery” (33). “Private property is precisely designed to secure certainty for the owner,” she suggests, and it allows us to imagine that property and settlement are synonymous (34). But while “[s]ettled expectations and certainty emerge from having one’s ontology of entitlement confirmed through various laws, social surroundings and particular versions of exchange-based history and culture,” 

this sense of certainty emerges from a belief in the fantasy of ownership and control over the past/present/future of one’s own body and property. . . . This is where certainty and uncertainty link to Hobbes’ notion of the state of nature and the social contract, a contract which is supposed to save people from the specific forms of chaos and uncertainty that characterize it. (35)

Settler anxiety emerges “because the vibrant presence of Indigenous people is a constant and uneasy reminder that the settler colonial project is incomplete and unsettled” (35); it emerges “when people feel they must defend and explain what was previously thought to be self-evident, when that which is a ‘given’ is unsettled,” and it appears to create “a defensive hardening of unexamined self-evident assumptions” (36). 

For Mackey, “responses of anxious certainty,” however understandable they might be as “settler states of feeling,”

reveal both the persistence and the tenuousness of the settler colonial project and its costs and conditions of possibility. The dilemma is that the arguments made to oppose land rights that I discuss seem to be the only ones available to settlers, perhaps because they are based on such long-standing and unquestioned ontologies and epistemologies. They reveal the powerful limitations of coloniality, showing how colonialism did not only affect Indigenous peoples negatively, but also has harmed the ability of settler peoples to see beyond their own limited vision, a vision that cannot allow the conceptual shifts that may be required for imag[in]ing how to decolonize settler-Indigenous relations. (36)

Moreover, while “uncertainty and risk are generally seen in a negative light, almost always indicating undesirable outcomes,” it’s possible to see them “as positive and necessary, especially in creative pursuits, where uncertainty often leads to new and unexpected discoveries and motivations to continue” (36-37). “People embracing anxiety and uncertainty may also offer pathways out of the settled expectations of settler colonialism,” Mackey continues:

embracing uncertainty is required in order to unsettle the expectations, axiomatic assumptions and practices that emerge from centuries of embedded colonial and national frameworks that have limited our vision and our ability to relate to others. Uncertainty, in fact, may open channels to listening, relating and creating in new and unexpected ways. Moving beyond the limitations and cages of settled expectations and embracing the potential creativity that ‘ontological uncertainty’ could generate might be one way to help us imagine and practice less defensive and perhaps even decolonizing forms of settler-Indigenous relations. (37)

According to Mackey, “it takes humility and courage to be uncertain,” and decolonizing requires an embrace of uncertainty (37-38). That kind of humility, she continues, might seem “anathema to the epistemologies of certainty that inform settler states of feeling and that underpin settler law” (38). “Living without the entitlement to know everything (and therefore be certain) would likely lead to settler discomfort, a discomfort that may need to be embraced instead of resisted in order for settlers to participate in the difficult work of decolonization” (38). She is imagining a “self-conscious refusal to mobilize the axiomatic knowledge and action that have emerged from settler entitlement and certainty,” and suggests that such a refusal “may open a space for genuine attention to alternative frameworks, and seed possibilities for creative and engaged relationships and collective projects” (38). Decolonization is a place that, even in its tangibility and grounded uncertainty, will undoubtedly require engagement with the difficult yet necessary task of unsettling attitudes and practices based on settled expectations,” she writes, noting that her goal in this book is, in part, “to help settlers like myself begin to embrace unsettlement and disorientation as a difficult yet creative first step to engaging processes of imagining and putting into practice the making of a decolonized world” (38).

I found myself thinking about certainty and uncertainty, about comfort and discomfort, and wondering what opting for uncertainty and discomfort might feel like, or what an example of such a choice might look like, as I read this chapter. By chance, I ran across an interview with Susanne Moser, a climate scientist, that provides an example. Uncertainty, Moser argues, is “a necessary condition for hope,” because if you are certain that everything is going to be fine, or that everything is going to be terrible, you know (or imagine that you know) exactly what will happen (Mazur). Politicians like Donald Trump, for instance, peddle fantasies about certainty: America is going to be great again. On the other hand, Moser suggests a statement like “The future is going to look very different, and I can’t tell you how, but we’re going to have to go through that together and figure it out and create it” is an example of uncertainty (Mazur). It means hard work, and it’s unsettling, and it’s not popular, and yet it is, Moser suggests, “the grounds for transformation” (Mazur). At the same time, that uncertainty is an opportunity: 

You cannot transform if you stay the same. It sounds trite, but if you hold on to the way it has been, you’re going to stay the same. So you have to let go of the cliff, and you’re going to look like a fool, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes—my god, you’re going to go scratching down the cliff. It’s not going to look pretty, but it’s the only way you have a chance of actually changing. (Mazur)

In the third section of her book, Mackey provides examples of Settlers who have risked uncertainty in creative ways in order to move towards decolonization, but before I read that section, I found Moser’s words helped me to understand the importance of uncertainty in processes of change.

At the outset of the next chapter, “Fantasizing and Legitimating Possession,” Mackey outlines her purpose: “Here I do not provide a ‘general’ or all-inclusive history of colonial and settler-national ideologies, but a very selective genealogy of the relationship between property, certainty and entitlement based on the issues that emerged in the ethnographic research” (41). The chapter, she continues,

builds a background to help understand how many of the people I interviewed might come to have such a sense of certain entitlement and “settled expectations” of certainty, as well as to understand the strategies they use to defend those entitlements. In this chapter I trace how the concept and practice of trying to ensure the certainty of “settled expectations” of entitlement and to deny Indigenous sovereignty has been conceptualized and materialized in philosophy, law and policy/legislation. One goal of this chapter is to demonstrate that racialized colonial philosophies and practices that present-day citizens might want to distance themselves from are not simply an inheritance or legacy of the past, safely stored in a historical archive. These ideas, and the practices that are informed by them, continue to be foundational to, and actively drawn upon in, present-day law and land claims legislation. (41)

The ideas she discusses are part of “a longstanding and powerful tradition of ‘conjured fictions’ and fantasies of entitlement that required intense and consistent effort and flexibility over time. Through this process, colonial powers conferred upon themselves the authority and entitlement to appropriate and possess Indigenous land,” she writes, citing Anishinaabe legal scholar John Borrows (42). Her use of the word “fantasies,” she continues, “does not mean they do not have powerful material effects; they become more than just fantasies when they are bolstered by actions and law” (42). Indeed, those effects help to answer the questions she considers in this chapter:

How did the vast lands of Canada and the U.S. come to be owned and controlled by colonial powers, and not the previously free and independent nations that lived here before 1492? How do vast tracts of land become “owned” by some people and not by others? How does a particular version of ownership and property come to be dominant and widely accepted, and not others? How did previously independent sovereign nations become “domestic dependent nations” in the U.S., with limited sovereignty? Regarding the territories now known as Canada, how can it be that Indigenous peoples have a recognized “inherent right to self-government” (embedded in Section 31 of the Canadian Constitution since 1982), yet must struggle with the contradiction that they only have these rights as long as they can be “reconciled with the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty over Canadian territory?” (42)

Crown sovereignty, and therefore the legitimacy of settler ownership of land, is “is most often assumed and asserted . . . seen as self-evident and rarely questioned in legal decisions or by settler subjects” (43). The “fantasies of entitlement” of settlers have “profound material effects in the world” (43). “Indeed,” Mackey writes, “such fantasies of entitlement legitimated the unleashing of one of the most extensive colonial processes ever, a legalized grasping for land that has not stopped to this day,” a process that “still powerfully defines the day-to-day lives and imagined futures of all North Americans, although in very different ways depending on their social location” (43).

According to Mackey, one reason that the idea of land rights for Indigenous peoples often results in a violent response from Settlers is “that it disrupts unquestioned European assumptions about property, assumptions that have been developed through liberal political theory, social practice and law over centuries, and are based on a settled agricultural or commercial society (43). One of those assumptions has to do with “the rule of ‘first possession,” which grants

ownership to the party that gains control of the property before other potential claimants. Emerging from Roman law, first possession is deeply woven into the fabric of Anglo-American society as the notion of “finders keepers,” or “first come, first served.” The rule of first possession is foundational to the terra nullius doctrine and represents . . . a specifically agriculturalist or commercial view of property. (44-45)

The basis of terra nullius is in Roman law, “in the law of first possession” (45):

In this legal story about entitlement, the term “vacant”—as in terra nullius (vacant land)—does not therefore imply “empty.” Instead it indicates something that is in a “natural state of freedom” (wild, uncultivated), and is not governed by human control. This idea, that land is “open to the first taker” if it is uncontrolled and natural and not governed by human control . . . is pivotal to terra nullius frameworks that excluded Indigenous peoples, because they occupied and used the land and were related to nature in a way that colonizers misrecognized. (45)

Built into first-possession ideas, therefore, was the notion of humans “as outsiders to, and conquerors of, nature. Such concepts of relationship to land in terms of possessive ownership and control are widely believed to have been foreign to First Nations” (45-46). In other words,

Western concepts of first possession that undergird the concept of terra nullius were based on specific cultural practices and ontologies that from the outside did not valorize different forms of relationship to land. The implication is that the very concept of “first possession” is “Western,” in that it is based upon assumptions of a “settled” agrarian society that communicates possession through marking territory, by transforming nature and through the establishment of certainty in the possession of objects through establishing fixed and certain boundaries. In this way, having or claiming “first possession” depended upon mis-recognizing non-agrarian relationships to land. (46)

That misrecognition had tangible material effects, and is arguably the root of the notion of Crown sovereignty in North America. The European distinction between occupation and ownership—without cultivation, the land was considered occupied but not legally owned “and therefore empty of people and societies that mattered. This ‘unique twist’ meant that Indigenous relationships to land had to be somehow defined as inferior” (48). Moreover, Western forms of property were designed to create “certainty of expectation”: “Inherent in the liberal notion of property is the idea that it is secure and certain, not only now, but also into the future. It is therefore tied to expectations of certainty” (46). 

These ideas are expressed in philosophy. For example,

Hobbes’ social contract theory suggests that to escape the uncertain state of nature, people form a social contract in order to establish a civil society beneath a sovereign authority. In doing so, they consent to give up some rights to the “absolute political authority” in order to maintain social order and escape from the state of nature. . . . If America was “a state of nature,” it was not governed by human control, and was thus terra nullius and ‘open to the first taker. (48)

John Locke “argued that God rewards the transformative productive labour of industrious people with property” (50). “God, in Locke’s voice, mandates that improving, productive labour is the key to entitlement to property,” Mackey writes. “So mandated, colonizers felt the entitlement, even the duty, to appropriate, enclose, develop and ‘subdue’ the ‘vacant lands’ of America that were regarded as lying to waste by the inhabitants, who were seen as ‘actively neglecting the land.’ Such versions of personhood differ from Indigenous notions of personhood” (50). In other words, “[c]ulturally and historically specific concepts of property, developed in the colonial context, informed influential philosophical notions of the value of persons and rights to citizenship. They elaborate an ideal of normative subjects, suggesting what kind of person is deserving of land and of citizenship” (49). Improvement, individualism, and civilization became central to Europe’s “civilizational identity” (49): “Property is central to the narrative and identity of Europe” (49).

“Certainty and the transformation of nature into property were integral to this ‘civilizational identity’ in settler colonies,” Mackey writes (49). From the outset of colonization, “enclosure indicated individual, private ownership and private property. Such acts of survey, enclosure and planting were, at the time, often called ‘improvements,’” in the sense of fenced-in agricultural land (51).The colonizers saw those who did not engage in this process of improvement “as less than human beings”: “Native Americans, having ‘failed to subdue the earth’ and having given themselves ‘up to nature, and to passivity,’ had no right to consent or refuse. Indigenous peoples became, conceptually and legally, wandering nomads,” rather than than labourers or improvers of the land, and they “needed to be civilized,” to be turned into Lockean people “who would be rational, individualist and self-reliant, people who would ‘subdue the earth’ and improve it through labour” (52). 

“In this way,” Mackey continues,

culturally specific ideas about property, labour, personhood and morality were important for the creation of differential categories of social being, cultural belonging and political authority. Ideas about property and rights, tied as they were to notions of “improving labour,” were used by these colonizers to entitle themselves to appropriate the land and to continue to define Indigenous peoples as savages. In others words, Indigenous peoples were defined as savages because they did not know how to own land in a possessively individualistic way that European colonizers defined as proper. As such, their inability (or unwillingness) to control land was interpreted to mean that they needed to be under the control of colonizing, sovereign, settler subjects. Ultimately, then, ideas about property and personhood were (and continue to be) intimately connected, as legitimating strategies for ongoing colonization. (53)

Not only were Indigenous societies deemed inferior because they did not engage in forms of agriculture the colonizers recognized as “improvements,” but their governance structures were similarly seen as inadequate, and therefore they were not actually nations at all:

For Locke, rational societies must establish private property, they must give incentives to industriousness, they must develop reason, and, finally, political power must be institutionalized in particular ways. They have clearly defined characteristics based on European structures and ideals. Locke argued that “Indian” nations, even if they called themselves nations, were not true political societies because they lacked sovereignty and a singular unified central authority. Because they did not have private property and had not built states, Indigenous societies did not conform to the law of nature that applied in this historical phase, as defined by Locke. There was therefore no need to respect their territorial integrity. Such an approach depends on a failure to recognize the governments that did exist and a deep misunderstanding of Indigenous societies. (53)

Therefore, it was not an uncivilized action to take Indigenous land “in the name of progress and through the laws of natural and universal history. An unquestioned sense of superiority and entitlement is embedded in such frameworks” (53).

Locke’s ideas mirror the assumptions of the Doctrine of Discovery, according to Mackey:

Indigenous peoples were constructed as peoples whose land could be taken as a logical, rational and moral progression of colonial superiority and entitlement. Indeed, this new philosophy of universal history based on the state of nature justified a range of violent, genocidal practices as an inevitable result of ideologies of progress. Further, such practices, even if seen as somehow unjust, were also seen as part of the inevitable dying off or extinction of an inferior people who did not labour on the land. (53-54)

Naturalizing “the idea that culturally specific ways of relating to land and people was universal and proper,” and “defining alternative worldviews and practices as moral ‘failings,’” took a great deal of work. In fact, the idea of a “supposedly universalized framework provided a persuasive and authoritative fantasy of entitlement and, more importantly, a sense of certainty about the correctness and inevitability of European settler domination and land ownership” (54). “Such settled expectations and epistemologies of mastery are characterized by the entitled desire to own, bound, improve, appropriate, define, subdue and control both land and so-called inferior beings in specific ways,” Mackey continues. “These approaches, deeply linked to Western notions of property and personhood, also secure a fantasy of certainty that allows settlers to expect that, because of their superiority, they would naturally continue to own the land and that Indigenous peoples would inevitably disappear” (54). 

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 is typically understood to imply Crown recognition of Indigenous nationhood and the pre-existing rights of those nations, but Mackey points out that it undercuts the most fundamental of those rights by proclaiming Crown sovereignty and ownership of large areas of North America (55). “The Proclamation seems respectful because it recognizes Indian Nations as being in ‘possession’ of land,” she writes:

Yet immediately speaking in the voice of the Crown, the Proclamation declares that those lands are “Parts of Our [Crown] Dominions and Territories.” Therefore, at the precise moment of apparent recognition of Indigenous nations on one hand, it simultaneously transforms unceded Indigenous lands into Dominion territory, on the other. These territories were seen to be only temporarily occupied by Indigenous peoples (and it was assumed that they would eventually be ceded only to the Crown). (55)

“The sense of Crown entitlement lies in part in what the Proclamation assumes—yet does not explicitly explain or justify: its powerful silences communicate the unspoken assumption that the Crown is naturally entitled to its superior sovereignty,” Mackey notes (55). Indigenous peoples only retained land through the goodwill of the Crown, according to important court cases—in Canada, the 1888 St. Catherine’s Milling and Lumber Company v The Queen (56). In that case, “[t]he court argued that Aboriginal title was only a restriction on underlying provincial Crown title, and would be extinguished when surrendered by treaty. The Court ruled that the treaties transferred Crown lands to exclusive provincial control while eliminating Indian interest in those lands” (56). “The difference between recognizing pre-existing rights and ‘granting’ temporary rights transfers superior power to the Crown,” Mackey points out. “This kind of reasoning is still common sense today, especially when people speak of the government solving land ‘claims’ by ‘giving’ First Nations huge settlements, or suggesting that Indigenous peoples ‘claim’ settler land rather than ‘reclaim’ their pre-existing land rights” (56).

More recent court cases appear to be more supportive of Indigenous rights. For instance, in R. v Sparrow (1990), the Supreme Court decided that the Aboriginal rights in existence in 1982 “could not be infringed without justification, on account of the ‘fiduciary obligation’ of the Crown to Aboriginal peoples in Canada. It thus requires that the Crown exercise restraint when applying its powers in interference with Aboriginal rights,” Mackey notes. “Thus, on the one hand, Sparrow recognized Indigenous rights. On the other, at the precise moment of recognition, we also see the limiting of, and encroachment upon, these rights” (57). In Delgamuukw v British Columbia (1997), Supreme Court Chief Justice Lamer stated that Indigenous rights “are aimed at the reconciliation of the prior occupation of North America . . . with the assertion of Crown sovereignty over Canadian territory[”] (57). “Such ‘reconciliation,’ as we have seen, has meant that Indigenous people’s lifeways and relationships to territories must still reconcile themselves to occupying an inferior position in relation to Crown sovereignty, entitlement and assumed superiority,” Mackey argues (57). In addition, while in the 2014 Tsilhqot’in decision the Supreme Court recognized that the Xeni Gwet’in Tsilhqot’in people had title to a large part of their traditional territory, “the Crown’s superior sovereignty is still consistently assumed and defended, and it assumes Aboriginal rights must still be reconciled with that superior sovereignty. How can that sovereignty be constructed as superior without the doctrines of terra nullius and discovery?” (58). For Mackey,

 the entitlement of self-ascribed “superior” European power is a fantasy, underpinned by racialized assumptions about the inferiority of Indigenous occupation and use of the land. Without those assumptions, there is no possible way to imagine that the Crown has a radical underlying sovereignty that magically crystallized when they asserted it. Thus the decision does not repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery or question the Crown’s legal entitlement. (58-59)

Mackey notes that these legal decisions reflect the philosophical bases she discussed earlier:

Although the legal decisions I have discussed are flexible and constantly changing, they are also located on a continuum with Locke and Hobbes’ foundational visions because they embody colonial visions of land, power, property, personhood, people and their interrelationships. They are informed by deep-seated assumptions about the superiority of colonial epistemologies and persons, and the resulting sense of entitlement of colonial powers to function on the legal fiction that they are entitled to underlying sovereignty and ownership of the land. This sense of entitlement depends on the construction of Indigenous personhood and governments as naturally inferior, and enveloping them within the jurisdiction of the nation-state. (59)

For Mackey, the recognition of Indigenous rights afforded by the Supreme Court of Canada since 1973 “is contradictory when Indigenous rights must always be ‘reconciled’ with the Crown’s underlying and superior sovereignty” (60). “This is settler law,” she writes, “even if such claims have not been proven, or if Indigenous people are not themselves ‘reconciled’ to that interpretation”: 

In this way, jurisprudence has legally entrenched and attempted to materialize the fantasy of certainty and stability for settlers, always encompassing Indigenous nations into the “jurisdictional imaginary” of the settler nation. Law was and is still pivotal in establishing and maintaining the ‘fantasy of entitlement’ and the ‘settled expectations’ of settler society. (60)

The term “jurisdictional imaginary” becomes one of the key phrases in Mackey’s argument. 

The land claims processes established by the federal government are, Mackey writes, part of a so-called recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights, rather than a path towards decolonization,  because of “the continued and explicit search for Western forms of ‘certainty’ associated with the official land claims process” (60). “Certainty in land claims policy . . . depends upon the extinguishment of undefined Aboriginal rights,” she argues. “This process of state pursuit of certainty, over the objections of Indigenous peoples, has a revealing and shape-shifting quality made up of fantastic imaginings and absurd turns fo phrase” (61). Moreover, 

in order to sign a land agreement, the government requires that Indigenous people sign away (surrender) future and potential Aboriginal rights or title, other than those specified in the agreement. The goal of “extinguishment” in land settlements has often been to remove undefined and thus uncertain Aboriginal rights and turn them into fixed, definable and certain or predictable rights. Land rights, if not “legally captured” within a land rights agreement, are seen as making property uncertain and are therefore threatening to economic development and “capital and state sovereignty.” The goal of the land agreements . . . is the attainment of certainty through: 1) extinguishing undefined Aboriginal rights, or 2) fixing, defining, and codifying such rights so that they cannot threaten certainty. (61)

Extinguishment of Indigenous title was, as Sheldon Krasowski points out, “a requirement for the land cession treaties that spread across what is now southern Ontario and then westward along Lake Huron and Lake Superior, in addition to the eleven treaties the Canadian government negotiated from 1870 to 1921” (61). After the 1973 Calder decision, the federal government established comprehensive claims process; Michael Asch suggests that the goal of comprehensive claims settlements is to replace uncertainty with certainty, to make sure that if future courts were to “interpret Aboriginal rights more broadly (and generously) than in the claim agreement, Indigenous groups could not expand their claim”—in other words, the point is to “replace ambiguity with certainty and fixity through extinguishing Aboriginal title” (61-62). The 1999 Nisga’a Agreement limits Aboriginal rights but supposedly does not involve a surrender of those rights; however, in its search for certainty, it effectively extinguishes and future undefined rights, “because the Crown in protected in perpetuity” (63). “Such a ‘modification’ of rights seems akin to a convoluted performance to ensure certainty and security through a more subtle form of continued extinguishment and limiting of unspecified rights,” Mackey argues. “Indeed, this seems to be the goal of the government, which is evident in the way it communicates the results of land claims negotiations to citizens” (63). The emphasis in those communications is certainty (64), and the word “certainty” therefore becomes one of the dirty words in Mackey’s lexicon, and a synonym for “settled.”

According to Mackey, “the strangest, most bizarre and potentially the most infantilizing and humiliating (for Indigenous peoples) of the ‘certainty techniques’ used by the government is the ‘Non-Assertion Technique’ used in the Tlicho agreement” (64). That agreement states that the Tlicho nation will not exercise or assert any rights other than the ones set out in the agreement (64). “In effect, while the treaty group is not forced to surrender rights, they are required to voluntarily commit to defining and limiting their rights,” she writes (64). Again, the goal is certainty, for the federal government (64). “How can the government propose that inherent Aboriginal rights supposedly ‘exist’ and are recognized by the Crown, and at the same time have the agreement say that legally it is ‘as if those rights did not continue to exist’?” Mackey asks. “How can rights continue to ‘exist’ if it is legally agreed that those rights are chimeras?” (64-65). The result, effectively, is the extinguishment of those rights (65). “It is hard to imagine that the government would expect Indigenous people not to see that these certainty techniques still remain rooted in the principle of extinguishment, when they have been fighting against such surrender of title for centuries,” she notes. “The humiliating difference is that Indigenous peoples are now forced to voluntarily agree that they will not assert their ‘uncertain’ rights in order to establish a land claim” (65).

First Nations have resisted and continue to resist these extinguishment policies. “Indeed, Indigenous peoples have almost always entered into relations with the Crown with the objective that the Crown should, as they themselves do, begin with the presumption of the existence of historic and ongoing title to their territories,” she suggests. “Instead, the intention was to negotiate sharing” (65). She cites Leroy Little Bear’s argument that the purpose of treaty negotiations was always to facilitate the sharing of the land, not alienating Indigenous rights to the land (65). “It is therefore not possible to imagine Indigenous people entering negotiations without a previous assumption of the objective of maintaining ongoing relationships to their lands,” she contends (66). Indeed, Tracy Lindberg, among others, has pointed out that the notion of surrendering or transferring or releasing land is an incomprehensible foreign concept to Indigenous people and not translatable within Indigenous laws (66). “If . . . the settler state’s claim to land is a fantasy of entitlement, it would make more sense that the settler state be required to prove the basis of its right to the land, and be required to prove it based on Indigenous legal traditions,” Mackey suggests (66). However, even though the federal government’s land claims processes reproduce settler-colonial relationships and facilitate the dispossession of lands and sovereignty, there is no other process available, so some First Nations are willing to enter into it, although many refuse, “asking questions about what certainty means, and whom it is for” (66). For instance, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs has stated that, “For Indigenous peoples, our Aboriginal Title and connection to the Land is certain, it is in the bones of our grandmothers buried in the earth, and in the blood which beats in our hearts” (67). “Clearly, certainty and uncertainty can be conceptualized in many complex and contradictory ways, revealing distinct ontologies and epistemologies,” Mackey observes (67). 

The second part of Unsettled Expectations, “Ontological Uncertainties and Resurgent Colonialism,” begins with an introduction entitled “Unsettled Feelings and Communities.” This introduction outlines Mackey’s questions:

“How do uncertainty and anger around land rights become embodied in particular actions, vocabularies and symbols? What do these particular responses to land rights tell us about what is at stake in these conflicts? What might they indicate about the challenges and complications of working to decolonize relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples? (70)

Her goal in this part of the book is “to explore how people mobilize in order to counter Indigenous land rights, and to analyse how they argue against them within the context of my argument so far” (70). She studied two land rights conflicts: the Caldwell First Nation in southern Ontario and the Cayuga Indian Nation in New York State. Both groups, she notes, 

have been landless for over 200 years. Both groups made land claims in the Great Lakes region of North America and both at one point succeeded in federal legal decisions. If implemented, neither claim would have included defined pieces of land as settlement. Instead, the nations would receive compensation money with which they could then purchase land on the so-called “open market.” As a result of their land claims, both nations have experienced explosive and angry responses from non-Indigenous residents in the areas under claim. (70)

The Caldwell First Nation, according to its 1999 agreement with the federal government, was to receive $23.4 million to buy 4,500 acres of land over 25 years, which would become the Caldwell Indian Reserve; the basis of their claim was that when the chiefs of the Chippewa, Ottawa, Huron and Pottawatomi Nations sold over 2 million acres of southwestern Ontario to the Crown in 1790, the Caldwell Chief was not present. Through this agreement, the Caldwell First Nation would finally become a party to that treaty (71). “When the agreement in principle (hereafter AIP) was announced,” Mackey writes,“some residents formed the Chatham-Kent Community Network (hereafter CKCN) to oppose it”: they encouraged local residents to put up signs reading “NOT FOR SALE” on their properties, wrote letters to Jane Stewart, then Minister of Indian Affairs, and to politicians at all levels of government, and hired lawyers to begin a legal action against the federal government over the claim (71). The CKCN 

also set up a development trust company that has signed a “first right of refusal” agreement with many farmers to prevent their land from being sold to the Caldwell First Nation. The municipal mayor and the federal member of Parliament were vocal opponents of the claim, and the municipality set up a Task Force to investigate the agreement and filed suit against the government. (71)

Meanwhile, members of the Caldwell First Nation found their buildings being vandalized, and received telephone threats and other forms of harassment (71). “From the outset, many of the Caldwell interpreted the resistance to their claim as a form of ‘racism,’ especially the ‘NOT FOR SALE’ signs,” Mackey notes. “They organized a March Against Racism, and thereafter, a number of signs were posted on the fence of their Band Office, saying ‘defend Indian Rights against racism,’ ‘Racist “not for sale” campaign,’ and ‘Stop Racism’” (72).

Meanwhile, at about the same time, in Union Springs and Seneca Falls, New York, opposition to the Cayuga Nation Land claim was reaching a peak: “The Cayuga Nation had reclaimed 64,000 acres of traditional territory on the northern edge of Lake Cayuga. The claim was based on challenging a New York State treaty which was then illegal because of the 1790 Indian Non-Intercourse Act prohibiting all Indian land transactions that did not have the federal government’s approval” (72). In 1994, a judge had ruled that the land had been acquired illegally through an invalid treaty, and in 2000 a jury awarded the Cayuga Nation $36.9 million in damages and for the loss of 200 years of rental value; another $211 million in interest penalties was added in 2001 (72). That claim was later rejected, and then appealed, and finally in 2013 the appeal was rejected, on the basis that the agreement would disrupt the reasonable “settled expectations” of other landowners in the area (8). As in southwestern Ontario, people posted signs protesting the agreement in the area; an organization called Upstate Citizens for Equality (UCE) was formed: “They organized demonstrations, petitioned local, state and federal governments, hired lawyers, began court cases, attended local meetings and court hearings, held moneymaking events such as bottle-drives and persisted doggedly to have the claim rejected” (72).

Mackey isn’t interested in the question of whether UCE and CKCN were “representative” of local communities or settlers in general—a question which she suggests would be impossible to answer (72). Rather, she argues that

the sentiments expressed by these groups are part of a much broader settler ontology and epistemology. Their viewpoints are worth studying because they are entry points for understanding foundational undercurrents in broader settler societies. They represent the kinds of deep-seated and axiomatic emotions and ideas that many people hold, and are therefore necessary to recognize and name as integral to the complex challenges of working through decolonization. (72-73)

Moreover, she argues that the ideas expressed by Hobbes and Locke “have, over time, become subtly yet deeply infused in common-sense settler thinking for many reasons, including the jurisprudence about Indigenous issues discussed in previous chapters” (73). Nevertheless, she contends that it is necessary to talk about how both groups stood in their communities, and whether they had authority and influence. She believes that they did:

When I was doing my fieldwork in both places, simply driving through the areas indicated the powerful influence of such ideas because of how ubiquitous the signs were that were posted on the mailboxes of prosperous and poor farms, large and small barns, cottages and modern homes. In both places the organizations include homeowners and landowners: farmers, business people, workers in local factories and businesses, homemakers, teachers and public servants. The groups are organized and led, however, by particularly influential local commercial and business people, and they also have the support of local politicians. (73)

Both groups were well-financed, with offices, photocopiers, and staff (73). She was told that CKCN had raised over $170,000 to support one of the legal challenges to the claim (73). “From all of the above, it is safe to surmise that they had influence and support from other community members,” she concludes (73). 

Moreover, in both Ontario and New York, when she interviewed people “who saw themselves as neutral (siding neither with UCE, CKCN nor with the Indigenous peoples) they talked about how deep and widespread the influence of the organizations was at the time, and how it affected their lives and the lives of everyone in the town” (73). In fact, some people in southwestern Ontario wouldn’t speak about the conflict in public; they feared being labelled “a Caldwell supporter” and becoming a social pariah (74). For Mackey, that suggests “that there was likely a level of community hegemony on the issue” (74). She notes that “people who unwittingly sold land to the Caldwell First Nation were treated as disloyal traitors” (74). Relationships became polarized: “Any kinds of alignment with the Caldwell was seen as deep disloyalty to personal and community relationships, indicating both the strength and the emotional depth of the anti-Caldwell sentiment” (75). “Such a situation may or may not indicate numeric support of CKCN,” she concludes. “It does, however, indicate that they had strong and authoritative influence on what was considered proper behaviour in the ‘community’” (75).

Similarly, the UCE “had a powerful and ubiquitous presence around Cayuga Lake, especially from 1999 to 2005” (75). For instance, a meeting at the local chiropractic college attracted 4,000 people, most of whom were against the land claim (75-76). According to Mackey, “the UCE presence in the community was overpowering,” and people who did not support UCE were accused of being traitors (76). “Thus,” she writes, 

although it is not possible to indicate the numerical or statistical significance in terms of their representativeness of the population, UCE and CKCN did have a powerful influence in their local areas. They seemed to offer a very persuasive way of conceptualizing and protecting the settled expectations of non-Indigenous peoples, an approach that had broad and ongoing support amongst many and that seems to be fed on anger and fear about uncertainty. (76)

These responses to land claims, Mackey contends, are “expressions of settler ‘structures of feeling’”: 

they reflect and/or reproduce foundational conceptual frameworks that are essential to settler colonial and national projects. This is specifically the case when, first, they naturalize the assumption that settlers are entitled to the appropriation and ownership of Indigenous territories; they often defend this entitlement using the racialized frameworks discussed in the previous chapter, including the assumption that Indigenous lifeways and relationships to land and each other are necessarily inferior, in specific ways. Second, in a related way, they normalize the assumption that non-Native governments and people naturally should have authority over “Indigenous politics, governance and territoriality.” This is often realized through a strong sense of home and community that is based on culturally specific settler frameworks that are seen as natural, and that Indigenous peoples should assimilate into. Finally, they are specifically settler “structures of feeling” when they draw upon and reproduce what I see as the pivotal settler colonial and national assumption: that the Crown always-already had and continues to have superior underlying title to Indigenous lands. In other words, when they assert and defend the certainty that Indigenous territory is always-already domestic space within a superior jurisdiction, and thereby enact the subordination of Native polities to the “jurisdictional imaginary” of the settler state. (76-77)

These three aspects of settler “structures of feeling,” in Mackey’s argument, shape responses to Indigenous land rights movements and, more generally, Indigenous peoples as well. 

In the next chapter, “Defending Expectations,” Mackey “explores how uncertainty and anger around land rights issues becomes embodied in particular actions, vocabularies and symbols” (78). Land rights issues make people uncertain about their “settled expectations” for their lives and futures, and that uncertainty makes them angry (78). “When they defend their expectations and try to re-assert what they had previously felt to be certain,” Mackey argues, “they end up re-asserting many of the key settler colonial assumptions and strategies we have seen” (78). Those “defensive strategies illustrate contemporary ‘settler states of feeling,’ and indicate, in a larger sense, that settler colonialism is ongoing and deeply embedded in settler subjectivities” (78). 

For example, CKCN members focused on the danger the proposed reserve posed for their community: 

The CKCN’s opposition to the Caldwell First Nation claim in Chatham-Kent was consistently based on discussion of the CKCN’s attachment to specific pieces of land, and specific local issues that . . . they also sometimes expanded to include the entire territory of Canada. (79)

In New York, however, “UCE members’ opposition to land claims . . . drew on patriotic practices and discourses that focused almost exclusively on the risks and dangers to the American nation” (79). These differences suggest that the CKCN was focused on local issues and local identity and heritage, while the UCE also framed its reaction in terms of “national (and universal) ideals such as citizenship and equality” (79). In addition, stories about settlement—“repeated narratives of how people laboured hard and overcame obstacles to settle the land and build a future they could count on”—become individual, family, and community mythologies that are essential to the way nation-states imagine themselves (80). The notion of “improvements” that is part of such stories is also important in claiming private property rights: “many of the people I interviewed also denied that Indigenous people were hard-working agrarian and agricultural people, as part of a strategy to delegitimize their land rights” (80). Moreover, “symbolically, the Caldwell First Nation people cannot be seen as authentically ‘local’ even though they live in the local area,” because the CKCN “defines the values and practices of their ‘local community as necessarily distinct and separate from Indigenous culture” (81). Members of the CKCN suggested that there was no possibility of two or more cultures coexisting, and that “community” meant just one culture (81). “The singular definition of community used by CKCN, similar to the assertions of nation mobilized by UCE . . . explicitly define and limit ‘community’ membership based on a notion of shared culture” (81). 

For Mackey, all of this demonstrates

how anti-Indigenous groups now mobilize similar discourses about culture and heritage that many Indigenous groups have. Indigenous peoples often argue for the preservation of their endangered cultural heritage as Indigenous people who have been subject to laws of assimilation and cultural genocide. They also make arguments about their relationship to specific pieces of land, as autochthonous peoples; a framework that itself may have emerged from their need to make claims within modern legal/political contexts. (81)

The CKCN’s claim used “a similar vocabulary about the value of their endangered culture, perhaps an example of active mimicry of Indigenous strategies about cultural preservation,” and therefore ended up “defining Aboriginal people as the source of the threatening danger” by leaving out the history of “state programs specifically designed and implemented to destroy Indigenous cultural practices” (81). This suggests that “the settler project functions simultaneously on two interconnected registers: on an emotional register of settler agrarian culture and continuity, and on an economic and legal register that concerns ensuring certainty in land and economic competition” (81). 

For that reason, the CKCN made arguments based on economic and legal certainty: they were concerned about future land use by the Caldwell First Nation being compatible with agriculture; with the stability of land prices; with opportunities for future expansion and return on investments of local farmers; with the maintenance of the area’s interconnected drainage systems (82-83). Many of these concerns “boiled down to a question of whether, and if so, how, the First Nation would be required to follow provincial and municipal regulations and bylaws. . . . Although . . . they had been informed that the Caldwell First Nation would be required to follow all by-laws and would have little autonomy,” CKCN members “spoke as if the Caldwell would have complete autonomy and control over their land, could do what they wanted with it, and would not be required to consult or be compatible with the people around them” (83). At the same time, CKCN members 

made other arguments about why the land claim and Indigenous rights more generally were wrong,” arguments that focused less “on specific economic arguments and more on fundamental questions and issues underlying land claims. In the process people began to draw on frameworks integral to terra nullius and state-of-nature philosophy, in which rights and ownership of land are increasingly based on hierarchical and stereotyped conceptions of Indigenous peoples, mobilized to define which collective groups are entitled to full personhood and inherited privilege and which are not. (83)

Stories told by members of CKCN suggested their emotional attachments to place, as well as “their sense of legitimate and rightful possession of the land . . . . through years of labour” (84). “[T]his sense of belonging and attachment to home, to the land, can also be mobilized to defend expectations of entitlement and certainty in settler possession of land and contribute to legitimizing Indigenous dispossession” (84). 

In fact, and this surprised me, some CKCN members even argued that their families had been in the area longer than “‘Native people’” (84) or claimed that there were no Indigenous people in the area when white settlers arrived (85). “What connects these stories to the terra nullius and ‘state of nature’ frameworks that I outlined earlier,” Mackey writes, “is how a story that begins about individual families occupying land can be transformed into a broader narrative about how a racialized category of people (‘whites’) were entitled to occupy land instead of another racialized category of people (Indigenous people” (85). “Perhaps the fact that people might share the notion that taking land belonging to someone else is ethically suspect helps to understand why people end up creating a fictional, and impossible, narrative about the ‘white people’ being on the land first,” Mackey continues (85). Such arguments suggest “rationales and legitimating strategies for why they could take the land” (85). I’ve always suspected something similar—that such arguments come from a deeply buried recognition that the claims Settlers make about Crown sovereignty and the rightness of their presence on Indigenous lands are, frankly, specious. I don’t think it would be possible, though, to substantiate those suspicions, although I hope I’m wrong about that, and that there might be some evidence, somewhere, to support that idea.

In any case, Mackey explains the arguments CKCN and UCE members used to explain why and how First Nations peoples weren’t in southwestern Ontario or upstate New York when Settlers arrived. “These arguments were based on talking about how the Indigenous people of the area (now making a ‘land claim’) were nomadic, warring and ‘savage’: they were violent, wandering, unsettled peoples,” arguments which “reverberate with Hobbes’ and Locke’s frameworks” (86). Members of the CKCN, for instance, argued that the Caldwell First Nation wasn’t actually Indigenous to the area, “because if they were in the area they simply ‘happened to’ be wandering through” (86). Such arguments, Mackey continues, 

can be considered part of broader “settler states of feeling,” because not only do they mobilize colonial frameworks, they do so as part of a sense of entitlement to superintend Indigenous peoples, taking on a sense that they are entitled to assess whether Indigenous peoples even existed as legitimate “nations.” They do so based on how they are seen to have occupied space and related to the land. The implicit assumption here, shared with earlier colonizers, is that they are qualified to assess and control Indigenous lives and relationships, based on their own culturally specific values. (87)

Members of CKCN also used the idea of “state of nature” in another way: they claimed that the Caldwell First Nation didn’t actually exist when the 1790 treaty was signed; they weren’t an organized society but rather just a collection of individuals (88). The arguments made by the CKCN “reproduce powerful assumptions about mobile people and agricultural labour, depending upon sedentarist-centric normative property assumptions” (90). Nevertheless, those arguments ignore the fact that in the 18th century the Chippewa raised crops as well as depending on hunting and fishing; that fact was downplayed because they didn’t fence in their crops, and therefore did not symbolically possess the land (90). Such arguments are powerful even though they are wrong (91). Members of the UCE made similar arguments about Indigenous nomadism and savagery: they suggested that the Cayuga left their land in the early 19th century “because it was in their nature to do so as a nomadic people,” not because their villages, homes, and farms had been destroyed by the Sullivan Campaign of 1779, which drove most of the Cayuga people from the area, “beginning more than two centuries of disconnection from their homeland and ancestors” (91).

The anxiety about whether the Caldwell would maintain drainage systems was, Mackey suggests, an anxiety about Indigenous sovereignty: CKCN members “repeatedly argued that the Caldwell would follow their own rules, would not work with ‘the community,’ and would refuse to follow provincial regulations,” even though “the Caldwell had developed careful plans for their land, plans that were neither full-out capitalist farming nor wilderness conservation. These plans had been announced to the local non-Indigenous community in numerous ways” (94). Mackey believes this reflects a “deep-seated anxiety about the question of jurisdiction”: such “expressions of fear about possible futures indicate, first, that they are unable to see the Caldwell First Nation as a recognized and legitimate government that has authority to make (and keep) agreements and follow rules and regulations” (96). “What they experience as the problem,” she continues, “is not the actual drainage itself, but is instead the broader question of what they sense may be changing relations of power and jurisdictional authority. The problem is actually who controls the situation and who has the authority to do so” (97). All of these defensive strategies “illustrate aspects of contemporary ‘settler states of feeling’ because . . . they reflect and/or reproduce foundational conceptual frameworks that are essential to settler colonial and national projects” (99).

The following chapter, “Settler Jurisdictional Imaginaries in Practice: Equality, Law, Race and Multiculturalism,”  argues that the “jurisdictional imaginary of the settler nation-state” is “more than territorial”:

it is also juridical and cultural. The assertion of Canada as ‘one country’ based on liberal frameworks of supposedly “equal status” and “the same rules” outlines the expectations of law and national belonging within those boundaries. Within this juridical jurisdiction, nationhood is based on liberal ideals, according to which the role of governments is to guarantee a specific version of what is seen as “equality” by protecting property and ensuring that a singular legal jurisdiction applies throughout its territory. (103)

According to this “jurisdictional imaginary,” First Nations peoples must “follow the rules of ‘one country’ and assimilate into the territorial jurisdiction, as well as into the political and cultural imaginary of the settler nation” (103). The suggestion is that “everyone within the nation must be equal, and this means following the same laws,” and that “the singular, legally homogenous nation and community” are “natural, reasonable and necessarily indivisible” (104). In this chapter, Mackey explores these “self-evident ‘One Nation’ discourses, in which a sovereign settler-national jurisdiction is felt to be the only reasonable and acceptable form of governance and source of loyalty” (104). The notion of indivisibility, she writes, is “a powerful fantasy and productive desire within most forms of nationhood” and it is “reproduced continually in rituals of patriotism and everyday actions of the state and its citizens” (104). 

Such fantasies are linked to anger about uncertainty: “The condition of possibility for the anger people feel about uncertainty . . . is based on their expectations that settlement is now settled, and that settler-state jurisdiction and law over space and people is, and should be, fixed and certain,” but “this sense of certainty is based on a long and complex ‘fantasy of entitlement and expectation,’ which in turn is based on legal fictions and the creation of a settler ‘jurisdictional imaginary’” (104). However, First Nations are already sovereign, and if they didn’t have “inherent sovereignty,” they wouldn’t be able to negotiate land rights with the federal government; “settler feelings of entitlement are based on fantasies of certainty, a certainty that is unsettled by unapologetic assertions of Indigenous sovereignty” (105). What Mackey calls the “jurisdictional imaginary” of the nation “mobilizes notions of racial equality, tolerance and multiculturalism to define the appropriate and rightful place and behaviour of all citizens within it”; those ideas “draw on self-evident racialized notions of culture, labour and personhood to discount Indigenous peoples and land rights” (105). While this jurisdictional imaginary seems coherent, she writes,

it often reveals ruptures and contradictions that indicate how it is mobilized flexibly (and often anxiously) is an attempt to render whole and rational the problematic fantasies of entitlement and possession that underpin it. Although hundreds of years of Indigenous resistance have made it clear that these arrangements have never been settled, the re-emergence of land rights challenges, as “contact zones” of the tensions within the settler project, reveal the anxiety underpinning the “unfinished project” of “perfecting” and finalizing “settler colonial sovereignty claims.” (106)

Opponents of land claims in Ontario and New York use strategies that, while they appear different, are actually based on “similar axiomatic assumptions that consistently delegitimize Indigenous peoples and their claims,” including “‘One Nation’ discourses” (106). “This powerful fantasy of singular nationhood is repeated time and again” (106).

“One Nation discourses,” Mackey explains, are self-evident and embodied in daily rituals, such as the Pledge of Allegiance or the singing of “O Canada” (107). Those discourses make it “difficult to comprehend that Indigenous people might have historical and ongoing rationales to resist dominant forms of . . . nationalism, an inability that is prevalent because of the ubiquity and power of the common-sense jurisdictional imaginary” (107). They communicate the notion that if one is in Canada or the United States, one must want to be Canadian or American (107). “The expectation that Indigenous people should naturally become enveloped (some might say ‘caged’) within the national jurisdiction and imaginary was common during my fieldwork,” Mackey writes:

It was most often expressed . . . as the most logical and natural state of affairs, and emerges from the foundational fantasy of entitlement to define land and others. . . . The unselfconsciousness with which such a view is held and expressed demonstrations the power of quotidian common sense. At the same time, it shows how settler senses of entitlement allow their proponents to feel deeply certain of the logic that bolsters their relative privilege. The sense of righteous entitlement means that they fail to understand that the settler project is not complete, and that many Indigenous people do not share the common-sense logic of the jurisdictional imaginary because they continue to be members of sovereign nations. (108)

These shared assumptions regarding a unitary or unified nation-state, she continues, 

condense a bundle of interconnected assumptions making up a shared settler logic. . . . the underlying assumptions are: that the nation is and should be the primary allegiance; that non-Indigenous people have the right to superintend and control the behaviour of Indigenous people; and that the nation had, and continues to have, superior sovereignty and jurisdiction. (108)

Moreover, “ideas about race, culture and sovereignty intersect to produce specific versions of racialized exclusion of Indigenous people based on their claims to land and sovereignty” (108), and “non-Indigenous minority cultures an be used as a cudgel to delegitimize Indigenous peoples, governments and cultures” (108-09).

Mackey notes that anti-land claim activists claim to be innocent of racism by “proposing that they cannot be racist because they accept cultural differences within the nation and community” (109). That argument is similar to official multiculturalism in Canada; she argues that “the most important for the settler national project was to maintain the white settler’s unquestioned right—and expectation—to define and manage the nation, its right to decide when and how minorities are allowed both their similarities and their differences,” and that official multiculturalism abducts “minority cultures and the mythologized ‘tolerance’ for cultural differences,” and uses them “for the national project without promoting genuine respect or equality” (109). Anti-land claims activists “argue for one set of laws, and appear to say that it is not necessary to have one singular culture, thus feeding into the notion that they are not racist because they respect different cultures,” Mackey continues. “They also say that they respect Indigenous cultural heritage. Yet these frameworks also limit and define tolerable forms of such ‘multicultural’ difference in precise, clearly defined ways”—in other words, only those communities that “can be encompassed within the unity (and legal jurisdiction) of the nation” are acceptable, and Indigenous nations, whose land rights and sovereignty cannot exist within a unitary nation-state, are not acceptable (109). Therefore, anti-land claims activists demand that Indigenous peoples “behave like loyal national and local subjects” (110). “The essence of this demand is that Indigenous people must, like other minority populations, ‘melt’ into the supposedly unified ‘mosaic’ or ‘melting pot’ of the multicultural jurisdictional imaginary of the nation” (110). 

All of this is possible because of a focus on culture rather than land rights and sovereignty:

focusing on culture vacates Indigenous and settler realities and histories, as if land rights and sovereignty are only about cultural preservation, and not, as they are, also based on historical material processes related to competing claims for territory and sovereignty. Such assertions attempt to produce Indigenous peoples as equivalent to other minority cultures within a multicultural model that limits “ethnic” cultures to non-threatening relics, preserved within the modern nation-building project. They reveal a push to discipline Indigenous people to assimilate into a liberal version of tolerance for (limited) cultural differences, acceptable because they do not challenge unmarked settler dominance in the nation-state. (110)

And yet, the simple fact is that Indigenous sovereignty has not been eliminated, and it continues to challenge the founding myths of settler nationhood (111). “The important concern . . . for analysis,” Mackey continues,

should not be only tracking the exclusion of Indigenous peoples from the nation-state, but also the politics of how threatening and dangerous differences are disciplined . . . through discourses of cultural recognition, inclusion, and tolerance. . . . So this move, in which Indigenous people’s claims for land and sovereignty are “disciplined” by equating them with other minority groups, is a move to push more threatening material and cultural claims to the strictly (multi-) “cultural” realm, proposing that tolerance for difference cultures makes its proponents innocent of racism. In this case, Indigenous claims to land are threatening to the very core of the settler project to appropriate (and keep) land, and eliminate Indigenous people as Indigenous peoples who can assert sovereignty as nations. Here settler “multicultural” logic attempts to contain and define Indigenous peoples as domestic. (112)

Despite the activists’ claims to be devoid of racism, their arguments depend upon “racialized thinking and practice”:

Domesticating Indigenous polities (materially and culturally) into colonial and national projects and settler jurisdictional imaginaries has always depended (and continues to depend) upon racialized thinking and practice, even if framed as “multicultural.” The assumptions underlying the doctrines of terra nullius and Discovery that are legitimized and continue to underpin this singular jurisdiction depend upon the erasure of Indigenous sovereignty and the dehumanization of Indigenous peoples and governments. The fantasies of entitlement that naturalized settler national sovereignty still depend upon that categorization of Indigenous peoples and governments as naturally inferior. Thus, the conditions of possibility for the settler nation are necessarily infused with profoundly racialized thinking and practice. (112)

Considering “these desires to encompass Indigenous people within the settler jurisdictional imaginary as ‘structures of feeling’” suggests that “they are not only or fundamentally individual attitudes and emotions”:

 As historically and structurally produced structures of feeling, they emerge from a long history of settler ideology and practice in which they have been, and continue to be, naturalized. Thus, if these people are “racist,” settler nation-states are racist too. All of us who defend settler nation-states’ jurisdictional imaginaries depend upon these racialized structures and ideas. (113)

“The settler project has meant that settlers feel empowered to define the terms of inclusion in the nation-state, as if the settler state always-already has legitimate and singular sovereignty, and can therefore define the terms of inclusion and exclusion of all populations, especially Indigenous peoples,” Mackey continues. “It has historically been the white settler majority’s unquestioned right—and expectation—to define and manage the nation, its right to decide when and how minorities are allowed both their similarities and their differences” (113).

So, the claim of UCE activists that Indigenous reservations are a “disaster” and that Indigenous people don’t pay taxes or share “family values” contains a message “that Indigenous people do not behave as good citizens, and that this is inherent in the reservation culture of Indigenous people” (114). “The notion that Indigenous people were not ‘good citizens’ who pay their taxes, work hard and behave lawfully, recurred often in my interviews,” Mackey writes. “Such normative judgments about labour and contribution to society, and by extension the value of their personhood, were commonly evoked as an often implicitly racialized means to discredit Indigenous cultures and claims for land” (114). In addition, UCE activists claimed that the Cayuga’s land rights were based in a dead and finished history, while at the same time they expressed a fictionalized version of history—a story that settlers defeated the Cayuga in battle, thereby conquering them—which “illustrates how easily history can be revised to justify ongoing inequality. It also demonstrates how history is used in contradictory ways”: history is “ejected from the argument” when it doesn’t suit the settler’s goals, but then “resurrected when it bolsters his argument” (115-16). “Others who talked about the need for one nation and one set of rules also tended to make derogatory judgments about Indigenous peoples’ contributions to society, constructing them as freeloaders who want special rights,” Mackey continues. “Such discourses express a deep sense of entitlement to define and police the norms of acceptable behaviour in North America. They also . . . work to characterize Indigenous nations as illegitimate political entities” (116). 

According to Mackey, arguments framed as being about equality are ultimately about political assimilation: 

Many CKCN supporters also expressed the self-evident assumption that Indigenous peoples and lands are, and should continue to be, encapsulated and assimilated into national boundaries, jurisdiction and laws in the name of equality, fairness and economic efficiency. These examples illustrate how assumptions emerging from terra nullius and “state of nature” frameworks are informed by the settler jurisdictional imaginary, and augmented by liberal ideologies of equality and entitlement. These frameworks are tied together through concepts of improving labour and paying taxes as actions which entitle people to ownership of land. It is through these actions that people are seen to become legitimate citizens of sovereign nation-states. (117)

Arguments about the indivisibility of the nation-state, she continues, depend 

on transforming Indigenous rights into a claim for special treatment based on race, and not an ethical demand for justice based on the colonization and appropriation of the land of sovereign Indigenous nations. . . . The ubiquity of . . . interpretations of Indigenous sovereignty as essentially race-based and “racist” is another example of how compelling liberal nationalist settler narratives are, and how difficult it is for people to even think outside the box of “one nation”—a nation normatively composed of minority and majority cultures and one set of laws. (119)

That inability in Canada is surprising, given the fact that Quebec arguably exists as a nation within the Canadian state. Nevertheless, “CKCN members are unable to understand that land rights are based on histories of sovereignty and overlapping, fluid jurisdictions between peoples, histories that predate nation-states as singular, jurisdictional entities, and in which relationships were negotiated between independent Indigenous and colonizing nations and powers” (19). Indeed, Mackey suggests,

Indigenous nations negotiate relationships with Canada today on the basis of forms of sovereignty and self-determination that existed before the nation-states that exist in their territories today, even if such sovereignty is not the same as Western national sovereignty. Treaties, therefore, were not originally domestic (inside the nation) issues. . . . From this perspective, debates about land rights are not about the place of minority cultures within singular nations. They are instead debates about how to work out a relationship between separate, sovereign nations. (119-20)

“In addition, despite the brutal racism of settler states’ treatment of Indigenous peoples, land rights are not racial rights,” Mackey points out. “Indigenous nations were not founded as ‘races’ and are not a ‘race,’ despite the long process in which the settler state racialized them” (120). 

Mackey argues that

axiomatic views of the nation as singular, indivisible and a “collective individual” are very resilient and powerful, and . . . they emerge—increasingly rigid and inflexible on one hand, and yet flexible and contradictory on the other—especially in moments of crisis, when peoples’ settled expectations are threatened. Framed in the language of modernity, progress and equality, these are nevertheless “settler states of feeling” because they are underpinned by the assumption that the Crown and the nation-state naturally have superior underlying title to Indigenous lands, and that Indigenous peoples, governments and territories should naturally be encompassed by, assimilated into and managed within a singular unified settler project. These discourses juxtapose culture, race, territory and jurisdiction in ways that draw on older racialized frameworks of colonial entitlement and also defend and reproduce contemporary dispossession in complex and flexible ways. (120)

In fact, these discourses are attempts to erase something that won’t go away: Indigenous sovereignty (120):

These efforts at jurisdiction over Indigenous lives and governments make profound sense within the broader context of centuries of settler colonial and national bolstering of key assumptions and frameworks of settler entitlement and superior sovereignty. The powerful, ubiquitous and axiomatic nature of these fantasies of entitlement makes it understandable that they are used in this way, and it is not a matter of blaming individuals for these foundational (to settler colonialism) ideas. They embody the dilemma and the reproductive labour at the heart of the settler project. However, if what is at stake is imagining or building a decolonized relationship between Indigenous and settler peoples and governments, these are precisely the kinds of ideas I argue need to be shifted and unsettled, because of their effects. They close down the possibility of people even beginning to recognize that Indigenous nations are sovereign nations that may have different, yet equally valuable, ontologies and epistemologies of sociality and property. (121)

These ideas, she concludes, “deny the possibility, and the need, to imagine and build a decolonized space within which one might recognize and negotiate differences, interconnections and autonomies” (121).

Here Mackey shifts to a preview of her arguments about decolonization. “Theorizations about how to decolonize settler colonialism are complex, complicated and emergent,” she suggests, pointing out that “no one pretends to have the full authoritative answer of how to decolonize” (121). What is clear is that decolonization will mean uncertainty, because it will be messy, dynamic and contradictory (121-22). “[D]enaturalizing settler beliefs and authoritative practices based on supposedly self-evident certainties about the primacy of settler-state sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples is important,” however, as part of the decolonization process. “If the construction and defence of certainty is at the core of ongoing settler colonialism, then settler uncertainty may actually be necessary for decolonization,” she contends. “Living without the entitlement to know everything (and therefore be certain) will likely lead to settler discomfort, a discomfort that may need to be embraced instead of resisted in order to participate in the difficult work of decolonization” (122).

Those words lead into the third section of the book, “Imagining Otherwise: Embracing Settler Uncertainty,” and its introduction, “Treaty as a Verb.” Given the “frameworks” that have “entailed perceiving Indigenous lifeways as inferior, underserving and unacceptable, and sovereignty and land rights as unreasonable, unnatural and dangerous,” frameworks which have “repeatedly denied even the possibility of substantive Indigenous sovereignty and autonomy,” Mackey asks, “how might it be possible to imagine decolonized relationships between Indigenous and settler people in settler nations? If . . . the production and defence of settler certainty and settler futurity have been central to the ongoing colonial process, where to we go from here?” (125). No one knows what decolonization in settler states will look like or what it will require: “The process is necessarily uncertain” (125). However, the “axiomatic assumptions” of settler peoples are their “cognitive prisons” and those assumptions therefore need to be unsettled (125). Indeed, “denaturalizing settler beliefs and authoritative practices based on supposedly self-evident certainties about the primacy of settler-state sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples is important, both in terms of law and public policy, and also for settler subjects and national cultures” (125). Echoing Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, Mackey suggests that “settler colonialism is a complex and singular social formation concerned with the appropriation of Indigenous land,” and for that reason “decolonization must also be a material process”—it must involve returning land to Indigenous peoples (125-26). The third part of her book will argue “that to even be able to imagine the possibilities of such material change and conceptual re-imagining will require . . . an ‘epistemological shift’ towards a stance of settler uncertainty and openness, as a starting point to imagine and practice otherwise” (126).

For example, “[o]ne epistemological problem addressed in most land rights cases is how we determine to whom the lands of North America belong. How one goes about formulating an answer depends on one’s epistemologies” (126). Within settler epistemologies, answering that question involves “a number of foundational relationships and concepts”: 

These include the ideas that: things, in particular land, can actually be “owned”; people are individual sovereign subjects essentially separated from each other and nature; the highest value in human relationships with land and the natural world is based on particular kinds of labour perceived as “improvement”; specific kinds of improvement can make a human being into the owner and master of land and nature; and that other kinds of relationships with land preclude that ownership. (126)

These assumptions intersect with the notion that those who “improve” the land “are essentially superior to those who don’t, and that they are thus naturally entitled to the privileges they reap” (126). All of these interconnected beliefs “are integral to the supposedly obvious argument, embedded in law, that settler governments have legitimate title to the land of the nation-state, and that the nation-state may then ‘give’ Indigenous people, or ‘allow’ Indigenous people to have, specific limited, or bare, ‘land rights’ and/or sometimes possession” (126).

A first step towards decolonization, then, would be “to recognize and value Indigenous world views, and not subsume Indigenous lifeways into Western and national frameworks of superiority” (126). However, it’s hard to do that in an appropriate manner, and there are many roadblocks: 

It might be possible to reinvent, alter and renegotiate how we experience and negotiate relationships, so that we move away from colonialism. However, to do so requires first that we as settlers recognize that our self-evident epistemological and ontological assumptions are specific and not universal. It also requires persistent willingness and motivation to understand, or at least respect, that there are equally valid epistemological and ontological alternatives. (127)

One of the dangers involved is the fact that “disengaged (or possessive) curiosity about the ‘other’ can easily become fetishizing and objectifying” (127). “Learning about Indigenous people can . . . be used as a way to appropriate knowledge or invent a fantasy of ‘becoming indigenous’ for settlers,” Mackey argues. “Curiosity without mindful engagement can . . . result in self-referential and narcissistic settler identifications with, and projections onto, Indigenous peoples that involve objectifying Indigenous peoples into precisely the limited stereotypes discussed here” (127). It is “more difficult to respectfully listen to, comprehend, and respect the authority of the more challenging knowledge and wisdom of Indigenous peoples” (127).

One possibility for Settlers is to attend to the “Indigenous traditions and knowledge developed in the work of Indigenous scholars,” work which contains “powerful, vital and absolutely necessary sources for theorizing how to (re)conceptualize and (re)build . . . non-colonizing visions and practices” (128). For instance, concepts and practices of treaty 

offer important epistemological models of relationality that unsettle the bounded, binary oppositions central to the epistemologies and practices of mastery and entitlement. . . . They also mark out an important space—a necessary space, yet also a limited space—for non-Indigenous people in the process of creating such relationships. (128)

I was happy to see Mackey emphasize the importance of thinking about treaty, because her argument confirms my suspicion that studying treaty is a useful point of entry into decolonization and into Settler participation in that process. 

“[S]ome of the main roadblocks to imagining and practicing decolonization are axiomatic settler frameworks and their entangled practices,” Mackey continues, so “it makes sense that we, as settler descendants, should take responsibility to engage in learning how to participate in this process” (128). “Fortunately Indigenous traditions and theorizing have opened an important, indeed a central, place for non-Indigenous people in the decolonizing process” (128). The first step, she contends, is “to see ourselves as already ‘living within Indigenous sovereignty,’” and part of that process will mean “engaging seriously with diverse Indigenous perspectives on foundational relationships regarding treaty” (129). IN the 1990s, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (which I have yet to read) argued that we are all “treaty peoples,” because European rights in the Americas came about through treaties made with Indigenous nations; therefore Canadians are participants in the treaty process, through the actions of their ancestors and as contemporary beneficiaries of the treaties (129-30). Therefore, Mackey writes, “the idea of settler peoples’ responsibilities for treaty agreements is central to decolonization. It does not . . . mean learning to ‘think like an Indian,’ but it does involve difficult and sometimes frightening re-thinking and re-experiencing one’s place in the world and thus one’s relationships to others” (130). A focus on treaties will involve “major epistemological shifts” (130), and will require that Settlers “unsettle the myriad epistemological certainties that have been instilled in us for centuries, based as they are on axiomatic assumptions about proper and acceptable relations between peoples, property and personhood” (130-31). The way that treaty is conceptualized is important: the Crown sees treaties in different ways from Indigenous peoples, as an extinguishment of rights and acceptance of the supremacy of the Crown, and the reserves as gifts (131). These notions based on assumptions about Crown sovereignty trumping Indigenous sovereignty (131).  Indigenous views of treaty are very different (131). 

According to Mackey, “the foundations of settler identities and practices need to be unsettled so that we can learn to live with, and even embrace, the uncertainty that is necessary in order to learn how to imagine and build decolonized relationships” (132). “I am imagining a principled, historically aware stance of self-conscious refusal to mobilize axiomatic knowledge and action that have emerged from settler entitlement and certainty,” she writes. “This kind of refusal may open space for genuine attention to alternative frameworks and seed possibilities for creative and engaged relationships and collective projects” (132). Decolonization will unsettling “because it requires major material and conceptual changes” (132); however, the first step is understanding “Indigenous theorizations of treaty relationships” (132).

In this section of the book, she explores “alternative epistemologies aimed at mutuality and relationality through difference rather than mastery of one over the other, of alliance without subjugation rather than equality as sameness. Learning to understand and even experience such an epistemology might allow settler citizens to see and hear differently, and learn to develop decolonized relationships” (132-33):

Because the notion of all of settlers as ‘treaty peoples’ uses existing historical agreements that should be everyone’s shared responsibility as their foundation, it can be seen as a potential invitation to non-Indigenous peoples to develop new relationships with Indigenous peoples. Treaties, as conceptualized in Indigenous theory, offer a legal and moral rationale for sharing decolonizing labour. Indigenous versions of treaties and sovereignty are also theories: they have epistemologies embedded and elaborated within them and embody important and sophisticated theorizations of how to know, understand and live in the world. They provide . . . visions that help people trying to enact the kinds of transformations or ‘epistemological shifts’ necessary to decolonize. These theorizations are not invitations to become Indigenous, or to see like an Indigenous person. They are invitations to be(come) responsible, by learning how to listen and respond appropriately as partners in particular treaty relationships. (133)

Settler epistemologies and practices, she continues, 

consistently construct and naturalize dualistic and binary models of home, belonging, identity and property: land is either owned fully as individual property, not owned at all, or belongs to the crown who as a recognized state can own land in common; identities are bounded and homogenous, fixed and non-negotiable, one either is or isn’t American; homes are perceived as either completely safe because they contain no difference or conflict, or they are seen as deeply threatened by differences that cannot be assimilated. Such oppositions and boundaries animate judgments of superior and inferior labour and personhood. Clear fences and borders mark the ideal inside and dangerous outside of properties and identities, fixing the characteristics of those entitled to define others and appropriate land, as well as those who are deemed naturally un-entitled and undeserving. Such epistemologies of mastery offer no window to imagine a shared project of building relationships within homelands that can account for complex and often violent, but sometimes fruitful, overlapping histories, or the resulting similarities and differences between settler and Indigenous peoples. This is the epistemology of mastery underlying what I have called the settler “fantasy of entitlement.” Decolonization will require moving away from such epistemologies in order to imagine and build different relationships. (133)

“The philosophies and practices of ‘living treaty,’” Mackey continues, “offer the potential to move beyond such rigid binary understandings of relationships, without losing sight of the important political differences and incommensurability that are important to maintain. They offer ways to think about key epistemological shifts that contribute toward, and are necessary for, decolonization practices” (133-34). These epistemological changes will not be easy but they are necessary, and they will require courage (134).

Mackey’s model of treaties is the Covenant Chain, which she suggests is “recorded in the Two Row Wampum, or Guswentha,” made between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch in 1613 (134). “It is understood by the Haudenosaunee as the basis on which all subsequent treaties were made and as a model of relationships between peoples” (134). The Guswentha is a white belt with two purple rows, representing two vessels travelling down the same river: one, the Haudenosaunee, and the other, the Dutch. Neither interferes with the movement of the other as they travel down the river side by side (134-35). This image is typically understood as suggesting “separation and non-interference,” but Indigenous scholars note that the river is shared, and that the beads between the rows suggest connection, being bound together and independent at the same time (135). Those three rows, according to Leroy Little Bear, “represent peace, friendship and mutual respect” (135). The lines are what keep people who are distinct from one another together: “They define their relationship so that they walk beside each other with respect, entwined and independent, as equal brothers rather than as father and son” (136). “This kind of relationship is not a matter of having power over another, but of negotiating both autonomy and relationship simultaneously.,” Mackey notes. “These are not dualistic relationships based on subordination or equality, superiority or inferiority, freedom or slavery, or autonomy versus interconnection. Instead, the two-row wampum represents a more complex negotiation around autonomy and interdependence” (137). 

“Part of the sophistication of the concept of the Guswentha and other treaties is the notion of renewal, which emerges from and is necessitated by a focus on attending to the lived and changing relationships symbolized by the spaces between the rows,” Mackey suggests (139). Periodically the Covenant Chain needed to be polished free of rust and tarnish, suggesting that the treaty needed to be renewed, that the treaty relationship has deep roots in the past and changes over time (139-40). For Mackey,

The Covenant Chain indicates that the collective past of relationships must be recognized and dealt with in order to imagine and build ongoing relationships. Treaty means that participants should meet at appropriate intervals to assess, discuss and ‘polish’ the ongoing relationship to make sure it is still strong. Thus, the treaty is a vibrant, supple, responsive, ongoing interactional process that requires regular injections of human creativity and relationality in order to ensure the viability of the ongoing relationship, focusing on what lives between the wampum rows. (140)

Western models of treaty are, in comparison, more static and less participatory (140). 

“For many Indigenous peoples, treaty was and is a sacred covenant made between sovereign nations in which they agree to ongoing relationships of respect, friendship and peace, and thus recognition of the ongoing nationhood, autonomy and rights of Indigenous nations,” Mackey writes:

“Treaty,” seen in this way, potentially disrupts settler senses of entitlement to land because seeing all of us as “treaty peoples” brings material and social aspects of colonial pasts into the present in a manner that recognizes the ongoing autonomy of Indigenous peoples and the ongoing treaty relationships in which the settler nation-state participates as one party to (and beneficiary of) past land agreements, not as the assumed unilateral sovereign. (140-41)

However, “many settler governments and citizens see treaty as an object, not a process” (141). “Therefore, instead of seeing treaty as an object—a noun—I think that one way to begin to decolonize is to learn to conceptualize and experience treaty-making as a verb,” Mackey suggests. Thinking about treaty as a verb would be a way to recognize that it is a “historical and ongoing, exploratory and often uncertain process of building relationships for which non-Indigenous people must also take responsibility and in which they must engage. In other words, we need to think about how ‘we treaty,’ and how to behave responsibly if ‘we treaty together’ or ‘make treaty’ together. It is a relationship that we build over time” (141). Like all relationships, there are rules of respect and autonomy, but there is no defined or definitive trajectory because a treaty is relational and interactive (141). Relationships are by their nature uncertain, requiring us to respond to an other who is both autonomous from and connected to us (141), and treaty relationships are no different. “If we carefully examine Indigenous notions of treaty, we see that treaty has a sophisticated and complex set of meanings and instructions that are tied to the careful nurturing of ongoing relationships through time. Treaty is a participatory verb” (141).

Mackey notes that the book’s last two chapters are case studies of Indigenous views of treaty in action (141). “I do not offer these case studies in order to propose a general, universally applicable framework that encapsulates a model of decolonization,” she writes; rather, they are intended to tease out “important and provocative elements that are ‘good to think’ with, and may offer entry points that others may consider, and/or use, in order to develop their own relationships in different moments and contexts” (142). They suggest that “it is possible to hear, see and think differently, and that unsettling ontological certainty by rejecting epistemologies of mastery may often require what seems like terrifying risk-taking, but that it need not be disturbing or unsettling in a damaging way,” she concludes. “Unsettling old patterns and risking new ways of seeing and forming relationships between Indigenous and settler people may in fact sometimes be exhilarating, even liberating, as settler-subjects learn to turn sedimented ontological cages and epistemologies of mastery on their heads” (142).

Those words lead into the next chapter, “‘Turning the Doctrine of Discovery on its Head’: The Onondaga Land Rights Action.” In March 2005, the Onondaga Nation “asserted its rights to a wide stretch of New York State” in what they described as a “land rights action” in which “they explicitly sought to work with other people in the community to improve human and environmental relations” (145). “The Onondaga land rights action explicitly works against the oppositional pattern described in Part One of this book,” Mackey writes:

The Onondaga want recognition of their title, but they do not wish to posses[s] or own the land in the Western sense of property. Their aim is neither to control nor subdue the land. They do not, however, present their view of property as a rejection of settler peoples or lands. They present their land rights action as something which can secure their own and their neighbours’ relationships with the land and each other for the present and future. They therefore reject the way in which the settler contract defines relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, without “threatening” or “unsettling” other aspects of the settler contract. They simply live the reality that multiple autonomies exist, as in the Guswentha. (146)

The Onondaga’s goals were thus “relational, responsible and inclusive, as they specifically refer to all the people and the land of central New York” (147):

The Onondaga were never conquered. They have always had autonomy and nationhood. Thus, Onondaga sovereignty (as they define it) and their ongoing relationship with colonial and now national and state governments are firmly embedded in a sense of continuity over time and in different circumstances. . . . The Onondaga have consistently worked to build relationships with their neighbours. At the same time, nation-state institutions and courts lack legitimacy amongst the Onondaga, as a result of their failure—both historically and in the present—to fulfill mutual obligations as set out in earlier treaties and agreements. (148)

For that reason, although legal action was part of their strategy, the Onondaga did much of their work outside of the courtroom, in the community (148). They built relationships with other local citizens, “collaborative practices” which “emerge from long-standing Onondaga traditional beliefs and roles, enacted within a 21st century context” (148). These alliances were created “long before making the legally framed land rights action. This approach turns the logic of many property-based oppositional land rights patterns on their heads” (148). “The Onondaga have developed and communicated a notion of shared responsibility for the future and for human relationships within specific geographical spaces and with overlapping histories and futures,” Mackey continues. “This notion of shared responsibility is based upon a contemporary strategy that draws on Indigenous notions of treaty as based on sharing the land. . . . The image presented by the Onondaga is of healing and reconciliation between people who share territory, but do not compromise their autonomy” (150). For these reasons, Mackey suggests, the Onondaga “are living the relationships that are embodied in the Guswentha”: relationships of autonomy and interaction (150).

The legal context of the Onondaga approach is important. In 2005,  a federal court found that the Oneida Nation could not have property it had purchased declared a reservation, because they had waited to long to make their claim and so were ineligible for relief; the court also stated that it was unwilling to disrupt the “settled expectations”—the court’s term—of current non-Indigenous occupants of the land in question (150-51). On the basis of that decision, a request to re-hear the claim of the Cayuga Nation was also rejected by the courts (152). All of this meant that the Onondaga Nation had to make its argument in a new legal context, “within which any possessory or so-called ‘disruptive’ claim could be thrown out” (153). The only legal remedy left was financial compensation, which was deemed by the courts to be less disruptive (153). However, the Onondaga didn’t want money; exchanging land rights for money was, their lawyer said in court, “morally repugnant to them,” like selling their mother (153). 

The arguments the Onondaga Nation made in court “demonstrate precisely the kinds of epistemological shifts—the actions of turning common-sense colonial ideas and practices ‘on their heads,’ and thus unsettling the ontological certainty of settler colonialism—that . . . are essential to decolonization processes in settler nations” (153-54). They did not assert a “possessory right” to their land (156). Instead, they wanted “title but not possession” of that land (156). The judge had a hard time understanding this, and the prosecutor representing the State of New York could not get his head around the idea at all (156-63). That’s because the Onondaga were arguing “against the expectations of a liberal property regime within a capitalist economy in which liberal philosophical principles and capitalist economic principles are co-constitutive of legal frameworks” (157). Indeed, their lawyer had to establish “that a concept of title without ownership exists” (157). “By stressing the Onondaga desire not to disturb the possession of current owners,” their lawyer “emphasizes the important legal point that the Onondaga land rights action is not the same as the Oneida claim,” which was rejected earlier in court (158). For that reason, theirs was not a “disruptive claim” (158). The Onondaga explicitly did not want to evict the present owners of the land; they stated in court that they had been through that experience and didn’t want to do the same thing to someone else (158). That statement, Mackey suggests, “reveals a powerful strategy of relational autonomy through its explicit emotional and experiential linkage between the Onondaga nation—as a singular yet collective subject . . .—and its potential opponents. In this way, the Onondaga assert some similarity of experience and a form of empathy, but not sameness” (158). 

“If we think of the Two Row Wampum as a metaphor,” Mackey writes, “the Onondaga here actively ‘polish the chain,’ refusing to stay isolated in the image of two separate and opposed parallel rows, and shifting the focus of the relationship to the middle beads of ongoing relationships of respect and friendship” (159). They didn’t want to be in court; they tried to negotiate with the United States and with the State of New York directly, as sovereign nations do, and only reluctantly took the case to court (160). The compromise represented by their argument “is a manner of working between the rows of the wampum: asserting autonomy and interdependence” (160). For Mackey,

the Onondaga, inside and outside of court, enact “treaty as a verb.” Their approach demonstrates how, if we use the metaphor of the Guswenta, they went about negotiating the rows in between and working on polishing the beads of respect, friendship and peace, while also asserting and maintaining their autonomy. Their approach both respects the court and also proposes an alternative epistemology—an approach of relational autonomy and of refusing to see the land as a commodity. . . . the Onondaga presented their complex epistemologies of land and relationships in a respectful yet challenging manner within a U.S. Supreme Court courtroom. Their approach demonstrates how it is possible to respond in a strategic manner that is not directly oppositional. (162)

At this point, though, “the nuanced and strategic treatying” is “quite one-sided,” because the Onondaga are doing 

the work of treatying within the rows, while the sedimented laws of the nation, and the Western epistemologies that inform them, allow the authoritative Court (representing the settler nation) the power to refuse (or accept) the key assumptions of relationality and autonomy in treaty relationships that have been proposed by the Onondaga. In the courtroom, the power of the settler state and its assumed supremacy is visceral and raw, even if partially hidden, and the settler jurisdictional and juridical imaginary is paramount. (163)

Nevertheless, the Onondaga land rights action “raises the important question of what form treatying as a verb might take if it were more reciprocal” (163). “What might ‘treatying together’ look like if it also reflected settler desires for decolonization and treaty practices?” Mackey asks (163).

That question is the subject of her next chapter, “Creative Uncertainty and Decolonizing Relations.” “In this chapter I discuss two alliances between Indigenous and settler people that offer provocative ways to imagine decolonizing relationships”: how members of the organization SHARE and their allies, the Cayuga Nation of New York, work together; and how the Onondaga Nation and their allies, NOON (Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation) “practice and describe their actions” (165). “I argue that the activities and developing relationships between the Onondaga and NOON, and the Cayuga and SHARE, potentially nurture epistemological shifts that may allow people to enact the kinds of decolonizing relational ontologies I discussed in the previous chapter in their day-to-day lives,” Mackey writes:

They do this by demonstrating how it may be possible to practice “treaty as a verb,” by creatively enacting reciprocal “treatying” in the present. They demonstrate a way to understand the possibility of simultaneous relations of distinction and interdependence. They go beyond colonial relations of treaty modelled on hierarchical relationships, usually meaning entitled colonizers and subordinate Indigenous peoples, in favour of a respectful one of connected yet autonomous equals. I describe how people practice “treatying together” through these alliances. (165-66)

Mackey cites Robin Wall Kimmerer’s view of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships to place and the idea that settlers might be able to become indigenous to place by taking care of the land over the long term—even though she’s uncomfortable with the phrase “becoming Indigenous” because it suggests an appropriation of Indigenous symbols and relationships to land in order to claim indigeneity, without respecting Indigenous ways of living and land rights (166). That discomfort leads her to argue that “settlers must have a very careful approach to relationships and alliances with Indigenous peoples, to be sure we don’t, with all the best intentions, reproduce colonial patterns. If we wish, as settler peoples, to ‘treaty’ (as a verb)” with Indigenous peoples, “it is necessary to undertake the sometimes difficult and uncomfortable work of unsettling ourselves. Doing so requires particular forms of reflection and restraint on our part” (167). 

Here, Mackey returns to the notion of uncertainty: “decolonizing, for settlers, includes developing the ability to live more comfortably with uncertainty about how relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people emerge and change” (167). It also means “developing relational autonomies” and understanding that they might mean that “power relationships are not defined and apparently ‘certain’” (167). “When approached through relational autonomy, knowing how to think and relate may at times seem frightening and uncomfortable, because expected practices no longer work in the same way,” she argues. “Expectations are unsettled. Yet, at the same time, if relationships are released from repetitive and limiting epistemologies of mastery . . . we see that such moments of uncertainty and discomfort may indeed be productive and potentially decolonizing.” (167). Uncertainty must be embraced “as a key to creativity and imaginative visions that depend on unsettling ‘settled expectations’ and self-evident ‘settler states of feeling’” (167). 

SHARE began in 1999 as a response to the hostile resistance to the Cayuga land claim. It published newsletters, organized gatherings and Indigenous festivals, and visited local schools (169-70). In 2001, the group bought a 70-acre organic farm within the Cayuga homeland, “located in a place of deep significance to the Cayuga, beside Great Gully and adjacent to Cayuga Castle, which had been the largest Cayuga settlement site before it was destroyed during the Sullivan Campaign” (170). SHARE’s ultimate goal was to pay off the mortgage and “repatriate the land to the Cayuga Nation, the only landless nation of the Haudenosaunee, an event which finally occurred in 2005” (170). “Because of the very volatile land claim protests in the area,” Mackey writes, “they wished to help create a space in the Cayuga homeland for Cayuga people to come to, generate positive Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships and build a site that might help educate non-Indigenous people in the area about local and national Indigenous issues” (170). SHARE operated the farm for five years as an education centre that advocated for Indigenous peoples, and “as a place for diverse people to reconnect with each other and the land. . . . They created a meeting space and a starting place for learning to build different kinds of relationships,” and that was a way of working towards decolonization (170). Through the farm, SHARE developed alliances with Cayuga and Haudenosaunee people (170). 

Mackey worked at the farm as a volunteer (170). There, she met Onondaga members of SHARE, and they introduced her to members of NOON, an organization that “has been very involved in developing complex and interconnecting relationships of alliance with the Onondaga” (171). “Both SHARE and NOON work to engage in relations that aim to recognize both the distinctness and interconnectedness of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Americans,” Mackey states:

They work to develop relationships based on the recognition that Indigenous people and settlers are all treaty peoples, and that settler people have responsibilities to build relationships of respect with Indigenous peoples and the land they share. They try to create alternative frameworks that might allow settlers to be reflexive about their own entitlement and privilege, in part by learning how to listen, hear and act differently. (171)

All of this required a rethinking of the idea of risk:

Although “risk” for UCE and CKCN had been seen as necessarily negative, synonymous with danger and loss of property, privilege and ontological certainty, SHARE members took risks and embraced uncertainty in order to find new ways of connecting. How they do so also shows the potential pleasures and creative energy that can come from embracing uncertainty. (176)

One of the founders of SHARE told Mackey that she both understood and felt alienated from her community’s response to the Cayuga land claim; she was both “questioning common-sense expectations of settler entitlement,” but also “placing herself in a space in-between, in which she can also sympathize with the pain and anger of loss,” and thereby is “enacting treaty as a verb because acknowledging the possibly irreconcilable differences between the groups, she works between the rows, and in doing so takes the risk of unsettling her own entitlement” (177-78). However, the SHARE farm also meant taking on a more tangible financial risk: the purchase “was possible only because SHARE members went beyond good intentions about land rights and reconciliation, and took the risk to ‘put their money where their mouth is’ as settler people. They therefore risked their own financial health in order to make a space for decolonizing alliances” (179). Paying off the mortgage was difficult, and they worked constantly to sponsor festivals, grow organic vegetables, and seek out donations (179).

NOON didn’t buy a farm; instead, its members collaborated with the Onondaga Nation and other groups to present year-long educational events (180):

For non-Haudenosaunee participants, many of the events did not simply mean hearing about a different version of events, but about learning to hear differently and thus to experience how alternative versions of their own histories might shift frameworks of thinking. Instead of simply learning about difference as a detached observer, these moments may allow people to learn how to be different, to understand and relate in new ways that unsettle patterns of mastery. (181)

Learning to share power and authority is transformative, if unsettling and uncomfortable, but “discomfort and uncertainty are central fo settler decolonization” (182). “From the outset,” Mackey writes, 

SHARE members engaged in alliances of relationality within which they decentred and unsettled themselves. One way of doing so was their constant attention to listening to what the Cayuga elders wanted. For settler subjects, to not be able to act as autonomous agents in control, especially when it comes to land and money, is not necessarily an easy task. SHARE members therefore worked hard to negotiate such relationships, constantly making sure they discussed and consulted with the Cayuga and the Haudenosaunee, following appropriate protocols of respect. (183-84)

“If we use the wampum metaphor, SHARE embers constantly worked to respectfully occupy the beads in the rows in between. But this sometimes meant giving over to uncertainty and loss of control,” she writes (184). Mackey notes that she has also experienced “moments of discomfort and learning” that have made her confront how her own “common-sense thinking and behaviour could unintentionally reproduce settler epistemologies.” Indeed, she continues, “sometimes ‘giving over’ to learning new epistemologies requires being reminded that we are different, that we cannot ‘become Indigenous’ or even understand other epistemologies simply by being curious and empathetic” (185). “The Onondaga Nation and NOON have continued to work for healing, to organize pressure to clean up Onondaga Lake, and many other actions and events,” Mackey writes (188). One example was the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign, which promoted the covenants of that treaty: Indigenous and settler canoeists paddled from Albany, New York, to New York City, bringing to life the principles of the Guswenta (188). 

Finally, Mackey reaches the conclusion of her book. “In this book I have shared my experiences of developing a more critical and nuanced approach to the often contradictory, and sometimes painful, ‘spectacular life’ of Canadian and U.S. settler colonialism and those who challenge it, based on ethnographic study of specific local contexts,” she suggests (189). She notes the importance of concept of “settler structures of feeling” and her demonstration of how certainty builds settler colonialism and how uncertainty can challenge it (189-90). That certainty continues to exist even though

centuries of attempts to produce certainty in the naturalization and inevitability of “settledness” on another’s territory reveal it as a claim and not a reality. The work needed to secure certainty, as well as the repetition and shifting flexibility of the claims, reveals the anxiety that resides at the core of those claims. Indigenous people refuse to go away. Their vibrant collective and individual presence will not be encompassed or extinguished. (190)

Settlers find themselves locked in an unending process of trying to erase Indigenous presences (190). That struggle is rooted in fantasies of certainty:

Perhaps the modern fantasy of ontological certainty—linked to the “certainty” of private property emerging from agrarian cultures with their exchange-based systems, leading to its certainty about the superiority of private property and Western forms of “civilization” and capitalism, and the repetitious desire for singular fixed truths and boundaries—underpins the “settled expectations” I have explored in this book. Such certainty, however, will never be more than a fantasy, a fantastic but unrealizable desire. As we know, life is not certain, and cannot be made to be. The anxiety underpinning the search for settler and modern ontological certainty, then, will also not disappear, unless we can somehow shift our (modern settler) desires so that we resist pursuing such unrealizable fantasies of certainty. (191)

For Settlers, Mackey continues, 

embracing particular kinds of uncertainty is likely required, even necessary for decolonization. For how can we take part in receptive and respectful relationships with our Indigenous partners/neighbours if we are trapped in our obsessive-compulsive search for certainty—to alleviate and deny the anxiety at its core? Settler colonialism is not settled, and never has been, because it is untenable, will be constantly resisted, and would only continue to produce more anxiety in any case. (191)

Perhaps, then, 

learning to let go of the desire for certainty might allow us (as modern settlers) to begin to find ways to develop new kinds of relationships based on actually trying to see the “other” and not enfold them within our own project of relieving anxiety, which is not only a settler problem but also a much grander problem of modernity. It is possible that facing up to such anxiety and uncertainty could open a space for hope in transforming relations—with ourselves, as well [as] with the Indigenous people who . . . are still willing to treaty with us. (191)

“How we might decolonize is not pre-scripted,” Mackey writes, but 

it will likely require creativity, respect, alert vulnerability, restraint and learning from each other about how to “treaty as a verb.” It will also require the hard work of learning how to paddle a metaphorical course without crashing into our neighbours’ paths and taking over their canoes. . . . we settlers might first have to unsettle our expectations of certainty about the origin, the route and the destination, and learn to embrace the uncertainty of the voyage. (191)

“[T]he only certainty is knowing that, in order to continue to live here together on this planet, we must find ways to have good relationships with the land and with each other,” she concludes (191).

There is a lot going on in Unsettled Expectations. The notion of uncertainty is a powerful one, and it might end up shaping my plans for my long walking performance. Many people have encouraged me to plan my walk carefully by cacheing water, for instance, but perhaps I need to enact the principle of uncertainty by embracing the possibilities offered by the road. As I’ve already noted, I’m happy that Mackey’s argument confirms my intuition that the place to focus on in this project is the notion of treaty, and her suggestion that attending to Indigenous thinking about treaty has already been very fruitful for my research. I’ve read about the Covenant Chain before, and I wonder if, as an image, that could be worked into my walk(s). I’m sure it could be. And, in addition, Mackey’s bibliography is going to be incredibly useful. I’m very happy that I stumbled across this book at the book fair during the 2018 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences; even though it took more than a year for me to get around to reading it, the effort has paid off.

Works Cited

Mackey, Eva. Unsettled Expectations: Uncertainty, Land and Settler Decolonization, Fernwood, 2016.

Mazur, Laurie. “Despairing About the Climate Crisis? Read This.” Earth Island Journal, 22 July 2019,  http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/articles/entry/despairing-about-climate-crisis/.

93. Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor”

tuck yang

My walking is finished, and even though I ought to be exploring the sights here in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, I’m in the hotel room, working. These texts won’t read themselves, after all, and I’m not going to hit my goal of 100 texts by the end of August. I’ve just been having too much fun walking!

“Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor” is one of the key texts in the study of settler colonialism, and for that reason it’s important that I read it. It begins with two epigraphs from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth on decolonization, which in Fanon’s case meant the departure of the imperial power (France, since Fanon wrote The Wretched of the Earth in Algeria during that country’s struggle for independence) from a colony and the creation of an independent national government. (The Wretched of the Earth is the next thing I’ll be reading for this project, mostly because one of my supervisors suggested that it would be valuable.) The first epigraph suggests that decolonization is “a program of complete disorder” (qtd. 2), which reflects (I think) the authors’ argument that the goal of decolonization is open-ended and undetermined, and that it is a historical process, which cannot be understood unless we “discern the movements which give it historical form and content” (qtd. 2). The second epigraph, which suggests that “the settler knows perfectly well that no phraseology can be a substitute for reality” (qtd. 2), reflects the authors’ contention that the word “decolonization” needs to be understood literally rather than rhetorically.

Tuck and Yang begin by noting that their area of research is education, and in particular the ways that “settler colonialism has shaped schooling and educational research in the United States and other settler colonial nation-states” (2). That work requires an engagement with the meaning of decoloniation, “what it wants and requires” (2). Tuck and Yang object to “the ease with which the language of decolonization has been superficially adopted into education and other social sciences, supplanting prior ways of talking about social justice, critical methodologies, or approaches which decenter settler perspectives” (2). Decolonization must not be subsumed by those projects, they argue, noting that decolonization is often discussed without mentioning Indigenous peoples or their struggles for sovereignty or “the contributions of Indigenous intellectuals and activists to theories and frameworks of decolonization” (3). “[T]his kind of inclusion is a form of enclosure, dangerous in how it domesticates decolonization,” they write. “It is also a foreclosure, limiting in how it recapitulates dominant theories of social change” (3). The rhetorical use of the word “decolonization” is therefore “another form of settler appropriation” (3). 

This essay, published in the first issue of a journal called Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society, is an attempt “to clarify that decolonization is not a metaphor”: “When metaphor invades decolonization, it recenters whiteness, it resettles theory, it extends innocence to the settler, it entertains a settler future” (3). “Our goal in this essay is to remind readers what is unsettling about decolonization—what is unsettling and should be unsettling,” they suggest (3). The notions of unsettling (of theory, of politics, of identity), of decentring whiteness, of denying both innocence to settlers and a future to the settler identity, are central points in this essay. So is the notion of difficulty: anything that seems to be too easy is, according to Tuck and Yang, a wrong approach to or misunderstanding of decolonization.

“There is a long and bumbled history of non-Indigenous peoples making moves to alleviate the impacts of colonialization,” Tuck and Yang write. “The too-easy adoption of decolonizing discourse (making decolonization a metaphor) is just one part of that history and it taps into pre-existing tropes that get in the way of more meaningful potential alliances” (3). Those tropes are “moves to innocence” for settlers; they “problematically attempt to reconcile settler guilt and complicity, and rescue settler futurity” (3). A discussion of those moves to innocence is at the core of this essay. Those moves to innocence include:

  1. Settler nativism
  2. Fantasizing adoption
  3. Colonial equivocation
  4. Conscientization
  5. At risk-ing/Asterisk-ing Indigenous peoples
  6. Re-occupation and urban homesteading[.] (4)

“Such moves ultimately represent fantasies of easier paths to reconciliation,” they write:

attending to what is irreconcilable within settler colonial relations and what is incommensurable between decolonizing projects and other social justice projects will help to reduce the frustration of attempts at solidarity; but the attention won’t get anyone off the hook from the hard, unsettling work of decolonization. (4)

For that reason, they continue, they have also included “a discussion of interruptions that unsettle innocence and recognize incommensurability” (4).

First, though Tuck and Yang distinguish between external colonialism (colonial activities outside the borders of the imperial nation) and internal colonialism (colonial activities within the borders of the imperial nation). However, neither of these definitions adequately describe the form of colonialism in countries where the colonizers have come to stay. “Settler colonialism operates through internal/external colonial modes simultaneously because there is no spatial separation between metropole and colony,” they write. “The horizons of the settler colonial nation-state are total and require a mode of total appropriation of Indigenous life and land, rather than the selective expropriation of profit-producing fragments” (5). What makes settler colonialism different from other forms of colonialism is the fact that “settlers come with the intention of making a new home on the land, a homemaking that insists on settler sovereignty over all things in their new domain” (5). That homemaking means that the most important concern of settler colonialism is land, “both because the settlers make Indigenous land their new home and source of capital, and also because the disruption of Indigenous relationships represents a profound epistemic, ontological, cosmological violence” (5). They cite Patrick Wolfe’s famous dictum: settler colonialism is a structure rather than an event (5). That structure remakes land into property and restricts human relationships to land to property ownership. “Epistemological, ontological, and cosmological relationships to land are interred, indeed made pre-modern and backward,” they write. “Made savage” (5). 

“In order for the settlers to make a place their home, they must destroy and disappear the Indigenous peoples that live there,” Tuck and Yang write:

For the settlers, Indigenous peoples are in the way and, in the destruction of Indigenous peoples, Indigenous communities, and over time and through law and policy, Indigenous peoples’ claims to land under settler regimes, land is recast as property and as a resource. Indigenous peoples must be erased, must be made into ghosts. (6)

They also suggest that “settler colonialism involves the subjugation and forced labor of chattel slaves,” a claim that is not true of all settler colonial states; while slavery was legal in what is now Canada until the early 19th century, for example, it was not a central part of the economy there as it was in Spanish colonies in Central and South America, as well as in the United States. Nevertheless, it is true that the settler “sees himself as holding dominion over the earth and its flora and fauna, as the anthropocentric normal, and as more developed, more human, more deserving than other groups or species” (6). (That way of thinking is the root of the planet’s current ecological crises.) “The settler is making a new ‘home’ and that home is rooted in a homesteading worldview where the wild land and wild people were made for his benefit,” Tuck and Yang continue. “He can only make his identity as a settler by making the land produce, and produce excessively, because ‘civilization’ is defined as production in excess of the ‘natural’ world (i.e. in excess of the sustainable production already present in the Indigenous world)” (6). For Tuck and Yang, that excess production requires slavery, although in the part of Canada where I live it actually required mechanized agriculture. Moreover, “[s]ettlers are not immigrants,” Tuck and Yang contend. “Immigrants are beholden to the Indigenous laws and epistemologies of the lands they migrate to. Settlers become the law, supplanting Indigenous laws and epistemologies” (6-7). That is, I think, Harold Johnson’s point in his book Two Families: Treaties and Government: when the Cree chiefs who negotiated Treaty 6 engaged the Crown representatives in a pipe ceremony, they were adopting them (and the settlers who would follow) and expecting they would behave like the immigrants Tuck and Yang describe here, rather than like settlers.

Decolonization in settler colonial situations is complicated, Tuck and Yang contend, “because empire, settlement, and internal colony have no spatial separation. Each of these features of settler colonialism in the US context—empire, settlement, and internal colony—make it a site of contradictory decolonial desires” (7). Thinking of decolonization in metaphorical ways “allows people to equivocate these contradictory desires because it turns decolonization into an empty signifier to be filled by any track towards liberation. In reality, the tracks walk all over land/people in settler contexts” (7). For Tuck and Yang, 

decolonization in the settler colonial context must involve the repatriation of land simultaneous to the recognition of how land and relations to land have always already been differently understood and enacted; that is, all of the land, and not just symbolically. This is precisely why decolonization is necessarily unsettling, especially across lines of solidarity. (7)

“Settler colonialism and its decolonization implicates and unsettles everyone,” they conclude (7).  I agree that repatriation of land is central to decolonization, and that idea certainly unsettles me, because although I was born on stolen land, it’s also the only home I’ve ever known, and I have nowhere else to go. The notion that “all of the land” must be repatriated is a political impossibility for that reason. Yes, that’s what must be done for decolonization to take place in a settler colonial context; but it is also what will not happen, because the settler majority will not stand for it. That contradiction implicates all of us and ought to unsettle us as well.

“Everything within a settler colonial society strains to destroy or assimilate the Native in order to disappear them from the land,” Tuck and Yang argue. That is the reason Settler society can have “multiple simultaneous and conflicting messages about Indigenous peoples, such as all Indians are dead, located in faraway reservations, that contemporary Indigenous people are less indigenous than prior generations, and that all Americans are a ‘little bit Indian’” (9). These fantasies constitute desires to erase Indigenous peoples, “because the death of pre-modern ways of life is thought to be inevitable,” and that erasure would provide a resolution to the colonial situation “through the absolute and total destruction or assimilation of original inhabitants” (9). The failure of that destruction “prompts multiple forms of settler anxiety,” because the presence of Indigenous peoples, “who make a priori claims to land and ways of being,” is “a constant reminder that the settler colonial project is incomplete” (9). The metaphorical use of the term “decolonization” is “a form of this anxiety, because it is a premature attempt at reconciliation”; it is “one way the settler, disturbed by her own settler status, tries to escape or contain the unbearable searchlight of complicity, of having harmed others just by being one’s self” (9). “The desire to reconcile is just as relentless as the desire to disappear the Native,” they continue: “it is a desire to not to have to deal with this (Indian) problem anymore” (9).

Tuck and Yang take the idea of settler moves to innocence from the work of Janet Mawhinney. These moves to innocence are the result of a desire “to find some mercy or relief in the face of the relentless of settler guilt and haunting” (9). “Directly and indirectly benefitting from the erasure and assimilation of Indigenous peoples is a difficult reality for settlers to accept,” they contend, and so Settlers “hurry toward any reprieve” (9). “Settler moves to innocence are those strategies that attempt to relieve the settler of feelings of guilt or responsibility without giving up land or power or privilege, without having to change much at all,” they continue. “In fact, settler scholars may gain professional kudos or a boost in their reputations for being so sensitive or self-aware. Yet settler moves to innocence are hollow, they only serve the settler” (10). Their discussion of these moves to innocence may make their Settler readers embarrassed or uncomfortable or feel implicated, and it seems that’s the point. Their goal in this discussion “is to provide a framework of excuses, distractions, and diversions from decolonization” (10). That framework is intended to make us “more impatient with each other, less likely to accept gestures and half-steps, and more willing to press for acts which unsettle innocence” (10).

Tuck and Yang then discuss the moves to innocence they listed earlier in the essay. The first move is claiming to have an Indigenous ancestor. This “is a settler move to innocence because it is an attempt to deflect a settler identity, while continuing to enjoy settler privilege and occupying stolen land” (11). “Settler nativism, through the claiming of a long-lost ancestory, invests in these specific racializations of Indigenous people and Black people, and disbelieves the sovereign authority of Indigenous nations to determine tribal membership,” Tuck and Yang argue. “Ancestry is different from tribal membership; Indigenous identity and tribal membership are questions that Indigenous communities alone have the right to struggle over and define, not DNA tests, heritage websites, and certainly not the settler state” (13). “Settler nativism is about imagining an Indian past and a settler future,” they continue, while “tribal sovereignty has provided for an Indigenous present and various Indigenous intellectuals theorize decolonization as Native futures without a settler state” (13).

The second move to innocence is settler adoption fantasies. “These fantasies can mean the adoption of Indigenous practices and knowledge, but more, refer to those narratives in the settler colonial imagination in which the Native (understanding that he is becoming extinct) hands over his land, his claim to the land, his very Indian-ness to the settler for safe-keeping,” Tuck and Yang write. “This is a fantasy that is invested in a settler futurity and dependent on the foreclosure of an Indigenous futurity” (14). They discuss James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales as an example. “In the unwritten decolonial version of Cooper’s story, Hawkeye would lose his land back to the Mohawk,” they write. “Hawkeye would shoot his last arrow, or his last long-rifle shot, return his eagle feather, and would be renamed Natty Bumppo, settler on Native land. The story would end at the moment of this recognition” (17). That ending, though, would leave a number of questions open: “Would a conversation follow after that between Native and the last settler? Would the settler leave or just vanish? Would he ask to stay, and if he did, who would say yes? These are questions that will be addressed at decolonization, and not a priori in order to appease anxieties for a settler future” (17). Is it likely, though, that settlers would “just vanish”? Where would they—we—go? Isn’t that a rather tidy resolution to a pretty big problem for decolonization?

It seems to me that Tuck and Yang are merging two separate ideas here. Isn’t the adoption of Indigenous practices and knowledge different from the narratives in which land and identity are given to Settlers “for safe-keeping”? Is reading Indigenous writers, as Tuck does, not a way of adopting Indigenous knowledge? Isn’t it necessary to acquire that kind of knowledge in order to understand settler colonialism and its effects? Moreover, I’ve heard some Elders describe some ceremonies as open to anyone. For instance, I recently had a conversation with an Elder in which she was surprised to hear that I was reluctant to smudge on my own, even though I find it helpful and grounding. “Why not?” she asked. “I don’t want to appropriate customs that aren’t mine,” I answered. She didn’t think that was a good reason. Clearly not everyone is focused on issues of appropriation or adoption.

The third move to innocence is colonial equivocation, by which Tuck and Yang mean “the homogenizing of various experiences of oppression as colonization” (17). They want to separate those experiences of oppression from colonization. The “logical endpoint” of antiracism, they suggest, “the attainment of equal legal and cultural entitlements, is actually an investment in settler colonialism,” presumably because it accepts the authority of Settler society. “Indeed, even the ability to be a minority citizen in the settler nation means an option to become a brown settler,” they continue. “For many people of color, becoming a subordinate settler is an option even when becoming white is not” (18). They also distinguish between anti-colonial critique and “a decolonizing framework”: 

anti-colonial critique often celebrates empowered postcolonial subjects who seize denied privileges from the metropole. This anti-to-post-colonial project doesn’t strive to undo colonialism but rather to remake it and subvert it. Seeking stolen resources is entangled with settler colonialism because those resources were nature/Native first, then enlisted into the service of settlement and thus almost impossible to reclaim without re-occupying Native land. Furthermore, the postcolonial pursuit of resources is fundamentally an anthropocentric model, as land, water, air, animals, and plants are never able to become postcolonial; they remain objects to be exploited by the empowered postcolonial subject. (19)

I’m not sure I follow the shift from anti-colonial critique to resource exploitation here, particularly since the rest of the argument in this section of the essay focuses on the inadequacy of multicultural approaches to oppressions, which do not address Indigenous sovereignty or rights. Perhaps the shift to resource exploitation comes from the need for decolonization to include “unsettling/deoccupying the land” (19). Any arguments short of that recognition, they argue, are equivocations: “That is, they ambiguously avoid engaging with settler colonialism; they are ambivalent about minority/people of color/colonized Others as settlers; they are cryptic about Indigenous land rights in spaces inhabited by people of color” (19). 

Conscientization, a focus on “decolonizing the mind,” is the fourth move to innocence. Tuck and Yang note that Fanon argues that decolonizing the mind was a first step, not the only one. “Yet we wonder whether another settler move to innocence is to focus on decolonizing the mind, or the cultivation of critical consciousness, as if it were the sole activity of decolonization; to allow conscientization to stand in for the more uncomfortable task of relinquishing stolen land,” they write (19). “[T]he front-loading of critical consciousness building can waylay decolonization, even though the experience of teaching and learning to be critical of settler colonialism can be so powerful that it can feel like it is indeed making change,” they continue (19). Decolonization will only happen when “stolen land is relinquished” (19). And yet, isn’t the development of that “critical consciousness” necessary to relinquishing that stolen land? Wouldn’t developing a collective understanding that the land has been stolen and needs to be returned be an essential step in the decolonizing process? Besides, how would that stolen land be relinquished? What would happen afterwards? I realize that Tuck and Yang argue that there is no Settler futurity—that we ought to have no future on the stolen lands we occupy—but that is an extraordinary thing to ask people to accept, especially if they have not yet developed a “critical consciousness” regarding settler colonialism. 

Tuck and Yang describe that project of developing critical consciousness as settler harm reduction” (21). This project, they write, “is intended only as a stopgap”:

As the environmental crisis escalates and peoples around the globe are exposed to greater concentrations of violence and poverty, the need for settler harm reduction is acute, profoundly so. At the same time we remember that, by definition, settler harm reduction, like conscientization, is not the same as decolonization and does not inherently offer any pathways that lead to decolonization. (21-22)

All of this would be easier to understand, or perhaps accept, if Tuck and Yang were able to offer concrete examples of pathways that would lead to decolonization, defined as the return of stolen land.

The fifth move to innocence, “A(s)t(e)risk peoples,” has to do with the ways that Indigenous people are rendered invisible by social science research, either by being defined as “at risk” peoples, “on the verge of extinction, culturally and economically bereft, engaged or soon-to-be engaged in self-destructive behaviors which can interrupt their school careers and seamless absorption into the economy” (22), or by being left out or “represented by an asterisk” in statistical data sets because of small sample sizes (22). I’m not sure how to respond to this argument. On the one hand, it’s important that Indigenous peoples not be defined only by the social problems caused by colonization, but on the other, it would be foolish to pretend that such problems do not exist. Those self-destructive behaviours don’t just interrupt the “seamless absorption into the economy” of Indigenous youth, for instance; they can end their lives. Yes, becoming part of the economy may not be the resolution Tuck and Yang would like to see for those youth, but it’s better than some of the alternatives, and I don’t think it’s the role of privileged academics to tell people struggling to survive what their goals ought to be. The other problem appears to be without a solution: sample sizes need to be large to be statistically valid, and where a population is small—their example is urban Indigenous youth in schools—it is likely to be submerged in the data. Perhaps the answer would be to engage in more qualitative research than quantitative research, but that’s not where Tuck and Yang end up. Rather, they argue that because most Indigenous youth live in cities, “[a]ny decolonizing urban education endeavor must address the foundations of urban land pedagogy and Indigenous politics vis-a-vis the settler colonial state” (23). That may be true, but it doesn’t address the problem of large-scale population surveys which make “collecting basic education and health information about this small and heterogenous group” so difficult, or how those difficulties can be overcome in order to “counter the disappearance of Indigenous particularities in public policy” (22).

The last move to innocence, “Re-occupation and urban homesteading,” has to do with the failure of the Occupy movement to acknowledge that its occupations took place on stolen land, or that the source of the wealth that Occupy demanded be redistributed was that stolen Indigenous land (23). “For social justice movements, like Occupy, to truly aspire to decolonization non-metaphorically, they would impoverish, not enrich, the 99%+ settler population of [the] United States,” they write. “Decolonization eliminates settler property rights and settler sovereignty. It requires the abolition of land as property and upholds the sovereignty of Native land and people” (26). Again, that would be an extremely difficult proposition to sell to that settler majority. Tuck and Yang compare the Occupy/Decolonize movements to the French and Haitian Revolutions of the late 18th century. They note that Haiti was the richest French colony before its revolution, and the poorest afterwards, due to the French demand for reparations as a condition of recognizing Haitian independence. This comparison is a way of introducing the notion of incommensurability: the Occupy and Decolonize movements are incommensurable, because while Occupy sees the United States as composed of 99% Occupiers (I doubt Occupy ever claimed that 99% of the population was participating in the movement) and 1% Owners, the Decolonize movement sees the primary distinction as between the 0.9% Indigenous peoples and the 99.1% Settlers (27). “Occupation is a move towards innocence that hides behind the numerical superiority of the settler nation, the elision of democracy with justice, and the logic that what became property under the 1% belongs to the other 99%,” they write (28). They also connect Occupy’s demand to “occupy everything” to what they call “urban homesteading,” which I think is another way of thinking about the gentrification of poor neighbourhoods. Surely there is a radical distinction to be made between the Occupy movement and gentrification? Perhaps not. “In contrast to the settler labor of occupying the commons, homesteading, and possession, some scholars have begun to consider the labor of de-occupation in the undercommons, permanent fugitivity, and dispossession as possibilities for a radical black praxis,” they write, citing Fred Moten and Stephano Harney (28). I’ve tried to read Moten’s and Harney’s book The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, but I ran aground on the impossibility of their ideas, and frankly their unappealing nature. Who would want the instability of “permanent fugitivity” or of “dispossession”? I found this section of the essay to be quite weak, with the excursion into the history of Haiti an unnecessary detour, and I think that Craig Fortier’s book Unsettling the Commons: Social Movements Within, Against, and Beyond Settler Colonialism to be a much clearer discussion of the contradictions between the Occupy movement and decolonization.

The last section of the essay, “Incommensurability is unsettling,” presents 

a synopsis of the imbrication of settler colonialism with transnationalist, abolitionist, and critical pedagogy movements—efforts that are often thought of as exempt from Indigenous decolonizing analyses—as a synthesis of how decolonization as material, not metaphor, unsettles the innocence of these movements. These are interruptions which destabilize, un-balance, and repatriate the very terms and assumptions of some of the most radical efforts to reimagine human power relations. We argue that the opportunities for solidarity lie in what is incommensurable rather than what is common across these efforts. (28)

They describe what they call “an ethic of incommensurability, which recognizes what is distinct, what is sovereign for project(s) of decolonization in relation to human and civil rights based social justice projects” (28). There are, they continue, “portions of these project that simply cannot be speak to one another, cannot be aligned or allied” (28). Those portions are incommensurable. They suggest “unsettling themes that challenge the coalescence of social justice endeavors broadly assembled in three areas: Transnational or Third World decolonizations, Abolition, and Critical Space-Place Pedagogies” (28-29). For each area, they provide “a bibliography of incommensurability” (29).

First is the discussion of Third World decolonizations. “The anti-colonial turn towards the transnational can sometimes involve ignoring the settler colonial context where one resides and how that inhabitation is implicated in settler colonialism, in order to establish ‘global’ solidarities that presumably suffer fewer complexities and complications” (29). They invite their readers “to consider the permanent settler war as the theatre for all imperial wars,” and provide a bibliography of texts that address a number of issues, such as “discovery, invasion, occupation and Commons as the claims of settler sovereignty,” “heteropatriarchy as the imposition of settler sexuality,” and “U.S. imperialism as the expansion of settler colonialism” (29).

Second is a discussion of the abolition of slavery. They note that freed slaves in the United States were promised 40 acres of land that belonged to Indigenous peoples as reparations. “[W]e urge you to consider how enslavement is a twofold procedure: removal from land and the creation of property (land and bodies),” they write. “Thus, abolition is likewise twofold, requiring the repatriation of land and the abolition of property (land and bodies). Abolition means self-possession but not object-possession, repatriation but not reparation” (30). I find the word “repatriation” rather ominous here; what of the formerly enslaved Africans in the United States who did not choose to be repatriated? What would happen to them? And why is this discussion of the abolition of slavery, something that happened in 1865, being considered a contemporary issue? I am missing something in this argument.

Third is critical pedagogies, something that engages Tuck and Yang, since they are professors of education. They suggest that place-based, environmentalist, and urban pedagogies are incommensurable with land education, and suggest several resources. So far, though, they have not explained how “opportunities for solidarity lie in what is incommensurable” (28). Perhaps that is the reason they provide a lengthy, italicized explanation of incommensurability. It is, they write, “an acknowledgement that decolonization will require a change in the order of the world” (31):

This is not to say that Indigenous peoples or Black and brown peoples take positions of dominance over white settlers; the goal is not for everyone to merely swap spots on the settler-colonial triad, to take another turn on the merry-go-round. The goal is to break the relentless structuring of the triad—a break and not a compromise. (31)

“There is,” they continue, “so much that in incommensurable, so many overlaps that can’t be figured, that cannot be resolved” (31). From this point the essay becomes a list of those apparently impossible to resolve issues: “Settler colonialism fuels imperialism all around the globe. Oil is the motor and motive for war and so was salt, so will be water. Settler sovereignty over these very pieces of earth, air, and water is what makes possible these imperialisms” (31). What is the connection between settler colonialism and oil? Isn’t settler colonialism a feature of places (I’m thinking of New Zealand) that don’t have oil reserves? Why bring salt into the discussion? Do Settlers have sovereignty over the air? Yes, the uranium mined near the Laguna Pueblo reservation in New Mexico was used to build bombs, and yes, the radioactive debris has poisoned the land, but how is that incommensurable? With what? How are the borders of the U.S. examples of incommensurability? How is the high rate of incarceration in Louisiana an example of incommensurability? There’s no question that prison farms and private prisons are contemporary forms of slavery, but how are they incommensurable? I don’t understand the connections Tuck and Yang are expecting their readers to make; nor do I understand how issues that are impossible to resolve can become the grounds of solidarity. That idea seems to have been dropped entirely.

Finally, Tuck and Yang provide a short conclusion that begins with this statement: “An ethic of incommensurability, which guides moves that unsettle innocence, stands in contrast to aims of reconciliation, which motivate settler moves to innocence” (35). Reconciliation, they continue, “is concerned with rescuing settler normalcy,” and with “rescuing a settler future” (35). Reconciliation asks questions like “what will decolonization look like? What will happen after abolition? What will be the consequences of decolonization for the settler?” (35). “Incommensurability,” Tuck and Yang write, “acknowledges that these questions need not, and perhaps cannot, be answered in order for decolonization to exist as a framework” (35). But won’t decolonization require an engagement with Settlers, given their sheer numbers (which Tuck and Yang have discussed)? How could such an engagement take place without answering those questions, or at least acknowledging that they are legitimate? My questions, however, are the wrong ones to ask, and my suggestion that Settlers need to be engaged is off-topic: “decolonization is not accountable to settlers, or settler futurity,” Tuck and Yang write. “Decolonization is accountable to Indigenous sovereignty and futurity” (35). Moreover, they argue, the answers to the questions Settlers might ask “are not fully in view and can’t be as long as decolonization remains punctuated my metaphor” (35). I’m not sure that argument makes sense; one can imagine giving back stolen land without resorting to metaphor, and the questions Settlers would ask about their future would still exist. The authors’ next point makes more sense: “The answers will not emerge from friendly understanding, and indeed require a dangerous understanding of uncommonality that un-coalesces coalition politics—moves that may feel very unfriendly” (35). The point, I think, is that uncommonality is built into this issue; that decolonization will be a struggle between Indigenous peoples and Settlers, not a coalition that includes both parties. The unfriendliness they acknowledge is simply part of the structure, and the struggle, of decolonization. 

“To fully enact an ethic of incommensurability means relinquishing settler futurity, abandoning the hope that settlers may one day be commensurable to Native peoples,” Tuck and Yang write:

It means removing the asterisks, periods, commas, apostrophes, the whereas’s, buts and conditional clauses that punctuate decolonization and underwrite settler innocence. The Native futures, the lives to be lived once the settler nation is gone—these are the unwritten possibilities made possible by an ethic of incommensurabiity. (36)

“Decolonization is not an ‘and,’” they write, not something that can be made a part of other human or civil rights approaches to justice. “It is an elsewhere” (36). 

After reading and summarizing “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor,” I have mixed feelings. I see the need to give back the stolen land that I—we—live on. I see the moves to innocence that Settlers use to protect themselves from the knowledge that despite their enlightened qualities and their apparent lack of innocence they are actually part of the colonial problem. But I am confused by what Tuck and Yang mean by “an ethic of incommensurability” (36), or how incommensurability can be the grounds of solidarity. It’s just not clear to me. I’m not sure how one can deny anyone anyone’s future, either, although denying settler futurity is not uncommon in texts about settler colonialism, perhaps because this essay has been so influential. (I think denying Indigenous futurity is a crime.) Certainly that’s not a way to get many Settlers onside with the decolonizing project, although perhaps the way this essay begins and ends with Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth is a clue to what Tuck and Yang mean by decolonization—that, like the anti-colonial revolution in Algeria, it will be a violent struggle in which alliances between Settlers and Indigenous peoples will become null and void. That interpretation, though, runs aground on their apparent insistence that alliances between decolonization and other social-justice movements is possible, apparently through incommensurability. And while I understand their reluctance to offer any pathways towards decolonization—probably because they don’t actually know how it might play out, or how one might begin to set the process of returning land in motion—isn’t it a serious weakness to suggest that conscientization (consciousness raising might be a better word) or gestures towards decolonization are insufficient, without providing any positive alternatives? I don’t think the work of Moten and Harney is likely to lead to workable alternatives; like Tuck and Yang, their thinking is too utopian and not grounded in the unpleasant reality of politics in settler colonial states to be of practical use. I suppose what I ought to do is take what is useful from the essay and leave the rest behind, although some of what I would have to leave behind is frankly baffling. I must be misunderstanding something central to their argument, but I honestly don’t know what it might be. So I’m left confused and frustrated—probably not for the last time, either. Some of the stuff I’m reading is confusing and frustrating. I need to get used to it.

Works Cited

Fortier, Craig. Unsettling the Commons: Social Movements Within, Against, and Beyond Settler Colonialism. ARP Books, 2017

Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, Minor Compositions, 2013.

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1-40.